Pianist Krystian Zimerman Halts Concert Over Smartphone: Is it Time for New Rules?

Thursday, June 06, 2013 - 11:50 AM

Smartphones at the concert (flickr/igoge)

A growing number of orchestras and concert halls are allowing patrons to take photos and use their smart phones during performances. Some musicians, it seems, really don’t like it. One of them is the Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman, who was performing at the Ruhr Piano Festival in Essen, Germany, where he was said to have spotted an audience member filming his recital from the balcony.

"He noticed someone up in the choir seats filming the concert on their smartphone," a festival spokeswoman told the BBC. "We think it was probably an iPhone." Zimerman then asked the patron to stop, but they didn't. So the pianist stopped the recital and walked off stage.

Zimerman later returned and told the stunned audience that he had lost recording contracts because label executives told him a performance is already on YouTube. "The destruction of music because of YouTube is enormous," Zimerman reportedly said.

Whether fan videos compete with commercial recordings or actually aid in the promotion of musicians' careers is up for debate (many of Zimerman’s performances on YouTube appear to be professional copies and not the product of fans wielding iPhones). But the pianist's protest may be increasingly out of step with shifting public standards. A growing number of venues find that photography and video are not something to be outlawed but embraced, if in a limited manner.

New Audiences, Different Expectations

Some of the most assertive change is coming from America's regional orchestras, who are determining that more media-friendly policies will help them reach fans who already share concert photos on Twitter and Facebook. Last month, the Nashville Symphony began permitting photography in its hall – albeit when the lights are up.

“We had noticed quite a few photos being taken and shared and [we] were trying to figure out if we should re-share some of the really great shots of our hall or to ignore people sharing these photos,” said Nashville Symphony spokesperson Laurie Davis in an e-mail. “It seemed a waste not to be taking advantage of our biggest fans.”

The orchestra recently launched a concert photography contest through its Facebook page.

The Colorado Symphony also said it will be introducing a camera-friendlier policy for its 2013-14 season as a way to encourage social media interaction. And the Cincinnati Symphony has one of the more liberal policies, allowing non-flash photography even during a performance.

At the Detroit Symphony, photography and even videography is fair game. The orchestra's website states: "non-flash photography and video recording by silenced handheld devices are allowed during DSO performances. Feel free to post your favorite photos on our Facebook page!”

DSO spokesman Gabrielle Poshadlo clarified in an e-mail that the orchestra doesn’t allow patrons “to bring in their huge camera equipment or their tripod or anything that will obstruct the view of their fellow audience members.” But, she added, if someone uses "an iPhone or small camera, and does not make any noise while doing so, we will not stop them.”

Poshadlo added that the DSO has received "very few complaints" about audience photography and the biggest fears were internal: that turning patrons into documentarians undermine the orchestra’s own publicity machinery. But the orchestra has found it to be a way of expanding its reach.

Challenges of Viral Success

Drew McManus, an orchestra consultant who writes the blog Adaptistration.com, noted that restrictions on film and photography are not necessarily due to musicians' labor agreements but rather contracts for guest conductors and soloists. Some feel it can hurt their careers when a poor performance suddenly goes viral. “No guest artist who makes their living on stage wants to have a permanent record out there of the occasional bad night,” he said.

At the same time, McManus believes that presenters who ban photography are fighting a losing battle. “Ultimately you have to trust the audience to do the right thing,” he said. “Making sure the ushers are properly trained is also important.”

In an editorial on his Slipped Disc blog, Norman Lebrecht called on concert halls to revise their rules around photography. "Maintaining a categorical ban serves only to deter a younger audience for whom instant communication is an essential of their social lives,” he wrote. “Artists must have the right to refuse, but some – perhaps many – will welcome the change, especially if it lowers the audience age.”

For now, New York’s major concert halls maintain official bans on photography and filming, with no sign of an immediate rule change. A spokesperson for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center wrote in an e-mail on Thursday: “At this time, CMS is not considering relaxing its policy in any of our halls (Tully, Kaplan, and the Rose Studio), and there has not been any discussion about doing so.”

