The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is the Vienna Philharmonic sexist? Why does it have so few women players and why doesn’t it book a woman guest conductor for the New Year’s Day gala concert?

January 4, 2012
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday I reviewed and commented on two classical music concerts that took place in New York City on New Year’s Eve. Both seemed largely, even overwhelmingly, successful, according to my own views and to the reviews I directed you to.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, however, things did not go as smoothly – at least not as far as The Ear is concerned.

True, the largely Strauss family concert of waltzes and polkas from the legendary and beautiful Golden Hall (below) in Vienna went largely as it usually has over almost 30 years. As always, it seemed sold-out. And as always, the audience was enthusiastic, clapping merrily along with The Radetsky March finale.

But I also noticed some sharp contrasts with the New York Philharmonic, long-standing contrasts that I did not like.

It is simply this:

Why are there so few women playing in the Vienna Philharmonic (below), especially when compared to the New York Philharmonic? The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the world’s greatest orchestras and would seem to be a draw for top women instrumentalists from around the world.

Is the orchestra’s administration just outright sexist?

Are the audiences and the Viennese public in general that sexist or narrow-minded?

Do women players avoid the orchestra because they feel unwanted or demeaned in the mostly male and possibly hostile or misogynist ensemble, no matter how prestigious it is. I remember the unfortunate trouble that pioneering clarinetist  Sabine Meyer faced with the Berlin Philharmonic when she was hired sand then drummed out of it many years ago.

There is no getting around it, Vienna is a very conservative city and always has been, even though it would like to deny or forget its Nazi past. But you would nonetheless expect more progress over the years, especially given the global spotlight on women’s rights and gender equality in the wake of the Arab Spring.

And how about making history by booking for the widely broadcast  New Year’s Day concert a woman guest conductor – say, the critically acclaimed American protégée of Leonard BernsteinMarin Alsop (below):  

Or the widely travelled and much recorded American conductor JoAnn Falletta (below)?

Or the dynamic Estonia conductor, who has wowed Madison audiences, Anu Tali (below)

And I am sure there are many other fully qualified and capable women conductors I have not named.

If they have already done that, I am unaware of it,. But doing that would send a good signal to young and older women alike, and might even help the orchestra recruit more female musicians. After all, the New Year’s Day concert is billed as the world’s biggest live concert and with an audience of more than one billion listeners in 72 countries.

Would that really be so radical a step?

The Ear says it is time — in fact, long overdue time — for more women players in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and  for a woman conductor to stand on its podium, especially for the always symbolic and hopeful New Year’s Day Concert.

Hey, Vienna! Make some good history! Strike a blow for women’s equality!

In the mean time, readers and listeners, let us know:

And what you think of so few women playing in the Vienna Philharmonic?

What explains it?

Would you like to see a woman conductor preside ever the New Year’s Day concert?

The Ear wants to hear.

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