Ozawa Conducts the
Philharmonic's New Years Concert: Tokenism and Public Relations
Ozawa conducted today's New Years Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic.
This is worthy of comment since the ensemble has traditionally excluded
visible members of "racial minorities" from rank and file membership
in the orchestra in the belief that they would destroy the ensemble's image of
appearance cannot be taken as proof that this policy is changing.
Though the Vienna Philharmonic has maintained gender and ethnic
uniformity among its members, they allow for outside influence through guest
conductors and soloists. They have found it beneficial to consciously use these guests
to rehabilitate the orchestra's public image, while at the same time quietly
denying rank and file membership to women and racial minorities.
This has been an effective public relations tool for resisting change,
and fits with sociological models which suggest that isocratic groups form
controlled relationships with outsiders to mutually enhance their image and
direction of the New Years concert is also noteworthy since the administration
of the Vienna State Opera has made Ozawa its General Music Director.
The Vienna Philharmonic is a private enterprise the Vienna State Opera
Orchestra runs on the side. The State Opera Orchestra is owned and operated by
the Austrian Federal Government and its conductor is appointed by the house's
Artistic Direction--not the orchestra.
the Philharmonic name, the ensemble uses only guest conductors they choose
themselves. (It has been
Philharmonic policy since the end of the Second World War to not have a chief
conductor.) Ozawa is not one of the Philharmonic's favored conductors--he has
led them only twice in the past while others such as Muti, Abbado and Maazel
have directed them repeatedly. (Maazel
has led the New Years Concerts eight times.)
is keenly aware of his unique situation.
After J÷rg Haider's ultra-right party entered the Austrian government,
Ozawa visited Vienna (in March of 2000) to meet with friends and to assess,
firsthand, the political climate. Haider,
who has praised both Hitler and the SS, and has referred to the concentration
camps of the Holocaust as "punishment camps", campaigns on a politic
of anti-foreigner xenophobia.
a news conference before his visit, Ozawa told reporters that he could no
longer ignore developments in Austria: "To me, music must be away from
the political movement. I am not thinking of changing my mind
about my musical life because of a politician but, again, I must go and
appointment by the State Opera's administration produces an interesting
dynamic, since it stands in stark contrast to the orchestra's traditional
practice of excluding Asian musicians from its rank-and-file
membership. It is almost impossible to find a major orchestra without
Asian members, including those in the German-speaking world, such as the
Berlin Philharmonic which has several, including a concertmaster. One conductor of color in front of the Vienna
Philharmonic does little to alleviate concerns about it being one of the only
all-white orchestras in the world--a situation created by overt racism.
Vienna Philharmonic recently held a press conference to announce that Ozawa
would conduct today's concert, which is broadcast to over one billion people
worldwide through about 50 broadcasting corporations. During the conference Ozawa noted that he is the first Asian
to lead the Vienna Philharmonic's New Years Concert. Even though he has conducted the most difficult works
in the symphonic repertoire, he said he hoped he would live up to the task of
directing the concert's Viennese waltzes.
The orchestra's chairman, Clemens Hellsberg, quickly changed the
and Public Relations
to the recent retirement of harpist, Anna Lelkes, there are once again no
women in the Vienna Philharmonic. Another
woman harpist, Julie Palloc, who
is French, began working with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in 2000 and
will be eligible for official entry into the Philharmonic in 2003.
Even though she is not yet a member of the Philharmonic, she was used
for today's New Years concert -- an important token representation for the
ensemble's public image. Activists should not anticipate support from Palloc. In an
interview in the Austrian weekly, News, shortly after her employment,
Palloc dismissed the prospect of protests during the orchestra's 2000 America
tour as "ridiculous" and added that whether the orchestra plays
"with men or women is completely beside the point."
the five years since the Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera Orchestra
voted to end its discrimination, it has hired only one woman who doesn't play
harp -- violist, Ursula Plaichinger, who won an audition on February 13,
2001. It was predictable that
a tutti violist would be the first non-harpist woman to obtain a position,
since the viola is one the symphony orchestra's most accompanimental
instruments. When another violist,
Gertrud Rossbacher, applied for a more prominent solo viola position in
the orchestra she was not allowed to audition even though she was born in
Vienna, educated at the Vienna Musik Hochschule, and a member of the Berlin
Philharmonic. She was 35 at the
time. The State Opera/Vienna Philharmonic said she was over the age limit of
30 even though the man they hired was 32. 
the Philharmonic continues to hire a woman only every five years it will take
75 years to hire the 15 women necessary to represent even 10% of the orchestra.
