an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Crisis: Two top players quit the Vienna Philharmonic saying, ‘this is no life’

Word has just reached us that both the principal trombone and one of the seconds have quit the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the past week.

The principal, Ian Bousefield, is the first British player to be recruited by Vienna. A member of Claudio Abbado’s crack team at the London Symhony Orchestra – this was before crack had an alternative meaning – I remember how pleased and proud Ian sounded when he told me the Viennese had head-hunted him 20 years ago. Now, he’s off, disillusioned with the job.

‘The fact of the matter is that I simply have not had a life now for many years,’ he writes, read the full reasons on his blog. On of his plans is to spend more time teaching in Switzerland.

Second trombone  Jeremy Wilson, is an American who won an audition in 2007. He is going back to teach college in Nashville, Tennessee. He cites touring pressures as the main reason to quit. ‘At the end of this season, we will have lived in Vienna for about 260 weeks;  I have spent 48 of those weeks away from my wife and son.’

That leaves two big gaps at the back which the orchestra – and the state opera – will need to fill pretty darned quick. Expect an audition announcement soon. Women, as usual, need not apply. Not if they expect a fair hearing, that is.

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Not sure if anyone else noticed how much turnover there has usually been in the VPO. There are many former members still actively playing these days. I think getting in is a big career maker and then the game is to get out again to have a good life.

  2. As usual with the Vienna Philharmonic, there’s more to this story than is being told. Personal conflicts led to divisions in the trombone section divided along two factions. One included the two English-speakers, Ian and Jeremy. The other was the rest of the section with the bass trombonist, Hans Stroecker, in an intermediary position. The job is strenuous, but this poisoned atmosphere is one of the major reasons Ian and Jeremy are leaving. The two blog entries you list thus ring embarrassingly false, sort of like politicians in trouble making excuses for their resignations with the usual boiler plate about family, other projects, living life, etc.

    The most serious conflicts in the section began in 2003 when the Japanese tubist, Yasuhito Sugiyama, was hired and became the first Asian to enter the Philharmonic. He was recruited by Ian. The Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera Orchestra has a long tradition of excluding non-Caucasians because they feel such individuals would destroy the orchestra’s image of Austrian authenticity. The orchestra has also long felt that race and musical style are closely related. Mr. Sugiyama’s entry into the orchestra thus caused considerable conflict, especially in the low brass section. He was fired after one year. Quality was not the issue. Mr. Sugiyama quickly won a far more competitive position in the Cleveland Orchestra. After these events, the relationships in the low brass section were irreparably damaged.

    Ian also recruited Jeremy for the second trombone position – and even coached him on how to win the audition which raised serious ethical concerns since none of the other applicants were given this special treatment. Ian’s departure (which had been long in the planning) thus left Jeremy in a very difficult situation because he would no longer have the support of a principal trombone and his mentor, so it was to be expected that he would leave the orchestra as well.

    Naturally all of this will be denied. Normally this wouldn’t matter, but through these denials they are helping the orchestra cover up conflicts that can be traced directly back to its racism. In my view, they are both being morally and intellectually dishonest by not explaining all of the factors involved. Perhaps the day will come when they will have the courage and integrity to tell the whole truth. Until the musicians in the orchestra begin to speak truthfully and openly about these topics, change will be difficult.

    More information about Mr. Sugiyama’s firing and the orchestra’s racial ideologies can be found under these six URLs:

    Vienna Philharmonic Hires Its First Asian Musician
    http://www.osborne-conant.org/vpo-change.htm

    Why Did the Vienna Philharmonic Fire Yasuhito Sugiyama
    http://www.osborne-conant.org/sugiyama.htm

    Francesca Jackes, “All white on the night: Why does the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic feature so few women and ethnic minorities?” _The Independent_ March 4, 2010. See the article here:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/all-white-on-the-night-why-does-the-worldfamous-vienna-philharmonic-feature-so-few-women-and-ethnic-minorities-1915666.html
    Joshua Kosman, “ Vienna Philharmonic Must Answer for Its Exclusion,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 20, 2011. See the article at:
    http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-02-20/entertainment/28611812_1_finest-
    orchestras-vpo-top-orchestra

    Symphony Orchestras and Artist-Prophets: Cultural Isomorphism and the Allocation of Power In Music
    http://www.osborne-conant.org/prophets.htm

    Ozawa Conducts the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Years Concert: Tokenism and Public Relations
    http://www.osborne-conant.org/ozawa.htm

    • This is extremely interesting, William. Are you suggesting Anglophobia in the orch? Are there any other native English speakers left?

      • Simon Morgan says:

        Fascinating stuff. Of course, Bulgarian violinist Albena Danailova has been Konzertmeister(in) for a few years now and was admitted as a member of the Verein der Wiener Philharmoniker in 2011. The orchestra’s website lists all members and prospective members and, aside from Ian and Jeremy, there do in fact appear to be no other anglophone players.

        http://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/index.php?set_language=en&cccpage=musicians

        • Andrew Condon says:

          I think the Australian Lea brothers (Tobias, solo viola and Benedict, 2nd violin) are the only native English speakers left now

          • That’s true. The Lea brothers are still there, so the first sentence in my post below is incorrect. It is interesting that the VP has an Australian solo violist, even though they would not even invite the Austrian violist Gertrud Rossbacher to a solo viola audition in 1998. Ms. Rossbacher was raised in Vienna, graduated from the city’s Musikhochschule at the top of her class, and was the second woman to enter the Berlin Philharmonic. Even though she had ten years of experience in the Berlin Phil, she was still not invited.

