Home

Bios

Music Theater

Recordings

Press

Performance Inquiries

Articles Index

E-mail

Links

Video

Performances

Works

Colleagues Comment

Wired Goddess

    Taos Studio Photos Poetry Trombone Class Miscellaneous

 

Art Is Just an Excuse

Gender Bias in International Orchestras

 

by William Osborne

as published in the October 1996 issue of the IAWM Journal, pp. 6-14.  

 

Recent studies in musicology have suggested that numerous forms of gender bias are represented in the compositions and theories of western music, and they have demonstrated how these biases can be interpreted as metaphors of patriarchy.  In this article we will consider the gender bias of international orchestras, which is anything but metaphorical.  It is a real social phenomenon, deeply and directly hurtful to the lives of many women.  They are often drastically under-represented in major orchestras, and in some cases categorically denied membership entirely, soley based on their gender.  And even after obtaining an orchestra position, women often work in an atmosphere of exclusion and intimidation, where their chances of promotion and self-expression are greatly reduced.  These problems exist because many international orchestras believe that gender and ethnic uniformity produce aesthetic superiority.  They thus provide striking source material, and interesting proving grounds for gender in music theories. 

 

To contextualize the comparison of orchestras, it should noted that women are less present in the European work force than in the United States, especially in the higher management and executive positions which are comparable to positions in top orchestras.  European women make up 41% of the work force, and only 1% of corporate executive boards, while in the United States women account for half the work force and 10% of the board seats.  In Britain, which is considered Europe´s most positive environment for working women, 41% of the 100 largest companies have a woman board member, compared to 95% of the 100 largest U.S. companies.[i] Comparative employment statistics in top European and U.S. orchestras follow similar patterns. 

 

In a cross-national study, the gender researchers Allmendinger and Hackman have established percentages for the representation of women in orchestras in four countries: 36% for the USA; 30% for the United Kingdom, and 16% for both East and West Germany.[ii]   They also found that women were concentrated in lower paid orchestras, and that they are notably less present in major orchestras.  Far from leading the way, gender integration in orchestras is lagging behind the progress being made in the rest of society.

 

These social forces allow some of Europe´s most preeminent musical institutions to categorically forbid membership to women.  One is the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which openly states that ethnic and gender uniformity gives them aesthetic superiority.  They are an excellent case study, because the prevailing gender culture of Austria registers little protest to their views, and they can discuss their sexist ideology with staggering candor.

 

This is illustrated in a West German State Radio interview, which was broadcast on February 13, 1996.[iii]  Among the participants were Roland Goettler, a Viennese sociologist specializing in the study of isocratic social groups, and three members of the Vienna Philharmonic: Helmut Zaertner, a 2nd violinist ; Wolfgang Schuster, a percussionist; and Dieter Flurie, a principal flutist.

 

The participants began by discussing the priority of musical results over all other concerns, the orchestra´s quest for international superiority, and the view that music has gender defined qualities which can be most clearly expressed by male uniformity:

 

Zaertner:  "There is one common fight in the field, a battle cry, so to speak, and that is 'artistic quality'.  One wants to have music of top quality and sell it in the world.  All other interests, including private interests, are of less importance."

 

Goettler:  "Music is something special.  It is a special deep knowledge, it has something to do with magic.  I think many men´s groups are to be understood in this way.  They carry secrets that are involved with music and tones, just like in Australian aboriginal or Indian cultures where men play certain instruments, and not the women."

 

In addition to gender, they believe the qualities of their music are ethnically determined, and represent a national expression.  This view is common in international orchestras, and to some extent is also expected by their patrons:

 

Goettler:  "What I have noticed that is interesting, is that the Vienna Philharmonic would also never take a Japanese or such.  If they took one, this also would somehow by appearances put in question the noble character of Viennese culture.  But this is not racist!"

 

Zaertner:  "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." 

 

Zaertner: "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."

 

The view is that a uniform membership of male central Europeans produces the highest artistic standards.  The Vienna Philharmonic thus suggests that the "irritations" they cause by excluding women, and men of other races, can be outside of "superficial" social norms, even though the orchestra is highly regarded and a mainstay of the recording industry. 

            

Zaertner asserts that the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic has been scientifically analyzed, and is different from any other orchestra.[iv]  Flurie suggests a possible explanation which he also attributes to "the soul":

 

Flurie:  "One can probably not find any technical explanation.  The explanation in all probability--and this is my very personal opinion--is in what my two other colleagues have already mentioned: the soul.  Musical sensibility--for whatever reason it has developed--is oriented to transmute the significant in music, namely, to transport life energy."

 

In regard to this "life energy", they were specifically asked how they would react if women were allowed into the orchestra:

 

Zaertner:  "It would absolutely not be a shock, no surprise, absolutely not.  The only consideration is whether an established structure already existing as a unified whole, should be frivolously tossed overboard."

