Enthusiastic Scientist Roughed Up, Ejected By Patrons During Handel Performance

AUDIO: David Glowacki Recounts the 'Messiah' Altercation

Monday, June 23, 2014 - 05:00 PM

Bristol Old Vic Theatre Bristol Old Vic Theatre (Wikipedia Commons)

A noted American scientist says that he was beaten up by a pair of "audience vigilantes" for expressing too much enthusiasm during a performance last year of Handel's Messiah at the Bristol Proms in England. But he denied reports in the British news media and elsewhere on Monday that he was attempting to crowd-surf during the concert.

David Glowacki, a research fellow at the Royal Society in London, told WQXR that the concert on Aug. 3, 2013 began as part of a larger effort by the festival to introduce a less stuffy atmosphere in the concert hall, and make young people feel more comfortable.

In a pre-concert announcement, patrons were invited to clap when they'd like, talk with friends and have a beer during the performance. Seats were removed from the front of the hall to allow standing, similar to a mosh pit at a rock concert.

The crescendo of the Hallelujah Chorus was the trigger for the alleged incident. "The chorus was singing 'Hallelujah' probably only about two meters away from us," said Glowacki, who was standing up front with two friends. "It was a very intense, emotional experience, far beyond anything I've experienced when I've seen Handel's Messiah previously, where I'm usually very far away."

Glowacki put up his hands, pumped his fists and yelled, 'woo-hoo.'" "And I got punched in the kidneys and knocked to the floor by an audience member," he said. "He said, 'you get the hell out of here you stupid [expletive].'"

Glowacki, it happens, wasn't just a regular ticket-holder but a special guest of the festival. The night before, he had given an interactive physics demonstration with the violinist Nicola Benedetti involving a sophisticated camera system that interprets energy fields.

The annoyed audience member was joined by a friend; both were described by Glowacki as men in their 50s. "I said to him, 'listen, I'm not going anywhere," Glowacki said, citing festival director Tom Morris's invitation for audience expression. "So if you want me out of here you have to physically, forcibly eject me.' So they slapped me around a few times. I hit my head on the stage when I fell down. And they dragged me out."

Glowacki says that other patrons thought the altercation was part of the performance, and cheered when they saw him in the lobby after the concert. But the scientist said he developed a "big bruise" on his forehead from smacking it on the stage. "I couldn't move the next day," he said, adding, "I probably would have swung back at them but my British citizenship application was being processed at that time."

A Bristol Proms spokesman said that Morris is currently on vacation and unavailable to comment.

Glowacki (above), who is jointly based at Stanford University and the University of Bristol in England, says he finds humor in the incident – including the fact that news media are only now picking up the story, with its conflicting versions (it was first reported last August on the Bristol Culture website). "The beautiful thing is just the imagery of this guy trying to crowd surf during a classical music concert," he said, adding that it probably started with an offhand remark he made to the audience during his physics demonstration.

The event also raises questions of crowd dynamics, and about who enforces public decorum. Glowacki, who received his master's degree in cultural theory, cites theories by French philosopher Michel Foucault on decentralized power structures in society.

"Everything I had done was completely permissible" based on the pre-concert announcement, Glowacki said. "However, that's not really where the power came from. The power came from the audience who, for whatever reason, wanted the experience to conform to whatever their expectation of it was. It didn't matter if the theater director got up and did something to the contrary. I think it's a fascinating experience and there are all kinds of open questions."

Weigh in: What do you think of efforts to bring more informality to the concert hall? Leave your comments below.


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Comments [17]

notsofast from UWS

He got what he deserved.

And to the commenter below who said that "a patron should not be mauled for behaving outside of the norm," I would point out that the patrons who did the "mauling" also behaved "outside of the norm." Why is one kind of "ab-normal" behavior OK, but not the other? Once you jettison the norm, who's to decide?

Jun. 29 2014 09:36 PM
Ruth from NYC

Informality (often a good thing) doesn't have to include discourtesy (almost always a bad thing)! Conversation, eating or drinking, and even an occasional out-of-place clap can be perfectly fine--if you're sitting with friends in a private box. But in the cheaper seats or in standing room, such behaviors deprive others of their right to listen to the music.

One wonders how much noisy discourtesy David indulged in before his final fist-pumping "woo-hoo" got him sucker punched. Even the friends accompanying him evidently failed to defend him.

Jun. 28 2014 11:42 AM
Ninbus from Upper West Side

I experienced my own, 'laid-back' Messiah right here at Carnegie Hall last December.

The gentleman [sic] sitting one row behind me elected to drape both legs over the (empty) seat to my right. Yes, for the entire concert (he didn't bother standing for the 'Hallelujah' chorus) I spent the performance with a pair of legs as my seat-mate.

This fellow must have thought he was at a Knicks game...no, wait. Madison Square Garden fans wouldn't have stood for that sort of behavior. And for my part: I was too intimidated to say anything.

