Carnegie Hall cellphones killed my Bruckner 8

Carnegie Hall cellphones killed my Bruckner 8


norman lebrecht

March 10, 2023

From a Joseph Horowitz lament:

Not long after the performance began, the little lights began appearing, raised high. The hall’s ushers dutifully raced hither and yon, up and down aisles, gesturing frantically. And the phones were put away.

Some clever listeners, however, realized that they could film the end of the performance – the famous coda – with impunity. There would be no time for intervening ushers. 

With the pregnant beginning of the coda, I moved to the edge of my seat. I was sitting in my preferred location – center Balcony. (The sound is cleaner than downstairs and the sightlines are impeccable.) As it happened, one of the offenders was seated directly in front of me. Because the rake is steep, she held her phone high – blocking my field of vision with her bright miniature screen.

The ovation was deafening. To get her attention I touched her shoulder and screamed: “DO YOU REALIZE HOW DISTRACTING IT IS TO WHIP OUT YOUR CELLPHONE AND START FILMING?!”…

What happened next? Read on here.


  • Tamino says:

    Hyper-individualism… Yes.
    Maybe too neutral of a term in it’s lack of judgement?
    The zombification of society continues. These partially brain dead people – dead in the compartments of their brain that house both imagination and empathy, signify a transition of mankind.
    Never before could man live with the illusion, all is only about him, social interaction is not existential to his survival. All you need is an iPhone and ApplePay. The rest is circumstancial… all is provided for (invisible) money.
    A fatal lack of looking further than one’s own navel.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “All you need is an iPhone and ApplePay..”

      Yes, sadly they’re the only qualifications most of them will ever earn!!

  • Christopher says:

    I totally get wanting to complain to one’s friends (or to the like-minded readers of your journalism) about changes in society like cellphone use. But confronting the people who use their phones? That is futile, and it is possibly even asking for trouble. The simple fact of the matter in this day and age is that, if you want a classical-music listening experience guaranteed to be peaceful and untroubled, you’ll need to get that at home from recordings.

  • Andrew Powell says:

    He’s right, of course, but he ought to know by now that the moment you start policing or even grumbling you’ve lost. The trick is to externalize it, as the musicians must. But a better trick would be for managements to ban mobile devices altogether from their auditoriums if not their buildings; people who can’t be parted from their devices can’t focus on a performance anyway. I used to think there is nothing worse than an empty seat. This story, and the one last week from the Concertgebouw, shows there is.

    • Heinz says:

      I know many won’t care for this comment, but perhaps videos shot by these rude people have actually drawn more people to concerts, thus helping the musicians make more money from ticket sales, etc. In desperate times, we need all the “help” we can get! It’s better than the seat being empty. Plus it works out for Mr. Horowitz because he needs something to gripe about. Everything works out in the end.

    • Bone says:

      Oddly, many comedians make this demand and venues comply by requiring patrons to leave phones in their cars.
      If only that were possible elsewhere…

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      I agree in principle, but it’s unrealistic to expect that expensive institutions are going to work even harder to turn away ticket sales and fill seats.

  • Barry says:

    High profile “celebrity” concerts have always tended to attract a different audience. The tourists used to be content with an expensive concert programme and an overt display of enthusiasm at the end or, in some instances, before the end. Unfortunately, smartphones have made the collection of souvenirs more intrusive.

    It has become a “right” to intrude with your phone anywhere you see fit, the scene of a fatal car accident probably being the worst example.

    Unless it is outlawed in the way that smoking became outlawed, which is unlikely, I think we’re stuck with it.

    • sonicsinfonia says:

      It is outlkawed – look on every ticket, listen to the pre-concert announcements and the programme. It is a breach of the performer’s copyright (and composer too, as well as the publisher of the music parts and score if any are still in copyright) – theft, in fact.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    A sad story, but touching her was a big mistake. It provides an excuse for an vociferous counter-accusation, which she seems to have taken with gusto.

    Live performances used to be a highlight of my life, but my enthusiasm has waned considerably, not least because of audience behaviour .

    The greatest anger-provocation I experienced came many years back at a performance of Grimes – ENO I believe, but I could be wrong.

