Vienna Philharmonic lets a woman into its double-basses

Vienna Philharmonic lets a woman into its double-basses


norman lebrecht

October 27, 2021

The barriers are slowly crumbling.

The Austrian double-bassist Valerie Schatz won a trial year at the Vienna State Opera in June. She is now officially listed among the double-basses of the Vienna Philharmonic, the first woman ever to play in that section.

Schatz, 24, will have to wait up to three years to be confirmed as a full member of the orchestra.

(c) Filip Waldmann/Alte Oper Frankfurt


  • Matthias says:

    I’ve seen her quite a few times playing as a substitute in the VPO. Good to see that this way of recruiting students into the ranks of the orchestra is alive and well.
    Congratulations and all the best to her!

  • John Borstlap says:

    My fly on the wall tells me that there’s an old tradition with Viennese orchestras where women are smuggled into rehearsels by literally climbing into a double-bass, as not to be caught at the door. At the premiere of Beethoven’s fifth there was no time to get out for one of the ladies and she had to endure the passage for the basses in the menuet, with the very fast sixteenth-notes, which caused serious mental disturbances for the victim that lasted 3 years.

  • Ben G. says:

    No matter who they pick, isn’t 3 years a very long time for a trial?

    I know that it has to do with the Philharmonic’s tradition and prestige, but most orchestras decide to keep or let a candidate go after one year.

    This has got to change.

    • Matthias says:

      I’m not entirely sure, but I believe that the trial period for the State Opera Orchestra is only one year. After 3 years, you get formally admitted to the VPO organization, which is usually a formality after already passing the trial year. I have no idea why that is, since the musicians play in both the opera and the VPO from the start.

      Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

      • It’s true that the new members of the Staatsoper are given an “associate” status in the VPO. They become formal members after three years. As I mention below, the associate status allows to new members to lighten the work load of the formal members.

    • They Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Phil are for all practical purposes the same orchestra. The trial period for the opera is one year. Three years tenure are required for the VPO. The additional two years tenure to enter the VPO is mostly a formality. If they didn’t let her in, it would mean more services for the men. The men aren’t dummies. In the conflict between gender equality and more work, gender equality always wins….

      If I remember right, there has only been one case in the history of the orchestra where someone played in the Staatsoper but not the VPO. It was a harpist who quit playing with the VPO because she had a dispute with them. That was in the days when the only women in the orchestra were harpists, and they were only allowed an associate status in the VPO which did not include things like a VPO pension.

    • PGVienna says:

      Yes but many artists are willing to do their 3 years at the Opera. If you don’t there are still many other orchestras , Berlin, Bavarian Radio etc…..

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      It’s a very typical ‘civil service’ formality.

    • Brian says:

      It basically means you’re a temp worker hoping that the company will keep you on.

      The sad reality of this story is that it’s still news in 2021 that an orchestra merely hires a woman and it’s considered a step forward for gender equality.

      I’m waiting for the day when the VPO hires a Black woman or a Latino woman in a principal chair.

      • Matt D says:

        You ignoramus. It’s Latina, not Latino woman. Why are you so obsessed with the VPO hiring from ethnic groups that are considered “oppressed” in the US? The VPO already has a female Bulgarian concertmaster. Or is a Bulgarian somehow above a Spanish speaker?

        • Brian says:

          Your ignorance (and obvious racism) is showing in how you somehow conflate Bulgarians with Latino women. And yes, that’s an acceptable phrasing.

          • Matt D says:

            No, it’s not acceptable phrasing! And you thinking I am conflating Bulgarian women with Latina women is mistaken. I was implying that an old-school Viennese chauvinist would probably consider a Bulgarian less desirable than a Spaniard. Certainly not me. Albena Danailova is my favorite of the VPO concertmasters.

        • Bulgarians are white and also part of a lower Danubian culture closely connected to Austria. The most overt manifestation of racism in the VPO is its complete lack of any fully Asian members, something that sets it apart from almost every major orchestra in the world, and even though a quarter to a third of the students at Vienna’s University of Music have been Asian for the last half century.

          • Matt D says:

            Different language, different language family, different alphabet, different religion, different climate, part of the Ottoman Empire for just under 500 years, only ending in 1878, never part pf the Habsburg Empire. Same river. Yes, so closely related!

            If an old Viennese chauvinist were to rank the peoples of the region it would go: Poles; Czechs; Greeks;
            Croats; Slovenes; Italians; Romanians; Ruthenians; Hungarians; Bulgarians; Turks; Serbs.

          • Your listing is ridiculous and repeats old forms of chauvinism, as you note. So now we’re “othering” Bulgarians and not just Asians as weird aliens.