Weigh in: What do you think of audience photography or filming? Leave your comments below:

Photo of Krystian Zimerman: (c) Kasskara and DG


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Comments [24]

Michal from Sheffield

You must have not ever heard Zimerman talking about music if you think he stops his concert because he's greedy. He's a role model for all artists - he seeks the pure art in music, tries to convey all the information hidden between notes without doing everything to impress the public by funny gestures or fancy mimics. He does not like recordings because he knows how the digital techniques damages the actual sensation of music. He is the artist that plays what he likes and what he is in the mood for at the time of performance, he does not give programs out two-three years before the concert, as normally musicians wanting to make huge careers and great money do. Recording his concerts with a phone is ridiculous. His performances are always so deep, he is one of the greatest pianist of the times and his talent cannot be shown by a poor recording made with an iPhone. Da Vinci would not be happy if Mona Lisa was sold as an unclear printed photo of the size of the painting, but took with a 480*640 resolution camera. I personally love Zimerman's music, I hate all the people who force him to do such strong moves at the same time. He is a gift for the people who adore true, honest, and real music. Stanislaw Mrozek in "Tango" divided people into three groups: men, women, and artists. Zimerman is the arist. You don't mess up with artists. Their minds and ears are above the mundane civilization and they should be given more respect.

Sep. 03 2013 12:15 AM
Amy from NYC

Why Zimmerman did what he did, I'm not sure. But, I don't like blogger Norman Lebrecht's (in article) idea that iphones and the like should be encouraged or tolerated in order to curry favor with younger audiences. It seems that's just another case of dumbing down standards. If people, young or old, want to hear a performer in concert, they should be able to go and sit for an hour or so and listen. Besides, the experience of viewing a live performance through an iphone dilutes the spark of the live performance. I used to try to video my kids in their concerts. It was always a disappointment; I felt like I couldn't really attend to their performance, that there was something in the way. There was--the camera.

Jun. 14 2013 10:47 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

I want to point out that, based on the original post text, Zimerman stopped playing because he noticed a single person "up in the choir seats" recording his performance. He stopped his performance because of what he felt was the possible loss of future income based on the bootleg recording being made by that individual.

So Zimerman's complaint was not about any disruption to other audience members but about his concern about money.

The aspect of disturbance of the performance is based on the image included in the post. It's a valid concern but apparently not to Zimerman.

When I used the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" as an example of something opera companies should try, based on the single time I saw one of those showings, the audience actually didn't interrupt the singing, and only took part at specific times, based on specific cues in the film. And it's a film, not a live performance. So sure, don't be a jerk and interfere with others enjoyment of something they paid good money for.

But again, that's not what Zimerman cared about. He cared about his image of big bucks.

The reality is that classical music is a niche market for an industry that only wants the big hot pop sensations. I used to use Britney Spears as the example, but she went cold long ago. Zimerman was fed a line and he decided that it was true and his fans were evil thieves rather than free producers of trailers for any top quality professional, surround sound, multi-location audio-video recordings that might have been made.

Geez, there are now thousands of musicians that are producing their own work because they recognize that the recording industry has no interest in them. There are established musicians that leave major recording companies and self produce because they don't feel they are getting a fair share of the profits their recordings generate. Zimerman can get off his piano bench and self produce, though he may be locked into a contract that prevents that. See? Control.

Glenn Gould made his own recordings in Toronto, though he used CBS (now Sony) to distribute and market them. But Gould was a phenomenon. A very rare exception and there was no Internet then to help in marketing and distribution. Zimerman could try that. Instead he wants to complain about his fans and quit on them.

Jun. 10 2013 10:25 AM
Faust from Manhattan

It's never about the recording. Do not kid yourselves. Musicians know that an iPhone is not going to make up for the quality of a professional recording. Ergo, it has nothing to do with rights. Why did he stop the show? It's the same reason why all musicians stop shows. Someone has the audacity to *not* be paying attention to them on stage.

I've seen shows where the performer attacks a patron who was texting. The screen was not lit, nor was he being disruptive. He was simply typing on his phone. I was standing behind him.

The musician stopped the entire performance. And asked him, what could be so important? The guy apologized lifted his shirt where there was a long scar and a tube that came out to some machinery. He was awaiting a transplant and texting his doctor. The guy is risking his life to see a performance, and decided to turn off his phone for the sake of the performance. Lovely.

At least stand up comedians are much more honest when it comes to that type of behavior. "Why isn't this guy laughing!?"

Jun. 10 2013 02:28 AM
michael joseph from New York

It is amazing that anyone feels that an audience member has a right to film/record a concert, and that this intellectual property theft is somehow part of the new dispensation, which concert goers and performers should cheerfully accommodate as part of living in the now. Making a living is difficult enough for musicians; depriving them of revenue streams would help to make it impossible. And, the lighted screen and raised arms of a photographer are incredibly intrusive to people sitting behind him or her for several rows, as well as on the side of him/her. If I was at a concert and someone in front of me took out an iPhone and began to make a recording, I would rip it from his hands and tell him that if he behaved himself he could have his toy back when the concert was over.

Jun. 09 2013 11:15 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

I'm reminded of the Grateful Dead, who encouraged fans to record and bootleg their concerts. It didn't impede the careers of the band members or hurt their income. Far from it.

