William Christie throws out audience member whose phone went off

William Christie throws out audience member whose phone went off


norman lebrecht

December 23, 2016

At the national auditorium in Madrid, Wednesday’s performance of Handel’s Messiah was interrupted by a mobile phone going off in a side-row close to the stage during the aria, He was despised.

‘Out!’ yelled Christie at the phone owner. ‘You have just ruined one of the most beautiful passages of one of the most beautiful works ever written.

Full report here (in Spanish).


  • DAVID says:

    Good for him. It’s time people, and especially so reputable artists, stood up against such behavior, which can only be labeled as unacceptable and inconsiderate of others in attendance. If people cannot have the decency to turn off their devices and muster enough concentration to listen to a musical work for 2 hours, they simply do not belong in the concert hall. This should indeed be a policy enforced in all concert venues, similar perhaps to the requirement to check in most bags and backpacks when visiting a museum.

    • Olassus says:

      The artists should not have to bother.

      The rule should be: check any mobile device at the cloakrooms — newly equipped with 2,000 numbered little flannel bags.

      If caught with a mobile device in the auditorium, an on-the-spot fine, previously agreed to in the ticket purchase!

      • Kathy says:

        Everyone should not have to go to the bother of checking their phone because one or two idiots don’t turn theirs off.

      • Christopher Culver says:

        Ban mobile phones from concerts like that and you’ll lose a lot of audience. It’s not just “those damned people glued to their phones” (who are swiftly becoming the majority of society), but also concertgoers who are carrying work phones that they are forbidden from surrendering to anyone due to company IT policies.

        • Adam Stern says:

          How did all these compulsives and neurotics — e.g., babysitter inquisitors, sports-score checkers, spouse/partner monitors — ever survive in the (blissful) pre-cellphone era? Is it really too much to expect two- or two-and-a-half hours of attention from someone who has supposedly come to a concert hall or theater or movie house to have some manner of involved artistic communion?

          I wish all concert halls would install that device which blocks cellphone reception. Reception could be available until right before tuning, during intermission, and immediately following the cessation of final applause.

          (And, while on the subject of what’s appropriate at a concert, can we please impose a ban on up-to-the minute sports bulletins over the P.A. system? Do we really need to be apprised about a football game when still contemplating, or eagerly anticipating, a Beethoven symphony?)

          • Theodore Harvey says:

            Blocking reception would not solve the problem since often when mobile phones go off it’s an alarm the owner did not realise was on (or accidentally set to PM rather than AM) which does not need any reception to be activated.

        • pooroperaman says:

          ‘Ban mobile phones from concerts like that and you’ll lose a lot of audience.’

          Good. These are audience members we don’t need.

          • Christopher Culver says:

            So you’d be happy to give up even the audience members who are polite and turn off the sound on their phones? (Read the comment I was responding to.) The art simply wouldn’t survive such a drastic pruning of the audiences, it would be concerts to empty halls.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Several years ago I was at a London Symphony concert in Beijing, China in that magnificent hall. Before you could enter cell phones had to be checked in. The very friendly women took it and gave you a receipt. Yes, it slowed things down, and yes, it was a pain after the concert to wait in line to get it back. But it was silent in the hall. No phones ringing, no one texting or playing games. Halls in the US and Britain should copy their procedures.

    • Victoria says:

      Great practice for this total problem! Would be great to use it worldwide.

    • MacroV says:

      These days virtually every concert hall/theatre asks people before the show to shut off their phones, so forgetfulness isn’t much of an excuse. I confess I’ve taken a live phone into a concert and failed to shut it off, but fortunately not many people call me.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      Leaving a phone with government employees in China…. I hope there’s nothing important or sensitive on your phone.

      • MacroV says:

        I had the same thought, but they can hack your phone remotely.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Indeed, as aptly demonstrated by the American NSA tapping the phones of Angela Merkel et al..

          • Robert Holmén says:

            Listening to you while you happen to talk on the phone and getting every bit of data, every picture, every video on it in one easy step are rather different things.

            Go ahead, make it easy for them.

