Conductor Throws Cough Drops at Hacking Audience

Audio: WQXR's Elliott Forrest Interviews Michael Tilson Thomas about the incident.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 10:00 AM

A minor incident occurred during a concert Saturday night that immediately raised the specter of a perennial issue that plagues professional musicians, irritates conductors and infuriates some audience members: People coughed.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had just finished the first movement of Mahler's Ninth Symphony when guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas put down his baton and left the stage. According to one eyewitness account:

The conductor went offstage and emerged with two large handfuls of loose cough lozenges, which he tossed underhanded into the main floor audience seats. He said he hoped that would solve the problem and encouraged audience members to pass them on to those that need them.

The performance resumed. A CSO spokesperson acknowledged that there was a lot of coughing Saturday and noted, "the audience responded in the same good-natured spirit, with laughter and applause." Tilson Thomas hasn't commented on the matter but the incident has generated discussion on Twitter and blogs. Below is a sampling of responses.

The Symphony spokesman added that the orchestra provides cough drops in a lobby dispenser.

What do you think of Tilson Thomas's gesture?


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Comments [64]

Frannie from SF Bay Area

Well handled, MTT! Personally, I never go to any kind of live performance or even to a movie without cough lozenges in my pocket. It is much easier to go prepared than to disturb others, embarrass oneself, and in the worst case, perhaps distract the conductor and/or the performers.

Nov. 01 2014 02:52 AM

Bravo, MTT! Bravo! Encore! Encore!

Oct. 27 2014 01:57 PM
Seaumas from Boston area

My biker buddies and I love Classical concerts, particularly the the three B's, and the Russian composers. We pay a lot of money to see the best artists at the best places and we're all classically trained musicians and performers. Last time someone, a rude fellow, started coughing (and he wouldn't even use a handkerchief). At the intermission I followed him to the men's room. When he went into the stall I followed him in, jacked him against the back wall and put my face in his and politely asked him not to cough anymore and that he was ruining everyone's good time. I left, had my drink, then,at the bell, took my seat. The concert continued and I didn't hear a peep out of him until the end. I looked around and thanked him. We've had to do it a couple of times since, but it surely works. I always have my buddies nearby to back me up just in case.

Apr. 01 2014 12:22 AM
Sheila Weisntein from New York City

There are other ways to deal with the situation of audiences coughing. I think Mr. Tilson Thomas's way is unprofessional and unconscionable. To throw cough drops out at the audience is a sign that he lost his professionalism and ability to see a better way to handle the situation. Carnegie Hall has cough drops at all entrances so that people can take advantage of them. But people still cough and so what. I say...speak to the audience before you begin or even stop the concert and ask for the audience's help in maintaining the atmosphere needed to present whatever work is in progress. Mr. TT lost his cool and showed himself to be unprofessional.

Dec. 16 2013 04:14 PM
Morty from NJ

Human beings cough . We also breathe. We cough during the second mvmt of the Brahms 1st Concerto and during Berlioz' march to the scaffold. It's just not audible then. Do MTT and some bloggers believe people cough intentionally
and particularly during quiet moments? Do they wait until the last 3 minutes of Mahler 9 in order to let loose. MTT's antics broke the Mahler spell. Had I been there I would have been furious. I am surprised that a conductor of MTT's stature would step out of role and I am similarly dumbfounded at Kevin Kline's outburst while playing Hamlet. JUST DON'T CALL HIM STUPID! By the way, those who fail to turn off phones during a concert are "fit for treasons strategems and spoils."

Dec. 10 2013 08:52 PM
APotter from Athens, Greece

I agree with those who say coughers literally want to be noticed. What's worse is that they don't even try to silence themselves but instead add throat clearing to the coughing, too, as if they're just gonna begin singing a very difficult part. I remember listening to Theodorakis' orchestral works set, all works recorded live. There was so much coughing on the first symphony's slow movement, I felt robbed. It's the only recording and it's so beautiful...

