[translation and commentary by William Osborne]
is my translation of major portions an article by Peter Schneeberger about the
Vienna Philharmonic that was published in the Austrian magazine profil
on February 24th, 2003. The German original can be found in their
The article centers around an interview with the orchestra’s business manager, Peter Schmidl. The complete interview was also included, and I provide a translation at the end of this post. Most of his remarks appear to be cautious and well calculated, but occasionally some interesting statements appear.
He indicates that one third of the orchestra is still opposed to women and that working with them is more difficult than with just men:
"Other conflicts can appear. For some men, the behavior of groups with women are more complex. Animosities and jealousies can arise, that is clear."
He adds that the biological difference of women might cause them to make music differently than men:
"It could be that women also sense music differently. In any case, purely biologically, they have different conditions."
He plainly refers to orchestras as men's groups and says women's "equal rights" are different than men's. He suggests that the "differences" of women might explain why they are poorly represented as conductors:
"A conductor must be a true leader. Perhaps women are timid about leading a men’s group [sic]. I myself have led student orchestras. This massed energy comes at you: One has fear. Also, Im not sure men really want themselves to be led by women. Indeed, women have, so to speak, equal rights, but differently than men. The differences are, thank God, still at hand."
article's author, Peter Schneeberger, reports and comments with a droll and
ironic tone that is difficult to capture in translation.
Due to the unpopularity of its beliefs, the Vienna Philharmonic rarely gives interviews. The article in profil is unusual, and appears to be directed toward the orchestra’s publicity campaign as it begins it’s USA tour on February 26th.
provide my own commentary in square brackets.]
+ + + +
and commentary by William Osborne]
well, how unusual: “We are definitely among the best orchestras in the
world”, says Peter Schmidl patting himself on his Philharmonic shoulder.
“But one other thing would be nice: that we would be more beloved,
and not just respected.” The orchestra dominates the recording market, and its tours
are sold out well in advance, but sympathy for the orchestra is shaded with
the tones of dark minor keys: “This supposedly means”, so says Schmidl,
“we are very good, but we don’t want any women.’”
part of this, of course, harpist, Anna Lelkes, was very officially consecrated
as the first woman member of the Philharmonic in 1997. After the decision to
no longer regard testosterone as a criterion for admission, the issue was
regarded as officially closed. “The
determining argument is no longer whether someone is a man or a woman,”
Schmidl insures, “but rather who is the best.
If a woman is the best, then we must engage her, otherwise we make
course the private organization’s list of sins is long -- and not yet
forgotten. One sees with lightening speed how little the Vienna Philharmonic
fits into the times in which it plays. In
1994, the orchestra, with a reported yearly income of 15 million Euros [15
million dollars], cancelled its donations to a charity for hunger relief in
Ethiopia, after its director, Karlheinz Böhm, publicly suggested the
orchestra admit women. In 1996,
flutist Dieter Flury, commented that the ‘sexist irriataions’ of the
orchestra should be ignorned in order to protect its quality.
In 1997, Chairman Werner Resel, thumped the timpani in a most manly
manner when he remarked, ‘What functions best in Austria is ruined and
destroyed by extremists.’ And
most recently, chairman Clemens Hellsberger cast the orchestra in a bad light:
in January the violist Ursuala Plaichinger was allowed to speak to journalists
only in his presence – girls like to prattle, you know.
countenance of the orchestra has not been measurably changed by its new
employment policies, and this was made unmistakably clear by the sight of a
single woman (the violist Ursuala Plaichinger) in the middle of a stage full
of men during the last New Years concert.
article continues by noting that women occupy only 3 of the orchestra’s 149
positions. These include Ms.
Plaichinger and harpist Charolotte Balzereit, both hired in 2002, and a
cellist from Tyrol, Ursula Wex, who recently won an audition. (No information is given about when Ms. Wex won the audition,
or when she will begin working with the orchestra. Often new employees first begin work at the start of the new
season.) Profil adds that in the
last six years 24 positions have been filled.
The three women thus represent 12.5% of the new employees, and only 2
percent of the orchestra’s total personnel. Profil then continues:]
newly employed women musicians are not always met with enthusiasm in the
orchestra pit: a remaining stock of scattered hardliners see the
Philharmonic’s Götterdämmerung drawing near: “Three women are already
too many”, says a string player. “By
the time we have twenty percent, the orchestra will be ruined.