      • Max Grimm says:

        If you think that American intelligence agencies just “[listen] to you while you happen to talk on the phone” one might be tempted suspect delusion. Suffice it to say that American or Chinese, they are far from being the only governments who, politely put, have an acute interest in expanding their knowledge base in creative ways.
        As for making it easy for them (be they government agency, criminal or terrorist), these days all you really need to do is operate a smartphone and you’re well on your way of making it easy.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Leave the phone at home.

  • Simone says:

    Yesterday evening Kirill Petrenko was conducting Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique with the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino, Italy. At the very end, after the last note of the double basses, when you’d just like to listen to a long lasting silence, there it goes the mobile phone…

  • Greg in Chicago says:

    Every concert or theater performance I have attended the past few years have been preceded by a gentle request by the management to silence all electronic devices. How hard is it to turn off your friggin’ cell phone?? Stocks should be erected on sidewalks outside concert halls and theaters for the education of numbskulls who ‘forget’ to turn off their phones. I think an eight hour stint in the stocks for each violation should do the trick. Double that for anyone who texts during a performance.

  • J. says:

    Mobiles phones = monkey business.

    Good job, Mr. Christie.

  • Adam Stern says:

    My first experience with such a pest (following the tale of Maestro Masur vs. The Cougher):


    • BBailey says:

      At least your initial experience happened before the downbeat. I have been to a concert where the person ANSWERED the phone and started talking. And was offended when he was summarily ejected.

  • SDG says:

    My phone once went off during a recital by Joanna MacGregor. The problem is that the button used to switch it on and off is similar to those you are trying to disable, and can be activated by mistake while it is in your pocket. I now leave the phone in the car, or, as suggested above, in the cloakroom.

  • NYMike says:

    Then, there’s always the AHCHOOOO! accompanying the poignant place in the music such as the end of Mahler’s 9th. I’ve learned to cover my mouth and nose with both hands when I feel a sneeze or cough coming on. It’s not rocket science.

    • EricB says:

      2 days ago, at the Paris Philharmonie, there was an older woman just the row in front of me, who was taken by a fit of coughing (or sneezing). She suffered martyrdom, but she kept quiet till it went away, and none in the audience was disturbed by her. I say kudos !!!

  • V.Lind says:

    For God’s sake, people DRIVE while using mobile phones and texting on them. This is a social addiction that has spread like a plague in a very few years. I do not know what is to be done as parents support their kids’ “right” to carry them at all times, meaning they use them in classes, at least for texting, and teachers are powerless — in jeopardy of their jobs — if they complain, let alone confiscate. When kids are brought up like that, what hope they will take any consideration of ANYBODY, having learned teachers have no power?

    Parents are so scared of kids that they let them bring their phones to the dinner table, or sit glued to them while they have guests, or walk down the street with their faces in phones oblivious to who they might bump into or of oncoming traffic (only we’re never that lucky…). They do not rise to give a seat on a bus to the pregnant, elderly or disabled because they do not see them — too absorbed in facebook or whatever is on their phones.

    Naturally they grow up to drive with them, and attending concerts is about the last place they will shut them off. We need the William Christies of the world to TRY to remind them that they owe some consideration to others even f they cannot concentrate long enough to enjoy something themselves. But they have grown up without being taught that consideration of others is a major part of life.

    They should be confiscated in all these public places, starting with classrooms.

    • Sue says:

      Agree with all this! And bravo Dr. Christie.

      In Sydney a phone went off during a Shakespearean play and apparently the actor, Kevin Spacey, turned to the audience member and said “tell them we’re busy”.

      And I was in the Musikverein and a phone went off behind me. The couple felt so ashamed they let at the interval.

      Appalling that people are so addicted and it’s actually a fetish. Nothing makes me more nauseated than seeing the constant checking, gazing at, stroking and looking lovingly-at mobile phones. GROW UP PEOPLE. Find something else in life.

  • BrianB says:

    Bravo Mr. Christie! I am so paranoid about this I always power my phone OFF entirely before a concert. Like Marley, dead as a doornail. Even on vibrate it would ruin “He was despised” or innumerable other pieces. I hope he started over again (besides the da capo itself).

