More intimate details of chaos at the Concertgebouw

More intimate details of chaos at the Concertgebouw


norman lebrecht

March 02, 2023

A number of readers have written in, reporting their dismay at disruptions to Mahler’s sixth symphony by an exotic couple in the audience. One reader, by contrast, says it was not as bad as we reported.

The Concertgebouw have not responded.

So here is some more detail of the unacceptable intrusions from an independent eyewitness:

For context I was seated in front of them, to the left. They were in the nearest seat to the conductor.

The couple were dressed as follows:

The man was 6ft4, had a long black ponytail, was dressed in a silk dress and hand his hands adorned in rings and covered in tattoos.

The woman was wearing a white top and baggy cream trousers.

I have no doubt in my mind they were both under the influence of drugs.

Their actions were as follows:

1)The conductor explained the symphony – the woman stood up, applauded and cheered.

2) Section 1: The male impersonated the conductor, waving his hands throughout. He had his phone out, holding it up, filming, texting and taking photos. He loudly dropped it three times. He cheered, spoke to his companion and even sang along. I kid you not. He sand along, loudly to the music. The did also kiss loudly.

The woman mimicked his actions. At the end of the section she stood up, applauded and cheered again. The conductor turned around furiously and tapped his head aggressively, as if to tell her to ’think’. That was beyond her.

Section 2: They continued this behaviour. Exactly the same but even more bold.

At the end of the section a staff member from the Concertgebouw approached them and spoke to them. I have already asked the Concertgebouw why thew were not removed. I have not had a response yet.

Section 3: They continued to use their phones, kiss and talk throughout. They continued to pretend to conduct. They continued to try to speak to other members of the audience who asked them, quietly, to be silent.

The woman clapped loudly at the end of the section. He laughed along with her as the audience gave their reaction. My father loudly whispered ‘be quiet’, and several other audience members told them to ‘leave’.

Section 4: most tellingly, at the end, they stayed silent, didn’t stand, or applaud the conductor or orchestra.

They added the most horrible sense of dread and anxiety throughout the performance. Their despicable behaviour was deliberate (they laughed as they were told to be quiet) and abhorrent. I have never experienced that before.

I have written to the Concertgebouw to ask why they were not removed. They ruined the evening for the audience, the orchestra and the conductor. I thought throughout the performance about what I would do if I were the conductor.

I would, however, like to commend the conductor and orchestra for their professionalism and reaction.


  • Ernest says:

    The audience should sue the Concertgebouw who should in turn sue the pair!

    • Mercedes says:

      Seems like they “went Dutch” in sharing the bad behaviour. They should have been asked to leave early on, that would be normal with such inconsiderate behaviour.

    • Gustavo says:

      Next time, the conductor should stop the show until the troublemakers have been removed.

    • Henry williams says:

      I would put in for a refund. I went to a concert
      At the festival hall london. Someone bought
      Their baby. It did not stop crying.
      I did get a refund.

  • Pedro says:

    This was awful but another problem is that Viotti is one of the most overrated conductors around, along with Harding and Ticciati.

  • Jeremy Wright says:

    The above is an accurate description of events. I too was sitting to the left of them and they were disruptive and were causing anxiety about what might happen next. The only upside was that there were staff waiting to catch them as they left I think…..!? Can they be banned?
    We are of course all so paralysed by political correctness that we just sit there and take it. Though being scratched by one of the participant’s long black nails might be concerning. They were staggering around the toilet area however. I suspect that removing them might have been more disruptive. The conductor and orchestra behaved immaculately.
    Perhaps we should all be invited back for a repeat?

    • Helen says:

      “We are of course all so paralysed by political correctness that we just sit there and take it.”

      And anyone who does not take it will attract the lazy accusation: “far right”.

    • William Evans says:

      To which lavatory did the man in the dress retire, I wonder?

      • Ellie says:

        I knew there’d be some stupid, pathetic comment about the person’s attire. Got absolutely nothing to do with it. Grow up.

        • Perfectpitch says:

          Some of us old folk are still getting used to the pathetic gender chaos that are sweeping the planet.Sorry…..

