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Vienna Philharmonic: we were Nazis before, during and after the War

The panel of three historians charged with investigating the VPO’s Nazi record has presented an incriminating report.

M4 vienna timps

In brief, almost half the orchestra – 60 out of 123 musicians – were members of the Nazi Party by 1942. All Jewish members were expelled and erased from its history. Six were murdered.

Only 10 Nazis were expelled from the orchestra in 1945. Two were soon readmitted. One, the trumpet player Helmut Wobisch, had joined the Nazi party in 1933 and the SS in 1934. He became director of the orchestra in 1953. Leonard Bernstein referred to him jovially as ‘my dearest Nazi’.



Wobisch, it appears, was the man who arranged for the orchestra’s cherished Ring to be restored in 1966 to Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi  governor of Vienna who presided over the murder of tens of thousands of Jews, dissidents and other minorities.

The report could hardly be more damning. What matters now is how the Vienna Philharmonic address these issues from the past in remedying its present policies of discrimination and inequality.

UPDATE: The orchestra’s present chairman, Clemens Hellsberg, who is also its official historian, describes the award of the Ring to Schirach as a private initiative on Wobisch’s part. That is not a credible position. No individual can take action on behalf of the collective without others being aware of it. Wobisch cannot have acted alone. What’s more, knowing that he was a former SS man, colleagues in the orchestra should have scrutinised his every action for traces of the past.

SECOND UPDATE: The conspiracy of silence.

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  1. Terrible! How should one now view their recordings from that time, such as Bruno Walter’s Mahler 9th recorded shortly before he escaped the Anschluss.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Same as before I would say – as invaluable historical documents. Just like Klemperer’s live recording of the same work with the same orchestra 30 years later – when a lot of the old NSDAP members were still in the orchestra. And if Klemperer, Walter or Solti who were all actual victims of fascist terror could handle working with them after the war, and the British engineers of Decca who went to Vienna to record Wagner with them and who had also lived through the war could handle that, maybe you can handle it, too.

      • John Culshaw of Decca served in a RN Fairey Swordfish squadron during the War.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Interesting – do you know what role he played there?

          • I don’t recall much detail about this in his book “Ring Resounding, ” but the wiki article about him refers to his posthumous autobiography in saying that he was a navigator and radar instructor, while at the same time starting to write numerous articles about music.

  2. Who will now be the first to tell us that tomorrow’s report is “prejudiced,” “predetermined,” or “biased”? And who will be the first to say, “Oh, this all happened so long ago”? (The lies and attempts at cover-up for almost 68 years never having been a part of “this.” Oh no, not ever, not at all . . . )

  3. Petros Linardos says:

    Are any VPO players with an active Nazi past still alive?

  4. PK Miller says:

    But this has nothing to do w/TODAY’S VPO. It WAS a long time ago. All of those involved are long gone, judged by the Ultimate Judge. Should we flog the current members and/or the grandchildren of these VPO Nazis daily at high noon for atonement? Let the one among us… Many people joined the Nazis under duress, some to go along, to cover their own backsides, maybe to keep working. I understand that was the case w/Von Karajan. Jim Svedja of the syndicated Record Shelf/Opera Box had a program about this very issue re 20 years ago,. We could easily become like the infamous House UnAmerican Activities Committee headed by the vile Joseph McCarthy–are you now or have you ever been a Nazi/Nazi Sympathizer, Communist/Communist Sympathizer… What we SHOULD do is strive to make sure such things never happen again. That includes the American Taliban, the putative (if oxymoronic) Christian Right.

    • It has everything to do with today’s VPO, which maintains discriminatory practices against minorities and women, in defiance of national and European law.

      • I am simply alarmed that alleged contravention of EU employment law – in many cases difficult to prove given the subjective issues involved – should be compared with the vile excesses of National Socialism. The fact that out of its 140 or so players the VPO does not now have 70 women members, 70 black members, not to mention appropriate percentages of openly gay and lesbian members, let alone other minorities, can surely be separated from the percentage who became members of the Nazi party over 60 years ago. Or are we to believe that the VPO’s present constitution comes from a permanent unbroken lineage of Nazi sympathisers?

        Following on Peter R’s comments, could someone please now give us a list of any VPO recordings which have not been contaminated and which we can in all conscience listen to and enjoy. The rest (add all those amazing Wagner recording made in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945) must presumably be cast into public CD burnings alongside the high-noon floggings PK Miller wonders about.

        • Peter R. says:

          Calm down, nobody is suggesting CD burning. I will certainly continue to listen to my imperfect-sounding Walter/VPO recording of Mahler’s 9th. I have always appreciated it partly because of the music itself and partly because of knowing that it preceded a terrible time in Walter’s life and the life of other Jews in his country that he was no doubt aware would happen. So, looking at it differently for me means listening to it knowing that some of those very musicians were in line with an ideology that eventually would have killed their conductor.

          I think Dr. Lebrecht’s point is quite clear: the VPO must come clean about its history (sunlight being the best disinfectant) and make sure that it conducts itself justly in the future, even in terms of its hiring practices. Why are there so many reactionary responses to this?

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        That’s basically what I meant when I said earlier in the other thread that this kind of comparison is massively trivializing the subject. As quirky and somewhat anachronistic as the approach to member selection is that the Wiener Philharmoniker still practice, it has nothing to do with the massive crimes and the extremist totalitarian ideology of the NSDAP. Making that comparison and trying to assign collective guilt for the past to the current members of the orchestra is ludicrous.

        I am not the easily “offended” type but coming from a family that was deeply affected by actual Nazi terror and having grown up with people who survived it deeply scarred for the rest of their lives, I find that kind of statement highly – highly – offensive.

        How many people are actually “victimized” by the way they run their organization? Practically none. There are very few people who are good enough to play in that orchestra anyway, and the few who are who may be passed over because they are women or “non-white” can very easily find very good positions elsewhere. And it’s not like they exercise some kind of engulfing terror that no one within their reach can escape, like the Nazis did.

        • To say that the two Michaels both miss the point and mischaracterize the argument would be an understatement. And that Michael Schaffer expects anyone to symathize with his “I am highly offended” nonsense is not worthy of comment, He is now not only the only person anywhere who understands the Vienna Philharmonic *and* the lives and choices of contemporary musicians but also the only person whose family was “deeply affected” by the Nazi era and who grew up with survivors! He has the trump card for everything, past, present, and future!

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            I don’t expect anyone to “sympathize” with or “understand” what I said, certainly not someone like you who has nothing to reply to what I said except for childish mockery.

          • If you want to engage in personal abuse, please do so on some other site.

          • Sir, you are a piece of work. But let me answer your factual questions — though I have no idea who you are, where you are from, where you live, if this is your real name, etc. — so others might not be confused. My life, as a journalist and an activist. is, though, essentially an open book and this information can easily be found on the Internet, etc. 1) No, the United States as a country did not have segregation laws on its books. 2) Yes, the Southern states did, until 1964, to their everlasting shame. 3) Please don’t bring up what Austria did and didn’t have or do after 1945 unless you are prepared to refute 68 years of well-documented refusal to face the past, make restitution, etc. 4) I am 53 years old, born 17 December 1959, in Chicago, Illinois. My family were East European and Russian Jews who were fortunate to leave Europe, in the case of one-quarter of my grandparents’ families within a millimetre of their lives, before all these jolly events in Europe transpired from 1933 on. 5) My parents’ entire lives were/are given over to racial justice issues. My Father, of blessed memory, was one of the most known attorneys in the field of civil liberties, consumer protection, and race — i.e., Black Americans, segregation, economic discrimination, etc., in the period you are so concerned about. He died 12 years ago, just 69, on his way to work, where he was repairing national race discrimination lawsuits against U.S. banks and other predatory lenders targeting the poor and minorities. My Mother, whose immigrant/refugee parents settled in Kentucky, left her home state at 17 in 1950 in large part due to her and her family’s opposition to racial segregation. At 80 she continues to devote herself to racial justice and arts and cultural education in inner-city schools here. This is the milieu my brothers and I were brought up in, and these have been the causes we have been involved with and in full-time, the third generation of our family to do so. Thank you.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Norman Lebrecht says:
            March 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm

            “If you want to engage in personal abuse, please do so on some other site.

