Pianist Christian Zacharias Halts Concert to Berate Cellphone User

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 10:00 AM

Christian Zacharias, interrupted by a cellphone Christian Zacharias, interrupted by a cellphone (Youtube)

Franz Joseph Haydn was known for his musical jokes and clever asides but the sound of a cellphone clearly wasn't one he had envisioned.

The pianist Christian Zacharias halted a performance Wednesday night with the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden after an audience member's phone began to ring during Haydn's Piano Concerto in D major.

The incident was filmed and immediately produced for a three-minute video that was widely disseminated on YouTube. It has received more than 50,000 views as of Friday morning.

In the video, Zacharias, who is conducting from the piano, reaches a gentle solo phrase in the concerto’s slow movement when the phone becomes to chime. He abruptly stops, looks back and says, "Don't answer. Let it ring."

The video cuts to a pair of visibly exasperated violinists. After some moments of awkward silence, Zacharias resumes the performance.

In an e-mail, Måns Pär Fogelberg of GSOPlay, which films concerts from Gothenburg Concert Hall, said the offender hasn't come forward. "As far as we know (talking to the conductor, concertmaster and the producer), no one stepped up afterwards and claimed the ownership of either of the two phones that went off during the concert," wrote Fogelberg. 

Unlike the cries for blood after a phone went off at a New York Philharmonic concert in 2012, the response in Sweden was more subdued. "The reaction from our audience came in e-mails and Facebook comments yesterday," said Fogelberg. "Not a riot, but some really sour ones."

The orchestra is now planning to enhance its reminders to audiences to switch off their phones. Watch the video below:


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Comments [24]

Maria Valencia Gutierrez from Teaneck, NJ

Why would someone want to speak on a cell phone during a concert is beyond my comprehension.Lessons in decorum and civilized behavior are urgently needed at all stages in our schools system.

Mar. 28 2014 09:54 AM
Steve from White Plains, NY

Frankly, I don't blame him. You would think that a concert audience would be aware of the ramifications of hand held devices ruining the experience for not only audience members but perhaps throwing off the musicians, their concentration rudely broken by some boor who thinks the world is his living room and he can do whatever he likes. People like this should stay home and watch television or listen to music on the radio, or on record, tape, CD or DVD, where they can eat popcorn, scratch themselves, and belch and fart to their heart's content.

Nov. 11 2013 12:50 PM

CF: "Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.
Daniel, if you think you are a wit, you are half right"

DD: Really? You'd stoop that low? Cell phone tones, and the light from hand-held devices, have no place in the concert hall.

If you're a doctor and need to be in touch for a life-or-death situation, put the phone on vibrate.

Do not text, tweet, or otherwise disturb concertgoers with your boorish behavior.

p.s. I don't have a cell phone.

Nov. 03 2013 01:30 AM

+1, Daniel.

GEICO commercial: "C-O-W (pause) E-I-E-I-O."


Nov. 03 2013 01:21 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Daniel, if you think you are a wit, you are half right. If you enjoy berating people who live on farms the next time you go to the grocery store or produce stand think of where the food comes from. It is pompous New Yorkers like you that give New York City the liberal elite reputation it already has.
I will happily put my Masters in Conflict Resolution from George Mason University and a second masters in Middle East Studies up against any degrees you may have hanging on the wall.
I though this site was for intelligent people to comment on music and its issues.
I can see how easily you must relate to Zacharias who made a horses ass of himself.
It certainly is bad form to have a cell phone ring during a concert, opera of stage performance, but people do sometimes forget that they even have their phones with them, and there were many more CIVIL ways that Zacharias could have dealt with the indiscretion.
Enjoy your dinner, and try for a moment to remember where your food comes from, and grow up, you are acting like a juvenile on a site for adults.
Charles Fischbein

Oct. 31 2013 04:22 PM
Daniel Polowetzky from NYC


Oct. 31 2013 12:34 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Daniel, I neglected to suggest that the next time you listen to Carnival of the Animals, pay particular attention to Part III, ( Wild Asses ) if the shoe fits wear it. Charles Fischbein

Oct. 30 2013 07:17 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Daniel, Do you really, if I asked would you know which part of the cow to start on, or would mistake a cow for a bull? Pull the wrong part on a bull and you'r in for a very bad day. Lots of bull in your post I feel. Since you are from New York City, I want to clue you that corn does not grow in a can. God Speed, Charles Fischbein (sorry got no cows)

Oct. 30 2013 06:59 PM
Anonymous from NYC


Oct. 30 2013 08:13 AM
Daniel Polowetzky from NYC

I always enjoy listening to The Carnival of the Animals while milking the cows!