            Ms. Rossbacher’s full story is very interesting and was reported by the LA Times in 1998. It can be read here:

            http://www.osborne-conant.org/violist.htm

      • There are no other English-speakers left in the Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera Orchestra. It is unusual for top orchestras in the German-speaking world not to have at least a few. I wouldn’t describe the situation in the VP as Anglophobia. In my view, its more that Ian was never a really good fit there. He didn’t play a German trombone, which has a narrower bore and a larger bell and gets a mellower sound than the American or French style instruments used in most orchestras – even in Germany. And with his British background, he obviously wasn’t partial to the orchestra’s employment practices – as the conflict over Mr. Sugiyama shows. And his significant other is a woman trombonist (half Austrian, half American) who has been frustrated with the problems she has had to face as a woman trombonist.

        On the other hand, the protests against the VP have been centered in the English-speaking world and I think this has made the orchestra slightly wary of musicians from those regions. In general, I find that the British are very respected in the German-speaking world. The Americans less so, mostly for political reasons.

        The standards of trombone playing in Austria are well below international norms, so it is going to be difficult for them to fill these positions if they do not include foreigners in the auditions. Austria has 16 fulltime orchestras in a country of only 8 million people, so the few excellent trombonists they have get spread pretty thin. Perhaps they should follow the Bruckner Orchester in Linz which has a Japanese woman as first trombonist!

        Over 50% of the university music students in Austria are women, and in the high strings and wood wind classes the ratio is often around 70%. Without hiring these women the Vienna Philharmonic will not be able to maintain its standards.

        • No Australians?

        • Petros Linardos says:

          William, how does the turnover of VPO musicians compare with the same orchestra in the past, and with other orchestras at present?

          • Christoph Wimmer says:

            Dear Mister Linardos!
            As a member of the VPO who is tired of being called racist, woman hater,… and thus not willing to take part in mostly stereo-typed and single minded discussions, I am happy to offer you my mail address (wienerbass@gmail.com). In case you wish to discuss further details or want to get a peek behind the curtain of being a member, I am looking forward to provide you with my personal insight. As a start: please also see the mentioned blogs (links in the article), due to the fact that the summary of those statements is obviously highly influenced by the author´s personal opinion and thus by far not objective.
            Always better to receive first hand information :)

          • I’m sorry to say that I do not have definitive information about that because it isn’t directly related to the gender and racial issues that I follow. Based on rather loose general observation, I do not think the VP has had an unusual number of musicians resigning. The only securely paying positions that might tempt them away are professorships, but those are very limited, and even then, most choose to stay in the orchestra while teaching. There has been a bump in retirements in recent years which sometimes happens in orchestras. (This was probably due to an increase in funding about thirty years ago which allowed them to hire a slew of new musicians in a short time period, but I haven’t checked that.)

            In major orchestras, musicians work on average about 30 years before retirement. In an average sized orchestra, this creates about a 4.3% yearly turnover for their personnel. The Vienna Philharmonic averages about 130 members, so this comes to about 5.2 musicians per year that need to be hired as replacements for retirees. That means that about 20 musicians have to be replaced in any four year period, which can create the impression of a large turn-over, though this is normal for orchestras of that size.

            The standard rates of retirement also allow us to reasonably estimate the m/f ratios for new hires in the Vienna Philharmonic since 1997 when they agreed to admit women. The estimates for that 15 year period come to about 73 male musicians vs. 6 women.

            In the first ten years the numbers were about 52 to 1 (the one woman being a harpist.) In 2007 the orchestra came under pressure for reneging on its agreement to hire women. This pressure caused the ratios for women to rise. Between 2007 and 2011 about 21 men entered the Philharmonic and 5 women. This 19% ratio for women is about the norm for new hires in top German-speaking orchestras.

            Unfortunately, the future looks far less promising. The State Opera Orchestra has hired only 1 woman since 2008, another female harpist who started this season. (This is probably because the pressure on the orchestra subsided.) Due to the three year tenure required for entry into the orchestra’s Philharmonic formation, this means that no new women will enter the VP during the next three years. The m/f ratio for new hires from now to early 2015 will thus be about 15 to 1.

        • Tired Of Bullshit says:

          Mr. Osborne: I’m sick of your righteous BS. You are the proverbial ugly American, sitting on a moral high-horse as if the US were the bastion of all things good and fair… and so now let’s go ahead and pick on a unique 200 year old institution in little Austria.
          Speaking about racism and gender equality: how many blacks are in American orchestras? How many Jews and women have been President in our 240 year history full of moral hypocrisy?
          There are far less women in American politics than in Europe – doesn’t this bother you more than anything going on in the Vienna Philharmonic? It sure bothers me! Why don’t you spend more time trying to get rid of the death penalty or write about how our American leaders should quit bombing brown people (our national specialty) ? Can’t you just let the Vienna Philharmonic solve its own problems? Their world isn’t as “black and white” as you would like it to be and their members are actually thinking, feeling, breathing human beings with wives/husbands and families and not concentration camp guards (or almost as bad, a pack of Dick Cheney clones!).
          Get a life!
          BTW, If you think the standards of trombone or brass playing are lower in Austria I invite you to listen to the Vienna Trombone Quartet Russian Music CD and try to find something better anywhere.

          • Actually, my wife and I have lived in Germany for the last 32 years. She has faced a lot of discrimination in the German-speaking classical music world. See:

            http://www.osborne-conant.org/ladies.htm

            And we don’t like 50 million people watching an all-male orchestra for a New Years Concert. That’s what bullshit is, though it obviously doesn’t bother you.

