The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Are iPhones and YouTube videos killing off live musical performances? The outspoken Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman said he thinks so as he walked out of a recital being illegally recorded in Germany.

June 10, 2013
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems that these days just about everybody has an iPhone or some other small, convenient and easily concealed smart phone that can take and email photos and videos.

iphone 5

And those photos and videos can change the world. They certainly fostered the Arab Spring  (below) and other populist uprisings and protests, including those that led to the democratization of Burma/Myanmar and to the current civil war in Syria.

arab spring

But it can also have downside, especially where the performing arts are involved and where questions of intellectual property are centrally involved.

Witness the recent episode in which the acclaimed and award-winning Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman (below), known for his playing of Chopin and his championing of Polish music, who was angry and annoyed when he stormed off the stage at a festival in Germany after someone in the audience refused to stop filming the recital on his iPhone.

krystian zimerman gray

It is food for thought, and it raises a lot of issues, including intellectual copyright as well as mass media and citizen reporting and blogging, to say nothing of private use.

It seems to The Ear that all of this is the logical outcome, change or consequence of the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter and our changing notions of privacy. And it seems hard to allow it and praise it in one sphere of life yet try to contain its influence in another.

facebook logo

you tube logo

And of course it goes way beyond the rudeness of people who don’t turn off their cell phone that then ring during a performance. (The New York PHilhatmonic’s music director and conductor Alan Gilbert had to stop a performance of a slow movement of a Mahler symphony –- No. 9, I think it was — because of that kind of interruption.)

Now I myself don’t take unauthorized photos for this blog or authorized videos that I then put on YouTube.

But the issue is certainly close to me and relevant to the current performing arts scene.

But what do you think? The Ear wants to hear.

Did Krystian Zimerman do the right thing and sound an appropriate warning?

Or did he overreact as someone who is used to performing before thousands of audience members and even cameras and microphones? Is he trying to resist an inevitable social and technological change?

Read about it and leave your take in the COMMENT section.

Here are some links to stories about the incident:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-krystian-zimerman-20130604,0,1139427.story

http://www.itechpost.com/articles/10191/20130605/youtube-destroying-music-pianist-krystian-zimerman-storms-out-middle-classical.htm

http://www.contactmusic.com/news/pianist-krystian-zimerman-storms-out-of-concert_3704347

http://www.thecmuwebsite.com/article/leading-classical-pianist-hits-out-at-smartphone-filming-fan/

Krystian Zimerman annoyed 001

Krystian Zimerman is not alone in his point of view. Here is a link to a BBC story about musical artists in all genres protesting YouTube:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22780812

If I recall correctly, it was the 19th-century French novelist Stendhal who remarked that mixing politics in literature is like firing a pistol during a concert — rude but something one ignores at one’s own peril.

Pianist Zimerman has a history of being outspoken about various political and social issues — including the presence of American missiles in his native country — during his performances.

Here is a good background piece from the British newspaper The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2009/apr/28/pianist-krystian-zimerman

And here is a video of a YouTube recording of the piece by 20th century composer Karol Szymanowski — appropriately his Variations of a Polish Folk Theme, Op. 10 — that has sparked some of Zimerman’s outbursts or comments, or at least provided a context for them.


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