Video: In an earthquake, the conductor is first to leave

Video: In an earthquake, the conductor is first to leave


norman lebrecht

April 03, 2014

When California was hit by a 5.1 last weekend, the Los Angeles Philharmonic played through it unperturbed under the baton of Charles Dutoit.

Elsewhere, there was panic.

The Cal State Long Beach Symphony Orchestra was in the middle of a tuba concerto by John Williams when the earth moved. On the video, the conductor is first to rush for the exit. His friends say he was leading by example. There seems to be no concern for the audience. Your views?



  • Joel stein says:

    George costanza in Seinfeld pushing the children out of the way to escape a possible apartment fire.

  • Tommy says:

    It looks to me like everyone, including the audience, just headed for the exits. Not sure that constitutes a lack of ‘concern for the audience’. What exactly were the musicians supposed to do, encourage the audience to jump into the tuba for safety? And since the conductor was the only one standing up, his exit was always going to be quickest.

    Is this a story?

  • Alison says:

    A very leisurely “rush”.

  • JD says:

    Believe it or not, we conductors don’t study crowd control in the many years or our education. Studying scores, learning rehearsal techniques, practicing baton technique, and being socially awkward seem to take up that time. I think his natural human sense of running in the face of a possible natural disaster should be applauded.

  • SD says:

    There is such little information on the video that it is impossible to detect exactly what he was doing. What is he supposed to do, just stand at the podium? Why is it necessary to point out the most embarrassing scenario, which is just speculation? Perhaps he was moving quickly to tell the stage crew to sound an alarm, or help manage the commotion on stage. Based on this very short clip, I doubt seriously he just bolted for his own skin.

  • “There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on”…

  • Resa says:

    You do realize that the people on stage are in the most dangerous position, no? They’re under large, heavy stage lights (with movable parts), and they’re sitting on top of a hollow, raised platform. Of course they’re going to run. The conductor’s responsibility is not to the audience in this scenario, but to the orchestra, and by getting off the stage, he was showing his ensemble what they needed to do. Now let’s find some real news, eh?

  • Grazia Bittner says:

    their musiicians not priests!

  • Papageno says:

    I attended the Disney Hall concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic when the earthquake hit.

    The orchestra was a bit rattled for ten minutes or so after the tremor (and who can blame them), but Charles Dutoit was solid as a rock from the podium and I was beyond impressed that the band kept playing while some audience members ran for the exits. Not surprisingly, everyone cheered Mr. Dutoit ,the LA Master Chorale and the Phil at the end. No doubt, it’s a concert that a lot of people who were there are going to remember.

  • Sam Carlson says:

    Geeze, it was only a 5.3, which is really nothing for Los Angeles. Unless the building is very old, everything built there for the past 40 years is perfectly safe in anything up to a 7.0. However, if a big one like this week’s 8.2 off Chile strikes out around Catalina Island, you can kiss about 10 million people goodbye.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    The Disney is a very recent construction, with almost nothing (eg-curtains) to fall on stage. The CSULB hall is older, much less seismically engineered. Have performed in both, and if a quake were to hit I’d definitely choose the Disney to be in. Also, while 5.4 doesn’t sound huge, this was on a thrust fault, which rattles much more at a given magnitude than one on a strike-slip. Try it sometime. You’ll see then.

    • M.A. Steinberger says:

      Oops! 5.4 was the initial estimate right after the shake. I believe the final rating was only 5.1. Sorry.

  • m2n2k says:

    To continue conducting while the building was shaking as Maestro Dutoit did that evening (thus leaving the orchestra practically no choice other than just to keep playing) was undeniably brave, but not necessarily smart or indeed “the right thing to do”. Besides, it is quite possible that in this case the earth moved with greater strength and more violently in Long Beach than it did in downtown Los Angeles, which would have made it much scarier and perhaps more dangerous in the former location than in the latter.

    • M.A. Steinberger says:

      It certainly would have been felt more in Long Beach. Just look at the fault maps.

    • Papageno says:

      In his defense, Charles Dutoit said afterwards that he’s conducted many times in Japan (most likely with the NHK) when earthquakes have struck, so he’s pretty used to it. And rushing off the stage, thereby possibly causing a panic of a full house at Disney to scramble for the exits as well, would not have been “smart” or indeed “the right thing to do” either, if you think about it.

      As I attended the concert, the hall did shake a good bit. But at no point did I feel like our lives were in danger. Dutoit did the right thing,

  • Dylan says:

    The author’s right, there appears to be no concern for the audience! They paid to see a full show and were deprived! I demand an apology be issued by both the conductor and the tectonic plates responsible.

  • Friends, tell us: What Did The Captain Of The Titanic Do after his boat kissed the iceberg?

    Precisely!! 🙂

  • Brenda Anna says:

    I agree that he was leading by example. Most of the orchestra would not have left until the conductor did. Notice in the video that a couple of members got up from their seats, then hesitated to leave, because the conductor had not. I imagine there were some in the audience who took their cue from his exit as well.

  • Rosalind says:

    I would have been more impressed with the conductor if he’d at least turned to the audience and said something like “Please remain calm and make your way to the nearest fire exit.” Could have said it as he walked off, without endangering his chances of survival. The last thing you want is for there to be a panic in such a situation.

    Is there a written protocol for somewhere like the Walt Disney Hall in the event of an earthquake? Since Dutoit was allowed to continue the performance, I’m wondering whether management feel it is safer to get the audience and orchestra to remain in their seats,

    • M.A. Steinberger says:

      Why should it be up to the conductor to instruct the audience? As my husband commented: “That’s what ushers are for.”

  • Tim Marchmont says:

    A tuba concerto? I would not have waited for an earthquake, to make a run for it.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    Brenda Anna is correct: the orchestra would not exit unless or until the maestro did. As to Rosalind’s comment: very few of us here would panic just because the ground moves. Most of us were in the Northridge quake: 6.7 on a blind thrust fault. That was some shaking! Most of us just pulled on clothes, grabbed our flashlights, & went out to see how we could help.

  • Sean says:

    I was at this concert, and what this article disappointingly fails to mention is that after the quake died down, the orchestra and conductor returned to the stage and began the piece again from the beginning, then finished the concert. Also, they didn’t immediately stop and run. It was only when the quake intensified and appeared to be truly dangerous that they left.

    I believe he was leading by example as well. It’s perfectly understandable to have wanted to leave the stage. The sound panels behind the orchestra were shaking terribly, like they could’ve started falling off. I don’t know the conductor personally (I am a music student at CSULB but not in the orchestra), but from what I know of him, he cares very much about his students and is not the kind of person to just disregard anyone else but himself in a dangerous situation.