            And most of my critical writings are indeed directed against the problems you describe in the USA. For a few examples see:

            Racism In American Classical Music
            http://www.artsjournal.com/herman/2006/12/vpo_america_blacks_classical_m.html

            Arts Funding
            http://www.osborne-conant.org/arts_funding.htm

            Iraq War
            http://www.artsjournal.com/herman/2005/12/the_sunni_genocide.html

            In fact, while this blog discussion was going on, my main activity was dealing with a situation in the American musical world. The first trombone of one of America’s top five orchestras has been banned for life from a major American university for the sexual assault of a student. We spent last week working to have him removed from the Board of the International Trombone Association. And ironically, I just heard a rumor from an unreliable source that the VP is considering trying to recuit him.

            We worked hard on having him removed from the Board because the sexual exploitation of students by star players in top orchestras is a wide-spread problem. And again, that’s what bullshit is – though in many respects your post doesn’t deserve a response.

          • Robert Berger says:

            I agree with Tired of $#@%& on the whole, but the scarcity of blacks in America’s orchestras (only about one per cent) ,is not due to discrimination, but the fact that very few blacks have ever aimed at careers in orchestras.
            In addition, blind auditions behind a screen prevent any possibiloity of discrimination based on either race or gender .

          • Shut Up And Practice says:

            Mr. Osborne, I do hope you have good information with regard to the scandal you’ve described, because there is only one Principal Trombone in “one of America’s top five orchestras” that is also on the Board of the ITA. It won’t take too long for anyone with internet access to figure out who you’re talking about. A quick survey of my colleagues in “one of America’s top five orchestras” revealed no knowledge of the situation you’ve described– which doesn’t mean it is not true, of course; It just means I hope you have your rear end covered on this.

    • Mr. Osborne, do you have any more substantiated information about the divisions and difficulties within the low brass section in the VP? It’s not that I don’t believe you–all you say rings true, and is corroborated by when I listened between the lines during a recent conversation with Jeremy Wilson–I was just looking for some more “documentable” sources. Thanks!

      • Corvus, I wish I could provide you with documentable sources concerning the conflicts in the low brass section, but it is very difficult because the people involved have strong incentives to remain silent. And most importantly, the source for my insights must remain anonymous.

        As for the silence, Jeremy has even stated in his blog (linked above) that he wishes to return to Europe for professional visits. He is clearly trying to avoid burning bridges. And Ian will still be working in the German-speaking world and plans to do solo work and give master classes there. I hope more documentation will be coming, but it’s going to take some time.

        Ian and Jeremy are also faced with a considerable moral quandary. They want to maintain professional status and contacts, and yet to do so means remaining silent about egregious forms of bigotry.

        The same applies to Yasuhito Sugiyama, though he probably knows less about what actually happened since he was only in the orchestra for a year. For reasons that are obvious, I rarely write about anything in the orchestra that I can’t document, which is why I have never mentioned the conflicts in the low brass section before. It is also not particularly central to the issue of the orchestra’s employment practices, which are my focus.

        • You had asked for more documentation. Toward the end of this thread I’ve quoted and interview with Dietmar Küblöck in which he states that the German trombone should be the only instrument used in the Vienna Philharmonic. This establishes the source and nature of the conflict, since Ian and Jeremy use American instruments.

          It is an untenable situation to have one section leader use a German trombone and the other an American instrument. It makes it more difficult (if not impossible) for the section to develop a unified style. And given the egos of the orchestral world’s tin gods, you can imagine what the atmosphere was like.

          After WWII, most German and Austrian trombonists moved to American trombones. They are more modern, easier to play, have a sound suited to a wider range of musical contexts, and better intonation. It thus became difficult to find good players in Germany and Austria who still used the old instrument.

          During the Cold War, the East Germans continued playing German trombones because they could not get American instruments. By the time the wall came down, people realized this had inadvertently worked to preserve an important musical tradition. Many East German orchestras (and the Berlin Phil) thus still require that applicants audition on the German trombone and play it in the orchestra.

          Now that East Germany is back on its feet and the wall is gone, there are more good players around who play the German trombone. The Vienna Philharmonic should take advantage of this and stipulate that the applicants for the two new trombone positions audition on the German trombone and use it in the orchestra. It would also serve to preserve the orchestra’s traditions.

          This situation also shows how the orchestra’s bigotry actually harms it’s ability to preserve its traditions. By conflating issues of style and instrumentation with forms of sexist and racist bigotry, they discredit themselves. It makes it more difficult for people to take them seriously when issues arise that really do matter. The work to end the orchestra’s bigotry thus serves to preserve the institution.

          • Christopher Oakmount says:

            This time I agree 100%.
            Now let’s hope there are some ladies around who play the German trombone …

  3. harold braun says:

    I never understood why Mr.Bousfield left the LSO.Brass wise,I dont think the Vienna Philharmonic has much to offer.Give me any US or British Orchestra for that.And the Trumpets stiff vibratoless sound to me sounds almost ugly.

    • Tired Of Bullshit says:

      Get the following two recordings:
      Strauss Alpine Symphony Ozawa Vienna Phil. and compare trumpets/brass (and horns!) to
      same with Chicago Symphony Barenboim. I think you’re in for a surprise, unless you like your Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss etc. with a Hollywood style vibrato…then I rest my case!