Dec. 10 2013 08:01 AM
NIcholas Cooper from UK

Well done MTT, I have never been to a concert without some of the audience coughing after each movement, it seems to be ongoing and the thing to do.
It is bloody annoying and totally disrespectful to the musicians. Ok if someone gets a slight 'Tickle' at the back of the throat then this can be forgiven, but coughing in unison, NEVER !!!!!!

Dec. 10 2013 06:19 AM

It is amazing the difference one word makes... "Conductor throws cough drops AT the audience." OR Conductor throws cough drops TO the audience." A pat on the back for the person who knows how to get their article read! Even if it is a stretch.

Dec. 04 2013 07:05 PM

I'm in the Jon Vickers camp. 95% of the time it seems as though the coughers actually want to be noticed. Why else would you wait till the soft parts of the music? There's no need to advertise your catarrh, or more likely your boredom. Ever notice how the audience falls silent if the music making is really compelling?

If you're slightly unwell you can be prepared with tissues, a water bottle, and a couple of unwrapped cough drops ready. If it really is an uncontrollable cough, you can still suppress it or at the very least cough into your elbow. It happened to me at Bayreuth, during the Prelude to Parsifal--can there possibly be a worse moment? But after a couple of explosive coughs I managed to stay quiet, even though I was convulsed with spasms and turning red.

Concert going is a communal experience. If you want to call attention to yourself, either earn you way to the stage or stay home. I think MTT made his point with gentle humor, unlike certain singers who seem to enjoy chiding the audience.

Dec. 04 2013 04:24 PM
njbilll from nj

It sounds like MTT handled it with humor, he didn't 'throw the lozenges at the audience', he tossed it to them to try and resolve the problem. Coughing and other noise is a problem in concert halls, and yes, part of it is the age of the audience. Besides the infirmities of old age, there also is the fact that many of the audience is hard of hearing, and they don't even realize they are making a ruckus. I also find the coughing between movements is kind of ridiculous, I think a lot of people do it simply to do it.....

The concert halls have ricola available, and it is pretty easy to unwrap them without making noise, I have done it myself. More importantly, if you have a tendency to cough, then put a ricola in your mouth before the concert starts and have another one, unwrapped and handy, and when the first one is gone, pop the second one in..not exactly rocket science.

Dec. 04 2013 03:30 PM
Fogjazz from San Francisco

Ah, that's our MTT! You think this was dramatic, you should have seen the night he demanded respect and quiet from an overly aggressive helicopter at the Hollywood Bowl. Needless to say, MTT won. Bravo, Maestro! ;-)

Dec. 04 2013 12:57 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

While I am not a professional musician, some of my Cello teachers have played with The Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony in past years. They have shared many horror stories regarding how berating conductors or even concert masters can be towards their peers. Those who behave in that manner are simply spoiled pigs, and I only wish one day some orchestra members with a spine call them out for their behavior. Being skilled at a profession or an art does not give someone the right to berate others, and maybe some old fashioned bullying aimed at them (outlawed in New York City) I understand, could be the answer for.
Sometimes there is a need to draw line in the sand regarding behavior and there are those few occasions when a physical response may just be what is needed for a quick attitude adjustment.
I recall an incident when reporting for a war zone in Lebanon a senior editor who was with me kept trying to push me from a well protected area into an area where there was ongoing small arms fire.
He needed a quick short firm hold around the neck before he quieted down so we would not be located by his loud screaming which put our entire crew in jeopardy of being shot at. Sometime an eye for an eye is the best remedy. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 03 2013 01:01 PM
NR from MF

As a musician who has worked with MTT several times, this type of behavior is common. He gives himself a bad name with both musicians and audience members when he does childish, inappropriate things like this. And believe me, this is not even close to the bad behavior he presents in rehearsals.

On another note, as a musician, the coughing/throat clearing/dropping of the program/cell phone etc. is just something that happens. If you’re a focused, well prepared musician, these things don’t bother you. What bothers me is when I’m onstage and see the audience reacting strongly towards someone who is coughing or accidentally making a lot of noise. That is far more distracting and only brings even more attention to the person making noise.

