Vienna Philharmonic appoints two women

Vienna Philharmonic appoints two women


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2015

Six months after she started playing in the first violins of the Vienna State Opera, Ekaterina Frolova has been accepted into the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra*. Well done, Ekaterina.

That’s not just fast. It’s indicative of a new policy within the orchestra.

The ratio of women to men in the Vienna Phil is now roughly 1:10.

Way to go.

ekaterina frolova

UPDATE: A member of the Vienna Philharmonic has questioned this information in the comments section below.

All we can add at this stage is that the Vienna Philharmonic has posted her picture on Facebook with this caption: Ekaterina Frolova, our new colleague in the first violin section.

Ekaterina, who we reported last June was accepted into the Vienna Opera orchestra, has reposted that message in celebratory fashion. We were given to understand that she had been fast-tracked, but we are now looking into it.


We can further report that another two women – Karin Bonelli (flute) and Patricia Koll (2nd violins) – have lately been accepted into full membership. Even better, Patricia has been named associate principal of her section. (The VPhil website is catching up on this).

*3rd UPDATE: We have received clarification from a member of the orchestra that the announcement about Ekaterina Frolova signified the start of her trial membership, which began yesterday, not the onset of full membership which usually takes three years. They (and we) apologise for any confusion.

However, we now have the benefit of knowing that the VPhil have taken on two extra women, not one.

4th UPDATE: And now, one more.


  • Max Grimm says:

    NL says: “Ekaterina Frolova has been accepted as a full member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.”

    No, she hasn’t been. She won an audition some months ago for the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. As far as I know she just recently started playing in the opera orchestra full-time and she won’t even have the chance to apply to become a “full member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra” for another 3 years.

    • Bviolinistic says:

      Mr Lebrecht,
      your information is incorrect. Miss Frolova was given a first violin Tutti position after playing well in the last concert-master audition where no one was appointed. This was of course for the Vienna State opera orchestra and she will have a trial period of at least one year. If she gets through the trial, she will then have a three year waiting period before she may apply to become a full member of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        The Vienna Philharmonic has posted her picture on Facebook with this caption: Ekaterina Frolova, our new colleague in the first violin section.
        Ekaterina, who we reported last June had been accepted into the Vienna Opera orchestra, has reposted that message.
        We were given to understand that she had been fast-tracked but we are now looking into it.

        • Philip Amos says:

          WE think our obsession with ‘breaking’ ‘exclusives’ from our secret sources caused our fingers to move faster than our brain again and we made a fool of ourselves. Again. But that’s what makes it all such fun.

      • The Incredible Flutist says:

        Hello, BViolinistic! Can you please confirm the news about flutist Karin Bonelli? Is it true?Has she indeed passed her probationary period successfully?

        Wonderful and historic news, if it’s true!

      • The Incredible Flutist says:

        To BViolinistic – also, do you know what happened to the young Frenchwoman bassoonist who played contra with Berlin previously and as I recall recently won a Vienna position?

        Her name does not appear on the Vienna roster – wondering if she is still playing there or
        if she did not pass probation.

        Thank you kindly for the information.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Sophie Dartigalongue started playing as principal bassoonist at the Vienna State Opera about 3 months ago (in September). Her name has been listed on the German language VSO website since then.

        • Bviolinistic says:

          All the information is correct ; thank you to Max Grimm for pointing out that the information regarding miss Dartigalongue is available on the German language VSO orchestra website.

  • Tom says:

    And this is indeed nothing like well-researched journalism.

    As usual.

  • John Kelly says:

    I saw Ms Bonelli playing second flute on Monday evening in the Shostakovitch 10th with Mariss Jansons. I was surprised by how many women are now in both the VPO and the Opera Orchestra, which I also heard because as an avid reader of this blog I was under the impression that it was the odd one you see during the New Year’s Day concert. It was encouraging, though of course absurdly late in coming. I don’t know who is a full or trial member but the proportion seemed similar to the Berlin Phil, which recently visited NYC.

    Needless to say, the Vienna orchestra(s) were both out of this world superb.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I hear from my fly on the wall that the Bologna Mandoline Orchestra, entirely consisting of female players, feel now under pressure to include a couple of men into their midst. On their last audition in October among all the women who presented themselves, there was a one-legged male applicant from Cambodja, and although he was 71 and played remarkably badly and was thus rejected, the Board will now have a discussion next friday to see whether they would accept him yet. There is a plan to have the strings removed from his instrument so that he can fulfil the function of demonstrating the ensemble’s goodwill towards the other sex but cannot do any damage to the performance on their future Russian tour.