  4. Bruce M. Gifford says:

    It’s unfortunate that great, well qualified players have to leave a prestigious institution. However, many or most people do not understand that symphonic music, especially nowadays, is played to a consistently incredibly high level, and not just in the top institutions; and even in the best circumstances the job is very stressful. Toss in some health issues, or personality conflicts and it can be quite an unhappy situation. One of my favorite comments non musicians make to me is “oh, you play in the symphony? That must be fun”. For the concert goer making polite conversation, (after my momentary desire for a killing spree passes) I say “Yes, it is a great privilege to be able practice the art I have studied for so long”, without relating that a professional job is very different from casual fun. Musicians have long struggled with this perception from the public. I applaud two players, obviously well qualified, who will likely go on to find rewarding positions in situations where they will be able to increase their quality of life.

    Bruce M. Gifford
    Principal Horn, Utah Symphony

  5. Bystander says:

    Nashville – specifically Vanderbilt – has been getting some tremendous spoils from disenchanted (and otherwise) orchestral players.

  6. There is also more to this that just politics. Jeremy Wilson’s wife is nearly totally deaf and that could not be easy living in a foreign country dealing with accented English. Wilson was offered a chance to develop and put his mark on a trombone studio at Vanderbilt, and he is a Tennessee native, so it was a homecoming as well for him. I applaud him for choosing his family’s needs over what an outsider might see as a plum career spot. He is a born teacher and apparently loves it. A good fit all around, and he has had nothing but good things to say about the Vienna Philharmonic, at least from what I have read.

  7. How nice to actually hear from a member of the Vienna Philharmonic. For those who might not know, Christoph Wimmer (see his post above) is an Austrian and a principal contrabass in the orchestra. He entered the Staatsoper in 2003 and became a VP member in 2006. It is extremely unusual to hear from members of the orchestra, because they are essentially forbidden to speak to the public about the topics under discussion.

    Mr. Wimmer, if you do not want the orchestra’s employment practices to be seen as racist and sexist, then you will need to engage in *public* discussion – something that the orchestra’s members have scrupulously avoided. If there’s no problem, then why has the orchestra been so silent?

    If the Philharmonic is not sexist, please explain why they have engaged only 6 women in the fifteen years since they agreed to hire them – a rate that is only a tiny fraction of international norms for even top orchestras. How would you explain the many sexist statements the orchestra’s members have made? How does those statements correlate to the low employment ratios for women? Why have so many of the women hired been fired, but none of the men?

    If the Philharmonic is not racist, then why has it never hired an Asian member? How does this correlate with the fact that about a quarter of the student body at Vienna’s University of Music is Asian, and has been for about the last 40 years? Why do all other major orchestras (outside of some in Eastern Europe that offer low salaries) have Asian members, but not the Vienna Philharmonic? How does this lack of Asian members correlate to the statements by prominent members of the orchestra’s about the need to exclude them?

    It is certain that the orchestra will continue to be viewed as sexist and racist until these questions are answered in a public and convincing manner. I thus see your appearance here as a very hopeful sign. If the Vienna Philharmonic wants to be morally and intellectually honest, it needs to engage in open, truthful, public dialog concerning these topics.

    One positive thing that can be said is that over the last 15 years the Vienna Philharmonic has hired a lot of young, new musicians who do not share the orchestra’s traditionally sexist and racist beliefs. I trust that Mr. Wimmer is one of those young people. I wish him every success in bringing change to the Vienna Philharmonic.

    • Eh? William, your own stats above seem to suggest that the orchestra are now admitting -more- women in proportion than the ‘average’ orchestra. So how does that mean they are sexist?
      Or do you think the entire orchestra should be forced to re-audition along with a number of female outsiders to hopefully better the current ratio amongst the orchestra?

      • For the first ten years after agreeing to admit women (1997-2007) the VP only accepted one – woman harpist since male harpists are very rare. A great deal of pressure was put upon them for reneging on their agreement to include women. As a result the orchestra tenured 5 women members into the Philharmonic formation from 2008 to 2011.

        They then returned to excluding women. The State Opera Orchestra formation has hired only 1 woman since 2008 – once again a woman harpist. This means that only one woman will be eligble to complete tenure and enter the Philharmonic formation between now and early 2014. During the same period they will tenure about 15 men into the orchestra. Hence the problems with sexism.

  8. I fail to see how losing two trombonists is in any way a ‘crisis’. That’s just exaggeration for the sake of a headline. “Musician leaves orchestra” isn’t really terribly interesting; it happens all the time – for genuine family reasons, personal reasons, internal politics, or whatever. It’s hardly a crisis!

  9. Christopher Oakmount says:

    I hope my comment will not seem narrow-minded and provincial, but maybe orchestras do have a point if they try to draw their players from a local, rather than an international pool. When the VPO (my favourite Bruckner/Wagner orchestra) acquired Ian (my favourite trombone player on account of the LSO being my all time favourite orchestra) I was deeply disappointed: I love both orchestras, but I DON’T want the VPO brass to sound like the LSO brass. By the same token I am not interested in the VPO playing John Williams.

    The horn players of the VPO can probably claim an uninterrupted line (principal becomes teacher of the next principal) all the way up to Mr Hans Richter (another VPO principal!) conducting Wagner’s Ring in Vienna for the first time. There IS a point in not breaking this tradition. Other orchestras have drawn their talent from similar pools: England from Brass Bands, Northern Germany from church music groups, etc. It makes them unique and recognizable. In my ideal orchestra, a player from a different orchestra should stick out like a sore thumb. Obviously I am talking about playing tradition, not colour of the skin or gender!

