Action Aisle Vienna Philharmonic Update
By William Osborne
As published in the IAWM Journal.(Volume 5, Nos. 2/3 1999)
The performance of the Vienna Philharmonic, under the direction of Riccardo Muti, on March 10, 11, and 12 at Carnegie Hall, New York City, provided yet another reminder that this renowned organization still does not accept women musicians as the equal of men. William Osborne, who has written extensively on this topic as well as on discrimination against women in other orchestras, provided the following information to the IAWM listserv, which has been edited for publication in the Journal.
When the Vienna Philharmonic performed in New York in 1997 and 98, members of both the IAWM and the National Organization for Women (NOW) actively protested and attracted considerable media attention. At this year's protest, there were eight participants: six from NOW (the IAWM did not participate) and two professional musicians who came with their own handmade signs. The protestors split into two groups, half of them standing at the east end of the marquee and half at the west end. Carnegie Hall management had three of its own people out there to monitor what was happening; the man in charge was polite and friendly and even clucked that he was sympathetic to the protest. The fliers that were distributed were quite presentable, and one protester who had a ticket to the concert distributed fliers inside the building, but not very openly because there was a strong atmosphere of intimidation.
In its reviews of the concerts in 1997 and 1998, _The New York Times_ dismissed the protests, and this played a significant role in bolstering the VPO's resistance to change. This year, however, the "Times" had a considerable change of heart. The March 15, 1999 review by music critic Anthony Tommasini carried the heading: "The Vienna Philharmonic Returns, Still Virtually a Male Bastion." After mentioning the NOW protesters and the recent hiring of women harpists, the article briefly summarized events that took place in the last two years: "bowing to pressure from women's groups abroad as well as Government officials at home and dismayed over the bad publicity that the protests overseas was generating, the orchestra voted to open its ranks to women." Despite the vote, the only women who have been hired are harpists.
The orchestra has not limited its exclusionary practices to women--they extend to foreigners, especially those who are not caucasian. In referring to typical racial comments and code words used by orchestra members "about the need to protect the orchestra's national character," Tommasini, quoted from William Osborne's article, "Art Is Just an Excuse: Gender Bias in International Orchestras," which appeared in the "IAWM Journal" (October 1996). He specifically quotes the opinion of the orchestra's principal flutist, Dieter Flury, who said: "If one thinks that the world should function by quota regulations, then it is naturally irritating that we are a group of white-skinned males who perform exclusively the music of white-skinned male composers." Flury added that "for the sake of the orchestra's incomparable pedigree, 'it is worthwhile to accept this racist and sexist irritation.'" [Osborne's article may also be accessed on the internet: http://music.acu.edu/www/iawm/articles/oct96/osborne.html
Tommasini remarked that "officially, Flury's position has lost out. The reasons long given by the old guard for barring women -- that they will cause disorder and create competition among the men, that they play with a different character than men, that their pregnancies would disrupt scheduling -- seem laughably antiquated. Such notions conjure up images of women as temptresses and harken to times when the sight of a cello between a woman's legs was considered unfeminine." He noted that "a change in its membership policy will not soon change the makeup of the Vienna Philharmonic, as the eerie sight of one lone female, [harpist Julie Palloc] amid a stage full of white males during the Shostakovich symphony made abundantly clear. Bringing more women to the orchestra will take a huge dose of something akin to affirmative action, a policy that is dreaded in conservative Austria and that is controversial most everywhere else, and that will never happen."
At the end of his review, Tommasini became reflective, with his thoughts mirroring those so often expressed by the IAWM:
Obviously, the unanimity of purpose that the Vienna Philharmonic has achieved is a precious thing and you can understand their fear of diluting it. But what accounts for this quality? The maleness of the players? Maybe that was so in a time when women routinely were oppressed, but it makes no sense any longer. More likely the special cohesiveness comes from a shared commitment to a revered heritage. Why should fine female musicians not be able to embrace this heritage and work ethic as well as men? Over the decades many sons have followed their fathers into this orchestra. Cannot daughters do the same?
Interestingly, the orchestra always has sought young players. At auditions no one over 35 is selected. Looking at all the youthful faces, I kept wondering what these men must think about the orchestra's history of prejudice against women. Do they approve? Are they go-along, get-along chauvinists or closet feminists waiting for the old guard to pass away?
If more women join its ranks, the orchestra certainly will change. But why should that not be an enriching change? The players already have a weighty tradition to uphold. It must be tiring to also cart around all that manhood.
