I would love to write about how much we enjoyed the music at Friday night's performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 by the New York Philharmonic. We really did enjoy the music! It was sublime. But what almost marred the concert were the multiple cell phone alerts that went off during the symphony, especially in the last movement.
It had rained off and on all day. Starting at about 9:15 PM, in the middle of the symphony, we heard a faint emergency alarm noise, like the emergency broadcast system alert on TV. It was quiet so it was hard to distinguish it from the music. But when I heard another alarm a few minutes later, it was unmistakably a cell phone alert. These alerts were coming from all over the hall, but they were quiet enough that it didn't seem to reach the stage. We didn't know what was going on, but it was obvious that some people had not turned off or otherwise silenced their phones at the beginning of the concert.
In the middle of the utterly gorgeous final movement, one of these cell phone alerts went off in the row behind ours. It went quiet a few seconds later, but it was distracting. Then it went off again a few minutes later. This time, it almost caused a fight. I turned to look and the phone's owner was cursing under his breath and trying to shut off his phone. The man next to him said, above a whisper, "You have to leave! Get out! You have to leave!" To his credit, the man with the noisy phone left the hall. But it had already ruined the moment for me. I was distracted the rest of the piece, wondering if the next alert would sound close to the stage and force Mr. Haitink to stop the orchestra. Why is it always Mahler whose music is interrupted with cell phone noises? Thankfully, there were no more alarms and the symphony reached its glorious conclusion without interruption.
The alert turned out to be a flash flood warning for the metro New York area. With that many alarms going off during one of my favorite pieces, I hoped that it was actually the end of the world. Flooding was a disappointment.
It's clear that people either do not know how to silence their phones, or they don't care enough about common courtesy to bother to do so. It's infuriating and insulting to the rest of us who want to enjoy the music or movie or whatever we're doing without hearing phone noises. If you don't know how to silence your phone, you should turn it off. If you don't know how to turn off your phone, you shouldn't own one. I have to make an announcement about turning off phones before Saturday evening's New York Repertory Orchestra concert, and I have to restrain myself from turning it into a rant. Maybe if I post the rant here, I'll make a short and sweet announcement on Saturday.
I don't know what the solution is. Cell phone jammers are illegal. You can't force people to turn them off. All you can do is make these announcements and hope that people get better about following them. But this epidemic of ignorant, self-involved cell phone users at concerts makes me want to reconsider going to New York Philharmonic concerts. I can avoid people talking on their phones during movies by going to sparsely attended showings at out-of-the-way theaters. But I can't avoid idiots at Avery Fisher Hall. Not going to concerts might be my only option. And that's a shame.