Exclusive: Vienna demotes woman concertmaster

Exclusive: Vienna demotes woman concertmaster


norman lebrecht

November 27, 2020

We hear that the Wiener Symphoniker has refused tenure to the German violinist Sophie Heinrich, who has been its first concertmaster for the past 18 months.

There are strong indications of sexism in the decision since there were never any complaints about the quality of her playing.

Ms Heinrich is a single mother, bringing up her son on an orchestral salary.

In a humiliating gesture, the orchestra offered her the post of third concertmaster, which she has been forced to accept.

Some things never change. Wien bleibt Wien.

photo © Markus Morian

Vienna is locked down by the pandemic. They chose a really good time to make this decision.


  • Player says:

    If Ms. Heinrich is reading this, I want to tell her that she should hold her head high. External approval is not what it’s cracked up to be, especially when garnered through sexism and politics. As long as Ms. Heinrich continues to be an excellent violinist, it doesn’t matter where she sits in the section. She will discreetly raise the level of those around her, as I did for many years. Those who acted unfairly towards her have to live with themselves, which is no small punishment.

  • Viennese says:

    Would really love to know, what happened there. Did she not get along with the new maestro Orozco-Estrada?
    I saw her lead the orchestra in concert once or twice and couldn’t find a flaw in her performance. Surely the issue is a personal one rather than a professional one.

    • E says:

      as a concertmaster myself you not only have to get along with the chief- and i know O-E and he is lovely and certainly not sexist…. it’s the section behind you that has the final say. i do not know her or the orchestra at all but if my knowing of the industry counts for anything it is the section that vetoed her, for whatever reason, and not the conductor….to win this, she is clearly a great violinist. and well, if i were her and financially stable i would simply say no and leave.

  • Treble clef says:

    I understand the musician was on probation? So demotion might not even be an applicable term?

    If there would have been doubts about playing or personality the section hardly would have offered another – slightly less exposed – position?

    So my guess would be a general feeling regarding a lack of leadership/ leading capabilities.

    I know several male concertmaster candidates (in different orchestras over the last 30 years) who did not get tenure for exactly this reason. Hard for the candidate but it’s paramount for this position to have the trust and support of a clear majority of the orchestra and section.

    I’m not sure there is reason to assume gender discrimination unless there is evidence of it.

  • Kajatan says:

    When it comes to women it’s nowadays almost always the sexual harassment scam.
    Maybe she didn’t fit to the rest of the string group with her character, when it is not her violin playing.
    this orchestra is and has always been provincial and the 2nd orchestra in the city. Far from being competitive internationally

    • MacroV says:

      I’ve heard the Vienna SO a few times and they always struck me as outstanding. Which isn’t surprising as not every good player can get into the Staatsoper/VPO. But they have a major marketing problem: The VPO sucks all the oxygen out of the room; anyone says “Vienna” and you assume they mean the VPO. Norman’s headline here probably had everyone assuming something had just transpired at the Philharmoniker.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I am not so sure they have such a marketing problem. “Vienna” sells. Connoisseurs obviously know the difference between the city’s Philharmonic and Symphony, but many others don’t.

    • Max Raimi says:

      “When it comes to women it’s nowadays almost always the sexual harassment scam.” I look forward to you follow-up post in which you muster reams of hard data to support this preposterous and rather ugly statement.

      • John says:

        I guess you didn’t quite understand what was meant!

        Making unproven claims is easy when it comes to that topic!

        In general, one should be careful when writing that sexual harassment may have occurred if it is not fully verified!

        In your case, even it’s not your opinion you should accept other personal subjective opinions!

        • Max Raimi says:

          I saw no reference to sexual harassment in this article, so I would argue that it was the post that I was responding to that “didn’t quite understand what was meant”. Sexism, not sexual harassment was charged, and I agree that this is unproven and possibly not germane. But so many women whom I care about have been traumatized by sexual harassment that I will stand by my characterization of Kajatan’s post as “rather ugly”.

