New World Symphony mum on MTT’s eviction of audience member during concert

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Michael Tilson Thomas

Michael Tilson Thomas

[Note: Read update with Michael Tilson Thomas interview here.]

Last week’s New World Symphony performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 enjoyed some extra-musical drama when Michael Tilson Thomas told a woman sitting near the stage with a child in her lap that she was distracting him and asked her to leave.

The incident occurred between the second and third movements of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with piano soloist Yefim Bronfman last Friday night at New World Center.

The child was apparently sleeping noiselessly on the woman’s lap, said an audience member sitting nearby, while the woman was petting his head. MTT told the woman that she was making him lose his concentration and reportedly asked her to leave, which the woman did, and the performance continued.

The New World Symphony has declined to release a statement or comment on the incident since Monday, as has the conductor through the NWS public relations office.

Tilson Thomas—artistic director of the New World Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony, which he will conduct at the Arsht Center next month—has a colorful history of temperamental podium behavior.

Last November he tossed two handfuls of cough lozenges into the front rows of the audience during a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance he was conducting of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 after noisy bronchial outbursts by patrons during the first movement.

Prior incidents at New World Symphony concerts in their previous Lincoln Theater home include throwing a malfunctioning microphone on the floor, and stalking offstage in the middle of a performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, leaving NWS fellows and the audience sitting for several minutes before he returned.

Posted in News

24 Responses to “New World Symphony mum on MTT’s eviction of audience member during concert”

  1. Posted Oct 22, 2014 at 1:27 pm by Gerald Elias

    Mr. Tilson Thomas is what his grandparents, the acclaimed stage actors Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, would call “a putz.”

  2. Posted Oct 22, 2014 at 2:22 pm by Gregory Nigosian

    This conductor’s “history” of such things aside, isn’t it unwise to have audience on the stage, close to the musicians? I know there are such things as “chamber music in the home” and such, but with those, the expectations are a bit different from the start.

  3. Posted Oct 22, 2014 at 4:41 pm by Polonius

    what a pompous ass.

  4. Posted Oct 22, 2014 at 7:31 pm by rosa abraira, md

    i was not prent at that concert, although i am an avid subscriber.
    i have known and admired Michael Tilsen thomas for too many years
    Having lived in Chicago for 36 years before moving to miami in 1999, I was a subscriber to the chicago symphony
    Sir George Solti had his very justified tantrums.
    i witnessed Mr thomas ‘ s angry outburst once before, and, believe me, both he and Sir George Solti were always right
    I m often quite disturbed by the audiences lack of reverence and inapropriate behaviors . Not only noise but inapropriate movements could be disruptive
    People need to understand the sacredness of cinductin, interpreting, and listening to a concert
    Kudos to Tlsen Thomas for his guts in preserving music
    Don t blame the messenger.
    Educate the audience!

  5. Posted Oct 22, 2014 at 9:29 pm by Debbie

    He may be great, but he’s an idiot and a prima donna.

  6. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 3:54 am by Elizabeth

    I strongly suggest nobody be seated across from MTT. Those seats should be left empty when he conducts.

    This is not a good example to the young musicians of the NWS and should be avoided in the future. This is not what coming together to listen to music is about.

  7. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 5:05 am by Alwyn Green

    hevmay be a great conductor but he’s also a great big spoilt child. He thinks he’s bigger than the music.

  8. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 9:47 am by Michael Burke

    If the child was sleeping quietly, MTT had no justification in throwing the mother and kid out. I’ve always admired his conducting, but this behavior just simply marks him as a belligerent prima Donna.

  9. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 11:09 am by Tommy jones

    Good. I would have done the same. Maybe punched her in her face and her baby too

  10. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 12:48 pm by Shirlee Morris

    Perhaps MTT should stick to recording music and give up live performances since he has such disdain for the general public who pay a lot of money for the “privilege” of attending his performances.

  11. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm by Debra

    Perhaps MTT — and all conductors, artists and temperamental people in general — should practice meditation to learn how be less reactive to “aversive” situations and keep their composure. Couldn’t hurt.

  12. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 2:01 pm by Lien

    Although i notice that people can be disruptive during the performance i agree with the post by Debra regarding the meditation.

  13. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 4:22 pm by jak

    i do not believe that any orchestra actually needs a conductor at a performance, rehersals is where conductors do their work, most concerts would be significantly improved if they took place without conductor overacting or worse, as seen in this example.

  14. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm by Emily

    If the child wasn’t making noise then what was the problem? If they don’t want children in the hall then they should have made that clear before the performance started. Humiliating that woman like that is unjustified.

