Your web-browser is very outdated, and as such, this website may not display properly. Please consider upgrading to a modern, faster and more secure browser. Click here to do so.
First performed in February 2012, Gumbert’s Concerto for Strings, French Horn and Incidental Cellphone was initially hailed as a triumph by both critics and the music-loving public alike.
Working from the observation that every single public art performance - classical music, theatre, opera, etc - was at some point interrupted by an audiencemember’s cellphone, Gumbert began writing the piece in 2010. Utilising the inevitability of telephonic interruption as something advantageous, rather than an incumbrance, the inclusion of a noisy ring tone in the work adds an element of humanity and unexpectedness to the performance.
The piece begins quietly, almost mournfully. It sulks through variations on a four-bar melody, shifting in tone slightly but remaining at a low volume throughout. As soon as the conductor hears a cellphone ringing in the audience, he immediately stops the music for a second, then encourages the orchestra to replicate the sound of the ringtone. This abrupt change in the music lasts for ten minutes, or until another phone is heard, at which point the orchestra tries to replicate it instead.
On its debut, a middle-aged man’s phone started ringing after five minutes. Tuts from the other spectators were silenced when the instruments stopped and then began trying to make the three-note tune. The violins were the first to replicate it accurately, and other instruments fell in before long.
On the fifth performance, no cell phones interrupted the concerto. The conductor apologised to the audience at the end of the performance and all tickets were refunded.
Within two months of shows, audience members had started arriving with their cells set to full volume, having instructed their friends to call them within seconds of the music starting. Such performances became harder and harder for the orchestra to play, and many players were hospitalised. The final performance was last week.
Gumbert himself, having witnessed the last few shows in person, has since announced that he is currently working on a Concerto for Cellphone and Incidental French Horn.