Dec. 03 2013 11:34 AM
Americo Nonini

It's surprising how much of a cough and sneeze are muffled by covering the mouth and nose with a handkerchief held in ones palm, yet so seldom seen.

Dec. 03 2013 09:56 AM
MusicFan from NYC

Maybe we should bring back old fashioned shame to bear on concert etiquette transgressors! Stare them down and let them know that their behavior is not acceptable and will bring public reproach. Public humiliation has its benefits!

Dec. 02 2013 11:45 PM
Eric Benz from White Plains

At Carnegie Hall one night an entranced audience was disrupted by an old bird and her bag of what appeared to be Cheet-Ohs. She was oblivious to her neighbors, not because of the music but because of the crispies I think. She was down on Parquet and I was at the balcony rail. I had a perfect shot with a winter boot (I'm really quite good >;] She finally got the message.
Funny, I think it was a guest conductor that night.. I guess people know our New York conductors bring tuxedo clad bouncers..

Dec. 02 2013 01:33 PM
Manhattan Hockey Mom from NYC

My son went to a world-famous high school that was a music and art conservatory. People were stupid enough to bring babies to 90-minute evening concerts and to sit VERY far from exits. A baby that cried throughout once spoiled the year-end concert of the Senior Orchestra. Far worse than coughing!

Dec. 02 2013 01:26 PM

When someone is rapt, as they might be listening to a beautiful piece of music, certain lubricating activities, like blinking and swallowing, may slow down. Even breathing may slow when someone is paying rapt attention. I think this could account for why coughing seems to happen most often during a softer musical passage. It's when someone might finally swallow after a long period of not doing so, find their throat dry from not having been lubricated for a while, and therefore cough to remedy the situation. In such a case, lozenges help but water might be better. Perhaps a discreet sip, from time to time, from a bottle of water (through a straw, please) would head off these "transition" coughs.

Dec. 02 2013 12:53 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Ms. Vance, I have to say you are 100% correct. The unwrapping of plastic cough drop wrappers and the ongoing sound of it is worse than simple coughing.
There is No way i know of to mandate human behavior, while most opera houses and concert halls do not seat latecomers until an appropriate time rude audience members are a problem.
Several years ago i was attending a Met performance of Carmen and two people in front of me who came down to the unoccupied seats from much cheaper seats began to talk consistently. Since i must get an aisle seat due to my leg disability I quietly walked to a door and summoned an usher and told him about the seat change and talking. A few minutes later during the performance two stockey plain clothes security people approached the pair and asked them to follow them out of the hall. They never came back.
I guess the best way to assure a quiet performance is to take matters into your own hands when it comes to noisy audience members. I have more than once told people in blunt english to shut the hell up during a performance, and a abrupt charge like that usually does the job. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 02 2013 12:49 PM
Kathleen Vance from New York, NY

I hope MTT is familiar with Stephen Fry, who some years ago famously tweeted "600 people went to the theatre, not to to see Oliver but to compete in a paper & chocolate wrapper rustling competition. Others came to cough.”

Dec. 02 2013 12:19 PM
Barbara from New Fairfield, Ct

As a frequent concert goer, I can tell you all that this "coughing" thing has been an issue for decades. Why do they only feel the need to cough between movements??? This would lead one to believe that they are not truly ill because how can a truly ill person only cough at a prescribed time. No, this is different and certainly predictable. I guess MTT has finally had enough and (bravo for him) has gotten his point across. One should take notice that most of the coughing comes from the orchestra part of the house .

Dec. 02 2013 09:10 AM
ron from home

we attended summertime classic at avery fisher a couple arrived tardy .the orchestra leader left the stage and sat them.

