Disruption at London Philharmonic concert: what really happened (late extra)

Disruption at London Philharmonic concert: what really happened (late extra)


norman lebrecht

November 17, 2011

An eyewitness, Maria Etzel, has sent me this account of the disturbance, by a single audience member, during a Bruckner concert at the South Bank:

Last night at the RFH, 
halfway through Bruckner 4 when the music was really quiet I heard 
sounds of male voices coming from the choir section. Was very 
intrigued and then I saw this tall man leaving the choir secion and 
walking towards the exit. It is a long walk from the choir to the exit 
on level 4 and all the time shouting Terrible. I think he must have 
said more when still in the choir section but was unable to 
understand. It was quite a disturbance and he managed to completely 
break the spell of the performance. Questions: A lunatic? a grudge 
against LPO? or Osmo Vänska? or disliked the Bruckner? who knows. 

Others have told me that there was no ushers present to remove the man from the hall. He was able to make his way at a leisurely pace, not to the nearest exit but to one that he preferred. I do hope the South Bank administration take measures to ensure the peace of their concerts in future. LATE EXTRA: You will find a full and frank confession from the disrupter here.


UPDATE: Here’s Erica Jeal’s measured account of the incident in the Guardian.


  • RB says:

    From my seat I clearly heard the heckler complain about the tempo (“it’s dragging!”) and suggest that the performance finish sooner than the author intended (stop! just stop!). It was a significant but not too long disruption. He left on his own. The problem was that the Bruckner 4 finale is very hard to knit together and Vanska’s rather careful performance had indeed lost quite a lot of momentum by then, however beautifully it was played. So I’m afraid the heckler had a point, though I don’t think it polite, responsible or fair to inflict it on the rest of the RFH audience.

  • Malcolm says:

    Maybe he was protesting against the treatment of the LPO 4. Whatever your opinion as to whether the IPO prom should have taken place, the punishments meted out to the four players for simply including their affiliation to the LPO when signing a protest letter seem draconian.

    Mind yo, the member who apparently had a rant on the internet appears to have crossed a line, although I haven’t seen the exact contents.

  • Don Hansen says:

    He probably didn’t approve of the 1888 revision of the symphony. Something similar happened in San Francisco during a performance of Ligeti’s Requiem. An older gentleman sitting in the first row of a seven row box section climbed slowly up the stairs during one of the quietest moments yelling “I didn’t come here to listen to this crap!!”

  • Londonkings says:

    I heard him say ‘He’s ruining it’ and believe his parting words (directed to the audience) were ‘why can’t you be more critical?’

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    At the first performance of Steve Reich’s Six Pianos (I think!), a woman ran to the stage shouting, ‘Stop! Stop!, I confess!’.

    • Chris Walsh says:

      >At the first performance of Steve Reich’s Six Pianos (I think!), a woman ran to the stage shouting, ‘Stop! Stop!, I >confess!’.

      I believe it was Four Organs.

  • The ‘man’ was me and I think it was a polite response in response to an impolite performance: I walked out in protest against the self-indulgent bad conducting of Vanska and the terrible playing of the LP0 where the woodwind and brass were often out of sync and out of tune: It was a slow-motion performance with no sense of line and forward momentum and the Andante just dragged with Vanska losing his pace almost bringing the music to a stand still; Vanska conducted a terrible discredited perverted edition that is a total travesty (with those kitsch Straussian cymbal swishes) and the LPO were obviously not well rehearsed and in very bad form. It is about time Royal Festival Hall, Barbican Hall and Royal Albert Hll Proms audiences became far more critical and shout out like I did otherwise we will continue to have ‘dumbed-down’ tenth-rate performances like this: For the record: I shouted out to the audience: “He’s dragging it!, “It’s far too slow”, “Whay aren’t you all more critical?” and ending up saying: “It’s rubbish!”

    I stand by all my objective statements of fact and think others should have joined in with me and been less cowardly and more courageous and critical: I did not display bad manners: the conduor did in his bad mannered performance which was indeed a very mannered perverted performance! One person in the annex did say: “I agree with you!”

