MTT explains incident, says he didn’t oust woman from New World concert 

By Lawrence A. Johnson

MIchael Tilson Thomas

MIchael Tilson Thomas

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.

Posted in News

9 Responses to “MTT explains incident, says he didn’t oust woman from New World concert ”

  1. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 3:30 pm by Deborah and Michael Troner

    We were at this concert, which was sublime except for the incident being discussed.

    Our seats are directly behind the conductor, in row BB. Seated directly across from us in the first row of the risers was a well-dressed woman with her well-behaved daughter, who appeared to be around 10 or 11 years old. It is important to point out that they were the only people in that row, and were, therefore, “close up and personal” vis-a-vis MTT. It is true that the daughter had her head in her mom’s lap for part of the evening, but neither she nor her mom were creating any disturbance at all.

    Suddenly, between the movements, MTT began addressing someone quietly; we couldn’t hear what he was saying, as his back was toward us. We couldn’t imagine him interrupting the performance to chastise one of the orchestra members, but we could’nt figure out who he was addressing. The next thing we knew, the woman across from us stood up and began to leave; her daughter got up a few seconds later to follow her. We heard every footstep of her high heels on the wooden floor as she made her way up the stairs and across the hall until she reached the doors in what seemed like at least two minutes.

    We felt this woman’s mortification as if it were ours – and it was in front of her daughter, making it even worse.

    We asked three other couples attending the performance if they knew why this woman was asked to leave and no one could fathom it. She wasn’t disruptive and neither was her daughter. Mr. Tilson Thomas caused the disruption to the performance, and he should apologize to the woman and her daughter and to the audience as well.

  2. Posted Oct 24, 2014 at 12:03 am by A.R.

    To the commenter above – the simple fact that you noted that the girl had her head in her mother’s lap for part of the performance validates Tilson Thomas’ concern that she was a distraction to the audience and performers. Who else did you notice during the concert? That the nine year old girl couldn’t sit up straight in her own chair (while in public!) says a lot about her mother. The mother SHOULD be mortified – she has raised a child that has to be coddled just to sit through a 40-minute piano concerto –with one of the world’s great pianists playing only feet away. Boo Hoo. Excuses for bad children and lazy parents are SOOO Miami.

    Bravo to Tilson Thomas for protecting the integrity of the performance – even if it wasn’t the most popular, easy decision. So the little brat and her mom will come back for a do-over…Can the review publish which one? We’d like to attend an alternate performance.

  3. Posted Oct 24, 2014 at 6:14 am by Dave R.

    Congratulations, A.R. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone trolling at SFCR.

  4. Posted Oct 24, 2014 at 6:43 pm by C.C.

    I agree with Dave R.

    To Deborah & Michael Troner – Thank you for sharing your experience! It’s a shame that a seemingly quiet child and her mother should be asked to move. I would not be anxious to attend future concerts, if I were her. And that’s really too bad.

  5. Posted Oct 25, 2014 at 8:20 am by Wendi KF

    Wow, A.R. You don’t have children, do you? Snobbishness like yours discourages all children from experiencing music. Shame on you.

  6. Posted Oct 25, 2014 at 12:09 pm by Jeremy

    From now on, who will be brave enough to buy those seats?

  7. Posted Oct 26, 2014 at 1:02 am by divalady

    Dear A.R. – your unbelievable comment and attitude is what will cause classical music to die out. If you are that selfish that you think the music is only for you and your apparently uptight and unsympathetic attitude, then shame on you.

    I have trouble sitting through a piano concerto without fidgeting and I’m a perfectly well behaved adult. Encouraging young people – especially children – to attend classical music concerts should be a top priority among all organizations so that we will actually have a future audience. Expecting a child – or any person, really – to sit stock still for an entire performance will kill the art form, and very quickly. Your kind of snobbishness disgusts me and I hope a pigeon poops on your head because you deserve it.

    As for the conductor, perhaps he was concerned about the concentration of the young soloist, and this is understandable, and he probably feels like he might not have made exactly the right decision in the moment. However, the WORST things I have heard on this whole topic are from this terrible human being above complaining about a “brat”. Who was obviously enjoying a concert of CLASSICAL MUSIC. Oh yes – how dare a mother bring her child to hear THAT! What a terrible mother.

    End Rant.

  8. Posted Oct 26, 2014 at 10:22 am by Joel Rosenthal

    MTT’s support of his musicians and his joy at teaching them and seeing them perform well are well known (and I have observed both), just as his intemperate behavior towards his audiences (disdain, some might say) is well documented (and I have observed that too).

    Does any reader seriously believe MTT’s version here? That after sitting through the Wagner piece and observing the supposedly animated young girl, MTT waited through the pause between pieces and TWO WHOLE MOVEMENTS of the Brahms concerto, before it dawned on him that the girl might be distracting (to whom? him? or the cellist?).

    The Troners have it right–MTT caused a disruption of the piece–and no doubt the mood, well beyond any likely distraction that the girl might have caused. (The implausibility of MTT’s claims independently confirms the Troners’ account that the girl was not behaving in any disruptive manner–and that this was merely an imaginary horrible in MTT’s mind.)

    MTT and NWS management owe the woman, her child, the Troners and the rest of the audience an apology for MTT’s behavior. And MTT should be ashamed of trying to foist such a transparently false explanation of his behavior on the rest of us (more than 30 minutes for a seasoned conductor to “make a decision quickly”).

    It was MTT’s responsibility to fix the perceived problem BEFORE it occurred–if he really thought such a problem would occur. Any patron of NWS is familiar with the seat nazis who enforce the seating rules and decorum, and we all know that MTT helped design the auditorium in the round. This “problem” (with 9 year olds in performers’ line of sight), is entirely of MTT’s making.

    I suggest MTT use this incident as a “teaching moment”–for himself–as a lesson in appropriate (i.e. timely) audience management and honesty with NWS patrons. The self-serving displacement of blame and justification (“protecting the cellist”, “decision that had to be made quickly”, it was implicitly the woman’s fault for LEAVING) coupled with MTT’s less-than-credible account of his motivations and their timing, only proves the old adage that the cover up can be worse than the crime…

  9. Posted Oct 26, 2014 at 1:39 pm by A.R.

    We are all entitled to our opinions, and I am entitled to mine. I am not a horrible person. I don’t have a horrible attitude. I firmly believe that the concert hall deserves a level of decorum from all audience members, including children. I believe the same decorum is appropriate at a movie theater. We go to concerts, movies, etc to escape the distractions of daily life, and I feel that if the child is not ready to sit still and respect the “rules” then the mother should not have brought her.

    They do have children’s concerts where the atmosphere is much more free. As I said, I’m entitled to an opinion, just as you are. I respect your opinions that children should do as they please, but I don’t have to agree with you.

    And, to divalady, who hopes a pigeon poops on my head?…Me Too! I hear it’s good luck!

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