Dec. 01 2013 05:59 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Even though I was never an employee of The washington Times or received any compensation from them I will post the following quote.
"The American people know the truth, you my friends at The Washington Times have told it to them. It wasn't always the popular thing to do. But you were a loud and powerful voice. Like me you arrived in Washington at a momentous decade in the century. Together we rolled up our sleeves and got to work, and oh yes, we won the cold war." Ronald Reagan July 1997
I am honored that some of my work was picked up by them and hopefully read by President Reagan who read The Washington Times every day in office and who I have had the honor of meeting twice personally.
I am sure that MTT would not have thrown cough drops at a President of the United States even if he was coughing. God Speed, Charles Fishbein

Nov. 29 2013 08:13 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

I am as equally offended by ancillary noise in a concert hall or opera house as the next person. I tried to show that with the increasing age of average classical concert, and opera audiences, more and more people will be coughing and many cannot control this.
I though NPR listeners were above average IQ, whoever found that I was a staffer for The Washington Times was totally wrong, and the rest of you guys picked it up without fact checking.
I never worked one day for The Washington Times, nor did i ever get paid a single dime from them. From time to time through a cooperative arrangement with the group I wrote for, The Washington Times as well as The Washington Post, United Press International and the Kuwait news service, did pick up some of my by-line work from Libya or Jordan, but I never worked for The Washington Times or accepted any funds from them.
I have also had a large number of Middle East Journals such as Al Bushra and other Muslim University journals pick up and reprint my work which still shows on the net. I am still quoted by many individuals for my work, however I have had no affiliation with any publications since the early 1990's when I retired from Journalism. Simply because a publication reprints something does not mean the writer is employed by them. Please check your facts. Hope everyone had a meaningful Thanksgiving. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Nov. 29 2013 07:39 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

The mention of Reverend Moon in a comment about our resident 'contrarian' Mr. Charles Fischbein reminds me of an incident that occured when I was working on West 34th St. during the time when Reverend Moon had purchased the New Yorker Hotel as his headquarters. Every day a phalanx of his young followers would station themselves near the subway entrances and attempt to hand out their literature. One day, a blonde,vacant blue-eyed young woman, about 20 years old, would not let me get by as she attempted to foist her pamphlet into my unwelcome hands. "What state is your soul in?" she demanded. "Why, the same as yours," I replied. Perplexed, she gawked at me. Laughing, I said, "New York, of course!" And I could see that she didn't get it. Her righteousness didn't allow for a sense of humor other that was "allowed". Mr. Fischbein, I'm afraid, suffers from the same "humor' deficiency.

Nov. 29 2013 02:07 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

The mention of Reverend Moon in a comment about our resident 'contrarian' Mr. Charles Fischbein reminds me of an incident that occured when I was working on West 34th St. during the time when Reverend Moon had purchased the New Yorker Hotel as his headquarters. Every day a phalanx of his young followers would station themselves near the subway entrances and attempt to hand out their literature. One day, a blonde,vacant blue-eyed young woman, about 20 years old, would not let me get by as she attempted to foist her pamphlet into my unwelcome hands. "What state is your soul in?" she demanded. "Why, the same as yours," I replied. Perplexed, she gawked at me. Laughing, I said, "New York, of course!" And I could see that she didn't get it. Her righteousness didn't allow for a sense of humor other that was "allowed". Mr. Fischbein, I'm afraid, suffers from the same "humor' deficiency.

Nov. 29 2013 02:06 PM
chiarch from chicago


I was AT this concert.

The coughing WAS indeed truly over the top. Way over the top.

Michael Tilson Thomas was neither mean-spirited or arrogant when he left the podium and returned with the cough drops. His expression, his body language, and his words were clearly filled with light-heartedness, humor, and empathy for the afflicted throat offenders. He gently 'tossed' the lozenges into the audience so that they would surprise or injure no one. The audience CLEARLY understood and appreciated the humor of his gesture. They appreciated this temporary lifting of the veil between the performers and the audience. The act made for an altogether richer and more human performance. The audience acknowledged ALL of this with their enthusiastic, extended applause of his actions. Literally 99.9 percent of those in Orchestra Hall cheered; those who didn't were the offending dozen or so coughers. ALL conjecture to the contrary of what I have just written is simply false. If you weren't there, you just don't know otherwise.