  • Roxanne says:

    You guys are totally right. I hate the way people turn the pages in programme books, or snor, or only come for the social occasion.
    I think it’s much better without the audience. Just the musicians. If you really want to watch a concert you can see it on your phone?

  • Frank says:

    What a pretentious fool of a conductor. No wonder classical music has such image problems. The audience is paying his salary – he should really just conduct and get a thicker skin.

    • Craig says:

      Oh of course, because their paying for a ticket voids all obligation to respect what is going on in front of them, something that is an art form based in sound. You wouldn’t let it happen in a movie theatre, nor a business meeting.

      Crawl out.

    • Plush says:

      Yes, I agree. It is the usher’ job to silence phones, not the artistic dept. No conductor should do it.

  • John says:

    Phones at concerts are one of the top comment-getters on Norman’s blog. Debates abound on this topic.

  • Nick says:

    What is the reason mobile signals can not be blocked in concert venues and other places of entertainment for the period of the concert – with it switched on again at intervals?

    • Neil van der Linden says:

      There is a reason for that. A surgeon should be able to go to a concert when not being on duty, could in case of a major emergency still be third in line to have to go back to the hospital, and should be able to be reached. A politician should be able to attend but still should be able to be reached in case of a major calamity.
      Moreover one must perhaps not think of possible harming effects of counter-telephone waves. A solution for that could be building a hall like a Faraday cage.

      • Sue says:

        Only I want to know how the hell they coped pre mobile phones. Pagers perhaps? But these would have had limited range.

        • V.Lind says:

          EXACTLY. Schools should stand up to parents: schools have phones, and in the case of an emergency, someone will fetch the child PDQ. Kids in classrooms get few emergency calls. They use their phones to text and facebook and access web sites. Should be stopped there so they actually grow up realising that 1) you CAN get through an hour without a phone and 2) you SHOULD as it means fastening your attention on the subject at hand and the people you are with. Get those lessons inculcated early and they MIGHT spill over to later life and circumstances (e.g. concerts).

          • Sue says:

            I was a teacher and even had a student phone her parent at recess after I disciplined her. The mother phoned me at lunchtime to tell me off and I said to her “I’m not listening to you now” and hung up. When she phoned the Principal my Head Teacher said, “Sue has my full support; end of story”.

            More teachers (some would do) need guts.

        • Bruce says:

          “Only I want to know how the hell they coped pre mobile phones.” Well, in the olden days, they would just keep calling down the list of surgeons until someone answered. If someone was on call, they often simply made plans to stay at home that evening; or they’d call in and leave a number where they could be reached. (Referring to doctors here, since that was the subject of Niels’s comment that you were responding to.)

      • Sixtus says:

        It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to design a small, portable low-power phone jammer. And if enough people with them attented the same concert and sat all over the hall the blanket of phone silence would be complete. As for those who absolutely must receive emergency calls, they could leave their phones at coat check, just as was done with pagers in the pre-cellular days (not the pre-prokaryote era).

      • Nick says:

        Take that to extremes and most in an audience could have some reason or other to be contacted – even if it is only for a friend saying “she’s run out of sugar!!”. Odd, though, how people whose phones ring hardly ever actually check them, answer them or even leave their seats! They either sit in embarrassment desperately trying to muffle the noise, or quickly shuffle around and turn it off. In fact, since mobile phones became relatively common, with less than a handful of exceptions the only people I recall having seen leave a concert hall have been those with a very persistent cough.

    • Anon says:

      Nick – in the UK at least, the reason is primarily because it is illegal (the use thereof is an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006).

      [Furthermore, jammers arguably come under the EU’s “Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive” (in the UK, implemented as law as the Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 2006), which asks that devices do not cause “excessive electromagnetic interference”, which would be the entire point of a jammer. The EC supports the UK view that jammers are “likely” not to be compatible with these Regulations, and therefore they cannot be legally sold in the UK.]

      Of course, if you build your hall like a Faraday cage then much, though not all, mobile reception may be eradicated ‘naturally’. I realise that this doesn’t help extant venues.