We have made a big mistaken, and will bitterly regret it.”
has long been thought that, “Women are fully capable of fulfilling the
orchestral profession’s hardest requirements”, as conductor Nikolaus
Harnoncourt proclaims. His
colleague, Franz Welser-Möst, conductor of the Zurich Opera House, has filled
20 of 30 free positions in the last seven years with women.
is an excellent comparison. The
Vienna State Opera and the Zurich Opera Orchestra are both state operated
ensembles in small, German-speaking countries and thus very similar.
Why has the Vienna Opera Orchestra hired only 3 women (even counting
the harpist) while Zurich has hired 20 during the same time period?]
the constantly repeated misgivings are absurd,” according to Möst.
“Maternity leave is not a problem, and women do not play worse than
men.” This was hastily seconded
by Peter Schmidl of the Philharmonic, “Our new women musicians fit into the
orchestra very well and have no difficulties.
They are colleagues just like all the others.”
If one speaks, however, of the women musician fired after her
probationary period in 2002 -- after only two years in the orchestra -- the
response is, “For that I have no comment.”
is referring to harpist, Julie Palloc, who was originally hired to replace
Anna Lelkes. Profil continues
with a paragraph devoted to the status of women in music. They mention that women represent only 13.2% of the Berlin
Philharmonic 20 years after they began admitting them, note women’s low
representation as professors of music, and point out that not a single woman
leads a major opera or concert orchestra.
The author observes that women are most likely found in lower
orchestral and teaching positions with less prestige.
He continues by quoting two Austrian politicians who have recently
addressed the problem of women in the Philharmonic:]
can’t be solved with quota regulations,” says Christine Muttonen, Cultural
Speaker of the Austrian Socialist Party, who brought attention to the skewed
Philharmonic situtation with a parliamentary enquiry in 2001.
“But it is incomprehensible that more women study music than men, and
that they are still a minority in its professional life.”
Eva Glawischnig of the Green Party has encouraged the Philharmonic,
“to speed up the tempo. The
final decision must naturally be artistic.
But one can quite consciously encourage women to apply.”
Muttonen and Eva Glawischnig would be good interview subjects for journalists.
They can be contacted through the Parliment or through their party
offices.) Profil continues by
observing that there are still many more men applying to the Philharmonic than
women. From 1998 to 2001, 357 men
applied for positions in the Philharmonic, but only 86 women. They asked Herr Schmidl about this:]
is surely not easy for a young girl to say to herself: I
want to be in the Philharmonic, but I will be one of the first women there.
We need to relieve their fear. Two
thirds of the Vienna Philharmonic are for women in our orchestra.”
one sexist member in a section can make a woman’s life utterly miserable –
much less a third of the orchestra.]
observes that the12.5 percent ratio for women as new Philharmonic employees is
far below the average international representation of women in (major)
orchestras which is about 20 percent. The
Zurich Opera has hired twenty women, during the same time period Vienna has
hired three. The Czech
Philharmonic, an all-male orchestra that opened its doors to women in 1996,
has hired eight non-harpist women, or four times as many as Vienna during the
same time period. If the Vienna
Philharmonic’s continues hiring only two non-harpist women every six years,
it will be another 36 years before women represent 10 percent of orchestra.
Peter Schmidl does not have overly large hopes for the future. “One fourth
women in ten years would be nice. But
judging from the current application situation, I don’t think it will be
more than ten percent,” he says. That the problem would be solved “in ten
years” is something the Philharmonic already freely promised in 1981 and
+ + + + + +
article contains a graph showing that women are under represented in many top
Philharmoniker/Wiener Staatsopernorchester (2%) Men 98%.
Philharmoniker (13,3%) Men
Symphony Orchestra (21,1%) Men
Orchestra (29,3%) Men
+ + + + + + +
is the complete INTERVIEW with Peter Schmidl which is presented as a separate
section in profil.]
we make ourselves laughable.”
Schmidl, business manager of the Philharmonic, on women as orchestra musicians
and their chances in the elite Viennese orchestra.
In 1997 the Philharmonic decided to accept women. So far there have not been more than three.
The decision to take women was made six years ago, and three women are
naturally a bit too few. But we
are dealing with a process that takes time.
Only about twenty percent of the applications for free postions have
been from women. Apparently they
are shy about applying.
is surely not easy for a young girl to say to herself: I want to be in the Philharmonic, but I will be one of the
first women there. We have to
remove their fear.
Why has a lower percentage of women been taken than applied?
We can’t fill any quotas. The
deciding question is not whether someone is a man or woman, rather who is the
best. If a woman is the best we
must engage her, otherwise we make ourselves laughable. It’s
not because of a negative attitude held by Philharmonic members, but rather,
that we must animate women to be even better than they are, otherwise they
would have received more positions.
