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