Vienna Phil’s fiercest critic admits ‘notable progress’

Vienna Phil’s fiercest critic admits ‘notable progress’


norman lebrecht

December 30, 2015

William Osborne, who has monitored exclusion policies on grounds of gender and race at the Vienna Philharmonic for the past decade, is happy to report that some things are changing for the better.

William writes:

The last three years have brought some important gains in the number of women in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic. The Opera formation now employs fourteen women, and ten of them have been tenured into the orchestra’s Philharmonic formation.

Between 2012 and 2015, the State Opera Orchestra hired three new women violinists, and a woman principal bassoonist.  The standards have been very high.  Two of these violinists are winners of prestigious international solo competitions, and bassoonist Sophie Dartigalongue is also an active soloist.  Ms. Dartigalongue’s employment as principal bassonist is especially notable because women in principal positions are rare in many orchestras. The Chicago Symphony, for example, has had only two in its entire history.

Read the full report here.

vienna phil audition

Vienna Phil blind audition in progress


  • Anon says:

    “…while the orchestra continues to exclude Asians as undesirable musicians.”

    Unfortunately Mr. Osborne’s irrational rage again clouds and destroys his opportunities to be taken serious by the relevant people.

    Such accusations as quoted are grave and require a thorough and bullet proof case to be made. The burden of proof is with the accuser. Instead only opinion and fallacies. That disqualifies any scholar and puts him in the same camp as the rainbow press.

    Actually making such defamatory public statements as above puts Mr. Osborne on the spot for legal action against him, and rightfully so.

    • william osborne says:

      For documentation of the VPO’s racial ideologies see:

      Roland Girtler, “Mitgliedsaufnahme in den Noblen Bund der Wiener Philharmoniker Als Mannbarkeitsritual”,Sociologia Internationalis, Beiheft 1 (1992).

      See also: Elena Ostleitner, “Liebe, Lust, Last und Lied” (Wien, Bundesministerium fuer Unterricht und Kunst, 1995) p. 6.

      See also: Musikalische Misogynie,” broadcast by the West German State Radio, February 13, 1996, transcribed and translated into English at:

      See also the Memoirs of Otto Strasser, a former chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, who writes:

      “I hold it for incorrect that today the applicants play behind a screen; an arrangement that was brought in after the Second World War in order to assure objective judgments. I continuously fought against it, especially after I became Chairman of the Philharmonic, because I am convinced that to the artist also belongs the person, that one must not only hear, but also see, in order to judge him in his entire personality. […] Even a grotesque situation that played itself out after my retirement, was not able to change the situation. An applicant qualified himself as the best, and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned jury. He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the ‘Pizzicato-Polka’ of the New Year’s Concert.”

      Strasser wrote that in 1970. Forty-five years later the orchestra still does not have a single member that is fully Asian and has an Asian family name, even though such people are found in all the top Western European and American orchestras. The Chicago Symphony, for example, has 18 in just the violins and violas. The Berlin Phil has a Japanese concert master. The VPO says there’s never been a fully Asian person good enough to enter the orchestra.

      This problem is also found in other German-speaking orchestras. See: Lucas Wiegelmann, “Deutsche Orchester und ihr Rassismus-Problem” (Die Welt, August 11, 2009.) The article is online here:

      There is often much resentment expressed in the SD comments toward those who have worked to bring women into the VPO. Forgive me if I ignore them, except where I can supply information to help clarify issues.

      • Anon says:

        Thank you for giving further insight into your flawed methodology, where the connection between the past and the present is 100% conjecture and opinion, and 0% fact and would fall flat on its face quickly in both a standard academic peer review process and also in a court of law. No wonder you are making your splatters only anecdotally in a few journalistic outlets, and not in serious peer reviewed publications, helped by your buddy NL from the “Volksfront wider die Deutsch-Österreichische Kultur”.

        • william osborne says:

          I address the Asian issue in detail in the rigorously peer reviewed Leonardo Music Journal published by the M.I.T Press. See:

          • Anon says:

            Astonishing. So your most recent “proof” is a 20 year old hearsay (she said that she said) of an anonymous Asian woman who applied with ANOTHER Austrian orchestra and made it to the last round, then without screen, and didn’t win the job. And claims it was due to Asian complexion only, no proof needed of course, if the ball drops on THAT side of the field…

            Seriously? That are your “standards”?
            That’s not questionable, that’s DESPARATE.

            Who reviewed it btw? I would like to contact them and ask a few questions.

          • william osborne says:

            There is an irony in the anonymous commentator’s post, aside from the lack of integrity to use his name, which speaks to who is actually more credible. Many of the new articles posted on the VPO’s site about the orchestra’s Nazi period deal with how people denied the reality of the chauvinism that had become a daily part of society, and the rationalizations they used both during and after the war to justify themselves. And of course, after the war people surrounded those dark times in secrecy and silence often enforced by intimidation.

            These behaviors are not uncommon when people deal with events that brought opprobrium upon them. After the protests against the VPO began to strengthen, the orchestra strictly forbade its members to speak to journalists without permission, or not without an orchestra official present – a policy that continues to this day. The secrecy and intimidation became apparent. By the later 90s, this made it difficult, if not impossible, to further document the orchestra’s views about gender and race, even though the lack of Asians in the orchestra became an evermore grotesque anomaly that could not be justified with any rationale explanation.

            Just as in earlier, less fortunate times, this silence enforced by intimidation is once again taken as a rationale for acquiescence and denial, even when the truth is painfully obvious. Beyond all credibility, we are to believe “anon” and the VPO when they say that there has never been an Asian good enough to enter the orchestra, and that the documented anti-Asian statements made before the enforced silence are just a coincidence.