    • henry williams says:

      if that was me. i would look for a change of 0rchestra
      but it is not easy with the situation we have at the moment

  • Mock Mahler says:

    Be wary: pointing out that someone has a family to support has long been used to justify unequal treatment, not fairness.

  • a guest says:

    Her audition for this position, the jury’s deliberations, the welcome she is given upon winning the audition is at the center of the new feature film “Tonsüchtig” put out about the Orchestra. What a gigantic mess. She is a wonderful player and experienced concertmaster. But yes, she will not have been demoted, simply not confirmed after her period of probation, which is common in German and Austrian orchestras. The new chief conductor will have had little to do with the decision, her colleagues are the ones who vote. Have to agree it does not speak well for the Orchestra.

  • Alison says:

    If she had been a man and experienced the same “demotion,” we wouldn’t be reading an article like this. And yes, that does occasionally happen. In fact, sometimes, an orchestra decides not to offer ANY position at the end of a probationary period.

    So let’s stop with the accusations of sexism when we don’t have the facts.

    And the personal family situation of the concertmaster is absolutely irrelevant to the issue.

    • Jack says:

      Alison, this is the VPO. With their long history in this area, one HAS to include that as a possibility.

    • William Safford says:

      You may very well be correct.

      That notwithstanding, there is a reason why we wouldn’t likely be reading an article about a man who received an equivalent demotion.

      Irrespective of the facts surrounding the case at hand, how many cases can you name of a man who was demoted merely because he is a man?

      This is assuming that he wasn’t himself the sexual offender, of course, in which case he probably would not merely be demoted, one would think (but who knows). Plus, in such an instance, he still would not be demoted merely because he’s a man.

      I am not asserting that it is impossible for a man to be the recipient of sexual harassment. I know of at least one case. But it is highly unusual.

      I know of no instance of a man being demoted merely for being a man.

      • SVM says:

        As others have said, there are many instances of people not passing probation in German/Austrian orchestras. Most such people, whether male or female, do not attract any media attention. For an instance to attract media attention, I suppose it needs to be possible to portray it as significant, scandalous, or controversial. Alleging sexism (whether alleged by the subject, the journalist, or a third party… it is not clear *who* is making the allegation in this case) ticks all those boxes, hence why we hear more about some of the women who do not pass probation. I hasten to add that I do not mean to imply any opinion on the merit or otherwise of the orchestra’s decision concerning Frau Heinrich, since I am completely unfamiliar with the player and the orchestra.

  • Scott Faigen says:

    Is this a rumor or an accusation? What are the “indications” to which you refer? It is irresponsible to suggest motives without substantiation.

  • Me no brain says:

    Is it possible for a woman to have a probation not work out and it *not* be because of sexism? Can a woman not be a perfect manager of people under her *not* because they are sexist woman-hating monsters? Can a woman possibly support a child as a single parent on the salary of a mere 3rd concert-master? Of course not! Let’s assume sexism when we know nothing whatsoever! She’s a mother!!!!

  • Quark says:

    “Bringing up her son on an orchestral salary.” The Vienna Symphony is a major orchestra and pays good salaries to people well back in the First Violin section, let alone a CM. It’s not like she has to work as a cleaning lady to make ends meet. This isn’t to say there could be sexism involved, or perhaps they’re under a financial strain because of COVID. She should bring a lawsuit if she thinks it is discrimination because of sexism.

  • Andrew O. says:

    Where is the child’s father?

  • Sausagefest says:

    Well, it is a wiener orchestra after all.

  • Patricia says:

    How many concertmasters does one orchestra need? I was of the opinion that the first chair violin is the concertmaster, and the rest are 2nd chair, etc.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    The Viennese really do always come off a class acts….

  • Marfisa says:

    I’m confused. If you look at the Wiener Symphoniker website, you find that Dalibor Karvay won the audition for 1. Konzertmeister in November 2019 and started as 1. Konzertmeister in March 2020. But SD probably has access to more arcane sources of information, not revealed to us.

