A fourth woman crosses the Vienna Philharmonic threshhold

A fourth woman crosses the Vienna Philharmonic threshhold


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2015

We broke exclusive news yesterday of the admission of two women, Karin Bonelli and Patricia Koll, as full members of the Vienna Philharmonic, a red lipstick day in the orchestra’s dark history of male dominance.

We also broke news that Ekaterina Frolova had been admitted on trial to the first violin section, the start of a compatibility process that usually takes three years.

Today, our mole in the orchestra informs us of a fourth woman who has been quietly admitted.

Adela Frasineanu passed her trial last week for the second violin section and will play in the New Year’s Day concert on television.

Well done, Adela.

adela frasineanu

Vienna has just begun to move into the second half of the 20th century. This week might prove to be historic.



  • william osborne says:

    She is one of six musicians performing in the VPO who have completed their trial year at the Staatsoper, but who are still completing the three year tenure period required to become official members of the Philharmonic. On its website, the VPO notes that these musicians are not members. In the orchestra’s own words: “An asterisk * denotes confirmed members of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra who do not yet belong to the association of the Vienna Philharmonic.”

    On the other hand, it is extremely rare for musicians to pass their trial year in the Staatsoper and not eventually become members of the Philharmonic. Two of the 8 women in the VPO, however, Ursula Plaichinger and Ursula Wex, had their tenure period extended much longer than 3 years, which is quite unusual. That meant 25% of the women had an extended trial period — a ratio vastly higher than for the men during the same period.

    I notice from the VSO/VPO websites that violist Ursula Plaichinger is no longer in the orchestra. Does anyone know why?

    • william osborne says:

      I just figured it out. Ursula must have gotten married and changed her name to Ruppe.

    • Max Grimm says:

      William Osborne says: “Two of the 8 women in the VPO, however, Ursula Plaichinger and Ursula Wex, had their tenure period extended much longer than 3 years, which is quite unusual.”

      – For balance sake (and without speculating specifically on Mrs. Ruppe’s or Mrs. Wex’s case), a commonly overlooked fact is that positions in the VPO are limited and have to become vacant first in order to be filled again. Incidentally, another (male) cellist had almost as long a wait as Mrs. Wex, having spent 8 years waiting for admission into the VPO and gaining it one year after Mrs. Wex. Additionally, there are more than a dozen men in the orchestra, who had to wait between 4 and 5 years (like Mrs. Ruppe) for admission into the Association of the Wiener Philharmoniker.

      • william osborne says:

        The VSSO has replaced well over half its musicians since 1997 (the year it agreed to admit women.) The m/f ratio for new hires has been less than ten to one. The international average is about 2 to 1. Since 2007 there has been an improvement in the hiring ratios, but they are still well below international norms.

        Without documentation of the names of the men whose probation periods you claim were extended, the dates of the extensions, and the reasons, I can’t place any credence in your remarks. In fact, I doubt your assertions are true. We need proof.

        • Max Grimm says:

          You see William, the problem is that we cannot place any credence in your remarks or mine, as neither you nor I will ever have 100% of the facts; only the VPO has those and it, like the rest of the world’s large orchestras, will not share everything. Questions regarding why a trial is extended, when a candidate even submitted his/her application for membership and what really goes on in the heads of VPO members, can only be “answered” with speculation and theories.
          What you can find out beyond the shadow of doubt however, are the names and dates of ‘those men’; not all VPO members have biographies linked on the VPO website but that’s why the Christkind gave us Google search.

          • william osborne says:

            One doesn’t need 100% of the facts, many which would be irrelevant anyway, to make important, documented observations about the orchestra. Such an illogical argument requiring “total knowledge,” whatever that might be, is just one more method the VPO uses to obfuscate. We can observe with absolute certainty that the VPO did not make any non-harpist women members for ten years after allowing women membership, while many men obtained positions. I can also document exactly when Ursula Wex and Ursula Plaichinger entered the orchestra and exactly how long their probationary periods were. There are also observations that are credible when no documentation is provided to disprove known policies. Twenty-five percent of the women in the orchestra had their probationary periods significantly extended, but there is no evidence this was true for twenty-five percent of the men, or anywhere near it. In short, if you want to claim that the three year probationary period is not the norm, or has a significant number of variations, you need to prove it.