          • Anon says:

            Regarding the anonymity: The internet does not forget. It is worse than KGB, Stasi and CIA combined. The new paradigm, that anything you say in a conversation online, can word for word later, by anyone, with any intention, be found and used, is to be dealt with.
            I choose to stay anonymous for that very reason here, where I enjoy myself in a more private and open discussion, instead of being limited to the rigid public code of conduct with the whole world potentially watching, in all eternity… You choose not to, fine, good luck, but my anonymity doesn’t change anything regarding the validity of my words.

            Back to the issue:

            I see you admit indirectly that you can not make a good case, due to lack of evidence, even though you blame scapegoats ins tea of yourself.
            But you keep your prerogative:
            “…the lack of Asians in the orchestra became an evermore grotesque anomaly that could not be justified with any rationale explanation…”

            That is still nonsense, sorry. There could be many explanations. You just don’t want to acknowledge them.

      • Max Grimm says:

        Do you have any ideas on why – when contrasted with many American orchestras – there is not a single European orchestra that even comes close to having a comparable number of Asian players? Surely the whole of European classical music institutions aren’t biased towards Asian musicians.

        • william osborne says:

          America has a relatively large population of Asians who are citizens and even native born, a situation that is rare in Europe. Another factor is the strong work ethic of the community, which leads to winning auditions.

          It should be noted, however, that there is an important difference between a small number of Asians in an orchestra and none, especially in a city like Vienna where the conservatories have trained thousands of Asians. There aren’t as many Asians in top Western European orchestras, but the Vienna Phil is the only one where there are none. Even the Wiener Symphoniker, for example, has three which is about average, I would guess.

          • Max Grimm says:

            On a sidenote, you wrote “The Chicago Symphony, for example, has had only two [women in principal positions] in its entire history.”
            The Chicago Symphony Orchestra currently has 4 women in principal positions.

          • Max Grimm says:

            – Stephanie Jeong, Associate Concertmaster (since 2011)
            – Yuan-Qing Yu, Assistant Concertmaster (since 1996)
            – Sarah Bullen, Principal Harp (since 1997)
            – Cynthia Yeh, Principal Percussion (since 2007)

          • william osborne says:

            Thanks for the additions. I didn’t count assistant positions. And the harp is a special case. It usually plays solo, even if the orchestra has two. Also, male harpists are extremely rare.

          • william osborne says:

            Another interesting note is that the first woman principal left the CSO in 1947, and next non-harpist woman principal hired was in 2007 — a gap of 60 years. (And again, I’m not counting assistant and associate principal positions.)

        • Anon says:

          Mr. Grimm, you surely have checked the percentage of Asians from the countries with substantial classical music affinity (Japan, South Korea, China,…) in the whole resident population in the relevant European countries compared to the US, BEFORE you have asked this question, correct? Because asking such a question without knowing these fundamental numbers would be just ridiculous.
          Would you share these numbers with us, please?

          • Max Grimm says:

            Well, if I knew those “fundamental numbers” I wouldn’t have to ask questions about said numbers. On top of that, I was hoping for the introduction of other possibilities (aside from racism)….from the article Mr. Osbourne linked to: “Natürlich weiß niemand, wie viele asiatische Absolventen gar nicht in Deutschland bleiben wollen, sondern in ihre Heimat zurückkehren. Darüber gibt es keine Studien.” (while the article focuses on Germany, the clarification of that topic, would be applicable to rest of Europe as well).
            Without numbers or explanations of that nature, there’s too much room for conjecture.

          • Anon says:

            see further below. I cite numbers and a link to an Austrian census.

            Summary: 0.17 % of Austria’s residents originate from relevant Asian countries (South Korea, Japan, China) A proportional representation in Vienna Phil (about 140 musicians) would be a quarter of an Asian. If one day an Asian from these countries wins and audition, that would mean he ration of foreign

            Maybe we can stop now this crazy discussion, based on a delusion by traumatized Mr. Osborne and fueled by this blog Slippedisc, also known as “Volksfront gegen die Deutsch-Österreichische Kultur”.

            Mr. Lebrecht, about 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. The Israeli Philharmonic has not a single Israeli Arab in its ranks. How do you justify this blatant hypocrisy of yours?

            20% Arabs in Israel! not a single one in IPO! And NOT a SINGLE WORD FROM YOU.

            vs. 0.17% Asians from South Korea / Japan / China in Austria. And about 20 blog posts by you and WO about this non-issue, hoping that your mud sticks.

            Just shameful, how sad.

          • Tom Inkansas says:

            Anon, your comments aren’t taken as seriously as you seem to believe they should be for several reasons, not least among them that a substantial proportion consists of ad hominem remarks, e.g., your opening salvo (“Mr. Osborne’s irrational rage again clouds and destroys…”) You speak of peer review, yet this sort of language would never pass it.

            In any case, if anyone is serious about analyzing such situations, the relevant comparison statistic isn’t the proportion of residents in a country are of a particular ethnic group, but the proportion who audition for positions and are accepted in various orchestras. In the case of the VPO, this is likely exacerbated by self selection: why apply if you are unlikely to be appointed, even if you win?

            Ironically, Mr. Osborne has acknowledged that things have gotten better, but is being attacked for… what, specifically? It is extremely obvious that the VPO’s hiring policies have been racist and sexist for decades, and perhaps just as obvious that they are slowly emerging from those legacies. With which aspects of that are you disagreeing? [I’d appreciate an answer that leaves our your speculations regarding my motivation, emotional state, or intellectual capacity.]

          • william osborne says:

            Another important measure is the number of Asians students at the Vienna Phil’s feeder school, Vienna’s University of Music. About a third to a quarter of the students have been Asians for about half a century.

          • Peter says:

            A few much needed facts, I wondered about this for some time, since it comes up frequently here.