    I find special pleasure in recordings from 1960-1980 where I can tell ALL my favourite orchestras apart after hearing one single chord from the brass section. Isn’t this better than everyone sounding the same?

    Obviously I do not know what was going on behind the scenes, and the VPO could certainly do with a massive infusion of female players; could some of the tensions in the orchestra be a direct result of boy club mentality?

    • Thank you for this very interesting and thoughtful post. It’s true that today the brass sections in almost all the major orchestras sound very similar. This was inevitable. Their recordings are easily available; the players travel abroad to major, international cultural centers and festivals and study and teach; and the players regularly meet at conferences and play for each other and exchange concepts and techniques.

      The low brass section of the Vienna Philharmonic has almost completely lost its Viennese identity. I’m not certain, but I don’t think a single trombonist in the group plays a German horn. As an esteemed colleague recently reminded me, one of the former first trombonists, Rudolf Josel, was also known as a jazz musician, as is the current first chair, Dietmar Küblöck — hardly the heart of the Viennese tradition. The Americanization of the low brass is odd if one considers the orchestra’s use of Viennese horns and rotary valve trumpets. German trombones would probably blend better and be much closer to idealized concepts of the Viennese sound.

      In that sense, Ian not playing a German trombone wouldn’t prevent him from fitting in. It just seems to me that if one wanted to integrate into the VPO, that one would want to explore the use of German trombones. There is no question in my mind that they would fit better with the instruments used by the horn and trumpet sections. Still, it amazes me that the VP brass now generally sounds so Chicagoan using the instruments they do (Wiener horns and rotary valve trumpets.) It suggests that international aesthetic conceptions in the ears of performers play a larger role than instruments in determining style.

      On YouTube on can compare VP recordings from the 60s with their current brass sound and see how radically it has changed. What remains unique is the whole orchestra’s sense of rhythm, phrasing, and articulation – and especially the sound of the Viennese oboe. And they probably make more effort to always be musical than any other major orchestra except possibly Berlin.

      One beautiful brass culture that has remained intact are the British brass bands. An informed listener can recognize within minutes that Ian comes directly out of this tradition. And oddly, it has a good bit of overlap with the Viennese tradition of dark trombone sounds, and a choral sort of playing. This band tradition also explains the glorious qualities of the LSO brass from the 50s to mid 70s – which was perhaps the most beautiful orchestral brass section that ever existed. I think it had its basis directly in the British brass band tradition. It also seems to have been created by very dark trombone and horn sounds topped by very bright trumpet sounds.

      The VP tries to present its style as something so arcane that it can only be passed on through some sort of lower-Danubian up bringing and perhaps even with some sort of genetic basis. Of course this is ridiculous. Any professional musician worth his or her salt can deeply absorb national styles within a reasonable time frame. The attitude has no musical basis, and arises out of forms of Germanic chauvinism that evolved during the rise of Romantic cultural nationalism in the mid 19th century.

      • Christopher Oakmount says:

        Thank you for your reply. I agree with you 99%.
        However, you named exactly the two wrong people to stress your point: Both Josel and Küblböck DO play German horns. Küblböck even mentions it as his mission in life on the VPO website. As for Josel, if you compare his recording of the Mahler III solo (VPO Abbado) with Ian’s (VPO Boulez), you can hear a world of a difference. Not dissing Ian, I think he is excellent!
        In Austria most brass players start off with traditional windbands before either hitting jazz or classical music; maybe this is true for Küblböck and Josel.

        As for everyone soundig like Chicago now, I wonder wether this is also the effect of sheer volume: It seems to me that the brass sections become louder and louder; maybe this is also why the VPO experimented with “modern” trombones and tubas. But obviously I do agree that musicianship is in absorbing the culture rather than “lower-Danubian up bringing” (which happens to be what I have, and I try to sound like Maurice Murphey ;-)

        • Christopher Oakmount says:

          I also forgot to mention that most professional Austrian trombone players probably started as “Tenorhorn” or “Bassflügelhorn” players in their local wind band. Both names refer to the same instrument: It is a Bb Baritone with a slightly narrower bore. They have rotary valves and look like inverted Wagner-Tubas. Maybe this has traditionally resulted in a darker sound. I wonder whether British trombone players also started on Baritones or Euphoniums. Ian certainly plays beautifully on the LSO Mahler VII “Tenorhorn-Solo” under Tilson Thomas.

        • Thanks for the additional information. As I mentioned, I wasn’t sure who played which horn. We should note that Josel is retired. If Küblböck considers the German trombone his mission in life, this would help explain some of the conflicts in the section, since Ian doesn’t play one. Players can get pretty persnickety on that topic.

          Most wind bands in the German-speaking world include wood winds, which makes it fairly different from the British brass bands which also have their own relatively unique literature. The Mnozil Brass have certainly put Austrian brass music on the international map. They play Austrian/German instruments, though their style sounds fairly international to my ears.

