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Slipped Disc editorial: Vienna Symphony needs to understand ‘sexist, racist’ leaks

A letter has gone out to members of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra ordering them not to discuss the reasons for Jasmine Choi’s controversial departure as principal flute, or to communicate with Slipped Disc. Needless to add, the letter reached us within hours.

Sample quote: Meinung Sie vertreten, muss INTERN bleiben, eine öffentliche Auseinandersetzung wird nur dem Orchester wie auch Jasmine Choi schaden. Ich muss auch darauf hinweisen, dass diese Nachricht vertraulichen Charakter hat und keinesfalls dazu bestimmt ist, an Dritte oder Personen außerhalb des Orchesters weitergegeben zu werden.

It is a mark of the deep divisions provoked by Jasmine Choi’s denial of tenure that the matter has become public. In any other society, it might have been dismissed as a  minor tiff, a perfectly normal incompatibility between a principal player and other parts of the orchestra. In Vienna, with embedded discrimination at the Philharmonic and a long history of malice towards minorities, the issue is sensitive and inflammatory.

Plainly, the VSO wished to demonstrate its open and egalitarian character – its distance from the Philharmonic – by hiring Jasmine Choi a year ago. By removing her now in a 2-1 vote, it suggests that the openness was illusory, the distance non-existent.

But that, too, is a distortion. Jasmine Choi has friends and supporters within the orchestra. Their willingness to speak out against the majority is much to be applauded. It gives a healthier and more positive dimension to the ensemble than the official attempt to bury heads in shifting sands.

Jasmine, a star performer, will quickly find another job. The VSO would do well to advertise its democracy and celebrate its dissenters.




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  1. Gary Carpenter says:

    Gives added frisson to the term ‘whistleblower’.

  2. Dear Mr Lebrecht

    I am not surprised my message to our musicians ended up in your blog. In English, the translation of the main sentence would be “Every discussion, regardless of what side you are on, must remain INTERNAL; a public discussion will only damage the orchestra as well as Jasmine Choi.” This is what I indeed believe, and I suppose almost every orchestra manager would share my view.

    Of course, the decision regarding Jasmine Choi will be subject to further discussions within our orchestra. No-one denies this; on the contrary, we take all of this very seriously. However, I strongly believe, – and I truly do so – that the decision against Ms Choi’s tenure as such was not based on racist or sexist motives. We do not know the individual motives to vote against Ms Choi (they will have been all kinds of different motives) but I have no doubt that the vast majority of those voting “no” did so on musical grounds. For your information, there has never been an official meeting (and no meeting at all in my presence) in which the feedback Ms Choi quotes was given. I am sure she has received all kinds of feedback, negative and not so helpful as well as positive and well-meaning.

    I still think (as most people in the orchestra) that Jasmine Choi is a superb flutist and we very much hope she will soon play on a principal position in a major orchestra that is a better match for her.

    Mr Lebrecht, I am convinced that your intentions are honourable. But I am also convinced that quite a bit of the discussion in your blog was counter-productive. I can hardly believe (and I am not Austrian myself) that a whole orchestra, a whole city and country is denounced racist and sexist (some postings went even further) because the musicians of the Vienna Symphony voted against the tenure of their female Korean principal flutist after her trial year. We are certainly not perfect. Neither are we what you see in us.

    With best wishes
    Johannes Neubert

    • Anonymous says:

      Mr Neubert, we can all appreciate your frequent, honest responses. I, for one, will give you and the orchestra the benefit of the doubt that the decision was based on musical and chemistry reasons. I have performed with Jasmine in the States on several occasions and know her to be a superb musician, but we all know that not every ensemble is the right fit for every player, regardless of their artistic level.

      Here is the issue, however–because of the abysmal past of the VSO and VPO with regards to hiring women and minorities, the majority of the musical world will likely NOT give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to your hiring practices. Vienna’s decades upon decades of rampant discrimination have opened the city’s orchestras to intense scrutiny, especially in this age of social media and blogging. To this effect, I’m not sure either orchestra deserves any sympathy for negative attention. The VSO and VPO made their beds for quite some time, perhaps they will finally have to lie in them.

