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‘Maestros complain Vienna Phil keeps changing musicians’ – ex-Salzburg boss

Gerard Mortier has taken a swipe at his former festival partners in the Vienna Philharmonic, saying several conductors refused to work at Salzburg again after facing a different set of players every time they rehearse. Interview here (auf Deutsch).

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  1. Claudio Abbado let Mortier down badly by cancelling Cosi and Tristan using the well known Vienna rotation system as an excuse, after he had been principal conductor at the State Opera for years and knew very well how the system worked. The Vienna Philharmonic’s modus operandi is not perfect and certainly very frustrating but it is their system for opera and has been in place for many years. Every conductor knows the system and can accept or not accept but for Abbado to have accepted and then cancel was unprofessional !

  2. The last sentence in Mortier’s interview: „Die Philharmoniker sollen sich nirgends um die Direktion bemühen, denn so geht´s nicht, meine Herrschaften.“

    Ironies in the last sentence on a couple levels.

    Anne Manson conducted at the Festival and thus listed the Philharmonic as one of the orchestra’s she had worked with. The orchestra published a press release denying she had worked with them. They said that in Salzburg they are the Salzburg Festival Orchestra and not the Vienna Philharmonic. Not only the musicians change, but even the name of the orchestra.

  3. Rattle did.

  4. Gonout Backson says:

    The answer to this is to be found in another phrase : “Zuvor hatte der Sprecher der Philharmoniker in einem interview Mortiers Arbeit bei den Salzburger Festspielen kritisiert.”

    • Pure Machtpolitik. The Wiener want more money and threaten to leave Salzburg. Seen this before…

  5. michael storrs says:

    I was at the last performance of Meistersinger last night in Salzburgh with the Vienna Phil playing under Daniele Gatti…while you might have hoped for a bit more more maestro energy this was an amazing show in every sense..Musically,cast and production. I never cease to be amazed at the level this Festival maintains and strives for. For the record on all printed material they are billed as the Weiner Philharmonica.

    • The Weiner Philharmonica?
      Think you need to check your spelling.

    • i think you mean WIENER PHILHARMONIKER!

    • Yup. They seemed to change their name according to whatever occasion suits them, but I notice that of late they are marketing the Vienna Phil name through the festival — unless a woman conducts them…

      • William,

        How many women have conducted the VPO (under any name) and is that (probably short) list at hand? I’m curious. Anne Manson, Sian Edwards… and?

        I know an American woman conductor who claimed for some time that she stepped in for Abbado in Boris Godunov at a performance at the Festspielhaus in the 1980s, but this juicy detail seems to have disappeared from her bio – funny.

        • Several years ago, Simone Young conducted the Vienna State Opera Orchestra (the Philharmonic’s operatic formation) when she was five months pregnant. (She was hired by the house’s administration, not the orchestra.) In 2005 Young conducted the Philharmonic in a proms type of concert in which the seats were removed and people stood. In an ironic touch, young women in pink gowns walked around distributing programs. There’s a report about Young being the first woman to conduct the Philharmonic here. Proms style or not, it was a substantial program:

          http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2005/11/09/1131407669716.html

          Anne Manson conducted the orchestra in its Salzburg Festspiel formation. This was before Young worked with them.

          I’m not sure Sian Edwards has conducted the Philharmonic, though she has worked with the Symphoniker. Another site says she also worked with the Austrian Radio Orchestra in Vienna, but people often confuse Vienna’s many orchestras. Do you have documentation of Edwards working with the Philharmonic?

          So Manson and Young have worked with them under unusual circumstances — not regular concerts. I think that’s all, though it’s possible I have missed someone. (If I have, perhaps someone can bring us up to date.) I hope a woman will soon conduct a regular concert of the Philharmonic. It would be good for the orchestra and its image.

        • Simone Young at the Vienna State Opera.

          http://www.wiener-staatsoper.at/Content.Node/home/kuenstler/dirigenten/Young.de.php

          She conducted at Ioan Holender´s Farewell Concert in 2010 and also during the 2011/2012 Season.

        • Theodore McGuiver says:

          It was Anne Manson, jumping in for Abbado.

          • Apologies both of you – I confused Anne Manson with another conductor, and thanks William for the clarity on Sian Edwards. I’m not sure where I got the idea.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        “…of late they are marketing the Vienna Phil name through the festival”?