  • Marg says:

    About time, is all I can say.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Yesterday, the Bologna Mandoline Orchestra have appointed 15 male Syrian refugees. They never saw a mandoline before but it is hoped that their deficiencies will be amply compensated by their symbolic male presence when the orchestra, originally set-up as an all-female group, plays its two concerts in the Munich Gastein hall 2nd of January. A video recording will be sent to mr Osborne for approval, together with a request to calculate the gender balance percentages, since the board has tried to figure that out at 3 consecutive meetings but came at different results again and again. Their hope is that mr O will be so kind to offer his expertise.

  • Max says:

    It’s not enough. The best thing to do is to fire half the men and then replace them with women. Forget about auditions, abilities, attendance…it’s not as important as making things equal in the eyes of society. It’s the only way.
    Of course there is the problem of race. Perhaps we can split the two genders into half black and half white? Wait, the Asians! OK, so we have two groups: men and women, each would be divided into 33% white, 33% black, and 33% Asian. This would leave a 1% open. Who to give it to? The Eskimos? The Aborigines? But then that wouldn’t be equal!!
    OK, I got it! Two genders, equally divided into 20% white, 20% black, 20% Asian, 20% Eskimo, and 20% Aborigines. Alright, alright…now we’ve got ourselves an orchestra, people!!

    Oh crap…the trans-gendered.

    • William Safford says:

      Ah, yes, do let’s mock the idea of equality of opportunity. *Cough*

      One of the reasons why you are able to create such an phantasm of putative silliness is because of the intransigence of certain people and groups against granting equal rights to other people and groups merely because of their sex, their skin color, or other characteristics extrinsic to their ability to make music. They try to find any way to discriminate against others.

      One tool in the arsenal is mocking the idea of equality of opportunity.

      For just one example in the U.S., think of the “massive resistance” in the 1950s and 1960s against school desegregation in the American South, in the wake of the Supreme Court “Brown” decision. Enough Southern whites so hated black people, that entire public school districts were closed and segregationist private schools were established just to prevent black children from attending school with white children. One county in Virginia (Prince Edward County) closed all its public schools for five years, until ordered by the Supreme Court to reopen them. All of this hatred was because of the amount of melanin in one’s skin — oh, yes, and the Jim Crow belief systems held by white southerners lingering and festering from slaveowning times.

      There are countless other examples.

      So yes, all the peoples you listed should be able to participate in orchestras. Most of them have been blocked or restricted from participation or membership at one time or another.

      Do you agree that this is bad?

      The Vienna Philharmonic seems to have tackled changing its all-white, all-male composition — to use the expression from the “Brown” decision — with “all deliberate speed.” That is to say, it is way behind the times. But at least it is starting to catch up.

      Oh, and I have performed with transgendered musicians. I have also heard them in concert (including one piano soloist). Their ability to make music is just as good or bad as anyone else’s. Shouldn’t they have just the same opportunities as anyone else?

    • Bruce says:

      Or, here’s an even more ridiculous idea: hold an audition and award the job (with the usual trial period/periods, etc.) to the best player, REGARDLESS of their race/gender identity/orientation. But don’t worry, people like you can still insist that someone was hired only because they were female, Asian, etc…. as if being good at their instrument had nothing to do with the hiring decision.

      Do you realize that if you imply that the VPO is hiring by quota, you are also implying that the white males they’ve hired in the past were also by quota? (“She wasn’t really that good, but they needed a woman” translates directly into “HE wasn’t really that good, but they needed a man.”)

  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    I only hope that Norman, William, and others can rejoice in the appointment without forgetting that the true accomplishment is that a great player was selected. Not simply her gender.

    Let’s treat her equally, without giving way to reducing her to a novelty of politics.

    • Andrew Condon says:

      Very well said. Anyone who manages to gain membership of this august institution is an artist of true international solo calibre – and I’m sure the standards required are only getting tougher (they have a third set of concertmaster auditions this month, having failed on 2 previous occasions to make an appointment).

    • William Safford says:

      Well, that’s the point of all of this discussion. She should have the opportunity to be treated equally, rather than being blocked from membership merely because she’s female, as had previously been the norm.

      Kudos for the Vienna Philharmonic and State Opera Orchestra for making progress on this front.

  • John Borstlap says:

    What would happen if a brilliant transvestite would audition?

    • william osborne says:

      Are you thinking of applying?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Actually, I did last year and was almost accepted, until they found-out that I was a man (went to the wrong bathroom)..

        • Bruce says:

          Well that’s an error you can easily fix next time you make it to the final round 🙂 Congratulations on your future job in Vienna!

          • John Borstlap says:

            Hopefully – from 2016 onwards the VPO will remove the signs on the bathroom doors during the audition process, to be sure that mr Osborne will have no reason to complain about unequal use of the facilities.