        • Sasho says:

          No place for snowflaking here. This situation has been caused by people dressed in a particular way to make a ‘statement’. It’s perfectly ok to include their attire in descriptions and comments

    • Petros Linardos says:

      What if the conductor had stopped and waited for the inconsiderate pair to be escorted? Wouldn’t that have benefited everybody but the pair?

  • DH says:

    An extract from the audience rules from ‘Visitor conditions’:

    ‘Visitors are not allowed to make audio or visual recordings from the start of a concert until the final applause. Mobile phones must be turned off in the concert halls. Smoking is prohibited. Large coats, packages, umbrellas and similar items must be checked at the cloakroom.’

    At least they were not smoking – all the others seem to have been broken, as well as ignoring common courtesy to the performers and other audience members.

    Does an attendant still walk in and place a big sign forbidding recording and photography in the centre of the stage?

    Nevertheless, a difficult situation to deal with quietly and effectively.

    • Dave says:

      I’d say the ‘quietly’ part of that was irrelevant, but it could have been done effectively.

      If the venue/promoter does not hold all of the audience to the stated conditions – and certainly to the point where misbehaviour becomes a distraction – surely anybody affected has the right to their money back? The behaviour in question would have been immediately obvious – even before the actual performance started – and they should then have been warned (rather than a steward having to be alerted as might normally be the case, whatever good that has ever done).

      Unfortunately, the ‘no videoing/no recording’ thing seems largely to be there to protect artistic rights.

    • Sasho says:

      These two are privileged to live in a society that overlooks this kind of behaviour.
      They wouldn’t be doing it in countries where it’s no fun to break rules

  • Samach says:

    Ach so, the conductor started it by explaining the symphony.

    Would YOU remove a 6’4 tattooed man with rings all over his knuckles?

    If the Concertgebouw objected they could’ve stopped playing.

    • Bone says:

      I simply cannot understand why the performance continued.
      No conductor of stature would’ve put up with this. Ridiculous

    • Concertgebow-wow says:

      That’s what police are for. Of course, in today’s, “the customer is always right” world, nobody would call the police (I would!).

  • Alviano says:

    As before:
    Too much alcohol and too many drugs

  • Jonathan Riehl says:

    Maybe this is an ignorant-American question: Are tickets in the front row actually *available*, and at the same rate as every other seat? I’m used to prime real estate like this being held only by subscribers/season ticket holders, and much, much more costly of even available. If this had happened in the land of the uncultured I’d be asking why and how on earth people so clearly disinterested in the actual performance were sitting there? Nosebleed seats, maybe. But front row?

    • AD says:

      It may depend on the venue. At La Scala, tickets for the first 12 (?) rows cost the same There are two first row tickets available for La Boheme (prime event) in a few days. Only 300 eur each. Hurry up 🙂

    • Robert Holmén says:

      At our concert venue in Dallas, the first four rows are not the most expensive, they are quite a bit less than the seats behinds them.

      I like front-ish seats, but most people won’t want them because of the awkward sightlines and maybe a less ideal acoustic.

    • GCMP says:

      Not sure what hall you are referencing. In Chicago the front row are regular seats which may (or increasingly these days) may not be sold to a subscriber. Even if sold to a subscriber, the subscriber may have turned them in or given them away.
      Seems to me the conductor should have stopped until they were removed.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I’ve disinterested people sit at front rows in both sides of the pond.

    • Concertgebouw79 says:

      I went once in my musical paradise of Amsterdam. I wanted to be at the superior part close to the orchestra normally it’s the place where the sound is the better. I confirm. But normally yes you can buy a ticket there on the first rank. Frequently it’s less expensive on the first rank and it’s better to be on the third rank for the view of the stage. I went once in the marvelous Goteborg concert hall it was impossible to be on the first rank because of the configuration very special of the stage. They didn’t sell ticket here

    • Steven Rogers says:

      Yeah they are. Though i would NEVER set there, so awkward and you can’t see past first few players

  • Don Antonio says:

    This is a simple case of ‘Schadenersatz.’ That pair is financially responsible for the disruption. I would sue them for 1,000 seats x 100€, or a sum of 100,000€. Let them eat that cake.