          • Here’s what Küblböck has to say about the German trombone:

            “Heute sind bei der Posaune zwei Modelle gebräuchlich: die deutsche und die amerikanische. Die Unterschiede in der Bauweise sind minimal, nicht aber im Klang. „Die deutsche Posaune ist weicher und indirekter im Klang. Meiner Meinung nach mischt sie sich besser mit den Wiener Hörnern. Allerdings spricht die deutsche Posaune schwerer an, es gibt auch einige problematische Töne, bei denen man immer den Nervenkitzel hat, kommen sie oder kommen sie nicht.“

            “Obwohl die amerikanischen Instrumente leichter zu spielen sind und die Philharmoniker jüngst einen neuen Kollegen, der auf amerikanischem Instrument spielt, engagiert haben, setzt sich Dietmar Küblböck leidenschaftlich für die deutsche Posaune ein. „Tendenzen im Orchester, doch auf die leichter spielbaren Instrumente umzusteigen – sei es bei Posaune, Horn, oder Oboe –, muss man meiner Ansicht nach grundsätzlich entgegenwirken. Im Kleinen fällt es vielleicht nicht auf, aber im Großen machen die klanglichen Eigenheiten die Unverwechselbarkeit unseres Orchesterklangs aus. Ich bin ein absoluter Verfechter dieser Unverwechselbarkeit. Was die Posaunen dazutun können, müssen sie unbedingt beitragen. Ich sehe das als Vorarbeit für die nächste Generation.“

            The full interview is here:

            http://www.musikverein.at/monatszeitung/show_artikel.asp?Artikel_ID=932

        • For Your information ; Rudolph Josel always played on an American made trombone (apart from a small hiatus where he played a French Signatur model) ! In an interview with “Brass Bulletin” he also states that the two americans in the orchestra (at the time of the interview) which also played american instruments btw. ” certainly does not stick out soundwise ” ! Another issue I would point out is this ; When were talking about “German” instruments are we speaking of American style instruments made in Germany or the old Heckel /Sattler / Kruspe derived copies which as far as I know only are used in one of the big Austrian / German orchestras ; The Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipzig ?

          • The traditional German “Konzertposaune” is used in the Staatskapelle Dresden as well as Leipzig Gewandhaus. The Berlin Philharmonic also insists on the use of German trombones, though the trombonists there have rather more leeway in selecting instruments by Hans Kromat and Thomas Robert Jahn, which combine the best features of American with traditional German design. Of the orchestras in Germany, Austria and Switzerland today, only the Dresden and Leipzig orchestras really retain the traditional German trombone sound.

    • Tired Of Bullshit says:

      Great post! Mr Osborne’s statement that the Viennese lower brass “has completely lost it’s Viennese identity” is ridiculous.
      The only thing they’ve added to that Viennese identity is much more technical skill and consistency than the old guys (excepting Josel) ever had. You won’t hear a quasi legato “Ride of the Valkyries” from them (believe it or not this is what it sounded like coming from a player who plays in a major American orchestra a few years ago where we played together during a summer music festival), again the standard American da da da articulation.
      A few years ago I played the whole trombone excerpt of the opera Parsifal with Hans Ströcker (VPO Bass trombonist who was visiting us for some skiing) and I can attest that his style was the embodiment of VPO phrasing, articulation and sound (and what a sound, even borrowing my very mediocre Yamaha Bass Trombone !). With this type of tradition if you open the flood gates to everyone with superb technical and musical skill, but without the “local” element you spoke about, then every orchestra would be probably be 90 % Asian, as they seem to produce hordes of Lang Lang-type talent no matter what the instrument. You would then have a great world orchestra but probably not the Vienna Philharmonic. It however that “Lang Lang type talent”, male or female, comes to a Vienna Philharmonic audition and produces the Viennese sound, phrasing and whatever other musical elements that made and makes them “die Unvergleichlichen” (the incomparables…) as Knappertsbusch put it, I assure you that this will be recognized in a nanosecond and he or she will be accepted into the orchestra with open arms – and not just to fill some quota or appease Mr. Osborne…

      • The language here, such as “opening the floodgates,” “hoards,” and every orchestra becoming “90% Asian,” while Austrians remain “the incomparabibles” reveals some of the problems with the Philharmonic’s traditions of racial exclusivity. It sounds like the typical polemic of Austria’s rightwing extremist Freedom Party, or the usual comments made by American white supremacists.

        Mr. Tired says that Asians would be accepted into the orchestra if they fit its style. For the last 40 years about a quarter of the student body at the University of Music in Vienna bas been Asian, so one has to wonder why there has never a been single one accepted into the Philharmonic. Was no one among those “hoards” adequate?

        Compare the absence of Asians to this statement made by a former chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, Otto Strasser, in his 1970 Memoirs:

        “I hold it for incorrect that today the applicants play behind a screen; an arrangement that was brought in after the Second World War in order to assure objective judgments. I continuously fought against it, especially after I became Chairman of the Philharmonic, because I am convinced that to the artist also belongs the person, that one must not only hear, but also see, in order to judge him in his entire personality. [...] Even a grotesque situation that played itself out after my retirement, was not able to change the situation. An applicant qualified himself as the best, and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned jury. He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the ‘Pizzicato-Polka’ of the New Year’s Concert.”

        I trust that if Mr. Tired had something worthwhile to say, he would have the integrity to use his real name– to say nothing of leaving off the macho bluster.

  10. tgjolley says:

    Aversion to “outsiders” is noticeable in orchestra personnel, the same aversion is not seen when they and other orchestras and companies visit the high paying hot spots of Asia. Still I do not mind what they do so long as the sound is not affected.

  11. Dudley Bright says:

    Ian’s predecessor Rudy Josel played a Holton (USA) as can be seen in the video of Mahler 3 mentioned above. Ian has been playing a Yamaha more recently and to quote him: “I have 30 trombones and 50 mouthpieces and I play every one of them”

    • A little googling indicates it was a Holton 168 – an instrument rarely used by players in top orchestras. Do you know when he began using it and how far back that goes in the orchestras recent history? William McElheney, the second trombonist who was replaced by Jeremy Wilson, also played an American instrument. In any case, it would seem that Küblböck’s efforts to move the section toward the exclusive use of German trombones represents a significant change of course.

