US conductor asks mother with sleeping child to leave

US conductor asks mother with sleeping child to leave


norman lebrecht

October 22, 2014

Larry Johnson on South Florida Classical Review reports that ‘Michael Tilson Thomas told a woman sitting near the stage with a child in her lap that she was distracting him and asked her to leave…. The child was apparently sleeping noiselessly on the woman’s lap.’

Full report here.


UPDATE: We have received this clarification from a player in the New World Symphony, who asked for anonymity:

MTT was distracted by the woman and child during the second movement (not sure on details – I know that it was more than the mother caressing her sleeping daughter’s hair) and kindly asked them to move to one side before the slow movement started.

This might not be a problem ordinarily, but in this particular hall, the portion of the audience that is behind the orchestra is in direct sightline for the conductor. They did not realize he was talking to them at first, but then other audience members made them aware. They got up and proceeded to take a very long time to find another seat – the noise from their shoes made it seem like an eternity. It ended with an applause from the audience and a beautiful return to concerto.

2nd UPDATE: Read the conductor’s story here.


  • Stephen Press says:

    What was an infant doing in a concert hall anyway?

  • Sergei says:

    In her place, I’ll would say that he was distracting her on the music, and that please, leave the stage.

  • Daniel Auner says:

    Yes. We definitely need less young people in the audience today. Good message.

  • Like a BOSS! Through the philistines out of the concert hall!

  • Jeff says:

    What a doofus. People like this need to lighten up. They are hastening the downfall of classical music in world culture.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Perhaps he took offence because it showed his performance was dull…

  • Hank Drake says:

    What a prima-donna! At least the audience member wasn’t yakking on her cell phone.

  • Charles L. says:

    I wish more of my colleagues would remember that we’re performing for the audience. They came because they care about what we’re doing and they want to enjoy our performance. That mother and her child aren’t likely to come back.

    Yes, I’d heard about the cough-drop throwing incident in Chicago earlier in the season, but I hadn’t heard about these (from the linked article.)

    “Prior incidents at New World Symphony concerts in their previous Lincoln Theater home include throwing a malfunctioning microphone into the audience, and stalking offstage in the middle of a performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, leaving NWS fellows and the audience sitting for several minutes before he returned.”

    • stella says:

      I was there! It did happen. .

    • Olaugh Turchev says:

      Give us a break… What’s next? If coughing and childcare makes you feel wanted, be my guest but do not expect me to pay $100 for having my listening experience wasted. Why do you think there are special kids concerts?

      • John says:

        So quiet, sleeping children bother you? Seems to me the only disturbance to the performance came from the jerk on the podium

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Absolutely right: the last thing the conductor needs is to worry about a child waking up noisily in the middle of the piece. He could have asked an usher to take her and the child to the back of the hall where the potential noise would be muted.
    This kind of attitude from the mother is typical of people who impose indiscriminately their progeny onto others. A concert hall, first row is obviously not a smart choice and quite disrespectful of other concertgoers who never paid to hear some whaling child having a nightmare.

    • SVM says:

      I fully agree with Mr Turchev. MTT was acting not only out of consideration for himself, but also for the rest of the audience (who may have paid good money and travelled some distance to attend). I wish more conductors and performers were similarly militant about maintaining the peace.

    • Craig Gustafson says:

      Really? “A whaling child?” So the conductor was afraid the infant might lob a harpoon at him while shouting, “Thar he blows!”?

  • InnocentBystander says:

    Oh, so the Lenny Bernstein wanna-be is pulling his antics again? Let’s not forget that from 1977 (when Tilson Thomas was removed from his position with the Buffalo Philharmonic after being arrested at Kennedy Airport for drug possession) he couldn’t get another professional orchestra of his own until he was appointed to San Francisco in 1995 (taking a job that nobody else wanted, due to the maniac managing director of that era). So, for 18 years, MTT had to scrounge for guest-conducting engagements, while Slatkin and Levine enjoyed steady employment – and during which years every major American orchestra changed music directors several times. MTT has always spent a fortune on publicity (which Levine never did, and never had to do) – and publicity is a poor substitute for substance. All that self-purchased camouflage exposes that MTT is clearly a minor conductor, and not entitled to such prima donna behavior and bad manners.

