Is this the worst musical moment for a mobile to ring?

Is this the worst musical moment for a mobile to ring?


norman lebrecht

June 06, 2019

At Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie last night, a phone went off during the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Morton Feldman’s Madam Press died last week at 90.

Of all musical works in the canon, this must be the most susceptible to disruption.

The conductor, Teodor Currentzis, gave a shrug and carried on.



  • We privatize your value says:

    Careful with the superlatives! Many other works in the canon are also highly susceptible to disruption. What about Beethoven’s “Heiliger Dankgesang”? 🙂

  • RW2013 says:

    Every moment is the worst for a mobile to ring.
    Play with your gadgets in the privacy of your whatever.

  • John Borstlap says:

    No single work by Feldman is part of ‘the canon’. All of his work is a dirge of all that is considered ‘canon’.

    • Jack says:

      John, which works of yours are in ‘the canon’?

      When a composer is mentioned or (God forbid) saluted in this blog, readers have come to expect a putdown from reliable old JB.

      Don’t you know that your incessantly catty putdowns and negative remarks about the work of other composers only serve to demean you?

      • John Borstlap says:

        I’m a fan of Feldman’s work…. talking about a ‘canon’ is conservative in the worst sense. The repertoire has been formed around a centre which remains fairly stable, but all around it, the pieces may change in the course of time, disappear, or come back. Feldman always felt pessimistic about the fate of music and suffered greatly from the break with tradition after WW II. His work is a sad reflection on what had been lost, so talking about his pieces as being part of ‘the canon’ is entirely misunderstanding what he set-out to do.

        I think his best piece is ‘Coptic Light’, a nostalgic tapestry of shimmering sound:

        I don’t think there is anything better that sonic art can do.

        As for ‘put downs’: it may be helpful to really read what is written instead of getting irritated about the possibility of informed critique… (‘If many people agree with me, I get the feeling that I must be wrong’ – Oscar Wilde.)

  • …or indeed 4’33” by the other composer portrayed above…

  • phf655 says:

    How about the last movement of Mahler’s Ninth? – it happened at a now-legendary performance in 2012 by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic. And what would happen if a cell phone went off during the pause before the coda of Bruckner’s Eighth?

    • The View from America says:

      It would relieve the tension.

    • Michael Turner says:

      Exactly the same happened to the Philharmonia Orchestra and ESA Pekka Salonen at the RFH a couple of years ago. Mahler 9, about 90 seconds before the end. Front row, directly in front of the leader. Totally ruined the moment.

  • mick the knife says:

    Soon the ringing phone will be part of the percussion section, its proper use taught in orchestration classes.

  • Eric says:

    Your phone ringing during Tarrega’s ‘Gran Vals’ would be ironic, to say the least…

  • Chris R says:

    Concert halls should offer a “4’33” Ringtone” free to patrons.

  • Ned Keene says:

    Menotti’s one-act opera ‘The Telephone’ is a work easily sabotaged if the telephone doesn’t ring.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    The parts of music compositions where a ring tone would be inappropriate are innumerable – in the tens of thousands if not millions.

  • Brettermeier says:


    With David Hasselhoff’s interpretation of “Hooked on a Feeling” as a ringtone, it would’ve been pretty bad and pretty awesome at the same time! 😀

  • Larry W says:

    Like conjoined twins, this cellphone moment ties in with today’s SD article about the music director of Real Orquestra de Sevilla, John Axelrod.
    From the Houston Press, Dec. 11, 1997:
    The incident could have been a disaster. But for John Axelrod, it became just one more sales opportunity. Comfortably ensconced front row center in Jones Hall, he was taking in a Houston Symphony performance of Beethoven’s Eroica. Dressed in a navy jacket and tie, he turned his green eyes heavenward, looking for all the world like an Enlightenment-era saloniste. Then — Brrrip! Brrrip! It was the muffled chirp of a cellular phone. His cellular phone. Quickly, Axelrod dove to silence the offending item, ducking below the line of chair backs, as evident to all as an ostrich burying its head in the sand. There he remained, cowering. Had he intended to steal attention from the Houston Symphony, he couldn’t have planned it better.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Last five minutes of Shostakovich 4th symphony. Any extraneous noise from the audience would wreck it.