        Nonsense. The Wiener Philharmoniker have appeared in Salzburg as Wiener Philharmoniker since the 1920s. Why would they change their name? There is no bigger “name brand” in the world of classical music than “Wiener Philharmoniker. And they don’t exactly need to “market” that name through the festival. If anything, it’s the other way around. They don’t change their name if a woman conducts them, rare as that is. You seem to be simply making up stuff more and more lately.

        • Anne Manson conducted at the Salzburg Festspiel in 1994. This was before newspapers had web versions. My copy of the press release is on paper. The press release went on to explain that the Philharmonic chooses its own conductors but that conductors are assigned to the Festspiel Orchester by the Festival’s administration. The person who prepared the release was the Philharmonic’s press-speaker, Wolfgang Schuster who was a percussionist in the orchestra – now retired.

          This is completely consistent with the orchestra’s behavior. To this day, they make very clear distinctions between the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic, even though the personnel is identical, minus a small number of members who have not yet been tenured into full Philharmonic membership.

          I’m in the USA now and my Philharmonic files in Germany. We are all aware of your obsessive and often ranting commitment to protecting the honor and superiority of the Pan-Germanic Brotherhood, but I won’t be back to Germany until October, at which time I will publish the bibliographic reference. I understand, however, that it will be difficult for you to contain your fervent sense of patriotic duty until then and that additional jeering and ranting will be coming in the service of all things Germanic. (I hope the readers will forgive me if I just continue to ignore his crude and prideful polemic.)

          For those interested, on January 28, 1997, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” interviewed Manson about conducting the Philharmonic. Here is a transcript:

          Lead in by Bob Edwards.

          ALEX CHADWICK, HOST: In Austria, changing times
          for members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
          For the first time in 155 years, members of the
          orchestra have voted to allow women to join them.
          The first woman was voted in yesterday.

          The orchestra, which starts a U.S. tour on
          Sunday, has been under pressure from the Austrian
          government and woman’s rights groups.

          From Berlin, Dan Charles reports.

          DAN CHARLES, REPORTER: Woman occupy about a third
          of the chairs in the top 20 symphony orchestras
          of the United States. In the birth place of
          classical music though, Continental Europe, even
          though more than half of all music students are
          women, the most prestigious symphony orchestras
          still are mostly male.

          CHARLES: The Vienna Philharmonic, one of the most
          prominent of them all, has remained an all-male
          bastion throughout its 155-year history. The
          orchestra never had faced a female conductor
          until two and half years ago, when American Anne
          Manson filled in at the last minute for a
          colleague who’d fallen ill.

          ANN MANSON, CONDUCTOR: There was a lot of giggling…

          LAUGHTER

          MANSON: … when I first stood up on the podium.
          I mean, think that they really didn’t know
          whether this was going to be serious or not.

          CHARLES: But, the rehearsal went well. These are
          extraordinary musicians, she says, and very easy
          to work with.

          MANSON: It was the first time that I had worked
          with an orchestra that really did what I showed
          with my hands. They were brilliant at adjusting
          to a new conductor in a very big and long piece,
          and I felt a huge sense of freedom that I could
          really do what I wanted and they really came with
          me.

          CHARLES: Unlike other orchestras, the Vienna
          Philharmonic is self- governing association of
          musicians, like partners in a law firm, the
          musicians decide among themselves how they’ll
          divide up their income, where they will perform,
          and whom they will allow to join.

          One woman, Anna Lelkes, has played the harp
          with the Philharmonic for 27 years now, but
          always anonymously. Her name does not appear in
          the concert program, and when performances are
          televised, only her hands are shown never her
          face. Lelkes declined to be interviewed for this
          story.

          The orchestras refusal to admit women is under
          fierce attack, it’s also become a continuous
          issue within the orchestra. Again, American
          Conductor Ann Manson.

          MANSON: I mean, I know that their feeling is very
          strong on one side and the other…

          LAUGHTER

          MANSON: … I’ve heard stories about members of
          the orchestra virtually not speaking.

          [In the rest of the program, the Philharmonic’s press-speaker, Wolfgang Schuster explains that women make music differently and why they don’t belong in the orchestra.]