  • william osborne says:

    The Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic often uses confusing terminology. For years this was consciously used by the orchestra to obfuscate its lack of women members. Though the orchestra is now more open to women, the confusing terminology continues. For publicity reasons, we thus see a woman being celebrated as a “colleague” even though she is not a “member” of the Vienna Philharmonic. Or to use another confusing term used by the orchestra, she is only an “associate member” – defined as a musician in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra who plays with the Vienna Phil, but who is not yet tenured into the Philharmonic formation.

    It is interesting to look at the rate of entry for women into the VPO since it agreed to admit them in 1997. For the first ten years (1997 to 2007) they did not admit any women into the orchestra except harpists. (Male harpists are difficult to find.) When they agreed to admit women in 1997, but were, at least in effect, lying to the world.

    In 2007, a major change took place (though I can’t discuss the background in this post.) They began hiring women at a rate close to international norms. Since then the VPO has made 8 women members out of currently 140 positions. (There are also 3 women awaiting tenure, 2 violinists and a bassoonist, but they are NOT members.) Women thus represent 5.7% of the orchestra’s tenured personnel. That’s only about 1/5th the international average for major orchestras.

    On the other hand, the yearly rate of increase for women in the VPO since 2007 has been 0.71%, which is approaching the international average of increase for women per year in major orchestras which is about 1%. There is still work to do, but this is welcomed progress for an orchestra that until 2007 continued to exclude women.

    The ratio of women in the winds and percussion, however, remains abysmal, only 2 positions out of 54, or 3.7%. And there is only one woman in a solo position, concertmaster Albena Danailova.

    It is interesting to compare the rate of entry for women into the VPO since 2007 to the rate for the Berlin Philharmonic. In the last 8 years, the Vienna Philharmonic has added 9 women, raising the ratio of women in the orchestra to 5.7%. By contrast, thirty-two years after women entered the Berlin Phil, they only represent 14% of the orchestra’s personnel. In only 8 years, the VPO has hired almost half as many women as the BPO has hired in 32. The rate of increase in the BPO since 1983 has been 0.43%, while it has been 0.71% for the VPO since 2007 (the year the orchestra really began admitting women.) The rate of increase in the VPO is thus approaching twice that of the BPO.

    To better understand the discrimination women face in some orchestras, we might consider some comments from Georg Faust made in 2003 during an interview with the Swedish State Radio. Faust was a solo cellist in the Berlin Phil and played with the popular chamber music group, “The Twelve Cellists of the Berlina Philharmonic.” At the time the group was all men. The interviewer, Birgitta Tollan, asked him why there were no women in the cello section of the Berlin Phil. He said:

    “Of course – we are all human beings. If you are a group of twelve men, and one woman comes in, I am absolutely sure it will change the whole situation. It will change the image because part of our success is that we are 12 men. We can easily see this when we go to Japan. We are like a boy group.

    Ms. Tollan asked if they were like “Back Street Boys from Berlin.” Faust explained that the cellists of the Berlin Phil were like 12 dogs guarding their “territory,” and that this even had sexual appeal for the group’s women fans:

    “Yes. Back Street violoncellists. Boy group. Because the audience is 90 % women. So this shows that this kind of energy we produce as 12 men – as 12 cellists – and 12 men, is something very strong, is very homogenous and very unique in a way. Like a football team: The same instruments, it’s 12 players of the same instrument. It’s always a feeling of concurrence. Always a certain kind of pressure. Because everybody knows the other person very, very well. He knows what he can do and what he can’t do. They are like 12 dogs. They all need their certain room and they all have their “territory”.

    A few years after Mr. Faust’s words of wisdom the Berlin Philharmonic hired its first woman cellist. They are now 11 men and a woman guarding their territory. Comments like these illustrate what women faced as they entered orchestras. Unfortunately, these problems still arise, but let us hope the march of progress continues, and at rates in line with international norms.

    • william osborne says:

      There’s an error in my post above I should correct. There is only one women member in the winds and percussion of the VPO, not two. The other, a newly hired bassoonist, is still awaiting tenure. The ratio of women members in the winds and percussion is thus only 1.85%. BTW, this rate is interestingly similar to the ratio in the winds and percussion of the Bayreuther Festspiel Orchester, another orchestra with a notably reactionary legacy.

