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Members of the New York Philharmonic say ushers at the Lincoln Center should have intervened immediately after a cellphone went off during a performance. (Neilson Barnard/Getty )

A conductor with the New York Philharmonic halted a performance due to a ringing cellphone, a rare occurrence that has sparked much talk about proper phone protocol.

As the orchestra was hitting the final movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9 during a Tuesday night performance at New York’s Lincoln Center, the distinct sounds of marimba music emanating from the first row was floating out.

After a hard glare from music director Alan Gilbert, the phone kept ringing, at which point Gilbert stopped the performance altogether.

He then asked that the phone be turned off.  As the offender turned off the device, the audience cheered and the performance continued.

The incident has touched a nerve with many around the world – most importantly, people in the performing arts.

'I was going to be charged with assault'

Marshal Pynkoski, artistic director of Opera Atelier in Toronto, told CBC News that cellphones are "one of the most intrusive, anti-social devices that has been created in the 20th century."

"I had an experience when a young soprano had just moved to the front of the stage, curtain is closed behind her, dry ice filling up the stage and she can't even see where the pit is [and ] just as she was launching into it, a cellphone goes off. The woman opens it and there's a light floating around at the back of the stage as she's trying to see who is calling."

Pynkoski said he was afraid the performer would fall off the stage and was trying frantically to get the cellphone user’s attention. In the end, he slapped her on the shoulder.

"She went and got the ushers and went to call the police. I was going to be charged with assault. We had to have a calm conversation outside."

Pynkoski, who doesn’t own a cellphone, recommends a monetary penalty for phones going off during a live performance.

"That’s the only thing I could imagine people would pay attention to – hitting their pocketbooks."

Changed from BlackBerry to iPhone

The New York philharmonic offender, who has asked not to be named, remains deeply remorseful.

Known as Patron X, the man, an executive in his 60s, spoke to the New York Times recently.  He said he feels "horrible" and wants to "apologize to the whole audience."

Patron X said his company had just replaced his BlackBerry with an iPhone and he had put it on "silent" mode before the concert, unaware that the alarm clock had been accidentally set and would still go off.

A 20-year subscriber to the orchestra, he agrees the ringing was "disturbing and disrespectful."

The man said he got a call the next day from an orchestra official, who had identified him through his seat number. Patron X said he asked to speak with Gilbert to apologize in person.

The Lincoln Center is still investigating the incident after orchestra members complained that it was up to the ushers to intervene.

With files from The Associated Press