On the subject of coughing, clearly if you are so sick that you cannot control your loud and repeated hacking you should not even be attending a public event to begin with, let alone Mahler's 9th which has so many singularly soft and quiet musical passages. If you are not sick but simply feel the need to express your presence/importance in the auditorium by clearing your throat during an exceptionally quiet passage, then YOU my friend are the arrogant, inconsiderate one. Everyone knows how to stifle a scratchy throat - this is NOT a matter of an uncontrollable biological function. Even if you missed that memo, there still would be plenty of loud musical passages for which common sense would tell you to wait before you unload your throaty scratchiness under slightly less intrusive musical cover.

When you buy a symphony ticket (or a movie ticket, or a lecture ticket, or a quiet car in a train, etc), you accept the implied contract: you don't contribute your own improvisational solo to the performance. You take it out of the room so that you don't offend anyone.

Nov. 29 2013 11:50 AM
Madelon Spier from NYC

When I had a cough, if possible, I took a back seat or an aisle seat and would leave the hall(at an appropriate moment) - I didn't want to disturb anyone.

Nov. 29 2013 08:23 AM
NYer from Pinko New York

Mr. Fischbein's problem with Michael Tilson Thomas is that he is gay! On at least one other occasion he cites Jeremy Denk's homosexuality in the context of his performance of Mozart at Carnegie Hall with no clear point.

He is a former staffer for the right wing Washington Times, founded by that great thinker the Reverend Moon! He cites his two Master's degrees given any chance he gets and brags about his familiarity with bovine genitalia.

I suggest codeine for cough suppression!

Nov. 29 2013 12:57 AM
James Klosty from Millbrook NY

It's quite clear Mr. Fischbein has a problem with MTT. Not only with MTT but also with the idea that there is far more coughing than necessary at concerts. Well I have a problem with Mr. Fischbein and find him not in the slightest amusing. Why? Because the vast majority of coughers make no effort to cover their mouth with a handkerchief or bury it in the crook of their arm. Why? Because they are disabled? No, because they are simply completely thoughtless. All music is not created equal and the Mahler 9th is not just another symphony. To cough through that exquisite, profoundly moving 1st movement is just about the most insensitive and disruptive act - short of turning on a jackhammer - that a civilized person can indulge in in pubic. There ARE, I will admit, times when it is difficult to stifle a cough. It has happened to me, much to my chagrin. That does NOT mean one need bray it out Fortissimo. There are ways to mute it. Most inveterate coughers can't be bothered to make the effort. These folks belong at home where they can't ruin other people's evenings. Or perhaps in the trombone section. No, those folks have mutes.

Nov. 28 2013 11:36 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Andy B, a little research before Thanksgiving dinner goes a long way.
According to BioMed Central site "Cough" I will quote.
"Involuntary coughing is evoked from the larynx, the laryngeal cough reflex triggers a coordinated contraction of the thoracic abdominal and pelvic muscles which increases intra abdominal pressure and forces the diaphragm upwards and generates an involuntary cough."
What that means I have no idea, but I just wanted to show that most coughing can be involuntary, of course there are some cases where it can be controlled, but don't think people can always control it.
What can and should be controlled is talking, and the horrible sound of unwrapping plastic wraps on cough drops which can go on for minutes with some.
Ready to welcome guests to the farm for dinner soon. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Nov. 28 2013 12:01 PM
NYer from NYC

I have never seen a performer cough. Are they breathing different air than the audience?

Nov. 27 2013 11:35 PM
NYer from NYC

Classical music audiences are disproportionately composed of persons with COPD/congestive heart failure, and other nuisances! Radio, the Internet, and television are available to those whose disabilities inconvenience healthy ticket buyers.

I suggest that ticket buyers provide a set of pulmonary function tests before receiving concert subscriptions.

