Vienna Philharmonic awards prize to itself

The $1 million Birgit Nilsson award is given to an eminent musician, who usually donates it to a worthy cause.

The Vienna Philharmonic will receive the prize in Stockholm tonight.

It will donate the prize to its own archives – a resource it has used astutely for seven decades to conceal its activities in the Third Reich.

brigit nilsson prize

 

Andreas Grossbauer, the VPO President said: ‘The Vienna Philharmonic believes that you ensure your future by remembering and documenting your past. Given the historic significance of the Vienna Philharmonic in music history and the historic significance of Birgit Nilsson herself, the Vienna Philharmonic has unanimously voted to use the entire one million dollar Birgit Nilsson Prize to expand its Historic Archive and to make it more easily accessible.

‘It has long been a dream of the VPO to have a transparent archive which is more accessible and more readily open to the public, to entice young people to view and study this history of almost two centuries, and to provide an environment conducive to scholarly research. This Prize will enable the VPO to establish a permanent home for its vast archive, which has grown appreciably over the past decades. As the VPO moves forward into the next century, its historic context and legacy will now be assured.’

The Vienna Philharmonic gives masterclasses in facing both ways.

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  • This is a joke, right?

    “The Vienna Philharmonic has unanimously voted to use the entire one million dollar Birgit Nilsson Prize to expand its Historic Archive and to make it more easily accessible.”

    Does Vienna have no sense of irony or shame?

  • Plenty of money around but it simply passes back and forth between members of a self-sustaining, self-congratulating elite, while everyone else scrabbles for basic survival. Who says classical music doesn’t reflect modern society?

  • I still consider that Nilsson, one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, must have been in some state of mental disorganisation to wish to donate such huge amounts to already massively wealthy individuals and organisations. What do Placido Domingo, Riccardo Muti and the VPO need with such monies? It dishonours her memory.

      • I assure you there is no need to remind me. It was entirely up to Ms. Nilsson to decide how she spent her money and what she wanted done with it after she died. If she wanted to acknowledge the careers of superb artists, that was absolutely her prerogative. I still believe, though, that ir was misguided, given the huge amount of money involved and the wealth of the winners to date.

        She could still have created the awards, but with a proviso that the awardees donate the money to musical charities of their choosing (which for all anyone knows they may do). But she made them outright gifts. Her decision and her right.

        Having spoken to quite a few colleagues about it, I know I am not a lone voice in believing it does a disservice to her memory.

        • Nick says:

          I assure you there is no need to remind me.

          I wasn’t reminding you of anything. I asked *you* to remind *me* what business of yours it is how Nilsson decided to spend her money. That “remind me” thing is a kind of rhetoric device, and the implied answer to that is “absolutely none”.

          I know I am not a lone voice in believing it does a disservice to her memory.

          But it is still absolutely none of your business. That you can’t respect what she decided to do with her money – now *that* is a “disservice to her memory”.

          • Purely for clarification. I did not intend to be rude in any way. I typed “me” when I should have typed “you”. I apologise. I fully understand you disagree with my comments. You are very clear in expounding yours. As for my comments on Ms. Nilsson’s decision, I am as entitled to my view which I shall not change as you are to yours.

  • I’m afraid I agree. How much more worthy would it have been if the money went into institutions training young musicians or for music therapy Do we know, by the way, what Muti did with the money?

    • When presented with the Prize, Muti refused to respond, saying if he used the money philanthropically, he would do so anonymously. Given he has several pet social commitments, my guess is he’ll have given it away. In any case, he doesn’t need it for himself – unlike the Nazi-tainted VPO, it seems!

      • Just for the record: the VPO consists of people who had and have nothing to do with nazi crimes. It is an entirely different orchestra. The players are not guilty / responsible for things former generations did.

        • I entirely agree. But you will surely at least accept that the VPO as an institution, like some other artists and artistic endeavours in those terrible times, has a past that is “Nazi-tainted”.

          • So? That still doesn’t mean that any of the current members of the orchestra have anything to do with what happened back then, before any of them were even born. And what does “Nazi-tainted” even mean? Don’t you realize that no matter how many members of the orchestra back then were active supporters or at least passive enablers of the Nazi regime plays absolutely no role at all in the grand scheme of history? Do you think the orchestra single-handedly caused WWII and the holocaust?

            Do you think that anyone who happens to be born in, say, England is somehow “tainted” by the nasty colonial history of the country which was largely built on the systematic exploitation of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people, including the systematic starving to death of tens of millions of Indians and the wiping out of about half the population of Ireland in the 19th century?

            Are the still ongoing post-colonial tremors in the Near and Middle East that we are still dealing with today and that are still the causes for some of the gravest problems the world has today the fault of all people who happen to have been born in the post-colonial remains of the former “British Empire” – or do you think that that’s all the fault of the Wiener Philharmoniker, too? Do you have any sense of historical perspective?

          • And – following your logic – all American orchestras have a history tainted by the genocide of the indigenous people of North America, correct?

  • “Vienna Philharmonic awards prize to itself”. The Birgit Nilsson Foundation, not the Vienna Philharmonic, awards that prize. Why should the recipient of a prize be not allowed to keep the prize money.

