Revealed: the woman behind the all-male Vienna New Year's Day concert

Revealed: the woman behind the all-male Vienna New Year's Day concert


norman lebrecht

January 01, 2012

You couldn’t make it up.

The Vienna Philharmonic permitted just two women on stage in today’s New Year’s Concert, but the person giving the orders backstage was Karina Fibich, one of Austria’s leading television directors.

,Das ist für mich der Olymp‘

Myself, I could have done without the whirling birds’eye view from a camera in the roof, and the pair of kitsch dancers who were clearly never going to get it on, but Karina says she workled it all out very carefully with Mariss Jansons and he was very pleased with her work.

I wonder if he let her put him into that terrible hotel receptionists’ suit. (Mariss, next time I’ll take you to a London tailor).

Mariss Jansons, Neujahrskonzert 2012 (New Year's Concert 2012)

Read what Karina has to say here.


  • Only two women were on stage, and in front of an audience of 50 million people. The orchestra was also entirely white since the Philharmonic has a long tradition of excluding non-Caucasians, a policy specifically directed toward Asians. It is thus ironic when the Vienna Philharmonic and Austria’s state radio and television refer to the concert as a humanistic gesture (and a professional “Olympus.”)

    The Vienna State Opera Orchestra hasn’t hired a woman in the last four years. Even if they hire one this year (which isn’t likely) she will not be tenured into the Philharmonic until 2015 at the earliest. Progress has once again come to a standstill. I discuss this and many more details in a new report here:

    • Bart Wentink says:

      So they exclude Asians? Ironic, since they’ve had Seiji Ozawa as a guest conductor for this event.

      • Seiji Ozawa conducted New Years Concert in 2002. He had recently named GMD of the Vienna State Opera by its General Manager, Ion Holender, effective in 2001. The Philharmonic is also the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. The orchestra was under a great deal of media scrutiny at the time for its sexism and racism. It served a useful purpose to have him direct the New Years Concert. I discuss his direction of the 2002 New Years Concert and its implications in detail here:

        Ozawa was appointed GMD of the State Opera at about the same time the far right Freedom Party won the Austria’s national elections. As a result, Ozawa had reservations about taking the job and even traveled to Vienna to assess the situation in February 2000. I discuss the details here:

  • Bart Wentink says:

    Is the second woman harpist Anneleen Lenaerts?

  • ariel says:

    This all has been gone over ad nauseam – the question is “tell us how you would have it done correctly ?”
    remembering there are orchestras in China that are mostly if not all Chinese players , would you want to also
    start there on bringing in Western players ?Should we have an international police force checking every
    orchestra for the correct balance of ethnic players ? also a police force to ensure that there is a correct
    balance of women in all orchestras . Remember the field has always been about who is in” power” and
    for the rest to suck up to that power if one wants to personally get any where – I am willing to bet that not
    one member in that orchestra has gotten there based on talent alone . Do tell us how you would set this
    all correctly .

    • The situation would be corrected by fair, impartial, genuinely blind auditions in all rounds. Austrian women, who comprise 62% of the students at Vienna’s University of Music (and how have been the majority of students for over 20 years,) would take care of the rest.

      If Austria wasn’t the best selling orchestra in the world, and if it didn’t broadcast its New Years Concert to 50 million people, perhaps we wouldn’t need to worry about the chauvinism it projects into the world of classical music. In any case, there will always be people who resent work for the equal treatment of women.

  • Michael FIne says:

    I’m not sure it matters whether the orchestra is largely male or white any more than it concerns me that basketball teams are largely comprised of black man of staggering height. Vienna, the city and it’s premiere orchestra, are conservative by nature, and respectful of their tradition and history. I’m happy there are still a few places in this world where the rate of change is is running at a slower pace. I’m not aware they exclude Asians and believe there was a young Asian string player in my last recording session with them.

    • A better analogy would be a basketball team that insisted on being all white. Quality would suffer seriously. The New York Phil is 49% women. Even the Bruckner Orchester in Linz, Austria is 40% women. This shows that there are a lot of women who play orchestral instruments better than men. Quality and competence matter in orchestras, so the discrimination should end.

      And no, there are no Asians in the VPO. The orchestra has two half Asian first violins with German family names, but their racial appearance as partially non-Caucasion is not readily apparent, hence their positions in the orchestra. The VPO’s racial ideologies are discussed in detail here:

      • ariel says:

        There you are Mr. Osborne !! racial prejudices have surfaced -it seems you are down
        grading white basketball players as inferior players based on being white . As for the NY Phil being
        49% women could that reflect on the lowly position the orchestra holds in the world of music, based on
        your basketball theory it would seem having 49% women in the orchestra has made it” suffer seriously .”
        Having 49% of women in the orchestra does not mean at all that a lot of women play
        better than do the men . You have avoided the Chinese orchestra question if you seemingly want
        to police the VPO for whatever reason then why stop there _ i have seen Chinese orchestras without
        a hint of a Western face – do you intend in all fairness to the VPO also question the Chinese on this
        seemingly racial prejudice or do we pick and choose our moral stance .

        • I avoided the Chinese question because it’s so silly it is not worth answering, but since you insist I will. European orchestra musicians don’t usually work abroad because they can find better jobs at home. American musicians do, because jobs are scarce in the USA. Especially popular destinations in Asia are Singapore and Hong Kong, which have historically employed quite a few Westerners, though American musicians are found all over Asia in the orchestras where the pay is reasonable. China is a special situation because it is a communist country with a highly controlled economy and an artificially valued currency. I don’t know how many Americans are playing in Chinese orchestras, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some, and I doubt they would face racial discrimination. One of my wife’s former students, trombonist Linda Pearse, worked in the Macau Symphony for a couple years. Like Hong Kong, Macau is also a special administrative district of the People’s Republic of China which makes it easier for Western musicians to work there. She did not experience either gender or racial discrimination.

