Exclusive: Revolution at the Vienna Philharmonic

Exclusive: Revolution at the Vienna Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

June 20, 2017

Conservative members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, alarmed at the recent pace of change, voted out their elected leaders in a secret ballot this morning.

Andreas Grossbauer, who led the orchestra towards greater transparency about its Nazi past and towards greater gender equality in its ranks, was deposed.

The new chiefs are Daniel Froschauer, a violinist (pictured), as chairman and Michael Bladerer, double-bass, as managing director.

The next sound you will hear is the clocks being turned back.


  • Ungeheuer says:

    If it means restoring the orchestra’s fabled sound, in critical danger of extinction (if not already vanished), then why not?

    • Steve P says:


    • NYMike says:

      “in critical danger of extinction” – says who? Hearing the VPO @ Carnegie Hall annually for the last 30 years, their traditional sound has remained remarkably stable. They still play with “Vienna horns,” as well as woodwinds used only in their hometown. Their way with waltz after-beats going back 100 or so years has not changed. Their ensemble and tonal blend has also remained. So what’s the danger? Oh, WOMEN of course…….

      • Ungeheuer says:

        Nothing to do with the admission of women. Rather, other forces are conspiring against the fabled sound of old. For example, lousy “conductors” who should not be allowed within 6,097 miles of the orchestra, and a younger generation of players who may be more “international” than “Viennese”. I am writing about culture (the musical culture and tradition of the orchestra), not about race or ethnicity. What else?

    • William Safford says:

      Must the two go hand in hand?

  • Arthur says:

    So I am confused. Is it the return to only hiring players that are “male,” or the re-instituting of the denial of Nazi ties that will return the orchestra’s “fabled” sound?

  • mr oakmountain says:

    Is there any clear evidence that Andreas Grossbauer was indeed “deposed” for being “too liberal” and that Daniel Froschauer was elected for being a “conservative”, or is one just assuming? Does anyone have a background story, because until then for all we know it might just have been a change of personnel without any implications whatsoever.

    • Nik says:

      Nobody really knows what the deciding factors were.
      The Austrian press mentions for example that members had disagreements with Großbauer about the increasing workload of the orchestra, including a new contract with the Salzburg Festival. Also that Großbauer was seen as a self publicist and has a close relationship with D. Meyer, the outgoing Staatsoperndirektor.
      Bladerer is known as a staunch conservative. Not sure if the same is true for Froschauer.
      Further details may or may not emerge in the coming days.

  • Dubliner says:

    This reminds me of our church Rector an excellent Canon of TCD and an authority on Irish Illuminated Manuscripts, who told us during a sermon that in his 60 years in the Church of Ireland he had seen a lot of change and during Synod debates he voted against all of them. Yes let’s hope the Wiener Philharmoniker will return to its halcyon days. I do hope they will abandon those outfits made by the frock designer Viv Westwood, they should get their evening tails made by Dunmore & Locke, St James, one of the last bespoke tailors left.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is normal VPO policy to vote for its leadership every couple of years, choosing from its musicians pool.

    It was not the recent leadership who has created more transparancy about the nazi past; this was the work of Clemens Hellsberg, who has been Vorstand for many years and has been rechosen time and again, and is also a much respected historian, writing about the orchestra’s tradition and recently about its war years involvements. Thanks to Hellsberg, who recently retired from the orchestra but is still active on its behalf, the VPO has ‘washed’ its hands clean from the past, hands which were already quite clean since no player in the orchestra was active in WW II. They are all ‘new players’.

    But what would ‘conservative’ mean in this context, and ‘turning back the clock’? Firing the females? Playing more, or less sonic art? (How could the progressive programme policy of playing less sonic art be conservative?) Was the VPO getting modernized too quickly? But what would than mean if it were referring to repertoire?

    Playing more modernist repertoire, which has become recent VPO programming policy, is not ‘modernizing’ the orchestra but exposing its performance culture to a very reactionary trend which deny the players’ capacities. For orchestras like the VPO, who have to preserve a superb tradition that is increasinlgy under attack from populism and a misunderstood modernity, the way in which such orchestras are ‘conservative’ may well be, in fact, extremely progressive, in the way we consider the upkeep and preservation of unique monuments that still have to tell us so much about the human condition, as progressive.

    • Sue says:

      Your redefinition of the words “progressive” and “reactionary” was a little forced. I wonder if being curatorial can be regarded as “progressive”? I tend to favour the word “conservative” in that respect, if we must use such monikers!! The modern tendency to label people, politics and identity is completely odious to me because it all suggests acceptance or rejection into a particular ‘club’. I’d never want to be in one of those ‘clubs’.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The abuse of the word ‘progressive’ invites for changing its meaning. Progressive is when things are improved, and where much effort is spent on preserving precious things, like monuments and cultural traditions, and the more that happens, it can be called ‘progress’.

        In the last century, fascism was greeted by millions of people as ‘renewal’ and as something very promising for the future, while we now know it was the worst possible primitive reactionary barbarism. Slogans disguise things as they are. ‘Modernization’ functions nowadays as just such slogan.

        • Sue says:

          Fair points. And people who refer to themselves as ‘progressive’ generally get up my nose, mostly because most don’t realize that a change isn’t necessarily an improvement!!:-)

  • matteo says:

    “Conservative members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra […] voted out their elected leaders in a secret ballot this morning.”

    The ballot was secret but Lebrecht knows for sure that Froschauer & co. were elected by conservatives. Supernatural powers.

    “Andreas Grossbauer, who led the orchestra towards greater transparency about its Nazi past and towards greater gender equality in its ranks, was deposed.”

    The National Socialist thing was exposed by some historians under the Hellsberg’s (not Großbauer’s) tenure.
    Andreas Großbauer was not “deposed”: somebody else won the ballot. It’s how democracy works in a democratic body.
    And Lebrecht knows for sure that Froschauer & co. were elected by chauvinists and nostalgics of the Nazi salute. Not because of an electoral program or problems within the association or with the former leadership.

    “The next sound you will hear is the clocks being turned back.”

    The last sound I heard was their amazing last concert with Jansons and the next I will hear will be their concert in Milan. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to meet Daniel Froschauer and congratulate him on his new appointment.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    The last I listened to them, they had a provincial sound, of mediocre quality, nothing to be treasured.