            I think it is a form of personal abuse if I reveal that my own family lost several members to Nazi terror to put my points into a little more context, and then I get this childish mockery back. But that’s fine – I don’t want other people, as offensive as they may get, to be censored any more than myself. But why is it “personal abuse” if I ask someone who is very comfortable with pointing the righteous finger at other people what his and his families involvement and stance toward racism in their own country and in much more recent times was? Shouldn’t we all be ready to apply the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others?
            Or is this what all this is about? That it is so much more convenient to keep pointing that finger at the villains of the past than to look around in one’s own time and place, ignoring that history keeps repeating itself no matter how much we go on and on about long dead Nazis?

          • Except that I answered you and your wholly baseless assumptions/accusations that I ignore problems of the U.S., am a righteous finger-pointer, etc. Pots and kettles . . . .

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Andrew Patner says:
            March 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm

            “Except that I answered you and your wholly baseless assumptions/accusations that I ignore problems of the U.S., am a righteous finger-pointer, etc. Pots and kettles . . . .

            You have? Sorry, I must have missed that. All I recall seeing from you is mockery towards me and plenty of other people, no real answers, no arguments. My bad, apparently! But it is sometimes not easy to keep track of the flow of the threads here, with so many posts coming in. Can you point me to where you gave those answers?

            I don’t think my comments about your fingerpointing are “wholly baseless” though – you do a lot of that. But I don’t. I argue the opposite. I argue that people should think about their own skeletons in their own closets – personal and collective – before they cast the first stone. Or many stones, as in your case. And I am not even a Christian! I just shamelessly helped myself to that nice saying. So you may be a kettle, but I am not a pot. At least not in this context.

            Defending the Viennese and their quirky conservative, sometimes downright reactionary attitude – where it applies, I am not saying all Viennese are like that, that would be completely contradictory to what I just said above – is actually a strange position for me to find myself in. But I think people here have completely blown this all out of proportion with some pretty nasty and in themselves very reactionary comments, masked by a very thin veil of self-declared righteousness. That doesn’t advance the discussion of this subject at all.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            OK I see now you actually answered the questions I asked earlier – sorry I overlooked that among the flood of new posts. Kind of puzzling though because I thought Norman had redacted my somewhat provocative questions. Anyway, thanks for the replies – I will try to respond in my turn later.

      • Marcel Lange says:

        It seems obvious that lots of Viennese, musicians or not, were members of the Nazi party, as it was quiet common at that time to be a member of that orgnaization. I know families who joined, because they were afraid to lose their jobs.

        Some people acted in those organization for personal profit, nothing else. Just like some of today’s politicians engage in questionable, some even evil actions to raise money for themselves and their families.

        For this reason, I urge you all to forcus on today’s wars and important everyday problems instead of discrediting organizations with a Nazi past for the mere sake of it.

        • Excellent point, M. Lange. But let’s not stop there. We should honor and praise people who joined “that organization” for economic and not ideological reasons. They should become role models for all of us.

          You see, even when all of this historical work is done, every bit of it can just happen all over again with people this dense.

          • Marcel Lange says:

            By no means I said we should honor them. We should understand, learn and accept that some might have felt, that they have no other choice than joining such groups.

            Discrediting every single former member of certain groups just to get the personal satisfacion of retribution creates only more victims.

          • “Such groups”?! Spit it out, man! Say the name of the group whose membership you feel should not be discredited — Nazis. You think that people should not criticize someone for having been a voluntary enlisted member of the Nazi Party. You’re entitled you your views. Just state them clearly.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Andrew Patner says:
            March 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

            “Excellent point, M. Lange. But let’s not stop there. We should honor and praise people who joined “that organization” for economic and not ideological reasons. They should become role models for all of us.

            You see, even when all of this historical work is done, every bit of it can just happen all over again with people this dense.”

            Calling people “dense” because they say it is important to understand the complex motivations people may have had for their varying degrees of involvement in the Nazi movement – that’s really classy, Mr Patner.

            The reality is that understanding that is part of understanding the whole phenomenon and, hopefully making sure that it won’t happen again. It is people like you with their reighteous fingerpointing and obfuscation of all finer detail that ensure that that analysis doesn’t happen. And look – a lot of what happened back then is happening in your own country right now, as we type. And what are you doing about it? You are droning on about long dead Nazis. While history repeats itself right under your nose.

        • Norman Schwartz says:

          “Some people acted in those organization for personal profit, nothing else.”

          Perhaps they could have reacted differently after ashes arose from the infamous chimney stacks.

          • Indeed, Norman Schwartz. And perhaps if they were merely poor,desperate people trying to put food on their humble tables, they didn’t need to join the Nazi Party in 1933 or 1934, years before the Anschluß and when *the Nazi Party was illegal in Austria.*

    • Congratulations, PK Miller! It took you less than an hour to be the winner!

    • I’ll have to check out the Svejda show to which you refer. Svejda himself comes down very hard on Karajan for his Nazi involvement.

    • Patrick JW says:

      Sorry, but no. An orchestra that routinely discriminates against women and minorities does not get a pass on their Nazi history, especially when that history has been swept under the rug for so long.

    • Look, this is an horrific and shameful history. There can never be any excuses. To try to subvert their history does not change it. Truth has a life of its own.Their descendents as well as the general public must learn the Truth. The individuals of the world must understand that an individual’s actions in their lifetime leave a legacy that remains and continues forward,
      and their children and grandchildren , who are innocent, are condemned to live under their shadow.
      As far as your comparisons to the House Unamerican Activities Committee and Joe McCarthy, the accused were directly involved- not their progeny. It is a completely inaccurate comparison.
      In addition, to call the Christian Right , ‘Taliban,’ reveals more about your ignorance. It is a dastardly,
      inappropriate, and cruelly false comparison.
      Arguments fall to pieces when they are so poorly constructed.
      I suggest, for your own sake, you learn the facts about the Taliban and the Christian Right. You might want to research the history of the Holocaust. I highly doubt , you will want a repeat within an orchestra- or a country.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Just a little history lesson: you’re aware, are you not, that as a member of the Senate Joseph McCarthy had nothing to do with the House Committee on Un-American Activities? As for the odious term “American Taliban” it’s nothing more than the usual Left attempt to shut the “wrong” people up.

