Ex-Vienna Opera chief: Korngold is no less important than Richard Strauss

Ioan Holender, who ran the Vienna Opera for 18 years (1992-2010) has unburdened himself of some unpopular opinions in a combative interview with our friend Benedikt Weingartner, a former Benedictine monk who knows how to take confession.

Holender confesses to ‘being political’ in the artistic decisions he made.

Two things are always crucial: what you play and with whom you play it. I don’t find Korngold less important than Richard Strass. If you are going to take out this single sentence then– under quotation mark – the most important Austrian music critic will demolish me and is going to hate me even more than he already does now. Nevertheless, I defend this opinion and I already proved it with “Oedipe” from Enescu and more debut performance from Enescu, Krenek, Zemlinsky, Schönberg, Janacek and Reimann. 

Here’s the interview (in German). English translation follows.
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BW: Mr. Holender, what does Europe signify for you?

Holender: Europe is a continent with 43 countries, 28 of those are part of the European Union, 15 are not.

BW: You sound very technical. Where is your personal place in this Europe?

Holender: I am a citizen of a country that is tolerated by the European Union. I came as a refugee from Romania to Austria. After waiting for the appropriate time, formerly 10 years, I became an Austrian Citizen. Therefor I feel at home in both countries. Please don’t ask me in which country I feel more at home. My family lives in Vienna. Here I held various positions. Amongst others, for a very long time – almost too long, to be specific 19 years – director of the Vienna State Opera. My positions limit themselves, even today onto those two countries.
You would want to hear from me, that Europe, those 43 countries have something in common? In my opinion we are far away from what Europe has been already. Stefan Zweig, for example lived in a time where you did not need a passport. Before World War I., which is unbelievable today, you could travel between countries without a passport. The definition of a passport was unknown. Unfortunately during his lifetime Stefan Zweig had to become acquainted with the fact how essential a passport is.
We did succeed that in Europe, since the end of World War II, with the exception of the Yugoslav Wars, which was somewhat artificially started, no similar wars or in the dimension of the former one took place. Thank God!
We live – and I am saying this with a demanded caution – in a peaceful Europe. The nationalistic element of those 43 countries assessing their own importance did not become smaller. If not in all of them, but in the majority of them and it doesn’t matter if they are members of the European Union or not.

BW:  The whole world is playing European music. Is culture a center of European Identity?

Holender: Without doubt. If there really exists something like European identity, it is only made possibly through European culture, through culture which spans from the renaissance until today, through all styles and ages. If this identity loses importance, it’s because of the influence of a continent that’s bigger than Europe, but has less influence in terms of culture, I’m taking about the United States.  The dominance of the US rules all areas and influences the economy. Art and Culture have been mainly imported from Europe. This is all well and it is cultural history. European Culture is losing its relevance in Europe because only things from the US are considered relevant.
Unfortunately it is part of the political structure, also in Brussels, thus also for the European Union, that culture is one of the last factors in terms of recognition or acknowledgement. In each country of Europe the situation is no better.

BW: At least there are personalities like you that got involved in cultural politics.

Holender: One of the most important institutions that I created was – unfortunately it no longer exists – the foundation “Pro Opera” (European Association of the Advancement of the Art form Opera). We gave financial aid to artists from less fortunate countries of the European Union, so that they could stay in their native country and don’t need go where they would make more money. It is twofold: on one hand it is enjoyable that after the fall of the iron curtain everyone can travel where he wants to, even though in reality it is not really the case, but on the other hand the economic advantages are crucial. Also artists – singers and instrumentalists – don’t stay in the countries they were born in.  That is the case in Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary and other countries that have been behind the iron curtain. People want to be active where they make more money and the working conditions are better. We wanted to reasonably ease this – of course we could not prevent it or radically chance that.
I don’t find it beneficial if artists leave their home country forever in which they have learned, where they grew up, which culture they should shape.
The exchange between artists within Europe is much bigger and much deeper than ever. That is correct. However the national culture starting with folklore, which I find very important, but also the composers and works which we show today should not be europeanized.
Richard Strauss, we are celebrating his 150. birthday this year, has an importance for Germany and Austria on a much deeper level. That is valid and has its objective causes. On the other hand there are lots of hardly known European composers. Besides George Enescu for example there is a whole bunch of Serbian, Rumanian and Hungarian composers, contemporary composers from those countries, which don’t have any relevance in other countries. No one knows them but doesn’t try to make an effort to make them better known.

