The flute they drove out of Vienna is back – with a Gangnam band

The flute they drove out of Vienna is back – with a Gangnam band


norman lebrecht

November 13, 2013

Jasmine Choi, whose expulsion from the Vienna Symphony Orchestra aroused claims of sexism and racism, has a new release with a Korean orch. Watch.



  • Tom Emlyn Williams says:

    Could it be that she was just too good for Vienna?

  • I will never understand why flutists insist upon playing cheesy transcriptions instead of their own copious and honorable repertoire. Is it laziness, ignorance or willful pandering? (The above having nothing to do with her situation regarding the orchestra.)

    • Dario says:

      I completely agree

    • Warren Cohen says:

      I agree too, although the Saint-saëns at least transfers somewhat idiomatically to the flute. If you want really obnoxiously cheesy transcriptions, try brass versions of opera arias. I vote for willful pandering as the main cause but I do not blame flutists necessarily. Most really good flute concertante repertoire is 20th century, and is written by excellent composers who are not household names. Managers for orchestras and even musicians spasm in terror at the work they would have to do to promote these works. and spasm in fear that some loudmouth in the audience won’t like it and will complain, which will then be understood by orchestra management and the Board as a complete rejection of all 20th century music by the everyone, and then said manager will be blamed for pushing avant-garde atonal music on an unwilling public (even if the piece is, say, the Rodrigo Concerto). BTW, I once had someone propose playing the Saint-saéns as a Marimba Concerto, so it could be far worse!

    • MacroV says:

      There really isn’t all that much great music written for flute. Not compared to violin, cello or piano, anyway. So I can understand going for transcriptions.

    • Stuard Young says:

      What original repertoire for flute and orchestra is similar to this Saint-Saens showpiece in style, length and audience-pleasing factor?

  • David Quiggle says:

    John!!! It´s been like 24 years…I really enjoyed your playing back in the esplanade days. you probably don´t remember me except for my really bad tennis playing on tour in orlando. Big hug from David Quiggle (viola). And yes I agree about the flutey stuff haha.

  • David Boxwell says:

    The Flute Who Left Vienna in a Hissy Fit is Back-with a Gangnam Band.

    There. Fixed.


    For the past 75 years Vienna has specialized in expelling gifted people who could have enriched the cultural milieu considerably. Perhaps that is why Vienna has ceased to be the great center of culture that it once was. Wien, Wien, nur Du allein.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Reasons aside, she was not expelled. The VSO did not rehire her after her initial one-year contract expired. I believe I am stating plain facts.

    • Martin says:

      You do. They tried her, she didn’t fit in. Happens everywhere, in all kinds of jobs. Not a big deal.

      • Not passing a trial year is a form of expulsion.

        • Anon says:

          What? Any UK orchestra with a job vacancy will trial multiple people for the job. You’re saying that of 10 triallists, only one of whom is successful, for a say violin job in RNSO or RLPO or wherever, nine are “expelled”? By this logic, a lot of players are “expelled” from a lot of orchestras every year, so it’s hardly unusual.

          No, they (and she) were not hired, which is very different from expulsion.

          • In Austria and Germany only one person is engaged for a trial year, and only after winning the audition for the position. Not passing the vote at the end of the year is basically the same as being fired.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            It is not. Getting fired means you are let go from a position you hold, and it implies being let go for unhappy reasons, either because you messed up or the employer has a problem with you. If you finish a limited trial period, be it 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, and you do not receive a permanent contract, you do not hold a position to get fired from.

            It is not all that completely uncommon for German orchestras, especially the top tier ones, to try out candidates as guests before inviting them for a formal trial period. The BP has had one of the principal horn position open for a number of years now, and they have tried out a number of prominent horn players as guest principals. Same with the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. And that’s not all that new a practice either. Hansjörg Schellenberger played as guest principal oboe with the BP for three years before he formally joined the orchestra back in the late 70s or so.

            I have seen many candidates for principal positions come and go in Berlin, including section players who won an audition for a principal position but were not confirmed after 2 years so they had to go back to their former section position, and many who came from outside, didn’t make it, and then moved on. Many of them were “white” people.

      • Stuard Young says:

        Have any reasons (facts) been given why she did not fit in?

        • Anon says:

          I doubt it, and nor should they be. The reasons for X not getting a job at Y are a matter of personal concern for the people involved, not a matter of public record.

        • Martin says:

          No, but it’s easy to see in one particular Youtube video, where she is the only one moving about, while the others sit still. This is one visual sign, that she ticks differently than the others.

          She’ll find a job elsewhere without a problem – although I’m unsure I’d hire someone who publicly hits out at an employer after something as normal as not getting a trial extended.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            I don’t think the moving around thing has anything to do with that. The others mostly sit still because they don’t play in the clip. A lot of musicians move around quite a bit when they have an active solo. Even in Vienna.

            There isn’t much of a point in speculating about this, much less on the basis of a brief Youtube clip. The relevant facts are pretty simple to line up: she got the trial so there was no “racist” bias there otherwise she wouldn’t have gotten that far; she didn’t receive the permanent contract; that happens to more than just a few very good musicians trying out for an exposed principal position; there can be many good and perfectly legitimate reasons for that; and that’s about it.

            Except that she then made a huge fuss about it and some people took that as an excuse to parade their crude prejudices and stereotypes about the Viennese around.

            I think she is the worst thing that could have happened to Asian musicians who are interested in making it there. They will think at least twice before giving another one a chance when they know they won’t be able to freely decide if they want to give her or him a permanent contract without being smeared as old Nazis and racists.