  5. This information sends shivers up my spine. It is truly frightening.

  6. jim sillan says:

    “Should we flog the current members and/or the grandchildren of these VPO Nazis daily at high noon for atonement?”

    no, we should flog those who continued to hide the VPO’s disgusting past

  7. Brian F Hudon says:

    So PK Miller wants to condemn Nazism in the Vienna Philharmonic and then compare American Christians with the Taliban? That’s a little inconsistent doesn’t anyone think? I’m fairly certain that Christians have not killed millions the way that Nazis did and the way that Muslims have, nor have they oppressed anyone’s rights in the manner of both. The kind of anti-Christian/Catholic attitude we see in the world today is exactly the kind of bigotry that we saw rise in the form of anti-semitism which history reveals for more than 75 year prior to the rise of the Third Reich before the beginning of the second world war. But as the French say, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      “I’m fairly certain that Christians have not killed millions the way that Nazis did and the way that Muslims have, nor have they oppressed anyone’s rights in the manner of both.”
      The aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas thank you for the clarity with which you remember them. Shaynem dank, also, for managing to compress 750 years of European anti-Semitism of one kind or another into 75. One day we should have a chat about the history of the Catholic Church during the years 900 – 1600. And while we’re on the subject, I’d like a complete list of Communist Party members in Russian orchestras before, during and after Stalin, the same from Vichy France, Maoist China, Mussolini’s Italy, and Spain under Franco.

    • Celloting says:

      You need to read up on your European colonial/imperialist empire and history to realise how many millions in South America, Asia, etc were killed, murdered, raped by ‘Christians’ and in the name of Christianity! Oh, don’t also forget recent European history in the Balkans, where tens of thousands of muslims were slaughtered by Christians.

    • stanley cohen says:

      Well it was a long time ago but they certainly did during the Crusades and the Inquisition. They kept the flames of anti-Semitism alive for the best part of two millennia – until Pope John XXIII and Pope John-Paul II said what needed saying. The Spanish only repealed the Expulsion Order against the Jews from 1492 some 40 years ago. Much of the world’s anti-Israeli stances are really crypto anti-Semitism disguised as political posturing.Sad as it is to read, the disclosures relating to the VPO are timely and will serve to make them think twice about continuing their discriminatory predilections.

  8. Truth and Transparency says:

    Why is anybody surprised about this? The Vienna Philharmonic is only a microcosm of Austria. Austria has remained, before, during and after the Second World War a country that has openly supported Nazi ideology and other vile tendencies. I invite all readers here to read this article, that appeared just this weekend in The Independent, where it states that if the Nazi party were able to enter into Austrian politics, more than half of Austrians believe that the Nazi Party would enter into the government now, in 2013! The link is:

    This entire Vienna Philharmonic story is just window dressing, as they too have not changed. They are made up of very traditional and quite conservative Austrians, in the majority and certainly their views and attitudes are upholding all that makes Austria a disgrace to the European Union.

    If the Vienna Philharmonic signifies the ultimate in classical music performance, sadly with its past (and probably present) and being at the heart of Austrian society, it is no wonder that any sane young person, with an open mind and a sense of history and humanity, would and should be turned off by classical music. The same goes for the Salzburg Festival, another outdated elitist Austrian institution and a hotbed of Nazis, past and present.

    Stop focussing only on the Vienna Philharmonic and see the big picture, that of Austria, of which the Vienna Philharmonic is only a small representative detail. As Austria hasn’t cleaned up its act, why would anybody think that the Vienna Philharmonic will or has? Focus on the underlying issues, not the propaganda!

    • Judith Lynn says:

      This comment completely hits the nail on the head.

    • Martin Locher says:

      I know a former workmate of mine who moved to Vienna. His hairstyle, for as long as I knew him, always was “all shaved” and a perfect fit for his head.

      In Vienna, he started growing hair for the reason of not being seen as a Skinhead (Neo-)Nazi in Vienna. Quiet shameful, that this hairstyle still is a visual synonym for representing such an idiology. In other parts of Europe, we fortunately are long past this.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Nonsense. Watch a video of the Wiener Philharmoniker. Quite a few of them are “all shaved”, too. It’s in fashion in Vienna just as much as anywhere else. Being “all shaved” alone doesn’t make you look like a Neonazi.

        • Martin Locher says:

          It was the reason he stated for growing hair. I’d gladly ask him again, but I can’t unfortunately as he has disappeared from our radar.

    • Mark Mortimer says:

      How true T&T’s comments about the Vienna Philharmonic being a microcosm of Austrian Society, then and now. Let us not forget that some of the nastiest Nazis were Austrian and not German, infamous villans such as Eichmann, Kaltenbrunner and Seyss Inquart amongst others. Norman’s fascinating revelation that Helmut Wobisch, the VPO’s chairman awarded Balder Von Shirach, former Nazi Gauliter of Vienna, the orchestra’s coveted Gold Ring in 1966, presumably to coincide with his relase from Spandau Prison for crimes against humanity.

      The fact that the VPO, on a good day play like angels- the best orchestra on the planet- does not disguise their murky past. I cannot comment if the current organisation is institutionally rascist, sexist or whatever. The fact that they have and continue to work with some prodigiously gifted Jewish conductors/soloists would suggest otherwise. On the other hand, most agree that they should have more women players and those of different ethnic backgrounds.

      I’m always slightly bemused by the orchestra’s New Year’s Day Concert. An event slick in presenatation and contrived humour with an unmistakable whiff of Aryan supremacy and totalitarianism.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        What do waltzes have to do with “Aryan supremacy” and “totalitarianism”? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They are just pieces of dance music. All people have some forms of dance music, not just “Aryan supremacists”. It’s only your own biases and prejudices projected onto these people, and the completely nonsensical associations with “Aryan supremacy” and “totalitarianism” are just there to give some “justification” and “legitimacy” to your prejudices. You give in to the most basic xenophobic instincts, but you think that’s OK as long as you find some really farfetched “reasons” for them. And that’s what all forms of jingoism have in common.

        • Patrick JW says:

          That whiff of Aryan supremacy and totalitarianism he smells probably comes from the fact that the New Year’s Concert was started as a Nazi propaganda tool.

          • Platemunde says:

            Thank you. Seems like some people posting on here are working overtime to defend the Vienna Philharmonic’s past and present. What a vile organization, full of vile people. They should be disbanded, everything associated with them demolished, and then a new orchestra that did not have Nazism and fascism in its DNA could start from the ground up.

            At the very least, they deserve to experience what Lore Siegel included in one of her stories years ago, the cries of victims welling up whenever they start playing. That should drown all their “beautiful” music–cries, screams, the absolute, unspeakable horror to which they and so many other Germans and Austrians were willing and eager participants.

  9. Drives me nuts when you post these “news” bits but do not link to any further information that one could investigate or explore. Link please??/

  10. Robt. Switzer says:

    Are we supposed to be surprised?

  11. Tiago Yaakov Blumenfeld Sarafian says:

    But I really ask to myself – “Are you really sure you are not a bunch of Nazis anymore !? … If I bet, it’s pretty possible I win the bet because you in Austria are more Nazis than the Germans.”.

  12. One more note of interest in reply. The Taliban do not permit any music, and a very popular Afghan singer, a young, beautiful woman, was murdered. the Christian Right has a huge music industry – a most viable one.

