Breaking: Philharmonic principal is cleared in Vienna

Breaking: Philharmonic principal is cleared in Vienna


norman lebrecht

September 06, 2018

Statement just in from the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra:

‘After the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna dismissed a musician of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as lecturer in April 2018 with immediate effect, the management of the Wiener Staatsoper released the musician from his duties – the management of the Vienna Philharmonic shared this measure.

‘The Wiener Staatsoper and the Vienna Philharmonic immediately started looking into the matter in detail and, throughout the following weeks and months, had dozens of conversations in different groups with musicians (as well as substitutes) of both institutions – bringing in legal and psychological advice. These conversations did not bring up any allegation relevant under employment or criminal law. Therefore, there is currently no reason for further suspension: The musician will resume his duties in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra from September 17th – the management of the Vienna Philharmonic shares this measure.’

The musician concerned is a principal player in both orchestras. Clearance by his main employers will enable him to appeal against dismissal by the university. Further comment would be injudicious. Please do no mention names in any comments you may make.


  • anon says:

    “Clearance by his main employers will enable him to appeal against dismissal by the university. ”

    Huh? That doesn’t follow at all.

    Was the person cleared by the University of allegations made for actions at the University or in that person’s capacity as a University employee?

    THAT is the question.

    In other words, if there were never allegations made against the individual at the two ensembles: 1) it should come as little surprise that he/she would be cleared by those two ensembles, 2) but that doesn’t follow that the individual is automatically cleared for something that allegedly happened at the third institution, the University.

    It’s a rather common fact pattern: one is rarely harassed by a colleague at the same orchestra, one is harassed by one’s teacher, or the conductor.

    We have to wait the result of the University finding.

    • Peter says:

      Exactly. One is compelled to the conclusion that Norman did not properly read the statement before excitedly firing off this “breaking news”.

      The allegations which led to his dismissal from the University were allegations that he abused his position at the University. There is no indication that the Wiener Staatsoper and the Wiener Philharmoniker spoke with anybody who made those allegations. Their statement says nothing about the veracity of those allegations.

      First, the statement says that the Wiener Staatsoper and the Wiener Philharmoniker “had dozens of conversations in different groups with musicians (as well as substitutes) of both institutions”. In other words, their investigation was limited to personnel of the two orchestras.

      Secondly, the statement further says that “[t]hese conversations did not bring up any allegation relevant under employment or criminal law”. That is, the Wiener Staatsoper and the Wiener Philharmoniker were not testing the original allegations made to the University. They were testing whether any additional allegations would emerge from within the two orchestras.

      In conclusion, Norman’s post is entirely misleading, as is his “update” on the previous post. Norman’s reporting (such as it is) falsely gives the impression that the musician has been cleared of the allegations that caused his dismissal from the University. That is completely and unambiguously wrong. The musician has not been cleared of those allegations. The Wiener Staatsoper and the Wiener Philharmoniker did not deal with those allegations at all.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Moreover, since there is no credible allegation of misconduct at the orchestra, the musician could not be fired from his orchestra job even if the allegations at the university are true and known to be true.

  • william osborne says:

    This is the key sentence: “These conversations did not bring up any allegation relevant under employment or criminal law.” The problem is that there might be a number of relevant issues not covered by those two categories that define inappropriate behavior for a member of an orchestra, and especially for a university teacher.

    The larger context might also be relevant. In spite of the obvious problems they cause, sexual relationships between professors and students have been common and widely accepted in the German-speaking world for decades. The Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera Orchestra still has the lowest ratio of women of any orchestra in the world — a view that might reflect on a wide spectrum of gender concepts and sexuality. This was done in open defiance of both Austrian and EU law. And it still does not have a member who is fully Asian, nor one with an Asian family name, even though about a quarter of the students at Vienna’s University of Music have been Asian for decades. In the past, members of the orchestra have made astoundingly racist statements to justify the exclusion of Asians.

    We thus see that the perspectives and standards in Vienna are quite different from those common in the English-speaking world.

    We should also note that in countries like France and Italy, the Me Too movement has had far less effect. I’ve spoken with colleagues in Italy and the consensus seems to be that even Daniel Gatti has done nothing wrong. The cultural differences can be profound.

    • Thomasina says:

      In Vienna, a Japanese tuba player Yasuhito Sugiyama passed the audition In 2003, but he could not pass the trial period. He is now in Cleveland.

      • william osborne says:

        Yes, I wrote about his tenure in the VPO at the time. Forgive me that I misspelled his name in this article:

        His firing was part of some long-standing tensions among the members of the VPO’s low brass section.

        • Thomasina says:

          Thank you for an interesting article. Although I don’t doubt his talent, I imagine that a life in Vienna wasn’t easy for him. He had never studied or worked in a foreign country before and the first job in overseas was in the VPO! I remember the 2005 New Year’s concert. I was at my mother’s family and we were staring him on TV as if he was the first man to land in the moon.

