During the final measures of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, Alan Gilbert, conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, did something very rare during live performances of this sort: he stopped conducting. The cause was the iconic Marimba ringtone of an iPhone.
Picture attending the New York Philharmonic orchestra. As the beautiful final measures of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 is about to complete, something happens that annoys movie-goers and concert attendees alike: someone’s phone goes off. Then, something equally astonishing occurs: the conductor stops the performance. The ringing continues for an inordinate amount of time before “Patron X,” as the Philharmonic refers to him, finally stops the iPhone‘s Marimba ringtone amid angry shouts, cheers arise at the silence, and finally, the concert continues.
Such was the scene this past Tuesday night at the Lincoln Center. But of all of the people who were moved by this unintentional gaffe, Patron X himself was among the most prominent. In an anonymous interview with the New York Times, he described himself as a 60-70 year old business executive, manager of two companies, and long-time subscriber to the orchestra.
He said he himself was often irked by coughs, badly timed applause — and cellphone rings. “Then God, there was I. Holy smokes,” he said.
“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 by telephone.
“I hope the people at that performance and members of the orchestra can certainly forgive me for this whole event. I apologize to the whole audience.”
Patron X was identified due to his front-row seat – the cause for conductor Alan Gilbert’s pause, as he could not ignore the ring at that distance – and was given a call the next day with some polite chastising. Patron X ended up asking to speak to Mr. Gilbert and gave his apology directly, which the conductor accepted.
The problem wasn’t that Patron X forgot to put his phone in silent mode. His company had switched him from a BlackBerry to an iPhone the day before the concert. He didn’t realize he had accidentally switched on the alarm earlier, which rings even if the phone is off.
“I didn’t even know phones came with alarms,” the man said.
But as Mr. Gilbert was glaring in his direction, he fiddled with the phone as others around him did, just to be sure, pressing buttons. That was when the sound stopped. It was only in the car going home that his wife checked the settings on his phone and found that the alarm had been set.
The incident sparked some online joking. The composer, Daniel Dorff, tweeted “Changed my ringtone to play #Mahler 9 just in case.”