Leonard Slatkin: Why I Invited Listeners to Snap Photos During a Concert

Friday, February 28, 2014 - 03:18 PM

Detroit Symphony Orchestra patrons take photos at a concert in Florida Detroit Symphony Orchestra patrons take photos at a concert in Florida (Jenn Scott)

Whip out your cell phone and start photographing at a sporting event and nobody will notice – other fans are probably snapping photos anyway. But try that at a symphony concert and you'll be glared at – unless you're at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Conductor Leonard Slatkin told WQXR how he surprised patrons during the Detroit Symphony's six-date South Florida tour this week by inviting them to take photos and videos of the performances on their phones, and to post them on the Internet.

"Orchestras go on tour, you play your concert, you play your encore, you come and go and you leave,” Slatkin said in a phone interview from the Arlene Arsht Center in Miami. “But I wanted to do something that made the audience feel more connected to the stage and more included in the performances.

“So we finished on Tuesday night playing Bolero, and then on Wednesday, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, and I simply turned to them and I said, 'maybe some of you might enjoy sending greetings from sunny and warm Florida to all of you people suffering in the 11 degrees that it was at the time [in Detroit]. Why don’t you do something you haven’t heard before in the concert hall: turn on your phones now."

The DSO estimates that 15 to 20 percent of the audience took Slatkin up on his offer to get a digital souvenir during the encores. The orchestra has been publishing some photos of its tour on its social media channels, including a Tumblr blog and an Instagram feed.

Slatkin says the photography invitation arose partly from the notion that concert halls can set an unwelcoming tone by issuing too many rules. "That’s starting to disturb me a lot,” he said. “People come into a concert hall, they sit down, and the so-called Voice of God comes on and tells them what not to do: Don’t have your phones on, don’t take pictures, don’t do that. Now, of course, we shouldn’t do those things. But is it really right to start off a program telling people what not to do?"

He added that Florida retirees made an ideal test audience for in-house photography, being mindful to not take the invitation too far by talking on the phone or making other noises.

Digital interactivity in concerts is not entirely new. Kansas City Opera invited audiences to live Tweet a performance of H.M.S. Pinafore in 2009. The orchestras of San Francisco, Indianapolis and Cincinnati have experimented with Tweet Seat sections in their halls, often in a separate area to avoid disrupting non-tweeting patrons. Still, the practice has been a flashpoint for controversy, with a few artists including pianist Krystian Zimerman halting their concerts over audience shutterbugs. Most New York venues including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center have not embraced the Tweet Seat trend.

"You’re never going to stop it, so why not at least control it,” said Slatkin of the urge to reach for one's phone. “I think we have to start giving audiences a little more credit. Otherwise, we’re going to just live in a more totalitarian society."

What do you think of photography during concerts? Please leave your comments below.

Slatkin Photo: Donald Dietz/DSO. Below photo by Jenn Scott:


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Comments [13]

Robert Rÿker from Tokyo

My goodness, but it is hard to get the clarity of the idea across to a broad audience.
Leonard is right in giving the audience a specific opportunity to share their concert experience -- in a very specific way -- to the wide world out there. And the audience for classical music does need to grow and multiply.
But he left the control, as one writer rightly pointed out, to the "after performance;" that is, after the formal part of the programme had been completed. The points are two:
(1) The concert audience paying their way to listen attentively to a professional performance of the world's great music must have their prerogatives properly protected. No cameras, no cell phones, no selfies, no nonsense during the performance. We should even try to restrain our fits of involuntary coughing out of consideration for those around us.
(2) The bows, the flowers, the little speeches, and perhaps even the encores can certainly be shared through the human genius of modern electronic technology, always (always!) maintaining gentile consideration for those in the company about us. Good manners can be taught, and they can be emulated, and perhaps some written guidelines will be absolutely necessary for a few decades until the concert audience fully has absorbed this set of concert manners.
Maestro Slatkin has indeed realised that we need to spread the magic message of great classical music, and found a modest way to act upon it. Not everyone has realised however just how brilliant he is. This little gesture was clever.

Jan. 31 2017 04:44 AM

Incredibly bad idea, shame on you Slatkin. We shouldn't be trying to attract the 'tech savvy youth' by condoning behavior that disturbs the experience for others. We should be teaching them to enjoy it without having to document it. I was at the MoMa last year to see The Scream, and there must have been a dozen iPhones and IPads held up in front of me trying to take a picture. You get in a cab, you have a screen in your face. A concert hall is one of the last refuges from the incessant smart phone, leave it be...

Apr. 02 2014 07:22 PM

Silversalty from Brooklyn properly noted unclear language in the WQXR-FM blog article. That article said Maestro Slatkin invited photos "during the concert", but that didn't make clear whether this meant while the orchestra was playing or at some other moment "during the concert" when the musicians and the other audience members weren't attempting to concentrate on the music (i.e, intermission, between pieces, during tuning, etc.).

The below hyperlink from the LA Times indicates that Maestro Slatkin invited audience members to snap photos but not until after they had finished the announced program instead during an encore. So one could argue the 'snappers' weren't disrupting the concert, or at least not the regularly scheduled works. On the other hand, some would argue that having the person seated in front of you holding up their glowing screen cellphone is in itself a disruption to their ability to concentrated on the performers and nothing but the performers. Will protesting audience members begin asking for their ticket prices be refunded for this kind of 'officially authorized disruption' to the the concert? Or will they suffer in silence?