  15. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 5:50 pm by Bill Doggett

    I have known and been in awe of Michael since he was at USC about 15 years older than me in the late 1960s. My sister, Lorraine Doggett was in his class at USC.

    WHEN he was at The LA Phil in the early 1970s, there were heavenly moments and notorious ones. The Michael Tilson Thomas of 1966-1975-the glory days of Michael “The Wunderkind” and protege of Igor Stravinsky and Ingolf Dahl….have passed.

    I USED TO….attend The San Francisco Symphony. I live in Oakland/Lake Merritt. I have STOPPED…because of SFS and by extension MTT “boycott” on leading classical guest artists of COLOR. The Centennial Season of SFS had Jessye Norman…and only Jessyne NORMAN…shrieking and moaning in John Cage’s Songbooks.

    What about a tribute to Marian Anderson’s whose history at SFS under Pierre Monteux was legendary. What about Andre Watts, Awadign Pratt, Eric Owens, Angela Brown etc as Guest Solists. What about neighboring Principal Guest Conductor, African American conductor, Michael Morgan of The Oakland East Bay Symphony as GUEST CONDUCTOR of The San Francisco Symphony.

    Please explain to me the RACE ISSUE that is at SF Symphony re: CLASSICAL Guest Artists. AND no…BOBBY MCFERRIN DOES NOT COUNT as a replacement for Andre Watts,Eric Owens etc…..

  16. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 6:02 pm by Gordon

    Concert goers have become idiots. An usher was opening a mint in cellophane right during a performance. You could hear the wrapper in the next town! Good for MTT…a talented man in a continuingly uncouth world.

  17. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 6:51 pm by Judith

    I am from Minnesota and would like it immensely if the hall would provide cough lozenges as they used to do in the hall before concerts. Especially during the winter. Maestro Vanska is patient. When attending a concert I have had tears coming down my face trying to stifle an unexpected cough during a quiet part in a piece. If I am sick I stay home. I wish more people would.

    As for the mother and baby. I don’t get it. Why were they seated on stage? And I don’t bring babies to classical concerts. Unless they are young people’s ‘ concerts

  18. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 7:20 pm by RyaZila

    I believe this article might be inaccurate. I heard (from a friend that was at this concert) that the child was on her iPad. Then again I just heard this second hand. You make your call on what you want to believe…

  19. Posted Oct 23, 2014 at 9:15 pm by Daniel Lewis

    It is unbelievable the kind of comments this article is attracting. It’s so easy to call people names from behind a computer screen. MTT has done more for classical music and the arts scene in Miami (and beyond) than probably anyone.

    The shame is with the mother who must have known the specific tendencies of her child and still choose to sit directly in front of the conductor, in full view of the audience (not to mention the wallcast). Making noise or not, the child fidgeting sitting in the chorus seats could distract anyone.
    His concern was for the music, the musicians onstage, and rest of audience. What is wrong with kindly asking the mother to move to another seat?

    Obviously the rest of the audience appreciated his gesture, as they applauded.

  20. Posted Oct 24, 2014 at 3:23 am by John

    Wouldn’t a great conductor be so great that he couldn’t be distracted by the audience?

  21. Posted Oct 24, 2014 at 6:34 am by David Lavender

    Bravo, MTT!

  22. Posted Oct 26, 2014 at 8:17 pm by That Mom

    It was me. And my 9 year old. No iPad. My child is musically gifted and thoroughly enjoys the symphony. It’s the only reason I go. No movement from either of us. We did not choose those seats. That’s where our tickets sat us. My child was more humiliated than I. But we’re going back anyway because both MTT and the acoustics are great. Next time we’ll sit behind him like everyone else.

  23. Posted Oct 27, 2014 at 2:28 pm by Josephine Chang

    Dear Classical Musicians who think it’s OK to publicly reprimand individual audience members from your perch on the concert stage,

    It’s actually not OK. And here’s why:

    Audience members are people too. These are people who likely paid more than twice the cost of a movie ticket and have chosen to spend an hour or more of their time listening to.. YOU! How would you feel if you were in their shoes? To unexpectedly find that the artist that you had come to see is suddenly turning to face you, to tell you, from the stage, in front of fellow audience members, that your child’s squirming is too distracting, and to please move to different seats.

    Though, I expect MTT was as polite as could be in such a situation, I have to say that I find it unacceptable behavior of a magnitude far worse than the alleged squirming child. Because many children notoriously can’t sit still. This is nothing new. But classical musicians who have been working professionally for many more years than that child has likely been on this earth should REALLY know better. The MTT incident was a mild one compared to others in the past, but it is a part of a disturbing trend that needs to stop.