  13. Alexander Hall says:

    These relatively late admissions of the VPO’s complicity in supporting the Nazi regime are actually part and parcel of the Austrian state’s attitude to its “brown” past. Unlike the Federal Republic of Germany, which set about addressing the sins of its fathers and forefathers in a collective act of “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” that continues till this day, the Republic of Austria has done little or nothing to examine its own role during the Third Reich, arguing that it was the beastly Germans who were to blame and they (the Austrians) did everything under coercion. If you read Edmund de Waal’s “The Hare with the Amber Eyes”, you will learn all about the way in which post-1945 all crimes committed against the Jews, including expropriation of property, were airbrushed out of the records. Read the Austrian Elfriede Jellinek’s attempts to confront her fellow countrymen and women with their own responsibilities and the official campaign waged against her as a “Nestbeschmutzerin”. And remember also the great Kurt Waldheim, feted during his days at the UN and later a pariah as President of his country. “Who? Me, sir? No, sir. I never did anything wrong.” The VPO and the way it has itself behaved since those murky days in the 1930s are all part of a similar pattern.

    • Walter Delahunt says:

      Mr Hall, from my experience in Vienna and Austria, I find your comment absolutely accurate.

  14. Celloting says:

    I would like to know how the present VPO musicians feel about the whole issue (past, present and future). I say that because many of these issues need to be dealt with by management. Basically, they (managers) need to get themselves and the VPO up to speed, the world has changed, sadly not for some! Shame on them.

  15. I wonder why Bernstein, Walter, Solti, Barenboim, Mehta, Boulez, Davis, Klemperer, Rattle etc have all found accommodation with the VPO but Norman Lebrecht still thinks there is traction in his meretricious moral outrage ?
    What penalties is NB proposing to impose on the children and grandchildren of the VPO members of the NZ period.
    The VPO is one of the worlds premier orchestras. Can’t we just enjoy it for what it is ?

    • Alexander Hall says:

      It’s all about money Hasbeen, isn’t it? Honi soi qui……..

      • No it isn’t as the VPO have never paid high or even competitive fees. It is about wanting to make music with one of the great orchestras of the world within a tradition that the conductors respect.

        • Some people truly live in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Of course! This is why conductors never accept a fee of any kind for their performances!

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            They do accept less for conducting the WP than many other orchestras. The fees they pay are nowhere near what top American orchestras shell out to make European conductors come over the US, and nowhere near what some highly funded orchestras like the Münchner Philharmoniker pay either.

          • “Make European conductors come over” to conduct our awful little American bands. Hilarious. And of course the recording and broadcast companies pay conductors not a schilling for discs or broadcasts with the Holy Untouchable Orchestra. And no conductor has ever used the payment of Viennese “prestige” to negotiate his fees with the envious Brits or the American bumpkins. Ha.

    • I have wondered why many of today’s leading conductors who guest with the VPO – who all have their own fine orchestras with plenty of women – don’t take a stand about the VPO’s glacial acceptance of women.

      As for the Nazi past, I will not blame the current orchestra for that, so long as they’re clear and transparent about it. To their credit the Berlin Philharmonic have been very open about their own Nazi past, and there is a very good documentary on the Digital Concert Hall website.

    • Many can enjoy it, but some never will be able to. Now keeping things in the rational realm seems to be the challenge here. It’s the Shoah that’s the problem, that makes the guilt of those collaborating with the Nazis unforgivable.
      Without these very special circumstances, the VPO’s past would be just the past of any other orchestra, corrupting itself in times of political pressure. Happened all over the world at all times.

      Anyway, the VPO without a doubt is one of the best, if not the best, sounding orchestras in the world. There must be something to their meticulous selection and education process.
      Like it is perfectly legal to preserve a beautiful old house without adding modern elements, why shouldn’t the VPO be allowed to preserve their very particular sound by sticking to their traditional ingredients? I see no problem with that, there are enough other orchestras in the world, also in Vienna, that fulfill today’s social agendas.

      • “Today’s social agendas.” And this from a young person. You see? No one cares.

        • I think the women issue and the Nazi issue are totally separate issues. The way the arguments are presented here, I get the idea that the two issues are combined to cause maximal damage to the VPO, not to discuss the issue(s). It’s a “guilty by association” fallacy.

          During the time of the Nazis, most classical orchestras in Europe had no women in their ranks. The issues are not related.

      • Patrick JW says:

        You’re operating on the assumption that to maintain their standards as an orchestra, Vienna HAS to work to exclude women and minorities. Why is that the case? What is it about women and minorities that makes them not as capable as a white Austrian man of carrying on the tradition of this orchestra?

        As for your argument about preserving a historic buildings, many historic building have been fixed with modern technology to help keep them preserved. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, for example, had to be repaired several years ago due to some defects in the original design that were threatening the integrity of the building. The house looks the same, but it has incorporated some new elements to help keep it that way.

        • Yes and VPO today has also “some” women and “minorities” in their ranks. So what’s your point?
          AFAIK they audition their members thoroughly and also prefer them to be already taught in a way congruent to their very particular ways of music making. Also they always emphasize on their “group think”. All factors that IMO justify a selection process, that excludes most outsiders, but not on racial or gender discrimination grounds, but on musical and “group hegemony” grounds.

  16. Brian F Hudon says:

    I don’t deny history. However. History and the people who live in history today need to stop confusing authentic Christianity with terrible acts and atrocities committed by people who merely present themselves as Christians. There is nothing in the tenants of Christianity and certainly not Catholicism which says: Go forth and kill native people and subdue or remove them from their indigenous lands. I can’t say that is true of some other well know religious viewpoints. As an American I am certainly aware of what happened to the native American people as I am aware of the genocide and inhumanity of people in other nations and cultures. As much inhumanity has been committed by people not religious and in fact by people whose views are distinctly opposed to religion. To reiterate however, people throughout history may say that kill and destroy and subdue in the name of Christ, but it is truly only in their own name in which they do so.

    • Victoria Clarke says:

      Amen to that.

    • Amen to the fact that all of humanity has inhumanity.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Brian F Hudon says:
      March 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      “I don’t deny history. However. History and the people who live in history today need to stop confusing authentic Christianity with terrible acts and atrocities committed by people who merely present themselves as Christians. There is nothing in the tenants of Christianity and certainly not Catholicism which says: Go forth and kill native people and subdue or remove them from their indigenous lands.”

      Well, actually…there is quite a lot of that there. large parts of the Old Testament are just about that – “However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)

      Not all that nice, is it? Or, remember when he tells them to wipe out all the Amalekites, including their “sheep, camels and donkeys” (!) ?

      And Christianity is based on that, too, as you no doubt know. I do agree with your earlier point though – however, who can say what “authentic Christianity” actually is? Countless more people have been killed over exactly that question. You talk about people “who merely present themselves as Christians” – many would characterize the Catholic Church as exactly that. History shows they have a very long history of arranging themselves with those in power and then abusing the power gained from that. The whole idea of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” has for many centuries sanctioned the persecution of those who were not within that church and therefore damned anyway. And yes, I know, they have redefined that since then. Several centuries and countless more dead too late, though.

      But that only as an aside. What does it have to do with the subject at hand though? Well, Austria has for a long time been a very Catholic country, and to some extent still is. And that was the perfect breeding ground for the anti-semitism that that church fanned for many centuries. We shouldn’t forget that.

  17. Anonymous says:

    This is not simply an Austrian problem; it is a human problem. Baldur von Schirach claimed to have been strongly influenced by the antisemitism of Henry Ford:
    Intolerance of any sort — antiSemitism, racism, sexism — is intolerable. One might say especially in an organization like an orchestra, which should be dedicated to higher values. The world rightfully holds the VPO to account for its actions, historical and present. But humanity is deeply flawed. How can anyone feel smug? Those who refuse to listen should also refuse to drive Fords (or BMWs, or…).

  18. Rudolph Tang says:

    I think Clemens should resign for his fooling around.

