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Conductor shames man after cellphone goes off at philharmonic

Buchachon Petthanya/iStockphoto

One more reminder to make absolutely sure your phone is off when it should be.

On Tuesday night, the New York Philharmonic was nearing the end of Mahler's Ninth Symphony when notes never written by the Austrian composer crashed in on the ears of conductor Alan Gilbert – those of a ringing cellphone. What's worse, the iPhone marimba ring was coming from the front row, too close for Mr. Gilbert to ignore. So rather than paying it no mind, he stopped the show and called out the offender for a public shaming.

The man whose phone it was spoke to The New York Times after the incident about how mortifying the experience was for him.

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"It was just awful to have any role in something like that, that is so disturbing and disrespectful not only to the conductor but to all the musicians and not least to the audience, which was so into this concert," he said.

The man, identified only as a businessman between 60 and 70, told the newspaper he was a 20-year subscriber to the orchestra. He said the whole incident was simply a mistake. His company replaced his Blackberry with an iPhone to the day before the concert. He had set his new phone to silent mode. But unknown to him, an alarm had been set, and it would go off regardless of whether the phone was in silent mode.

"I didn't even know phones came with alarms," he said.

The man was contacted by the orchestra the next day and was politely told not to let it happen again (he was identified from his seat). To his credit, the man asked to apologize to Mr. Gilbert personally. In their phone conversation, the conductor accepted the apology and told the man, "I'm really sorry you had to go through this."

The incident was a hot topic of discussion on classical music blogs this week, and has even inspired some humour. Composer Daniel Dorff posted this Twitter message: "Changed my ringtone to play #Mahler 9 just in case."

The unidentified New Yorker is hardly the only person to be publicly humiliated for such a breach of etiquette. Several performers have stopped a show to harangue people who let their phones ring, including Kevin Spacey, whose performance in Richard III in Australia last year was interrupted by a call. Reportedly staying in character as the English tyrant, Mr. Spacey told the phone's owner, "Tell them that we're busy."

Do performers have the right to stop and shame people when cellphones go off?"

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