            If there were any orchestral culture closely related to the VPO, it would be Czech. During the Empire, Prague referred to itself as the Second Capitol–a kind of jab at Budapest, but true in terms of musical culture. In my view, the Czech Phil maintained the Vienna sound longer than the VPO–as documentable by recordings. I think the main cause is that unlike Vienna, Prague was largely cut off from outside influences by the Iron Curtain so it was easier for it to maintain its musical traditions.

          • Barry Guerrero says:

            Tuba player Yasuhito Sugiyama won a Staatsoper/V.P.O. audition. I’m pretty certain he played on at least one televised New Year’s Concert. However, they let him go. He’s been the tuba player of the Cleveland Orchestra since 2006. He’s excellent, obviously, but not discussed that much in the U.S. His predecessor, Ron Bishop, kept a relatively low profile as well. However, he was one of the best orchestral tuba players the U.S. has ever produced, in my opinion. Herr Sugiyama has done excellent job in filling those shoes.

  • JOE says:

    Isn’t the title of this article passively sexist? Wouldn’t the same idea been shared by saying that this woman earned her spot in the orchestra? I don’t know if it’s the VSO or Norman who decided on that title, but it’s a little jarring and tone deaf.

    • Samuel Mittag says:

      Yes, you’re definitely right. The article is passively sexist.

      There are many feminin substitutes, including a feminin member of the Orchestra Academy the last two years. A fixed position wins the best, whether man or woman. Is like that in every orchestra, not only VSO.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I am trying to figure out what ‘passive sexist’ means. If I don’t look at a woman in the street, is that passive sexist? Or passive anti-feminist? If I assualt her, is that passive feminist? If I open the door to a woman, is that passive aggressive, or passive patronizing? If I kiss her hand, is that passive mockery? When terms are being inverted in such way, there is no way you can find-out which is the best behavior for a gentleman.

        • Miles says:

          “No way you can find out which is the best behavior for a gentleman.” Please man this whole comment reeks of insensitivity and male outrage. The article’s title clearly invalidates the achievement of the individual, who against all odds got the position in an orchestra notorious for its archaic and sexist decisions concerning employment in the bass section. Perhaps consider applauding this person’s achievements in the comments instead of whining about your inability to understand how to respect women.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Please, get a life!

    • Hayley says:

      Thankyou Joe for bringing light to the demeaning title! Upon opening the article however, this inherently sexist angle pervades the entire contents: providing little to no information regarding the process of a trial, the orchestra, or even the career of Valerie as a musician who has rightly earned her position in the orchestra. It seems to imply that she has been “let” into the orchestra and has 3 years to prove why she should be a member. Norman and the VSO this is incredibly damaging, and should be reviewed. Absolutely abhorrent.

    • I didn’t read the title as sexist. The VPO admitted its first woman member aside from harpists only in 2007. To this day, it still has the lowest ratio of women members of any orchestra in the world. The phrase “let her in” signifies to me that the sexism of the orchestra is breaking down and so the “let her in” since she won the audition. There have been many times when women won auditions for orchestras but they weren’t let in.

      Even though the contrabass is generally an accompanimental instrument in orchestras, it is strongly associated with men. The hiring of a woman bassist is a good sign the the sexism of the VPO is becoming a matter of history. The orchestra’s younger generation deserve our thanks.

      • Maggie says:

        I don’t think that having one woman in the bass section is a sign that the sexism of the VPO is becoming a “matter of history”. I will have hope that the systemic sexism is beginning to change when at least half the section is not male.

        This is the absolute bare minimum. Shame on the VPO for having such a homogenous ensemble. This is a notoriously racist, sexist ensemble.

        Good for Valerie!

        • I measure the breakdown of sexism by the rate at which women are being hired. As a rough rule of thumb, the ratio of women in most orchestras has been increasing by about 1% per year until parity is reached. The VPO has been close to this number for while, though one would hope for more. This is a big change from the first ten years (1997-2007) after the orchestra agreed to admit women when the ratio of increase was basically zero aside from harpists.

          The bassist is the first woman to enter who plays an instrument gender coded as male which I take as positive, even if it is only a small sign.

    • BRUCEB says:

      Joe – I saw a certain eye-rolling quality in the headline, something to the effect that the prestigious VPO, to show that it is fully in step with modern times, has most graciously deigned to allow — nay, welcome — a woman to join, on a trial basis, the illustrious ranks of its most “male” string instrument. Let the rejoicing be unconstrained, as the VPO takes its rightful place as the leader of innovation in the modern world.

      Or something like that.

  • Kokispoki says:

    She is not Austrian but Bavarian …….

  • Corey says:

    Are you commenting on the inherent sexism alive and well in the bass world/orchestral world or is this just an extremely poorly written title?

  • Alexander T says:

    Political correctness gone mad.

  • Bozena kopec says:

    Played with such energy and beauty, watched during the annual Christmas 2021 concert. Thank miss Valerie!