    The curtain came down in the interludes, to allow scenery changes. Many of the audience saw this an excuse to chatter, rather than appreciate the splendid music being performed.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      I have experienced this at several performances of Meistersinger when the curtain is dropped between the scene changes in Act 3, both in Chicago and New York. Since in the latter case they were seated nearby with no-one else between us I was able to remind them in a fairly abrupt way that this was not a movie and the orchestration was not background music. Disgusting philistines and cultural barbarians.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      I suffered the same when the curtain was lowered for a scene change during Siegfried’s Funeral March in Gotterdammerung, and the music was treated as cocktail-lounge background. That was 50 years ago, in San Diego, and I was so furious I nearly had a stroke. Back then, I attributed it to the provincialism of the audience; today, provincialism has gone global.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      The collective IQ isn’t very high, you know. Surely that would have become obvious in recent times!!

  • MacroV says:

    This, despite no doubt a pre-concert announcement to silence phones.

    I don’t think tapping someone on the shoulder is a huge violation but I’m not surprised that someone would get defensive and react poorly.

    I feel his pain. Also about the precious twit who has to be the first one to yell “Bravo.”

    • Paul Dawson says:

      The problem with shoulder-tapping is that the response is not “How dare you tap my shoulder?” but a high-decibel “How dare you touch me” leading bystanders to conclude that the touch may have intimate.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        And this is precisely the response you get when you divide and conquer people, demonize males, fetishize lawyers and make every decision about grabbing cash.

        Won’t be long now, comrades.

    • Steven Rogers says:

      “I feel his pain. Also about the precious twit who has to be the first one to yell “Bravo.””

      I don’t get why this triggers people so much, especially after a wild ending like Bruckner 8

      • MacroV says:

        True. It would be worse after Mahler 9. But wait until the performers have eased up.

        I used to get annoyed when on MET broadcasts of Wagner, people would start applauding while the final chord was dying out.

      • Tamino says:

        One word: Respect!

        You realize the conductor – arguably the master of ceremonies for the night, as well as the musicians and audience – would like to separate the spiritual journey that has reached that precious moment of resonating silence at the end, that holy, from the trivial outburst of appreciation, which will come soon enough.

        Or you don’t. But keep quite anyway out of respect for the others. Idiot.

        • Steven Rogers says:

          My god the gatekeeping. Think about it. You are getting your panties in a wad over people clapping WHEN AN EXCITING PIECE IS OVER!
          You can’t clap or show appreciation during the performance(I”m not advocating for this btw, doing this to make a point) Can’t clap between movements….And now, can’t clap when it’s over, gotta wait cause, spirituality.
          The pretentiousness is off the charts. And people wonder why classical music is in the state it’s in. Jesus Christ.

      • Anton says:

        Try the Haas. (It’s the one CT uses.)

    • Jim says:

      How about an announcement pre-performance not to make any sound(s) until at least 10 seconds passes after the end of the work? If this was done at all performances it might begin to sink in.

      • Steven Rogers says:

        That’s so ridiculous. And not to mention lame. Sit in silence for 10 seconds after Shostakovich 7. How anti climactic and stupid.

  • Count Pete says:

    Two of the most common types of classical music articles are ‘How Stifling Etiquette Drives Away Potential Concertgoers’ and ‘How Unruly Audience Members Are Destroying the Concert Experience.’

    The first problem IMHO is absurdly overstated, but the second is truly getting out of hand. Concert etiquette is simple: If you can sit still and be quiet, you have nothing to worry about. (No one actually cares how you dress.)

    Growing up used to give us plenty of time to practice focused attention, in school and elsewhere; not so much anymore, and it’s hard to impose good behavior on people who never learned it.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “(No one actually cares how you dress.)”

      Wrong. You’ve obviously never been to the Musikverein in Wien.

      • Count Pete says:

        You are correct; I’ve also never been to Bayreuth, Covent Garden, La Scala, and a few other places where I can imagine more formal dress may still be expected of the audience. But I those venues are likely to be entry-level experiences for newcomers to classical music.

        I have been to major and minor concert halls in Manhattan, my home state of Connecticut and elsewhere, and I don’t think I’ve found a situation where a casually-dressed person (which is what I usually am) need feel uncomfortable.