  • Ron says:

    It is unfortunate when something like this occurs, but we all screw up. Public shaming supports our feelings of superiority, but it won’t prevent this from happening again, and it seems misplaced when it is directed at a fellow lover of classical music whose “crime” is not one of intent, but memory.

  • Bruce says:

    Good for him.

    You should know enough about your phone to be able to make sure it’s not going to make any noise. (The Mahler 9 guy, IIRC, had a phone that was freshly issued to him at work and he didn’t realize that the alarm clock would still go off even if the phone’s power was turned off; so when the phone started beeping, at first he didn’t think it was his. Understandable, but it doesn’t negate the disruption experienced by everyone in the hall.)

    I refuse to believe anyone “forgets” about their phone, since approx. 100% of people who own them can’t keep their hands off them at any given time. There does not appear to be any human activity during which people (some people) will not use their phones.

    • Neil van der Linden says:

      I think in most serious concerts serious concertgoers honestly would try to prevent causing disturbance. I assume that someone attending Mahler IX falls among this category.
      I remember attending Tristan und Isolde, and I had put the phone to silent mode before the first act. In the first interval I switched it on again, and put it back to silence for the second act. In the second act I switched it on again. After the third act I discovered I had not switched it of again after the second interval. I thanked all the people who consider it as rude to call somebody after 10 PM..

      • Sue says:

        You need psychological help about your addiction.

        • Neil van der Linden says:

          There may be reasons to switch on your phone. Expecting some important call. By the way this was in the time of the good old non-smartphone only call and get called or sms’d Nokias…

  • Jonathan Cable says:

    I was there, playing in the orchestra and continuo. That phone going off at that moment was shockingly disgusting. Say what you will about “diva” conductors or what have you – in this case, I support Bill 110%. The dude with the phone was lucky he didn’t cross my path; he would not have been amused, to say the least.

  • EricB says:

    It’s not the first time Bill throws a (justified) tantrum during a performance because of a cell-phone, and throwing out guilty wrong-doers out of the theatre. Good for him !!!
    How many decades does it take to educate a concert audience, I wonder….

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    Hello! People who come to listen to the Messiah under William Christie are not criminals. Yes, there is negligence involved. But who knows what kind of day, week, year the member in the audience had, coming to the concert of wonderful music by wonderful performers perhaps to find some consolation and relief. Perhaps just until the concert the mind of the audience member was so occupied with troubles (some texts of the Messiah come to mind about troubles and seeking blessing) that he/she forgot to take care of the phone. Maybe the person suffers from slight forgetfulness, which already causes enough trouble for this person.
    I myself notice that in a concert inadvertently I feel a need to divide the audience in people I despise (He was despised) and people I like. While then I tell myself that all these people came for the same thing that is dear to me. It is the need described by Arthur Koestler among any group to divide the members in likeable and rateable. In the whole of the American society we like to hate the Trump-voters and in the UK the UKP (quite rightfully so in both cases, probably), but the next moment we do the same thing among the audience that comes to listen to an exquisite performance by an exquisite conductor, all of which audience in other circumstances we would consider the like-minded. No, that person who was coughing during the prelude of Parsifal earlier on this week is not a criminal, even if you wonder what the person thought he/she was coming to do attending a five hour long opera if already during the pianissimo prelude one things he/she can do some coughing. And yes, the cell phone ringing and the person coughing is terribly disturbing and may destroy your feeling of rapture. But you also can ask yourself why do I let myself get distracted. In order to feel better? This was my Christmas message.

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    By the way this week when attending Parsifal the Dutch National Opera I noticed that in my impression over 60% of the people was sitting with their smartphones in the intervals. Only half-talking to people in their company or shoving in some food and drinks.
    I assume that not everybody was googling for various interpretations of the Parsifal themes.
    On a different note the next day at the dentist in the waiting room also everybody was oberving their smartphone. This saves the dentist of having to put up some magazines in the waiting room, or even having to put up some painting on the wall.

