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

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:,0,1139427.story

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:

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:

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.


  1. Wiki/direct/velo, who are you? Are you an machine? Why do you care about the WTE? Stop sending robo-comments, they make this artistic blog a bit, well, less artistic.


    Comment by Michael BB — June 29, 2014 @ 9:29 am

  2. I knew about the incident with the NY Phil interruption by a cell ‘phone & I think Zimmerman is dead right in his opposition to what amounts to ripping off gifted classical performers. Despite that opinion, with the pervasive commonality of all the electronic gadgets, is such illegitimate recording destined to occur no matter what? As much as I support open/free communication, I rather hope not.


    Comment by Larry Retzack — June 16, 2013 @ 12:06 am

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    Comment by — June 14, 2013 @ 2:40 am

  4. K.Z. has the right to conduct his own concerts in whatever manner he and his business partners deem appropriate.
    If one is recording a concert, of any performer in any genre, one is not fully present at the event. Most performers make HD video with audio recordings of most if not ALL of their performances. Chick Corea and Sonny Rollins in the jazz world, Valentina Lisitsa and Evgeny Kissin in the classical music world. Yo-Yo Ma as well.
    What do they do with this DVD-worthy stuff? They SELL it. What is some audience member that makes a bootleg going to do with it? Release it to the public without the artist’s consent and without remuneration.
    Bad for business, bad for the Arts, bad for everyone but people who think that by posting the event they “saw” but were not fully present at makes them somehow “blessed” or “Graced” by the Presence of the Artist. Not so.
    Will this groundswell of high quality and utterly annoying video continue? You bet it will. Will artists continue to have their outputs de-monetized and broadcast without recourse. Sure will.
    If one has earned the right to be a world-class artist in the field of music, one has also earned the right to control the flow of musical outputs into the marketplace, if one can call YouTube a marketplace. it is only a market for advertisers, not makers of content.
    So, anyone who whips out a camera-like device at a concert at which the audience has been notified that such behavior is verboten needs to be ejected, while the music plays on! And No Exceptions! Then people MIGHT begin to keep the damn things OFF. Until there are consequences for using your 75 USD ticket to make a free video, people everywhere will keep doing it. Imagine what it must be like in shutter-happy Asian countries … whoa … Lang-Lang on YouTube for free, what does HE think about it?


    Comment by Michael BB — June 10, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

  5. Thanks for addressing this very important topic.


    Comment by Teri Venker — June 10, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

  6. For years it seems we all accepted the concert etiquette of not making unauthorized recordings of performances. (Other than the Grateful Dead, which embraced the idea.) We seemed to accept not bringing cameras into concerts. We seemed to accept the etiquette of not making or receiving phone calls during concerts and most accepted the idea of not texting during concerts. Why then it is hard to accept that making unauthorized video recordings is equally unacceptable? Is it only because the technology makes stealing music less obtrusive? How can we lament the downfall of major orchestras on one hand and accept the unauthorized recording and distribution of concerts, taking income from the performers, on the other hand? Putting your cell phone away means not using it to record the performance as well as not using it to make calls and text. Or would we rather have a society with no professional musicians (or perhaps a few supported only by wealthy patrons)?


    Comment by Steve Rankin — June 10, 2013 @ 11:09 am

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