A performance of Mahler’s ninth symphony by the New York Philharmonic, on January 10, 2012, was cut short 13 bars before the end. An iPhone located near the stage continued to play the default Marimba ringtone until conductor Alan Gilbert stopped the performance and addressed the guilty party directly.

According to Paul Pelkonen’s Superconductor blog:

“Mr. Gilbert was visibly annoyed by the persistent ring-tone, so much that he quietly cut the orchestra,” the concert-goer, music student Kyra Sims, reports. She related how the orchestra’s music director turned on the podium towards the offender. The pause lasted a good “three or four minutes. It might have been two. It seemed long.”

Mr. Gilbert asked the man, sitting in front of the concert-master: “Are you finished?” The man didn’t respond.

“Fine, we’ll wait,” Mr. Gilbert said.

The Avery Fisher Hall audience, ripped in an untimely fashion from Mahler’s complicated sound-world, reacted with “seething rage,” Ms. Sims said. Someone shouted “Thousand dollar fine.”

This was followed by cries of ‘Get out!’ and ‘Kick him out!.’ Some people started clapping rhythmically but the hall was quieted down. House security did not intervene or remove the offender.

The ringing stopped. “Did you turn it off?” Mr. Gilbert asked.

The man nodded.

“It won’t go off again?”

The man shook his head.

Before resuming, Mr. Gilbert addressed the audience. He said: “I apologize. Usually, when there’s a disturbance like this, it is best to ignore it, because addressing it is sometimes worse than the disturbance itself. But this was so egregious that I could not allow it.”

“We’ll start again.” The audience cheered.

What is striking is the reaction of the other audience members, as well as the remarks made by internet commenters. Classical music is supposedly an art enjoyed by a more refined, educated, “genteel” crowd. It took perhaps 2.3 zeptoseconds for them to turn into an unthinking lynch mob perhaps better suited to listening to talk radio. But then again, maybe not; this was New York after all. If self-satisfied imagined superiority were currency, then New Yorkers would all be millionaires.

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What actually happened was that the “offender” – a long time subscriber – did indeed turn off his iPhone before the concert. That is, he flipped the hardware switch on the side which mutes the ring tone. Any incoming call would be silent. When the ring tone started, he looked around to find the offender too; after all, HE had turned his phone off. Unfortunately, as a new iPhone owner, he did not know that the mute switch does not silence alarms that can be set by various apps. That is the reason that the phone kept sounding instead of rolling over to voice mail after a few rings. I can only imaging the horror felt by this poor guy when he realized that he was the guilty party.

The only winner from this mess was Alan Gilbert, who is aptly described by Norman Lebrecht as being “…a pallid imitation of a great conductor, a pretender to his rank.”

One violist who faced a similar interruption responded with infinitely more composure and grace.

This image, which has been floating around the net for quite a while, has suddenly become more relevant.

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But then, there is always Marc-André Hamelin’s “Valse Irritation” variation on a ring tone from 2005.

Fun fact: The Nokia ringtone is from Francisco Tárrega’s Grand Vals for guitar.