Nov. 27 2013 11:30 PM
Barry Owen Furrer

This act of compassion is by far a better and more humane solution than Bugs Bunny's actions taken against a repeat offender in the 1946 classic, "Rhapsody Rabbit."

Nov. 27 2013 08:43 PM
misha from new paltz

What is it about this gorgeous piece? Can we never again hear it live without interruptions? If it is not a cell phone at Avery Fisher (I witnessed that one), it is now coughing...I remember Zubin Mehta, as well as Kurt Masur, stopping the music in order to chastise the audience for coughing (I don't think though that it was The Ninth).

Nov. 27 2013 08:00 PM

Chicago audiences are notorious for coughing and, although it may be an involuntary response, they should be more considerate and try to use any means at their disposal to control it. Some years ago the great Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was appearing in recital at the legendary Auditorium Theatre in the winter. Between song sets, she commented something to the effect that (paraphrasing) that it was wonderful to be performing in the visually splendid and acoustically perfect Auditorium Theatre but that the audience members who were coughing might want to take note of the fact that the acoustics work both ways. There were huge free kiosks of cough lozenges in the lobby and her comments helped some of them partake of the remedy at intermission. More power to Michael Tilson Thomas. He was absolutely right.

Nov. 27 2013 05:22 PM
james from NJ

I assume that my personal comfort should not come before the purpose of hundreds of years of history , countless hours of rehearsal, and yes, even the spiritual nourishment of the hundreds of other attendees. I take the music very seriously, and strongly believe it is a waste not to. If I were ill, I would bring my own lozenges, and unwrap them in advance, or during a louder passage.

Nov. 27 2013 02:25 PM
Richard Braun from New York City

Bravo maestro. There have been times at Carnegie and Avery Fisher Hall when the hacking if louder than the music. I know it's heretical but stay home when you're sick.

Nov. 27 2013 11:58 AM
Andy B. from Lower Merion, PA

@ Charles Fischbein:
Mr. Fischbein, coughing can often be withheld, and if not withheld, then at least constrained so it is not audible beyond the adjacent concert goers. It is not involuntary, like sneezing. Quite often, one does not need to hack at a cough yet does so anyway--inappropriate in a concert hall.

That being said, the weather just turned quite cold in the midwest and northeast, and I'm sure there were more than a few people who were suffering all kinds of cough-inducing ailments. So, I don't place blame or criticism on either MTT or the audience. There is often a lull between movements--especially the gigantic movements of a Mahler symphony. If done subtly and genuinely (from what I know of him, MTT is a very genuine person), MTT made his point and may have even helped a few concert goers who could have used a cough drop and didn't have one handy.

Nov. 27 2013 10:41 AM
Brandon from Chicago

Chicago crowds are notoriously cough happy. Other conductors have stopped and started over due to this. It is almost a joke at times when everyone coughs loud on purpose just because it seems funny. You don't get this in other countries. Good for MTT!

Nov. 27 2013 10:33 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

For heaven sake, coughing is an involuntary response, and if someone is in distress from a cold, a minor asthma attack etc, they must do what they do. Anyone foolish enough to be offended by someones natural body responses must be totally ignorant to the mechanisms of respiration necessary for life.
Now if there are people in front of me in an Opera house who may have indulged in a little too much for dinner and their body expels well "gasses" that can be much more offensive than coughing and much easier to control, although I am by no means an expert on body gas.
When Concert Halls and Opera Houses seat thousands of people and with the demographics of attendees to these venues being considerably older than the average population, coughing, loud breathing etc are to be expected. Of course if someone is quite ill they are far better off donating their tickets and staying home rather than infecting those sitting near them.
I am sure most conductors who demand high fees for their work would much rather have a full house and sold out box office with some coughing than a half full house of people without any respiratory infirmities.
Being a skilled musician, singer or conductor does not exempt one from being civil and Mr. Thomas acted like a spoiled brat which he has the reputation of being. How would he feel if he played to half empty houses, Get over it.
God Speed, Happy Thanksgiving, Charles Fischbein

Nov. 27 2013 10:10 AM
Kile Ozier from Dubai


MTT is not God? What?!
Actually, in San Francisco, I believe He just might Be..

