A trombonist stumbles on Vienna’s old boy’s club

A trombonist stumbles on Vienna’s old boy’s club


norman lebrecht

April 03, 2019

  In Vienna recently, Vivian Lee of the Montreal Symphony caught the Vienna Philharmonic with its pants up. Not a pretty sight.

She writes:

We arrived a few minutes early, but the hall was almost full and we ended up at the back. It didn’t matter, because the acoustics turned out to be lovely and we could hear everything. I craned my neck to watch the musicians troop on stage and, without consciously realizing that I was expecting anything else, I noticed that one after the other, they were all men. Thirteen people on stage and not one woman. Now, I recently participated in the CWBC in Toronto , and we did an all-woman concert, but that was the point. We had to do it on purpose to make it happen. In the case of the Vienna winds, the same holds true. Whether the decision was made a hundred years ago or last week, somewhere along the line it was decided that only men would hold those seats. The Vienna Phil has argued that they don’t have a policy of hiring only men, anymore, but they also don’t use screens in the final round of the audition process, so their objectivity is questionable. They were one of the final holdouts among European orchestras to finally accept women, a harpist in 1997. I checked the personnel page of the Vienna Philharmonic and found 14 women out of 130 musicians, but it took until 2007 before they hired a non-harpist woman. By contrast the OSM has 33 women out of 85 total; not quite half but a lot closer.

I found myself distracted as I listened to the beautiful sounds of Dvorak and Mozart, because of the distinct contrast between what I’m used to in my orchestra and what I was watching. There were not only older men, there were also younger men, who were obviously the new generation of the same old men’s club of musicians. Also, as I looked around the room, the audience was divided roughly in half by gender, so where’s the justification for the misogynistic policy so long in place?…

Read on here.



  • Ellingtonia says:

    And if the audience had been 90% male what would your conclusion have been……..that women were being discriminated against in the purchase of tickets for the concert…………..do give it a rest!

    • Eric Wright says:

      Don’t you have a RedPill meeting to get back to?

    • Furzwängler says:


    • nimitta says:

      Ellingtonia: “And if the audience had been 90% male…”

      And yet it wasn’t. The only discrimination – thoroughly documented over the years, Ellingtonia – was onstage.

      (By the way, I find it a shame that the name of the great Duke Ellington is attached to your comments, which are so frequently unkind and dismissive.)

      • Ellingtonia says:

        The author of the piece raised the gender balance of the audience, I was merely speculating what the PC line would have been if the audience split was heavily slanted to one gender. I see no reason for any musical group, of any genre, to reflect the audience before it. Its a little like Peter Snow of Channel 4 commenting about never having seen so many white faces in one place (at the Brexit demo the other day) whilst forgetting he was among several hundred thousand white faces at Glastonbury!! As regards my pen name, I adopted that after a lifetime of listening to the finest composer / arranger of the 20th century and I suspect he didn’t give a bugger who was in the audience as long as there was an audience to play to! So off to bed with you with your hot milk and choccie biscuit.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Yes. That.

          We are all exhausted by the victim narrative; it’s passe and so YESTERDAY.

        • Mr. Knowitall says:

          Don’t you think that the gender balance of the audience was mentioned because it represents the balance of humanity in general, which many desirable jobs don’t?

    • Ellingnoshebeddadont says:


    • David Martin says:

      I am ashamed of my antediluvian brethren. The situation for musicians IN VIENNA, (which is the topic here, no other, not the composition of the audience, not that “women complain too much” etc…) is that basically half of the population are female, and a very large percentage of musicians is also female, and that the Vienna Philharmonic is guilty of discrimination based on gender. Of that there is no question. So, you sir, give it a rest. Your attitude is antiquated, your logic is flawed; for shame.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Talking about logic: are London’s gentlemen’s clubs discriminating against women? Are Italian female mandoline ensembles discriminating against men? Are football teams made-up of males discriminating against females? Are people free to organize themselves according to what they think would work best, however biassed that may be?

        The point is: where does freedom damage the rights of other people. Are female musicians’ career damaged, or threatened in any way, by ONE orchestra in Europe which, for oldfashioned reasons, prefers to preserve an oldfashioned overall male constitution?