  • Peter says:

    What should have happened is conductor steps off the podium at end of first movement, waits for the problem to be dealt with. Non confrontational. Onus on hall staff. Just stand next to the front desks and wait. If it was as bad as reported audience will know why and wait too.

  • eric says:

    In the US it seems normal to have metal detectors and police at concerts. I have thought it was crazy till reading this…

  • GUEST says:

    Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the concert?

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    The problem with Mahler 6th is that it’s a very long symphony so normally there’s no intermission. I suppoose in in this kind of situation that the role of the konzertmeister is crucial. I would be curious to know who was playing for this concert. There are 3 at the RCO

    • NYMike says:

      It was the Munich Phil’s concert, not the RCO’s. Amazing how many commenters skipped over this fact.

    • NYMike says:

      The role of policeman is not in the concertmaster’s job description.

    • Jonathon says:

      Unless one of the RCO Konzertmeisters was attending the concert, I don’t see how they could have played a crucial role in this situation, as the orchestra on this particular evening was the Münchner Philharmoniker.

  • Thornhill says:

    Have a little grace for the Concertgebouw staff.

    Disruptive patrons at classical music concerts are extremely rare any place in the world — there’s understandably no ushers on staff capable of physically removing someone if they refuse to willingly leave.

    What are their options then, calling the police? First, who knows how quickly they’ll respond (in the United States, this would be pretty low on their list of priorities). And then you have to contend with the fact that involving the police could bring an abrupt end to the concert. They’re not just hired goons who go into the hall and remove people on request — they’ll have to take statements and obtain any video recordings to justify the arrest. They’re not going to sit around and wait until the concert is over to do that.

    Should the Concertgebouw have been prepared for this scenario and have had a plan in place? Well, if this is the first time that this has happened in decades, or even a century, I don’t think so. If it happens again within the next few years, then they probably should do some planning.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Absolutely not true. I worked years in music retail, and the police always responded in a timely way. Always! This wasn’t for people pulling a knife either – just the usual refusing to leave when drunk, threatening, swearing at staff, bothering other customers, etc. – all fairly routine stuff.

    • AD says:

      Yes, but put yourself in the shoes of those who paid hundreds of eur for the concert, maybe looking forward for it for weeks. Imagine that maybe someone traveled a long journey to have a chance to listen to a world class orchestra (I, for instance, have not listened to many of them). And then, having the experience completey ruined by a couple of idiots. Especially in a symphony like Mahler’s that requires concentration and emotional involvement to be enjoyed at its best. Wouldn’t you have wished that the staff had handled the situation, somehow?

  • Couperin says:

    Gotta be magic mushrooms. Without a doubt!

  • Tom says:

    Stunts like this seem to be happening a lot lately and can end up on one of the social media apps for laughs. This is the first that I’ve heard this happening at a classical concert. I’m sure they will handle it differently the next time.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Tough luck for the Eurotrash types who reflexively assumed they were American tourists.

  • ML says:

    I would have (as conductor), stopped after the first, or at the very least, the second, and asked front of house manager (chief of ushers), security and ushers to remove these two. After they’d been removed, I would inform the audience that we would start again.

    It’s harder as front of house manager to be able to step in to address the disruption without being able to have a word with the conductor while he’s still on stage. But at the very least, while they were singing, talking and filming,I would have gone to them with another usher to read them the riot act (before the movement ended): to tell them to behave, and warn them that if they didn’t stop their disruptive behaviour, they would be removed. And if they continued as they did here, done so with two security guards.

  • ML says:

    *typo- stopped after the first movement.

  • Sam's Hot Car Lot says:

    Viotti should have walked off stage and told Concertgebouw staff that he wouldn’t go back on until police removed the pair.

    Concertgebouw staff did not deal with this as one would expect from one of the world’s great orchestras.

    • Concertgebouw-wow! says:

      . . . and yet, make inappropriate passes at a section player, and see long they let you stick around.

  • Ed says:

    Suppose Alfred Brendel plays the Hammerklavier Sonata. Can you imagine playing with these two stupid bothering?