            -The percentage of Asian students in Vienna Music University is about 15% (not 1/3 as it was claimed)

            -a frequent given reason by them for choosing Vienna for their studies is “it is much cheaper to study here than in the US”. (the tuition for non-EU citizens in Vienna is about 740,- €/ (about 800,- US$) per semester, so it is less than the lunch money needed per semester in a comparable music school in the US.)

            -only a fraction, quantification needed, of them has the wish to stay and work in Europe after their graduation. A substantial fraction wants to go back to their home countries after their studies.

            -They report often, that it is difficult for them to find acceptance and friends among the natives, even after years in Austria their social circles are mostly other students from their home countries. This is a common phenomenon for Asian students world wide, but it might illustrate one factor of the problem, why they might feel like a misfit, from both perspectives.

            The Austrians are traditionally not known for being particularly openminded and welcoming toward foreigners, but to the contrary they open their colleges and universities to foreigners for studies without any quotas based on ethnicity or nationality, even though the fees come not even close to covering the cost of their education there. The Austrians are to be commended for that me thinks, but to expect that professional top world class orchestras show a similar policy can not be expected me thinks.

            I wish we would have a more factual discussion, since the accusations by Mr. Osborne are a bit fuzzy, and apparently not a single Asian musician is known who complained about discrimination in a particular and demonstrable case. If thee are so many rejects as is claimed, where are their statements? The whole discussion sounds like a mixture of a lot of sour grapes together with a grain of truth from the past.
            But I’m sure we will get a reply to that question in the usual fashion of a circular logical fallacy “we do not have complaints, because there is discrimination”.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The article about ‘German racism in orchestras’ in Die Welt is, in fact, rather strange. One player (an ethnic German) says: people are nationalistically chauvinistic as in other countries. Chauvinism is not the same as racism. It seems to be a matter of culture that comes across, to many people, as racism. It produces other questions like: should Indian culture be dominating in India? If not, where else? Should European culture be dominating in Europe? If not, where else? Is European culture so superior, so universal, that it can florish everywhere were people develop towards a “European level of modernity”? In today’s rapidly globalizing world, are such questions chauvinistic, or – where culture and ethnicity seem to go together quite firmly as in China – racist?

    • Eddie Mars says:

      We still await the happy day when Asians at the Vienna Phil can be accused of being Nazis.

  • debussyste says:

    Who is William Osborne ?

    • will says:

      Who cares?

    • Arabella says:

      William Osborne is a respected US journalist who has meticulously documented and
      reported on the advancement of women in European orchestras, namely the VPO. for at least 20 years.

      His wife is the noted trombonist Abbie Conant, who, in one of the most celebrated cases
      of discrimination against women orch players in the history of the profession, won the
      position of Principal Trombone with Munich Philharmonic in 1980.

      Celibidache opposed her hiring specifically on the grounds that she was a woman but Ms. Conant held her ground. Mr. Osborne documented the controversy on his website –

      He continued his investigation ot womens’ acceptance into other European orchs and began researching the hiring practices of the Vienna Phil. He exposed not only their discriminatory practices against women but their racism and ties to the Nazi party.

  • Petros LInardos says:

    William, what is the ration of women among newly hired players at the state opera orchestra in recent years?

    • william osborne says:

      I wish I knew, but the VPO hasn’t published the numbers, and I haven’t been diligent enough to keep track of all the newly hired men. Among the people the VPO lists as waiting for tenure are five men and two women, which gives us an idea of the m/f ratios for new hires for the last three years or so. Added to that a few newly hired musicians who haven’t passed their trial year at the opera who aren’t listed on the VPO site, but I don’t know how many. One is a woman, but I don’t know about any others. They would change the ratio a bit, but 5 to 2 for about the last two or three years gives us a rough idea.

      The ratios have varied greatly over time. From 1997 to about 2007, the orchestra had a huge wave of retirements, but very few women were hired to replace them. Since about 2010, the ratios for the increase in women compared to the total number of positions have been in line with international norms. The international norm isn’t ideal, but this is still a very positive development. The orchestra and its leadership are to be commended.

      • Anon says:

        There is no “International norm” about a gender ratio in symphony orchestras. That is not only delusional but would also be illegal.
        The ONLY norm is that nobody is discriminated against his race, gender, or physical handicap BUT that everybody is discriminated on his ability and suitability for a job.

        Now older men and gender-fundamentalists like you have apparently no problem with “fixing” a perceived problem of the past, by reverse-discrimination NOW against young Caucasian competent men. Quite primitive, but interesting psychologically.

        Maybe a passive aggression against younger more virile male from the old and impotent. It would be my only explanation, why educated men can act so irrationally.

        • John Borstlap says:

          What is discrimination? “……. BUT that everybody is discriminated on his ability and suitability for a job.” Excellent.

        • William Safford says:

          Interesting that you call working to end discrimination “reverse discrimination.”

          Oh, and if I had any desire to post what you do, I suppose I would keep my name anonymous as well….

          • Peter says:

            I can’t speak for Anon, but you apparently have a misconception of the concept of discrimination. Discrimination itself is not a problem, it is even absolutely necessary. Without discrimination we could not separate the mediocre from the excellent. Any selection of applicants for a job opening is a discrimination case in the actual meaning of the word.

            We are only talking about *unacceptable* discriminators vs *acceptable* discriminators. Acceptable discriminators by today’s standards are individual ability and intersubjective suitability for a job. Unacceptable are discriminators like race, gender, and personal handicaps, as long as they do not have a verifiable influence on the acceptable discriminators.

            The actual problem in the Vienna Phil’s hiring practices today(!), appears to be – regardless of the propagandistic accusations by some – the grey zone, where it is claimed that issues of race and gender *do* have a certain influence on the acceptable discriminators of ability and suitability, yet difficulties exist to prove the pro or the contra. I think the orchestra has developed its position here over the years, and does not see these factors as connected as they used to in the past.

            Reverse discrimination would be to favor women over men, to discriminate based on gender again, only to give in to an ideology like gender mainstreaming.