          • ariel says:

            Not silly at all – if you are going to play policeman of international morals then China should be on
            your agenda -you might recall the name AiWeiwei . There are Americans teaching there and
            report back quite differently on discrimination -you are careful to respond to what suits your
            point of view.Still would like your explanation to an all white basketball team being seriously
            lacking in quality due to being white your research into this should make interesting reading.

  • Maria De Witte says:

    Yes the harpist is Belgian and Anneleen Lenaerts.She was appointed this year. The whole Belgium will be very proud.

    • Thank you for this very interesting information. She is not listed under the orchestra personnel for either the State Opera Orchestra or the Vienna Phil. I wonder why, because her website says she was “appointed” in December 2010. Other recently hired musicians are listed.

      In any case, if she really did win an audition, she would not be a member of the Vienna Philhamronic, but rather the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. After about a three year tenure she would then qualify to apply for membership in the VPO which would be around 2014 or so, depending on when her Staatsoper contract began. I would appreciate any details you might have.

  • Duncan Reed says:

    Aren’t the VPO worried that women will compromise their sound? Wasn’t that the original reason for excluding them? Can someone explain please?

    • Yes, they feel men sound different than women, and that they lack strength. They also feel they have a special emotional unity as an all-male ensemble. They also feel the orchestra would be damaged by women taking maternity leave – though Austria’s maternity laws are similar to those in most European countries. They also feel having women in the orchestra would cause intrigues. They also feel women would be distracted by family life and not devote themselves to the orchestra. They also feel women would not be as dedicated because they are inherently less ambitious.

      As for the exclusion of Asians, the orchestra makes similar arguments about style and sound. They also feel the appearance of Asians would damage the orchestra’s image of Austrian authenticity.

      I discuss and document these arguments and others in more detail here:

      Of course, there is also an increasing number of young, enlightened musicians in the VPO who don’t hold to these beliefs, but the old mentality still reigns in general.

      • Massimo Montanari says:

        Well yes, dear William, I’m sure the (two) femal musicians are excellent too. Contrary to feminist myth and no matter what one thinks of VPO and its men dominated headcount of 140 active members, these masters of music have offered us a NYD’s Concert 2012 at the very highest level. Combine that with the fact that Mariss Jansons simply conducted so well and with such spirit and clarity of musical intent that the orchestra could not help but respond with a world-class performance. It’s no wonder that the audience responded with such enthusiastic ovations.

  • Dan says:

    Albena Danailova, ex-LPO is one of the four VPO Konzertmeister. Since her appointment to the post in 2008 she has co-led in alternate years, (2009, 2011) so she’ll presumably be back, and possibly leading (?) in 2013.

  • Michael Bosworth says:

    I have to say that I have become a bit jaded about the Vienna New Year’s Concert (and the surrounding hoopla) ever since the VPO declined to honour Gustav Mahler during the past two anniversary years.

    Although Schubert, Haydn, Mozart etc. get something of theirs played in their ‘jubilee years’, Mahler twice failed to make the VPO New Year’s Concert program. You would have thought that they could have offered some recognition to their former eminent conductor, who among other things took them on their first international concert trip to Paris in 1900.

    Some will claim that his music doesn’t fit the ‘mood’ or ‘tenor’ associated with the ‘waltz king’; I would counter that a performance of (for example) M2.2, M3.2, M7.4, ‘Blumine’, or perhaps even the ‘Pintos’ Entr’acte would have suited perfectly.

  • Adam says:

    At the considerable risk of awaking William Osbourne’s ire – he has a personal gripe against the orchestra, which I can entirely respect – you know this subject has been discussed endlessly. Guess what guys if you don’t like it, and you think you can do better then the answer is easy – go somewhere else and prove them wrong. Many have tried, and few have succeeded.

    The left liberal movement is every bit as discriminatory as those they charge at the Wiener Phil. Its all about IMPOSING your personal moral view onto everyone around you, so that every orchestra has to be identikit. Why does people being different and following their own tradition threaten and annoy you so-much? The answer it seems to me, and I’m happy to be proved wrong here, but this is the way it always comes across – is that you want to exert and impose your moral values onto those around you, and thats just as unpleasant as you would paint those you dislike. Why can’t we just leave people alone to make music in the way that best-allows them to make it as they feel it. End of rant. Happy new year everyone. XX

    p.s. they do in fact have some very dark skinned players – I refer to the young double bass player who definitely has some “colour” whatever that means and is not Austrian / german at-all. (Bulgarian and a mix I think his biog said?) I’ve seen him playing from the front row of the Vienna State Opera and he is a stunning player.

    • Alan says:

      Adam, I’m not accusing you of any discriminatory prejudices, though I will say that your reasoning has been used by terrible people throughout history as a defense to their discrimination. Saying “that’s the way it’s always been and we want to keep it that way” is not a valid argument. It just makes the discriminating entity look worse. I’m sorry if you feel that I’m pushing my left liberal morality on the Vienna Philharmonic. Too bad for you. Too bad for them.

  • Doug says:

    What ever happened to allowing communities to make their own decisions in their own fate?

    If the VP continues to have an audience, then that is enough proof that what they are doing has relevance in their support base. So who are YOU, some smarty pants outsider, to believe for a moment that you possess enough moral authority that you can drop into some sovereign nation and tell them how to enjoy and honor their own culture?