updated 11:00 pm EST, Fri January 13, 2012
User unaware that alarm going off was his
The news story that a persistent iPhone ring (the familiar marimba tones used by no other handset maker) had caused conductor Alan Gilbert to actually stop a performance by the New York Philharmonic, the issue of cell phone annoyances at public performances has risen to the national spotlight. The guilty party, reached by The New York Times, offered effusive apologies and provided an explanation of the incident, which has left him distraught.
The man, who was unidentified in the article and referred to as Patron X, said that he had turned his new iPhone -- he had just switched from a Blackberry -- to silent mode as he entered the concert, but was unaware that alarms set on the iPhone will sound even if the ringer is set to mute. The man, said to be in his 60s and a 20-year subscriber to the orchestra, was not aware that he was the culprit at first until he and others around him checked their own iPhones to try and stop the source of the ongoing ringing, which had disturbed the conductor, silenced the orchestra and brought catcalls from other members of the audience.
He said he found the incident "devastating" and "hadn't slept in two days." He has himself, he said, often been irked by coughs or badly-timed applause or indeed cell phones ringing during concert performances, of which he is a regular attendee. He was eventually identified by the orchestra due to his front-row seat, and asked to ensure that it wouldn't happen again. The man was eventually connected to conductor Gilbert for a personal apology, which the man says Gibert accepted.
Patron X used the newspaper interview as an opportunity to apologize further to the audience. "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. "I hope the people at that performance and members of the orchestra can certainly forgive me for this whole event."
The incident sparked numerous news stories and vitriolic reactions from classical music, film and performance lovers around the world. One of the witter reactions was from composer Daniel Dorff, who tweeted "just changed my ringtone to play #Mahler 9 just in case," a reference to the music that was being played at the concert. Ironically, a pre-recorded message before the concert reminding patrons to turn off their cellphones is voiced by actor Alec Baldwin, who has recently had some trouble with inappropriate mobile-device usage of his own.
Both Gilbert and Patron X agreed that the incident did have one bright side, a reminder of how important (and fragile) the bond between the audience and performers at a live event can be. For his part, the culprit has likely learned a lesson that shutting down an iPhone completely -- rather than just putting it in silent mode -- will prevent any alarms from sounding. Lincoln Center, which employs the ushers that would normally have intervened, is investigating why they did not act during this incident, which lasted several minutes.
While most patrons and performers find the incidents of cell phone ringing disturbing (and increasingly frequent in occurrence), they can generally ignore it. In this particular incident, the noise was coming from the front row and continued to interrupt the softer passages of music for several minutes, causing the conductor to eventually stop the performance. Once finally silenced, the performance resumed to cheers.