    Norman Lebrecht incorrectly stated: “I do hope the South Bank administration have taken measures to ban the man (who is apparently known to them from past eccentricities).” This is libelous slander as I am not at all “known” to the South Bank from “past eccentricities”: Please name one ‘eccentricity’ that I am ‘known’ for? This is the first time I have ever made a protest at the Royal Festival Hall or South Bank Center.

    I do hope the South Bank administration have taken measures to ban Lebrecht (who is apparently known to them from past eccentricities of admiring third rate conductors and performances). Why does Lebrecht and the Royal Festival Hall audience supinely accept impolite and badly mannered performances?

    Here is Erica Jeal’s idiotic account in The Guardian:

    “If the concerto seemed to flash by, the same could not be said for Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony – though the audience member who in the fourth movement felt moved to stomp out, complaining about Vänskä’s tempo, proved only that there’s no way to heckle classical concerts without appearing weird. The conductor’s ability to keep the music’s momentum spinning in mid-air, which had made for a cogent first movement and a second movement that seemed like a symphony in microcosm, began to flag somewhere in the bald exchanges of the third. For all the detail of his conducting, the finale didn’t have the impact those first two movements had seemed to promise.”

    Enough said about our dumbed-down critics reviewing dumbed-down performances of dumbed-down editions! Why are audiences and critics so uncritical today?

    • klingsor says:

      Completely unacceptable. There is no excuse for disrupting a performance like that. It’s bad enough when someone gets up to leave during the music (this is VERY disruptive in classical concerts), but to call something out like that is inexcusable. It happened at another concert last year I recall reading about. The self-righteous reply from this moronic idiot at the end of the comments only shows how utterly clueless people have become about music, performance and concert etiquette.

    • Joe De M says:

      Well done Alex Verney-Elliott. Many times I have sat in the audience and listened to a sub-standard performance and felt the same way as you, but I have never had the courage to just get up and walk out.

    • Ford says:

      Did your shouting improve the music? No. Did your shouting enhance anyone’s evening? No. Did it pleasurably enlarge your already inflated ego? Hell yeah! From now on, you should stay at home and yell at your stereo instead (I pity your neighbours and your family).

  • evert potgieter says:

    I was also there and saw the whole thing. and i have to say whilst not agree myself as to why, i wholly applaud this gentleman for standing up to a performance he didnt like and found disagreeable, and then walking out..

    How times have changed us into uncritical consumers of socalled high culture. a mere hundred or two hundred years ago this type of behavior would have been considered normal concerts. and maybe many more, who felt the same in audience would have done so too back then. i can even comically see some eggs and tomatoes flying onto the stage!

    Afterwards, when walking out i heard quite a few people agreeing with this gentleman, even admiring him!

    Maybe the most disconcerting thing is that he has reminded us that actually we do have a voice, we can interact with a performance, rather than be silently unresponsive.

    And that just whats needed, more honest and direct feedback? And who knows it may just help improve performances of the future too!

    • Roberto says:

      Can you imagine if everybody starts pausing a performance because he/she doesn’t agree with something? We would just not have performances anymore

      • Joe De M says:

        I have not returned after the interval on a number of occaisions. Maybe getting up and walking out in between movements is the way to do it rather than when the performance is underway.

  • Dear Norman Lebrecht:

    You stated the following about me and I would like an answer on the evidence that I am ‘known’ to them for such ‘eccentricities’: “I do hope the South Bank administration have taken measures to ban the man (who is apparently known to them from past eccentricities).” So how am I ‘known’ to them? What are these past ‘eccentricities’? I would dearly love to know.

    It would be far more apt if you asked the South Bank administration to ban Vanska (and other bad mannered conductors) and not me if you were a true (and honest) music critic. If you and the largely uncritical and unmusical Royal Festival Hall audience had protested and walked out, like I did, then maybe the current low standards of conducting and playing would be far higher since the current playing of the Philhamronia Orchestra is appalling with its thin string tone and barely audible double-basses.

