Winners and losers at Vienna’s New Year

Winners and losers at Vienna’s New Year


norman lebrecht

January 03, 2020


1 Andris Nelsons – he’s done it, doesn’t have to do it again

2 Every other conductor who thinks s/he can do it better

3 Muti, obvs

4 The Vienna Phil – probably its biggest payday

5 The Green Party – they’re in government now. Next year, the concert will be done in candleight.



1 Sony – they’ll never get their money back

2 The Vienna Phil – it’s looking rather jaded

3 Austria – is this the best it can do?




  • Dave T says:

    You mean people still watch this? I guess for NL it’s part of his professional obligations.

  • fflambeau says:

    “5 The Green Party – they’re in government now. Next year, the concert will be done in candleight.”

    Absolute nonsense.

  • Sir Kitt says:

    And the prize for most spectacularly meaningless article on Slipped Disc goes to…

  • anon says:

    Very unimpressed with the small, undistinguished sound of the principal flutist. My read is that the primary consideration in the new appointment was gender. Big disappointment after last year with Silvia Careddu.

    Similarly unimpressed with Andris Nelsons.

    May take a pass on the broadcast special next year. “Jaded” is a generous description of the players. The whole evening was lacking in any energy, musicianship, artistic merit , tradition.

    • Tutti Flutie says:

      He is actually one of the most highly respected orchestral flutists in the world. I did notice that he was not playing his customary gold flute. He was playing silver, which is unusual.

      He was seen after the concert with a prominent flutemaker who had been in attendance, probably the maker of this new instrument. I tend to think that if you didn’t care for his sound, it probably had to do with getting used to the new instrument, or perhaps the sound of the flute itself.

      Silvia is a more extroverted player, true. Vienna is not generally an extroverted orchestra so it probably wasn’t a good fit. She is also one of the top international stars of the flute world, and not to worry, she landed on her feet after Vienna!

      • anon says:

        Thanks for the discussion. I have to wonder why “one of the most highly respected orchestral flutists in the world” would try out a new instrument on this particular world stage. Doesn’t sound like sound professional judgement to me.

        My comment is not meant to be snarky. Many in the US tend to expect big, individual sounds from a principal flute. Missing in action on New Year’s Eve.

        • Tutti Flutie says:

          A big, individual sound on this repertoire? That would be inappropriate in this context. The VPO NYear’s concert is fluff, light rep, tradition, all about fitting in and playing it the same way it’s been done for 100 yrs. Not the place at all for individualism.

          A good flutist, or any orch. player will change styles with the repertoire. Some music is suited for a “big individual sound”, some is not. Above all, any Principal player is part of an ensemble. They are ORCHESTRA players. It’s in bad taste to superimpose your own personality over the entire ensemble or conductor. Maybe it’s fun for people in the audience to listen to a flute player with a “big individual sound”, but that’s not actually their job orchestrally.

          If you want to hear a solo player, go to hear a flute soloist, like the great Sir James Galway or Sharon Bezaly or Emmanuel Pahud when he is concerto-izing.

          And actually, in the US, the Principal Flutes in most orchestras are NOT players with “big individual sounds”. Not at all. That’s generally a European thing. It’s why you see more gold flutes in European orchs than in the US. The Principal Flutes you see in US orchestras are impeccable musicians, brilliant ensemble players and they know how to fit into an orch’s sound and when to stand out above it perfectly as needed. I will not name names, but think of the outstanding 1st flutes in NY, LA, Chicago, Phila, the MET, Dallas, Detroit, all across the country. They are not players with “big individual sounds”. They are just really top notch musicians, fine orch. players.

          As far as the Vienna flutist playing a new instrument for this concert, well I probably wouldn’t do it either. But from his perspective, it was an easy show. It’s not difficult repertoire, it doesn’t esp. feature the flute and maybe he thought it would be a good time to try a change. He’s been doing this a long time. I also seem to recall that he had his instruments stolen recently, so perhaps it was by necessity.

          The young fellow who replaced Silvia wasn’t playing the concert, BTW. The flutist you are talking about is the primary principal of VPO, he’s been there a very long time, long before Silvia’s trial, and he is above reproach in the flute community. Hope this helps explain.

          • anon says:

            In the biz, know many of the big 5 flute section members personally. I could, but won’t name names. Your interpretation of individual, big sound is not mine. Enough.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    I thought the VPO looked “into it”, considering the repertoire.

  • kundry says:

    An odd and forced theme and title. More appropriate would be an analysis of the disappearance of the great conductors. They were a product of an era, now finished and buried by PC / metoo/ you must be everyone’s friend to succeed , etc. , etc. The VPO can do well without a Music Director and hold on to their tradition , but even that is eroded from several angles. They need great maestros to work with and be stimulated by. Nelsons is not one of them and the previous suggestions on this blog – Mirga, Curentzis and Chung ( boring as nails) , are bad jokes. Congratulations to the VPO for scoring a big payday. What about tomorrow and for that matter, not just in Vienna , but also in Berlin , Amsterdam, New York or London?
    Stasewska anyone :)?!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    No, it’s not ‘the best’ Austria can do. Regardless, it’s still good in its own right. I think you should have watched, Norman, the Welser-Most/Vienna Phil. Mahler 8 from the Konzerthaus – the larger hall with a powerful organ and plenty of space for choral forces – that was made available online at Takt 1. That was truly something special. I think you still be able to view it.

