Come cruising with the Vienna Philharmonic. Women need not apply.

Come cruising with the Vienna Philharmonic. Women need not apply.


norman lebrecht

January 16, 2012

For a place in the orchestra. They’re allowed on the ship.

If you want to perpetuate institutional sex discrimination, do join the orchestra this July in the Mediterranean with conductor Herbert Blomstedt, singers Jessye Norman and Angelika Kirschlaeger, pianist Rudolf Buchbinder and others who ought to know better.

Oh, and you have a ‘Meet and Greet’ session with members of the orchestra. One sex fits all.

Here’s the link.


  • So, what? People who like this orchestra and can afford travelling with them will go there any way, no matter how many women are playing in the orchestra. Why are you so upset about it?

    In London there are some clubs where women are excluded (might you be a member of some of these clubs, too, Norman?) and no one is worried that it is all-gentlemen clubs, because it is a tradition! So why is it so terribly wrong that an old all-gentlemen musician’s club in Vienna is keeping its tradition (despite being so controversial)? There are enough top orchestras in the world where women are playing on equal rights, so why don’t we leave Vienna Phil alone? They have their’s values and others should respect it.

    • The Vienna Philharmonic is not a club. Unless I am mistaken it is an organization with paid employees (musicians included). If they are not hiring women simply because they are women (or minorities because they are minorities), then that is a simple case of employment discrimination. In most modern democratic countries this is illegal.

      • GW says:

        Maxim, Nathan: It’s a more subtle construction and a more subtle problem. The WP _is_ a private organization with a legally club-like structure. It’s membership is self-elected from the ranks of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra whose members are, in that capacity, state employees with life tenure and benefits and, in principle, with all protections afforded the state against discrimination.. Concerts and tours and recordings or broadcasts by the WP regularly use players who are not members, including women and members of ethic minorities. After many years with no women members, then a single harpist, the WP membership currently includes only 6 or 7 women, including one of the concertmasters. The principal benefit of membership in the WP is financial, as members share in the revenues from concerts, tours, recordings and broadcasts and the main effect of the low level of employment for women has been to exclude them from these income activities, even if they play with the orchestra regularly. In the past, members of the orchestra argued that the all-male ensemble was necessary for reasons of musical cohesion, but this argument carries ever lesser weight given the real example of the women playing every day with the orchestra and the pure financial aspects of the scheme become evermore evident as some of these revenue streams (recordings, especially) have dried up.

  • Suzanne says:

    @Mr.Kosinov, I’m with Mr. Lebrecht on this one. The Vienna Philharmonic accepts government funding, so likening it to a “private gentlemens club” is in no way a viable arguement.
    In October of 2000.the orchestra signed an agreement with the Austrian government in which they received yearly funding of $2.92 million ( 2.29 million Euros) for 10 years- In return, the Phil agreed to to offer women equal employment opportunities. In the past 13 years, the number of women in the 124-member group has increased from 1 to 3. During that period, about 1/3 of the orchestra has retired/moved on and been replaced. Only TWO of the new hires were female. My math shows that to be about $10+ million ( in addition to all of the other benefits the musicians receive) per woman hired. Most European orchestras lag far behind their US counterparts in the number of women in their ranks, but are making the effort to hire in a more even manner.
    No mathematical formula supports those numbers, so unless only a handful of women applied for the open positions, the management of the orchestra practices blatant discrimination.
    To say that “there are enough top orchestras in the world where there are women playing on equal rights, so why don’t we leave the Vienna Phil alone?” is insulting, Mr. Kosinov, and ignorant too boot. Dictators, zealots and fanatics have used similar statements in attempt to justify everything from oppression to genocide. If an orchestra made such a pubic effort to exclude religious or racial groups, the outcry would be loud and long. I wish that Ms. Norman and Ms. Kirschlaege had chosen not to participate in this event.
    Since Vienna Philharmonic members have been so public in their objections to sitting side-by-side with women, we, the public, should vote with our wallets and not purchase tickets for performances or their recordings.

  • Brian says:

    There’s more on classical music cruises (Viennese-style and otherwise) in the aftermath of the Costa Concordia disaster here:

  • cabbagejuice says:

    Are they going up the western coast of Italy? Do they have enough lifeboats? Is the crew competent enough to handle emergencies? (Sorry, can’t help thinking…)

  • Andrew Powell says:

    “Kirschlaeger”? “Kirschlaege”? People, it’s Kirchschlager. No umlauts, no dipthongs, but *seven* consonants in a row: rchschl. Gosh, she’s been around enough. Kirch = church. Schlager = hitter?

  • Suzanne says:

    Mr.Powell, I apologize for my typo, which it clearly was. I’m sorry that you weren’t more concerned about the blatant discrimininatory practices of the venerable institution being discussed.