  • Good for Rebecca Schmid and The New York Times at least for not swallowing the spin that putting this money towards improving its poorly housed and long inaccessible archives is not at all the same as confronting its past during and since 1938-1945. And what everyone above has said.

    • What do you mean? I googled what Rebecca Schmid had to say about this but I didn’t find anything by her except a fairly brief article saying just that, the the WP will use the money to digitize their archives which contain thousands of program leaflets and letters, and other historically relevant material.

      What I find puzzling about someone like you who seems to be some kind of classical music journalist is that you don’t seem to realize that the history of this orchestra does not just span from 1938-45. Why this fixation on just that one period?

  • I don’t understand. Now that the VPO finally wants to organize their archive in such way that it becomes something like public property, it is not right again.

  • Michael Sch., a) We’ve been through this here many times before. You wholly mischaracterize what I say and have said on this topic and I am certainly not going to engage with you yet again about any of this. b) Maybe at certain times of day you write with more or less politeness. If you are going to write to and about me (or Nick) in the way you do here then there’s no way or reason to respond to you beyond this note. Thanks! I am writing a piece this week about the Prize that anyone who has an interest will be able to read. That’s what people “like [me] who seem to be some kind of . . . journalist”s do. Have a nice day!

  • “Do you think that anyone who happens to be born in, say, England is somehow “tainted” by the nasty colonial history of the country which was largely built on the systematic exploitation of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people, including the systematic starving to death of tens of millions of Indians and the wiping out of about half the population of Ireland in the 19th century?”
    I totally agree with you Michael. Are the London Phil still criminals for having played infront of Hitler in their first tour to Nazi-Germany with Beecham?
    Could the Vienna and Berlin Phils help it being (for unfortunate obvious reasons) considered Reichsorchestern during a 10 year period, considering that one was founded in 1842 and the other in 1882?
    Was the Leningrad Philharmonic of the glorious Mravinsky-era the same as the Stalin-Band?
    Jeez, I won’t even get near wondering about the orchestras around the Middle East!…

    • Totally agree.
      Would they have donated the money elsewhere it would have been criticised just as much as giving it to the archives.
      This selective high moral ground attitude against one of the very best orchestras in the world is nothing new of course .

      Interesting to hear about the London Philharmonic undertaking 1936 a tour of Germany .
      Having to take Mendelssohns’ Scottish symphony ( some sources claim it was the Italian symphony ) off the program due to certain pressures was a small token to save the tour… and refusing to play the anthem before each concert made up for it I guess.
      Beecham subsequently returning to Germany several times before 1939 for a recording project ( Zauberfloete ) was just a musical necessity and good connections always help.

      But I am digressing here: back to the VPO: donating the money to improve the work of the archives and making them more accessible was a good decision and a telling sign that the previous policy of restricting access to its archives and history are well over.

      • This selective high moral ground attitude against one of the very best orchestras in the world is nothing new of course .

        So why do you think some people kneejerk to that reaction every time this comes up? Culture envy or cultural inferiority complexes?*

        At the same time as some people are so fixated on reducing the long and rich history of this orchestra – 172 years now – to those few years during the Nazi period, they totally seem to miss what is really the most relevant aspect here – not just that this orchestra was a propaganda tool during the NS period – we all know that, and nobody claims that it wasn’t – but the fact that it was a propaganda tool precisely because culture was seen as very important back then in Germany and Austria, otherwise it wouldn’t have attracted so much attention of those in power – just as culture was seen as very important there long before and long after the NS period, and it still is today. Probably more so than in most other countries. The Nazis are long gone, but that rich cultural landscape is still there.
        So I maybe I am right when I suspect culture envy or cultural inferiority complexes?

        *Note for Andy P here: yes, I know, you will want to use this to go “Ahaaa! So you think you are culturally superior?!?” – but that does not follow from that. Diagnosing a cultural inferiority complex does not mean that one thinks one is superior, it just means that one notices that other people have such a problem. But the problem lies with those who have the inferiority complex.

  • Just imagine, a Historic Archive of manuscripts and original handwritten orchestral parts of music by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, R.Strauss aswell as the Strauß-family – soon accessible online! Mouth-watering!

    • Ah no, no, no, that’s all irrelevant – it’s all about the Nazi stuff, about nothing else.*

      BTW – 10 bonus points for the use of the ß – but, contrary to popular opinion and what one can read in many sources, both Johann Strauss and his father actually spelled their name Strauss, not Strauß.

      Bonus fun fact: Johann Strauss actually renounced his Austrian citizenship in 1886 because the the Catholic state, he couldn’t get a divorce from is second wife, so he became a citizen of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and therefore of Germany.

      Bonus fun fact II: Saxe-Coburg and Gotha is also the actual name of the English royal family, the whole Windsor thing is just made up. They changed the name due to anti-German sentiments in WWI. To make things even worse, the first German long range (for the time) bomber which attacked London was called Gotha G.IV – not as a dig against the English royals, it just happened to be made by a company located in Gotha.

  • Michael: and don’t forget the Hanovers on the british throne!! 😀
    Thanks for clarifying the issue about the Strauß versus Strauss! I honestly didn’t know about all the mess in Johann Jr.’s life until I checked out his own signature wich is spelled – as you say, with two Ss!

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