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            william osborne says:
            August 28, 2013 at 8:19 pm

            “I’m in the USA now and my Philharmonic files in Germany. We are all aware of your obsessive and often ranting commitment to protecting the honor and superiority of the Pan-Germanic Brotherhood, but I won’t be back to Germany until October, at which time I will publish the bibliographic reference. I understand, however, that it will be difficult for you to contain your fervent sense of patriotic duty until then and that additional jeering and ranting will be coming in the service of all things Germanic. (I hope the readers will forgive me if I just continue to ignore his crude and prideful polemic.)”

            OK – so you don’t have the source. Strange, since you so obsessively collect and publish stuff like that on your website. In any case, you don’t have it.

            There is no need to resort to these crude ad hominem attacks in which you try to smear me as an obsessive nationalist in the crudest manner, simply because I caught you making up and twisting stuff yet again, to play to the expectations of your mostly English speaking audience. Insulting someone in the way you insult me here, with that kind of vocabulary plays to these same expectations and xenophobic prejudices.
            There is nothing obsessive or ranting in the posts of mine you replied to here. I just clarified facts you got wrong – once again – and asked for sources. That’s it. I think it is really clear now that you trade in crude generalizations when it comes to these subjects, and all that just for the purpose of gaining attention to yourself.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            william osborne says:
            August 28, 2013 at 8:19 pm

            “MANSON: … when I first stood up on the podium.
            I mean, think that they really didn’t know
            whether this was going to be serious or not.

            CHARLES: But, the rehearsal went well. These are
            extraordinary musicians, she says, and very easy
            to work with.

            MANSON: It was the first time that I had worked
            with an orchestra that really did what I showed
            with my hands. They were brilliant at adjusting
            to a new conductor in a very big and long piece,
            and I felt a huge sense of freedom that I could
            really do what I wanted and they really came with
            me.”

            And…uh…exactly how does that show the orchestra in a bad light now? Is it simply that they are Austrians?

          • stanley cohen says:

            It makes me wonder about the truth of a story I heard some time ago – the Concertmaster of the Vienna Phil was being interviewed on Austrian TV on the occasion of the band’s 150th Anniversary.

            INTERVIEWER: Maestro, how is it that the orchestra manages to maintain the same beautiful warmth and richness of tone irrespective of which conductor is standing on the rostrum?

            CONCERTMASTER: We don’t look up…

          • And then there’s the part you cut about how they giggled when she stepped onto the podium. Nevermind, you will protect the honor of the Vaterland…

          • Here’s the rest of the interview, which is far worse, and will no doubt further exercise Mr. Schaffer in his obsessive defenses of the Vaterland:

            DAN CHARLES: The orchestra’s spokesman and its
            percussionist, is Wolfgang Schuster. He’s
            played with the Philharmonic for 30 years. His
            father was the orchestra’s percussionist before
            him.

            The problem with admitting women, he says, has
            been Austria’s strict laws governing maternity
            leave. A women can stay home for up to two years
            after the birth of a child without losing her
            job. Schuster says for an orchestra in which
            every member has to maintain world class skills,
            that’s unacceptable.

            When pressed, he admits, some members may have had artistic concerns as well.

            WOLFGANG SCHUSTER, PHILHARMONIC PERCUSSIONIST
            (VIA TRANSLATOR): Many musicians, even if they
            won’t admit it, secretly believe — I know three
            things conductors who say this — there’s a
            difference in the sound produced by a man and a
            woman.

            CHARLES: It’s not necessarily an inferior sound,
            Schuster hastens to say, just different. But, he
            also speaks of musicians that have a feminine
            sound, lacking the attack and strength that the
            orchestra wants.

            Hans Novak (ph), formerly a first violinist with
            the Philharmonic, is more blunt. He played with
            the orchestra from 1945 until he retired in 1986.
            It’s not a question of musical abilities, he
            says, it’s other things. Women are prone to feuds
            and quarrels, he says.

            HANS NOVAK, FORMER FIRST VIOLINIST WITH THE
            PHILHARMONIC (VIA TRANSLATOR): And you can have
            people falling in love with each other and all
            kind of jealousies. We’ve got colleagues in other
            orchestras, the Vienna Symphony, for example, has
            women and they say “don’t touch this one, don’t
            let women into the orchestra.”

            CHARLES: Elenaa Ostleitner has been
            fighting these attitudes for 20 years. She
            teaches at Vienna’s Music Academy and has led
            the campaign to end the Philharmonic’s ban on
            women.