            The correct thing to do would be to hire in the now and future ONLY based on the discriminators of ability and suitability, and that is what in my perception the Vienna Phil is actually doing today (!). So I don’t really know what the storm in the teapot here is all about, except some personal feelings for personal reasons.

          • William Safford says:

            Actually, Peter, I have a very clear concept of discrimination.

            Of course there is discrimination based on ability. That goes without saying, at least in this context, and is beside the point.

            Women (and other groups, of course) were discriminated against in music (and other realms) for centuries.

            For most of that time, this was considered to be good and proper, at least by the men performing the discrimination.

            All of a sudden, the idea of discrimination based on sex (or other factors) — when it might help to remedy this history of past discrimination — should be off the table, even when and where inequality of opportunity or results continue to be prevalent.

            There is more than a hint of hypocrisy at play, especially when the real reason for such opposition is preservation of the status quo.

            And this is without diving beneath the surface to examine assumptions about equality of opportunity. For just one example of this, juxtapose the immense progress that has been made in most other orchestras after the general implementation of blind auditions; vs. the continuing lagging in progress of the hiring of female conductors, auditions for which positions are not amenable to blind audition.

            Kudos to the Vienna Philharmonic for the progress that they have made. May it continue.

          • Peter says:

            William, spoken like a true ideologist. Also you expose a severe lack of logical thinking and comprehension. E.g. committing the logical fallacy of applying today’s standards retrospectively over the centuries.

            Women were not discriminated over centuries, there was a norm in every society about the roles of women and men. Those rules, evolved from existential behavioral patterns for the survival of the species, were not a discrimination to anyone’s disadvantage.

            Unless you would also argue that men were discriminated against, since they had the shitty and deathly jobs like hunter and warrior.

            It becomes only (negative) discrimination, when the rules and norms do not reflect the reality anymore.

            And here comes another inconsistent convolute of your thoughts:

            “…For most of that time, this was considered to be good and proper, at least by the men performing the discrimination.
            All of a sudden, the idea of discrimination based on sex (or other factors) — when it might help to remedy this history of past discrimination — should be off the table, even when and where inequality of opportunity or results continue to be prevalent…”

            Inequality of opportunity and inequality of results are fundamentally different qualities, yet you have thrown them into one. The latter is questionable, since an equal number of women in any field and any work group is against any common sense and also against what women want. Also you must be an old man to be so unmoved to accept a few generations of young men to be discriminated against to reach that “equality” not evolutionary but revolutionary.

            You have no clear understanding of the problem, and can therefore not have an understanding of the “remedy”. And your process to reach your objective is reverse-discrimination. Think again.

          • William Safford says:

            Actually, Peter, you have betrayed even more deeply your lack of comprehension and dearth of information about such matters.

            I encourage you to do some research and open your mind to facts, which will help you form better-informed opinions.

            BTW, here’s an interesting quote, to help you with this process:

            “[I]n the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

            — future First Lady Abigail Adams, 1776

            In fact, they did not heed her words. Suffrage “rebellion” movements ensued, leading to the 14th and 19th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and more.

  • Philipp Wager says:

    He posts on SD quite often but it would be interesting to know why he is considered important.

    • John Borstlap says:

      He is important because of his enthusiasm about women, as we know a rare phenomenon, but the fact that he is himself a man diminishes the objectivity of his philosophical position.

  • John Borstlap says:

    In the Bologna Mandoline Orchestra, by now staffed excatly 50/50 according to Mr O’s gender specifications, the entire female group has expressed the wish to audition for the VPO, not for regular tenure but as a side kick when the VPO plays Mahler VII, to operate the mandoline in the 2nd Nachtmusik, and in the Lied von der Erde. Mrs Corigliani, the director who gets a bit tense these days, promised to organise pre-auditions because 15 players would be too many to tax the VPO’s patience. But then, in these pre-auditions the participants would be 100% female which would upset the gender balance as recently corrected in the constitution of the BMO, with the expected and feared condemnation from Mr O in the pipe line. It remains a mystery why the male half of the orchestra has no interest in such career promotion.

    Meanwhile, Mr Liau Tung, recently appointed to fulfill Mr O’s specifications, proposed that the name of the orchestra should be changed into Bologna Womandoline Orchestra, to compensate for many decennia of suffering under a patriarchal, suppressive name while the ensemble consisted entirely of women at the time. Whether this would not upset the gender balance in another way, will be discussed in the BMO’s next board meeing in January, as well as how to get the gender balance right for the pre-auditions.

  • The Incredible Flutist says:

    Hold onto your hats, folks – this year’s VPO New Year’s Day Concert may be one for the history books. From the publicity photos, it looks like French bassoonist Sophie Dartigalongue may be playing Principal. This is a BIG milestone.

    Ms. Dartigalongue recently won the highly competitive audition for Principal Bassoon with Vienna State Opera. She was previously with Berlin Phil. on contra. She’s a major competition winner with impeccable credentials. She’s in her 1st year of probation with Vienna. If they’ve decided to put her on Principal in the televised New Year’s Concert it’s not only a gesture of confidence on the part of VPO, but also trial by fire for her.

    They did this last year with flutist/piccolist Karin Bonelli, who’s since won her tenure. But Ms. Bonelli did not play Principal and she was in her final year of probation. She performed spectacularly on solo piccolo, no small feat on any big Strauss program.

    I could be wrong about Ms. Dartigalongue – it’s poss. she’s playing in the section. But it looks to me like we could be seeing VPO’s 1st female principal in action on Fri!

  • Brian says:

    Having followed William’s work in this area for more than a decade, I can attest that his research and reporting methods are very scrupulous. While he has his point of view, he digs deeper than anyone around to expose the truth about the VPO’s hiring practices.