As the players walked onstage to take their places on Thursday, a friend who had come with me, a woman whose feminist convictions were offended by the orchestra's male domination but who was vanquished by the music making, sighed and said, "All those men look so lonely up there." They need not be.
A Second Woman Harpist is Hired
The Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic recently hired another woman harpist, Julie Palloc. She is French and will begin working with the orchestra in the year 2000. She will replace Adelheid Miller, who was the third harpist in the State Opera, and who did not play with the Philharmonic due to a conflict she had with them some years ago. Activists should not anticipate support from Palloc. In an interview, she dismissed the prospect of protests during the America tour as "ridiculous." She told the Austrain weekly _News_ that whether the orchestra plays "with men or women is completely beside the point."
Even though Palloc performed with the orchestra on its recent tour, she is not yet officially a member. Three years of service in the State Opera is required before Palloc will qualify for membership in the Philharmonic, and then, only if she is approved by her male colleagues. At about that time Anna Lelkes (their current second harpist and the only woman in the Philharmonic) will retire. In other words, Palloc will officially enter the Philharmonic just in time to replace their one woman member. Hiring a woman harpist therefore does not represent change. In fact, it is not at all unusual for the orchestra to hire women harpists (especially with a non-membership status). Christine Anders worked with them for many years before Lelkes and Miller joined the Staatsoper. Even at the turn of the century a certain Frau Dreyer-Zeidler regularly performed with them.
The Philharmonic is trying to present the hiring of Palloc as a big step forward, but the press reports in Austria have had a cynical tone. Vienna music critic Franz Endler acknowledges that women musicians continue to have "formidable hurdles" because "even young [male] members of the orchestra say, 'We have to...exclude women; [they] have a disruptive influence, they distract the men, they will result in a bunch of affairs while the orchestra is touring.'" This answers the question posed in "The New York Times" article about the attitude of the new young musicians in the orchestra. Orchestra spokesman Wolfgang Schuster, however, persists in his declaration that the orchestra is now "open to musicians of all sexes, races and nationalities, as long as they can produce the Viennese sound."
The orchestras of the Vienna Volksoper and the Vienna State Opera share a common administration. The members of the Volksoper Orchestra are also contractually obligated to sub in the State Opera, though only its male members are called upon to do so. The Volksoper Orchestra, which is 27% women, has taken the initiative to counter the Staatsoper/Vienna Philharmonic's claim that it is making progress. Below I have translated a press release issued by the Orchestra Committee of the Vienna Volksoper on February 14, 1999. Given the nature of the Austrian music world, it has taken courage for the Orchestra Committee of the Volksoper to openly criticize the Staatsoper/Vienna Philharmonic:
"We congratulate our male colleagues of the State Opera Orchestra, who are also members of the private organization of the Vienna Philharmonic, for employing a woman as harpist starting in September 2000. Even though the equal right of women to employment in key orchestral positions has long been self-evident worldwide, we would like to show understanding that the Vienna Philharmonic apparently needs considerable time to overcome deeply ingrained traditions.
"We thus allow ourselves to point out that the employment of a woman harpist does not in any respect represent progress. In this century the harp position in the Vienna State Opera/Vienna Philharmonic has typically been occupied by women. Anna Lelkes, for example, has played harp in the orchestra of the State Opera since 1971 and in the Vienna Philharmonic since 1974. The fact is, that in these orchestras it has been impossible for women in any instrumental group outside of the harp, to take part in a fair audition procedure. The State Opera Orchestra, with 149 members, has at this time only ONE WOMAN; this indicates a 0.7% representation of women. With the recent engagement of a second woman harpist, the representation of women in the State Opera Orchestra reaches 1.4%, the same percentage it had from 1977 to 1998.
"In addition, we note that 40 additional women would need to be employed, to approach the same representation of women that exists in the orchestra of the Vienna Volksoper, which with 27%, has the largest representation of the Viennese orchestras. The public portrayal of the employment of ONE woman harpist as a success, stems from a cynical contempt for women. Signed, Gabrielle Mossyrsch, Orchestra Committee Chairperson; Sibyllee Honeck, Treasurer; Mag. Michael-Clifford Wolf, Orchestra Committee Vice Chairperson"
The Orchestra Committee of the Volksoper is led by Gabrielle ("Gabi") Mossyrsch, who is so articulate, and so full of vision and energy, that they have made her the orchestra chairperson, even though she is very young. The Vienna Philharmonic has responded to her criticism with demeaning personal attacks in the Viennese press. Please let Gabi know that North American women stand behind her and support the women musicians of Austria in a very just struggle. More than ever, it is a time for international solidarity. You can contact her at Gabrielle Mossyrsch, Volksoper Orchestra Committee Chairperson at tel/fax: +43 1 317 8653, or send her email c/o Abbie Conant at >113316.670@@compuserve.com<
In Vienna, three institutions, the Burg Theater, the Vienna State Opera, and the Volksoper, are organized under a single administration known as the Bundestheater (Federal Theater). The Burg Theater is for spoken theater (one of the most important in the German-speaking world). The Volksoper is Vienna's smaller opera house. The orchestra for the State Opera is the Vienna Philharmonic.
