Conductor explains why he asked mother and child to move

Conductor explains why he asked mother and child to move


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2014

Michael Tilson Thomas has given his version of events at a Miami concert, which he interrupted to request a front-row patron to change her seat.

He told WQXR:  The child ‘was moving around and leaning up against her mother, putting her head up on her mother’s lap,” said the conductor. “She was restless. And I’m sure she had no idea of how visible she was to the whole rest of the audience, not to mention people outside’ (the performance was broadcast to a video wall outside the hall).

Ahead of the third movement solo by cellist Rosanna Butterfield, ‘I thought, “how can I calm the situation down and make sure that the music can happen?” So I asked the mother in a very calm and respectful voice, “I’m sorry, it’s just hard for us to keep our concentration. Would you mind moving to one side?'” He pointed to some seats along the periphery of the stage.

The woman felt uncomfortable, and left the hall.

Read the interview here.


UPDATE: What he should have done. Read here.



  • Herrera says:

    You know what’s distracting on stage? Conductors who wave their arms wildly, jump up and down, dance, sway, bob their heads, tap their feet, gesticulate, sing along with the chorus…

    • Alexander Hall says:

      You know what’s distracting? People who insist on coming to concerts with children who cannot behave – and the parents know that in advance – and have little or no consideration for the enjoyment of others. Good for MTT! Somebody has to put these people in their place.

      • Andrea says:

        Really: “put these people in their place” – which people? Parents? Ticket buyers? People who see concert going as part of their lives, rather than some rarified sphere they enter to shed the cares of the world? By all means, let’s shame them so we can get back to pretending this music is only for the very select few. Then let’s bitch about ticket sales.

    • Anon says:

      Exactly. I am a professional musician living in the US, and I can say we musicians unanimously dread his visits. Uninspiring, unclear and unmusical interpretations matched with an egocentric prima-donna.

  • Augustine Rodriguez says:

    WWKD (What would Karajan do?)

  • Tommy says:

    Presumably Karajan never opened his eyes long enough to notice such irrelevances as audience members?

  • Paul says:

    Unless he started the piece from the very beginning, I think he should have gone on with it.A concert is not a completely visual experience. If someone is bothering you that much visually just close your eyes. Ive been at concerts where the person in front of me needs to conduct with his or her head. Now that is very distracting. The few times I have asked people to stop talking it has not been pretty. By stopping, he ruined this concert for all not the view who were aware of the child. At Carnegie Hall 60% of the audience is asleep after the first 10 bars. Just kidding

  • Augustine Rodriguez says:

    “No Children Under Age 6”

    Printed right on every ticket to the Madison Symphony Orchestra at Overture Hall in Madison, Wisconsin.

    There are lots of reasons for that.

  • Edwina says:

    I must agree with so many here, that Michael Tilson Thomas is an extremely uninteresting conductor, pretentious and lacking a human dimension, and showing little or no interest in others. I have met him on three occasions and was left with the feeling of a totally self consumed person, who couldn’t care less about anyone other than himself. None of this surprises me in the least. If he would really be into the music, totally immersed in the score, he wouldn’t even have noticed a sleeping child and her mother stroking her head. In fact, it should be seen in a positive way, a familial warmth. But no, not with MTT, who perhaps felt that the mother and child moving, ever so slightly, was competition with his own movements, so punish them! No wonder classical music is such a big turnoff for most young people today. It is a world inhabited by many uptight and unwelcoming individuals, MTT being a prime example.

    • The question of how bad this or that musician is is completely irrelevant to the question of whether the public is really expected to respect a musician’s opportunity to do his best (I think yes, positively) and whether a musician must tolerate by all means violations of said opportunity (I think no, he’s absolutely entitled to, among other options, kindly ask an audience member to return to expected behaviour).

  • Eric says:

    This has seemingly turned into a post that has left the original subject and given people an opportunity to slough off some anger and take shots at Tilson Thomas. Perhaps he has earned his reputation with you but I’m sure he doesn’t really care what you think nor should he. I have colleagues who have worked very closely with him and the SFO and of course one hears good and bad about any conductor imaginable. Again, that is not the point. The point I would make is simply that unless you have been on stage as a soloist and more specifically on the podium you really cannot understand what it means to make music in this way and to try to preserve the integrity of a performance.

  • harold braun says:

    To begin with,MTT is a fantastic conductor with special a special focus on musical education and winning new audiences,think about the Keeping Score series,NWS,and the new website with online lessons(I just can´t remember is name).And surely the most gifted and successful communicator of music to youth since Leonard Bernstein,you may like his interpretations or not.I can sing a song or two about small kids attending classical concerts.I mayself had to interrupt a song recital in which I played piano some months ago,because two small kids started wandering around,talking loudly and dropping toys on the floor in halfway through a delicate Faure song,distracting the singer and me to a point where we couldn´t go on,I asked the mother politely to find a solution,and she went out with the kids.Unfortunately they came back after the intermission,and the same mess happened again in some rachmaninov song.This time some audience members asked the lady to leave with the kids.And,Mr.Herrera:MTT has a very economic elegant conducting technique;no jumping around or waving arms here!And I did enjoy many of his concerts and recordings,and his unconventional programmings.