    In most industries, such practices would invite far greater scrutiny but the VPO has cultivated an aura of invincibility while the Austrian press has fallen short in keeping the organization honest. It will be interesting to see how the New Year’s Day concert goes this year.

    • Anon says:

      Your definition of “truth” interests me. It surely is not compatible with the standardized meaning.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Would a symphony orchestra be free to have its preferences? (Is the exclusion of bad players discrimination?) Would a Chinese orchestra have the freedom of preferring Chinese players? Would a typically local Viennese ensemble still be typically local if consisting entirely of inhabitants from Shanghai, Lima, Rotterdam, Valencia, Timbuktu and Cassablanca? (would they have to dress-up?) Would a London gentlemen’s club be free to prefer gentlemen? Are football clubs discriminating because consisting of men? Is a gay bar a discriminating institution? Are old people’s homes discriminating against the young? In other words, the attempt to fight against UNJUST discrimination can occasionally go too far and then turn into its opposite.

      • Brian says:

        I see the analogy a bit differently: Could any Fortune 500 company in 2015 maintain a blatant practice of excluding one group of people — be it women, Asians, Blacks or people with disabilities — and not be sued for discrimination? Or how about at a university or a position in government? At least in the U.S., the laws are pretty clear on this. And unlike a football team, where physical differences between men and women are a factor in hiring, there’s no evidence suggesting that a woman plays the violin or tuba any differently than a man.

        • John Borstlap says:

          As far as orchestras are concerned, I beg to differ. In general, lung volume of women is considerably smaller. While this does not create any serious hindrance with the strings, harp and percussion, and with some woodwinds (oboe, english horn, basoon and contrabassoon however, require a lot of breath), the brass requires some really sturdy matrone girth if operated by women. So, it is – with some imagination – understandable when a female trombone player directs her full force towards the conductor, but it is all the more admirable if females match the advantages of the other sex. All this chatter is blurred by the discussion about feminine and masculine identity / Selbstenzenierung, which is another discussion altogether.

          • Anon says:

            If these biological differences are true, that means that nature is discriminating based on gender and we must sue nature. That is against the law, what does this nature think it is?
            The gender studies professorx at our university just confirmed, that there is a long trail of evidence regarding nature discriminating women based on gender, so X said nature would not have the slightest chance in court, the victory is ours.

          • NYMike says:

            Among female brass and wind players in US orchestras: principal horn + two more and principal tuba in Philadelphia, principal and assoc. principal bassoon and two horns in NY Philharmonic, principal trumpet and trombone in St. Louis, former principal horn and at least two others in the Met orchestra. So much for your statement on women’s lung capacity.

          • Anon says:

            NYMike, statistically means, that there still can be women with bigger lungs, just not, well, in average.
            I feel we have passed a critical point of collective insanity, when people think it is necessary to correct statements about OBVIOUS biological differences between men and women.
            What kind of scary totalitarian mind control is that? We know this type of behavior from countries like North Korea, but why is it happening in the middle of our supposedly free world?
            Is that the victory of gender-mainstreaming-fascism, and her ugly sister multicultural relativism, under who’s terror regime you will be punished, if you say that men and women have (also) substantial biological differences?

            How come in sports nobody gives a toss about gender-mainstreaming-fascism and we have male/female segregated teams and competitions as the norm?

          • Gerhard says:

            You wrote: “… some woodwinds (oboe, english horn, basoon and contrabassoon however, require a lot of breath), the brass requires some really sturdy matrone girth if operated by women.” I’m sorry, but this is not quite accurate. The oboe is the orchestra wind instrument with by far the lowest air use per minute at ca. 5 l/min. The English horn takes a little more, but with both instruments one doesn’t have any possibility of getting rid of one’s air through the instrument. Therefore the player has to learn to always exhale first when the need of oxygen occurs. Since this is a peculiar situation to which our biological instincts are not well geared, it is quite difficult to get used to this. In any case, while the player does need a good breath control, a particularly big lung volume is most certainly not required. The tuba on the other hand is with up to 65 l/min the orchestra wind instrument which requires the most air. This need is so great that even a very big and well trained male has only a rather limited possibility to sustain a note without having to breathe, unless he is doing circular breathing. Therefore it seems not very plausible that the only slightly smaller lung volume of a female player would make or break anything major here, which is also demonstrated by quite a few female tuba players. A tubist of any gender simply needs a very good breathing technique as well, albeit a somewhat different one from the oboists. The main problem is to be able to fit in their necessary breathing without perceivably disturbing the phrase. As one can hear this can be done by players of either gender.

          • John Borstlap says:

            As Gerhard points-out underneath, the situation is different for oboe/English horn players, who need not more but less breath volume. I got mixed-up with the needed pressure required, which seemed to me also easier by males than by females, but that does not seem to be right.

        • Peter says:

          Well, first of all, discrimination based on competence and suitability is not only legal, it is absolutely necessary for any competitive economic undertaking.

          Then a symphony orchestra is not a corporation. To be as exceptional as the Wiener, the individual in such groups can not draw a solid line between job and his soul. You have to be there holistically, unlike 99% of regular jobs, that do not have your soul contracted and challenged like in the case of musicians.

          Also, a tightly knit organism of musicians in perfect sync, which requires a very hard to build subconscious “swarm intelligence” is a very special and different case from your average corporation.

          The orchestra is more like a group of monks joined in meditation.
          So if there would be *one* orchestra of many, that wants to stick to catholizism, and only men can be priests, would it be easier for you to accept that?

          • John Borstlap says:

            Good points. While almost all other orchestras in the world are increasingly becoming ‘mixed’ in terms of nationality, ethnic background, religion, gender, dress code, language, shoe size, nerve control and hairdo’s, one orchestra is – for quite a lot of people – not allowed to deviate from something that is seen as a ‘norm’. If I were a really good Asian female violinist, I would audition in any of those other orchestras, instead of getting mixed-up in Mr O’s dithyrambic attempts to get the VPO 50/50 gender equality.