    • Andrew Condon says:

      Not correct – MTT was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 1995

      • TruthInAdvertising says:

        No, Mr. Condon: MTT’s title at the LSO was “Principal GUEST Conductor” – and as stated elsewhere here, that title came with strings attached – and they soon unraveled.

        • Andrew Condon says:

          He may be Principal Guest Conductor now but that was NOT the case in 1988 when he became principal conductor. Please check your facts:

          • norman lebrecht says:

            Andrew’s absolutely right. Remember it well.

          • Andrew Condon says:


            Past LSO principal conductors as stated on their website. Are we trying to rewrite history here?

          • conductormaven says:

            Yes indeed, MTT was appointed LSO Principal Conductor with the condition that Bernstein would piggy-back on the deal, and that MTT would record the LSO for CBS Masterworks. But then Lenny died, Sony took over CBS, and Breest immediately cancelled MTT — and so shortly afterwards, the LSO also sacked MTT. One can’t fail to notice the strings attached to that 1988 LSO appointment – being that MTT had been unemployed for 11 years by that time, so his “appointment” was hardly a coup. So, in your rush to be correct, you might still ask yourself what were the reasons for MTT’s “appointment”.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            MTT continues to work happily with the LSO. These conspiracy theories are groundless.

      • sdReader says:

        See InnocentBystander’s reply below. It’s fascinating!

    • sdReader says:

      The only problem with this thesis is that MTT was able to negotiate a $2-million salary in San Francisco and has maintained it now for 19 years.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Bringing a baby to a concert is perilous, but there’s no indication that the child was causing a disturbance, except to Mr. Thomas’s fragile concentration. Even if it has fussed or cried, the injured party would have been the other members of the audience, not Mr. Thomas. It’s not his place to tell this woman to leave, it’s the responsibility of the venue.

    Given the kind of childish tantrums thrown by artists like Michael Tilson Thomas and Keith Jarrett, why would any paying customer – apparently the last thing to be considered by artists – want to continue to attend live performances? Why spend money on tickets, travel and parking only to be shortchanged musically by performers who think you should count yourself lucky they deign to perform for you or held hostage to the unstable temperament of a superannuated brat like Mr. Thomas?

    Really, the danger for classical musicians is when people realize they’re nearly as well off without having to set foot into a concert hall ever again. For listeners, this is a golden age. Never before has there been so much, so varied and so deep a selection of music available so easily and so inexpensively. Sitting at a computer, one can assemble a more interesting program for less than it would cost to go hear the local band grind out the Brahms Fourth once again. Unless there’s a real value added to live attendance, why bother going? Behavior like Mr. Thomas’s isn’t adding to that value.

  • T. Pleitgen says:

    MTT has a very bad reputation as being an unpleasant egocentric, narcissistic person and only concerned with himself.

    The woman, who he told to leave the hall who, together with her child, were guilty of absolutely nothing, was extremely foolish to have “followed orders” and exited the hall. She should have said “NO!” and remained in her seat. If MTT would stop the concert for that, then it would be his problem and his alone. Amazing that there is no solidarity in the audience. That the rest of those around the woman and her quiet dozing child would just accept that she was treated in such an inconsiderate and capricious manner and allow her to leave and then remain for the rest of the concert and probably applauded, shows just how devoid of humanity these people are. Shocking, absolutely shocking!

    MTT, never a conductor that I had any respect for in the first place, is now on my black list forever!

    • When I was a child, I would not have been brought to such a venue if I was not well behaved, well mannered, and alert. I for one don’t blame MTT for throwing out audience members who refuse to give the performers and music due respect. This is music for educated people, it’s not a Dave Matthews Band concert for goodness sake!

