Vienna orchestra is ‘wasting taxpayers’ money’

Vienna orchestra is ‘wasting taxpayers’ money’


norman lebrecht

October 05, 2017

The city auditor has issued a highly critical report on the Wiener Symphoniker, finding that the finances are a mess and many of the musicians are not fulfilling the number of services required.

The orchestra’s current deficit stands at 64 million Euros, apparently.

Report here (in German).



  • Ben says:

    On a related note about musicians not fulfilling their service but keeping their pay, Lang Bang Lang played “Rhapsody in Blue For 5 Hands” with 2 other pianists, himself contributing only one hand, last night with Philadelphia Orchestra @ Carnegie.

    • Michael says:

      I listened to that on the air on WQXR, and did they ever destroy that music. And in no way do I mean that as a compliment. It was terrible. People still got suckered into applauding vigorously though.

      • Olassus says:

        New Yorkers … . What can one say?

        • NYMike says:

          Yes indeed, what can one say. Better to say nothing if you’re not here and know next to nothing about New Yorkers. BTW, New York offers as many concerts/day and more than most other cities. Culturally, New York ranks at the very top in venues and offerings. As a city, we are politically left of center with a 90% anti-Trump vote against our hometown idiot.

    • Rgiarola says:

      Lang Lang actually is not his name, but the imaginary sound of the car racing he believes he is driving while he is over the piano. It’s just a kids game that he still insist to do, since he was 7 yrs old. Someone told he was so great on it oooppss

    • Furzwängler says:

      One hand too many, perhaps?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Do you know for a fact whether Lang Lang received his full fee?

  • William Osborne says:

    Generally speaking, when the Rechnungshof (something like the General Accounting Office in the US Federal government) gets involved with orchestras, they get it wrong. I’ve seen this time and again. They do not understand the organizational structures of orchestras and how the required personnel changes depending on repertoire. Sometime an orchestra will do a long stretch of Mozart thus giving the tubist little to do. The Rechnungshof then claims they should eliminate the tuba position. And sometimes only three horns are needed, not six. And the harpists aren’t always needed. The Rechnungshof then suggests that these positions be eliminated. This is, of course, absurd. When a stretch of Bruckner comes along, they would be working with temp positions in the brass and quality would be seriously affected.

    Co-principal positions allow the best musicians to stay in top form because they have more time to practice. And Nebentätigkeit (extra work outside the orchestra) is an enormous plus for a city. The musicians enrich the atmosphere with chamber music and top level pedagogy. Quality art remains impervious to capitalistic efficiency.

    • Steven Holloway says:


    • Olassus says:

      The “current deficit” cannot be €64 million. That would be the accumulated debt, no?

      • Max Grimm says:

        Yes, the €64m. are accumulated debt, ie. it went from -62.811.299,04 in 2014 to -64.083.090,20 in 2015. The numbers and figures quoted in the article are from the year 2015 and were published in a report by the Stadtrechnungshof Wien in August of 2016.

        If you feel like labouring through Austrian “Beamtendeutsch” for several hours (possibly days), here is the link to the full report:

        • Max Grimm says:

          Sorry, one correction. Work on the report began in August 2016. The final report was published last month, September 2017.

        • Olassus says:

          Thank you, Max. And they can keep their Beamtendeutsch!

          • Wiener Symphoniker says:

            Just a few points from our perspective. The figure of Euro 64m is indeed accumulated debt. However, this represents provisions for pension obligations that will arise over the next 40 years. We are legally required to state these provisions in our accounts. The pension scheme has been cancelled more than a decade ago – but of course we will face the financial burden for many years to come as members with old contracts are retiring. The City of Vienna has given us a guarantee for these provisions (the pension scheme was an arrangement with the City as the major funder of the orchestra) but we cannot show the guarantee in the balance sheet. Therefore the accumulated debt. Thanks to the guarantee we receive unrestricted audit certificates for our financial statements from the independent auditors, though.

            The operative business (ie the actual day to day running of the orchestra) doesn’t cause any losses.

            Norman’s second talking point: musicians not fulfilling the number of services required – we currently operate at 95% capacity (across the entire orchestra). Please bear in mind that this doesn’t cover the time the orchestra members spend on practising and preparing, promotional activities and quite a large junk of additional time they spend around the actual sessions, being on hold etc. We believe and are told by colleagues from around the world this is a rather good figure. Alas the Rechnungshof highlighted in their report a month in which the three percussionists of the orchestra performed well under that percentage – not a big surprise given that we performed a large Schubert project as well as Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bruckner and Milhaud in that month. Unfortunately the Rechnungshof didn’t follow our argumentation that a series of percussion concerts might have done worse at the Box Office.

          • Anon says:

            “Unfortunately the Rechnungshof didn’t follow our argumentation that a series of percussion concerts might have done worse at the Box Office.”

            Sums it up rather well for me.
            I guess if it was up to the Rechnungshof, also the pauses, when musicians do not play during a piece, at discretion of the composer, would be counted and subtracted from their salaries as time not worked.

            Or maybe some smart politician would then suggest a compromise how the times when musicians do not play but only count, count only 50% of the time.

            It would save the state a lot of money, they would only need to hire many more accountants for keeping track of this, but jobs for accountants are good, there can always be more. Unlike jobs for those lazy musicians, come on, they should have learned some proper profession. Like accounting.

  • mr oakmountain says:

    There is an old, longish joke (can’t find it) about a book keeper going to a Beethoven Symphony for the first time and afterwards writing a detailed report to the management, how much money could be saved by sacking half of the band and re-assigning more notes to those who have rests in their music.

    • phf655 says:

      Take a look at ‘Bach, Beethoven and Bureaucracy’, a book about the administration of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Ormandy era, by Edward Arian. This came from a serious, but obviously misguided, report of a management consultant. It was not originally intended as a joke.
      Though the book is going on half a century old, things haven’t changed much, and it is worth reading.

  • Halldor says:

    What: a symphony orchestra has chaotic finances and the players don’t work all their contracted hours?

    I am shocked. SHOCKED.

  • Pedro says:

    If only they had a better mudic director…

  • Pedro says:


  • Robin Worth says:

    Anyone who saw them play Mahler 6 at the RAH last month might wonder how this performance would be possible in the future if the Rechnungshof’s proposal to reduce the band from 122 to 100 were implemented

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      They could still play Mahler 4…

    • Anon says:

      By hiring substitutes. Like almost all orchestras have to do for Mahler 6? (If not for the best tenured players taking a leave to avoid the ear damage from Mahler 6 alone)
      I’m not saying they should shrink the orchestra, but there are even bigger orchestrations than Mahler 6, so where do you draw the line? There must be better justifications.