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Man's marimba iPhone ring stops Mahler symphony dead

During Mahler's Ninth Symphony a ringing cell phone caused the conductor to stop the concert on Wednesday in New York City. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Concertgoers at the New York Philharmonic Tuesday night did not have to be musicologists to work out that the marimba was not part of the famous work.

Conductor Alan Gilbert halted the performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony when the offending iPhone ringtone sounded -- and persisted.

Just minutes from the end of the hour and a half-long piece, Gilbert turned to the phone's owner, seated close to the front of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, according to an eyewitness account published by "Superconductor" blogger Paul Pelkonen.

“The symphony ends incredibly quietly so there was literally no way that we could go on, Gilbert told NBC News. "So I stopped the music and I asked the general vicinity where the sound was coming from ‘please turn off your cellphone.’ And I had to ask several times..."


In the ensuing pause, some in the audience reportedly called for blood, shouting: "Kick him out!" and "$1,000 fine!" the witness recounted.

Gilbert quietly employed shame until the offender -- described as an elderly man by another blogger -- confirmed that the phone was off.

Before continuing with the concert, Gilbert apologized and explained that normally it’s best to ignore such disturbances, but he said this was "so egregious that I could not allow it."

This was the first time Gilbert has stopped the orchestra for a violation of the "cell-phones off" rule, a media contact at the symphony said, but at least the second time that it has happened in the symphony’s history.

For classical music buffs who witnessed it, there was some satisfaction to be gained from the incident, which occurred in what is otherwise a quiet and mesmerizing part of the Mahler work.

"In a way, it’s great that that schlimazel’s iPhone happened to go off at such a sweet spot in Mahler’s Ninth on Tuesday. All of us… got to exercise some righteous indignation, schadenfreude, and the adrenaline rush of watching a fight," wrote a classical music blogger on "thousandfold echo."

The downside, said the writer, was that after "Mahlergate" there was just no turning back the clock.

"After this kerfuffle, it’s impossible to talk about the actual music, just as it was impossible for listeners to return to the symphony’s transcendent stillness after the cellphone," with news coverage focused on the man with the marimba, and "nary a pixel spent on what came before or after."

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