  19. Walter Delahunt says:

    I lived in Vienna for 16 years, worked there as a musician and played chamber music with members of the Vienna Philharmonic. I would say, from my experience, that some of the members have a right-wing, bigoted, racist way of thinking and some do not. Sadly, I have come into contact with members of both camps. And the racist mentality is not exclusively the property of the older members.

    The discrimination against women has lessened in recent years, albeit under pressure from the public, most notably in New York in 1996. I remember an after-concert discussion at the dinner table in 1982, where an Austrian government official said that he was “absolutely against” the VPO hiring women. And he had the temerity to say this in front of the women present. The VPO is also the Vienna State Opera orchestra, thus “subject” to government interests to a certain extent.

    I also know that the VPO made – perhaps still makes – a practise of not hiring Asians, the reason ostensibly being that the Japanese audiences do not want to see an Asian face in a Viennese orchestra. This same discrimination has been practised by other Viennese orchestras, for the above-mentioned “business” reasons.

    I am in no way a supporter of racism, exclusiveness or discrimination of any kind. It is however true, that racism, exclusiveness and discrimination are pervasive on our planet, sometimes more covert, sometimes more overt.

    I left Vienna because I could no longer stomach the racism there. I prefer to visit the city and experience it superficially, thank you. But I have to admit that I have witnessed racism in other places, just as brutal, just as insidious, just as self-righteous.

  20. We saintly Americans live quite nicely thank you with a number of shameless legacies of our own and would never think of atoneing for anything or apologizing to anyone. For example, the horrors of Vietnam belong to the lives of most of us, yet are seldom mentioned. Mass denial by dead souls? But the Nazi years, which were over before this pensioner was born, are apparently on the minds of rather too many. What CAN that mean? All rather fishy, nicht wahr?

    • I don’t know, “James,” why don’t you tell us what it means? What is “fishy” about wanting historical archives opened up or wanting to document the past? And is there an American orchestra that played a direct role in the Vietnam catastrophe? Come out and say what you mean by “rather too many.”

      • He means that some people act like they are the eternal victims, they even build their whole identity on that.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        The WP didn’t play “a direct role” in the Nazi catastrophe either. Let’s not get silly here, please. However, during the period you cite, many orchestras and audiences and many other aspects of life were still segregated in large parts of the US. And how many African American musicians are there in American orchestras today? Or, more specifically, in the top 5,6,7 or so top orchestras? Keeping in mind that about 12% or so of the US population are African Americans, the answer is, very, very few. I saw your home town orchestra at Carnegie Hall recently. I believe they had *one*. And Chicago has an African American population of over 30%, correct? Now there is something for you to point the finger at right there in front of your own doorstep. Do your high moral standards apply to yourself, too, or just to others? Or just to the Viennese?

        • stanley cohen says:

          Maybe there’s another reason for the dearth of black players in the orchestra. They don’t apply because a smaller percentage of them are interested in classical music. This is probably a more viable an explanation than accusing the orchestras concerned of racial discrimination. A bit like the population of female road-diggers and bulldozer operators is less than 50% of the total number of these trades.

          • Thomas D says:

            @ Norman: Yes, and all these minority communities that actually are in Vienna are also represented in the orchestra. Eastern Europeans mostly. Many play in the VPO. There are also a couple of half-Japanese players in the VPO. Also several Jews. And forget about the Asians at the Vienna conservatory. They are mostly “cultural tourists”, being sent to Vienna to soak up a bit of classical European art education. Most go back to Korea and become good wives with capability to make house music (which raises their price on the marriage market). As far as African origin applicants are concerned: I doubt any German speaking African players have even applied there ever. Let’s be real.

        • Patrick JW says:

          I would argue that the lack of African American classical musicians is due more to economic factors than any kind of discrimination by American orchestras. Learning music is expensive, and the sad truth is in the US that white families tend to have more money than African American families. That means more money to spend on instruments, private lessons, music camps, etc, etc. It also might be that most African Americans simply aren’t interested in classical music. For what it’s worth, my section principal in my last job was black, and he’s one of the best musicians I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

          However, this is not the argument Vienna makes about minority musicians. Their argument is that an Asian musician is INCAPABLE of playing music like they do, because they aren’t a part of the glorious Austrian tradition and the soul of Europe and whatever other nonsense they spew. When musicians from the Chicago Symphony start talking about how black people are culturally incapable of playing in their orchestra, then your comparison will be valid.

          • Walter Delahunt says:

            Mr. Lebrecht – you are absolutely right.

          • Walter Delahunt says:

            Mr Torheit, respectfully submitted, I’m not sure you have accurate information pertaining to work permits in Austria. When I was hired in Vienna in 1984, it was my responsibility to go to the the Fremdenpolizei to apply for residency, which also gave me permission to work. Perhaps the system has changed, I don’t know. But in general, I have observed that hiring is left to the discretion of the employer.

            The VPO has traditionally preferred Viennese-trained musicians, the reason being that the VPO wishes continuity of style. This has, however, not stopped them from hiring foreigners, a work permit not being a pre-requisite.

          • Thank you, as ever, Patrick JW. I’ve taken my leave of this thread — though not this subjec or Mr Lebrecht’s site — as so many of the comments have gone so far off the rail.

          • Peter R. says:

            Good points! Also, many public school systems have cut their music education programs, so many African-American grade school students (and students of other races) don’t get introduced to classical music. The districts that teach classicial music tend to be the more affluent. Sure, most districts have applied music training in “band” and “orchestra” contexts, which is good, but there isn’t the music appreciation and history taught in the earlier grades to cultivate the love for listening to classical music that leads students to really love playing it. My daughters say a lot of people join band because it’s “easy” or their friends are in it.

            If we taught music appreciation AND applied music in the public schools the way we did in the 1960s, in the era of Leonard Bernstein’s educational video series, there would be more African-Americans in the orchestras today!

          • Amen, Peter R.!

  21. Much heated debate here, as might be expected. Yet amongst all this contentiousness some interesting points have been made. Let’s see if I can summarize:

    1] We should never forget what happened within the VPO during the Nazi era.

    2] The VPO players who were members of the Nazi party are no longer in the orchestra, and most are probably no longer alive.

    3] Some VPO members who joined the Nazi party probably did so not because of any fondness for Nazi ideology, but to protect their jobs. They shouldn’t have done this, but they did.

    4] The Nazi presence in the VPO was a microcosm of the party’s influence throughout all of Austria.

    5] The fact that this report has been issued in 2013 – seven decades after the Third Reich, and now that there are no longer any former Nazis within the orchestra – is very convenient for all concerned.

    6] Not all that might have been said about the VPO’s Nazi connections in the post-War era has been included in this report.

    7] It would be absurd to cast out the recordings made by the VPO during and soon after the Nazi period. Many are excellent recordings. (This proves, once again, that bad people can sometimes play music very well.)

    8] Since WWII, several prominent Jewish conductors have worked with the VPO. This may be indicative of a willingness (by both the conductors and the players) to put the past behind them.

    9] Compared with the atrocities of the Nazi era, the VPO’s current (apparently) discriminatory hiring practices are a much smaller injustice.

    10] The VPO’s current hiring practices may be viewed as a continuation of the desire, rooted in the Nazi era, to exclude certain groups from membership in the orchestra. Or not.

    11] However, whether or not the VPO’s discriminatory policies are causally linked to the crimes of the Nazi era, current hiring practices are an issue that needs to be addressed.