      • The Incredible Flutist says:

        This is exactly why the appointment of flutist Karin Bonelli as a regular VPO member is historic. It’s apparently just happened – she began in Sept. 2012. She is the first and only permanent female member in the history of the VPO in the winds, brass or percussion.

    • william osborne says:

      We should also note that the VPO still does not have any members who are fully Asian and have Asian family names, even though about a quarter to a third of the students at the orchestra’s feeder school for the last 50 years, Vienna’s University of Music, have been Asian. The VPO says there’s never been an Asian good enough to enter their orchestra.

      By contrast, the Chicago Symphony has 14 violinists and 4 violists who are Asian. Perhaps the astounding concert poster at the URL below succinctly illustrates the attitudes that Asians too often face in the German-speaking music world:

    • Charlotte says:

      The BPO has 2 female cellists and 12 male. You may check their webpage for this up to date information from 2009…


    • Malcolm James says:

      There may indeed be more to it (arm-twisting from Austrian government?), but a number of years a go I read a comment that, although the VPO were still only really hiring men, they were a younger generation with a different attitude towards hiring and playing with women. What we are seeing might well be a generational shift, where a lot of the old dinosaurs have retired and these younger players are now more numerous and are exerting more influence.

    • John Borstlap says:

      We should be grateful that someone took the trouble to demonstrate how crazy PC culture is in the music world. Orchestras being looked at not as performing bodies but as instruments of gender equality, being required to conform to international ‘standards’ in terms of percentage. If these international standards are all around, for instance being reflected in the other Viennese orchestras, and elsewhere in Europe and the USA, why would women want to join a men’s club instead of auditioning at all those other, politically-correct orchestras?

      Football clubs, London gentlemen clubs, mandoline orchestras, etc. etc. have their own freedom in matters of gender, why not orchestras? Discrimination is bad, but intervening into freedom of creating communities also.

      • william osborne says:

        You are correct that gender discrimination is bad. And in the case of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic, it is also against both Austrian and EU law. Same story for the Berlin Phil which barely covers up its discrimination.

        It is thus interesting that so little is said about this defiance of the law in the German-speaking press, and that no government agency ever prosecuted them even in the days when women were entirely excluded. It would appear that when it comes to the rights of women in Germany and Austria, the law suddenly doesn’t mean anything. It is just ignored. Why is that?

      • Emil says:

        You mean why are orchestras considered as public state-funded workplaces, subjected to regular laws?

        I don’t get why you do not see that William Osborne (et. al., including myself) and and yourself argue for the SAME THING: the best qualified musician should get the job, period.

        The problem is that, for a long time, in the VPO, that was NOT the case. If the best qualified musician was a woman or a minority, she was not given the job, and the VPO selected the second-best man. Or, even worse, they looked for the best qualified white man, instead of looking for the best qualified MUSICIAN.

        How can you say that the VPO hires always the best when 33% of musicians in the Vienna University of Music have been asian, and undoubtedly another significant chunk are women, and are not represented? If all the best musicians of the past 70 years have been white men, that is somewhat of a very, very exceptional coincidence.

        • william osborne says:

          Indeed, the inconsistencies are deeply ironic. The VPO makes so much of its unique style and that only Viennese born and bred musicians can truly create it (and especially no Asians,) and yet for decades they would hire a foreign man over an Austrian woman. For example, they wouldn’t even let the Viennese born and trained violist Gertrude Rossbacher audition for a solo viola position, even though one of the solo violists is Australian. The LA Times covered Rossbacher’s dilemma in this article:

          • Max Grimm says:

            Truly ironic, how some of the world’s best orchestras apparently got there by not hiring the best musicians.

          • william osborne says:

            So the pseudonymous “Max Grimm” supports gender and racial discrimination, without considering that the VPO might have been even better without it? As a pointed example, how about all those Jewish members who died in the camps or immigrated? Do you want to tell us the VPO did just fine without them?

          • william osborne says:

            Speaking of these different perspectives and rationalizations, one of the interesting things I’ve noticed over the last decade is how different the German and English Wiki articles often are. The English wiki article about the Vienna Philharmonic, for example, contains an entire section about the orchestra’s gender and racial discrimination, but the German article covers the topic in two sentences, and has no mention about the protests and controversy. And it makes no mention at all of the exclusion of Asians.