        • Max Grimm says:

          I think part of the problem is a widespread tendency to see many things relating to or in classical music in utterly abstract and romanticized ways. Be it that the instruments from certain makers have a soul not found in instruments made elsewhere, or musicians from certain cultures, carrying the specific style “in their blood/genes” (the blood and genes notion extends far beyond classical music to other genres and even into sports).
          Some months ago, I remember hearing musicians from one of the world’s top orchestras (based in Germany) discussing the Viennese style and Viennese waltz in relation to playing a stringed instrument. They stated that they (the orchestra) couldn’t pull it off authentically and then went on to say that they believed one couldn’t do it unless one was born with it.
          If you have “cultural neighbours” convinced that they can’t assimilate each-others styles fully, it will not be too hard to convince some others and most importantly yourself, that someone from a far away, significantly different culture will never succeed, regardless of the time spent studying (in) your culture.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Picking-up a style of playing is an act of talent and the imagination. A culture can be chosen, and to be good in it, one does not need to be born into it. It is easier to play à la Viennoise if you were born in a Viennese musical family and went to Viennese concerts all the time, but also in such cases, without talent and imagination, circumstantial input will not compensate for their absence. Acquiring a ‘Viennese playing style’ would, among other things, require a profound immersion in the city’s past, culture, history, literature, and – of course – music. It may be of some interest to know that of the most important composers of the Central-European classical tradition, where Vienna was the hotspot, it was only Schubert who was a Viennese by birth. Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven came from elsewhere – Beethoven even from afar: the Rheinland, Brahms came from the very un-Viennese north Germany (Hamburg), Mahler from Bohemia, Bruckner from a small village. Salieri and Gluck were successful Viennese composers but came from quite far. Schoenberg, well, yes he was very Viennese, you could say: to the extreme, and part of the revolutionary spirit raging in the ‘aristocratic’ Viennese coffee houses around 1900 (where, among other things, the Russian revolution was concocted). So, ‘Viennese’ can be many different things, and most of the mentioned composers were from the top drawer and added to the city’s lustre.

          • Max Grimm says:

            We are in agreement Mr. Borstlap. I was speaking generally about those, who see culture as something genetically predetermined and inherited.

          • Peter says:

            Mr. Grimm, it is not black or withe. Nobody claims that it is in the genes, nobody! That’s a straw man. But being stylistically versed in a regional style as refined and with such a broad spectrum as in Vienna, requires certainly as they say to get it with your “Muttermilch”, mothers milk, metaphorically speaking. Which means immersion in the formative years of your brain is essential, even though exceptions are certainly possible and happening.
            On top of that you have a regional tradition of a few instruments (horn, oboe, timp,…), that are not played elsewhere, which need years of familiarization, also in the formative years of the youth. These regional variants are kept against the trend in today’s globalized world of instrument making and playing, and for good reasons, mostly for their specific sound. (not “soul”)

  • V.Lind says:

    I am female, and I honestly do not give a toss about percentages of women in this orchestra or that. As far as I am concerned, the only criterion on hiring a player should be to pick the best one who applies — and if none of them is good enough, to keep looking. And if that makes the orchestra 100% male, or 10%, I don’t care. And the same goes for nationalities.

    All that being said, I would oppose with every fibre of my being the exclusion of a candidate on grounds of race or sex, and probably there are, or will, be other classes or classification of people that specific groups may want to promote. And I mean honestly applied: saying there is no policy to exclude women, or Asians, is not enough. They, and any other identifiable group of talented musicians, should be encouraged, even sought out, to apply, and eagerly embraced if they show their mettle. And passed, with impunity, if they are not the best.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Amen to that.

    • Anon says:

      Oh nooooo!!! please let the White Knight William come to your salvation My Lady, you poor victim, you maltreated soul. Has the Dark Side taken possession of your gender-neutral mind?
      Don’t ever go to Vienna, where the spirit of the Dark Lord, Lord Voldemort Celibidache, strangles the globalized uni-gender happy world with his supreme rule of the wizards of the Wiener Philharmoniker.

  • Anon says:

    There is hope that there are still a few undisturbed minds left in this world, if not, maybe in ten thousand years in the NSA data storage vaults in Arizona, where also this message will be recorded, another species will find this message and see mankind in a better light. 😉

    The “ISSUE” of lack of Asians in the Vienna orchestras, and the “pressing” question why not everything is just like as it is in the US, I mean, seriously, WHY?

    “Gosh, Honey, how uncivilized these Italians are, they do not even speak English! And not a single McDonalds in this neighborhood, unbelievable, do they have no decent food?”
    (God have mercy with them, they are not aware what happened to them.)

    2006-2008 American Community Survey for th U.S. Census:

    New York population by origin

    White 44.6%

    Hispanic or Latino (Of Any Race) 27.5%

    Black or African American 25.1%

    Asian 11.8%


    Now the numbers for AUSTRIA:

    total Population: 8,507.786
    all Non-EU foreigners: 538.745
    – Non-EU European (incl. Turkey): 400.049

    Asians: 84.167
    Asians from Japan, China, South Korea (the classical music countries): ca. 15.000

    In Percent: 0.17 % of all Austrian residents are from relevant Asian countries.

    Reminder: New York has almost 12% Asians.

    Vienna Phil has roughly 140 musicians as members. 0.17% of 140 is 0.24%.

    “Wenn man keine Ahnung hat, einfach mal die Fresse halten.”

    • John Borstlap says:

      I would be very interested to meet a 0.24% size Asian, in Vienna or elsewhere.

      • Anon says:

        If Vienna Phil had only one Asian from these countries, these Asians countries would be overrepresented by the factor of 4.