  • J. says:

    Some people use mobile phones. And some people read Proust and Montaigne.

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    I always like to think that all those people using mobile phones in the train, in the dentist’s waiting room and in the intervals of Parsifal are either studying the various interpretations of Parsifal or Proust or Montaigne, with a break here and there for a message from their mother on WhatsApp, a posting of a cat picture by their best friend on Facebook and checking the latest additions on Slippedisc.

  • pooroperaman says:

    ‘He was despised.’ As such people always should be.

    • Sue says:

      I had a recent stint in hospital overnight, coming in through A&E. I couldn’t sleep until midnight because the woman in the next bed was on her mobile all night…”I’m in hospital…woke up with a rash…doctors don’t know…..yes…” over and over and over. It was her social life. These things used to take place at home, with relatives, after the loved one was admitted. For many people, hospital is now their office to take calls.

      Vile. Selfish. Narcissistic. Intolerable. Hospital is no place for anybody who is ill.

  • George says:

    Awful behavior on Christie’s part. He should remember who’s paying his salary: the ticket buyer. Such behavior only gives classical music concerts a black eye as places where people fear being scolded.

    • Jonathan Cable says:

      Excuse me, but with all due respect, you’re full of it. I, musician on stage, felt personally insulted by the ringing of that phone, and the conductor’s outburst was totally and absolutely justified.
      People are constantly told, at every venue, to turn off their mobile devices. If you do not do that and something happens, then it is not on the venue or the conductor, it’s on you and no one else.
      The sooner you and others understand this, the better off we will be.
      Allegedly paying someone’s salary does not give anyone the right to act like an inconsiderate boor, and there is no justification for it. In case you were wondering, it’s called common decency.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      I suppose the cellular owner did not pay for all the tickets. Maybe he did not pay for his own ticket.

  • Justin says:

    So I’m going to assume that all of the comments here are coming from people who have never made a mistake in their life. When driving their cars, they’ve never had an accident, or even so much as run a yellow light that they shouldn’t have, or turned right and had a pedestrian in the crosswalk yell at them, or anything along those lines. Goodness gracious, they’ve never even dropped something or forgotten to buy something at the grocery store.

    You know what ruins a passage of music? The conductor cutting it off mid-concert to scream at someone in the audience.

    If the person answered their phone and started jawing away, there’s no excuse. But if it was–as is the most likely scenario–someone who immediately started fumbling for their phone in a mortified terror, only to be publicly humiliated at a concert that they came to, presumably to enjoy, well then: that’s petty and atrocious.

    As a side note, since many people are commenting about “psychological counseling” for the “mental condition” of owning a cell phone–something that has been commonplace and makes life exponentially easier for the past two decades–,why don’t we talk about the psychological counseling required for those who believe that the concert hall is supposed to be a completely silent tomb, devoid of anything but the shallow breaths of the audience in their rapt attention. Up until ~100 years ago, concerts were like, well, rock concerts. Applause in the middle, cheers, enjoyment; you know, signs that people were there voluntarily and enjoying the proceedings. The sea change to complete and utter stillness and angry glances when someone shifts in their seat is truly mental: if you can’t stand someone else in the same room enjoying the music in a different manner than yourself, purchase a CD and enjoy the perfect performance in utter silence, every time.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      The change to expecting complete silence is totally understandable considering the increasing importance of dynamic range in music during the Romantic era. When so many passages are marked pianissimo, audiences won’t hear anything at all if there’s even some light shuffling about, let alone the conversation and meal-taking of the Classical era.

      • Justin says:

        I understand the heightened detail in music as it progressed. I think proper etiquette lies somewhere in the middle. I would not enjoy a classical era concert with cacophony in the mezzanine, as it were, but the holier-than-thou stifling atmosphere of most modern concerts is insufferable, and deeply alienates new generations of fans and attendees. Thanks for your reply 🙂

  • Adam Stern says:

    I’m wondering how the writers who have chastised Mr. Christie’s behavior (which I fully endorse), and justified their stances by saying that he’s biting the hand that feeds (chastising those who are paying his salary, i.e., the ticket-buyers), would feel about the following analogy:

    A serious operation is taking place that requires intense concentration and sensitivity on the part of the surgeon. Someone in the operating room causes a disturbance, either by having their cellphone go off, or indulging in needless converse, thus distracting the surgeon. I believe the surgeon would have every right to speak sharply to the offender and expel him/her. At that point, the most important thing in the world is the preservation of the life of the patient, and anything getting in the way of this must be dealt with, irrespective of the concomitant embarrrassment or bruised ego.

