Disturbances at Berlin’s Abbado memorial concert

Disturbances at Berlin’s Abbado memorial concert


norman lebrecht

May 18, 2014

A cellphone went off and there was a barrage of coughing during the Berlin Philharmonic’s memorial concert for its past music director. An eyewitness report:



A very large and international group from a convention in Berlin thoroughly disturbed tonight’s Philharmonic concert in memory of Claudio Abbado. A non-ceasing barrage of coughs and cell phone sounds accompanied all the music making – with one cell phone ringing just as the last note of the Mozart violin concerto’s second movement was completing. The receiver, sitting on the second row, got up and left the hall to answer the call while Frank Peter Zimmermann and Daishin Kashimoto exchanged confounded glances. The first half of the concert was without conductor, with a rose placed on the podium to commemorate Mr. Abbado, and it took so long to get the audience quiet that a member of the viola section was forced to stand and call for silence. Intendant Martin Hoffman made an announcement in English before the second half, sternly saying “We are glad to have such a large international audience tonight – but it is definitely irritating to have cell phones, cameras and coughing going the whole time. If we can limit the coughing and beeping, I’m sure we can have a nice concert this evening, thank you. Now please enjoy this 65 minute Bruckner symphony.”

Programme note:
The Berliner Philharmoniker pay tribute to Claudio Abbado with deep love and gratitude and dedicate these concerts to his memory. In remembrance of this painful loss, Frank Peter Zimmermann will play Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto in G major without conductor during the first half of the concert. Also the opening piece, the incidental music from Franz Schubert’s Rosamunde will be performed without conductor. Chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle will conduct the Symphony No. 7 in E major by Anton Bruckner during the second part of the programme.



  • Sylvia Edgerton says:

    I can’t believe this went on. As a composer myself, I know how irritating it is!

  • newyorker says:

    What a shame. It seems like a rather unusual occurrence that a large conference would buy out a block of tickets for a concert and have no idea to behave. I wonder if Berlin experiences this often? Sad that it had to happen on this special night.

  • Nick says:

    What an absolute disgrace to the memory of one of the greatest conductors! How is it possible that so many seats were sold to a convention for a memorial concert? Surely this concert was for regular patrons of the BPO, not a large convention with many people who may never have been to a concert in their lives before!

  • Prewartreasure says:

    I am hopping mad with rage to read this, and I wasn’t even there! It’s long past the time to introduce Fixed Penalty Fines for deliberate disturbances at such events.

    I suggest a sliding scale ranging from, say, €50 for a ringing cell phone; €25 for unwrapping a sweet; (with a surcharge of €10 if the confectionary is wrapped in cellophane) €20 per cough, and €5 for squirming on your seat or looking at a programme when the conductor’s baton is raised. Grrrrrr…

  • Shai says:

    “Now please enjoy this 65 minute Bruckner symphony.” – Haha, so “german”…

  • Will Duffay says:

    Why was the announcement in English? Did they assume the perpetrators were non-German? Do they cough differently?

  • My solutions:

    1) signage at each entry door (in 2-3 languages):
    “Our artists pour their souls out through their instruments in order to nourish your souls. Using a cell phone during the music is rude and disturbing. Please let your soul tune in, not your cell phone.
    Cough only if you must, but please muffle it.

    2) Available at each entry door: ‘cough mufflers’
    (small cloths made of polar fleece that can be tossed into bins as audience exits)

    • roberta panzani says:

      wonderful, genious, thank you, Alexandra, with such behaving people we need to battle with joke-like arguments but is a serious matter…you have a good idea!!

      • Thank you, Roberta! I think the fellow just below me has the best idea though – just eliminate the signal in the hall. But I do like my ‘cough muffler’ idea. Maybe I should make them and sell them!

  • Alexander Hall says:

    There is apparently a simple solution to this never-ending problem of self-important individuals who believe that they must have an extra limb called a mobile phone. The concert hall in Singapore, as I recently read, now blocks all internet access in the hall itself. This means that concert patrons can no longer use their infernal devices inside the auditorium. Please, please, please, can ALL concert halls in the world now follow suit?

    • Rach says:

      Esplanade concert hall- not only internet access, blocks ALL signals on and offstage. Rather effective way to prevent unintended dissonance! Unfortunately, one occasionally meets with pesky people playing games during the programme.

  • Charlotte says:

    This was the last of three concerts in memoriam Claudio Abbado. These used to be the concerts, that he would have conducted. I was at the one on Friday, a very moving experience (and completely undisturbed). I also watched the Saturday one on my TV (Digital), also no disturbance and very moving. These two were subscription concerts (said the programm book). The last one obviously was a non-subscription one, I was not there (and am very happy, now, that I read this…). The article gives the impression, that there was only this one concert, that’s not the fact.
    Still not a good idea to sell so many tickets to one group, that doesn’t seem to understand, what a classical concert is…

  • Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence in Berlin any more. Recently, as mass tourism has reached this hitherto rather sedate city, the Philharmonie in particular has become insufferable. It is impossible to enjoy any concert now undisturbed, especially those by the Berliner Phil, which attract the most clueless tourists (who are not in the least interested in the music, and from the look and behaviour they display seem to have never set foot in a concert hall before in their entire lives). Coughing is constant and very loud (never heard of this thing called handkerchief?), and it sounds vengeful rather than due to a genuine ailment. It is relentless and unbearable. Maybe a short bilingual film should be projected before the concert to show people how to cough without making such a horrendous noise, and how to be quiet and not talk like parrots, and how not to unwrap ceremoniously sweets in the middle of Mahler’s 5th, and how to refrain from taking pictures during the performance with their evil phones and cameras, and, in short, how to behave like civilised human beings, with respect to others and to the music they have supposedly come to hear, instead of like baboons in a zoo, scratching and belching and sneezing indecently.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Dear Ismael, I wholeheartedly agree with you. But, forgive me, I take exception to your comparing the rude and clueless people in the hall with “baboons in a zoo, scratching and belching and sneezing indecently.” That comparison is unfair and offensive to the baboons. The people and their despicable behaviour you describe simply do not have any living beings to be compared with, in my opinion. One way to prevent them to get to the concert hall, would be to raise the ticket price. But then what? Having kids attend a Mahler 10 performance, as related by another participant in this conversation, raises some questions as well. I do not know the solution. Maybe there needs to be a Pops Orchestra in towns where there are plenty of orchestras, but not one for popular music (such as Boston Pops, Tivoli), to play short and light pieces, easily digestible (short attention span!) for those who do not regularly attend classical concerts, in the park during summer, and perhaps in a sports arena in the winter. It looks like there need to be lessons learned in Berlin. I could add a litany of experiences of my own, having witnessed some tourists’ rude behavior during performances at Venice’s Gran Teatro La Fenice (but then, way back in the 17th century, people sat in their boxes, chatting and eating, and spitting what was indigestible right onto the crowd in the orchestra). Clearly, attitudes are shifting dramatically, and not in all cases for the better…

  • Michael Chen says:

    In the early 2000s, I remember attending a series of Konzertante Parsifal performances at the Philharmonie conducted by Claudio Abbado. I went to every one of those and sat through the long 3-Act Opera without noticing any “disturbance”. I found that incredible. We knew how to behave and how to minimize the impact of such disturbance out of the love of music and respect for others, musicians and fellow audience. No more…..

  • anonymus says:

    If the crowd were visitors of the International Tinnitus Seminar 2014, I would not be surprised that they were noisy.


  • Peter says:

    Only the Japanese still reliably know how to behave in a concert hall. They would rather die than commit the slightest disturbance in Suntory Hall.

  • NYMike says:

    Sad to notice that an affliction of NY concert audiences is taking root elsewhere. Nothing like an AH-CHOOO as Mahler’s 9th dies away to brighten up the proceedings.

  • Paul D says:

    At the Mahler 10th performance with the BPO at the Philharmonie last September, there was a large group of kids sitting behind the orchestra; one of the group shot flash photos during the performance. Somehow Daniel Harding was not knocked off stride, but I was certainly knocked out of my zone.

    And, just last Friday night, at Avery Fisher Hall, a cell phone in my section went off about ten minutes before the end of Haitink’s performance of Mahler’s 3rd with the NYPO. Won’t somebody rid us of this scurge?

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Never sell tickets to a concert like this one to any large group. If there is a big international conference in town, and the organizers want to have a block of tickets, firmly and politely decline. Years ago, I attended a concert at the Berlin Philharmonie with Peter Schreier conducting the CPE Bach Chamber Orchestra, with Sviatoslav Richter playing two keyboard concertos. At every entrance into the hall there were ushers distributing a bright colored paper sheet with the statement: “Welcome to this extraordinary concert. Please refrain from any noise or disturbance so as not to jeopardize the performances of the great artists on the podium tonight”, or something to that effect. Whatever was printed on the leaflets, the effect was terrific: not a single sound, absolute silence. It is a cruel irony that the concert commemorating Claudio Abbado was disrupted by the absence of silence and true listening. How right he was when he once stated his excitement about “hearing a snow flake fall….” Such wisdom is needed more than ever in this time in which no one seems to be able to endure silence well…

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    A few years ago, I was in Berlin there was a guest concert of the Mariinsky ensemble with Gergiev playing Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca da Rimini” and the complete 3rd act from Wagner’s “Parsifal”. When I booked the tickets, I was surprised that only a limited number of tickets was available in one area of the hall because, I was told, the concert was actually a corporate event, and most of the tickets were reserved for that. I didn’t think much about it and just booked two tickets.
    When we arrived at the Philharmonie that night, there were big signs declaring that this was an event sponsored by Gazprom, the big Russian natural gas corporation, there were tables with glasses of champagne and hors d’oeuvres everywhere in the foyer, and I thought, great, with that kind of corporate event audience I can just as well write the evening off and go home.
    Most of the people around us were, not surprisingly, Russians, and when the lights dimmed and the performance began, the hall fell completely silent and there was no whisper, no coughs, no program rustling. Because the Russians, corporate guests or not, simply knew how to behave in a concert hall.

  • newyorker says:

    I hope someone in Group Sales Division gets roundly upbraided for this.