            First of all, she says, it’s ridiculous to think
            there’s any difference in the musical
            performances of woman and men.

            Elena Ostleitner, TEACHER AT VIENNA’S MUSIC
            ACADEMY: It’s not true, it’s absolutely not true,
            and I’m sure if a woman is playing behind a
            curtain they won’t notice it, you cannot hear it,
            impossible.

            CHARLES: She says the other arguments against
            admitting women are equally disingenuous.
            Regarding the prospect of extended maternity
            leaves, Ostleitner says, studies show women
            who’ve climbed to the top of their professions
            rarely take long maternity leaves, if they have
            children at all.

            In the end, it was not so much these arguments as
            political pressure that settled the issue. The
            most direct challenge came from the Austrian
            government.

            In recent months, government officials from the
            Austrian chancellor on down have been telling the
            Vienna Philharmonic in public and in private, it
            should not and legally can not close itself off
            from half of the creative potential of the human
            race.

            The government has a good bit of leverage because
            even though the Philharmonic is a private
            association, the musicians are also members of
            the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, and as such are
            government employees.

            So, twice during the last two weeks, the full
            orchestra spent most of the day debating the
            issue.

            At a morning rehearsal before the first of these
            meetings, there was no hint of tension in the
            air. The musicians, mostly young and casually
            dressed, chatted amiably before they began to
            play.

            CHARLES: Conducting them was a visibly pregnant
            woman, Simone Young, an Australian who has
            appeared with the orchestra frequently over the
            last year.

            The meetings that followed may have been more
            contentious. When the last of them ended
            yesterday afternoon, the musicians avoided
            comment.

            Orchestra Spokesman Wolfgang Schuster, read a short prepared statement.

            SCHUSTER READING A STATEMENT

            CHARLES: “From now on,” he said, “there will be
            no distinction between men and women in the
            orchestra.” As a sign of the change Anna Lelkes,
            the harpist whose been playing with the orchestra
            for the last 27 years, has been accepted as the
            member of a Vienna Philharmonic.

            Elena Ostleitner, from Vienna’s Music Academy,
            is thrilled about yesterday’s decision, but she
            also says attitudes won’t change over night. The
            first women auditioning for a place in the Vienna
            Philharmonic still will encounter considerable
            prejudice from the male judges, she says.

          • BTW, the predictions of Prof. Elena Ostleitner and others in the above interview that women would continue to face discrimination in the Philharmonic turned out to be very accurate. It was another 10 years before the Philharmonic allowed a non-harpist woman to become a member. That was in 2007. Sorry, Mr. Schaffer, I know how upsetting this is for you.

          • Mr. Osborne, as an interested reader I want to tell you, that your ad hominem attacks at Mr. Schaffer and your ridiculous “Pan-Germanic brotherhood” remarks damage your reputation and make you look silly. Stick to the issues and you will be respected. Just my 2 cents.

          • I too suggest the ad hominen attacks stop, and as past posts thoroughly demonstrate, this applies to no one more than Michael Schaffer. For an explanation of “David H.’s” sudden and one-sided concern about this issue, see this debate we had about GEMA on Slipped Disk where we strongly disagreed:

            http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/08/germans-cant-get-youtube-but-vevos-coming-their-way.html

          • Bill, I’m sorry to say, but David H. is spot on IMHO. It would be really good if you would simply disagree with others without going into unnecessary rants and warfare. You might even discover that in many cases there is a basic consensus which is far more profound and important than the disagreement over some detail or a particular argument. Best regards!

          • So, dear Gerhard, let’s make it a two-way street that includes Michael Schaffer.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            william osborne says:
            August 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm

            “I too suggest the ad hominen attacks stop, and as past posts thoroughly demonstrate, this applies to no one more than Michael Schaffer.”

            Except that I haven’t attacked you personally, I just pointed out where you provided inaccurate, sometimes outright wrong, and often severely twisted information. I understand that you see that as a personal attack because you just want to sit on your very high horse and spray paint everything and everyone with the many “-isms” and “-ists” that you throw around indiscriminately. For you, every behavior is some kind of “-ism”, and everybody is some kind of “-ist”. Maybe that’s simply how your mind works, maybe you just have to categorize everything and everyone in such crude ways. Maybe that’s why you can not distinguish between a particular issue which occurs in a particular organization in a particular country and the country as a whole, so you think if I disagree with you, that means I want to “defend the Vaterland”.
            I don’t think in such generalized nationalist terms, but you obviously do. It is obvious from almost every single one of your posts, and the broadly generalized way in which you link everything and everyone to one of your many “-isms”, perhaps to lend your “argument” more “weight”.