    There now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

  22. From Jonathan Cott’s book, Dinner with Lenny: The Long Last Interview with Leonard Bernstein [Oxford University Press : 2013], pp. 64-66. Interview conducted November 20, 1989 at Bernstein’s home in NYC.


    • Since there is no quote supplied from this passage, which is fascinating, let me supply one. It’s Bernstein speaking (with a couple of redactions of mine):

      “People sometimes ask me how I can go to Vienna . . . and conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. Simply, it’s because I love they way they love music. And love does a _lot_ of things.
      . . .
      We’ve already lost a whole generation of kids who are blind to anything constructive or beautiful, who are blind to love, love, LOVE — that battered, old, dirty four-letter word that few people understand anymore.”

      My personal contact with Lenny over the years leads me to believe that even after these horrific VPO revelations and even despite the orchestra’s continued intransigence on the admission of women and, apparently, Asians, that Bernstein would still hold these opinions. His was the kind of voice badly needed in this discussion.

      • We will know more when his letters are published in November (Yale UP)

      • Sixtus, let me try this again.

        From Jonathan Cott’s new book, Dinner with Lenny: The Long Last Interview with Leonard Bernstein [Oxford University Press : New York], pp. 64-66. Interview conducted November 20, 1989 in Bernstein’s home in

        You know, in 1988 I took the orchestra to Israel — think of it: the Vienna Philharmonic — and one of the works we played in Jerusalem was, in fact, Mahler’s Sixth. _That_ was an experience! Imagine…this all-Catholic orchestra whose players, before I conducted them, didn’t know what a Jew was — musicians growing up in the birthplace of Freud, Schönberg, Wittgenstein, Karl Kraus…not to mention Mahler — a Vienna that had become a city with almost no Jews that was at one time the Jewish center of the world!

        Once, when the players were rehearsing my Kaddish Symphony for the first time, they stopped the rehearsal of their own accord to ask me what the word kaddish meant, and why they were so moved by the piece,
        and if I could tell them something about it. And I said that we had to finish up at six o’clock because they were also gong to be playing at the opera that night, and they had to get across town to the Wiener Staatsoper, grab a goulash and a cup of coffee on the way, and be ready for the downbeat at seven. I pointed this out to them and said that we hadn’t read halfway through the symphony yet. And they said, Wir bleiben…we’ll stay. I polled the whole orchestra and asked them, ‘How many of you have to play the opera tonight?’ Twenty or so hands
        went up. ‘What’s the opera?’ Ariadne. Now, Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos is no easy job. But Wir bleiben, Wir bleiben, they insisted. ‘Just tell us what kaddish means.’

        So I said that it was related to the word sanctus, that what they said in church every week — sanctus, sanctus, sanctus — is the same word as kadosh, kadosh, kadosh. And they were turning white…and then one of the musicians stood up and said, Was meinen Sie, Meister? War der Christe Jüdische? ‘Are you telling us that Jesus was Jewish?’ Like innocent babies! I couldn’t believe it. And I got so angry at them and said, ‘How can you ask me these questions? You’ve grown up in this city that was the Judendzentrum of the world, and you killed them all, or drove them out.’

        So this went on after other rehearsals, and sometimes even after performances they would grab me and take me for a drink at a bar and continue the conversation. And finally one of the clarinet players explained: ‘We were brought up from the age of two years old not to ask questions because we would get no answers. So we didn’t ask. We picked up a couple of things from magazines and television here and there, but we could never ask.’

        They didn’t know that Jesus was Jewish or that Jesus spoke a language called Aramaic or that in his time he was referred to as Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef or that benedictus mean Baruch Haba B’Shem Adonai or that
        there was a connection between the Old and New Testaments. They were all churchgoing kids, well brought up in the traditions of their Nazi grandfathers. And yet I think of them as my dear children and brothers. People sometimes ask me how I can go to Vienna — Kurt Waldheim is the president of Austria! — and conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. Simply, it’s because I love the way they love music. And love does a _lot_ of things.

  23. Ironic timing of this story.

    From Jerusalem Post:


  24. Let us remember that nearly the whole of Austria welcomed the Nazis. Why is one just picking out this orchestra for investigation? Why not ban trade with Austria? Or Germany for that matter? What about the Berlin Philharmonic?
    Yes these were shameful times. But we have to move on, hopefully learning the lessons of the shameful past. I cannot see that all this hysteria about the present orchestra is going to help in any way whatever.

  25. Walter Delahunt says:

    To be honest, I don’t know whether my contribution this time is of any substance worthy of attention.

    But I have misgivings about the usefulness of focusing one’s attention so intensively on mis-deeds and horrors.
    I think it is right to face one’s past head on, individually and collectively. But I also think that one runs the risk of falling prey to another kind of discrimination, namely discrimination against a society or a culture because of its past wrongs.

    There was a fascist movement in England, there was a fascist movement in my country, Canada, in the 30′s and 40′s. I remember as a child seeing a plaque on the entrance of a fancy tennis and yachting club in Canada in 1969, which read: “No dogs, no blacks, no Jews”. When Martin Luther King went to Chicago in 1967, there were protesters – white supremacists – wearing swastikas on their arms.

    I would note that now in Canada, it has become unacceptable to make any kind of derogatory comment about anyone of different colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion or background. This, believe me, was not always the case. I can remember when gays were fair game, I can remember a bus driver screaming “nigger” to a taxi driver in Toronto in 1978. I remember Jews and North American Indians being spoken of in the worst possible ways.

    Racism was fashionable in many parts of Europe in the early 20th century. It was considered by many to have valid scientific roots. There were and are philosphical/religious movements, the basic tenets of which can only be described as racist.

    My point? I guess it’s a simple one – I’m not sure it’s right to answer discrimination with more discrimination.

    • Yes, WD, discrimination is bad. But i hope you are not saying that all that the Nazis were guilty of was “discrimination”. In fact, when it came to murdering Jews (as well as Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled and other undesirables) they were rather indiscriminate – age and gender did not matter, that’s for sure. So, we are talking here about something that is a little bit more serious than using objectionable words and prohibiting to enter a yachting club – infinitely more serious, to be frank.

      • Walter Delahunt says:

        Dear Mark:

        No, I was not suggesting that. I probably left too much to be read between the lines.

        To be very blunt, I hated most of the 13 years I spent in Vienna – precisely because I saw and heard and felt just too many reminders of “that time”. And in fact, they can still be heard and seen and felt today.

        And to be even more blunt, I find the VPO to be an intolerably arrogant organisation, an image-driven, elitist club, not necessarily populated by the best musicians I’ve ever seen or heard.

        I find this head-on confrontation with the past good – for so long it was swept under the carpet and denied.

        What I am trying to say is this:
        I sense, perhaps wrongly, a tone in this blog which suggests a moral “high-ground”. In no way attempting tor neutralise or play down Nazi history or the guilt of those who passively or actively sanctioned it, I believe that we are facing a human failing, better said a human disaster – that of seeing other humans as worthless, objects to be trodden upon, murdered, discriminated against, tortured. And all this mostly for the purposes of selfish materialistic gain. This scenario has played out in so many places, continues to play out, that I wonder who can claim to be innocent. And frankly, the way we humans deal with commerce and employment gives me cause to wonder – in fact, I don’t wonder, rather I believe it is the case – whether we are still practising oppression, only in a collectively sanctioned form.

        It’s a long discussion, how to summarise it in a few paragraphs……..?