BW: That would be a crucial mission of the European culture politics, if there is one at all. The European Union should provide a budget to support the poorer countries so that they can foster those traditions, commemorate composers and perform those works.
You support Romania very enthusiastic and you manage the George Enescu Festival. Which experiences did you make, as you said yourself, in one of the poorest countries of the European Union?
What is the mission of this high-ranking festival, in which the state of Romania invests enormous amounts of money, which has been often criticized?

Holender: The George Enescu Festival has a budget of roughly 7 Million Euros. If you look at the financial situation of the country it is a very high budget. On one hand that is wonderful, but it is not great that this is the only artistic performance with outstanding quality. Aside from that almost nothing happens. The cultural subsidies are much lower than before the revolution, thus during the communist system. Dictatorships funded, also in regards of their own political agenda, music, theater and literature financial. It was like that in the Third Reich, with Mussolini, Stalin and the DDR. There have been numerous symphony orchestras, opera houses and theaters. This has diminished. Today they are often left with a budget that is too small to live on but too big to die on.
Whereof should orchestras in southeastern European countries live? Oftentimes they are booked for lower quality events in richer countries. Excellent Orchestras, for example Brünn, Klausenburg or the Hungarian province, get hired for bombastic events with big singers and instrumentalists. Though the quality of the orchestra does not play a big role. The quality is largely good, although they have to perform with a few bad members which sit there irredeemable and wait for their pensions to start. If someone would just think about – only the thought that artists, to be specific instrumentalists, singers – could get the chance to perform in all European countries, without formal difficulty, without necessary work permits, that would be a true sign for opening. The exchange would start by itself and would lead to a broadening of the quality of employment seeking artists. That would be a very strong sign in the European Union. But this is not an issue at all.

BW: I have to contradict you, it is an issue. One of its important priorities of the new cultural program of the EU is to promote the mobility of the artist. That includes the request to enable freedom of travel and to promote employment. The only problem is how to achieve that for example a Romanian artist can perform in Germany or Austria and the other way around.

Holender: The other way around is not less important.

BW: But almost impossible.

Holender: Not really. The awareness does not exists. A singer has to sing, wants to sing and develop during his career, during his artistic existence. If he is able to get an engagement in Rumania he would go there. But this is not possible, vice versa too, because Romanians need a work permit here. How did I suffer in all those years at the opera to prove that I need someone because he cannot be replaced with someone else. People believed me. Lots of red tape was necessary. It was a strange awareness: you hire someone, you give them a contract, but the contract is only legally binding if they have a work permit. The employment bureau could have said no, you don’t need a lyric sopran from Albania, you can find someone in Austria. This awareness is bad and also affects journalists, writers and artists.

BW: Doesn’t this has to do with the fact that cultural centers have been forming? The Vienna State Opera counts as one of the best opera houses of Europe, if not the world?

Holender: You said that now!

BW:  Today it’s only about the top, the superstar, the star artists. The media works with that. You talked about star vocalists and star pianists. There is always this top – and ultra name calling. The big dream of all the artists or conductors is, not to only knock once at the door of the Vienna State Opera but also to be let in. Isn’t this a fatal situation, that everything is focused on the centers of art and culture linked to the issue of cult?