Oct. 30 2013 08:11 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

I heard this "comebacker" at a conference some years ago when the keynote speaker was interrupted by a cellphone: "should that be my mother calling, please tell her I can't come to the phone right now."

Oct. 29 2013 09:50 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va. 22630

Andy, just re read your post, wanted to be sure I got it right, failed to notice you are from Pa. not New York but your attitude is a personification of the Upper West Side, New York City mind set.
Drive about an hour West of Merion into the Pa. mountains and you will be able to experience how the rest of your state lives.
Some of the best hunting land is in western Pa. mountains. Have to go to Bass Outdoor store to renew my deer hunting license, Gun deer season is just a few weeks away and every year I give one buck to the local food bank.
Am also in the Black Bear pool, who knows I might be one of the lucky ones and get a ticket for one. JAIL for a ringing cell phone in a concert hall, I still can't believe I read that, or that a sane mind would write it.

Oct. 29 2013 04:53 PM
Andy B. from Lower Merion, PA

Not self-centered at all. In fact, I encourage performers to take such a stance and stop concerts. How else will audiences learn? Zacharias handled this one beautifully--picked up at the very note where he left off and blazed on. Bravo Zacharias!

In NYC, concert-goers pay anywhere from $40-120 (or higher) per ticket, to hear a subtle counterpoint between the violin sections, to hear instrumentalists create the most lyrical, soft and sensuous music. I hope I never hear a cell phone going off during the first passage of the Enigma Variations, the 18th Variation of the Paganini Variations, in the transition between the 3rd and 4th movements of Beethoven's Fifth, during one of the Sheherezade violin solos, or any of the other fantastically soft and beautiful orchestral passages, never mind a solo recital. You can't recreate these moments--the performance is ruined on the spot. I'd be happy if a performer walked off stage, stopped playing whatever piece he was on and just started the next piece.

If cell phone carriers were only able to appreciate a fraction of the preparation and effort that goes into a performance--and I'm not just talking about the performer's practice time, but also travel time, designing the program, all the workers at the hall and the presenter's efforts/administrative staff--one might think a jail sentence is appropriate given that it only takes one moment of thought to turn off the phone(and I didn't even mention consideration for the other audience members). Performers like Zacharias are the only ones in a position to stop the onslaught, and they should do whatever it takes. I recommend fining audience members, as one commenter below suggested.

Oct. 29 2013 12:34 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Bernie, just FOR YOU, my daily schedule. Wake with the rooster at 5:30 a.m.
Go out to the barn to let the dogs and sheep out. Breakfast, then 9 a.m. bring sheep back to corral for feeding, an hour horseback ride weather permitting, went to feed mill at noon, emptied two tons of feed and hay in barn.
Three hours studying a Bach selection on my Cello in preparation for a lesson tomorrow.
4 p.m. called sheep and dogs in for night, feed, water, close gates turn on barn stereo system for music.
6pm dinner and then Met Opera on sirus Xm.
In a few weeks I will find time to participate in deer gun season, tagging at least one deer that I will bring to the food bank as a donation.
The use of "tragedy" to discuss the loss of a regional Opera that I would venture 90% of New Yorkers do not even know existed is very much overstated.
Websters on line dictionary defines Tragedy as follows " A fatal and mournful even, any event in which human lives are lost by human or natural violence" Thank God no lives have been reported lost by the demise of The City Opera, which by the way in its final years used voice enhancement, something that no traditional Opera houses would stoop to.
"Shocking" also Websters online dictionary, "causing to shake or tremble as by a blow; especially, causing to recoil in horror or disgust, extremely offensive or disgusting"
I challenge you to come down here and follow me around all day with my work on the farm, and cello studies. Not bad for someone who turned 69 years old last week and gets around on one good leg.
I do agree with you 100% (scary) that both parties overplayed their hand in this situation. I would hope that WQXR which has been the mainstay of classical music in New York City for well over 60 years would not have to stoop to tabloid style headlines to attract readership on their website.
I worked for a tabloid for several years, and I know how headline writers use loaded verbiage to get a readers attention, I would like to think that Public Radio would not have to use tabloid style sheets. I do get your point however.
My offer for a coffee at Starbucks is still outstanding, will be in New York Nov. 1 to see my 2nd performance of Norma. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 28 2013 06:19 PM
Bernie from uws

Both parties are at fault here. The phone owner should have been quicker to turn it off once it did sound. Zacharias should reign in the arrogant behavior. These things happen and the show must go on.