        Equal rights are a very good thing. But where equal rights merge with an egalitarian world view and result in totalitarian pressures, something has gone wrong along the way.

        • Mr. Knowitall says:

          “Everything is fine as it is,” say comfortable white man.

          • John Borstlap says:

            MInd you, we are talking here about ONE orchestra in a Europe filled to the brim with gender-mixed orchestras, increasingly subject to female conductors. But that is not enough: everywhere there should be 50/50 constitution in the symphony orchestra to reflect social needs and to support politically-correct bias.

  • david hilton says:

    The ‘justification’ for the policy described as ‘misogynistic’, is that it is illegal to discriminate against musicians, as against anyone else, on the basis of their gender, in the EU. And that includes so-called ‘positive discrimiation’ in favour of women — and thus against men — which is what the author of this contribution is apparently advocating.

    • John Borstlap says:


    • Gord Young says:

      You are wrong in your accusation that the author is in favour of reverse discrimination. If you read the whole post that was linked to she was in favour of blind auditions everywhere using a screen. That way the very best musicians are hired regardless of gender. You will find that wherever that policy is in place there are significantly more female musicians working – especially as compared to the Vienna Philharmonic which clearly has a discriminatory hiring policy.

  • david hilton says:

    The author is certainly correct to point out that ‘It’s well past the time when freedom should be given at a young age to girls who want to play whatever instrument they want.’ That’s because that time which is truly well-pasted was a few decades ago when this very freedom WAS given at a young age to girls who want to play whatever instrument they want. That is why it is no longer surprising to see a female trumpeter, trombonist, or even tuba player.

    The author of this piece needs to get out more, attend more concerts, and see modern orchestras and music conservatoires around the world as they really are these days.

    • Have eyes will see says:

      Re your admonition, “The author of this piece needs to get out more, attend more concerts, and see modern orchestras and music conservatoires around the world as they really are these days.”

      Did you even read the first sentence of the OP, the one that identifies the writer? “Vivian Lee of the Montreal Symphony” – two seconds on google verifies this:

    • Gar says:

      She plays in one of the world’s great orchestras herself, genius.

  • Ben says:

    Why should I take anybody seriously if that person walks into an restaurant, then:

    1) Moan about lack of female Sous Chef

    2) Moan about imbalance in female:male staff ratio inside the kitchen

    3) Moan about lack of female restaurant owner

    4) Moan about lack of female sensitive dishes (too much meat … too much fat … too much carb …)

    5) Moan about lack of recipes created by female

    6) Moan about lack of Employee of the Month award just for female


    …. (just keep moaning)


    Future Agenda For Yesterday: Public breast-feeding area inside the concert hall.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Public breast-feeding is a parenting issue.

    • Bone says:

      I chortled

    • Lady says:

      That is precisely what I thought after reading this. Bravo!!!!!

    • David Martin says:

      Imagine you were a musician, one who was born and raised in Vienna a generation ago. Music is your life’s work; it is your passion. However, you are female, and thus judged to not be eligible for membership in the VPO, regardless of your ability; only because of your gender. That is the issue at question, and no amount of knee-jerk anti-pc buzzwords and false equivalency foofaraw will change that. It’s about discrimination based on gender. No one is whining, no one is trying to take away your rights to keep your prejudices.

      Someone (a woman musician) is noticing, and reporting, an injustice that is slowly being corrected.

      Honestly surprised that so many people who love classical musician feel threatened by this simple act of reportage and editorial. I guess you all love classical music, just not classical musicians so much.

      • John Borstlap says:

        There is the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (mixed), the ORF radio orchestra (mixed), the Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchestra (mixed), and a bit further away the orchestra in Linz (mixed), and Germany with more than 50 orchestras (mixed), etc. etc….

  • Tribonian says:

    Whatever the VPO’s recruitment policy is, it works. They retain their unique sound, standards and traditions. Their concerts are hugely oversubscribed. As an independent organisation, surely it’s for the members to decide who they want as colleague. Those who don’t like the decisions need not attend their performances or buy their recordings.