Holender: The known cultural institutions, to which I also count the Vienna State Opera became what they are because of their history. I do not want to contradict your classification nor insert another one, but with those four or five top institutions this is the case. Why is the Vienna State Opera so important for Austria? Because there is not much else in Austria that has international value. After the lost World War I Austria became a small country. The rest remained Austria, how Clemenceau formulated it. After 1945 the Vienna State Opera, the former court opera, which has been representative for the big Habsburg Empire in the Residence-city Vienna, had been rebuilt as big as before. For Austrian culture and the country the opera very important, especially for a country that is not known for its current assets but what it once had. The Salzburg Festival counts as relativized important, in combination with the everlasting leading orchestra, that fulfills two functions, on one hand as the independent Orchestra Vienna Philharmonic, and on the other hand as the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. If we are lucky there maybe will be snow in winter. Those are the only international important and sought after phenomenon that we have in Austria.
In Milan if today is good or less good, the Scala stays the Scala and lives through its loose history. Nevertheless I have to relativize. In Germany the opera houses live because of their big past. Dresden, München, Hamburg and Berlin have much more money than all the other opera houses. Naturally you lean towards the known houses, because high profile means financial stability. However in those two decades at the opera I experienced that opening is possible. That became very apparent in the engagement of an Asian as music director at the Vienna State Opera. That Seiji Ozawa was even possible had an important, worldwide effect.

BW: You were the one that made Seiji Ozawa possible!

Holender: I made him possible, because someone made me possible. Also that any Tom, Dick or Harry from Romania – as Sigrid Löffler wrote so beautifully in the Austrian magazine “Profil”- could become director of the Vienna State Opera, that was a strong signal.
Not only for me personally but in reference to the calling of a person, which did not have any relevance in the history of the country. But acceptance followed because otherwise they would not tolerate me for so long. But I also tolerated the others for so long!

BW: Someone would not, if I may say so put down in history books that Ioan Holender has been tolerated or only became director of the Vienna State Opera by chance. If you talk about career, you always say that you don’t like the word, because you don’t become successful because of success but through defeat. You explain that if you talk about your own career. You wanted to become a singer and had a very exciting path of life until you got this very important position at the beginning of the 1990s. This one has been really important! Holender completed this office. If I may say so, Holender has been in reality the Austrian Cultural Minister.

Holender: It has not always been important who the Austrian Cultural Minister was – but please. Holender has tried to open the house and not limit the importance of it to its country, in which it is located. I confess on being political in terms of performing arts. There are always two things crucial: what you play and with whom you play it. I don’t find Korngold less important than Richard Strass. If you are going to take out this single sentence then– under quotation mark – the most important Austrian music critic will demolish me and is going to hate me even more than he already does now. Nevertheless, I defend this opinion and I already proofed it with “Oedipe” from Enescu and more debut performance from Enescu, Krenek, Zemlinsky, Schönberg, Janacek and Reimann. As a singer looking for work it had been easier to come into the opera house. In the meantime the whole configuration has changed a lot. There has been almost an invasion of artists from an enormous big country, the People’s Republic of China. Equally from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Those who could not come before are here now too and everyone wants to sing and make music. That has been making it much harder for European artists, because it is not vice versa. Austrian singers, apart from the top artists are not sought after in China.
You mentioned the media. In my opinion the media, especially the Austrian cultural media, play a fatal roll. Either they don’t write anything at all or they idolize the Idols even more. In the meantime Open Air Events have become even more important than opera houses. There they make lots of money in conjunction with tourist organizations and get backed up by the media. That is a very negative and poor development, which nobody seems to see even though it could be easily limited.

BW: This is a development of society, which is not only limited to culture, but also to other parts. Because of the overkill, the flood of the media, people are hopelessly overwhelmed. That’s why there is a focus on top names. How can you counteract that? How can you counteract the star cult, because mankind has the limited capacity to memorize names?

Holender: That is imperialism in art. It is the result of the development of capitalism and imperialism. We are in the middle of it. Everything is limited to top products, on names in the economy, conditioned by the enormous pressure of big companies. This unfortunate development cannot be stopped because we live in a society with a poor political base. Winston Churchill was right, it is still the best system, a better one has not been invented by mankind, only worse.

BW: If you had the possibility to change the system just a bit – let’s think about that idealistically – where do we need to start on getting culture back in the conscience of the people? As a source of creation for them. Culture is not only pleasure, culture is a source of life.