        I think until the day, where the Israel Philharmonic has a proportional 20% Israeli Arabs in their ranks, this blog should just shut up about the Vienna Phil and no Asians. Bigots.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Now there is an interesting thought experiment: the Israel Philharmonic consisting entirely of Israelis of Arab ethnicity – assumed they were chosen on the basis of their abilities. Would it still be the Israel Phil? Or would the players still be Arabs?

          • V.Lind says:

            Why not? Isn’t Israel a place? And do Asians stop being Asians if they play for the Vienna Phil?


          • Anon says:

            It would, since they are Israeli citizens. Maybe there would be a motion, to assign the original name before 1948 to the orchestra, “Palestine Orchestra”.

    • Alvaro says:

      Honest to god. Are you MENTALLY RETARDED? Seriously. Because only someone with cognitive deficiencies would overlook the fact that musicians can overcome national boundaries by taking – I don’t know – a plane and moving to a different country in order to get a job position in an ensemble of the repute of the Vienna Phil.

      Your whole argument is therefore destroyed. Or what, only Austrians can belong to the Vienna Phil? I bet there are a couple of Germans.

      But no, according to this halfwit with a 2 digit IQ and probably 3 digit income, there should be no Europeans in American orchestras, and visceversa. Guess what – if a position opens for a violin section someone can ACTUALLY TAKE A PLANE from Japan to Austria in order to audition. Care to tell me the % of Asian People in Japan?

      Further, none of the other usual commentators noticed this fact. Further proof that listening to Beethoven not only doesn’t make you more intelligent, it might actually shrink your brain to a size of 0.24% of the normal human brain, which is about 3X the size that Anonymous evinces to have by measure of his comments.

      Happy New Year! And may you continue to delude yourself into thinking that your are better than other people just because you can name 1/2 the characters of Tristan.

      • Anon says:

        Alvaro, well barked, and then suffocated from swallowing your own tail. You lost orientation. The mental retardation of racial/tribal proportionality starts with the thread opener. HE argued that because there are Asians in Vienna (music schools) there MUST be Asians in VPO, anything else is discrimination, so WO’s retardation.

        Also following your genius LOGIC (whuaaaah) with the airplane, HOW do you explain the lack of Aborigines from Australia in Norway’s Hardanger fiddle competitions?

        Clearly discrimination, case closed, right? Evidence is overwhelming. There are aborigines. There are airplanes, There are no aborigines in Norway’s Hardanger fiddle competition. Alvaro logic. Sophisticated. Tomorrow we talk about the absence of Ukulele orchestras on Mars. Good night fellow retards.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          Anon, please curb the abuse. Stick to the issues. You know the rules.

          • Thomas says:

            Funny, how you call on Anon to curb it, when Alvaro before used much graver insults, but as someone who was more on your side of the argument.
            Some of Alvaro’s gems, Anon was quite harmless in comparison. But you have your standards…

            “MENTALLY RETARDED… halfwit with a 2 digit IQ and probably 3 digit income… shrink your brain to a size of 0.24% of the normal human brain, which is about 3X the size that Anonymous evi[de]nces to have….”

            But double standard is your forte, no surprise there. I thank Anon for the mention of the Israel Philharmonic’s grave and obvious example of racial discrimination. A
            20% Israeli Arab population but not a single player in the orchestra, and silence from you, vs. 0.17% Asians in Austria’s population and perpetual flame throwing from your blog. I would assume this racist issue should be much closer to your heart than Vienna?

            Please try to reflect for a moment, how damaging your activities are to the overall strength of classical music in the world as a whole. We people who love this most sophisticated art form must stand together against the attack by globalized ignorance, cultural decline and dilution of educational standards instead of engaging in fist fights on the deck of sinking Titanic, because we can not overcome our tribalistic quasi-instincts, and I say that to both sides.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The numbers for the general population of Austria will soon be very different.

    • NYMike says:

      Statistics can be manipulated to back up all sorts of arguments. Your point about blacks in the NY Phil contrasting with Asians in the Vienna Phil is a good example. General population numbers are irrelevant. Minorities actually enrolled in NY and Wien conservatories tell the tale more accurately. Whereas there are many Asians enrolled in Wien conservatories (as well as NY’s), there are few blacks enrolled in NY conservatories other than their jazz depts.

      • Peter says:

        You sound a bit hypocritical.

        So, the fact that black students are gravely underrepresented in US classical music schools, is not discrimination?

        I would say we don’t know, we need to know more about it, but those who accuse Vienna Phil here of discriminating against Asians based on race, without having a single actual case to prove it, apparently have no such reasonable constrictions.

        • William Safford says:

          The imbalance in racial makeup in American orchestras is a worthy topic of discussion. It goes a bit far beyond the scope of this thread, so I’ll just give my opinion that there remains much lingering institutional discrimination, but the greater question in this context is where that discrimination takes place.

          My opinion is that discrimination today does not occur (for the most part) at the level of the major orchestras, nor at the level of the conservatories. It happens earlier, but the results redound to the conservatories and orchestras.

          Perhaps I’m mistaken. I’m always open to evidence.

          • Peter says:

            One kind of discrimination, on the most fundamental level, happens at the conception of a new human in the existential decision between the second chromosome, X or Y…
            But that is of course sexist to say. I will therefore renounce and state that the earth is flat and the sun circles around the earth.

          • William Safford says:

            Funny — I was thinking the same thing about comments about any speculations that women as musicians are physiologically inferior to men….

          • Peter says:

            Women are physiologically first of all *different* than men. (feels strange to even mention the obvious fact)
            Also superior in some aspects, and inferior in other aspects of the physiology, which is obviously the reason, why in sports women are discriminated into separate teams and competitions.
            There are also neurological differences, hormonal differences, etc. etc.
            Obviously these differences have a certain influence on the capabilities, also for playing certain musical instruments. The question is not *if* such differences exist, the question is how relevant they are, and if relevant, then if they can be overcome by technique and practicing.