    Whatever faults the Salzburg Festival may have, it’s still one the better ones on the planet. Old Vienna is one of the world’s leading cities in terms recycling advancements. It is true that there’s a sort of ‘museum mentality’ to Austria, but much the same could be said of London and of England beyond London. In my opinion, just the way Shakespeare is handled and promoted is a perfect example. Again, that’s only an opinion.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      “museum mentality to Austria, but much the same could be said of London…just the way Shakespeare is handled”

      Huh? Have you been to see a Shakespeare play in London recently. The main theatres all gender swap the roles and transform them to the 20th/21st century to “make them relevant”.

  • Jiffy says:

    Winner: Norman Lebrecht.

    Slaughthering the Vienna New Year’s Concert into MULTIPLE Posts here!

  • Sashimi says:

    Slow day in the office? What exactly is this article about? It was an underwhelming selection played by sleepy orchestra that Nelsons failed to bring to life. The only loser is the audience that had to bear through it. I watched it live while reading a book and it was quite pleasant as background music.

  • Not just the Greens. Another big winner, the far right, xenophobic FPÖ. Still not a single member of the VPO who is fully Asian even though at least of the quarter of the students at the University of Music in Vienna have been Asian for the last half century. A situtation entirely unique among major Western European and North American orchestras. The Chicago Symphony, for example, has 18 Asian members. The VPO has long held that Asians would destroy the ensemble’s image of Austrian authenticity. But of course in public we are told that there has never been an Asian good enough to be admitted.

    In his memoirs, published in 1970, Otto Strasser, a fromer chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic describes the problems blind auditions caused:

    “I hold it for incorrect that today the applicants play behind a screen; an arrangement that was brought in after the Second World War in order to assure objective judgments. I continuously fought against it, especially after I became Chairman of the Philharmonic, because I am convinced that to the artist also belongs the person, that one must not only hear, but also see, in order to judge him in his entire personality. […] Even a grotesque situation that played itself out after my retirement, was not able to change the situation. An applicant qualified himself as the best, and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned jury. He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the ‘Pizzicato-Polka’ of the New Year’s Concert.”

    Forty-nine years later, still no fully Asian members of the orchestra. Just a coincidence?

    And here is a quote of a former flutist of the VPO in a 1995 interview with the West German Radio.

    “From the beginning we have spoken of the special Viennese qualities, of the way music is made here. The way we make music here is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe. And it also doesn’t allow itself to be separated from gender. So if one thinks that the world should function by quota regulations, then it is naturally irritating that we are a group of white skinned male musicians, that perform exclusively the music of white skinned male composers. It is a racist and sexist irritation. I believe one must put it that way. If one establishes superficial egalitarianism, one will lose something very significant. Therefore, I am convinced that it is worthwhile to accept this racist and sexist irritation, because something produced by a superficial understanding of human rights would not have the same standards.”

    For more documentation see:

    Roland Girtler, “Mitgliedsaufnahme in den Noblen Bund der Wiener Philharmoniker Als Mannbarkeitsritual”,Sociologia Internationalis, Beiheft 1 (1992).

    See also: Elena Ostleitner, “Liebe, Lust, Last und Lied” (Wien, Bundesministerium fuer Unterricht und Kunst, 1995)

    See also: Musikalische Misogynie,” broadcast by the West German State Radio, February 13, 1996, transcribed and translated into English at:

    This problem is also found in other German-speaking orchestras. See: Lucas Wiegelmann, “Deutsche Orchester und ihr Rassismus-Problem” (Die Welt, August 11, 2009.) The article is online here:

    Now let’s all pretend we don’t see anything, and have a little FPÖ, AfD, BNP, 5 Star, Liga Nord, Geert Wilders, National Front, Brexit, Trumpistan orgy of down thumbing and denial posts.

    • George says:

      The VPO can hire whoever they want. Period.

      • You are right. There are Austrian and EU laws against racial discrimination, but it appears that the Vienna State Opera/VPO can continue to ignore them.

        • Sick of it says:

          They certainly have absolutely no problem ignoring you, Mr Osborne.

        • See what I said above about the orgy of Thumb Downing when someone protests the VPO’s lack of any fully Asian members and the correlations to openly racist statements about Asians by former VPO members. One wonders what is going on here. Is this anonymous reactionaries, perhaps from the FPO and AfD worlds, getting some racial resentments off their chest?

          Or is this site being manipulated? The speed of the down thumbing on a blog entry that is already three days old is a bit suspicious. Sock puppeting? I wonder if the time and location of the down thumbs is recorded, and what that might tell us.