 

Flurie:  "No, truthfully said, I wouldn´t be indifferent.  I would have an uneasy feeling in the situation.  And that is because we would be gambling with the emotional unity (emotionelle Geschlossenheit) that this organism currently has.  My worry is that it would be a step that could never be taken back."

 

They view the male "soul" of the orchestra as a fragile organism, subject to infection or defilement, and even possible death by the inclusion of women.  And yet the regenerative ideas of maternity, sexual attraction, and female creativity would disturb uniformity:

 

Goettler:  "Pregnancy brings problems.  It brings disorder.  Another important argument against women is that they can bring the solidarity of the men in question.  You find that in all men´s groups."

 

"And the women can also contribute to creating competition among the men.  They distract men.  Not the older women.  No one gives a damn about the older ones.  It is the younger ones.  The older women are already clever, they run to you!  But the 20 or 25 year olds...  They would be the problem. These are the considerations.  In a monastery it is the same.  The alter is a holy area, and the other gender may not enter it, because it would cause disorder.  Such are the opinions." 

 

These fears of women, maternity, female sexuality, and the contaminated altar are found in numerous cultures, and deeply influence their art and religious expressions.  In Europe such fears contributed to the exclusion of women from both liturgical and secular music, and led to some of western music´s most unusual practices, such as the castrati. 

            

The harp has traditionally been the only instrument acceptable for women in orchestras, since its ethereal qualities are considered especially feminine.[v]  Although the two women harpists mentioned below have performed with the orchestra for years, they do not have regular contracts.[vi]  They specifically illustrate the effect of gender on perceived "emotional unity":

 

Zaertner:  "We have a male harpist, and two ladies.  If you ask how noticeable the gender is with these colleagues, my personal experience is that this instrument is so far at the edge of the orchestra that it doesn´t disturb our emotional unity, the unity I would strongly feel, for example, when the orchestra starts really cooking with a Mahler Symphony.  There I sense very strongly and simply that only men sit around me.  And as I said, I would not want to gamble with this unity."

 

As in the rituals of many cultures, women must be kept on the periphery, like the harpist who might keep the men from "cooking".  But Goettler notes that if women are allowed educations, they should be given professional opportunities.  In fact, over half the conservatory graduates in Austria are women:

 

Goettler:  "In today´s situation, occupational groups such as professional musicians, must open themselves up, because there exists a wonderful and large offering of women musicians who want to offer their services.  Earlier they didn´t have free entrance to the universities and conservatories.  But if women are allowed to enter universities, and if they can develop high artistic ability, then they must be let into orchestras.  I can understand that.  Indeed.  It is just that from the men´s perspective art is fun.  It´s fun, it´s all about fun.  It´s not just about art.  That´s just an excuse."

 

Since they can speak freely, the Vienna Philharmonic gives us a candid illustration of the attitudes about women that exist in many international orchestras.  Creativity is presumed to be interconnected with sexuality, and that bit of "fun" is what orchestras seem to fear most.   Men presumably have a unique form of musical expression, and its aesthetic is diluted by the inclusion of women.  And since the orchestra represents a national expression, ethnic uniformity is also essential.

            

In February of 1996 reports about the Vienna Philharmonic began appearing on the internet, and an international group of  scholars and musicians (both male and female), sent a letter to the orchestra inquiring about their employment policies.  The Philharmonic answered on April 19, 1996, referring to their opponents as "militant feminists who are more interested in equal rights than artistic efficacy".[vii]  They attributed their exclusion of women to Europe´s liberal maternity leave regulations, and argued that 25% of their members would be pregnant each season, which seems highly unlikely. Especially in light of the ideologies cited above, the maternity argument is open to question.[viii]

            

Many top orchestras share the Vienna Philharmonic´s ethnic and gender ideologies.  Prague, for example, has a long history as the "Second Capital" of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and not surprisingly one of its resident orchestras, the Czech Philharmonic, also categorically excludes women.  It is also a cherished national icon, and is considered to have defended the country from both German and Russian cultural hegemony.  

            

The Berlin Philharmonic is a national icon as well, and it also has a history of gender discrimination.  In a German State Television interview in 1978, orchestra member Willi Maas, spoke about the possible entry of women into the orchestra:

 

"Close to 5000 people sit there.  It sounds exaggerated if I say: 'Then the conductor enters.'  It is not that we have anxiety.  But every effort is required.  These are things that require a masculine composure.  I cannot have any concerns about who sits next to me..."[ix] 

 

Five years later, these seating concerns were brought to life by the clarinetist Sabine Meyer, who became the first woman to enter the orchestra, and only through the intervention of General Music Director Herbert von Karajan.  In spite of their "masculine composure", the orchestra exploded into turmoil, and after nine months she left.