Nov. 27 2013 06:20 AM

Most concert halls have cough drops/lozenges for their patrons' use during concerts. They are a great help in allowing the concert to go on without 'unwanted solos'. But I believe some coughers are so inconsiderate that even when they know they could stifle their cough, they simply don't because they don't care and they know no one will say anything to them. They seem to have the wrongful attitude that because they paid the ticket price, they're entitled to do whatsoever they please once inside the auditorium.

Nov. 26 2013 11:33 PM
beth from Lancaster, Pa.

I'm guessing the cough drop wrappers opening made equally as much noise? anyway-free cough drops isn't such a bad thing.
good for MTT. Hilarious.

Nov. 26 2013 10:28 PM

Coughing thru a concert is like talking through a movie. It bothers those around you. Get over it. Finally someone actually do something about it. Way to go MTT"

Nov. 26 2013 10:19 PM
Edward Miller from Chicago

I was at the concert -- much ado about nothing! Neither MTT nor the audience seemed offended. The real problem was that ushers at the back of the main floor were whispering to each other through the tender opening of the first movement.

Nov. 26 2013 09:49 PM
Terri from San Francisco

He's a conductor, not God. How rude.

Nov. 26 2013 08:58 PM
David from Flushing

I have been trying to think of operas where coughing would fit the mood. So far, I have come up with "La Boheme" and "La Traviata." There are also some "smokey" operas such as "Gotterdammerung," "Khovanshchina," "Benventuto Cellini," "Les Indes Galantes," and others.

Nov. 26 2013 08:11 PM
Boston Music Fan from Boston

Jon Vickers once broke character (as the mortally wounded Tristan), and shouted from the stage "Shut up with your damn coughing!"

You can hear this here

Nov. 26 2013 06:12 PM
s2dsayer from New Jersey

I am one of those who are infuriated by the incessant coughing during symphony performances. I get it; coughing is natural and for many, necessary. But why most people seem to make no attempt to do it quietly or stifle it in a sleeve, handkerchief, etc just amazes me. If you have some kind of condition where you have to cough a lot, please have some consideration for others and DO NOT attend live symphony concerts (especially a beautiful piece like Mahler 9!). Good for you, MTT, I can't blame you a bit.

Nov. 26 2013 05:52 PM

Wow, what a drama queen. No wonder audiences are waning. And all these commenters are probably the same sort that get annoyed when people clap between movements. Get over yourselves.

Nov. 26 2013 04:34 PM
Merilyn Vaughn from California

As a professional member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, I can attest that coughing is ubiquitous and is a problem even in areas with mild winters. When MTT first came to SF, the coughing was much worse than it is now. They started providing lozenges in the lobby and making announcements and even had something in the program for a while, as I remember. Things have quieted down now. I just wish that if people have to cough, they would do it at the loud points of the music, rather than waiting until the sublime silence that follows, which is much worse, in my book. As for tossing cough drops to the audience, I say, "That's our Michael!"

Nov. 26 2013 02:17 PM
David Link from Sacramento, CA

Maybe concert halls should start a Ricola concession. But, just wondering if MTT's exit from the stage, then re-entry/tossing cough drops was more disruptive than the coughs themselves?? I realize he was trying to make a statement, but at the same time, it seems like his actions just drew more attention to it. The musical continuity would have been totally lost by that point.

Nov. 26 2013 02:16 PM
Christian Gustafson from IL

I was there. I sat in the terrace that evening next to a subscriber, and apparently the subscriber said he had never seen anything like it. Needless to say, I have not. Although, I will say that I felt that MTT was completely justified in the action, considering that the audience was coughing in sections where such things are most exposed.