      • Tim Dowling says:

        I remember once talking to Rudolf Josel about his Holton trombones. It’s true that hardly anyone uses Holtons nowadays but they were once quite popular (even in the Chicago SO). Apparantly Herr Josel chose the Holton as the most German sounding American trombone. He wanted a lighter (in weight not sound) trombone than the Lätzsch that he used before. He also liked to play jazz and this was not so easy on the heavier German instruments The Holton was also a good blend with the German instruments his colleagues used. Anyone who knows his Mahler 3 solo with Abbado will attest to the strong Viennese tradtion apparant in his sound and attack. A very fine trombonist and musician!

        • This is very interesting. Strong proponents of the VP’s sound generally allow no compromise. It would be interesting to know if Herr Küblböck would find Holtons acceptable for the section — assuming one could even find a Holton 168.

          • Tired Of Bullshit says:

            BS again. Half the Vienna Horn (single F French Horns Viennese style, for those who don’t know) section plays Yamaha Wiener Horns because they find them easier and safer to play than many of the more traditional Austrian instruments – although these are far better today than previously -so it’s a compromise. Dietmar grew up playing Bachs and his dad Horst, former bass trombonist – and lifelong friend of Edward Kleinhammer’s – played a Bach most of his career. Dietmar sounds like Dietmar (and Josel sounded like Josel) whether he is on an American made trombone or a German (and I’m sure your wife AC would as well). The sound happens between the ears and some instruments just make it that much easier to follow a sound/vision (and the simplistic comments about German instruments always being darker are off the mark – the brightest sounding trombones I’ve ever heard were the BPO under Karajan playing anything above Mezzo Forte – it was a buzz-saw fest, though pretty exciting). A modern American section articulating everything with the ubiquitous da da da wouldn’t sound German if the instruments were made by Ferdinand Porsche and filled with Sauerbraten
            BTW, Dietmar is anything but an intolerant musician fitting the stereotypical Viennese musician that you are trying to paint. In fact there are few orchestral players anywhere who love and play jazz like he does – NY star trumpeter Lew Soloff can vouch for this.

      • Christopher Oakmount says:

        Thank you for researching Josel’s trombone. I stand corrected.
        It also confirms what you said earlier on: It’s the man, not the horn.
        Josel on Holton sounds more Viennese than anyone else on a German horn.
        (I think there is a big sign flashing on and off saying “Moral of the Story” ;-)

        P.S.
        May I inquire what instrument Ms Abbie Conant plays and what she thinks about the discussion?
        Ignore question if too personal for this forum.

        • Abbie plays a Greenhoe Custom TIS which she adores. She also still really likes her old Conn 88H. She plays a Conn alto. She usually isn’t very interested in “equipment” discussions – as trombonists say – but gender issues involving classical music interest her deeply. She also really loves her high tech, telescoping, carbon fiber alphorn, which is especially convenient when flying.

  12. Just Another Opinion says:

    Hmmm… not that one more opinion means a thing…. but, this appears to be a significant amount of time and effort of a blogger here. Sure, there’s a hornet’s nest of issues regarding the Vienna regarding sexism, race, etc. But I’m not so certain that it’s professional or ethical to share more personal motivations behind resignations. And sure, if some of the musicians are writing their own personal blogs, they are putting themselves out there for public interpretation. But I would hope that no one would possibly ever share any personal/political orchestra drama concerning myself or my professional situation,and am playing in a major national orchestra here in the EU. That’s right folks, being vague…. perhaps some of you should be too. One would hope that it’s either a fake name, or someone is working hard to burn their professional bridges.

    • This is much more than a mundane conflict in a section or orchestra, since ensembles with gender and racial ideologies are rare. It is also rare for orchestras to have such very specific concepts about the instruments used. Hence the discussion.

      These concerns are especially relevant in the low brass. Members of the trombone section have used American trombones for decades, but now one of the section leaders, Dietmar Küblböck, wants the group to use only German trombones. These aesthetic conflicts played a significant role the departure of Bousfield and Wilson. And the tubist Yasuhito Sugiyama was also forced out with claims that his sound did not fit the orchestra. When three world class musicians leave an orchestra due in part to aesthetic concerns it is noteworthy, and even more so, when in one case, issues of race were also relevant.

  13. Robert Berger says:

    The Vienna trumpets sound “amost ugly”? Unbelievable ! The VPO has the most beautiful-sounding trumpets of any orchestra. Many other trumpet players sound crude and blatty by comparison . The entire VPO brass are unsurpassed by any orchestra anywhere .

    • harold braun says:

      Ridiculous !,The VPO may have many assets,but the Trumpets aren`t one of them.

  14. Here is a breakdown of the makes and models used in the VP trombone section according to a knowledgeable source:

    Kübelböck – Lechner (an Austrian instrument, but a very American-influenced model)
    Bousfield – Yamaha custom
    Wilson – Edwards
    Gaal – Conn with aGreenhoe Valve
    Jeitler – Yamaha from the 1980. (Wienermodel – imitation of a Kruspe)
    Ströcker – Edwards but trying a Greenhoe now

    Jeitler is retiring and the orchestra has already held an audition for his job but didn’t take anyone. So there are actually three trombone positions open in the orchestra. Will the orchestra follow Kübelböck’s view and only hire musicians who use German trombones?