    • Olaugh Turchev says:

      Next time you attend any concert, recital or opera, if some child whales at the most crucial, soft moment of the score… Don’t complain!

      • Paul D says:

        I certainly would not be happy to have a child crying at an inopportune time. But, I was subjected to having to hear somebody’s cell phone go off near the end of a performance of Mahler’s 3rd. That was followed by a near scuffle between the phone’s owner and another audience member. Adults can cause disturbances and take you out of the zone, too.

        • Olaugh Turchev says:

          Indeed so no need to add another layer of disturbance risk no?
          Clearly in the MTT incident, the first row sitting was a factor. Had she been out of sight, thus out of mind, nothing would have happened.

          • John says:

            Mr Turchev, it sounds like you’d be the most pleased if you could attend a concert in an empty hall.

  • Anonymus says:

    Maybe he should stay away from the drugs in the future.

  • Philip says:

    I’m no MTT fan but am with him on this. The child may have been sleeping at the time but there is no guarantee he/she would have done for the duration of the concert. Little wonder his concentration was disturbed.

    The woman showed no respect to other audience members or the performers. I’ve been in the situation as an audience member at a BPO/Rattle concert where children are misbehaving and believe me it’s very, very annoying especially after paying a small fortune for ticket, travel, hotel etc.

    • John says:

      And in a hall with hundreds of people or more, there’s no guarantee that someone won’t break out in a coughing jag. Or some other adult breaks out the hard candy and cellophane. Or someone totally bored with genius MTT’s interpretation letting off a loud snore. All those potential distractions could mitigate against ANYONE being there. Lighten up, folks!

  • Harold Lewis says:

    It is a shame that items such as this, along with so many other stories on this blog, lend themselves to exploitation by people whose comments appear to be motivated principally by malice, prejudice and personal animosity.

  • David Boxwell says:

    MTT should be delegating the “pre-screening” of inappropriate audience members (like a baby) to the ushers and house manager. She should never have been seated in the first place.

    • Max Grimm says:

      While I agree that having ones concert experience interrupted by howling children and blustering parents is irritating and undesirable, I also think that “screening” audience members should depend on the context. This concert was hardly the Berliner Philharmoniker playing Carnegie Hall’s opening gala.
      I would assume that an orchestra academy such as the NWS depends on some level of community support and like it or not, asking mothers with children to leave does not generally end up being good PR.

  • InnocentBystander says:

    That LSO gig was a 3-year appointment, contingent on (a) Leonard Bernstein’s co- participation (they gave Lenny some fancy title, and (b) contingent on the LSO making records with MTT for CBS Masterworks (where Bernstein kept encouraging Joe Dash to keep re-signing MTT). Well, things fell apart when (a) Bernstein died in 1990, and (b) when SONY took over CBS in 1991. Joe Dash was replaced by Guenter Breest, who saw no reason to keep MTT (whom in fact Breest had kicked out of DGG some 15 years prior), and with Bernstein out of the picture & no more recordings offered, there was no more reason for the LSO to keep MTT. And yes, you guessed it – I was an insider, so I witnessed the entire sham.

    • sdReader says:

      Horse-trading of the lowest kind. So that is how LB became “president” of the LSO, demanding favors for MTT? Yuck!

  • Mulder says:

    You need that change that headline, Norman. That is NOT what happened. He very politely asked her to move to one side, then she chose to leave on her own. I was there. Let’s keep the rhetoric out of the headlines.

  • Anon in Miami says:

    Hi Slippedisc!
    I’m not sure where you received your info but many of my friends were at that concert and immediately posted their experience on facebook. Their take:
    -It was not a sleeping baby but a child watching a movie on an ipad.
    -If you are familiar with New World, they were sitting BEHIND the orchestra in direct view of the conductor.

    I hope that info will shed new light on the situation.

