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How many women in the New Year’s Day concert?

We’ve counted six in total, coming and going, but most of the time there are just three on stage. That is a 50 percent improvement in last year, but still a shocking reflection of the primitive mindset of the Vienna Philharmonic and its stubborn resistance to national and international law.

It may be that the restless swoops on ceilings and upper windows by television director Kathrin Zechner are deliberately intended to deflect attention from disturbing inequalities within the orchestra.

UPDATE: The newly appointed flute and piccolo player Karin Bonelli came on after the intermission, despite suffering from a cold.

karin bonelli

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  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I see a woman sitting 3rd chair in the flutes, not playing at the moment.

  2. Happy New Year, Norman…I’m listening on R3, as the camera work last year put me off! My guess is 2013 won’t yet be the year that sees more women in the orchestra…but it’s only a guess…

  3. The best thing for this orchestra to do would be to have a female leader.

    What are the reasons for the lack of the fairer sex? Who chooses who plays in the orchestra? The members of the orchestra or management or both?

    • Mr Oakmountain says:

      One of their leaders (“Konzertmeister”) IS awoman. You missed the debate. Click the blue line in the article at the top ;-)

    • Andrew Condon says:

      They do indeed have a female leader, the Bulgarian violinist Albena Danailova. Joined the Staatsoper orchestra in 2008 and confirmed as one of the 4 WPH leaders in 2011. She played in the 2009 and 2011 New Year concerts.

  4. Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:


    Thanks for keeping the the VPO’s feet to the fire. Others may complain and want to put it’s shameful past behind and forget, but in a larger sense they participated in something, in some sense, to a past of Austria’s shameful disgusting past. My own band here in Boston, the BSO, has 29 females in a roster of 94. That’s about 31% of the players and they actually dominate the 1st and second violin positions. I say kudos to you for keeping this topic in play and remindiing us, lest we ever forget.

    • This is insane. The musicians currently playing in the VPO have nothing to do with the collaboration of the organisation in the past, in another context. If my father were a murderer, I suffer from the association, but I am not GUILTY. Do we still accuse the French government for its uprooting Europe around 1800, with millions of deaths caused by Napoleonic wars?

  5. Happy new year… My best friend in the berlin phil suggested I found an all-women orchestra, since women are fairer… I wonder… It would no doubt sound great…in berlin…

  6. and yet, you are all watching and hail the ever skilful artistry of this institution.
    If you dont like it, dont go and see it. A tedious debate. We all have choice. Choice to support and choice to work, wherever we see fit.

    Again and again the Vienna Phil is condemned for not liking women in their ensemble. Yes, they are conservative, and yes in the 19C there were no women in orchestras, or hardly, and yes at the time the Viennese did not want to be distracted so they decided to maintain the orchestra as a male community, like the London clubs. I personally think it’s a bit odd now – but nothing more. But it is disturbing that in Western, modern free society it seems to be PROHIBITED to be conservative: everybody HAS to conform to egalitarian rules, and HAS to accept the tyranny of the masses. I am not a conservative and totally FOR emancipation of women, gays, blacks, invalids, red-haired communists, factory workers, double bass players and concept artists – but also FOR the freedom of people preferring a gender-neutral, businesslike working context to distracting, long-haired, seductive and beautifully-playing collegues sitting one inch next to their music stand, protruding their elegant elbow within their eyesight just when they need all their attention for turning the page at the right moment in Mahler IX.


    Just as a reminder:

    ‘People should be allowed to have whatever type of club they like. If it’s a men’s orchestra it’s a men’s orchestra. I noticed that no one ever complained that the Bay Area Women’s Philharmonic was a women’s orchestra. People should grow up and stop complaining about those awful people over there who don’t have the same type of club as us Politically Correct people over here. There are neurotics who feel the same way about making bathrooms unisex also.’ Christopher Fulkerson

  9. I watched the concert and saw two women in the orchestra but that may have been the camera angles. Or they may have been CGI women specially created for TV.

  10. Mark Barrett says:

    I have engaged in this conversation on Facebook too – we can try to be light hearted at this Festive time of year but am bewildered to incomprehension by John’s comment above. It was going so well, John, and so almost persuasively until your last four lines where you demolish your own logic with your remarks about seductive elbows! I trust your tongue was in your cheek! I suppose it is tricky ground in some respects – all male cathedral choirs (including a famous Knabenchor in that city of current debate), Welsh Male Voice Choirs and other examples. But if you are trying to be serious, we can’t let you get away with propounding the absence of women in orchestras because they will lead those fallible lotharios in the band astray…. I despair of this whole debate now – the Vienna Phil has got away with its exclusionist policy for too long and now, in 2013, it is time to live in the real world.