Holender: Culture has life quality. It is nourishment for the brain and for the people, which is not less important than physical nourishment.
Let’s talk about Fundraising: It should be an additional appeal that the art and cultural institutions produce more for those who pay them. The tax payer gives money to the Vienna State Opera that they return something to them, in form of art and culture. Now in Austria the borders between art and entertainment are blurred. It seems that the relevance of opera events and festivals is only determined by how many people go there.  Constantly I’m reading something about use to capacity, to be precise how many butts sit in the chairs,  it doesn’t matter if they have paid for their tickets or not.
The conversation is always only about the revenues. The success of directors of cultural institutions seem to be only determined on how many tickets they sell. They operate out of fear, that their own position could be in question. Failure has to be possible, projects that you believe in but they turn out not as good as you thought they would. That is the right of art. Art has to look for something and present something new. A very positive example for that – a glorious exception – is the Vienna Festival 2014.
In no other area is the person in charge so influential and important, positive and negative, like in these cultural institution. A lot of it depends on the person in charge, because art institutions should not be a democracy. One person needs to be in charge and needs to decide what has to be shown, with whom it’s going to be shown, but also what is not going to be shown at all. This is equally as important. An open, curious person like Hinterhäuser from the Festival can proof what is possible with limited funds. He advocates for something and burns for the matter. In my opinion more money does not mean more quality. That is not the case, but also not the opposite. Today the world is focused on tangible assets, only to make money and acquire wealth. Mankind is developing accordingly and this causes that art and culture have less relevance.

BW: The great and known composers, for example the highly praised Mozart that gave Austria its identity, have been in a way a revolutionists of their time? Are those revolutionists in today’s culture missing?

Holender: I do not want to overuse the word revolutionists or use it in this particular context. Sure, their own belief, their glowing and their individuality gets less appreciation. Composers are only humans too. If you want it justifies that Richard Strauss approached the former regime. He only wanted to be played. Today it is similar, only the regime is no longer criminal. You try to form relationships by advertising, by approaching the economy and by being present at big events so that you can master your own existence.
Still artists are the exception, they are exceptional phenomena of the word. An artist is always giving more than he takes. He gives mankind something back with his talent. There is also an imperative to create, if you have to say something, if you have a voice that has a communicative effect through beauty, stature and sensuality. Not only to be present in the media and the gazettes. The cultural critics in the newspapers are not helpful, they do more damage than they help.

BW: Let’s focus on the situation of artists today. During your long professional practice you decided on careers, on success and failure, but you also made careers possible, to put a positive spin on it.

Holender: For me achievement was always more important than the name. I did not decide on success and failure, the consumers did that, in that case the audience. But I did not let myself get influenced by applause or denial. I thought that I knew, what real quality is. Quality is not necessarily success and failure does not necessarily mean bad quality.
Now let’s talk about productions. The productions of music theater has gained disproportionate fame, caused by the permanent incest actions because only the same core repertoire, only the known works are being played. People think they have a better understanding of known works than unknown works. Someone should make a new understanding possible, with debut performances, but also to tap into the things that became unknown. We know so much about everything that had been destroyed and has been banished from the conscience of the people in those short twelve years under the leadership of the Third Reich, but it is lost until today. Indemnification has been tried. But as I always say you can’t compensate anything, you can only make it good.
It has been done on a very small scale. I brought Ernst Krenek back and I thought it would have consequences, but it did not have any consequences. Interestingly enough we were on the cutting edge with Krongolds “Toter Stadt” and we achieved a worldwide effect. It was a happy exception, unfortunately not the norm.
In that matter the European Union could influence it. If we only had the right personalities in the culture field. But also here party politics play a roll. Because the delegates are no connoisseurs or fighters. That carries through up to the director of opera houses and theaters, since they are often decided on a political level, they are dependent on the politics of the party. That is the main problem. Sometimes you are lucky though.

BW: Call it chance or luck, but there have been always personalities that stir up society. You mentioned Markus Hinterhäuser, if I may contradict you, did not come from nothing since he has already been in charge in Salzburg.