  • Jane Hodson says:

    I totally agree with MTT’s actions, although it’s a pity that he had to take care of the problem when it should have been someone from front of house watching out for disturbances.
    As a cellist, I find it hard to focus on continuous movements at one’s eye level and it can affect the quality of playing. As a mother I feel it is disrespectful to impose a child’s behavior on 60+ people who have spent years preparing to perform for the public, and to an audience who have been looking forward to the concert, and who most likely have paid quite a lot if money to do so.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      This is precisely the point: patrons who come to any musical event should be aware of the fact that concentration is a key part of a good performance and it behoves the audience to ensure that they do nothing to undermine that, either by bringing with them uncontrollable offspring or by failing to switch off their mobile phones or by unrestrained coughing without so much as a muffler. It was the great Alfred Brendel who gave vent to the frustration that many musicians experience in such situations when he turned to the audience at the end of a movement and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not sure whether you can hear me, but I can certainly hear you.” The comments here in these columns about MTT are entirely irrelevant. It matters not one iota whether you hate the conductor or love him, they are entitled to minimum respect from all audiences.

  • Edmund Coxon says:

    MTT’s interruption of his own concert is more distracting than that of the focus of his discontent! As someone who has played under MTT (albeit in London and before he attracted + $1 million a year) a number of times, I found him interesting but not scintillating – not like the ageing beauty of Dorati, the outrageous vanity and high risk stratagems of Bernstein or the humbling, life affirming and unequivocal stellar brilliance of Abbado! If he’s got issues at this time of life with a child shuffling or struggling against composure – he should stop his concert to embrace it – not deploy his selfish opinions upon it. Yes, it’s difficult to concentrate when this type of thing presents itself but I’m convinced the way forward is to embrace it rather than draw excluding attention to it – shame and loss do not promote any business!

    • Typically we musicians are prone to continuing despite multitude of annoyances: blackouts, earthquakes, meteorites, cell phones etc. Hence I tend to believe that Maestro resorted to the interruption in full awareness that the choice here was not between distraction by interruption and distraction by a child but between the former and a performance possibly ruined (by his standards) by distraction of the performers.

    • Nick says:

      Try telling that to the patrons who were sitting within distance of a child who was clearly causing a distraction. I’ve been in such a situation where the child eventually started to cry, the mother then distracted the entire stalls area (she was seated around row 4) by clomping out of the hall, only to clomp back in with the child about 10 minutes later.

      Yes, this should have been an usher’s job. But trying quietly to persuade a mother that she should move to a side seat (note – MTT did not ask her to leave) could have resulted in an even greater commotion if she had refused.

      No doubt the mother in this case wanted to attend the concert and could not leave the child at home. That is highly unfortunate. And does it not highlight one of those changes that concert venues should be considering – a crèche where parents can safely leave their kids whilst they enjoy a concert?

  • Engela le Roux says:

    I agree with conductor ,it,distracting even a moving child restless in sleep and may wake up in unknown environment and start crying .If baby,s young children are allowed ,there should be a special cubicle or designed section for parents and to prepare children for their next step into the world of the performing Arts To embrace is a great idea but be considerate there are way,s and means .,these young ones could be the musicians and concert goers in future.!!!

  • Kathryn says:

    Good for him. I would have applauded. And I say this as the mother of four children who were regularly taken to concerts from a very early age and taught how to behave with absolutely no tolerance for any kind of distracting behavior. They would no more have whispered than drawn breath underwater. Allowing your child to behave with anything less than perfect decorum in a concert of this level displays ignorance and disrespect.

    The behavior standards we imposed on our children did not “cause them to hate” classical music. Instead they realized that it was a special experience which deserved thoughtful, reverent and complete attention. Two of them are top-tier conservatory trained professional musicians and all four of them have a deep and lifelong understanding and appreciation for classical music…and they buy concert tickets.

    But seriously, the front row? Why? The mother should never have risked it, and the ushers should never have allowed it.

  • Withheld says:

    Anyone who learned to play and perform as a kid learned that if there’s a distraction in the audience, you KEEP PLAYING. Seriously, this is music 101.
    We can hope and pray that parents choose carefully whether or not to bring a small child….but we need butts in seats, and we can’t be too picky, can we?
    Well, unless every show you do is sold out. Then I guess you can afford to eject the unwashed masses at will, however politely.

  • Novagerio says:

    I have mentioned this before in 2 or 3 similar links about that pompous ass MTT. Somebody asked what Karajan would have done? Check out the interview with Karajan when he’s talking about the Scharoun Philharmonie and what actually is so good about it (although the interview must have been from 1974 – my guess!) His only comment is how fascinating it is to see that the seats right infront the conductor, behind the orchestra are the first ones to be ripped off at the ticket office! Well, then again, all he had to do was shut his eyes and exercise his spell to a rather hypnotized audience. I suspect that wouldn’t be the case with that preposterous cartoon-conductor mr MTT!

  • Harry White says:

    I can’t help but admire the impudence of this woman: a crèche or a series of family-friendly concerts would be the solution.