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Renowned pianist halts concert over smartphone filming, claims YouTube is ‘destroying music’

classical music youtubeAs the audience members settled into their seats on Monday evening to watch a performance by one of the world’s top classical pianists, little did they know they were about to get a lot more than just a tinkling of the ivories.

You see, one concertgoer had taken it upon himself to record Polish musician Krystian Zimerman on his smartphone, behavior that led the musician to angrily leave the stage. On top of that, he claimed YouTube was “destroying music”.

The incident took place at the Ruhr piano festival in Essen, Germany, as Zimerman was deep into one of his pieces – Karol Szymanowksi’s ‘Variations on a Polish Theme in B Minor’, if you must know.

With his fingers still knocking out the notes, Zimerman reportedly looked straight at the offending audience member – or possibly at his smartphone as I’m guessing it would’ve been stuck in front of his face – and asked him to stop filming.

According to a Guardian report on the incident, Zimerman was unable to regain his concentration and walked off, “evidently agitated”.

“The destruction of music because of YouTube is enormous,”

But this is where it gets interesting – a short while later, the renowned pianist returned to the stage to explain to the audience that over time he’d lost “many” recording contracts because the music had already made its way onto YouTube.

“The destruction of music because of YouTube is enormous,” he said. Having made clear his feelings, Zimerman finished his performance but failed to come back on for an encore and also skipped the post-concert reception.

It’s not known what happened to the video, though it doesn’t appear to have made its way onto YouTube….yet.

Short of frisking audience members pre-show or sending them through airport-style metal detectors to root out smartphones and recording equipment, there’s probably little that can be done to put an end to such incidents.


Phones going off mid-performance are another well-known annoyance for actors and musicians – last year, while conducting the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert heard the unmistakable and highly irritating sound of the iPhone’s marimba ringtone going off. So incensed was Gilbert that he halted the orchestra in the middle of the piece to confront the offender before resuming the performance.

Discussing the Zimerman incident, German pianist Sebastian Knauer, artistic director of the mozart@augsburg festival, told the Guardian, “People filming concerts on their smartphones is a problem, and the person who did it deserves to be hounded out of the concert hall,” adding, “You see stuff on YouTube, and you think it’s not possible that people take such liberties.”

Knauer is due to play at the Ruhr festival next week, so if you happen to be going along, you’d better think twice if you’re tempted to get your smartphone out during his performance. Sounds like he’ll be waiting.

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