          • Martin says:

            I obsevered that in some orchestras few to none move much, in other orchestras pretty much everybody. And as I know some orchetra members don’t like leaders who move a lot, I’d assume that such movement can play a role in the decision making.

  • I really like the way she plays. She is able to transmit emotions. A really gem in these days. In fact I wrote her for my humble sonate for flute and piano, but I never received a answer from her. In any case, why you say a Gangnam Band? Don’t you like it?

  • Brian Casey says:

    If it were anywhere else in the world you wouldn’t care.

    People fail probation years all over the world. What do you have against

    Austria and Germany? After all Hitler, thank Goodness killed himself

    rather a long time ago.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Well, Brian, you know that people love their prejudices and stereotypes. It is very much part of our nature as tribal animals, it comes naturally to us to stereotype other people and groups of people, and it is so easy to give in to that. Much easier than admitting to oneself that one isn’t inherently better than other people.

      Of course, these days being bigoted and prejudiced against other people isn’t as socially accepted – even expected – as it once was, so the modern politically correct version is to accuse other people of being prejudiced. Once that is done, it also allows the safe recycling of older stereotypes.

      One would think that among people who are interested in classical music, such crude stereotypes of Germans and Austrians would be less widely and proudly held, but it seems that that is often not the case. Maybe even the opposite. It could be that an additional element of suppressed cultural inferiority complexes comes into play.

  • Tubist Yasuhito Sugiyama left the prestigious New Japan Philharmonic to enter the Vienna Phil. He did not pass his trial year but quickly won the tuba position in Cleveland. Jasmine Choi came to Vienna from the Cincinnati Symphony and did not pass her trial year. It is unusual for musicians of this stature and with that kind of experience not to pass their trial periods in orchestras. This is of concern because of the well-documented historical biases against Asians in Vienna’s music world. (Forgive me if I do not participate in debates about this.)

    • So why did you post, then?

    • Maximilian Grimm says:

      That is all good and well Mr. Osborne, however, I disagree with your reasoning. To use an analogy, just because a woman is attractive and has a great personality, doesn’t mean that every man on earth would want to marry her. Just because a musician studied at good schools, with excellent instructors and has played in acclaimed orchestras, does not mean that he/she is a certifiable “one size fits all” instrumentalist that will be a perfect match for most professional orchestras.

  • I can hear in Jasmine’s playing that she spent time in Vienna. What a pity the city lost the chance to show it’s moving into the 21st century… (or even the 20th.)

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      It doesn’t make any difference. If she had been successful there, you would say she is just a “token Asian”.

      Yasuko Fuchs-Imanaga is a Japanese flutist who studied in Vienna and who was very active there as soloist and playing in orchestras in the 90s. She left Vienna not because she was “driven out” because of her background, but because her husband Wenzel Fuchs became principal clarinet with the Berliner Philharmoniker. And there are other examples of foreigners, including Asians, working very successfully in Vienna.

      They are a little bit backwards down there in Austria in some respects, and I also like to make fun of some of their quirks (and their accent, of course!), but they aren’t all stuck in the Nazi period or even in the 19th century. That’s just sillly, and a serious prejudice in itself.

      • Martin says:

        Most people who are stuck in the Nazi period are the Nazi hunters in the Arts world. The ones who constantly and at every chance mention if someone was close to them or one of their victims.

        It’s the job of people in arts management to get along with the politicians and by get along I mean get some percentages of their budget. Many people then and now think that if one jerk is removed from a political post another one will replace him/her. Who would have thought that super democrate and people lover Obama would end up being one of the biggest killers of innocent people in history with his drones? Do we go after all composers or all orchestras whose managements voted this murderer into office? Probably not, because he’s fighting on the good side.

  • Bentzi says:

    Oh, sorry to be an ass, but now in understand the VPO – she just doesn’t play in tune… and cheesy too..

    • No one plays in tune. Neither the better pianist. Among other things because the three strings that the hammer hit are never tuned at the same exact frequency. I suppose you wish to mean out of tune…but this is not a compact disc, but in a live concert there are always variations of tune. Don’t you hear how the pizzicatos are out of tune at the very first moments or the how the strings at the orchestra are out of time at 09:04-09:07?. But who cares that? For me it is a really enjoyable performance.

      And about cheesy…is it not more chessy any of the the New Years concert of the Vienna bands….?

      One can think the opposite…is she too good for the Vienna bands?

      Know what? This is really cheesy and, by the way, is the Vienna Symphonic Orchestra!!:

  • Nancy Jeffery says:

    I am a flutist in Cincinnati & I had the privilege to listen to & enjoy Jasmine’s artistry for the six years during which she played with the CSO. Most agree that her tone, technique & expressiveness are exquisite, & I would like to add that it’s a fat lie that she doesn’t play in tune! I have undisputed perfect pitch, & I know it when I hear it (or not ). Keep in mind also that you don’t get out of Curtis & Julliard by the age of 22 without a good ear & execution. Slandering Jasmine is so unattractive…

  • EdGobr says:

    I must say, that now that I live an work as a musician in the States, it is obvious that here they do music in a different way. The sound, the articulation… I understand why a Viennese orchestra would not want an American sound in thir orchestra. It just doesn’t fit in.

  • Jon bishop says:

    Get Scott Reed in there-he play the flute very well. Plus they don’t have to worry abt old nazi stories or asiatic bias.