          BTW, I just got a report from a colleague. A major German orchestra recently held auditions for its academy. There were many applicants. All the auditions for Koreans were put into one group, one after the other, in the middle of the day, and not one got through. Why were they all put in one group for the auditions?

          • Anon says:

            William I have never doubted that you contributed greatly to VPO’s position on women. It’s a much needed change and we thank you.

            But defending Asian representation in classical music is like thinking that you need to defend Republicans in the NRA or something. Republicans dominate the NRA. Asians are not some persecuted, under represented minority in classical music that needs to be defended. Just check any competition roster. If VPO doesn’t hire them, some other orch. will.

            A couple of decades ago, UC Berkeley (a state funded public US school) finally had to set a quota on how many Asian students they accepted. They were over represented in the student body. We are moving in that direction in classical music. There is an Asian flood of classical musicians. They are winning and holding good jobs around the world. Asian students paying full fees are keeping prestigious conservatories around the world afloat. The whole industry of producing classical musicians is more and more dependent on Asian financing.

            If a couple of orchs. are stuck in the dark ages and aren’t hiring Asians it’s not a big deal. They don’t need your help, William. These Asian families are powerful, wealthy and will work around it. It’s not the 70’s anymore, this is not a humanitarian cause which merits your attention. You are defending rich, privileged, ambitious and often very talented musicians who will do just fine without your intervention.

          • Your view is a bit Americano-centric. In the USA Asians are doing quite well. For example, over 50% of the Students at UC Riverside are Asian. They are well represented in almost all elite schools, and in American orchestras.

            In the German-speaking classical music world, the situation is entirely different. They are often (though not always) discriminated against, and overall, their representation is far below their representation as students in the conservatories. In this regard, the VPO is not an isolated example in Germany and Austria. For more information, I refer you to the article in Die Welt that I listed in original post.

          • Anon says:

            Actually I am in Europe, and I follow the international competitions for most instruments carefully. That’s my basis for judgement, not what’s happening in the US.

            I am not in a German speaking country but I see Asians rising in most other western European orchs.

            The bias that you’re speaking of is not unique to German speaking countries. It’s just where your interest happens to be focused. There’s a strong prejudice against Asian musicians in many Eastern European countries and I’m sure there is discrimination in hiring against them there as well. I am wondering why you have blinders on and are just zeroing in on German speaking orchestras. It’s like some kind of obsession.

            Look, what is it to you if German speaking orchestras are slow to hire Asians? How does that directly impact your life? Of course I will read the article you mention, which will perhaps enlighten me.

            I’d say it’s YOURS which is a very “American-centric” view. You are American (from the US, actually) and you want to tell certain European orchestras how you think they should run their business. Sure, it what you’re saying is right and fair, but it’s not really any of your concern. How does it impact you? You’re not German, you’re not Asian, you’re not an orchestra musician. You’re meddling in something which you have nothing to do with!

            And it’s ridiculous, because these “poor Asian music students” are generally from wealthy and privileged families who often don’t even need jobs. They want the prestigious European or US education to enhance their careers when they return to their own countries.

            William, I respect your push to include women. It’s needed and it affects women around the world who’ve suffered. But fighting for representation of Asian musicians in classical music is downright absurd. It’s not needed, it’s not your job, and you are being, frankly, a meddling American.

    • anon says:

      Mr Osborne, is it not true that all auditions at the Vienna State Opera are held behind a screen and Asian players are welcome to apply?

  • Peter Cates says:

    I had an obsession with the 8th Symphony duplicate recordings just over 30 years ago, so I enjoyed your survey immensely.

  • Peter Cates says:

    BTW, I can’t post any of your columns on my facebook page !

  • says:

    Excuse my ignorance but I don’t understand what this article is trying to get at. Is there a story here, is there something profound if we read between the lines or do you simply believe the New Year’s Day concert has had its day and it is time for something different?

  • Patrick says:

    Austria: “Is this the best we can do?”

    Good question. For better or worse, this is what much of the world thinks Austria does. Someone needs to preserve this slice of Austria’s past and I doubt the VPO management give one dirndl what more progressive voices are saying. This IS the Vienna Philharmonic. We gave you girls and Asians, now leave us alone.

  • George says:

    What happened to watch it, enjoy it, move on?

  • MacroV says:

    At least Vienna has a schtick, and the New Years concert is a big event for them. I despair nearly every year as the New York Philharmonic does its latest (nationally televised) lame and ill-conceived New Years Eve program. Executed decently enough but certainly nothing that seems like a part of their brand or something they consider to be particularly important or eventful. Give the VPO some credit for a thoughtfully conceived and coherent event, pretty much every year.

  • Gustavo says:


    6. Kirill Petrenko with his sparkling Berliners


    4. Christian Thielemann with a dull “Land des Lächelns” from Dresden

  • DanGerous says:

    The dancing (in the U.S. telecast) was first rate. 🙂

  • CMW says:

    Could he not have worn a tuxedo at least for this concert? Do not like the “casual” outfits these conductors wear.