Artistic impressions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am


Some people just never learn.

A fortnight ago, the music director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert, took the unusual step of stopping a concert when a phone went off during the quiet finale of Mahler's Symphony No 9. As if that was not bad enough, the ringtone was reported to be a marimba.

'It was actually the loudest thing in the hall,' Gilbert said in an interview later. 'Something had to be done.'

That, of course, wasn't the first time an artist had reacted to this kind of interruption. Actors Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig stopped in the middle of their preview performance of A Steady Rain (2009) to ask someone in the audience to answer their phone. 'You wanna get that? You wanna get it, grab it, I don't care, grab it, grab your phone, it doesn't matter,' Jackman demanded. And when the ringing continued - can you imagine? - Craig stepped in: 'Can you get that, whoever that is, can you get it? We can wait, just get the phone.' There is actually a YouTube clip of this incident ... but one wonders whether the footage was taken on a phone.

British thespian Richard Griffiths was less forgiving and ordered a man out of the National Theatre when his phone rang - six times - during a History Boys performance in 2004. A year later, in another show, Heroes in the West End, he asked a woman: 'Is that it, or will it be ringing some more?' before sending her out of the auditorium.

Actor Kevin Spacey, artistic director of the Old Vic in Britain, is also known for not putting up with this kind of nuisance. Well, good for them.

Of all the activities that go on during a performance in local theatres and concert halls - which include orange peeling, eating, drinking, rustling of plastic bags, talking and even arguing - phone ringing is still the most annoying because (as Murphy's Law will have it) it always happens at the most inappropriate moment - when it's very quiet and when the audience is the most engaged.

I have been told that most local performing arts venues block phone signals, but there are always the odd ones who sneak under the fence. I once had to urge a woman to stop talking on the phone. 'Give the performers some respect,' I whispered. 'I'm being scolded by this rude guy,' she hissed down the line before slamming shut her phone in a huff.

Someone recently did alert me to the fact that not all ringtones are unwelcome. The 44th anniversary concert of the Hong Kong University Students' Union Choir earlier this month, for instance, simply couldn't have performed without one. Its choirmaster is named - I kid you not - Ringtone Yeung.


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