            That whole “ism/ist” thing of yours is so boring, so inaccurate, so 1970s…

            I looked at the GEMA discussion in which you and David H. indeed disagreed on a number of points, but I don’t see him attacking you in any way which comes close to the way you try to smear me and others as nationalists and racists (or any of your other “-ists”) when we disagree with you. In fact, this example provided by you proves that you see any kind of disagreement with your views by anyone as a personal attack. Time to come down from your high horse, I think.

          • Complete nonsense. Your post is yet another example of an ad hominen attack. The concerns about sexism in German-speaking orchestras is entirely justified and based on unquestionable factual evidence which you rarely address. You resent these criticism and instead attack me personally. And in this you are being backed up by two other Germans who comment here with obvious nationalistic bias. I am all for stopping these types of attacks and will stop when you do.

          • Greg Hlatky says:

            No dog in this hunt but the answer to this continuing debate is simple, thanks to more advanced thinking in these matters. Half the members of the Vienna Philharmonic should say that henceforth they should be called “Chelsea” and that they identify as women. Problem solved!

      • No, they have been billed there as Wiener Philharmoniker ever since there is a Salzburg Festival.
        But Mortier is right, obviously. They are the least interesting orchestra to hear in Salzburg. I heard them 3 times this year: The Meistersinger were awful, Falstaff and the Mehta concert just OK (=level of any middle or big opera house orchestra anywhere in the world), while I heard tremendous concerts by Mozarteum-Orchester, Camerata, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Gustav-Mahler-Jugendorchester. Wiener Philharmoniker are a myth, a trademark, not a good orchestra

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          …but they still constantly manage to fool most of the classical music world into believing they are not just a good, but even a great orchestra. Some even call them the best. Not you though, they couldn’t fool you! But – just how do they do it? What is the secret? Is it a conspiracy?

          • Well, they certainly don’t “fool” people as well as you think… Just look at the press on their Salzburg performances this summer.
            But it’s a reality that marketing is strong in classical music as well as everywhere in the world. Do I have to cite names?

        • I, too, would be pretty surprised to see any proof the VPO billed itself as any other name — in a concert setting (“Vienna State Opera” performances notwithstanding). I think I’ll look forward to seeing that substantiated before I can go along with it.

          • The press release by Wolfgang Schuster (the orchestra’s press secretary) claiming Manson only conducted the Festspiel Orchestra and not the Philharmonic is *absolutely* true and I still have a copy. It was given to me by a colleague of my wife’s at the Musikhochschule Trossingen, Gerhard Wolf, who spotted it in a Bavarian newspaper, but as I say, it will be October before I have access to my files and can give the bibliographic information.

            BTW, the first woman to lead the Philharmonic was Carmen Studer Weingartner. She was the wife of the Philharmonic’s General Music Director in 1935, Felix Weingartner. With Weingartner, Manson, and Young, that’s 3 women since 1935.

    • Well, it is really funny in the music world that with some conductors the results are brilliant but they do not receive credit for it and others where the playing is average but they are hailed as brilliant and so on…

  6. John Colvin says:

    Is there a kind soul who can please supply a translation of the deutsch in the first post that Mr Osborne made today?

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      “Die Philharmoniker sollen sich nirgends um die Direktion bemühen, denn so geht´s nicht, meine Herrschaften.“

      That’s a little hard to translate word for word because it’s not particularly good German, but basically, it means “the Philharmoniker should stay out of choosing (or influencing the choice of) directorship (or management) because that’s not how things are done (or how things work out), gentlemen”. Something like that. He is referring to what he considers the very bad work of Dominique Meyer as director of the Vienna opera and blaming them for contributing to Meyer’s nomination, so he is saying they should stay out of choosing a new director for the Salzburg festival. But it’s really none of his business anymore, as far as I can tell.

  7. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Didn’t Carlos Kleiber have a serious problem with this rotation system?