            In Wiki as a whole, I sometimes notice differences in articles concerning events that took place during the Third Reich. The German wiki has excellent articles about the Third Reich, but if the article isn’t specifically about the Reich, that period of history is often quickly brushed over (just as it often is in German society as a whole.) I wonder if the cumulative effect over time might be a fairly significant form of historical revisionism.

            I’ve notice something similar in the English Wiki, which has many articles about US abuses in Latin America, even though similar information was rarely found in paper encyclopedias like the Britannica.

          • Max Grimm says:

            “So the pseudonymous “Max Grimm” supports gender and racial discrimination, without considering that the VPO might have been even better without it?”

            You’re being rather presumptuous and seem to think that irony can only be interpreted in one way.

        • John Borstlap says:

          The point here is: could an orchestra have the freedom of not liking women in their midst, for whatever reason? Would this inevitably mean discrimination and thus, ‘illegal’? What about London gentlemen clubs? And football clubs? The concept of ‘discrimination’ is used in these matters so loosely and freely, that its meaning disappears. If an orchestra prefers to not accept Asian players because of the orchestra’s image, would that be discrimination? I taste in all that politically-correct condemnation and accusations a type of totalitarianism disguised as humanism. There is nothing wrong with a Viennese men’s club if they like to organise themselves in this way because a Viennese orchestra does NOT need, and certainly should NEVER be forced, to reflect a multicultural palette of the city, if they simply would not like that. There are other orchestras in Vienna and the German-speaking world where female players are more than welcome. The VPO is, qua origin, NOT a mirror of society but a very traditional and especially, LOCAL men’s club. They should be left to their own devises. And if so many Asian excellent players feel excluded, they should form their own Viennese Asian Orchestra.

          The globalization of the world means that people with different ethnic backgrounds get mixed up with locals everywhere, and that is, in itself, OK. Cultures can be chosen and are not dependent upon ethnicity, and never should be based upon ethnicity. But there should be allowed exceptions where long traditions are involved, traditions related to locality and the image that such locality creates. Imagine the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra with only 30% Chinese players, and the rest from all over the world…. I could understand Shanghai audiences wishing to see their locality better reflected in their orchestra if that would be important to them. That would not be racism but a problem of image, marketing, promotion, and cultural identification.

          Those discussions around the VPO about gender equality merely reflect a world-wide current problem of cultural identity, which has become increasingly important in the wake of globalization and migration.

          • John Borstlap says:

            PS It just crossed my mind that the Hong Kong Philharmonic has recently been criticized in the local press for not presenting enough Chinese composers or performers in their programming. Is the wish to see more Chinese represented a local racist wish, a form of discrimination? Is the HK Phil TOO politically-correct and thus offending local Chinese audiences? Just think about that and then return to the VPO question.

          • william osborne says:

            Since it’s against the law in Austria to publicly fund institutions that exclude women, the VPO had the option to no longer accept public funding and to disassociate itself from the State Opera. It chose to accept women.

  • wut says:

    This website is such a speculative rumor mill. I love how they refer to corrections as “updates”. What a joke.

    As for Vienna…
    “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.”
    —  Simone de Beauvoir

    I play an instrument designed and manufactured by men in an orchestra conducted by a man that plays music composed by men that is printed on paper by other men in a concert hall designed by a man and constructed by men. It’s easy to think I need to behave like a man in order to find success in this way of life…but I’m still trying to prove to myself that I don’t need to do that.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Update: I thought De Beauvoir was a man. Anyway, she/he should not be trusted on her/his word because of being so involved with Sartre who hated nature, oranges, flowers, and used a much too big fountain pen for his disruptive work.

      Concerning male predominance: all that is true. But it was also a man who invented the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, and the central heating system, which liberated women from the numbing householding jobs (and caused much unemployment in housekeepers’ circles).

      Also, as the novelist Marguerite Yourcenar has pointed-out, there have been many, really very many women in history, who had – by chance of background or through rich marriages – lots of freedoms to pursue scientific and cultural endeavors, but were not interested to make use of their privileged position and the opportunities it offered.

      History seems to show that in societies in which women have equal rights, or have cultural/social dominance, there is less violence and more tolerance in human relationships (pre-classical Greece for instance). There have been quite a few women who made their mark however, in many spheres dominated by men. I am not going to list them….