  • Fernandel says:

    Austria, the land that some love to hate.

  • Marfisa says:

    Still more confused: the German version of the site lists 3 1st concertmasters, Heinrich, Karvay, and Sorokow. How many does an orchestra need? (I wish there were an easy way to delete a submitted but not yet moderated comment.)

  • fflambeau says:

    She should leave. Gifted violinists with top experience are in demand.

  • Ivo Ivanov says:

    It has happened many times in our business . I hate to use that word for any art. Even a married men that were the only providers for their families have lost their position in the same manner. Yet, no one lamented that. Please, do not make politics out of this. It is very unnecessary to emphasize on gender and marital status. The only thing you need to express is a sympathy to the person who didn’t get what he/she was dreaming for and expecting. I have been in a similar situation in the previous orchestra I had worked until 1994 but it was the other way , the section wanted and encouraged me to play an audition for a Concertmaster but the Chief Conductor liked somebody else, gave him the job and I was a runner up who had to remain playing in the section for another few months before I moved to America and got a better job with a higher pay. It turned to be a blessing for me. I wish the same to my Colleague in Vienna. Move on and don’t look back. It saves your energy and you will gain a great deal of respect from others. I personally , expect no
    pity from anyone for what has happened and blame no one. God wanted to give me better opportunities in the New World and I am grateful to Him for it.

  • William Safford says:

    I’m reminded of a quote:

    “Probably the most sexist decisions that get made about my career are decisions I don’t even know about, because — and I think it’s the same issue with race — we don’t even know when decisions are made that are discriminating, because we don’t even have access to hear when that happens.”

    –Kerry Washington

    • Marfisa says:

      A recipe for paranoia. Certainly sexism and racism exist, but to imply that they are always and inevitably a factor in appointment decisions is unjustifiable, and unjust to the women and men making those decisions. If her argument is for greater openness, fine — though I might not always be happy to hear exactly, untempered by tact, what an appointing committee thought of me!

  • John Sellers says:

    Orchestra are contradictorily rigid and mailable beasts. With a fine orchestra, there may be more than 2000 years of experience sitting on the stage. That means that an orchestra’s direction can not change on a dime, but with time they can do almost anything that can be done with great music. A long history of effort is tied up with where the orchestra is at in any given moment.

    This sometimes means that decisions are made for reasons that escape the fairness of the current moment.

    I had a dear friend who pasted away a number of years back who had his own orchestra and toured with it. I remember playing in a orchestra where he was concert master, and on one day’s notice he got up and played the Wieniawski Violin Concerto because the soloist who was supposed to play it was very sick…. and my friend did a wonderful job!

    But he never broke into the big time because he did not have the pedigree of having studied with the right teachers. Was he good enough? Yes, he certainly was! Was it unfair that the was never given the chance to go into big time? No it wasn’t.

    But I suspect that there was there a real reason that he was not able to. I have puzzled over this for many years, and I am not sure of the answer. Sometimes I think he should have had the chance. There are other times that I wonder.

    Those who have studied with all the greats have had access to certain details that are well know and understood in that community, and not well known by those outside of that community. Every community develops a language that nobody understands. That knowledge may be arbitrary and no better than some things that people who have never been in that elite community of wonderful music.

    The trouble is, it isn’t one detail, but it is a thousands details that may not even be verbalized or part of the daily conversation. But this common knowledge make it possible for hundreds of little things to be done as a matter of course without thinking about it… and yet they happen in a well oiled fashion whenever those people with 2000 years of experience get up on that stage to perform, and the result is magical.

    So it may well be that she should be Concert Master, or she may not. I don’t know. But if she is truly good, other doors will open when she gets up to play, and I wish her the best.

  • Graze says:

    As far as I know she was on her probation which she didn’t pass? There are a lot of women, also on the leading positions in this orchestra, so I highly doubt it that decision was bescause of the ‘sexsism’… Also these decisions never have to do and should do anything with candidates personal life… In this regard – this is a very human gesture from the VSO, that they offered her another position for her security, it’s a rare case.