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      He did, but then he had serious problems with pretty much any aspect of the repertoire theater system. But then again, he spent most of his career based at repertoire houses such as Stuttgart and Munich, with occasional excursions to Vienna (also repertoire), London, Milano, New York (the latter mostly stagione houses, I think). He often requested, and often, but not always, got a non-rotating ensemble and orchestra for the productions he conducted and sometimes he didn’t have a problem when he didn’t get that, and sometimes he still had a problem when he did. Then again, in Munich (where he lived), he sometimes stepped in at short notice and without rehearsal for other indisposed conductors, if he felt like it. The repertoire system has advantages and disadvantages. It can be a good thing to have a number of repertoire productions on the stove in each season and rotate them rather than deliver a block of performances of the same piece and then move on to another one. It can lead to routine runthroughs where everything is played safe, or it can lead to very lively and spontaneous performances. Sometimes it is a good thing not to have everything rehearsed down to the last detail and then just delivered in the performance. It all depends on the conductor, the cast, the chemistry. What it really comes down to is a good ensemble which knows the repertoire and each other well and lives with it, develops it over time.

      That is where the major problem is. It is with the decline of stable ensembles, conductors and vocal stars just flying in for a quick set of performances in productions they often don’t know very well (or at all). The problem is usually least with the local ensemble and orchestra, even if the latter rotate between nights and pieces. In such houses, the orchestras know the repertoire more or less in their sleep, so it doesn’t matter much if they rotate, as long as on the evening, there is a conductor there who knows his stuff and who can lead them and the singers in a coherent vision of the piece.

      That, BTW, seems to me to have been the major problem with the Eschenbach thing in Salzburg. He is a very good musician, and it would probably be unfair to call him a bad conductor even though his ideas may sometimes be idiosyncratic or quirky. But what he really doesn’t seem to be is a conductor who has that deep repertoire theater experience, somebody who can just step in and take over and still deliver a strong, coherent performance.
      I understand he stepped in at fairly short notice for Welser-Möst, and that was probably a bad decision by the festival management. Rather than getting some (more or less) “big name” like Eschenbach who doesn’t have that kind of experience and gambling on him pulling it off, they should have gotten one of the many highly experienced “Kapellmeister” that can still be found in the repertoire system, condcutors who may not be glitzy stars but who know all the “tricks of the trade” and who can deliver under such circumstances. Somebody like Peter Schneider who took over in Bayreuth when Solti bowed out of the Ring even though he was not a “star conductor” at the time.

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        @Michael Schaffer: Great post, thanks. Peter Schneider seems to have spent his entire working life being the excellent, reliable Kapellmeister. I assisted him recently on a production and his knowledge was incredible, the affection he inspired in the (very good and famous) orchestra tangible. What came through most, though, was his modesty and his readiness to praise others. The musical world needs more like him and fewer floppy-haired instant celeb stick-wagglers of dubious theatrical suitability, no matter how many people they convince in the concert hall.

        You’re right concerning the house ensembles. A quick look at Munich in the 1980′s will show how high the bar was set, with Peter Seiffert, Julia Varady, Richard Trimborn as Studienleiter etc. Windgassen spent pretty much the whole season in Stuttgart, I believe, before his Bayreuth summer spells. Such days are gone, and, with them, centres of excellence. The Staatsoper in Berlin seems to maintain a certain standard, but is that just because of Barenboim attracting the best apprentices?

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Probably a combination of the personality of the MD, the prestige of the house and the location, and let’s not forget that they also pay better than most of the smaller houses.

    • All conductors have problems with it. The system is a subconscious power game, it tells the conductor that he is below the orchestra.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        I guess the system can be abused for power games, but I don’t think that’s the reason for its existence. It’s simply the practical reality of running a repertoire house.
        Let’s take a look at the repertoire of a big opera house in just one season. For instance, at the state opera in Vienna, this season they have 51 different operas (!) in the repertoire, plus 8 different ballets which are performed on 233 evenings of opera and 51 evenings of ballet. They constantly rotate the repertoire, playing a different program every night (although some works are kind of “clustered” in parts of the season, meaning one opera may come more often during one period of the season and the be performed every 3,4,5 days or so, so the soloists who sing in them will mostly be in town during that period).
        Now remember that these works can call for orchestras of wildly different sizes, from maybe 40 to over 100 for specific works, and the instrumentation, especially in the winds, can vary wildly, too. Even with a large orchestra such as they have (146 or so musicians), you simply can not schedule them so that you have the same musician on the same seat in the same opera every time it occurs. Plus they may fall ill, need to take some time off, substitutes may need to get hired, etc. So, it’s just not possible to maintain a repertoire system without rotation.
        A plus side of this is that it also is great training system for the musicians. When they join an opera orchestra, they need to learn a large repertoire, and they need to learn to sight read and react very flexibly to various conductors because no night is ever even nearly the same. The repertoire system is also a great way to “rotate in” young musicians. Because in most cases, the first times they play a work that is new to them, they sit next to highly seasoned musicians who have played the same piece maybe hundreds of times. That’s why such opera orchestras are often among the most flexible and quick-reacting orchestras.