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    I find it hard to believe, in 2023, that no one took the time to film them.

    Perhaps it’s a marketing ploy, yet to be revealed

    • Tamino says:

      That’s what I think.
      Some kind of marketing or social studies ploy.
      Doesn’t add up otherwise.
      You don’t get out of your way to especially get tickets in Concertgebouw first row next to conductor. As somebody who is by looks clearly not a classical music lover. And then get high on magic mushrooms just before the performance.
      Too weird.
      Or they were infatuated with Viotti or some kind of acquaintances of him from the club or model subculture.

  • JJC says:

    The conductor should have stopped the performance and left the stage until the couple were removed. Due to the fact that it didn’t happen, their intolerable little caper was entirely succesful.

  • MacroV says:

    What this tells you is how much most things in society depend on behavioral norms to function properly. You’re not supposed to do this sort of thing in a concert, but the enforcement is largely voluntary compliance, not heavy-handed enforcement. Police or equivalent can’t be everywhere.

  • Rafael Figueroa says:

    Looks like things always happen at Concertgebouw. people who go there are quite pretentious and quite rude. I attended a Saturday matinee a few years ago and had a second floor ticket in the middle. I arrived 5 minutes before the performance and no one, I mean not one single person in the row had the decente to stand up to let me pass through to my seat.
    I didn’t know what that was all about I guess it was their way of punishing me for ‘arriving at the very last minute’.

    I told the ushers and instead of asking them politely to let pass through or do anything . They said to me ‘…..oh you know some people are rude .but we can’t do anything about it, if they don’t want to move we can’t force them…. but please, if you find an available seat on the first floor feel free to take it ….’ . Of course there was none available so I watched the concert a few minutes on a screen near the bar then decided to take off. I requested a refund at the box office but it was denied, because the supervisor was not there etc.
    Never went back to that heinous concert hall full of old and traumatized people and probably never will. I was ripped off !!! That’s the way matters are handled in a civilized first world country….

    • Hornbill says:

      Couldn’t you just force your way through, trading on toes if necessary? Especially if concert had not started.

  • Lindsay Groves says:

    Im an American who adores orchestral music and the Concertgebouw, the hall and the orchestra. Im sorry to say, these comments are missing an elephant in the room. If the couple had been forcibly ejected, or confronted verbally, what would have been the result, at that concert or a future one? What if they had been armed in some way, or had taken a substance that harms people who come into physical contact with them, as just happened this week in my town, Syracuse, NY. How long would it be before some psychopath decided to cause a violent confrontation? Staying as low key as possible in a situation where a large number of people occupy an interior space seems self-evidently the wisest reaction. Every single member of any classical music audience is my friend, someone I’m happy to share the occasion with. If violence were to become even a .005% possibility at classical concerts, we would never be free of metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, and biometric identification devices again, which would be a shame. Actually, a tragedy. I think the sensible thing to do in this situation would be to put a concert on pause while nonviolently convincing the disruptors to leave, then restarting the movement, taking the names of any exiting audience members who want tickets for future concerts, and identifying the disruptors with facial recognition-quality pictures to keep them away from concerts anywhere for at least 20 years. Being as boring as possible would hopefully avoid escalation, imitation, or retaliation of any kind, or even much news coverage. Do I need to mention any other concert disruptions?

    • Noya For Noya says:

      You speak like a true american.In 10-20 years , the us empire orchestral scene and its’ populace, will be very different.

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    Let’s hope they don’t turn up for Vasily Petrenko’s Mahler Two with the Royal Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall later this month. I won’t be too pleased.

  • Jobim75 says:

    That was a Mahler’s 6 too much anyway….so boring and lazy …..

  • John says:

    Thought this was the US empire-no, it’s another under the influence of US —Amsterdam state.

  • TruthHurts says:

    Perhaps this woman was inspired by Tár and simply felt the need to conduct?

  • Graeme Arnott says:

    I’ve got a Mengelberg recording of a Mahler 4 being disrupted. Maybe Mahler does things to make the Dutch misbehave.