  • SVM says:

    Mr Grimm, are you suggesting that the “community” that would “support” the NWS prefer the considerable risk of a screaming child? Why should the basic precepts of peace and attentive listening be the exclusive domain of the Berlin Phil and Carnegie Hall? Are you being so snobbish as to suggest that NWS and its “community” are not worthy of enjoying the basic conditions for a proper classical concert?

    • Max Grimm says:

      I am not being snobbish and I personally believe that whether it’s a Kindergarten orchestra or revered professional orchestra XYZ, the audience and musicians are entitled to the peace and attentive listening all the same. I was merely pointing out that we as a whole tend not to become blinded by circumstances such as names/rankings/reputations etc and therefore I speculated that the community might not view MTTs actions with the same considerations as it might have viewed them had it been a “lauded renowned ensemble” performing.

    • Max Grimm says:

      I meant to say that we DO tend to be blinded by names/titles etc

    • William Safford says:

      The NWS is a training orchestra, for preparing young musicians for performance careers. Perhaps it should also be fertile ground for training young audience members for future audience attendance?

  • Musician says:

    I don’t think that this report from Mr. Johnson is entirely accurate. A former student of mine was at the concert and reported immediately after the incident online that the mother had given her child and iPad to watch a movie during the concert and the child was not asleep but laid across the mother’s lap watching the movie during the concert.

  • newyorker says:

    MTT was jealous because the baby was in the pipeline to succeed him on the podium.

  • Anne says:

    I bet MTT was at concerts by age 2.

  • ReliableSource says:

    Your anonymous source clearly stated that MTT asked the woman to move to one side. I can also confirm that is exactly what happened. The woman then felt uncomfortable, and decided to exit the hall rather than find another seat. So why do you say in your headline that he asked her to leave the concert?

  • Tom Moore says:

    The child should not have been there. Simple as that. The major concert hall in Rio has a sign noting that children five and under are not permitted.

    • Noemi says:

      The hall has an age limit for subscription concerts and the child was well above the limit. Should children not be allowed to enjoy the music offered by the NWS?

  • milka says:

    He could have closed his eyes,and
    pretended he was transfixed by the music and still waved his hands about
    pretending to conduct. Who does he think he is, Michael Tilson Thomas ?
    If the child was quiet Thomas had no reason to carry on as he did ,as for the audience allowing his piggish behaviour , Pleitgen’s point is well taken ,but should remember most symphony audiences approach these
    concerts as they do a wake and MTT
    being in essence chief undertaker they
    defer to him .As for the music being
    for “educated people” can Boring Fileclerk show that whatever was being performed was notated by the composer “only for educated people ”
    just curious ……..

    • Noemi says:

      If he closed his eyes, he would get lost. As a former NWS fellow, MTT losing his place or conducting the wrong number of beats per bar was, unfortunately, part of the routine. He once mouthed “where are we?” to a fellow mid performance. He’s so buried in the score, if he tried to close his eyes, he would surely get lost and there would be a disaster.

    • John says:


  • Fourth Norn says:

    Artists need to remember that they are there to please their audience, not the other way around. If not, they should stick to making recordings. To humiliate a paying audience member (and especially a mother and her child) in this way is appalling, prissy and pompous.

  • RB says:

    For the last time, he didn’t ask her to leave the concert! Your source even told you that…

  • Noemi says:

    If he closed his eyes, he would get lost. As a former NWS fellow, MTT losing his place or conducting the wrong number of beats per bar was, unfortunately, part of the routine. He once mouthed “where are we?” to a fellow mid performance. He’s so buried in the score, if he tried to close his eyes, he would surely get lost and there would be a disaster.

    • Tuttiplayer says:

      As a former English Chamber Orchestra member, I recall when we were recording the “chamber version” of the Beethoven Symphonies with MTT (and what the sense of such a project was is something you can ask MTT to explain!). The orchestra collectively complained to CBS Records that MTT showed up at the recording sessions totally unprepared (I do recall him opening his score to the 4th Symphony with a resounding “crack”) – so in retaliation, MTT finished the cycle with the St. Lukes orchestra in New York.