    If a classical musician absolutely must say something about an audience member’s behavior, this musician should take it up with a stage manager while he/she is back stage in between pieces. Let the stage manager and ushers do their jobs. It is simply poor etiquette on a performing musician’s part to speak directly – from the stage!! – to audience members about their perceived inconsiderate behavior.

    Of course, it is important for audience members to understand appropriate concert behavior. But professional musicians must be held to higher standards because they are, after all, professionals!

    So, please, stop the madness of publicly reprimanding individual audience members from your perch on stage! Because now it makes it unacceptable behavior on YOUR part!

    Fellow Classical Musician

  24. Posted Nov 02, 2014 at 6:57 pm by William Wright

    Frankly, I am not surprised at this turn of events and I am surprised that many other conductors have not followed suit. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful that the mom wanted to expose the child to this type of music. But she didn’t think of the child’s level of maturity etc. while attending the concert.

    While we’re on the subject, I think that many other things should be clamped down on. For instance, cell phone noise AFTER the notice has clearly been given from the stage that all cell phones need to be off!

    Then there’s my particular favorite: dress. I have been a subscriber to my orchestra’s concerts for over ten years. In that whole time, I have never failed to wear a tuxedo or a white dinner jacket to the concerts. Yet, I turn around and look all over and I see extremely casual dress (ball caps on backwards, jeans, t-shirts with rude or disgusting messages on them from both adults and children who should know better. While I would advocate that all men own and wear formal evening clothes to this type of event, I realize that it is not possible. But, many times concerts do begin well after work has ended or are on Saturdays and Sundays (my orchestra’s Classics subscriptions are this way) so a man should want to wear better than his gardening clothing when attending a formal event such as a classical music concert. I dress the way I do because that is how I was taught (I’m not joking) and because I take pride in the way I look. Many a time I’ll get kidded about dressing up or do i play in the orchestra or sing in the choir? I shrug it off and say no, but I like to look my best and feel good doing it. Frankly, it takes maybe a hair longer for a man to put on the tuxedo, but it’s just as comfortable as a daytime suit if not more so.

    Lastly, there are those who think a concert is a stadium. Therefore, they think they can arrive late and during applause whistle up a great thunderous noise. I absolutely hate both things. The times are clearly printed on your tickets when you purchase them; therefore as an audience member you should strive to be in your seats at least 20 minutes before the first dimming of lights and the downbeat. I won’t go into what I think about the show by administrators of announcements etc. although those could be done at least 20 minutes before the starting time. Another thing: once seated, unless asked about something, you should be silent-meaning no talking, humming (after all the orchestra’s there to play the music) or other distracting behavior.

    OK I know many of today’s generation think a tux is unnecessary to attend a concert and yes that is true; they also think that Classical Music is for the snobby or rich person (ah contrary, it is music that has lasted for ages and should be enjoyed) but neither case is true. The big problem is this generation is in too big of a hurry to live life because there’s always something going. Well, I say, SLOW DOWN, take a night off and let yourself get used to listening to this music. Also, while you need not dress formally, just remember what your moms told you (or maybe your dads) that looking your best means a bit of work. Comb your hair, wear a nicer shirt than the t-shirt from the door knob, leave the holey jeans at home and wear a nice pair of slacks and most of all come prepared with a bit of expectation. And lastly, either leave the phone at home or in the car. No one is that important that you have to call every 5 minutes with a new update.

    As to the comment that MTT was out of line, I don’t think he was; I think that he has had enough of the constant barrage of interruptions from the audience and this one just set him off. After all, you as musicians were playing under his baton and were also distracted by the incident (admit it you were) and all he’s asking (or demanding)-finally-is that the audience members who pay the price for the tickets don’t distract others who have come in as well as the bodies on-stage who play for all of those who paid to get in.

    Frankly, I really wish more orchestras would enforce policies about noise, would really encourage audiences to engage in a bit of education about the music, and would really engage a show up on time or be barred from entry until the first appropriate phase in the program. Lastly, they should encourage the audience to show up early and yes, please dress appropriately for the evening or event.

    As indicated, I’m a 20+ years subscriber to an orchestra; I can possibly say I’ve seen all manner of rudeness occurring and maybe indulged in some myself with heavy apologies afterwards. But the point is that you should forget about what is happening outside of the hall for the two hours you’re there, and learn to appreciate what is going on around you. So tux or no tux, just allow yourself to relax and enjoy what is coming your way and do so with a degree of class. You’ll be glad you did.

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