      Dear Mark, the real world is one in which people are different, have different opinions about so many things, and sometimes have ideas about working contexts with which we may not agree – but why not leave them free as long as they do not harm people? Do the VPO harm people by preferring a male working environment? What are they, a representative government? Should they conform to quotes? If I were a woman, I would prefer to play in a gender-mixed orchestra, there are enough of that kind in the musical world. This whole debate is plain ridiculous. Under the disguise of political correctness, a totalitarian, egalitarian mentality tries to impose itself upon a highly individual performing body. A self-governing orchestra with a long tradition, greatly contributing to European civilization, and rightfully enjoy support from the community, has to conform to gender quotes as if it were a factory.

      A far more worrying problem of the VPO is their occasionally programming modernism like Boulez’: the sonic art of this man is a fully-fledged denial of musical culture, it is not even music, has never been attempted to be music – but the VPO feel so pressured by the PC taste brigade that they allow an art form, which has nothing to do with the musical tradition this orchestra represents, to intervene into their own subtle performance culture, which has been honed over a long time. This has nothing to do with ‘conservative versus progressive’ but with performance culture: sonic art belongs to another field, and should be performed by specialized orchestras and ensembles. Where is the end? Will at some stage public opinion demand that they perform John Cage’s 4′ 33” – i.e. silence, just to show that they are not conservative, mysoginist nazis?

      • Mark Barrett says:

        John, yes, the real world is one where diversity and discussion should thrive. However, there are arenas in which exclusion is just not acceptable in terms of common sense and fairness. Produce some statistics that show how women could (apart from distracting easily-swayed male players with their elbows) play music at an inferior level and we might have a discussion, though I am reasonably certain such statistics do not exist. Once again, though, you demolish your own plea to be taken seriously with a slight against Pierre Boulez, a towering figure in the domain of music by any standards. It is not my personal choice to listen to his own compositions, either, but this is someone who cannot be written off by your pejorative, bewildering and paradoxical description reference to ‘sonic art’. As for whether the WPh should play the works of Boulez, I leave it to the New York Times in a 1985 piece to give its respect to Boulez’s understanding of none other than Arnold Schoenberg – “Mr. Boulez is known as a rationalist conductor; those who dislike his work in the standard repertory complain of his rigidity, his dryness, his lack of feeling for Romantic style. Yet both in 19th-century music and especially in this early 20th-century music, Mr. Boulez seems continually aware of Schoenberg’s Romantic antecedents. The string portamento he invests into the playing of ”Transfigured Night” is proof enough of that. But throughout, he makes it clear that Schoenberg was prolonging a tradition, not abandoning it and proclaiming something entirely new.” Boulez-Schoenberg-Vienna: not too many degrees of separation!

        • That is an altogether different subject…. May it suffice for the moment to argue, that in music, it is not the sounds as such which create a performance, but the way in which these sounds are combined into an interrelated, expressive whole, creating its own context as distinct from pure sound. Boulez as a conductor is mostly quite precise, but almost always besides the point, because he thinks that it is the sound that makes the music (read his essays!). Imitating portamenti in Schoenberg make no sense if this music is not understood from the inside-out and that has nothing to do with portamenti; Boulez has no idea where Schoenberg’s music is about. That he has a reputation as a ‘great conductor’ entirely rests upon the misunderstanding that precision makes great conducting. Only in an age which is obsessed with technique for its own sake, such a thing can happen. And since when do we believe music critics? Hasn’t history shown that to be the ‘professional’ group the least capable to grasp musical reality?