        • Walter Delahunt: Your contributions here are among the most valuable and the most fair, both on the historical/contemporary questions and on the Vienna Philharmonic artistically. Thank you again.

        • Thanks for replying.
          “It’s a long discussion, how to summarise it in a few paragraphs……..?” It’s not easy, indeed, which is why, imo, you quite understandably failed to do that in the one paragraph preceding your last sentence. But i am glad that you started your brief summary with an honest admission “I sense, perhaps wrongly”, because in a subject of this magnitude, sensing cannot possibly be sufficient to form a reasonable opinion; therefore your doubt is fully justified and very appropriate here.

          • Walter Delahunt says:

            Dear Mark:

            At the risk of hair-splitting, I didn’t form any opinion on Vienna or the VPO based on “sensing”. I formed my opinions based on my experience in Vienna and my experiences with the prchestra and its members.

            I wrote that I sensed, perhaps wrongly, a moral high-gound in the blog.

          • Walter Delahunt says:

            Dear Mark:

            I might add that it was not my intention to summarise anything in a few paragraphs, rather to respond to your previous contribution addressed to me. Therefore failing to summarise in a few paragraphs is a moot point, if I may.

            To be honest, I don’t know what you mean by “reasonable opinion”. I understand what responsible opinion is, but “reasonable opnion” doesn’t add up for me.

            As to honest admissions, they are quite usual fare for me.

            But all this strays from the territory of the subject, as does most of this blog. Unfortunately.

            As the late Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, once said: “Be that as it may, God bless”.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          So Walter – why did you stay in Vienna for 13 years? Or was it 16? I think you said 16 in an earlier post. Anyway, what made you stay for so long? Was it the great food? The creamy sauces? The Heurigen? The decadent pastries and desserts? Or was it the great music making after all, combined with the desserts and the coffee house culture? You are probably right – individually the members of the WPh may not be the best musicians “in the world” – but collectively they probably are. It seems that they accepted you as a partner in their music making for many years. So what’s the problem here?

          • Please curb the aggression and refrain from asking personal questions.

          • Michael Schaffer is known on other boards for attacking Gustavo Dudamel pretty savagely, some would say it borders on bigotry, e.g. ‘all he can say is “is nice music”‘.

            • DUDAMEL

            On Feb 7, 2011, 4:33 pm, M forever wrote:
            And yes, I will say it even though now people will cry out in anger because it is not politically correct, I don’t think that Dudamel has the first clue about the cultural background and the “meaning” of Mahler’s music, the ideas and the world view that it reflects either. Acquiring that takes a long time of study and immersion which he hasn’t had either….I have never heard Dudamel say anything about music deeper than “IS NICE MUSIC”.

            • DUDAMEL PART DEUX

            On Feb 8, 2011, 12:02 pm, M forever wrote:
            There isn’t anything even remotely “racist” about saying that this guy doesn’t seem to have to say much about the music he conducts, and that, btw, his English is pretty poor, too. Just shows his lack of education. There is no “racist” element there. “Racism” would be to say that he doesn’t have anything to say or he simply can not speak any foreign languages properly *because* he is a “Latino” or whatever.

            • DUDAMEL PART TROIS

            On Feb 8, 2011, 2:18 pm, M forever wrote:
            I don’t care whether or not Dudamel does his Mahler marathon in LA. I guess it will sell tickets and I agree that is a good thing for the orchestra. I just don’t think he is a very relevant interpreter of Mahler (or of most of the repertoire really), but if a clown like him is what is needed to get people to go to concerts in LA, I guess that is the way it is. Some people are just astonished by the lack of self-criticism and the arrogance of this young poser.


            On Feb 8, 2011, 9:21 am, M forever wrote:
            I said that he lacks the cultural background and that he has made apparently no efforts to acquire it while other people, e.g. Bernstein did….Bernstein could even hold very interesting lectures about music – even as a fairly young man – while all Dudamel ever says is “IS NICE MUSIC”.

          • Oscar, thank you for doing us all here this service. Having been subjected to this individual’s accusations and having tried, in vain, to sort out his logic, it is helpful to have this additional context. He does appear to be a good match for the VPO.

          • Btw, Andrew…Word has come down from the Mount — apparently your CSO is no match for the RAI.

            • ENSEMBLE CULTURE

            On Friday, October 12, 2012 12:02:53 AM, M forever wrote:
            European orchestras in general, no matter if they are from Russia, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, England etcetcetc all have that ensemble culture which is so sadly lacking in American orchestras.

          • Oh, absolutely! The font of objective knowledge has long made clear that neither Cleveland nor Chicago can approach the great symphonic culture and adherence to Austro-German culture of the Italian orchestras (plural).

          • Walter Delahunt says:

            Dear Mr Schaffer:

            I did indeed stay in Vienna for 16 years – from 1984-1997 on the faculty of the HOchschule für Musik and again from 2006-2009 as a freelancer.

            Yes, it is true that member of the VPO accepted me as a chamber music partner, as have many other musicians over my until now 35 year career.

            And why did I stay there? And why did I return? I’ll give you the brief answer………

            As you may know, music is a tough and largely underpaid business for us mortals who are not famous, to walk out on a secure job was not something I had the courage to do, until 13 years had passed. There are many of us who don’t always have the financial means to live exactly where we want, exactly when we want.

            Living in a place, making one’s living in a place does not require one to like the place.

            And why did I go back? It was better to live in Europe as a musician than it was to live in Ottawa, Canada as a musician and I had Austrian residency.

            I don’t make my life choices based on food or drink.

            That sums it up. As to the rest of my personal life, it will remain personal.

          • Walter Delahunt says:

            Dear Mr Schaffer:

            I just wanted to add that I was remiss in not having said that I think the VPO is a great orchestra.

            But whether the VPO is a great orchestra or not a great orchestra is, as I see it, not the substance of the matter at hand. I think very few people would disagree that it is a great orchestra. The matter at hand is a Nazi past and whether right-wing racist thinking is still prevalent in the orchestra.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Walter – thanks for your additional comments. I hope you didn’t find my questions too personal or too aggressive. They weren’t meant to be; but coming from me, I can easily see how it may have come across that way. :-)

            I like to ask probing questions – but only of those who think they occupy the moral high ground so they can comfortably point their righteous finger at others. And you are obviously not one of those. In fact, I agree 100% with your earlier comments about just that subject.

            Anyway, I was simply interested in hearing more from you about this subject because among the many here who have let loose on that, you are one of the very few who actually have some firsthand knowledge of the city, the culture, the people, the musicians. It’s also always interesting to hear about the experiences of someone who has actually undertaken the adventure and faced the challenges of living and working in a foreign country. Which most people haven’t. But they still feel entitled to their uninformed prejudices. And a discussion like this one here seems for many to be just an opportunity to unload such prejudices and feel better about their righteous selves.

            I can also empathize with your ambiguity about the place and culture you lived and worked in for many years. It’s a much more complex subject than many of those who have never done it can even begin to understand. I myself currently live in a place I don’t much care for (Boston…) but not for reasons of economic necessity, rather for reasons of personal loyalty to my employers. And the fact that I live in the US obviously means that quality of food and drink aren’t priorities in my career decisions either…but – just between you and me – you did love the quality of the food in Vienna, didn’t you ;-)

            As to the point you raised in your second reply – whether “right-wing racist thinking is still prevalent in the orchestra” – well, do you want to share your thoughts about that? I personally don’t think that is the case. Sure, our Austrian friends are a little quirky and backwards overall – certainly from the point of view of someone who is from Berlin like myself. And I am of course aware that they haven’t done nearly as much “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” down there as we have in Germany. And I have found some of the stuff that has been going on there politically somewhat alarming.