  3. Alexander Hall says:

    It is dangerous to assume a nasty racist, xenophobic or misogynistic attitude amongst most – but clearly not all – members of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The simple fact is that sometimes the personal chemistry is mostly negative and that outweighs any musical considerations. I am reminded of the incident that caused the fatal rift in the relationship between Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. In the mid 1980s he wanted Sabine Meyer as principal clarinet; the orchestra said “no”. You only have to look at her illustrious career since then to realise that Karajan was spot on and the orchestra hopelessly wrong.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      Having a successful solo career and having a successful tenure as a principal woodwind player are two different career paths. You can’t say that the orchestra was wrong not accepting her as a principal clarinet, because she had a successful solo career afterwards. Apples and oranges.
      We don’t know if she would have been successful and satisfied herself had she won the orchestra’s approval. Sometimes things happen for a reason. It might have saved her a lot of frustration after all.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        You have a rather blinkered awareness of what you call “career paths”. Sabine Meyer has been principal clarinet in Claudio Abbado’s Lucerne Festival Orchestra for many years. Being a soloist does not preclude a later career as an orchestral principal – or vice-versa – as dozens of examples drawn from the London orchestras alone will show.

        • Jim Miller says:

          I think it’s worth noting that, though she is a superb flutist, Jasmine Choi is not the same caliber of artist as the great Sabine Meyer. I think the links between the stories of these two women are tenuous, at best.

          • Alexander Hall says:

            You may feel the links are tenuous. I do not, otherwise I would not have made the comparison. The key issue that I addressed is why a musician of standing is not deemed to fit in within an ensemble. We are talking here about personal chemistry and the way in which a group of human beings who ultimately have the right to choose a prospective colleague are very often driven by non-musical considerations. I am sorry you failed to understand this point.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            A “musician of standing” in what? With whom? “Standing” is exactly non-musical. You are contradicting yourself.

          • Then most obvious connection between Sabine Meyer and Jasmine Choi is that they both duck, dive and swoop to an alarming, even ludicrous, extent – expressive for a soloist perhaps but most off-putting for other orchestral players.

          • I’m sorry Jim, but I’m afraid that are very real parallels between the issues of Sabine Meyer and the Berlin PO in the 1980′s, with Jasmine Choi and the Vienna SO in 2013. One of the key issues in this article is perceived gender-bias – when Ms Meyer was granted a probationary year as principle clarinetist of the BPO in 1982, she would have been the only female member of that orchestra, a point which became rather relevant when the orchestra subsequently decided to vote against her being taken on permanently, much to the surprise of many, including of course, Herbert von Karajan. Whether Ms Choi subsequently goes on to have a career as illustrious as Ms Meyer has is irrelevant – the point is that the male dominated VSO has voted against a musician on alleged extra-musical grounds, therefore the parallels thirty years after the Meyer/BPO affair are depressingly real.

  4. Typical of the orchestra and the culture. Well done to them for speaking out but it’s not nice.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      Yes, typical. Typical that they decided she is not a good fit musically for them.

  5. Theodore McGuiver says:

    I saw the VSO in Bregenz the other week. Plenty of players from elsewhere in their ranks, so let’s forget this ‘illusory’ nonsense.

    If this type of bullying continues, orchestras, fearful of the persistent politically correct backlash if recruits are not given tenure, will stop hiring visibly different players altogether, and that really would be a step backwards.

  6. Samuel Adler says:

    I’m getting a strong feeling of deception as this story develops on this site. There seems to be a bit too much 007 action for this to be as it appears.
    Besides, if there really was such a horrible injustice done, the best course of action would be to ignore them, not to get them all this free publicity. They’re certainly not going to influence other orchestra’s to behave this way, so no chance of spreading this injustice. An 80+ year-old orchestra is going to do what they feel is best anyway. I doubt shoddy police work will do anything other than define sides.