    You should have applauded me for protesting and not asking that I be banned. Why did you not criticize the vandalism of Vanska’s willful, wayward and mannered conducting? It was Vanska who was ‘bad mannered’ and ‘impolite’ and not me. It was Vanska who ‘interrupted’ the performance and not me. At least I ‘paced’ my ‘performance’ better than Vanska who ‘dragged’ out poor Bruckner to death! Norman: You are meant to be a ‘music critic’ so what happened to your trenchant cutting critique of Vanska’s molesting and raping of the Bruckner 4th Symphony?

    Yours, rather perplexed, Alex Verney-Elliott

    • Dear Alex Verney-Elliott
      Thank you for your comments. I was acting, as they say in the Metropolitan Police, on the basis of information received. Since that information is evidently incorrect, I shall take it down without delay.
      As for my criticism of your conduct, that’s a matter of public courtesy. By all means boo the conductor at the end. But by disrupting in the middle you have an inevitable and unwanted effect on the musicians and other listeners who may not share your view of the interpretation, justified as it may have been. Myself, I choose not to go to concerts that I am likely to dislike.
      best wishes
      Norman Lebrecht

      • Dear Norman Lebrecht,

        Thank you for removing that misinformation about me from Slipped Disc.

        From an historical perspective, what I did in ‘disrupting’ the middle of the performance was a very common practice in the 18th century up to the early 20th century, and is still practiced at La Scala and at The Met today, and so what I did was nothing new but merely following a long standing tradition.

        It is high time that our unmusical and uncritical classical concert goers were much more critical like opera audiences are (as the following clip from Youtube aptly ‘demonstrates’ below).

        Today we live in an age of ‘dumbed-down’ audiences applauding ‘dumbed-down’ performances.

        Yours truly, Alex Verney-Elliott


        • Youannoythehelloutofme AlexV-E says:

          Dear Hyphenated,

          As someone very wise once said, ‘tradizione è tradimento’, ie. not all so-called traditions are worth following. Your act of selfishness is such an example.
          Just because people don’t interrupt concerts with disapproving comments during a performance, it doesn’t mean that they are uneducated nor uncritical. They are merely displaying public courtesy at a public event.
          That there are often subpar performances is something I agree with and I do find it a pity. But what i resent is your implication that the majority of the paying public are too stupid to make an objective judgement of a performance. You might be surprised to find that many of us can make a critical analysis of a given performance. We just don’t do it mid-performance. Making a scene in front of a thousand people who have paid to see a concert/opera is not making a point. It just makes YOU look like a right fool who seeks attention.

          Nobody forced you to see the concert in question, and while I think freedom of expression is important, no-one is in a position to ruin other people’s enjoyment in a public arena. If you disliked it, too bad. C’est la bloody vie sometimes. Found your own orchestra or conduct your dream performance in front of your hi-fi system. But don’t do it in public.

          And get a life. There are more important things in this world than attention-seeking.

        • Mr Blue Sky says:

          Oof. NOT a good night at the opera!

  • Roy says:

    Simply because something is perceived by you as traditional doesn’t make it sensible or acceptable behaviour. I think the major result of such displays would be a reduction in audiences. I certainly wouldn’t pay to go to live concerts if I thought there was a good chance that some attention seeking buffoon would disrupt my enjoyment of the event. All the damn coughing is bad enough.

    • Lucy says:

      Very true. Burning ‘witches’ was a tradition in the past, but nowadays if you tied an old lady to a stake and set her on fire you’d be locked up for a very long time. Traditions which used to be acceptable or are acceptable in other places (not that burning old ladies is acceptable) often are no longer. People pay for listening to the music, and if they choose not to read reviews or listen to their friends’ opinions of the concert then that’s their problem, and you shouldn’t spoil it no matter how much you dislike it. Some of the LPO must also feel quite insulted that their performance was insulted and I think, judging from only a few years of personal experience that conductors sometimes can be convinced by their interpretation and can be unwilling to change.