  15. And for those of you interested in the music, there is plenty of time to plan your visit to the Vienna State Opera on 5th of May.

    05. Mai 2012
    11:00-12:30 |

    Positionslichter 2

    Franz Welser-Möst | Leitung
    Wie original ist der Wiener Klang?

    Gäste: Clemens Hellsberg, Michaela Gaigg

    By the way, The Vienna State Opera, most members are also associates of the Vienna Philharmonic, played wonderfully under Fraz Welser-Möst, Tosca and Frau ohne Schatten and also wonderfully under Bertrand de Billy, Tahnnhäuser. I know, I was there.

  16. @ Mr. Tired of…. I note very clearly in an earlier post in this thread that aesthetic conceptions affect style more than instruments. And in the quote I provide above, Dietmar makes it clear that he thinks German trombones should be played in the VP. You might follow the axiom: read before ranting. Also, a Wiener horn is a Wiener horn regardless of where its made, so I’m not sure what you’re trying to say on that point. Perhaps you can explain.

  17. @ Shut Up And Practice: My information is absolutely rock solid. The player has been banned for life from a major American university due to the sexual assault of a student. And the ITA has told my wife (who is also a professional trombonist) that they would quickly ask him to resign from the Board.

    And it’s no surprise that colleagues haven’t heard about it. These players who use their star status to sexually exploit or assault students have always counted on their victims being too embarrassed to say anything, and on their not receiving support if they do say something. Fortunately, times are changing. Abbie and I and many others are working to stop this grotesque and unethical behavior.

  18. Bob Burns says:

    I’ve been reading the commentary here and find it absolutely fascinating. I’m not a professional musician but I trained on the piano for many years and am nothing more than a fan of (good) music.

    The VPO does have long tradition of various kinds of discrimination. My earliest “encounter” with it was in reading Henry de La Grange’s biography of Mahler and how he, upon being given the directorship of the VPO in 1898 to 1902 or so, ran into a buzz saw of antisemitism from the players themselves (not to mention that the maestro worked them far harder than his predecessor). According to La Grange, it got so ugly both within the orchestra and the antisemitic Viennese press, that the maestro bailed out. The orchestra’s policy toward women (I believe the Berlin had similar policies) are well documented here and elsewhere. I didn’t know about this issue with the Asian player, but I’m not surprised, if true.

    All the above said, though, is it not a valid argument to say that orchestras DO lose some of their uniqueness by going outside the local sources for players? At some point, if players (along with their individual approach to music making) are not, for instance, of the Viennese school, does the orchestra then become something *other* than a Viennese orchestra? Then again, one can ask if a white player can play the blues.

    Just asking…

    I’m reminded of our local college football team, The University of Oregon Ducks, which won the Rose Bowl last January. The fans all cheer for them, of course, and take great pride that an Oregon team won the big prize. Yet, only a smattering of the team members – less than a half dozen – are Oregonians. They all were recruited from outside the state. Even the coach. So much for a “local” team.

  19. Larry Kopp says:

    Please forgive me if this has been brought up previously in this long, but fascinating thread. Perhaps one of the reasons that Sugiyama was dismissed from the orchestra was because of the instrument he played and the resulting change in the entire sound of the orchestra. The VPO tubists have always used an F Tuba, and I distinctly recall hearing the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna with Sugiyama playing a CC tuba and the entire sonority of the orchestra completely changing. It was no longer the VPO with a big bottom to the brass section. I don’t know what instruments he played on a regular basis, but if one player was making that much of a change to the sound of the orchestra the implications could be pretty severe.

    • Christopher Oakmount says:

      Indeed the VPO used to have an obsolete 6 Valve “Viennese Tubas” in F which – to my knowledge” no-one builds anymore as the old valve positions do not correspond to anything on a modern tuba. It is true that the sound was a lot less fat than modern tubas. The old VPO brass always felt like as if the trumpets and the trombones and tubas were trying to blend in with the horns – still the core of this orchestra’s brass sound. I don’t recall the trombones and tubas sounding anything as prominent in the past as they do now, although this surely is an ongoing trend and nothing that “foreigners” in the VPO caused. Maybe the VPO might consider going all the way to branding themselves as an “authentic” 19th century orchestra and go back to German Trombones, Vienna tubas and low pitch F-Trumpets. Can of worms there!!!

  20. Easy to talk says:

    Ehm…. I smell here a but of jealousy.

    I dont care of what happened to Abbie Conant in 1567. If she was that great why didnt she go back ti the great usa and get one if the many jobs?

    And stand for herself?

    You all talk and criticise the top rtrombone players of the globe standing behnd someone who i hear live few year ago in Piemonte (Italy) playing an horrendous and disastrous David. That was not just a bad evening it was just emberassing poor playing.

    You are good in politics. Bravo.

    Much easier than just talk with the instruments.

    Bla bla bla…

    • Just for the record, last week Abbie and some others were successful in having a Board member of the International Trombone Association removed because he has been banned for life from a major American university due to sexual assault. As readers can see, there’s going to be a backlash and she’s going to be taking some heat for a while. Here’s her letter of thanks to the ITA that she put on her Facebook page:

      “The International Trombone Association has taken a clear stand in the support of women music students. Last week they removed a Board member after learning he was banned for life from a major American university due to the sexual assault of a student. The sexual exploitation of music students, especially by some star players in major orchestras, has been a problem for decades. The ITA has taken a leadership role among the international brass professional associations. Many heartfelt thanks to the ITA and its executive Chair, Ken Hanlon, for their effective leadership.”

an ArtsJournal blog