  11. Michael Hurshell says:

    While I certainly appreciate the good intentions of those advocating equal opportunities for women in orchestras, I would like to point out that as long as the WPh keep playing at the very top of the profession (as many agree they do), there is very little likelihood of things changing there. On a related subject, I did find interesting the question – raised in an earlier thread – about minorities; and I wonder what, if any, strategies are being developed to significantly address the long standing question regarding the prevailing lack of African American players in major U.S. orchestras. Has anyone heard about any fresh initiatives? Since it is usually regarded as being ultimately related to worsening music education in schools – which has been discussed for many years – I am saddened, as an American, that it seems unrepairable. And would therefore add: let’s, perhaps, think more about that and less about what the WPh does…

  12. Hmm..I feel like I’ve heard some of these arguments before… Oh yes:

    Racists: “We’re not racists, we’re just preserving tradition! You are trying to oppress our states’ right to enslave blacks – which makes YOU the tyrant!”

    Homophobes: “We’re not homophobic, we’re just preserving tradition! You are trying to oppress our right to exclude gays from stage-recognized marriage – which makes YOU the tyrant!”

    Sexists: “We’re not sexist, we’re just preserving tradition! You are trying to oppress our right to exclude women from equal opportunity employment – which makes YOU the tyrant!”

    Bonus Argument: “Haven’t you heard? There’s an obscure all-women’s orchestra somewhere, which means that discrimination is OK everywhere!”

    Keep it up sexists, you’re not fooling anyone.

    • Very funny….. It should be mentioned that something is not valuable in itself for the very reason that it is ‘traditional’, there are good and bad traditions. The point is not that one should be or not be forbidden to dislike women or any other human group, but that in public space people should accept and respect difference, within the law. Where political correctness creates its own suppressive totalitarianism, it turns into the opposite of what was intended.

  13. Andrew Condon says:

    Norman, you say “most of the time there are just 3 on stage”. I think you mean 4. There are 2 firsts and 2 violas there for the duration of the concert with the new harpist and flautist appearing as required.

    • Mark Barrett says:

      I have this sad vision of some of us here nose to their screens attempting to pick out the women in this sea of male players. What does it matter whether there are 3 or 4? One more than 3 is still not very many…. and that is the point!

  14. The pressure needs to be kept up on VPO to respect the laws and human decency.
    Disappointingly last night’s concert was uninspiring. I found it difficult to listen/watch.

  15. Zev Schneider says:

    I think some people here should seriously get a life and stop to pathetically count women in orchestras. As long as the orchestra produces acceptable sound I could not give a flying fuck if the members are white, black, jewish, catholic, male or female.

    As long as none of them gets up during a concert starting to count the women in the audience, I’m happy and so we all should be.

    Get a life!

    • Mark Barrett says:

      “Get a life” was my sentiment too but not for the reasons you give, Zev. We should all care about equality of opportunity. Were we all to be as laisser faire as you so vehemently express, our society would be the poorer. You and John Bortslap should continue to express what you think though in your case it would be more pleasant if you did not lower the tone with your expletives. (Sorry, Norman, but I thought that was offensive!)

      • Not really offensive any more, Mark, not in society at large anyway – given the vast number of publications which print language “of that sort” and television programme which air it on a daily basis, the taboo on ‘swearing’ where such consists of physical attributes or referencing sex is over. The ‘new’ swearing seems to be racist – in the sense that the most taboo words, those you wouldn’t say yourself and which merit a sharp intake of breath when heard elsewhere – generally seem to be racial, get were also words used quite happily (and with no ill intent) in the playground only a few decades ago: the “n” word is a prime example.
        Mind, in terms of physical attributes, the “c” word remains out of bounds, but it’s about the only one.
        Language and its usage changes, there’s no point in trying to censor it.

      • Zev Schneider says:

        As long as orchestras in general hire women, there is enough equal opportunity. Just because a few orchestras have few female member, this is no reason to butcher them at every opportunity – like this blog does. And actually this blog doesn’t butcher them for the lack of women, but for pathetic “let’s go after the Nazis” and “hail all Jews” reasons, which do nothing but anger non-Jews and cause separation.

  16. Mr. Lebrecht,

    What “international” law is the Vienna Philharmonic violating?

  17. Interesting that all the comments are from men.

  18. And by refering to women as the ‘fairer’ sex reveals their stereotypical view. So patronising.

    • Mark Barrett says:

      Have a look at the Facebook comments, Gail, where the comments are slightly (!) more evenly balanced. Though you may find that not all the women are anti- the WPh stance, however baffling the argument one of them puts forward! Happy onward reading (and New Year). I look ed at extracts of the Concert on iPlayer, as I did last year, and was profoundly unmoved. They may as well play VT of the ballet sequences – unadventurous as ever!

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