    Call it misplaced idealism or tacky sentiment, but when a musician is in the moment in rehearsal or performance, the music is to her/him as the patient is to the surgeon. And for those of you who might say, “A performance isn’t a matter of life and death”, tell that to the musician. I’m nowhere in Mr. Christie’s league, but I take my performances very seriously and would just as passionately respond to so crude an interruption of my work.

    Please don’t bother to respond with charges of snobbery or elitism. Yes, the ticket-buyer pays a lot of the musician’s salary, but that doesn’t mean that any lapses in the buyer’s behavior or common sense get an automatic pardon.

    I love music, my orchestras, and my audiences, and wish to do my best for all of them.

  • John says:

    Sixty-one comments and only one person seems to have brought up the possibility that the poor miscreant simply FORGOT to turn off his/her phone. Stuff happens, folks.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    While Christie’s ire sounds entirely appropriate, his actions may have permanently lost the venue a paying customer. I’m not sure how to balance that.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      I’m sure the majority of the people who read and contribute to thisblog would say there are more important things than money when it comes to high art. After all, why would so many scream about orchestras closing down or trimming their costs and shedding staff if that were not so?

  • Nick says:

    To Neil van der Linden’s comment, “. . . the cell phone ringing and the person coughing is terribly disturbing and may destroy your feeling of rapture. But you also can ask yourself why do I let myself get distracted. In order to feel better?” I cannot believe anyone in that concert hall felt better in any sense of the word by asking themselves why they got distracted!

    You can troll out any number of excuses for not switching a phone to silent mode – for that is all it requires. But buy a ticket for most concert/entertainment events and there is a list of rules printed somewhere. Until someone decided you could bring drinks and ice creams into the National Theatre – and I assume other venues – eating and drinking was prohibited. I for one never saw anyone eating and drinking at concerts (with the exception of sweets – which can cause its own disturbance, I admit). The same can – and should be – true for cell phones and other devices at concerts. It’s unfortunate that the act of throwing an individual out of a concert causes much more commotion that the cell phone ring itself, otherwise ushers could be briefed to do so. If there was inexpensive technology available to pinpoint seats where such a disturbance takes place, the individual could then be approached at the interval or end of the concert and given some sort of sanction.

    Forgetfulness is not an excuse in this situation. To get into a concert hall requires that you purchase a ticket. Without one, you can’t get in. To get to your seat should require that you switch your mobile device to silent. and for those who say it can’t be done, it can!

    A year or so ago I was at a concert with Kryztian Zimerman playing Brahms 1. The audience was warned in the programme, verbally at the start of the concert and again before the start of the concerto that mobile devices had to be switched off. There was not one interruption – apart from one gentle cough. Virtual total silence amongst the audience.

    And as for coughing, I cannot of the life of me understand why people who know they have a cough and might have to cough during a performance – and in many cases it is not one isolated cough – can not have the good grace to put a tissue or a handkerchief on their knee so that they can quickly muffle that noise to lessen the disturbance to others. Concert-going is a communal experience. Individuals have to accept they are part of a much larger group and have a duty to the group to minimise any action on their part which might disrupt proceedings for the others. And that’s before we come to distractions to the performers!

    Those who determine that they do not have to obey the rules for whatever reason should face some sort of sanction. Ignorance of the law is no excuse – only in the case of concert venues, the rule is clearly stated for all to see, hear or both. There is no excuse in this case for ignorance.

  • John says:

    Guess what, children . . . .

    As long as there are live concerts there will be disturbances. Various artists will handle these disturbances — or not — in various ways.

    Get over it! Stuff happens!