            Still, I am far less concerned about the somewhat anachronistic ways of the Wiener Philharmoniker which don’t really affect all that many people – after all, there are very few who are even potential candidates to play in that orchestra – than about a whole lot of far more serious political, economic, and cultural issues we are facing.
            Like, to stay close to the subject of cultural issues, the fact that we now have to start cutting down the cultural landscape in Germany (for instance the impending shutdown of the radio orchestra Baden-Baden und Freiburg) because we have to “bail out” whole countries which have their act far less together than our stuck-in-the-day-before-yesterday Austrian neighbors.

          • Patrick JW says:

            If the musicians in Vienna are discriminating against a potential candidate based on their ethnicity and not on their musical ability, then that’s racism. It’s not “quirky” or “anachronistic” or whatever euphemism you want to use. It is racism, pure and simple.

        • Thank you, WD, for the clarification of your words. There are several different tones, not only on this blog, but even in just this one thread. For example, your comments do not give the impression of a “high-ground tone”, do they? In any case, such generalizations are usually inaccurate.

          • Walter Delahunt says:

            I don’t know whether my give the impression of moral “high”ground”.

            I have my experiences, I understand my experiences in a certain way, I suppose and I guess I also have preferences, like most people.

            My point is a very simple one – as soon as one makes value judgements on people, one is on dangerous territory. And as I see things, I don’t know of a nation which has not committed atrocities at some time, therefore I wrote, in one comment, that I don’t know who can claim to be innocent.

            I’ve also met many very lovely people in Vienna, there are may things about Vienna which I like. Unfortunately, a racist tendency in the society is undeniable, a statement with which many Austrians agree. I simply prefer, for my own reasons, not to live there.

            Yes, there are several tones in a blog and in a thread. Certainly it must be within the realm of the acceptable to call one of them into question, without being guilty of generalisations.

          • Walter Delahunt says:

            Dear Mr. Schaffer:

            As to the presence or absence of right-wing racist thinking in the VPO –

            It is my belief that the VPO does not practise, at this point in history, institutionalised racism or anti-semitism.

            But based on my experience, I have concluded that there are racists in the orchestra.

            But as already intimated, I do not believe that the racist element in the orchestra has an influence, of which I’m aware, on the policies of the orchestra. Nor is the racist element viewed with, shall we say, undiluted favour.

            To put it bluntly an squarely, Austria has long chosen to put on the blinders to its past and be the victim of the Nazis. If I’m not mistaken, it was Bundeskanzler Vranitsky, who in 2000, changed this course, by saying that Austria had to own up to its Nazi past.

            The former mayor of Vienna, the late Helmut Zilk was a champion of diversity. He fought against xenophobia, made policies to include minorities and paid the price by opening a letter bomb, addressed to him by a right-wing neo-Nazi of some kind, which resulted in Zilk’s losing a hand. This horror had the effect of changing absolutely nothing in Zilk’s policy-making, for which he can only be admired, in my opinion.

            I prefer to distinguish between institutionalised racism and individual racism – not that I think one is less “verwerflich” than the other. But I do this because it does not necessarily follow that a society which includes racists will elect a racist government. Unfortunately, it also does not follow that a humane government will not have racist or discriminatory policies.

            I remember that in 1999 all hell broke loose in Austria when Jörg Haider’s FPÖ got either 24 or 26% of the popular vote. There were massive demonstrations and protests in Austria and international outrage and predictions of doom and renewed neo-Nazi activity. I don’t have first knowledge of happened in Austria as a result of all this, since at that time I no longer lived there. Only to say that some of my Austrian friends told me that the recism and xenophobia had gone underground and another friend, in fact a VPO violinist, told me he had been spat upon by someone in the U-Bahn because he is half-Japanese.

            But this 24 or 26% of the popular vote also means that 76 or 74% of the voters did NOT vote for Haider and his extremist right-wing agenda.

            Back to the VPO – a friend of mine in the orchestra once told me that he was disgusted by the behaviour of one of his colleagues at an airport – the colleague had apparently made snyde, mocking remarks about and smirked disdainfuly at an Hasidic Jew in the passport control queue.
            I am acquainted with one or two former members of the orchestra who have maintained that the Jews are a “world organisation” who have the music business in their hands and refuse to let non-Jews in. Ironically the very musicians who played under Barenboim, Solti, Bernstein and Kleiber.

            But to engage in what is dangerously close to gossip, I really must add that those individuals and their views are not taken particularly seriously, i.e viewed favourably, by the majority of the orchestra.

            I guess on balance, I would have to say that there are many levels and many facets to all this. The VPO is an arrogant institution, it is image-driven, the VPO is perfectly aware of its status in the music world and is committed to promoting its status. Not really surprising, since the classical music world is full of snobism and “class-consciousness”. And anyway, promotion is what makes the music business run. But it’s a long way from that to institutionalised racism and as stated, I don’t believe that the VPO practises institutionalised racism now.

  26. stanley cohen says:

    It says quite a lot for the general attitude of the Austrians that their response to a poll some 20 years ago was that they thought the Jews had too strong an influence over the media and in the corridors of power in Vienna, despite the fact that there were less than 8,000 Jews in the whole of the country. So ingrained are their feelings and animus against Jews. A similar poll in Warsaw some 15 years ago produced more or less the same reaction. Now tell me they don’t imbibe anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk and the whole matter is part of ancient history and inapplicable today.

    • Thomas D says:

      You would find the same attitude everywhere, also in the US. And unfortunately the recent financial crisis has just given a bit of real support to the otherwise unfounded phobia. Wall Street and London City investment banking is a dangerous parasite to civilized mankind, and Jews are overrepresented there. So can we blame simple people to not fall victim to the “correlation is not (yet) causation” fallacy?

  27. Surely the likes of Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Erich Kleiber, George Szell, Erich Leinsdorf and others,
    knew what was what with Austria, Vienna and the orchestra. How could they not? Yet they all returned after the war and worked with the VPO, the Staatsoper and plenty of other ensembles. Many other emmigrants would have returned had they been asked to. There is something about these matters that unhinges otherwise rational minds especially today 70 years later. Goodness me, people really are still capable of anything, no less nowadays than in those far away times.
    Also, Bernstein, Solti, Maazel, Levine et al would have had rather diminished careers had they not hurried off to Vienna to make music, and so transcend the good old ethnic perspective, which is the very least demanded of us all.

  28. José Bergher says:

    I take the liberty of placing here the same comment I placed for the article “The Vienna Philharmonic: ¿Instrumentos voluntarios del terror?”:

    If you want to read a wonderful article about Hugo Burghauser, president of the Vienna Philharmonic until 1938, here is a link:

  29. We’re all victims of the evil Nazi regime, still. There is discrimination everywhere. But lets not forget, anti- Semitism, homophobia, women’s rights, xenophobia was bubbling away long before Hitler arrived to exploit them.
    The VPO has lessons to learn, but I think we have to be careful about judging musicians of that period who were clearly exploited.

  30. When were you last in Vienna? There are huge immigrant communities – not to mention the Asians who make up one-third of the Conservatoire student body and pay the second salaries of many of the Vienna Philharmonic ‘professors’.

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