Holender: People know Hinterhäuser not because of his presence at various events.

BW: He is still an artist.

Holender: That is correct. He is an artist. He is the work. The success of Hinterhäuser is what he does and not his own persona. But without grooming and fostering the extraordinary.  We don’t know a lot and read about the character Hinterhäuser. That is also not important. After years of money destruction at the Vienna Festival in which nothing happened, Hinterhäuser comes in and shows what is possible. You can’t emphasize that enough. I do not want to make a comparison to other Viennese Institutions, but he showed us that the impossible is possible.

BW: Are you looking forward to his artistic directorship in Salzburg?

Holender: He raised the bar very high and he is going to be challenged at the next Vienna Festival seasons since the better it is the more the people expect from you.

BW: As a fan he already won you over and that is a tremendous success.

Holender: I’m not a fan, but I have respect, appreciation and sympathy for that man. He is not the only one, but one of those who really moved something. Someone could also mention the opera in Munich. Suddenly it is now one of the best opera houses in Europe.

BW: Is that correct?

Holender: Yes.

BW: Is the Vienna State Opera in its shadow?

Holender: No, I did not say that. We can talk about everything and I will comment on everything you want, but I am definitely not going to comment on a house that I left in order with honor, appreciation and pleasure. I’m not commenting on the events at the Vienna State Opera.
The Bavarian State Opera, has been one of the important, but not the most important opera houses in Europe. Now something has changed through directors, singers and an exceptional conductor, Kirill Petrenko, which came from the Russian countryside. He became general music director at the Bavarian State Opera where he now achieves extraordinary results. He emerged through small houses like the People’s Opera, Meiningen, the Komische Oper. It doesn’t need more than that. It is not that hard. I don’t think that the whole thing is that hard. I don’t think I had difficulty at the opera. If you don’t listen too much what’s going on left and right, if you don’t want to please everyone and if you don’t search for it, you can become more easily successful. As you pointed out earlier, we have the right to fail and defeat on the quest of quality and what we want to give to the people that are coming to us.

BW: Let us talk about young artists, as well as sucess and failure. The young generation of artist, the next generation dreams about success. They dream about a big career, which is shaped by great names and they forget or feel the musical, artistic mission behind it. How do you evaluate our current education system? What would you wish young artist today for their future?

Holender: If I was in charge, as a sponsor, cultural minister, as mayor or governor, I would cancel all the grants for smaller theaters which do not have an ensemble any more but only operate with guest stars. Young artists need the chance to grow. They need to have the possibility to sing wrong parts, to discover that they are singing the right or wrong parts. This guest system, where the same artists make more and more money takes the chance away that beginners can grow with an appropriate salary. I used to pay the young artists, which I engaged and of which some of them became famous in the meantime, just enough that they could make a decent living. That used to be always around 2.000 Euro a months, not more. With that kind of salary it is possible to lead an appropriate existence. Of course it grew over time, but only gradually and not suddenly. After a certain time I told a lot of them that they should go somewhere else. They were singing great here, but only small or medium parts, now they had to sing leading rolls. But it was not possible for me to enable them here, since their voices were not been big enough or they still needed grow. But where can they go. If you already foster the star system in smaller Austrian theaters, the same people will always sing here and there. This is a very poor development and I would not give any money for that.

BW: If I would be a young artist, a singer, and would ask you on my knees, please give me a recipe on how I can become successful, what would you advise me?