  7. Samuel Weiss says:

    The way Johannes Neubert has handled the situation is admirable. His responsiveness and his transparent way of communicating is in line with his excellent reputation here in Vienna. Mr Lebrecht’s premise that there must be something rotten in Austria where in similar cases we trust the orchestra’s integrity is oversimplying, misleading and borders on a smear campaign. Mr Lebrecht’s intentions may be honourable, but a few of us would like to see a more balanced commentatorship on slipped disc.
    A few people seem to be grimly determined to expose the VSO as something it is not. I think it is our responsibility to look carefully what is evidence what are assumptions. The VSO are an excellent orchestra, live in the here and now and certainly don’t deserve to be held hostage for their fathers’ crimes.
    Mr Lebrecht employs much empathy to defend musicians elsewhere, but in this case the VSO
    is singled out for special persecution whose only provable crime was to have Vienna in front of Symphony Orchestra (referring to the many remarks “Vienna? Typical.”).
    Please end the trench warfare.

  8. Too many of the see no evil in Vienna writers neglect the fact that it was members of the orchestra who brought the racist, sexist motives behind Ms. Choi’s dismissal to Norman Lebrecht’s attention. These members were present at the closed door discussions. They heard the comments made by their colleagues. This is not pure imaginary bigotry. The Vienna Symphony has lost a superb musician who could have been one of its greatest assets. In the twenty-first century for these attitudes to persist is doubly tragic.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you. I feel that many have second or third hand information which would put all the doubts to rest but are understandably uncomfortable with sharing. I wouldn’t want to risk my job and career either. But your post gives me the reassurance that there are indeed people who are informed and who know that something is not right, and that it’s a matter of time before we get the full picture. Thank you.

    • You should know, that every orchestra, like pretty much any company, has the one or the other employee who is interested in getting someone from the management be shown in bad light.

      Fact is, no orchestra, no company is forced to extend trial contracts. And it is no-ones businees, but the employers to decide, whom they want to employ.

      I recently had an interview candidate tell me, that she shall be hired, because our team predominantly has male members. I lost interest in whatever strenghts she brings to the table, as I can’t stand dealing with sexism issues, as I couldn’t care less if my workers wear a skirt or trousers – ah yeah sexism of course, not all man were kilts.

      Being female or male is no reason to ask for employment, it is purely and simply my decision as a boss whom I want in my team or not. In this particular case I hired a woman – but not one who felt she should get the job, because she is female.

      And in regards to this ex-Vienna flautist. To my knowledge she didn’t bother to learn the local language in her full year in Vienna. My employees I hire from abroad sign a contract which forces them to take language lessons. If you’re German and want a job in Moscow you learn Russian or you won’t work for me. I wish more employers would care, if their workers are integrated in the area they live and work in.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        Well said. There have been too many instances of political correctness in recent exchanges on this issue. People should stop bellyaching about supposed discrimination and start focusing on being the best in their field, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Putting those factors first, however, just demeans the employment process.

  9. If one assumes the best and most honest intentions on the VSO’s part (and even if one does not), has anyone wondered whether the uproar around this incident will make it MORE difficult for a minority to be hired by VSO (or even VPO)? If the musical fit between an orchestra and a minority player doesn’t work out, will the orchestra now assume that it will automatically be accused of racism or discrimination, no matter what the facts may be? Orchestras may just take a look at the big picture and say that it simply isn’t worth the trouble.

  10. Don Ciccio says:

    Question: does principal conductor Fabio Luisi have a say in this matter? And if yes, what did he say?

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      Fabio Luisi is not principal conductor of the VSO anymore.

      • Don Ciccio says:

        I suppose this is correct since Luisi’s tenure ended with the 2012-2013 season. Forgot that we’re already in August…

  11. A hint: the “Viennese Sound” is a myth; it does not exist. What does exist, on the other hand, is the Viennese custom to use weird instruments that nobody plays correctly anymore (even the hardcore Vienna-trained Professoren).

    • The existence of a “Viennese Style” has been proven scientifically.
      Please read the publications and consult the web page of the corresponding institute:

      • Well, then, let us see how all the people, including yourself, who are pontificating on this thread and others about “how Ms. Choi does not fit the Vienna Sound” would do under a blind test with reasonably long samples of recent recordings of Viennese orchestras and other orchestras.