  • CHARLES KAYE says:

    Wien bleibt Wien?

    As the British eldest son of a Vienna-born refugee mother, I am amongst many who are gratefully awaiting the complimentary issue (by the Vienna Ministry of Foreign Affairs) of an Austrian passport, to restore to our family the citizenship she lost as a 13-yr old in 1938


    9 of the 16 Federal Ministers in the present government are women (including the Minister of Arts/Culture).

    And having had the privilege to work with all the leading Orchestras and cultural institutions in Vienna and Austria for nearly 50 years, it has been heart-warming to watch the increasing efforts being made by all of them to recognise outstanding women’s contributions within their organisations. Just check out the current rosters of both the Philharmoniker and the Sinfoniker – and the Salzburg Festival….

    Please, dear Norman – more facts before such sensation-seeking ‘exclusives’!

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    Maybe she just lacked the Georgiadis/Rodney Friend type of concertmaster ruthlessness

  • Linda Bismuth says:

    Shame on Wien!

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    >>a single mother, bringing up her son on an orchestral salary


    • norman lebrecht says:

      Not to her. Nor to her supporters, who allege prejudice.

      • equality for ALL says:

        Single fathers bring up children on their own Mr. Lebrecht.

        Nobody ever cares about them hence the rightful irrelevance to the parent’s birth sex. Some girls are amazingly unfit to be mothers or wives which is resoundingly expressed in the current culture noting the lack of humanity women embrace today. Look at the college educated woman universities have produced. They care about career and $$$ first over some dumb family and burden of an adult relationship with an oppressive male. Most girls can’t even get a job out of college which is where their resentment begins boomeranging back home. They get desperate, go have sex with a random guy and voila, their baby entitles them to lots of benefits.

        Men deserve equal respect.

  • Marc says:

    Suggesting that she leave with her head high shows a lack of experience in the real world. Other orchestra’s will steer clear of a Prima Donna. The position was offered probation not permanent. Also by accepting the lower chair she is in the orchestra and will be respected as a player who was concertmaster. The orchestra might ask her to substitute and eventually give it to her. Auditioning after some time to another orchestra will be very understanding to a new orchestra because she wants to advance. They will give it to her.

  • Tony Villamotte says:

    I tend to believe that sexism is at play in most major orchestras – and most other organizations regardless of their field of enterprise – around the globe.

    However, “we hear” is not proof enough to accuse an organization of sexism. I hear the moon is made of green cheese. Does that make it so?

    I understand that sometimes sources need to be protected from retribution by the organization they accuse of malfeasance.

    Reputable news sources nonetheless at least state “a source that wishes to remain anonymous” instead of “we hear”.

  • Toni says:

    Former chief conductor pushed her as a guest concertmaster when position was still vacant
    Former chief conductor pushed her at the audition.
    Orchestra didn’t like her from the very beginning.
    Chief conductor left
    Orchestra decided she should leave to
    That’s life!
    The Circle closes and the good karma is brought back

  • Hayne says:

    Yes, this site is your private property and it’s for you to do
    what you want with. However, these posts on people getting demoted or fired seems to me embarrassing and humiliating to those involved. I understand politics and other thing may be involved but I feel really bad for those people. Just my opinion…

  • tretja says:

    Watch the documentary “TONSÜCHTIG. Die Wiener Symphoniker von innen”/ “Wired by Sound. Inside the Wiener Symphoniker” by Iva Svarcová and Malte Ludin (Austria 2019) and watch how Sophie Heinrich won the audition.
    That she is a woman with ambition is one reason of here demote, the others are simple as well: grudge, misread traditions (as Vienna is ful of) and the deep desire of conservatives that nothing should be changed at all.
    Insiders are talking about an infamous intrigue.
    The Wiener Symphoniker have had a chance, they failed and did damage themself the most.