Holender: Nobody needs to plea on their knees. I think that talents are a little bit given by God or nature. Artistically essential is the beauty of the timbre, it doesn’t matter if you are a violinist or a singer. You communicate sensuality. It is not only intellectual, but also sensual. Sensuality plays a roll in music. Emotions convey stories. A lot of them want to take the job, only a few have a calling for it. I am one of those people that told people concerned the painful truth. They will suffer and will not be able to live a life on what they would love to do the most, singing or playing at the orchestra. There are naturally boundaries, and most of them don’t succeed. It is not a tragedy, we know that this is part of artistry.
At the beginning they should audition at smaller theaters. There the agency business comes into place, which has been changed radically. I have done this for 22 years myself. I understood myself as an agent, in the beginning it was called stage agency.  It served both parties, the artists looking for work and the employer.  The job of the stage agency was to get the right person to the right place and not to be an agent to artists that have not started yet. They had to work with everyone that could give them employment. The perspectives and possibilities are today bigger than they have been before. The world is more open. Now Austrians sing in countries that have been behind the “Iron Curtain”. Also in Hungary it starts or started again. Now a step back is happening, because of a nationalistic direction. Before that it would not have been possible to find work there. Summa Summarum, because of a free Europe, if we can call it that, it has been easier. What I said in the beginning of our conversation, I find that very important: everyone should have the same rights, no matter from which country you come from.

BW: We have to work to make sure that our treasures of culture are known in different countries, also in poorer ones.

Holender: The politics of subsidies is operating wrong. The important, rich and known institutions get more and more. I read a lot about saving. Personally I did not save money at the opera, but decided very carefully on what I was willing to spend money on. Staging is an illusion that we convey. If you take costumes, the quality of leather or fabric is irrelevant for the audience. The wishes of the directors cannot be granted without hesitation, since they are only a part of the whole. Besides what you see, there are singers and the orchestra you need in order to communicate the work. Everything has gotten way too expensive, determined by the technical accomplishments of our time. Most theaters don’t have the new technical requirements since they are all around hundred years old and where not built for it. This development is not only very expensive but removes themselves from the actual artistic act. Someone could counteract if we had the right persons. Because of short term contracts and the desire to stay in office, like we see that from politicians, directors of theaters take the spotlight. I don’t want to get into the issue of the National Theater but it is no coincidence that it happened there, what happened and that it actually could happen.
I want to come back to the European Union. It is important, that mandataries, that are responsible for art and cultural policy, know more and have their own opinion. As said, if you send a skilled paper for your endeavors to Brussels, you can get lots of money. I know of examples where I would not give anything for it, but the bureaucracy supports it. No wonder, if you only use officers, nothing will change.

BW: At the end, I want to ask you, if you would be a visionary or prophet, what would be your vision for Europe in 100 years?

Holender: In 100 years the number of national countries will likely not have changed. My vision would be that there doesn’t exist fear of individuality of countries, also concerning their languages. That I find very important. Unfortunately less languages are spoken in today’s Europe, because everyone speaks the new Esperanto – the English language. I hope that not everyone is going to speak English. Further my wish would be that we can succeed to not have poor countries on our conscience.

BW: How do you foresee the area of music, is there going to be opera in 100 years?

Holender: Definitely. We talk about this strange total work of art opera since 400 years. Someone is going to find forgotten works and naturally new works will be created. It is an important signal if you can’t get tickets for “The Soldiers” by Zimmermann at the Bavarian State Opera. Yes I am an optimist what Europe is going to be in 100 years, because I still believe in the ability of mankind to spot the good an distinguish between the bad.

BW: In 100 years if someone opens up a history book, there will be a chapter about the Vienna State Opera and its director Ioan Holender. What is he going to read?

Holender: Probably that he has been sitting there the longest. Maybe in 100 years I won’t hold this record any more. Actually it is not important. I don’t know it and it doesn’t interest me a lot. What is being built around my own person is produced by itself, you can’t – and should not influence that. It is not that important to me what you read about the person Holender. Not everything is going to be true what you read, positive or negative. It is nice and satisfaction enough that you are going to read about the person Holender at all.

BW: Mr. Holender, thank you very, very much for the interview.

Slightly edited transcribed version of the interview authorized by Ioan Holender.
IOAN HOLENDER was born in Timisoara (Romania) and  lives in Austria. He studied singing at the Vienna State Conservatory and from 1962 to 1966 he started a career as an opera- and concert-singer before entering a concert agency for opera singers.