        In any case, I was not talking about the viennese style, but about the viennese sound. Of course there is a viennese style in what concerns, e.g., articulations, rubato in 3/4 mvts and so forth. But the so-called viennese sound is strictly a matter of the using of weird instruments; at least it’s the case today. Maybe in the 1890′s there was an authentic viennese sound. I grant you that.

        • Anonymous says:

          I agree – it’s a lot of malarkey and when faced with a blind test, even the most hardcore Viennese wouldn’t be able to get it straight. The surprise that panel members have, after they would find out that the person with most votes behind a screen was not caucasian, is good evidence that to many, the Viennese style has to do with being able also to LOOK Viennese. It’s practically a dictionary definition of racism.

        • My point was, that Ms. Choi did not fit the particular orchestra.
          The main recent experiment on the perception of a Viennese style was a double blind experiment (IIRC). Please read about it on the mentioned webpage. The question of this experiment was: Is there something that could be called a Viennese style? Can this be recognized in a statistically significant way? Do people notice something at all?
          The main outcome of this experiment was: Yes, it exists, it can be noticed.

          Moreover, by playing one of those Viennese instruments, it’s not automatic that you would play “Viennese” or “Viennese style”.

      • Don Stein says:

        Yes. Anyone who swallows a vibrator and grabs an oboe can play it that “style.”

  12. Mr. Neubauer’s comments here are a positive development. We all share similar problems. In US orchestras, only 2% of the members are African-American, even though they comprise about 12% of the population. Through dialog we could develop solidarity and work together to solve common problems that have been intractible.

    If the musicians opposing racism and sexism in Viennese orchestras were allowed to speak freely, it would speak positively for their ensembles and create good will in the international community. The small factions that maintain these orchestra’s bigotry would soon find themselves isolated.

    It is interesting to consider how the chauvinism of factions within the top Viennese orchestras relates to the social climate in the city as a whole. Heinz-Christian Strache has been Chairman of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party since 2005. The central aspect of their political platform is xenophobia. In 2010, Strache’s party received 26% of the vote in Vienna. Here are some of his campaign slogans:

    • Wien darf nicht Istanbul werden (Vienna must not become Istanbul). A variation on an FPÖ slogan from the Haider era: Wien darf nicht Chicago werden. Vienna has a significant Turkish minority.
    • Daham statt Islam (“at home” not Islam)
    • Deutsch statt “nix verstehen” (German, not “no understand”)
    • Pummerin statt Muezzin (Pummerin, not muezzin). Pummerin is the main bell in St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, and so a religious Christian symbol in Vienna.
    • Heimat im Herzen (homeland at heart)
    • Arbeit statt Zuwanderung (jobs, not immigration)
    • Zu viel Fremdes tut niemandem gut. (Too many foreigners does no one good)
    • Wir bewahren unsere Heimatstadt. Die SPÖ macht sie uns fremd. (We maintain our homeland. The SPÖ [Socialist Party] makes it foreign.)
    • Wir glauben an unsere Jugend. Die SPÖ an Zuwanderung. (We believe in our youth. The SPÖ in immigration.)
    • Wir schützen freie Frauen. Die SPÖ den Kopftuchzwang (We protect women’s rights. The SPÖ protects the compulsory veil.)
    • Mehr Mut für unser Wiener Blut (More strength for our Viennese blood.)
    • Uns, geht’s um die Wiener (To us, it’s about the Viennese)

    The pervasiveness of these attitudes is one factor that has hindered progress in Viennese orchestras. The majority of the musicians are more progressive. It is unfortunate they are not allowed to speak more freely. They would find a good deal of solidarity in the international community and be in a better position to create positive change. We all share similar problems. Viennese musicians should not feel they have to remain silent.

    • Mr Oakmountain says:

      Please, can we leave HCS out of this discussion? I am definitely NOT defending him or his party or anyone who votes for these creeps, but it is becoming increasingly hard to fight the feeling that serious Viennese-bashing has now set in.

