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"What? No, It's Fine. I'm Just at Orchestra Hall. I Don't Know, Some Classical Shit."

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 29, 2006 5:52PM

We’re resigned to the fact that cell phones have become ubiquitous at whatever entertainment venue we visit. We begrudgingly accept that someone is text messaging during a movie, so long as they’re not actually talking. If someone wants to play Galaga on their Treo during a laborious set piece in the middle of Act 2, then fine. Just dim the screen and mute it. But we always thought the symphony was sacrosanct. Apparently, that garrison has fallen.

The Chicago Sinfonietta plays the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” gang next week with the cell phone crowd. 2006_09_baker.jpgComposer David Baker's "Concertino for Cell Phones and Orchestra" premieres in Chicago on Sunday at Dominican University in River Forest at 2:30 p.m. and then on Monday at Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center (220 N. Michigan) at 7:30 p.m. The audience will be cued to turn their phones on and off by colored lights, making concertgoers active players in an otherwise passive experience. Members of the orchestra will also be "playing" their phones. Probably not by working it back and forth across the strings of their instruments, Jimmy Page-style.

We like electronic music as much as the next person. And while this seems like a cute idea in theory – we applaud any steps to make classical music sound more Kraftwerkian - what happens when tinny ringtones are competing with some jackass whose Razr phone has "London Bridge" or "Ridin' Dirty" pouring out of it?

Our worries are calmed by precedent as this isn’t the first ringtone symphony ever performed. In 2001, "Dialtones Symphony" was conducted by Golan Levin at the Brucknerhaus Auditorium in Linz, Austria. Whereas Baker's 15-minute piece includes traditional orchestral instruments, the 28-minute "Dialtones" was consisted of only cell phone rings.

Last question: if you have a beeper, do you get to turn that on to? Or is there too much shame because we’ve gone back to thinking that the only people who carry beepers anymore are doctors and drug dealers?