        • Samuel Hairstylist says:

          I’ve worn shorts to Boris Godunov at Covent Garden before (on the warmest day of the year, admittedly) and it wasn’t a problem in the slightest. I think it’s just country house opera venues in the UK that require formal dress, thankfully.

    • Max Raimi says:

      Well, no. As the linked article states, there is a lot of shaming for applauding at the wrong time. I know people who are very put off by the formality of our concert ritual. Why on earth are musicians still wearing tails, dressed up like 19th century butlers? I know of people at their first concert who see this, and their first thought is, “This is archaic, weird, has nothing to do with my day-to-day experience…and I’m probably not gonna like it.”
      For decades, I played educational outreach chamber concerts in the Chicago Public Schools. Back in the 1980s and 90s, we wore jackets and ties to them. Then one day we were at a school in a distressed area on the West Side. The kids were terrific, attentive and enthusiastic. Afterwards, one young man approached me and said, “Hey, I really like your music. But can I ask you something?” Of course, I told him. “How come y’all look like detectives?”
      Yup. Middle aged white guys in bad suits…of course that was going to be his frame of reference. I never wore a jacket and tie to one of those shows again.

      • Count Pete says:

        ‘Sit still and be quiet’ remains my advice for a newcomer to any experience who wants to avoid shame. There’s no more need to applaud between movements than there is to shout Hallelujah in the middle of Mass; what’s appropriate in one venue may not be in another, and it’s easy enough to take cues from the regular congregants.

        Applauding between movements is very occasionally natural and general, usually after the first movement of a virtuosic concerto. As a general practice, though, it’s dreary: smatterings of applause after each movement, not out of excitement but because, once it occurs, people think it’s expected. I certainly wouldn’t shame anyone for it, but I don’t think it should be encouraged.

  • mel says:

    The joys of going to a concert in 2023. I was at Blomstedt’s Dvořák double last night at the CSO and was utterly shocked at how much WEED I could smell clinging to people. I knew it wasn’t an anomaly when after the intermission, the opening of his 8th symphony was accompanied again by that annoying odour of legalization which (thank goodness?) partly masked the body odour of the individual seated next to me…

    • Antonín says:

      Lucky you! How was the music? How was Ioniță? And how was HB ???

      • mel says:

        HB was frail and conducted seated, but seems happy. The way he did the final movement of the 8th seems to reflect his age, reminded me of Talich’s version a little. Ionita was excellent, pulled off the cello concerto brilliantly. And had wonderful interaction with the concertmaster, which shows in those key segments. He wowed the audience with a fantastic encore too. But so glad to see HB, since it could very well be the final time we have the opportunity/honor to see him.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Back in the “good old days”, the smell would not have been weed, but tobacco smoke. I don’t see that there’s a big difference in the olfactory department.

  • Max Raimi says:

    “Thereafter, Thielemann and the musicians froze. And so did everyone else save a jackass in the left balcony who felt entitled to bellow “BRAVO!!!”
    We have a death wish in classical music. It is the only performance art form perhaps in the annals of humankind where we strive to make people feel like “jackasses” for showing their appreciation. I’ve played Bruckner’s Eighth probably 50 or 60 times in my career. It is possible to structure the ending so that the audience is virtually compelled to erupt instantaneously, or to do what Thielemann did here (I wasn’t at the performance, but I performed it with him–wonderful performances–here in Chicago a few months back). The conductor freezes, the audience is uncertain when to applaud, and a fair amount of their enthusiasm is dissipated when they are finally “allowed” to respond.
    As I say, Thielemann is a terrific conductor and I loved playing Bruckner under him. But I have no patience for the increasingly common conceit of freezing at the end of a work and not allowing to audience to have its say. The conductor is focusing attention on himself at a moment that should be communal. And as far as I’m concerned, if they want to solo with the orchestra, they should learn a concerto.

    • sonicsinfonia says:

      One of my greatest moments in a lifetime of concertgoing was when Abbado gave an amazing Mahler 3 at the Proms. He held his arms aloft at the end and there was silence for what seemed eternity – 5000-odd collective breaths held. No one dared interrupt the incredible silence.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Bravo. I’ve seen Harnoncourt do that too – and quite right after a religious work. It is respect FOR the work; the applause for the performance can come shortly thereafter.