    • Rgiarola says:

      If any law aren’t enough to determine proper behaviour, who will be able to decide it?
      Law exist exactly to prevent that a group rules without real and at least majoritary support of the society. In this case with this majority, this group is able to create and change laws, and impose to everyone the proper behaviour. Besides it, a law and a penalty must exist prior to the decision or right&wrong and punishement.
      People like you Mr. Osborne seems to disdain about this basic policie of any developed society. People like you believes that the end justifies the means, and always believes your ends are supreme. This is the way cowboys did on outlaw places in werstern movies.

      • william osborne says:

        Baloney. It is employers and employees deciding for themselves what standards of behavior they will have, and how they want their organization to be represented to the world. Such policies have existed for hundreds of years.

          • John Borstlap says:

            The article to which this link is leading, is one of those misconceived attempts to see humans as an animal species and to deduce social/psychological conclusions from it. While humans stem from the animal kingdom, they have built a superstructure upon their biological heritage which means that the lower impulses are continuously processed through a different form of awareness and thus, assessment. Another word for this process is ‘culture’, or ‘civilization’. Since humanity is not one big lump, but exists in infinite varieties, any such theory falls flat when confronted with reality. There are humans who only react to animal instincts, and others who tame them and react to very different impulses. So, the advice of reading more can equally be applied to the author of this comment.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Apart from the point of any improper treatment in whatever way, it is necessary to stress the fundamental freedom of any group or orchestra to decide for themselves how they will constitute their composition: all-male, all-female, all-gay, all-redhaired, all-communist, all-black, all-white, all-Chinese, all-Korean, all-Moskovite, all-whatever, as long as membership is not forced upon the individual against his will and the limitations are open and clear. The VPO’s cultural profile and cultural identity is of a traditional Viennese orchestra with long, deep roots in the Viennese past, reaching back to the fourties of the 19th century. There is no single reasonable objection imaginable if that specific orchestra, other than the Vienna Symphony or the Viennese Radio Orchestra, or whatever orchestra that happens to be based in the city, wants to preserve their historic cultural identity and profile. If women, Chinese or blacks who wish to be a member of the VPO discover an extra hindrance to their acceptance, they should understand the specific cultural character of this orchestra and maybe better look elsewhere for a job. Rejecting a Chinese does not necessarily mean ‘We hate Chinese’. The exploitation of contemporary gender politics to criticise the VPO with arguments of conservatism, bigotry, white suprematism, racism etc. etc. as happens quite often nowadays, is entirely immoral: they are free to organise their group as they wish.

      It is quite a difference if an orchestra defines its wishes for membership with ‘Blacks, women and Chinese are discouraged to apply since we want to preserve our local cultural identity’ or with ‘Blacks, women and Chinese are discouraged to apply because we are of the opinion that we, as white suprematist males, are just much better human beings than the rest’. The reading of the one into the other is entirely inappropriate. When Vienna has a general total mix of different ethnicities, with Chinese, blacks, arabs etc. resident for generations in the city, having absorbed its culture and character, and thus entirely Viennese, and in which the old white group of Viennese is no longer a majority, then an orchestra like the VPO can reflect in their constitution the actual typical Viennese population without loosing their cultural identity.

      • william osborne says:

        Both Austrian and EU law forbid discrimination by public institutions on the basis of race or gender. The Vienna State Opera is owned and operated by the Austrian government, which openly ignored these laws until international protests obligated it to change.

        These laws only came into existence after WWII. Before then, as is well-known, numerous European societies believed in excluding people, especially on the basis of race. They took this as a natural right, and usually in the name of tradition. Some took extreme measures to insure this form of “purity.” Austria was one, which is an unfortunate irony.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed, and all of that is extremely sad. What was not sufficiently understood in the past, is that culture can be adapted, absorbed, assimilated, and is entirely distinct from ethnicity, gender or social class. If Brahms had been an elderly Jewish lady from Süsch (Switserland), nodoby would have accepted her four symphonies.

          A lot of culture has been appropriated for the wrong reasons. But when the pendulum swings into the other direction too far, it will end in the same realm of extremism and injustice.

          I wonder whether the Brexit is also motivated by the London gentlemen Clubs where women are forcefully excluded and thus, discriminated against, to escape European anti-discrimination rules.

          It is always more easy to see the injustices and grotesqueries of the past than those of the present.

          • Scotty says:

            As is typical of his raised-in-comfort, Christian, white-guy, reactionary thinking, Borstlap spends paragraphs to say “We’ve got ours, now bugger off everyone else.”

          • John Borstlap says:

            To ‘Scotty’:

            The author of this comment has no idea where he/she/it is talking about and lacking any information, merely reveals his/her/its own inadequacy.

        • MacroV says:

          Are we still litigating this? As Mr. Osborne correctly points out, the Vienna State Opera is a public institution that must adhere to Austrian and EU employment law. And I would imagine that the VPO, while legally a private organization, is so intertwined with the Staatsoper that it could not operate under a set of “private club” rules. After all, the Opera could effectively kill the VPO by not coordinating schedules – oh, sorry, you can’t do that Japan tour; we need all hands in the pit for the Ring that week.