Mar. 03 2014 06:14 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

"So we FINISHED on Tuesday night playing Bolero, and THEN on Wednesday, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, and I simply turned to them and I SAID, 'MAYBE SOME OF YOU MIGHT ENJOY SENDING GREETINGS from sunny and warm Florida to all of you people suffering in the 11 degrees that it was at the time [in Detroit]. Why don't you do something you haven't heard before in the concert hall: TURN ON YOUR PHONES NOW."

CAPS my emphasis.

FINISHED .. turn on your phones now .. take some greeting shots ...

Wow! A musician and conductor that actually relates to the audience rather than condescendingly and grudgingly accepts its existence (and cash).

Nowhere do I see any indication that the performance was in any way affected by this action.

Jerry Garcia would understand.

Hey! What if concert halls provided digital stills or video clips that people could have (as they're leaving) to show what they've seen and heard? Charge for them, like tourist post cards.

Mar. 03 2014 01:42 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

Back in the old days (2010) on what might just be my only visit to France (the land of my ancestors on both sides), my spouse and I attended a very fine performance of 'Eugene Onegin' at the Bastille Opera House. I didn't take any pictures during the performance but did take some during the final bows. That way I had souvenirs of both the performers and the place. Incidentally, the production was directed by Willi Decker, the director of the present production of 'La Traviata' at the Met which seems to have ruffled so many feathers. His 'Onegin' was a masterful interpretation, which I'm sure the 'Traviata' haters would have equally hated. I, for one, am glad I saw it.

Mar. 03 2014 11:45 AM
Alphonso from Chicago

I saw Leonard Slatkin as a guest conductor for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra around 1975. He turned to the audience and said; follow the musical line, you will find it rewarding.

Mar. 03 2014 11:28 AM

Boy, oh boy is this guy inviting trouble! This poorly considered idea will drive away the long-term 'graying' audiences and won't win over the younger crowd whose attachment to classical music will only come if they learn to listen to music - NOT JUST to hear it. I don't agree with Maestro Slatkin's gesture in this instance and I hope no other conductor or venue follows suit. Bad, bad, bad idea.

Mar. 03 2014 10:53 AM

^WWO "The conductor shouldn't allow this to carry on for the entire concert."

Unfortunately, once the conductor has opened the door, s/he no longer has control (if it ever really existed) over what audience members will do. Believe it or not, I shouldn't have to "close my eyes" after shelling out big bucks to attend Carnegie/Avery Fisher Halls or the Met.

Once again, I ask, is it okay for audience members to rush the stage to take "selfies"?


Mar. 03 2014 01:02 AM
William W. Owens from New York, New York

BRILLIANT! The audience of classical music performances is dying off and is not being adequately replaced. To give the tech savvy and younger generations in the audience a chance to post images and videos on Facebook, Twitter and the like will introduce these performances into circles where classical music would otherwise likely not penetrate. I suppose there will always be the curmudgeons who won't want any picture and video taking to disturb their concert going experience, whether it introduces the genre and performers to new audiences or not.

FAR more disturbing to me are the coughers. As a young, healthy attendee at Carnegie, Avery Fisher, the Metropolitan Opera, and so forth, I endure performance-long barrages of coughing from audiences that are predominantly in their golden years and in relatively poor health. I can close my eyes to avoid a glowing screen but I know of no good way to drown out the coughing and keep hearing the music.

It is a great idea if picture taking and video recording remain an occasional novelty exception and not the rule. They should remain allowed only when the conductor invites the audience. The conductor shouldn't allow this to carry on for the entire concert. We have NPR an PBS broadcasts for that.

Mar. 02 2014 07:57 PM

Interesting read. The South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble (www.pridewindensemble.org) has been on the forefront of making music accessible to our audiences for many years. Performances typically include video presentations, special lighting, and guest performers or soloists. We have always allowed photography and videography during our concerts. We also allow audiences to have a cocktail while they are watching the performance. The audiences seem to really enjoy the overall experience. If live performance music (No...Britney and Gaga are not really live music, as much of the music is canned and many parts of the concerts are lip-synched) is to survive it needs to embrace current cultural norms and find a way to deal with them. If not, you are simply pushing potential audiences away. It's about time that the "Professional" music world embrace the reality that society and cultures change and realize that they need to change with it or fall into oblivion.

Mar. 02 2014 09:38 AM
S. Topaz from Queens, NY

BAD BAD BAD BAD idea. There are enough glowing screens already disturbing real concertgoers. Having these people -- who apparently can't just listen to the music (and often aren't at all) -- now be raising their glowing screens up and down to take pictures just to say they were there is just plain inconsiderate to those of us who go to concerts to actually pay attention to the music. Apparently this conductor has no clue how distracting, impolite, and disinterested the smartphone/tablet crowd is. He needs to sit in the audience to understand what we're up against.

Mar. 02 2014 06:46 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

It's ridiculous.

Mar. 01 2014 06:08 AM

"What do you think of photography during concerts?"

I think it's asinine, disturbs the concert experience, and should be discouraged. I don't need electronic devices waved in front of my face when I'm trying to enjoy a concert experience.

Where would Maestro Slatkin draw the line? Would it be OK for someone to stroll up onto the stage to take a "selfie" in the middle of one of Maestro Slatkin's performances?

Highly doubtful.


Mar. 01 2014 01:46 AM

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