      • Strache, a hardcore bigot and xenophobe received 26% of the vote in Vienna. This is important for understanding the larger context of the discrimination in Viennese orchestras. It is justifiable to bash Vienna for giving such a person, and such political party, so many votes.

    • Mr. Osborne:
      You’d better distinguish strongly a media strategy on the one hand from freedom of speech on the other.

      Now, you, Mr. Osborne, far away of Vienna, you’ve hereby qualified not only as an expert in remote diagnosis and telepathy, but also as
      - an expert in Austrian politics
      - an expert in appropriate translation of political statements German -> English (hint: graduate students of languages have to get credit points in “translation” for at least two terms!)
      - an expert in internal issues of Austrian orchestras
      - …

      Please, Mr. Osborne, before you’re going to start your career in the parliament of Austria, please learn at least basics of German language, learn at least basics of Austrian politics, Austrian political parties, Austrian law, the democratic political system of the Republic of Austria, its Constitution, and learn at least basics of Austrian history!

      As for what you’ve just shuffled above, it’s a complete mess.

      As an Austrian, living in Vienna, I may say, that you’ve just shown that you have not the least idea of what you’re writing about. But what you’re messing around here is dangerous insofar, as readers, that are completely unaware of Austrian politics, could mistankenly get the impression, that you’ve made a point (that they wouldn’t understand anyway).
      Please, after having learned the basics of German language, please visit a blog or newsgroup dedicated to Austrian politics. That might be much a better place for you to discuss your political ideas. You’ll meet many experts of Austrian politics in such a newsgroup over there.

      Moreover, you’ve just done a big “favour” to Mrs Choi, by making her part of Austrian politics of the day. Just before an election. Do you mind?

      For me, personally, it’s your contribution that is actually xenophobic. For me, your contribution clearly shows your deeply xenophobic attitude towards Austria in general, Vienna in particular. Poor Mrs. Choi, to have become the issue of such dirty a debate. Poor VSO that has become the victime of a xenophobe’s media campaign. All of this in a blog, which actually is – or should have been – dedicated to music and arts.

      I’ll stop discussions here. I don’t discuss with xenophobes.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        Thank you for that impassioned response to this ongoing debate. I was becoming concerned about the number of contributors who, without knowing all the circumstances, offloaded all their prejudices and rancour at supposed injustices and were trying to cast not only the Vienna Symphony but behind them the city of Vienna as the big bad witch in this horror story. It is another sad example of how something can be blown up out of all proportion and emotions engendered which, ultimately, do little to bring sanity and rationality back into the debate.

    • Addendum, at least to get the political parties “correct” and to indicate to the reader, why the statement of Mr. Osborne is a complete mess: Vienna has been a social-democratic city for decades, the present governmental coalition in Vienna is social-democrats together with “The Greens” (wikipedia explains: “Apart from ecological issues such as environmental protection, the Greens also campaign for the rights of minorities and advocate a socio-ecological tax reform”). So, reality shows to us: The political situation in Vienna is in fact completely opposite to what Mr. Osborne tried to express. :-)

      • We see in “Austria’s” comments how denial is a central part of the problem. A quarter of Vienna’s voters support a xenophobic, far-right party, and yet he denies how these same bigoted attitudes appear in orchestras. The city has the two orchestras with the two lowest ratios of women in the world, and yet he insists our concerns are merely anti-Viennese. This type of denial helps explain why the problems in Viennese orchestras have been so intractable.

        • If you as human as you want others to be, then please accept, that over a quarter of Vienna’s population has another political opinion than yours. And also accept that a very small group of musicians might not intend to go a globalization route like lots of other orchestras. It’s not a big deal, there are more than enough jobs for women out there.

        • “The city has the two orchestras with the two lowest ratios of women in the world” – if you refer to your own statistic you should well know that these numbers are 15 years old and the situation has changed.
          And, by the way, do you also happen to have a statistic about the political opinions of Viennese orchestra musicians? Why can you be so sure that you find the same 25% of far-right-supporters in the orchestras? Or couldn’t it even be that musicians are better educated and cultivated and thus less responsive to political extremism?

