Why the concertmaster quit Vienna

Sources in the Vienna Philharmonic have contacted us through the night to give reasons for the shocking – perhaps unprecedented – resignation of José Maria Blumenschein as concertmaster of the Vienna State Opera and probationary concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic after only one year in the seat.

It is said he was daunted by the phenomenal workload – the Opera functions 364 nights a year and the Philharmonic makes heavy rehearsal demands on its concertmaster, aside from heavy touring.

But there is also a suspicion that this young and highly talented violinist was dismayed by last month’s election in the orchestra, replacing a reform-minded chairman with a regressive one.

Whatever the deciding factor, WDR Cologne has held his position open just in case he changed his mind, cancelling an audition two weeks ago. José Maria will return to Cologne from September 2018.

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  • I have not had a chance to ask him yet but I personally doubt his decision has anything to do with the politics of the orchestra and everything to do with the demanding workload.

  • Workload… radio orchestras work often not more than 2/3 of opera orchestras that also do concerts like Vienna. With about equal pay.

  • I am some what surprised that he wasn’t aware of the work load. Usually it’s one of those things you look at when searching for a new job.

    • I’ve taken on jobs/schedules where I was aware of the increased work load, but thought I could learn to handle it and/or I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. Sometimes I’ve been right, and everything’s been fine; sometimes it’s been harder than I expected, sometimes there have been politics or management styles that I found difficult to work under, and I had to decide whether it was worth it to stay. Just because it’s the Vienna Philharmonic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s heaven on earth.

  • Workload? Including Blumenshein, the VPO lists FOUR concertmasters. If the Staatsopera and VPO are busy the same evening, that still leaves two not working. Am I missing something here?

    • Believe it or not – they do not just play the evening performances. They actually rehearse, prepare for the programmed pieces and practice as well. Top chair also means top performance expected. Every second. High pressure.

      • As a former orchestral musician, I’m well aware that rehearsals are involved. My former comment still stands.

        • You are right; they have 4 concertmasters so in theory only 2 are ever working at the same time. Not quite the case though. When the VPO tours they will nearly always have 2 concert masters at the first desk. When they perform in the Musikverein they usually – but not always – have 2 concert masters. They often post rehearsal photos from their various concerts on their Facebook page so its not too difficult to follow whose doing what. From having watched quite a few performances from the Staatsoper over the last year courtesy of their excellent streaming service they usually only have 2 concertmasters for the large scale late romantic repertoire (Wagner, Strauss etc and 20th century repertoire ). Everything earlier than that usually has just 1 concertmaster. That’s my understanding anyway

  • It’s pretty well known that the Staatsoper/VPO maintains a pretty punishing schedule, one of the rationales sometimes used to justify the longtime (and now former) exclusion of women, who, after all, have children and might not be able to handle the load, so it was argued. How it compares to a major US orchestra (which typically has only one CM) or the Berlin Phil, I really don’t know.

  • I’ll just point out that José was 3rd concertmaster (I believe his title was “Second Associate” but it’s been a few years) in The Philadelphia Orchestra for several years, with very little time off allowed. This would include moving up to second and even first chair frequently, but there would almost (barring serious illness) be at least 2 titled concertmasters playing any concert. The big difference would be that we perform operas infrequently, although when we do they are shorter ones, and we are on stage, not in a pit. Indeed it could be workload, or might be something a little harder to dig out. I do know that he enjoyed the lighter workload as Konzertmeister in Köln, in spite of what I will assume was a far lower income.

  • The VPO has 149 positions so that they can rotate the services. The VSOO/VPO works a lot, but they sometimes exaggerate their work load for PR purposes.

    • Rubbish. I am sorry but I would like some evidence of this, Mr Osborne. What possible purpose would such exaggeration serve? Public relations is not about exaggeration.

      • They have long cultivated the image that they’re hard-working servants of music, concerned only about their style and traditions – not about something as crass as money, certainly. And the admission of women definitely raised arguments about the workload being too taxing for them. Now, whether any individual player actually plays more hours/services than an American Big 5 player or someone at the MET, I have no idea; surely someone has analyzed.

  • There is a reliable local source with all the EXACT information about the why and the how of this event: my PA has an aunt living on the Gürtel, who knows the neighbour of a well-known psychic who has her stall at the Nashmarkt; unfortunately she (the psychic) does not want to give-away her information without being paid.

    • As my psychic aunt used to say as she removed her garters: Honni soit qui mal y pense. Thanks for this precious information concerning the VSOO leader.

      • My PA claims the spelling should be like “Honny soit qui mal y pense” which is supposed to be correct old French where the English got it wrong; my wife’s cousin however, a hermit who lives in a derelict wing of the deserted abbey of Jumièges (France), texted me that athough in modern French it is “Honni soit qui mal y pense”, such spelling has never been used in England where Edward III always had bad marks for his French, so his misspelling of ‘honi’ was never corrected, as to avoid royal embarrassment.

        http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/ruin-of-the-jumiege-abbey

  • Had a nice chat a couple of years ago in the break of a show with one of the VPO string principals. He was saying exhaustion is a big problem because of the touring, primarily, but also the opera sched.

    The touring can get to you. The LSO seem to lose members more than the great orchestra should. Its travel sched is nuts. And let’s not even talk about the Mariinsky and St.Petersburg Phil schedules!!

  • It’s interesting that the VSOO/VPO often speaks about its heavy work load, but have never published documented evidence which could be easily obtained from the orchestra’s Dienstplan (the monthly work schedules.) Why haven’t they done this?

  • They are hypocrites. When it came time to hire a harpist, they made no effort to find all qualified male harpists for the position. Eventually, they got one, and perhaps they were just waiting for him. But they still sound like a provincial orchestra.

    • I assume you are referring to Xavier de Maistre. Mr de Maistre left the orchestra many years ago to pursue a solo career ; his prerogative, of course. The harpists of the orchestra (female coincidentally) are world class players. I fail to see the hypocrisy. As to your opinion of the sound of the VPO, you are of course welcome to it.

  • The orchestra made no effort to recruit outstanding male harpists, of whom there are many, particularly in the USA, and with their having a historic policy of having male members, the hypocrisy should be crystal clear. As to their being “world-class” players, that is a dubious claim, as very few actually are that.

    • The orchestra makes no effort to ‘recruit’ anyone at all. If you want the job and are qualified, apply for an audition. If you are good enough you may win the position. It is not rocket science. As for hiring men over women…. Is it really necessary to clarify anything here? Very little of what you say is crystal clear..

  • If the audition was not advertised in North America, duh… Talk about rocket science. Men play the harp better than women, they are stronger. Duh.

    • Sorry, but I have to say both of your posts are exceedingly ignorant. What does strength have to do with playing the harp (or any other musical instruments)? You appear to have no knowledge of how instruments are played, not of how auditions happen and are propagated through the internet…

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