Exclusive: Vienna Philharmonic concertmaster resigns

Exclusive: Vienna Philharmonic concertmaster resigns


norman lebrecht

July 10, 2017

The young German violinist José Maria Blumenschein was appointed in December 2015 to succeed Rainer Küchl as concertmaster of the Vienna Opera orchestra and, after a three-year probation period, of the Vienna Philharmonic.

It now appears he has decided he does not want the job.

José Maria Blumenschein, 32, has resigned from Vienna, effective August 31, 2018.

No reason given.

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A Joseph Silverstein student, José Maria was previously concertmaster of the WDR Symphony in Cologne and, before that, associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.


UPDATE: Why the concertmaster quit.

No word of these developments has appeared in the sun-numbed Austrian press or other music media.


  • Steve P says:

    Wow! This looks like an interesting story. Updates, please

  • Daniel Nodel says:

    Actually he is more a Vera Kramarowa student. Bold move anyway.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Vienna is the only respectable orchestra left. His abrupt departure is ill advised for his career. He will regret his decision.

    • qwerty1234 says:

      haha. he’s a very, very fine violin player and will have no trouble obtaining a high level position elsewhere. I’m sure there’s more than meets the eye.

    • Bruce says:

      “Abrupt”… with more than a year advance notice 🙂

      • John Borstlap says:

        In Viennese terms, it is shockingly soon.

        There may be all kinds of private factors in play which have nothing to do with the position, or professional considerations which are hard to reconcile with the great responsobility and full schedule of the VPO, like the wish to play more chamber music. It is unlikely that he does not like the job as such.

    • Dittany Morgan says:

      The only respectable orchestra? You want to get out more.

      • Nikos says:

        Well said Dittany. Amazing what these ‘experts’ know isn’t it? Last time I heard the Berlin Phil, Concertgebouw, Philadelphia, Boston Symphony Orchestras (to name a few higher profile ensembles) they were pretty respectable, each offering something unique & different to my ears…I suppose 25+ years in the profession doesn’t qualify me tho?!!…

    • Walter Delahunt says:

      Well……..since his position at WDR was kept open for him and since he will return to WDR and since WDR is also a “respectable” orchestra, I suppose the concertmaster thought through his decision and will be OK……also bearing in mind that concertmasters usually have solo and chamber music concerts next to their orchestra commitments. And……he’s not the first concertmaster to have left VPO and survived nicely.

  • Tubalcain says:

    There are three possible reasons, he may have fluffed his probation or ruffled someone in the VPO, (my friends in Die Presse and Wiener Zeitung) know nothing so far but think it very odd, obtained a better offer, wants to do chamber stuff only, the latter is more likely.
    I will ask Prof Dr Gerhard Kramer, if he is still in the land of the living. I used to wine and dine him and his wife during Innsbrucker Festwochen, which he set up back in the early 60s.

  • Sue says:

    In a documentary about Carlos Kleiber, made in 2010, one of the orchestra members interviewed for the program described the Vienna Philharmonic as “piranhas”. He mentioned this in context of any conductor new to the orchestra and the opposition to be found there. It’s just possible this young concertmaster might be feeling the same thing.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Orchestral players – who are humans, like other humans but with an emotional life closer to the surface as their job requires – can sometimes be nasty, to each other or to a conductor, but if they are serious enough about their work, good players and good conductors are not eaten alive as piranha’s prefer their meals. It also depends upon location: I know of a guest conductor who was kidnapped in Mexico by a couple of orchestral musicians who fetched him from the airport not to bring him to the hotel, as had been agreed upon, but to lock him up at a certain unknown place untill a dispute with the board over salaries was solved. I don’t see such things happen in Vienna soon.

      • Sue says:

        I actually heard much the same kind of comment as the “pirahna” comments about a leading American orchestra, eg. the Chicago SO. This, again, in the context of a conductor. The comment was meant to convey the idea that a conductor had better know what he or she was doing in the dangerous mix of professional musicians and I can well believe it!! Carlos walked out of a rehearsal and performance in 1982 with the VPO because the musicians of the second violins were laughing at him!!!

        • Nikos says:

          Sue, I saw that video clip & it didn’t really look like they were laughing at him particularly, it was more a light hearted moment. I have been in situations like this where a general misunderstanding has occurred because the maestro is perhaps misreading the situation & mood & it appeared to me that the section wanted to clarify the bowing between themselves (if it looks & feels tidy then it is much easier to play ‘as one’ & then get to the style of phrase wanted) & the ALL KNOWING GOD wouldn’t have it…as I saw it the fiddles were as entitled to get up & leave as Kleiber was! Any way, a sad blip on the reputations of a great musician-conductor & great orchestra!

          • Sue says:

            There wasn’t any picture available; just the audio and the description by two members of the orchestra who were there and told the tale. It was the “therese” bowing of Beethoven’s 4th symphony. Werner (can’t think of his last name) said “the 2nd violins didn’t want to understand this and laughed”. This would have put Carlos (already quite insecure) over the edge. And did. I make the point to illustrate the existence of real-life pihranas!!

    • Inchequin says:

      I recall that H v K often used to say that Kleiber only conducted when the fridge was empty. It was his father Erich who was the genuine article.

  • Operalover says:

    I find it amusing that one always looks for a story in a situation like this…. Josè Blumenschein is one of the most respected violinists of his generation and the Vienna Phil one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Could it be possible that he went to Vienna to see how he liked it and just decided it wasn’t for him? When you join an orchestra like the Vienna Phil in a postion like that, you’re basically married to the job. I have massive respect for anyone who stays in control of what they want. Pehaps this is the only story here…. perhaps he wanted something different for himself..

  • Bviolinistic says:

    This is sad news, he is an extremely talented and fine player.. I doubt very much that he is feeling pressure from inside the orchestra. However, the position is very demanding. I hope that the audition for his replacement is successful.

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Mr. Blumenschein is not yet a member of the Weiner Philharmoniker. He is one of four co-concertmasters of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. It is my understanding that one must be a tenured member of the VSO Orchestra before appointment to the Philharmonic and that is an election/selection made by tenured members of the Philharmonic.

    Please correct me if I have misunderstood the process.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I see that Norman implies this is in his opening statement. Sorry for the confusion on my part.

  • This is actually pretty common in the orchestra world, and is usually undramatic. The reasons tend to be:
    1: Personal life: a spouses career, school and friends for kids, an ageing parent…
    2: Working conditions, his previous position in WDR Köln is very good, probably less work and much less preasure, for a comparable salary.
    3: Change of career, usually for teaching positions, or focussing on a freelance conducting- or solo career.
    4: A dramatic one: problems getting along with the administration, colleagues or conductors.
    4: The most dramatic one, he could feel, or be told, that he is not really wanted in the orchestra, and resigns to avoid the humiliation of not passing a trial.

    I believe this is a mix betwen #1 and #2, but #4 is plausible as well.