          Kudos to Mr. Lebrecht for reporting that the musician (still nameless, fortunately) has been cleared. I believe that was the point of this post before it digressed.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Err…he has not been cleared at all. The allegations relate to his job at the university. The orchestra managements have concluded that since there is no allegation of misconduct at the orchestra, and he hasn’t been charged with any criminal act, he can’t be suspended or removed from his orchestra job.

      • Sue says:

        “When Vienna has a general total mix of different ethnicities, with Chinese, blacks, arabs etc. resident for generations in the city…”

        When that day comes it will no longer be Vienna or Austria but the ONE WORLD view currently being thrust upon all of us. What then will become of lederhosen, women in drindls, people dancing in the streets with cowbells, contestants in the winter olympics? Gone into the arid pit of relentless, universal sameness. Hopefully I’ll be dead by then.

        Otherwise, I completely agree with your excellent observations.

        • John Borstlap says:

          But that is not true at all. Customs are passed-on from generation to generation, and when different ethnicities slip-in, customs don’t necessarily change. Today there are many very German Germans whose grandparents came from Turkey, and the same you see in England, Holland, Spain, etc. What is shown in the media are the abberations and problems – with justice because they have to be solved – but the numerous times this melting pot process under the cultural surface is working-out well, are not given much attention.

          More serious is the problem that the cultural surface itself is eroding, not because of ‘foreigners’, but because of indifference of ‘locals’ for their own culture. This hinders cultural transference.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Are you thinking of ethnic and racial origins or behavior and values? I am with you on the latter.

          As for the former, it has been quite complicated already. I instantly thought of two great Austrian conductors of Greek ancestry: Herbert von Karajan and Clemens Krauss. BTW, Krauss is one of my very favorite ones, up there with … you know which two (father and son…)

          And yes, I know Karajan and Krauss were not Asians. Then again, think of Mitsuko Uchida: she is Asian, but spent formative years in Vienna and her interpretations of the Austro-German repertoire are steeped in local tradition.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Uchida is a case in point. And of course all the brilliant people of ‘Jewish’ descent who represent(ed) the best of Western culture and science.

    • Sue says:

      Shallow comments altogether. And who would read the NYT – the same rag which said Federer lost at the US Tennis Open because of ‘climate change’. Give us a break!! Stupidity kills.

      • MacroV says:

        Indeed it does.

      • Scotty says:

        And yet Sue lives. Explain the contradiction.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I read the NY Times on a daily basis. I skip the sports section, so I can’t speak about Federer. Otherwise the quality is inevitably uneven, but overall good or great. Lots of op-eds with insider insights, often from people with government experience, from both parties. My favorite columnist is Nicholas Kristof. Try his columns.

    • mr oakmountain says:

      Gleiches mit Gleichem?

      Yes, the VPO has some catching up with how they behave towards women, however I question some of the comments about their lack of foreign players.

      1) Whenever a Chech orchestra records Smetana, Martinu or Janacek, everyone immediately mentions, how important the idiomatic inflection of the native language of the players informs their understanding of the music. How many international players in the CPO?

      2) Whenever a new bras player is hired in a London orchestra, everyone stretches the importance of having grown up in the coal pit / salvation army brass band tradition to sound typically British (exception: The new LSO joint trumpet principal is Australian).

      3) Everybody bemoans the fact that the great orchestras are losing their identity and sound the same. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

      Different standards, perchance?

      • MacroV says:

        The Czech Philharmonic would probably hire foreign players, but the salaries (AFAIK even the principals earn only about $30K/year) are probably too low to attract any. Also, while English is quite prevalent in Prague and the CPO probably works to a fair degree in English, there is still a bit of a language issue.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I agree and hope that idiomatic playing is an extremely important criterion for recruiting orchestral musicians.

        Some east German orchestras also have their own sound identity: the Staatskapellen of Berlin and Dresden, Gewandhaus. To what extent are they currently comprised of local musicians?

  • luigi nonono says:

    So, no legitimate charges, and reinstatement is supposed to undo all the damage? Outrageous.

    • Vienna calling says:

      Nothing is going to undo the damage he did. I hope he will at least be kept away from students. Outrageous indeed.

    • Peter says:

      The statement by the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Wiener Staatsoper does not deal at all with the allegations that led to his dismissal from the University. Contrary to Norman’s misreading of the statement, they haven’t “cleared him”.

      The statement from the two orchestras indicates that they have not found any allegations of misbehaviour at the Wiener Philharmoniker or at the Staatsopernorchester. Therefore, they do not currently have a reason to continue to suspend him.

      That conclusion says little or nothing about the allegations of misbehaviour at the University.

      • Max Grimm says:


        Some more general information regarding this matter…
        – At present, the cellist’s dismissal from the university stands

        – The dismissal was based on complaints by 8 individuals

        – According to the university’s legal counsel, the cellist’s actions – while grossly inappropriate – did not constitute crimes under the law and were therefore not reported to the police or district attorney (which is probably the main reason why the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Wiener Staatsoper ended his suspension from their organizations)

        – The cellist has sued the university over his dismissal.
        The first court date was in June and the proceedings will continue in October. The proceedings will take place under the exclusion of the general public and media, based on a request by the university and granted by the judge.