    • MacroV says:

      The VPO is officially a private organization, but its independence is a bit of a fiction. Its operation is thoroughly intertwined with that of the Weiner Staatsoper. How do they decide, for example, who plays in the pit on New Years Eve while the Philharmonic is playing its New Years Eve Concert? How do they decide who stays behind when they go on tour? And what happens to a member of the Staatsoper Orchestra who is denied tenure in the VPO? Is it possible to have a principal flute in the Staatsoper who was denied tenure in the VPO who sits next to a 2nd flute who IS tenured in the VPO? That could get awkward.

      And as has been pointed out often, the VPO may be able to decide on its members, but the Staatsoper is a public institution bound by EU employment law.

      • Steve says:

        I know of one musician who played in the New Year’s Concert and then played Die Fledermaus that night. They have a busy schedule.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I know of two male players who dressed-up as women to contribute to the orchestra’s public profile.

        • MacroV says:

          Yes, they’re busy, but you’re missing the point. Which is that sometimes there are two services that conflict. Resolving that requires a high degree of cooperation between the Staatsoper and the VPO, which indicates a high level of cooperation between the public Staatsoper and the private VPO.

    • Steve says:

      She attended a woodwind concert by 11 members of the VPO. Not a full orchestral concert.

    • Gord Young says:

      I’m sure that the musicians of the VPO are competent enough, but if they truly want to hire the very best musicians based on the quality of their playing then surely they should have a policy of players auditioning behind screens. They don’t do that and hire virtually all based on gender rather than talent. The author here a is asking for nothing more than that.

  • Ms.Melody says:

    So, now we go to a concert, listen to beautiful music and do not allow ourselves to enjoy it because (horror!), the gender ratio on stage is all wrong. What sad,twisted times we live in.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Not “we” so much as “some people” (snowflakes, brought up to believe they are princesses and princes). As Dr. Peterson says, “the product of 1 or 2 child families in the western world; it’s all about meeeeeeee”.

  • AngloGerman says:

    How does a piece of full of such logical fallacies even get the time of day?

  • J R says:

    I am always happy to counter such arguments by pointing to the Vienna Volksoper. All three concert masters are women, with many female colleagues in both winds, harp, and strings. No one speaks there, of any needed quotas. Who won the job on the day as the best player, got the job. Period.

    • Ms.Melody says:

      Do they still use meritocracy as a guide to who gets the job?
      How hopelessly old-fashioned! (Just kidding)

  • Gar says:

    Amazing how many people are so defensive about her observations. Over the top, even. Your insecurities are showing, “gentlemen.”

    • Sue Sonata Form says:


      I’m laughing at the idea of the males in the VPO feeling insecure!!! 🙂

    • David Martin says:

      It will take some time, I suppose, for these types of attitudes to disappear. I am surprised at the lack of acknowledgement of the basic facts: the discrimination based on gender. The VPO is a holdout, and yes, you can argue “tradition”. But we did move past burning Witches didn’t we?

      • music_montreal says:

        The attitude there is changing. Most of the older (male) members of the VPO/Opera who are of the more gender-discriminating type have retired or are close to retirement. Auditions are now screened until the finals, and, for example, they do have a female, French, non-Vienna-trained principal bassoon. Slowly but surely, hopefully.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Given that tenure lasts up to 40 years, it is going to take time for the gender balance to change (unless you believe all the men should be peremptorily fired). Only a few players are replaced each year, and it seems, at least nowadays, that both genders are given a fair chance of joining the orchestra.

  • Symphony musician says:

    Many of the comments make knee-jerk assumptions that the author is advocating a course of action that she never in fact does. Those commenters have missed the subtlety in the article.
    Things are much fairer than they were, but as long as there are places which are changing too slowly why shouldn’t it be called out?

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    You poor thing; having to listen with your eyes. Missing so much.

    • Music Theorist says:

      Sue, there’s been something bothering me about your new nom de plume, and I just figured it out. Sonata form — what musicians call sonata-allegro — has a development section, where ideas are developed and explored and expanded and infuse with new perspectives. You seem stuck in the first (only) theme of your exposition, ||A:|| — haven’t you got ANYTHING else to say? Ever?