      • Max Raimi says:

        Yeah. To be fair, sometimes it works–like going deaf was a boon for Beethoven’s compositional procedure. But the vast majority of the time, it doesn’t.

    • Tamino says:

      “and not allowing to audience to have its say. The conductor is focusing attention on himself at a moment that should be communal.”

      I disagree. The audience has its moment only seconds later anyway.
      But there is nothing like the spiritual strength of that moment of silence. It’s about the music. Putting it on the top. A moment of humbleness to the creator of it, before we indulge in the worldly bidirectionally narcissistic adulations of performers and ourselves.

      Heck, music is the only religion I would commit to, exactly because of its spiritual power. Let’s have that moment, where it makes sense at least. (maybe not at the end of a Rossini ouverture)

      Counter question: why is it important to applaud at all?

    • AD says:

      I don’t know if it is a matter of attention seeking by the conductor.
      As a listener, I appreciate a few seconds of silence after the ending of a piece. I like the sound (or what remains of it) to keep wandering in my ears and mind, as if to prologue the pleasure of a great performance, and delay as much as possible the moment when I have to let it go, so to speak. It’s like the aftertaste of a good coffee. It is still there, you can still taste it, somehow.
      I can understand that this moment may be ruined by someone interrupting the silence.
      But I also guess that the pause cannot be too long. I don’t know how long Thielemann kept the tension going after the end of the symphony. A few seconds may be OK, 25 definitely not…

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    The self-entitlement of Carnegie Hall picture-takers knows no bounds! These selfish idiots snap away during concerts, and write texts when they aren’t taking pictures. They don’t see that as a sin, but woe betide you if you scold them, or tap them on the shoulder (oh, the unmitigated gall!). I’ve taken to standing up to summon an usher, pointing at the offender – and that’s the most effective way to deal with these morons – who were already told before the performance started not to take photos or films. And WHY does anyone need a photo of an orchestra??? Don’t they all look the same???

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I’d like to see them carted away, preferably in a padded jacket with ties at the back, in Ludwig’s van!!!

  • Steven Rogers says:

    From the longer article, “Thereafter, Thielemann and the musicians froze. And so did everyone else save a jackass in the left balcony who felt entitled to bellow “BRAVO!!!” The moment was shattered.”

    This isn’t some somber ending. It’s a bombastic, wild, hairy finale. You going to get mad when someone is that charged up by that performance when it’s over? This isn’t a somber ending like Mahler 9 or the ending to the Planets. Like get over yourself. This is one reason Classical Music has an image problem.

    • Tamino says:

      So it is about you!? If conductor and a majority of the audience like to keep a few seconds of silence, you want to shout ‘bravo’ nevertheless. Alright.

      • Steven Rogers says:

        Do you have a source that the majority of the audience wants that? Or did you pull that out of your butt? You are getting upset for an audience cheering when the piece is over. THINK ABOUT THAT.

        • Tamino says:

          I’m not upset about an audience cheering. Stop your impolite and ‘barking up the wrong tree’ ranting.
          The “did you pull that out of your butt” argument says a lot about you. Maybe you just don’t get classical music?

          • Steven Rogers says:

            “Maybe you just don’t get classical music?”

            LOL yeah ok. Only been listening to it my entire life. But yeah, I don’t get it. /s
            Your comment says a lot about you.

  • Ich bin Ereignis says:

    What should have been a wonderful tool for learning and expanding one’s horizons (the internet and its digital devices) is slowly leading us into a full-fledged idiocracy. The focus is no longer on whatever is taking place, it is actually on the person taking the picture — the selfie being the paradigm for such a strange shift of focus. People somehow need to establish “records” or what they’ve done and where they’ve been, and seem to be deriving some sort of infantile narcissistic satisfaction out of it. In a few generations, our capacity for focus and for understanding will probably be nullified, and we will have entire societies of dumb, docile and compliant individuals incapable of thought and incapable of appreciating anything other than themselves. The best they will be able to do is taking a picture or film a video. One has to wonder the state of mind of someone needing to film, of all things, a Bruckner symphony — the apex of interiority, thoughtfulness, and reflection. It is, sadly, the era of “man as the measure of all things,” as many philosophers had decried, and it is leading us, inexorably, into a vacuous world. Whoever doesn’t have the decency to put their device on silent mode simply doesn’t belong in a concert hall.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “In a few generations, our capacity for focus and for understanding will probably be nullified, and we will have entire societies of dumb, docile and compliant individuals incapable of thought and incapable of appreciating anything other than themselves.”