In 1988 he was appointed General Secretary of the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Volksoper, in 1992 General Manager of both Opera Houses. On August 31, 1996 he retired as General Manager of the Volksoper. His contract in Vienna ran until the year 2010, and he is the Vienna State Opera’s longest serving director since 1869. In February 2007 Ioan Holender announced publicly that he would not be at disposal for an eventual prolongation of his current contract as General Manager of Vienna State Opera beyond August 2010. He held this position the longest in the history of the Vienna State Opera.

Nowadays he is advisor of the Metropolitan Opera New York and the Spring Festival Tokyo and artistic director of the George Eunescu Festival Bucharest. He is a lecturer at the University of Vienna. Further he is a jury member for several international singing-competitions.

Ioan Holender is an Honorary Member of the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Volksoper. He holds the Golden “Franz Schalk” Medal given by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and has also been awarded the honorary citizenship of his native town Timisoara.
His autobiography “Ioan Holender – Der Lebensweg des Wiener Staatsoperndirektors” has been published by Böhlau Verlag Wien in 2001. In June 2010 he has published his new book „Ioan Holender: ‚Ich bin noch nicht fertig’ – Erinnerungen“ (Zsolnay Verlag).

BENEDIKT WEINGARTNER studied theology, philosophy and music history. Was as a Benedictine monk at Benediktinerstift Lambach, where he was responsible for cultural affairs, taught in gymnasium and founded a chamber music festival. After 10 years he moved to Vienna and joined a well-known international artist management, which he took over later. He was board member of the European Association of Artist Managers and most recently its president. Since its foundation Benedikt Weingartner is Secretary General of the European platform “Music in Europe”.

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  • Interesting that Holender mentions how Austrian society is becoming more open and as as example mentions that the Vienna State Opera hired an Asian as music director. (Ozawa.) And yet he does not go a step farther and break the taboo of mentioning the Vienna Philharmonic’s exclusion of Asians.

      • The orchestra has 3 members who are half Asian and with German family names. The change will come when they hire a member who is fully Asian and with an Asian family name. For the last 40 years, about a quarter to a third of the students at Vienna’s University of Music have been Asian. Many stay in Austria and develop professional careers but the orchestra has never hired one.

        A Swedish journalist I met just last month ago interviewed two members of the orchestra after it was given the Birgit Nilsson Prize. One of them was one of the few women in the orchestra. They repeated the view that Asians make music differently even after training and professional experience in Austria, and that they should not be members of the orchestra.

        • The view that candidates from country A make music differently than those from country B, due to cultural differences and therefore shouldn’t be made members in orchestra X is unfortunately one that does not solely apply to Austrian orchestras. Here’s a ‘Die Welt’ article from a few years ago addressing similar problems (you may well have already read it):

          http://www.welt.de/kultur/article4295385/Deutsche-Orchester-und-ihr-Rassismus-Problem.html

          One of my former professors shared that and once compared it to learning a foreign language. He said that one can take years of language classes and immerse oneself in the native culture, there will often still be a hint of something “unusual” about ones choice of words, cadence or pronunciation.
          I personally don’t care where a musician was born and raised or what colour their skin is (or what language they speak or what accent they have).

          • Yes, I remember that article well. The author, Lucas Wiegelmann, represents a younger generation that is the better side of Germany and promises a brighter future.

          • It is a great mystery that the normal / natural differences in culture are considered taboo and that manitaining local cultural identity (like the VPO’s appointment policies) is considered something wrong. It is PC thinking with a tinge of totalitarian motivation: thou shalst be open to the world as thou arst told. And on the other hand, individual cultural identity is highly valued, in orchestras, individual performers, and often one hears the complaints that orchestras begin to sound the same everywhere due to too much touring, etc. etc. and that specific character is eroding. If we want character, we should let orchestras be completely free in establishing their own norms, and those don’t need to be racist, but can be cultural and musical and that is, be it stressed, normal.

          • Race is not a factor in the creation of an orchestra’s style. By opening its doors to women and excellent Asian musicians trained in Vienna, the VPO will expand its pool of talent, and thus better insure the maintenance of its style.

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