To Mr. Fischbein, do you have nothing better to do than come on here and attack WQXR reporters and fellow commenters? Really. Take it down a notch.

Oct. 27 2013 11:28 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Dear Mr. Wise, if your job at WQXR ever ends you may consider becoming a headline writer for The National Enquirer. Using the word "shocking" in regards to a pianist taking an audience member to task for keeping his cell phone on and having it ring, during his performance is far from "shocking'. I am sure you could have found more appropriate words to headline your blog.
Interesting, ok, appropriate, maybe, but most seasoned performers would simply continue their performances and perhaps ask that announcements about proper cell phone settings be given to patrons during an intermission.
Frankly in my book, it makes the performer look rather self centered and pompous. Live and let live, people forget to turn their phones off quite frequently and do not necessarily deserve public ridicule for an honest mistake. What if the patron was lets say a physician getting an urgent call from a hospital nurse regarding a patient. I agree that he/she could have put the phone on vibrate, but honest mistakes happen.
People under stress or in stressful professions sometimes make simple mistakes.
A cell phone ringing is a small matter compared to having couples directly in front of your seat involved in very public and intimate displays of affection.
A real downer was at The Kennedy Center where at the Opera House the management had put containers containing cough drops wrapped in plastic cellophane. Throughout the performance you could hear a cadre of creations unwrapping the cough drops and the cellophane coverings making all sorts of loud and strange sounds. Sort of defeated the purpose of putting them out in the first place. Shocking no annoying certainly. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Oct. 27 2013 07:27 PM
beth from lancaster, pa.

that was awesome.
good for him.
and, yes---concerts should be a music-ONLY zone.

coughs are human, of course...but a ring tone?
did you hear what he said?
that is not being a diva.
it is completely understandable.

get a cough drop, figure out how to silence your stupid phone before the concert even begins, and allow musicians to do their beautiful work without this type of insipid interruption.

Oct. 26 2013 10:25 PM
Daniel Polwetzky from NYC

The offenders would justifiably be expelled from the concert. Allowing a cell phone to ring is an indication that the offender was simply not raised properly and is not fit to be attending a performance.

There is a time and place for Angry Birds and a concert hall is not the place. A cell phone come with a handy little button allowing the phone to be silenced. It is the "Off" button.

Oct. 26 2013 10:16 PM
Martin from Leeds, England

A friend who is a professional violinist leaves her phone permanently on silent as she cannot take the risk of it going off in a rehearsal, recording or concert. The orchestra will fine anyone whose phone does go off in such a situation; maybe concert halls should do the same to audience members.

Oct. 26 2013 06:45 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

Ironically, you never hear of these incidents during performances of Menotti's "The Telephone."

Oct. 25 2013 08:32 PM

I certainly don't agree with the idea that "concerts can't be a no-noise zone". As a matter of fact, I can't see how they can be anything OTHER than a "no-noise zone". Think about how much effort of practice goes into a musician's preparation. It is an insult to the performer to think that the interruption of a cell phone is fine.

Oct. 25 2013 07:40 PM
Mort from Teaneck, NJ

Sorry Frank, there's nothing diva-ish here and sure there's a difference between coughing and a loud ring tone on a phone whose user doesn't know how to shut it off. As annoying as it was for Haydn, imagine the device sounding during the slow mvmt of the Ravel or Shostakovich 2nd concerto. I'm sure CZ didn't plan to stop playing; he reacted spontaneously. Were I in attendance, I would have wanted him to begin the movement again. You pay a lot for a good seat and should expect an uninterrupted performance whether in New York or Sweden.

Oct. 25 2013 04:34 PM
Frank from UES

I think his response was completely excessive and diva-ish here. Is a cellphone ring so much louder than all of the coughing and throat-clearing you get in New York concert halls every year? I know the Swedes are more polite as a people but still. Concerts can't be a no-noise zone.

Oct. 25 2013 02:44 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

This is not an unprecedented occurrence.Krystian Zimerman halted a performance because of photographs being taken on a cell phone,and other disruptions of performances by ringing cell phones have been reported in recent years.There was an amusing video of a violinist duplicating the ring tone of an offending cell phone on his instrument.These events rerepresent both forgetfulness,and as I have written elsewhere on these pages,an overall decline of civility in society.

Oct. 25 2013 02:17 PM

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