Note: The competition in auditions is ferocious, and the votes are often
close, so with a third of the orchestra a priori against women, their chances
are greatly reduced.]
Do women play differently than men?
I am not sure. There are definitely national differences.
A Chinese senses [empfindet] a Bruckner symphony differently than an
American or Italian. Otherwise, all orchestras would sound the same.
It could be that women also sense music differently; in any case,
purely biologically, they have a different set of prerequisites
The official postion of the Vienna Philharmonic is different from
some of its members. It is heard in converstation that women would ruin the
There are extreme opinions everywhere in society.
There are people who play down the dangers of communism; others play
down National Socialism [Nazism]. Perhaps
it is indeed important in a democracy, that no one is forbidden to speak;
otherwise we would be practicing fascism from the other side.
[Ed. Note: Philharmonic members are strictly forbidden to speak to the
press.] I am happy that people
say: I oppose.
Why not? One must only try
to persuade. Two thirds of the
Philharmonic members are for allowing women into our orchestra.
In 1998, a violist of the Berlin Philharmonic applied for a job with
the Vienna Philharmonic. She was
not permitted to audition, because at 35 she was over the age limit of 30.
The man who was engaged is 32.
The man who was engaged had already been an orchestra member for several
years and applied for this free solo position. [solo viola] He was not a new entry.
But I well remember the agitation, when the Berlin Philharmonic
didn’t take Sabine Meyer. She
is a very excellent clarinetist and has a world career, exactly because she
wasn’t for some reason engaged by the orchestra.
Not to say she didn’t deserve that orchestra.
But if she were a man, it could have been that she would have stayed in
the orchestra and not made a world career as a soloist.
This is a cynical standpoint.
It wasn’t meant to be. It’s
just that there is this other perspective also.
the details concerning the violist, Gertrud Rossbacher, see the the Los
Angeles Times: “For Violist the Rules Never Seemed to Change” at:
Philharmonic hires musicians over the age limit when it suits them.
Solo trombonist, Ian Bousefeld, who had never been in the Philharmonic,
was well over 30 when he was hired. For
details about the Sabine Meyer incident see:
William Osborne, “Art Is Just An Excuse: Gender Bias in International
The representation of women in university music schools is over 50
percent. Why does the
representation of women in orchestras average only 20 percent?
It could be that women should take their studies more seriously than
they have so far. If a man
studies an instrument, the parents naturally assume that is how he will earn
his living. For women, the views
are less clear. Forty years ago,
people thought women should follow a role as mothers, and said, You will
surely marry someone. Unfortunately,
this picture of women still hangs in many heads.
[Especially in the Vienna Philharmonicm. See: William
Osborne, “A Difficult Birth: Maternity Leave in the Vienna Philharmonic”
In 2000, a woman was employed by the orchestra.
Why was she fired in 2002?
This has nothing to do with her being a woman, but rather artistic
reasons. Every new musician must
pass a probationary period. If a
man were let go after a year, the media would not raise a howl.
If a woman is let go, all assume we are sexist, which is not true. The probationary period is important. I can divorce my wife. But
I am chained to my colleagues for 35 years.
I must harmonize with them artistically and humanly.
Is that more difficult with women than men?
Schmidl: Other conflicts can appear. For some men, the behavior of groups with women are more complex. Animosities and jealousies can arise, that is clear.
additional Philharmonic comments about the problems women can cause, see the transcript of their
inteview with the West German State Radio at:
analysis and commentary of the interview, see:
William Osborne, “Art Is Just An Excuse: Gender Bias in International
Why should working together in an orchestra be more difficult than
in other professions?
Because the teamwork is much more awkward.
In no other profession is this so deep.
Handworkers can work alongside each other.
But with us, complete agreement must reign with the partner.
The last male bastion is the conductor’s podium.
Why have women hardly broken through?
A conductor must be a true leader.
Perhaps women are timid about leading a men’s group [sic].
I myself have led student orchestras.
This massed energy comes at you: One has fear.
Also, I’m not sure men really want themselves to be led by women.
Indeed, women have, so to speak, equal rights, but differently than
men. The differences are, thank
God, still at hand.
What percentage of women would you like to see in ten years?
One quarter women would be nice. But
judging from the current application situation, I don’t think it will be
more than ten percent. We must
send a clear message to women: Prepare
yourselfs so well that you’ll be the best.
Then you will get the position.
conducted by: Stefan Grissemann, Peter Schneeberger