          • It is likely the ratio of musicians sympathetic to the so-called Freedom Party is lower than in the city as a whole. On the other hand, that these two orchestra have both the lowest ratios and women and Asians in the world says a great deal. Or shall we just over-look that?

    • You find similar statements by pretty much any right wing party in any country. This is not an Austrian or Viennese issue.

      What exactly makes Heinz-Christian Strache relevant in this topic? Does he have any business dealings with the orchestra?

    • This is fun -

      a couple of days ago you stated that you don’t do ‘generalizations’ – I told you to get a better dictionary (which you obviously haven’t up to now).

      Mister Osborne, have you ever considered that you might be just as blinkered as you think the people are who you are criticising so patronizingly?

      My tip: pop a Xanax, have a drink and get a life.

  13. As a fellow female orchestral performer, I find this whole story to be inappropriate and misleading. There is no basis to make accusations of racism or sexism. Quite simply put, a trial period is pretty standard for any orchestra, including in the U.S. Many, many great players do not pass the trial period, whether it is for 1 or 2 weeks, or for 2 years…men, women…of all races and nationalities. I personally have played next to Jasmine Choi and it was something I would never want to repeat: This is based on musical taste and personality preference. Her behavior following her dismissal is a reflection of the poor personality traits I observed in her years ago.

  14. And quite frankly I find all this Vienna and Austrian thrashing distasteful and improper. I visit Vienna many times a year, go frequently to the Vienna State Opera and attend concerts given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna Symphonic. The musicians of these orchestras are just wonderful irrespective of their sex and nationality and they have every right to elect who is going to play with them for years and years to come.

  15. My biggest gripe is neither with either accused party (VSO or Jasmine) but with whomever who reported this ‘incident’ to Slipped Disc and then failed to back it up. Thanks to the ball-less ‘whistleblower’, there has been a lot of finger pointing, mistrust, accusations going both and every way, and the reputations of VSO and Choi damaged.

  16. “Lee Denham says:
    August 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm
    I’m sorry Jim, but I’m afraid that are very real parallels between the issues of Sabine Meyer and the Berlin PO in the 1980′s, with Jasmine Choi and the Vienna SO in 2013. One of the key issues in this article is perceived gender-bias – when Ms Meyer was granted a probationary year as principle clarinetist of the BPO in 1982, she would have been the only female member of that orchestra, a point which became rather relevant when the orchestra subsequently decided to vote against her being taken on permanently, much to the surprise of many, including of course, Herbert von Karajan. Whether Ms Choi subsequently goes on to have a career as illustrious as Ms Meyer has is irrelevant – the point is that the male dominated VSO has voted against a musician on alleged extra-musical grounds, therefore the parallels thirty years after the Meyer/BPO affair are depressingly real.”

    Just for the record, Sabine Meyer decided herself to quit even before an orchestra vote had taken place. And she herself told me that from this moment all problems had vanished, and the same colleagues who had made her life hard before did everything to ensure a smooth and pleasant rest of the season.

    This happened because the conflict was not primarily between Sabine Meyer and her section or the orchestra, but between Mr. von Karajan and the orchestra. He had tried to impose Ms. Meyer on the orchestra, and the whole conflict was about power. The orchestra has always had a status of high autonomy in many respects, and at this point Mr. von Karajan was not ready to respect this anymore. So Ms. Meyer’s trial period had become the battlefield in a war between chiefconductor and orchestra, which after Ms. Meyer’s withdrawal moved to other battlefields, and finally ended in a rather bitter “divorce”. In this respect I can hardly see any parallels to Ms. Choi’s case in Vienna.

    • Hi Gerhard – and thank you for taking the trouble to post a response to my message.

      I was though a little puzzled by your comments with regards to the timing of Ms Meyer’s resignation from the BPO. My understanding has always been that there was a vote by the orchestra against Ms Meyer at the end of her probationary period – this is supported by Richard Osborne’s biography on Karajan (A Life in Music 1998 pp 671-72) . Indeed Wikipedia goes as far as to state the vote was 73-4 against.