          • William Safford says:


  • The Incredible Flutist says:

    Fascinating VPO woodwind logistics right now. It’s just been announced that this will be the final New Year’s Concert for Dieter Flury, Principal Flute since 1981. He turns 63 in July, so this is is an early retirement.

    Mr. Flury has been one of the most frequently quoted advocates of VPO’s racial and gender exclusivity. He has openly defended their choice not to accept women.

    Here is Dieter Flury’s oft-quoted 1996 statement: “”From the beginning, we have spoken of the special Viennese qualities…. The way we make music here is… something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe. And it also doesn’t allow itself to be separated from gender… Therefore, I am convinced that it is worthwhile to accept this racist and sexist irritation, because something produced by a superficial understanding of human rights would not have the same standards.” (This statement was made before women were admitted).

    Earlier this year, Karin Bonelli was granted tenure in Mr. Flury’s very flute section. What an uncomfortable situation that must have been for him. It’s easy to understand why he
    may have requested an early retirement. He is a brilliant thinker, a trained mathematician, so he may have new career plans.

    In any case, Mr. Flury’s departure, timed so perfectly with the entry of promising young women into the VPO, certainly represents the changing of the guards, the arrival of a new era in Vienna.

    It has been confirmed, BTW, that Sophie Dartigalongue will be playing Principal Bassoon on this year’s televised New Year’s Concert: a milestone!

    • william osborne says:

      I don’t have any concrete information about the matter, but I think Mr. Flury changed his mind after the statement made above in 1995. I was told this quite a few years ago by a person in Vienna who was running an archive devoted to Jewish culture. She said Mr. Flury had been assisting them with some matter, and that they had discussed women in the orchestra. It may be that Mr. Flury was even something of a mentor for Ms. Bonelli, but I’m not sure. I don’t have any solid, documentable information about this, but it might be something someone might like to look into. Perhaps Mr. Flury would grant someone an interview to clarify the matter. For example, each new member of the orchestra is often assigned a mentor. Who was Ms. Bonnelli’s mentor, if she had one?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Would it be possible, that men and women are not only biologically different but also mentally, psychologically, emotionally and thus also musically? It is very difficult to research this without being condemned as …. well, we know. (Researchers, even if completely scientifically impeccable, would have Mr O on their neck in no time.) But if indeed an all-male orchestra would, in theory, due to some mysterious emotional chemistry, get their performance culture in ‘better shape’, that would not be discrimination. It would rather be comparable to the London gentlemens’ clubs. From this follows that any accusation of gender discimination of the VPO would be premature.

      But given the stringent standards of the VPO it is to be expected that the players can maintain their standards while adapting their gender outlook. Which means that the entire discussion as raging on this blog is, in fact, completely superfluous, because the subject can not be based upon fact: the number of females in the orchestra cannot tell anything about those deeply-hidden drives that creates the music.

      • Peter says:

        You are a courageous man, speaking like a heretic against the church of gender mainstreaming.
        There are obvious and more hidden but scientifically demonstrable differences between men and women.

        Here just one example.

        The discussion is indeed superfluous, from the perspective of enlightened fact and reason. But that will not change the irrational ideologists, to the contrary. It will infuriate them even more, since they do not like science. Most likely because they are a bit intellectually challenged to understand it fully.

        Religion is so much easier in comparison.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Interesting study. But it is questionable whether the conclusions would also apply to musicians, because musically-gifted individuals may have again other interconnections in the brain. No doubt the wish to prefer an all-male super orchestra stems from the times when in society the sexes were much more separated than nowadays, and mutual understanding even much harder. After all, Vienna was the cradle of psychoanalisis and female neurosis of which Freud is its most conspicuous fruit. Reading Stefan Zweig’s ‘Die Welt von Gestern’ presents a picture of old Vienna where an all-male orchestra is entirely understandable: no ‘neurotically-screaming females who would distract from the second theme’.

      • William Safford says:

        Do you believe that? Or are you playing Devil’s Advocate?

        • Peter says:

          “believe” … “devil”…
          Thank you William for proving my point right above your’s so perfectly.

          This discussion here is initiated by ideologists, who “believe” something.

          • William Safford says:

            Actually, it goes the other way. But you have your head stuck firmly in the sand.

        • John Borstlap says:

          No, I am serious about it. I cannot understand why a gender-mixed orchestra would not achieve the same high level as a gender-homogene orchestra, but I cannot understand why people would want to exercise pressure upon an (almost) all-male ensemble to adapt their proportions to some abstract PC idea, and not leave them free to do as they want, given the many other options auditioning players have nowadays. The irrational wish to keep women and Asians out should be understandable, since performing music is irrational in itself already, and ‘how things feel’ is, within a performance context, of crucial importance. Since Vienna is a European, Austrian city and not a Chinese city, it is understandable that a Viennese orchestra that wants to cultivate a typically local image, has difficulty with obviously Asian players in the orchestra. How things look, is part of identity: in the same way, orchestral players have a uniform dress code when performing, because it symboliezes something. (A Chinese orchestra entirely consisting of white westerners could for the same reason have difficulty to cultivate a typically local, Chinese profile; the Hong Kong Phil includes westerners but their local identity is very international.)

          I wholeheartedly applaud emancipation movements but deplore all these accusations of racism and misoginy, – why not let them completely free in their preferences? That is ALSO a form of emancipation, it seems to me.

  • Peter says:

    The camp of the “a priori” knowledge high priests of the Vienna Phil seems to undergo a slow and healthy evolution. Wunderbar.

    The camp of the “a priori” ideologists from the gender mainstreaming camp not so much, if this discussion is any indicator.

    I think there are two types of fools.
    -One are those who say it has worked like this in the past and is therefor superior.
    -The other are those who say it has worked like this in the past and is therefor inferior.