Since at least half of those women would retire within that time, the
current rate of employment will never allow women to exceed token levels of
order to deal with the image problems caused by these discriminatory policies
the Philharmonic engaged a public relations agency and began activities to
improve their reputation. These
have included chamber music concerts in Israel, and chamber concerts for
Jewish groups in New York City where the orchestra has met with street
protests. These efforts also
included a controversial memorial concert in the Mauthausen concentration
camp. After a dispute with the
organizers, the architectural
firm engaged to design and build the stage described the event as being like a
Hollywood Bowl in Mauthausen:
Philharmonic's public relations firm also organized a dinner party for
selected members of the orchestra and New York press. In private
correspondence to this author, one of the journalists said the effects of the
dinner were not entirely positive. The
journalist said that a woman present asked about the orchestra's
discrimination, and that the members' answers were so appalling "they
confirmed the worst allegations" made against the ensemble.
December 2000, the highly respected German news magazine, Focus,
interviewed musicians in the orchestra. The
reporter also noticed that the situation is not so clear or hopeful as
one might assume:
statements were made three years after the orchestra presumably opened its
doors to women.
2002 New Years Concert
Vienna Philharmonic continues to discriminate, but due to cleverly managed
tokenism and an effective public relations campaign, protest against the
orchestra and the institutions that support it, such as Carnegie Hall, have
become difficult. On the other
hand, change is slowly becoming apparent.
The Philharmonic has very unique and almost inimitable ways of
performing its waltzes. They
often largely ignore the conductors, such as Muti and Maazel, who lead the New
Years concerts since most do not know these very specific styles, but
this year they followed Ozawa rather closely. It is unusual for the Philharmonic's boss at the State Opera
to also conduct the New Years concert. Like
most Maestros, Ozawa knows how to make his will felt, and he will no doubt
have the full backing of the Opera's administration. Especially in its opera formation, the orchestra will have to
take him very seriously.
also selected a repertoire of light classics that were outside the norm of the
New Years concerts. The program
was interestingly heavy on operetta and light on waltzes. Of course, there were some conflicts in works such as
the waltz "Wiener
Blut." ["Vienna Blood", written for one of the aristocracy's
balls.] Perhaps for that reason
the television cameras spent most of the time during that work focused on the
chandeliers and ceiling murals. Afterwards,
the television commentator's remarks about "free, fresh, authentic and
red Viennese blood" brought back memories of the orchestra's bizarre
ethnic and racial ideologies.
the other hand, Austrian State Television (ORF) prominently pictured an Asian
child who was one of the young ballet dancers that are part of the show.
They also included shots of some Japanese members of the audience.
Several orchestra members stood and said "Happy New Year" in
various languages. Articles about
the orchestra and protests against its employment policies seem to have set
many of the ensemble's agendas.
if women will represent only a token part of the orchestra, they will still
have an effect, and it will become more and more impossible to exclude them or
keep them at only token levels. The
inexorable forces of history are aligned against the Vienna Philharmonic's
chauvinism. The ultimate victory
will belong to the International Alliance for Women In Music and all of the
women of the world they represent.
For further documentation see: William
Osborne, "The Image of Purity: The Racial Ideologies of the Veinna
Philharmonic in Historical Perspective" <http://www.osborne-conant.org/purity.htm>.
For documentation and discussion specifically related to the exclusion
of Asian musicians see: William
Osborne, "The Special Characteristics of the Vienna Philharmonic's Racial
Ideologies" at: <http://www.osborne-conant.org/posts/special.htm>
highly respected German news magazine, Focus, recently printed an
about the Vienna Philharmonic entitled "Ein Himmel Voller Geigen"
31, 2000) which reports that a "half-Japanese" is now being
to play with the orchestra:
is one of the few occasions that the Vienna Philharmonic's
Ms. Plaichinger's situation is very tenuous.
She is now in the mandatory
year required of all new employees by the State Opera Orchestra --
which her contract can easily be terminated.
She will not be
to enter the Vienna Philharmonic until she completes a three year
in the opera. If all goes well,
she will become a member in 2004.
are several additional factors that suggest the State Opera Orchestra/Vienna
Philharmonic will practice tokenism:
historical patterns suggest that the Vienna Opera/Philharmonic will exclude
women from solo positions and the wind section for at least another fifteen
years. The State Opera's recent
treatment of Ms. Rossbacher provides concrete evidence that these same
patterns are already established. This
helps explain why Wolfgang Schuster, who is a percussionist in the orchestra
and its press secretary, is already defensively speaking about the "dangers
"Necessary Critic, False Addressee",
Der Standard (May 16, 2000)
was written by the architectural firm commissioned to design the stage and
lighting for the event. The
historian Marie-Theres Arnborn, described the event as an "insulting and
frivolous spectacle." _Der Standard_
(May 6, 2000.) See also
the criticisms of Michael Hausenblas, "Vom Mahnen an das Gedenken"
_Der Standard_ (April 22, 2000)
additional discussion and documentation see various articles at: <http://www.osborne-conant.org/posts.htm>.
"Ein Himmel Voller Geigen" _Focus_ (December 31, 2000.)
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