Just another working day at the Vienna Philharmonic

The French conductor Frédéric Chaslin went into the Vienna pit last night to conduct Massenet’s Werther.

Before dropping a downbeat, he took as selfie – as one does – with the Vienna Philharmonic’s concertmaster of the past 30 years, Reiner Honeck (l.).

chaslin honeck

Honeck quietly ran through his working day:  three hours stage orchestra of Hansel und Gretel with Thielemann in the morning, Mahler’s ninth symphony rehearsal with Barenboim in the afternoon and three hours of Massenet in the main house before bedtime.

‘My fingers are warm,’ he told the night’s conductor.

chaslin barenboim garanca
Aftershow pic: Barenboim, Garanca, Chaslin

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  • For many years the VPO used its heavy work load as a rationale for excluding women. Some members said women were not capable of doing so much work. In a letter dated April 19, 1996, the VPO attributed their exclusion of women to Europe´s maternity leave regulations, and argued that if women were admitted, 25% of their members would be pregnant each season. Of course, none of this paranoid misogyny turned out to be true. For more info see:

    http://www.osborne-conant.org/birth.htm

    • Mr Osborne,
      as you are well aware, the orchestra no longer excludes women and it was the hard work of the younger generation that made the difference and made the absolutely necessary changes possible. Now, a good fifteen years later, even some of the men are taking paternity leave. Please do not rehash this argument as for all intents and purposes, it is simply no longer relevant.

      • That’s exactly the point. They claimed women couldn’t do the work which of course turned out to be chauvinistic nonsense.

          • With only 10 or 12 women out of 149 positions it is sadly not yet past. And of course we know that there are few places where history is a more uncomfortable topic than Vienna. Diligent observation and discussion about the VPO’s employment practices are still essential. Where, for example, are the members with Asian family names?

    • In fact, calculations at the time suggested that if the gender balance would be 50/50, the proportion as required by the Wiener Frauenbund, the one half of the orchestra would fertilize the other half, under the influence of highly-inspiring classical music, and 9 months into the season half of the orchestra would be at home on maternity leave. The effect on the repertoire would be that only pieces with a chamber orchestra size would be played by the end of the season, which would lay a heavvy burden upon the programming process. It is generally known that in equally-mixed orchestras, small-sized repertoire is always preferred at the end of the season. We now know why.

    • I would have been bitterly disappointed if Osborne had not criticized the VPO the moment an article was posted about them on this site.

  • Hello people ! Wake up ! 3-tier days are not unusual either in London Orchestras. Just reminding you that the reason London Orchestras have sometimes relentless schedules is that when there is no work the players do not get paid. That is why London Orchestral managements do their best to fill the diary not only with concert work but also commercial work and touring. At least the VPO players (who are actually members of the Wiener Staatsoper) receive a well deserved plump salary.

    • American orchestras also often require three tier work days, and unlike most European orchestras, they seldom have co-principal positions and rotating tutti positions to share the work. The Wiener Staatsoper Orchester/Vienna Phil has 149 members to share the work — about a third more members than most US orchestras When it comes to self-mythologizing, no orchestra tops the VPO.

      • Which American orchestras are you referring to exactly? Considering some top US orchestras have principals earning >$200’000 and base-salaries >$130’000, a somewhat higher workload is quite acceptable.

        • Most all of them have a similar workload. And I agree that there salaries are too high. They hog so many resources they starve other cultural institutions around them.

      • Those 149 musicians undertake all the Staatsoper performances ( which is nearly every night ) plus all the concerts of the VPO.
        Such workload is not comparable to a regular US symphony orchestra, so of course they need co-principals, rotating tutti positions and simply more musicians than the Boston Symphony or the Kentucky Fried Chicken Philharmonic.

        • Actually, the musicians in top US orchestras do a similar number of services per month as those in the VPO. The VPO’s claim that it musicians work more than top orchestras in most other countries is nonsense, including the Bratwurst Symphonker in the Nationale Vaterland — to use your same sophisticated humor…

          • Fascinating news, but that’s not what I was talking about.

            If the existing NY Phil would take on additionally all the Met performances they would have to get more players.
            Your idea that the 149 Staatsoper/VPO players share between them the workload of a typical US symphony orchestra is utterly bizarre.

            I rest my case, enough said.

          • I never said the NY Phil shares the work of an opera house and symphony orchestra (obviously,) but that the musicians in both orchestras have about the same number of services per month. By paying for 149 Staatsoper positions, and thus allowing them to rotate services and have time to work in the VPO, the Austrian government provides a large subsidy for the VPO.

      • If I were PR manager to the VPO, I think I would advise to build a hughe wall of silence around the orchestra to prevent the nosy sharks getting their distorted impressions which are then spread through the media.

        • I am sure that the members of the VPO are not particularly concerned about the ageing critics of people who are either long gone or no longer the driving force behind the orchestra. Change for the better is happening and it will continue with or without the vigilance and frequent asinine comments from said critics.

          • Women represnt only 7% of the VPO’s personnel 17 years after the orchestra agreed to admit them. The VPO also continues to exclude people who are fully Asian and have Asian family names. This is all perfectly acceptable for BViolistic, which says a lot about who that anonymous hero is.

  • Mr Osborne,
    please. Nobody is excluded from auditioning for the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Why do you insist on constantly saying the opposite?

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