"A Moot Point?"
(An update with recent information about the Vienna Philharmonic's employment
practices as of December 28, 2002.)
In February of 1997, under intense international protest organized by the International Alliance For Women In Music, the Vienna Philharmonic reluctantly voted to admit women members. Their harpist, Anna Lelkes, who had performed with the Philharmonic in an associate status for 26 years, was granted official membership. This appeared to bring to an end the orchestra's 150 year old tradition of being an all-male ensemble.
(As background, it should be remembered that the orchestra exists in two formations: an opera orchestra called the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, and a concert formation known as the Vienna Philharmonic. Musicians must complete a three year tenure in the opera orchestra before becoming eligible to apply for membership in the Philharmonic.)
Ms. Lelkes was -forced- into retirement in 2001, even though she wanted to continue working. This left the Vienna Philharmonic once again an all-male ensemble.
Harpist, Julie Palloc, was hired to replace Ms. Lelkes, but she left the orchestra last year over a pay dispute and never completed the three year tenure requirement that would have made her eligible for the Philharmonic.
Yet another woman harpist, Charlotte Balzereit, has been hired to replace Ms. Palloc, but due to the tenure requirement, Ms. Balzereit will not be eligible for membership in the Philharmonic until 2005. The Vienna Philharmonic has always allowed for women harpists, so their employment does not represent significant change.
The only non-harpist woman who has been hired is tutti violist, Ursula Plaichinger, who won an audition on February 13, 2001. Due to the tenure requirement, Ms. Plaichinger will not be able to apply for membership in the Philharmonic until September of 2004. It remains to be seen if the Philharmonic will vote to admit her. In a disconcerting new development, the orchestra has recently changed its website and now places strong emphasis on the fact that the Vienna Philharmonic must vote to accept new members once they have completed the required three years in the State Opera Orchestra.
Since Ms. Plaichinger's appointment, 15 additional men have been hired and no women. This gives the Philharmonic a 15 to 1 men to women ratio for filling new positions outside of harpists.
This contrasts starkly with the men to women ratios for graduates of the University of Vienna's School of Music (Wiener Musikhochschule.) In the 1994/95 school year 161 women graduated and only 100 men. In the 1995/96 school year the ratio was 85 women and 79 men. Women graduates outnumber men, but in the Vienna Philharmonic's newest employment ratios men outnumber women 15 to 1.
To disguise that the Philharmonic does not have any women members, and that the State Opera Orchestra has taken five years to hire just one non-harpist woman while engaging 15 men, the Philharmonic has begun taking a small number of temporary women substitutes on tours to the USA. Last year they brought along Balzereit and Plaichinger (who are not Philharmonic members) along with three women engaged only for the tour. The USA is the only place in the world where the Vienna Philharmonic faces open protest, and it is the only place where the orchestra uses women substitutes.
The false impression created by these women substitutes confuses the American public and media, and allows the Vienna Philharmonic to continue excluding women from the orchestra through the use of egregious tokenism.
In spite of the 15 to 1 employment ratio, the American hosts for the orchestra's tour last year said they no longer see any problems with the Philharmonic's employment practices. In an interview with the _Los Angeles Times_, Dean Corey, executive director of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, said protest against the orchestra is "kind of a moot point." And Robert Harth, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, said, "It really is a non-issue now."
Within the next five to seven years, the Philharmonic will need to replace approximately 50 positions due to a wave of retirements. It is a golden opportunity for women to enter the Philharmonic, but at the current rate only 4 will be engaged. The other 46 positions will be filled by men.
Are concerns about such employment practices really a "non-issue" and a "moot point" as Mr. Corey and Mr. Harth would claim? Why do the Orange County Center for the Performing Arts, and Carnegie Hall -- two of America's most important arts institutions -- take such a stance?
Apparently they are not alone. This year the Vienna Philharmonic's US tour will be the most extensive ever. With conductor, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and soloist, Gidon Kremer, the Vienna Philharmonic will travel to seven major cities and perform in virtually all of America's most famous concert halls:
Chicago, February 26, 2003 - Orchestra Hall
Detroit, February 27, 2003 - Opera House
Boston, February 28, 2003 - Symphony Hall
Cleveland, March 2, 2003 - Severance Hall
Washington, March 3, 2003 - Kennedy Center
Philadelphia, March 5, 2003 - Kimmel Center
New York, March 7, 2003 - Carnegie Hall
In effect, these will be joint concerts by the all white-male Vienna Philharmonic and "Rent-A-Frau." And on New Years, PBS will once again broadcast the Vienna Philharmonic's all white-male waltzes. By all appearances, forms of egregious discrimination are still not a particular problem for the world of American classical music.
[You may forward this post. Please include the endnotes.]
 The fifteen to one ratio is for the last three years. The ratios for non-harpists taken from the date the orchestra voted to admit women members (February 1997) are even worse -- over 20 to 1. I am still collecting this data and will publish it soon.
 Hochschulbericht 1996, Band 2, S 176)
 Statistischem Taschenbuch 1997 des BM für Wissenschaft und Verkehr.
 Mike Boehm, "Still a Men's Club?", Los Angeles Times (Sunday, March 10, 2002.)