All three institutions are financed from a single fund of about 1.8 billion schillings supplied by the Federal Government. (The equivalent of 1.8 billion schillings is about 142 million U.S. dollars. I believe these three institutions in one city thus receive more funding than the entire NEA in the United States.) The fund is distributed among the three institutions according to their yearly needs, and the proportionment fluctuates based on their costs. This system has been problematic, since production costs for each institution can vary greatly from year to year. This makes it difficult for administrators to plan, and for the government to gain an overview of the finances.
A new law is being proposed which would assign each theater a set yearly percentage of the fund. The Vienna Philharmonic has responded that they are not being paid according to their "market value," and are demanding that an extra 40 million shillings (ca. 3 million dollars) yearly be paid into their pension fund. There has also been mention of a compromise which would give them higher salaries and additional positions in the orchestra. With the additional positions they could present more Philharmonic concerts and increase their income.
The critical point is that the Volksoper has 27% women, and 30% less pay, than the State Opera Orchestra (all-male except for the harpists). In complete contradiction to both Austrian and European law, women musicians are being excluded from the better paying government jobs.
To make matters even more extreme, the Staatsoper/Vienna Philharmonic is already one of the highest paid orchestras in the world. It is not, as they claim, paid below its market value. Here are some details about their income as researched by the Austrian newspaper _Der Standard_ :
-Yearly State Opera salary: 390,000 to 728,000 schillings ($31,000 to $58,000), plus a very lucrative benefit package.
-New Years Concert Royalties: 100,000 schillings ($8,000).
-Average Tour Payments: 50,000 schillings ($4,000), of which there are several per year.
-Salzburger Festspiel Salary: 130,000 schillings ($10,300).
-Total (counting only 3 tours): $61,000 to $88,000 per year.
To this is added an entire second income from their Viennese concert season as the Philharmonic, which includes about 80 to 90 performances per year.  This second income is made possible because the orchestra's contract with the State Opera allows it a great deal of free time to function as the Vienna Philharmonic. (No other opera orchestra in the world has so much free time. With this and pensions, the government heavily subsidizes the Philharmonic.) In addition, they are the best-selling recording orchestra in the world. It should also be noted that about 20 high-paying, full-time professorships at the Wiener Musikhochschule are in effect reserved for members of the Philharmonic. All together, the income of the orchestra is enormous
In an open letter addressed to the Chancellor of Austria and other responsible officials, Austria's largest women's rights organization, "Frauennetz", protested:
"The State Opera Orchestra, which continues to value the qualities of 'male' and 'white' more than the open competition of musicians--regardless of which gender or skin color they have--earns about 30 percent more than the Volksoper Orchestra. Notably, women represent about 30 percent of the Volksoper Orchestra. [...] This is how an orchestra is punished that employs women." They then add the threat of a boycott, "...the preferential treatment of a traditional men's organization through civil service positions must come to an end. Otherwise, we will encourage women and men to forgo the various presentations of the State Opera Orchestra." The letter was signed in the name of twenty different women's organizations in Austria.
In a written response dated March 26, 1999, Ioan Holender, the Director of the Vienna State Opera, brushed the discrimination aside, noting that the Staatsoper Orchestra is higher paid because it has higher quality: "In art, as in medicine, science, and sports, just to name a few additional examples, payment--and this is the same everywhere in the world--is based on supply and demand. He then adds a seemingly odd illustration, "Even a pair of pants can't be bought at a unit price..."
Naturally, it is unjust for an orchestra to openly break the law by excluding women. This is all the more astounding, since it is actually the Austrian Federal Government that is the employer of the State Opera Orchestra. By institutionalizing this discrimination, the Austrian government is breaking laws it is sworn to uphold.
 "Ein Meisterorchester im Sturm," _News_ (Issue 8, February 1999).
 Clemens Hellsberg, "Demokratie der Koenige" (Zurich: Schweizer Verlagsaus, 1992): 614.