Shame on me.

Jun. 28 2014 10:52 AM

What is Brian Wise's stake in this pampered postadolescent's nascent celebrity? What is QXR's? Who are mommy and daddy, and what's in it for them?

Since David Glow-worm's having studied Foucault = his having studied a self-indulgent, degenerate moron who hit the big time in an age when self-indulgence and degeneracy were just becoming growth stocks, one can only wonder why this no-talent nobody with the infantile desire to wilfully disrupt a concert by treating a concert hall as his playpen is getting the attention he is. His rubbishy comments about "power" are especially revealing; they mirror to perfection the thousands of articles and books written by members of the professorial class, whose marrow-deep Marxism somehow doesn't prevent them from trampling everyone in their way when tenure, a microphone, or a six-figure payout rolls into view.

Here's hoping Li'l David says something friendly and supportive about Tamar Iveri. That should put paid to whatever "career" his promoters are shoving down our throat.

Jun. 25 2014 03:50 PM
Jordi Griell Barnes from New York

Glowacki went there with the intention to spoil other people's joy for Opera, it doesn't seem right to put him as the victim, it was him who victimized Concert Hall attendees.

Jun. 24 2014 06:25 PM
Adam J Nadler from New York, NY

Isn't this all very simple? You just don't beat people up for making noise, at a concert or anywhere else. Get an usher, get a cop. Would it have been OK for that nut in Florida to shoot the kid in the movie theater if they had been showing a Bergman movie? I don't think so, and the same applies here. The kind of entertainment is irrelevant. Doesn't seem so complicated to me.

Jun. 24 2014 01:28 PM

Les from Miami, Florida wrote a comment that begins to express how I feel about this. But I can't believe the concert director was really so clueless that he didn't foresee something such as this happening. I have seen an old (lithograph?) of an early NY Philharmonic concert where there is a fistfight going on during a concert in the middle of what today is known as the orchestra section of patron seating. Are we really going to tolerate going backwards into the future like that? Why would someone help dumb down what should be an attentive listening experience by encouraging the kind of narcissistic 'look at me' attitude in our concert halls that has so infested the rest of our society? Isn't the point of a concert that you are there to listen to what's being offered and not destroy others' experience by acting out with 'Jersey Shore' fist pumping?

Jun. 24 2014 12:05 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

I'm not in favor of informality in the concert hall or opera house because it militates against the main reason for going there which is attentive listening.

Jun. 24 2014 08:11 AM

Seriously, though, if management suggests that behavior outside of the norm (tweet! have a beer!) is OK, a patron should not be mauled for behaving outside of the norm.


Jun. 24 2014 01:09 AM
cathy from CA

one day someone said let's place the piano in the front of the orchestra, and there were probably a lot of people who thought it was a horrible idea. people started writing symphonies in one movement and calling them tone poems, and a lot of people probably hated that too. time will tell what's a bad idea

Jun. 24 2014 01:09 AM

What's next? Patrons shaking their "booty" on stage? Oops, never mind.


Jun. 24 2014 01:05 AM
anne from New York City

"Noted American scientist"? According to the article he is a Research Fellow working in someone else's laboratory. That's the first step after getting a PhD and in most reputable institutions is considered "training." It's a step toward possibly becoming a "noted" scientist.

Jun. 23 2014 11:11 PM

I can understand that classical music is sometimes in struggle when it comes to profits. Thus, I can relate to the efforts to make it more accessible by the so called 'young people' and making degrading changes for audience behavior and readiness to eliminate the culture of classical performances. I guess now, we have to read concert announcements more carefully and match those for our taste; in other words, know what to expect before you go is the message.

Jun. 23 2014 10:53 PM
Bernie from UWS

Well, I give the professor a lot of credit. The concert hall was evidently trying to shift the dynamics of the concert in a meaningful way, away from the mausoleum atmosphere of most halls. Usually, no one will give in to such invitations but he was sticking his neck out (literally) to change the social order. It didn't work but it goes to show that classical music will change only if it's a ground-up effort as well as a top-down one.

Jun. 23 2014 10:01 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Although I don't condone the violence, what do you expect when audience members are "invited to clap when they'd like, talk with friends, and have a beer during the performance"? I agree with the previous two commentators. If you want to act like you are at a rock concert, then go to a rock concert.

Jun. 23 2014 09:55 PM
A.C. Douglas from New Jersey

Sounds to me like David Glowacki was making a spectacle of himself and merely got his just deserts, mindless and ill-considered invitation or not. A concert hall is no place for audience spectacles and no place for a mosh pit. Both those horrors are appropriate to rock shows and other such vulgar entertainments.


Jun. 23 2014 09:36 PM
Stephen Victor from Penns

Stupid idea.

Jun. 23 2014 09:13 PM

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