      This has been well underway for quite some years now. As usual, respectful people are walked on or ignored. It’s so yesterday to have respect.

  • Marshall says:

    His full description is even more touching, and disturbing-I know the feeling. How can Bruckner compete with an iphone anyway? Who said that since smart phones appeared, we have become dummer? Smart phones are a disease-and give the user an endless sense of entitlement, and you don’t have to be at the end of a Bruckner symphony to be disturbed by them. What do people think will happen to all these billions of phone pictures and videos-hopefully they will be wiped out by some solar flare-and you’ll have to try memory again. (full disclosure as much as I use a computer I do quite well with an old flip phone-until they get rid of them)

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Dumb is at critical mass at the moment. No society or culture can survive where there is mass dumb.

    • Mecky Messer says:

      For instance, supposedly enlightened buffoons’ cannot even spell “DUMBER”…

      Oh, the irony….

  • Tom says:

    I look forward to reading that article about 21st-century Bruckner in The American Scholar next Fall.

  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    My favorite piece of music, played by the orchestra that does it like no other. My favorite recording is still Haitink’s with Vienna, which seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

    If someone blocked my vision with a phone during it I shudder to think how I’d react.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      I’d start by closing my eyes. Audible distractions at concerts are much worse than visual ones: we lack earlids.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Cell phones themselves are neither good nor bad, they depend on the kind of people who hold them. Anyone sensible of others would turn their phone off, mute it or put it in Airplane mode so that it didn’t create a disturbance. But we don’t live in that world any longer.

    Not all that many years ago, people knew that their public demeanor should be quite different from their private behavior. This meant a certain sobriety in dress, speech and conduct when outside the home.

    Of course this was denounced by all the RightThinking people as a repressive bourgeois affectation, with the calamitous results we see today. Now many not only feel free to indulge every random impulse – unworthy of any rational creature – but also think they should not to be called out, even congratulated for it.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Bravo sir. You speak truth.

    • Tone Deaf says:

      I generally dislike cell phones and tend to leave mine at home where it serves as a landline. I could go on and on why I can’t stand them, but they have changed society in positive ways as well. For example, in the USA anybody can film in public. That means, all police business can be filmed. Legally. If the murder of George Floyd hadn’t been filmed, you can be sure that all of the police involved would still be working on the force. Cell phones are generally abused, electronic leashes that seem to be designed to annoy others, but they do have their merits.

  • Tom Phillips says:

    Kudos to Horowitz. More people need to do this. Sadly the malefactor is typical of the entitled me-first mentality so many Americans have (yes even those born-abroad once they adapt to this culture).

  • Mock Mahler says:

    I’m not sure Mr Horowitz and I attended the same concert. Ushers rushing up and down (steeply-raked?) aisles after the performance began? Bellowing? The conductor’s exasperation clearly visible – from the balcony, with his back turned?

    Complaints about audience behavior are as old as my concert going. The distraction-effect is to a great extent in the complainer. But Perhaps I was lucky on Sunday.

  • esfir ross says:

    Last night I enjoy magnificent performance of Bruckner 8th by Vienna Phil. Was destructed by lady in front of me that fidgeting, drinking from bottle that no-no in concert hall, filmed with phone. I say nothing.

  • SVM says:

    Had I been behind the offender, I would have reached up and push the telephone downwards very sharply, taking great care not to touch the person, without saying anything (because the music is in progress). If the telephone is dropped or damaged, that is too bad — the terms and conditions for the concert are very clear. But this strategy works ONLY if you are close enough that you can do this without getting up or being disruptive. I have done this a few times at various halls — usually, the offender says nothing or even apologises afterwards. On one occasion, the offender got irate at me afterwards, but her male friend, realising she was in the wrong, took my side.