      Whilst I have no doubt that the row between Karajan and the BPO during the early 1980′s was due to more than just the appointment of a Principle Chair, there were many at the time who strongly felt that the orchestra’s rejection of her was extra-musical. When such a distinguished critic as Andrew Porter singles Ms Meyer’s playing out for special praise during a performance of Mahler’s Ninth given by the BPO in New York (The New Yorker, 8 Nov 1982), yet makes no mention of her not blending into the rest of the woodwind section (the reason the orchestra gave for rejecting her), one has to take note. On the other hand, it has to be said in the orchestra’s defence that they also employed Madeleine Carruzzo a few months after Ms Meyer joined the orchestra, even if cynics at the time did wonder if it was merely to head off claims of sexism (excellent instrumentalist though Ms Carruzzo may be), with the situation with Ms Meyer deteriorating. At the end of the day, with this particular conductor’s preoccupation with sound, his long association with the Berlin PO, plus his self-evident skills of building and training orchestras to astonishing standards (irrespective what you may think of him as a man or musician), could he really be deaf to the unsuitability of Ms Meyer to the orchestra ? Would he really insist on her appointment merely as an exercise and demonstration of his power ?

      So to me, whilst it may be not be an exact match, there are very obvious parallels between Meyer/BPO and Choi/VSO for Jim to dismiss them as merely “tenuous at best”, the point I was trying, albeit clumsily, to make.

      With best regards.

      • Hi Lee,

        thank you for your friendly response. The information I tried to convey I got directly from Sabine Meyer herself, but this happened many years ago. At this time my understanding had been that an orchestra vote would have become unnecessary after her decision. But this might have been a misapprehension from my part, and because of this possibility I formulated it rather cautiously by merely stating that she “decided herself to quit even before an orchestra vote had taken place”.

        My personal interpretations I have put into the next paragraph. They are quite debatable, of course. I think it is impossible to establish what a likely outcome of her trial period might have been without that power conflict between Mr. von Karajan and the Berlin Phil. In all likeliness there will have been sexist prejudices in an orchestra which had never hired a woman so far. Madeleine Caruzzo’s case a little later shows, however, that the orchestra apparently was ready to finally embark into the modern era of gender equality at around this time. There might also have been some honest and honorable professional questions regarding her compatibility within the clarinet section and the woodwind group of the time. But what really stood absolutely against her IMHO was the general perception that she was Karajan’s clarinetist, whom he wanted to impose on the orchestra. Of course he was right in his evaluation of her outstanding qualities, but this was sadly not the main issue at the time, and perhaps even for neither side. Since I haven’t read anything about a comparable internal conflict in Ms. Choi’s case in Vienna, I still can’t see how a comparison of the two cases could lead very far.

        Best regards from my side as well!

      • Perhaps it is worth mentioning that to this day the ratio of women in the Berlin Phil is only 14% — the fourth lowest in the world. By comparison, women represent over 40% of the personnel in the Zurich State Opera Orchestra, the National Orchestra of France, and the New York Philharmonic.

        • I would like to point out that roughly 1.5 years ago was when the Berlin Philharmonie deleted the word “Herren” from their dressing rooms. Before, I had the surprising experience, as a substitute, of being told that I could not use the dressing rooms which I had thought were designated by instrument groups. When I inquired where then, the dressing rooms for the Frauen were, it was apparent it was one room here and one room there, in different wings of the building – in other words, no formal female dressing rooms existed until very recently.

          • When my wife joined the orchestra in 1980, it only had 7 women members. When Munich built its new hall for its Philharmonic in the mid 80s they also did not include dressing rooms for women. A warm up room for soloists was adapted and all the women in the orchestra were stuffed into that one small room while the men for every section had their own room. As the number of women in the orchestra increased, they became so crowded in their small room they revolted and summarily took over second room that was being used for some other purpose (though I can’t remember what it was.)

          • I meant to say when she joined the Munich Phil.

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