  8. stanley cohen says:

    “Facing different musicians?” Back in 1987, Operas on Original Sites booked my chorus and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a number of performances of Verdi’s Nabucco at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem. After one rehearsal the gig was cancelled after Yasser Arafat started the first Intifada. Both choir and Orchestra had been paid a 50% deposit and on hearing of the cancellation applied for the other half. The choir received theirs but a clever fella at OOS noticed that the RPO’s schedule in London showed them performing at the same time as they were meant to be playing in Jerusalem. A long drawn out battle ensued in which the band claimed they had ‘special musicians’ for opera and OOS claimed that that was BS. Eventually the RPO were forced to return their 50% deposit.

  9. stanley cohen says:

    Plus c’a change – Mahler complained of the same thing with this orchestra.

  10. Reminds me of a story Andre Previn used to tell in 1980s. Apparently, while working with one of London orchestras, he noticed that he was facing different musicians at every rehearsal. After the final rehearsal he approached one musician who was there at all rehearsals and thank him for his loyalty, to which the musician replied, “thank you maestro, but unfortunately I am not going to play the concert”.

  11. Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    OK folks, let’s call things by their real name here: the Vienna Phil is a petulent and arrogant bunch. They are good, if they want to be, and sometimes even very good, and they know it. That knowledge is exactly their problem. I eagerly await the news from Salzburg that they will not perform there. It will improve things remarkably. As I said in another discussion on another topic on this site, there are plenty equally good and even better bands around, the members of which are indeed the same ones as those who did rehearse – without the need to rename their orchestra depending on the venue or festival at which they happen to be playing. Regarding the rotation system: read Claus Helmut Drese’s book: “Im Palast der Gefuehle. Erfahrungen und Enthuellungen eines Wiener Operndirektors” (auf Deutsch) – one wonders if in Vienna there is any opera night at any given time at which the conductor does not enter the pit only to discover that the people sitting in front of him are not the ones with whom he has rehearsed. Gustav Mahler aptly called it “Schlendrian”. “Wien, Wien, nur du allein….”

    • I fixed it for you:

      “OK folks, let’s call things by their real name here: The [insert world top 10 orchestra of your choice] is a petulent and arrogant bunch. They are good, if they want to be, and sometimes even very good, and they know it. That knowledge is exactly their problem.

    • stanley cohen says:

      I thought he called it ‘Schlamperei,’ Edgar.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:
      August 29, 2013 at 4:04 am

      “Wien, Wien, nur du allein….”

      On the contrary, those aren’t Vienna-specific problems at all. They have these problems in virtually every opera house which practices the repertoire system. And in the ones which practice the stagione system, they have other problems specific to that system.
      I wrote two rather lengthy posts about the realities, the advantages and disadvantages of the repertoire system in this thread which you may or may not find informative.

  12. Due to the multiple playing commitments of its members, an English orchestra had several musicians who were absent at each rehearsal for an upcoming concert. As a matter of fact, every player in the orchestra had missed rehearsals, except for the principal oboe player. Finally, as the dress rehearsal drew to a close, the guest conductor took a moment to thank the oboist for her faithful attendance. She quietly responded “It’s the least I could do, since I can’t make the performance.”

  13. mortier is an old fart and a caricature of his former self, lots of blablabla, he IS responsible for a lot of what’s going wrong in the oepratic world today by placing some of his “Huggies” in important positions all over europe. It’s time for him to retire, a big balloon of air with no substance.
    Yet i have to admit he knows a lot about opera from the days he worked as a music critic and praised Gigli:) and this is not a joke, he even liked Puccini and lehar back then……

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