  • Thornhill says:

    I’m old enough to remember when it was digital watches that beeped every 15 minutes or at the top of the hour, or it was just the alarm going off over, and over again.

  • ML says:

    Too slow! If she blocks your view, nudge her straightaway…..preferably making sure you nudge her hard enough to make her wobble or drop her phone, ruining her video. If that still doesn’t work whisper loudly into her phone (so that it ruins her sound recording but less audible to other audience members): “Turn. Your. *Phone. Off!” Don’t use long sentences like “Do you realise how….(etc)” because miscreants will start conversing with you instead of putting the phone away. (You can insert an expletive at * if you feel inclined). That will teach her for filming illegally- all she gets is a ruined video with someone swearing in it. Direct instructions work. Not long questions, even rhetorical ones.
    By the way, she is wrong to protest about being touched. Unless she prefers the person behind her to get her attention by knocking her phone out of her hand instead.

  • HvK1989 says:

    I was at this performance. Fortunately we were in a box and were not distracted by any smart devices. I understand the frustration with the individual yelling “bravo” at the end, but maybe that attendee was excited. The sound had already dissipated, and it’s quite a loud ending. It’s not like the end of Mahler 9 or something where minutes of silence would add to the religiosity/oneness of the event.

    However, before Friday’s performance (Transfigured Night/Alpine Symphony), at dinner beforehand (high end French Michelin-starred restaurant), the behavior of other diners was astonishing. One couple, not much younger than us, maybe late 20s, were on their phones for the duration of the 2.5hr meal. I’m not sure they said one word to each other. It was incredible. At another table, a couple much older (50s/60s), the gentleman took photos of each course with a large Nikon-style camera, with flash. It was rather embarrassing. My wife was in a beautiful dress and I was the only man wearing a tie, save the servers. I could be wrong, but maybe telling people/children they can do whatever they want wasn’t the best approach.

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    I can’t say for sure, but we may have reached peak first-world-problem status. Clearly, the thinning air in your ever-elevated ivory towers is negatively affecting your ability to maintain perspective.

  • Mecky Messer says:

    The naphtaline-smelling geriatric kind still cannot fathom why would people arrive to the concert hall without horses and carriages.

    To ask modern human beings to do away with cellphones for more than 5 mins and literally nobody will show up to your boring, mindless, out of touch charade of “arts”.

    Embrace the cellphone or perish….

    • Tamino says:

      The irony is: those who “embrace” the iphone (more like have it stuck in their face) are dead already. Perished.
      Gone for the world of art, imagination and human interaction. Attention span of a mushroom. Lost to the world. In zombie land. Bye!

    • AD says:

      I guess you are here just to provoke. You wrote a similar comment in an older post regarding disruption at the Concertgebow. I repeat what I wrote there. Nobody forces anybody to come to a concert of classical music especially if (like you) he/she considers it boring and mindless. But if you are there, at least be respectful of other people who are there to (try to) enjoy the performance. It’s a question of good manners, not of age group. I would never go to a rock concert because I don’t like the genre. But if I must accompany my kid to one, I would certainly make sure he and the rest of the people would have a good experience. Why should I ruin it?

    • Iphigenia en Aulide says:

      And you, go back ro your Pixar, superheroes and Disney movies.

  • Deborah Hand says:

    An announcement at the start of the concert should say to turn cellphones off, and there will be no recording of the concert allowed. Anyone caught with a cellphone on will be asked to leave. Put this in the program, as well. Then stick to it. A sign at the entrance, too. Eventually audiences will get the hint.

  • Tamino says:

    “In a few generations, our capacity for focus and for understanding will probably be nullified, and we will have entire societies of dumb, docile and compliant individuals incapable of thought and incapable of appreciating anything other than themselves.”

    I’m “hopeful” that this only concerns us in the first world and we will fade away into decadence and decay, and other cultures with a fresher and less narcissistic and meaningful humanity will take over. Until then enjoy the ride down and try to stay away from the idiots as much as you can.