In the late '90s and very early '00s I was introduced to something called mp3s. Through listening to those early digital recordings of various musicians I began to buy CDs regularly, where I'd barely bought any recordings since the '60s or thereabouts. Then the Napster phenomenon happened. Tens of millions of people all over the world sharing their musical interest. Did it hurt the recording industry? The industry says so but if I was an example, it greatly helped.

The core issue is control. The major recording companies want to control the market. But that also means controlling the artists - the people who actually make the music. If you look at the broader intellectual property laws and treaties that are continually pushed on people and nations you can see and perhaps understand that the control I mention is far more expansive than music. It's about controlling the future and the only entities that have the ability to compete for that control are those with many billions of dollars in resources. That's not good for anyone or any thing other than the mega billion dollar creatures.

I think some recording industry flack fed Zimermann a line that he's decided to feed to the public while he quits on that public. If he doesn't think he's making all the money he could make, he's wrong to blame his fans who pay to see him and would gladly pay for his recordings - professionally done.

As for the intrusion into the "Wa" of a live concert performance, classical is akin to tennis, rather than basketball. In one, a performer will stop and wait while a fan walks to hir expensive seat with hes grossly over priced hot dog. In the other, hundreds feel it's their duty to heckle, harass and insult a performer attempting to sink a foul shot.

What if an opera house encouraged a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" type audience participation production one day a year?

Jun. 09 2013 09:38 AM

Let's get with the program folks! You're not at a sporting event, and you're certainly not watching these crazy "reality" music competitions. Music is meant to be heard, without childish distractions. The devices often make noise, and the lit screens are also a distraction. Concert halls and promoters need to tell people before a performance to turn off any and all devices. They do it at the movies, which are certainly a step beloew a classical music concert. If other things in your life are that important, then stay home!

Jun. 08 2013 08:39 PM

I find moving, lighted screens to be a very unwelcome distraction during a performance, whether they're from a recording device or some less involved patron's game device. But the suggestion of dedicating a (small) area for screenophiles might work.

A few weeks back I arrived late for a chamber concert and was ushered into a viewing cubicle for the remaining part of of the piece, so as not to disturb other patrons. That would have been a swell recording spot as well.

Jun. 07 2013 06:50 PM

Instead of being unprofessional and stop a performance in front of a paying audience, Krystian Zimerman should go after the the real culprits, the big corporations who make cultural theft possible. YouTube, Apple computers, the makers of CD burners, Sony, etc. The individual making the recording should also be sued.

Artists should file a class suit against YouTube and other websites for millions in reparations. YouTube makes billions inserting commercials in everything, even in the middle of a 12-minute Three Stooges short, while the producers and artists who made it happen collect zilch.

It's the same philosophy that makes gun manufacturers liable as well. And car makers! Why can they legally sell cars that can reach 180mph when the speed limit is only 60mph?

Jun. 07 2013 02:29 PM
George from New York

Well, let's try to identify the stakeholders- you have the musicians, the house, the concertgoers who enjoy tranquillity and those that want to record. A classic challenge in consensus building. Oh, did I forget the lawyers? Copyrights, intellectual property rights, freedom, oppression- my my what a tangled mess.
The corruption of culture hatched by the digital age has become an iconoclastic juggernaut to some of us and to others a birth of new freedoms. The old must make a little room for the new as long as the rules of common decency are followed. Let's not try another futile exercise in the legislation of morality.

Jun. 07 2013 12:17 PM
Michael from New York, NY

I totally agree that the use of iphones and flash photography should definitely not be allowed. What if a television or radio station should be broadcasting a live performance and during that very performance, the same reaction can happen with other musicians or other performers. What Krystian Zimmerman has demonstrated is a perfectly great example. If his concert would have been aired live on public radio or TV and people iphone or flash photography, it would have been a very big distraction to the performance.

The audiences are paying big money to see and hear every performance they attend whether a classical concert, an opera, a ballet or even a Broadway show, they are here for their own enjoyment and sit absolutely still and watch each performance. Use of an iphone or even any type of photography I believe should be prohibited and even a big distraction myself. I too am a musician myself and I believe that a right to performance, especially contracted performances, are entitled for professional and archival purposes and never photographed or filmed by other audience members unless it's a radio or TV live performance situation.

Jun. 07 2013 10:35 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

Too much fidgeting and not enough listening! Martin is right. There are too many distractions and not enough places for concentration and contemplation. I say ban the use of all electronic devices in the concert halls and opera houses. They aren't movie theaters or rock concert arenas.

Jun. 07 2013 09:49 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

Too much fidgeting and not enough listening! Martin is right. There are too many distractions and not enough places for concentration and contemplation. I say ban the use of all electronic devices in the concert halls and opera houses. They aren't movie theaters or rock concert arenas.