Furthermore, I think that if audience members are coughing, they're being ridiculous. The Symphony Center has an excessive amount of easy to access throat lozenges for it's audience. I take a handful every time I go, because I can never be too sure of myself. Honestly, I feel quite strongly that any audience member that doesn't grab at least a few lozenges isn't being a considerate audience member.

Nov. 26 2013 02:04 PM
Silvina from Buenos Aires

I remember a review of a concert by Mstislav Rostropovich, where the reviewer, in order to give a precise idea of how moving his performance of a Bach solo cello piece had been, said that "even the usual coughers shut up".

Nov. 26 2013 01:44 PM
NYMike from Manhattan

The sublime Mahler 9th is more susceptible to coughing, sneezing (the explosive variety), cellphones, premature applause, etc. than most music. I personally do whatever I have to in order to stifle my coughs and sneezes. I've watched European audiences also keep hacking to a minimum.

During one performance some years ago, I had to ask an usher to escort an inveterate cougher out of the hall.

Nov. 26 2013 01:42 PM
Jim from Highlands NJ

Having had dinner with MTT over three decades ago and watching him go nuts when a major crescendo was missed at a Tanglewood performance, I am glad to see he has not changed his intensity for perfection in performance. I would interpret his actions as "throwing to" not "throwing at" the audience.

Nov. 26 2013 01:23 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

While I have only been back to The Washington Opera once in the past four years due to their terrible performances, I recall on my trip there several years ago to see The Flying Dutchman ( decent performance by Washington Opera Standards,) there were cough drops near the water fountains and the elevators.
The problem of coughing was increased when the audience members unwrapped the plastic making loud crackling noises with the wraps that were worse than coughing.
I think it was very low class for a conductor to act the way Mr. Thomas did, but he is known to be rather pompous and rude anyway. Fall and winter are times that people do get colds rather frequently.
If I were in the audience and had a cough drop thrown at me by a conductor I am 100% sure i would walk up to the podium and give him my used handkerchief, what goes around come around. Happy Thanksgiving, God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Nov. 26 2013 01:12 PM
Dr. William L. Coale, Ph.D.

I've attended concerts in venues that, at the entrance to the auditorium, provided baskets offering free cough drops in paper wrappings that were quiet upon opening, and very effective in helping concertgoers quell their coughs. I think it's a great idea that should be used more widely!

Nov. 26 2013 01:09 PM
Judy Dyer from mexico

I have a coughing problem and take an over the counter pain medication before concerts. It inhibits the tickle that causes coughing.

Nov. 26 2013 12:55 PM
Sandro from Italy

...would to Heaven, there were also sweet tablets for mobile phone ringtones during concerts...

Nov. 26 2013 12:43 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

Bravo, Maestro Thomas!!! A sneeze may come on suddenly but coughs, especially the ack-ack-ack-ack type are completely irresponsible, even when I have to do it. I remember going to a NYPhilharmonic concert with a friend when Klaus Tennstedt conducted the same Mahler Ninth. He really didn't know Mahler's music and I was greatly gratified to see tears in his eyes during the sublime last movement. It turned out he had been surpressing a cough during most of the movement so that he wouldn't disturb my rapt expression. How could you not love a friend like that! In fact for that (not to mention other things) I loved him so much that I eventually married him in Palm Springs in 2008!

Nov. 26 2013 12:19 PM
Mollena Lee Williams from New York

Reminds me of the years I spent working at The NY Shakespeare Festival as house staff. One particularly prickly actor - a gentleman by the name of Kevin Kline was starring in "Hamlet" and was so annoyed by audience coughing, he insisted that the House Staff dole out cough drops *during* the performance. Regardless of where the offending human was seated. THEN he complained about the rustling of the wrappers as patrons sheepishly unwrapped the drops, glowing under the spotlight of humiliation as all eyes were now on the throat-soothing action in the house, not on the play. Hilarity often ensued.

Nov. 26 2013 12:15 PM

New York is really gross in the winter.

Nov. 26 2013 11:59 AM

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