Birmingham orchestra sparks debate over decision to allow phones in concerts

2 May 2024, 12:42

The CBSO has sparked a debate over whether phones should be allowed at classical concerts.
The CBSO has sparked a debate over whether phones should be allowed at classical concerts. Picture: Hannah Fathers / Getty

By Siena Linton

The CBSO, Birmingham’s major symphony orchestra, has sparked a debate over whether or not phones should be permitted in the modern classical concert hall.

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The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) launched its new concert season this week, along with a new job title for music director Kazuki Yamada, a week of free pop-up performances throughout the city in the summer, and a brand new concert series titled ‘CBSO Explores’.

Alongside the orchestra’s announcement came renewed attention to its recent policy change, which now permits audience members to take photos and short videos at its concerts.

The new guidelines gained widespread attention in mid-April after tenor soloist Ian Bostridge halted a concert to ask the audience to put their phones away. He reportedly told the crowd: “The lights are shining directly in my eyes – it’s very distracting. Would you please put your phones down.”

According to the CBSO’s website, use of a mobile phone is permitted at their concerts “to take photographs and short video clips”.

The orchestra add: “We ask that you are mindful of disturbing artists and other audience members and suggest that you take pictures and videos during applause breaks. Please dim the brightness on your phone, and do not use your flash.”

Read more: CBSO’s new chief conductor Kazuki Yamada: ‘I will bring Japanese music and culture to Birmingham’

Ella Taylor and the CBSO perform The White Lotus theme live at Classical Pride

The decision to allow phones at concerts has received a mixed reaction from concertgoers and classical music professionals.

The orchestra’s chief executive, Emma Stenning, told The Times that the move was partly aimed at attracting younger audiences, saying: “We can’t expect them to come [under] the old rules.”

Some have taken to social media to decry the decision, saying that it is ‘insulting’ and ‘patronising’ to young people to assume that they can’t or won’t attend concerts in a more ‘traditional’ setting.

Others have pointed out that filming and photographing concerts is considered the cultural norm in other parts of the world, and even help to drive publicity for the organisation.

One concertgoer also reported that they had spotted a small number of people filming discreetly at a CBSO concert the previous evening, but hadn’t felt distracted by them.