The best-selling novelist Douglas Kennedy is an orchestra nut. He goes to concerts always and everywhere, even in Geneva where the audience is notorious for bad behaviour. Here’s how Douglas coped with ladies who can’t keep their fingers off their phones.
The concert hall for me is my church. I must hear over 125 live concerts a year. In this secular sacred place – you don’t talk to others. You don’t use mobile phones. You respect the communal nature of the event, the high seriousness of the musical endeavour onstage, and the fact that, for a few hours, we all come together to shut off the world outside and concentrate on the abstract wonder that is music’s universal language.
Last night in Geneva I spent two hours at the Victoria Hall – a true wonder of Beaux-Arts sryle, redolent of 19th century subdued opulence (as befits Genève, city of John Calvin), with a rather excellent acoustic. The hall was packed, the tickets feriously expensive (I got one of the few remaining seats a fortnight ago – it was a side view up in the Premeiere Galerie – or First Circle – and cost a whopping 130 Swiss Francs… around $135 or £95). But then again the Vienna Philharmonic were in town and this great orchestra can command such prices – especially in the ‘grand bourgeois’ city that is Genève. And Zubin Mehta was supposed to be leading the orchestra – only to fall ill and be replaced by Daniel Harding.
Now truth be told my jury is out on Mr Harding. I often find his performances to veer towards the technically immaculate and emotionally distant, lacking in the great metaphysic that a major conductor brings to the podium. But last night Harding was in febrile form, conducting a dynamic interpretation of Bernstein Symphony No 1 and a highly charged, deeply felt reading of Mahler 5. It was wonderful to see a clearly talented conductor lift his game and turn galvanic and profound.
But during the Bernstein there was a woman in the third row of the stalls filming the entire event. Five rows behind her a woman was texting. Another woman took several iPhone photos, the flash exploding across the semi-dark hall. And five seats down from me an overdressed woman in her fifties, very bling bling, with the sort of big black round spectacles that called to mind some sort of Fellini-esque ‘grande donna borghese’, spent the entire length of the Bernstein on her phone, not just missing the vivid immediacy of Harding and the Vienna Phil’s interepretation, but also causing a distraction for everyone around her.
As the Bernstein was played without pause between movements it was impossible to say anything. But when the first half ended I stood up and said in French:
“Don’t you know that using your phone during a concert is not just against the rules, but the height of impoliteness?”
The woman looked shocked, then turned monied arrogant.
“No one else complained” she said….
What Douglas did next? Read on here...
Reprinted with permission