Jun. 07 2013 09:49 AM
Anna Morris from Cape Town

Understanding both points of view, I'd like to suggest a compromise: like trains that permit cell phone usage but provide a quiet car (carriage) for those who don't want to be disturbed, why dont concert halls provide a separate section for those who need to share as part of their concert-going experience? Give young smart phone users the last 10 seats on either end of a row and leave the center section for those who want to absorb their music without distraction.
I'm all for change and encouraging a younger generation to appreciate classical music. This might just bridge the great generational divide and keep everyone happy.

Jun. 07 2013 07:53 AM
Martin from Genève, Suisse

As a proud member of the "Old Guard" I must say that I was taught to be still, silent and attentive to the performance. What if there had been self-immersed people waving Iphones at the first concert I ever attended, with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony. The very thought is disturbing - what would the reality have been like?

Jun. 07 2013 05:47 AM
NYer from NYC

Society has become completely infantilized. Concert halls need to post rules: No talking, texting, flash photography, spitting, urinating on the floor....

Jun. 06 2013 11:50 PM
Rachel from nyc from nyc

I myself became a huge fan of Mr. Zimerman after I watched him on YouTube a few years back. I did not know much about great performances by great pianists like him before then. I started buying his recordings and has been wishing to attend his concert some day (though it does not seem to be possible any more in US). I don't know what to say about his saying about YouTube vs. recording deal, but so far YouTube has been a valuable source for me to learn about great pianists recordings. YouTube helped me to realize whose recordings to buy! Seriously, I started buying Mr. Zimerman's recordings. I'm talki to you, gentlemen at Mr. Zimerman's recording company! Why did you crush his recording deal because of YT? I sometimes come across live recording video by audience on YT, but quality is so poor that it makes me want to attend a live concert more!

That said, I think audience should not distract performers, period. And you miss important experience of attending a live performance if you put yourself busy recording. It distracts other audience, too.

Jun. 06 2013 10:21 PM
Dennis Bierlein

Not sure why anyone would want an iphone recording of a musical concert, with its static stage and poor audio. But, man, would I like to be able to record dance concerts. First, the DVD assortment is sparse compared to the amount of dance performers out there and all the particular pieces they perform, but it's really hard to try and explain to someone just how great a particular group or performance is just with words. Someone in the business needs to get with it and offer recordings post-show of the show just done, like the Grateful Dead (I believe) used to do.

Jun. 06 2013 09:40 PM
John from Philadelphia

If a musician is finding that recording his/her concert and potentially putting it on-line is preventing him/her from getting contracts, he/she has a right to object and the audience has an obligation to respect his/her wishes.

Jun. 06 2013 08:38 PM
Mary Joan Robbins from Raleigh, NC

People go to a concert to relax, and enjoy it. No one wants people standing up, and waving i-phones in the air. I can see that it would be distracting not only to the performer, but audience members as well! It has to be just as annoying as going to a movie theater, and people near you start carrying on a conversation. In certain venues like a rock concert where everyone assumes that this type of behavior is condoned, but not in a concert hall when you are listening to Bach, or Beethoven. Where are the days when one never knew what an i-phone was? Go enjoy the concert, and leave the photography to the professionals.

Jun. 06 2013 04:53 PM
Matheus A. Barbosa from Brazil

I don't think it should be banished, but I agree that the audience has to be more discreet (especially when the lights are off), refraining from using cameras with no EVF and turning off the shutter sound, as these things cause distraction.

Jun. 06 2013 04:23 PM
John Neumann from Pittsburgh

People who spend the concert waving their cameras around need a boot to the head, and a boot out the door. Regardless of whether the economics of videos leaking onto the internet are an issue, other audience members are distracted. Concerts are a lot more expensive than buying CD's; I expect that I'll be able to concentrate on the music. Classical music demands a quiet, and peaceful environment for its full appreciation. If I can't expect or depend on that when attending one of your concerts, you won't be getting my money. Maybe special "kiddie" concerts can be arranged for people for whom the stimulation of the music alone is not enough.

Jun. 06 2013 03:53 PM
Bernie from UWS

I applaud orchestras that are trying new approaches. Classical music's old guard has held sway for too long. What these ensembles are trying is very reasonable and not on the order of standing up and using flash bulbs.

Also, musicians like Zimerman need to get a grip. Some crappy fan video will never compete with a studio recording.

Jun. 06 2013 03:24 PM
Kathy of Aragon from Castile

Disruptive aurally, visually, completely, and should be banished from any serious presentation. Always.

Jun. 06 2013 03:18 PM

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