  • The Incredible Flutist says:

    Couldn’t there have been a more graceful way to do this? Why didn’t he go offstage between movements and ask personnel backstage to to speak to the woman? Once she’d moved, he could have entered again for the next movement with the problem solved. Elegantly.

    Concentration, BTW, is a key asset to any musician’s performance, conductors included. Perfect example is the flutist Yukie Ota’s recent performance in the Nielsen Competition. A butterfly landed on her forehead mid-performance and she didn’t drop a beat. Why should conductors feel that they don’t need concentration skills as well?

  • Mark henrilksen says:

    We took our baby to swan lake. We bought a ticket in the back on the isle. When she woke up with a look on her face, we exited ASAP. Just after the door shut, she “cried like a baby” at the top of her lungs. I thought, if we hadn’t got out in time, it would have been a disaster. That’s probably what MTT imagined when he saw the baby. We stopped going to concerts for about 7 years after that.

  • CDH says:

    He may be a prize wally, but there should never be babies in concert halls. Babies have all sorts of agendas that do not necessarily coincide with concert agendas.

    • Noemi says:

      In an interview, MTT said the child was 7 or 8

      • John says:

        At 7 or 8 you’d think the kid wouldn’t start wailing away, now would you. Hell, I’ve dozed off at a few concerts, but I’m over 8 now, so I guess I needn’t fear Mr. Thomas’ wrath.

  • Andrea says:

    Oleg, how does it “waste” your listening experience or your money to have a silent, sleeping kid next to you?

  • Tesse says:

    Original article from link said the woman was petting the sleeping child’s head. Perhaps the regular movement could be the issue. People with fans or knitting needles or cell phone screens are very distracting, even when silent, if they are in my line of sight. Some halls have a non-interference policy for their ushers. Maybe we don’t know the whole story while focusing on the badly handled solution.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Please allow me to share my experience as a 12 year old many years ago in Amsterdam’s Concertgrbouw. I loved listening to classical music records at home, and especially on my own because I would conduct with one of my mother’s knitting pins. (Lots of Mahler.) I sat next to my mother at the concert. To my right sat a tall gentleman. To the right of him was the aisle. Haitink conducted a commissioned piece. I nodded off. Suddenly I woke up: loud applause. Haitink turned toward the audience and pointed in my direction. For a moment, I thought he meant me! Then the tall gentleman next to me smiled at me and rose from his seat and walked toward the stage. It was the composer (Hans Henkemans). I had fallen asleep next to him! Needless to say, after intermission my mother looked sternly at me, then smiled. I was awake through all of Mahler 7. I share this to bring some laughter into this discussion. Cheers!

  • Tuttiplayer says:

    Yes indeed, it was horse-trading. Bernstein came to the rescue of MTT – who by 1988 had spent 11 years wandering around in search of guest conducting opportunities, after he found orchestra-directorships closed to him everywhere. There’s no “conspiracy theories” here: It’s an irrefutable fact that prior to MTT’s LSO appointment in 1988, he had been without any titles or positions for 11 years, so that certainly raises suspicions as to why the LSO would suddenly appoint him as “Principal Conductor”. But, to have Bernstein as President for Life, and to make recordings for CBS records provide the only plausible reasons for MTT’s LSO appointment. AND, the death of Bernstein and the cancellation of MTT’s CBS/Sony contract provides the reasons that MTT was stripped of his LSO title in 1995. Yes, he still gets the occasional engagement with the LSO, as do many conductors of name – but no titles or recordings remain.

  • YWL says:

    Unbelievable. Just don’t take children to the concert halls. They WILL be disruptive. MTT did the right thing and all concert halls should be child-free. When they are 10 or older, bring them. Otherwise you are being a–holes by disturbing music lovers.