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Michael Tilson Thomas explained his actions last week, which resulted in a woman and her daughter leaving the hall in mid-performance of a New World Symphony concert.
The conductor said that he was trying to prevent the performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with Yefim Bronfman last Friday at New World Center from being disrupted. A woman was sitting with her nine-year-old daughter directly in his line of vision and, he said, the girl was jumping about during the performance of Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey by Wagner on the first half, which was led by NWS conducting fellow Christian Reif. He said he was worried that the quiet lyricism of the Brahms concerto’s third movement would be broken up by the girl’s jumpiness.
“The little girl was restless and moving around and I was just afraid what would happen in the Adagio,” said the conductor in a phone call on Wednesday. “Our cellist Rosanna Butterfield had worked so hard all week on her solo. I just didn’t want to see it ruined.”
He said rather than take a chance, between the second and third movements he asked the woman to move to a different seat. He emphasized that he never asked her to leave the concert.
“It’s one of those situations when you have to make a decision quickly. I made the call to ask her to move—which I did quietly and courteously. I was surprised when she left the hall.”
While not apologizing for his actions, the conductor clearly regretted the incident, which went viral on the internet after South Florida Classical Review broke the story Wednesday morning.
“I felt so bad when this whole thing happened,” he added. “It was just one of those lamentable situations that can occur sometimes. How do you communicate with people [in a concert situation]? I hope she’ll come back.”
In a written statement released later in the day by his management and the New World Symphony, Tilson Thomas said, “I felt responsible to ensure that there would be a calm and quiet atmosphere, both for the cello soloist playing the piece for the first time, and for the audience. I quietly asked the woman if she would mind moving to some seats on one side or the other of the section in which she was seated. To my surprise, she left the auditorium, which was not at all my intention. The performance then continued and Rosanna Butterfield, one of our cello Fellows, played with radiant musicality.
“Throughout my life I have encouraged families and young people to attend concerts. I know that the New World Symphony staff has been in conversation with the mother to explore the situation. I hope very much that they will come back.”
Craig Hall, New World Symphony’s vice-president for communications, confirmed that the orchestra management had met with the mother and daughter and “discussed the misunderstanding.” He said that the family would be attending next week’s New World Symphony concert.
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