 

The conflict also ended Karajan´s 40 year relationship with the orchestra.  Meyer suffered extreme harassment, such as seating herself at rehearsals only to have the men slide their chairs away from her.  Their "emotional unity" was disturbed.  The German musician´s union supported the orchestra, noting the all male ensemble had the "democratic right" to choose who it wanted.

            

It is now thirteen years later, and the orchestra has 121 men and 6 women in full time regular positions--5 tutti strings and a harpist.  There are also four women with probationary contracts.[x]  (For updates stats for 35 orchestras in 2005 click here.)  In the many interviews the orchestra gave during the Sabine Meyer incident, the men expressed views about uniformity identical to those of the Vienna Philharmonic.  For example, some claimed that it is impossible for women to really play in unison with men, because they have different bodies. 

            

In spite of such interesting beliefs, there have been relatively few studies of the status of women in orchestras, and the most comprehensive is being conducted by J. Richard Hackman at Harvard (Dept. of Psychology), and Jutta Allmendinger at the University of Munich (Institute fuer Soziologie) in a program known as the "Symphony Orchestra Project".  The main goal of their work has been to study how women influence the perceptions of work atmosphere within orchestras. 

            

They found that both men and women reported greater job satisfaction in work settings that were male-dominated rather than mixed.  As the few "token" female colleagues were joined by additional women, the perceived work atmosphere deteriorated for everyone--both men and women alike.  This occurs because the increasing representation of women in the orchestra allows them to become a significant subgroup, share their experiences with each other, and function as a political force.  Men recognize that their control over status and organization is threatened, and the perceived work atmosphere declines.  This trend was reversed and there was movement back to harmony only when the proportion of women reached about 40% of the orchestra.  Hackman and Allmendinger conclude:

 

"The traditional dictum, 'the more the better' as it applies to women entering traditionally male organizations is too simple.  Our findings from symphony orchestras suggest that the problems encountered during the early stages of gender integration are unlikely to be resolved by simply increasing the proportion of women beyond token levels."[xi]

 

This is confirmed by observations of the Berlin Philharmonic.  The few women in the orchestra speak quite positively about their experiences.  But as the tokenism ends problems will be coming.  And if the researchers are correct, even after gender parity is reached, measures in certain areas such as "Integrity of the Orchestra" and "Job Involvement", may still not improve to the levels found in male-dominated orchestras.[xii]

 

One factor affecting the perceived "integrity" or uniformity of the ensemble, and the personal involvement of the musicians in their job, is the sexuality of subjugation, which plays a large role in the authoritarian structure of orchestras.  A former administrator of the German State Radio, Clytus Gottwald, has commented on the conductor-musician relationship:

 

"The entire musical practice is oriented to the musician allowing his own subjugation to the will of the conductor to be celebrated before the public."[xiii]

 

The musicians, male and female alike, are reduced to the relative equality of powerlessness, and yet traditional gender culture asserts that women are to be subjugated by men, especially in public.  Since men do not want to be as equally powerless as women, the master-servant roles become confused and orchestral uniformity and discipline are disturbed.  Traditionally, with women present, men do not want to be subjugated, they want to subjugate.

 

Psychological studies demonstrate that people in authoritarian situations desire very clear directives, and a strong sense of authority. If it is lacking they develop anxiety.[xiv] By causing other dynamics, such as sexual attraction, and confusion about who should dominate whom, the presence of women confuses the patterns of uniform authority, and becomes a scapegoat. These trends result because subjugation is genderized, and the consequences seem to remain the same for most authoritarian institutions, from international orchestras, to the recent judicially enforced entry of women into the Virginia Military Institute. 

 

The problems of gender bias also exist in U.S. orchestras, where orchestral traditions stand in stark contrast to national gender culture.  This has created a strong social dynamic in the orchestral world.  Five major U.S. orchestras have current or recently settled gender related lawsuits: Philadelphia, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Boston. 

            

The case involving the Philadelphia Orchestra specifically illustrates how the mechanisms of genderized subjugation disrupt male uniformity and hierarchical authority within a section.  In February, 1995, Kathleen A. Vigilante, a second bassoonist who had performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1988, filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit.  The legal documents state that Mark Gigliotti, the orchestra´s associate principal bassoonist, displayed "bizarre and unnerving conduct" that "took on menacing and sexual overtones", and that the orchestra knew of the situation but did nothing to stop it.  The suit claimed that Gigliotti's conduct included touching her after she specifically requested that he stop this activity, verbal abuse, and harassment.  It also asserted that he tried to undercut her professional standing when angry with her rebuffs.[xv] 

            

A second suit was filed by Vigilante's lawyer in May 1995, alleging that orchestra management had retaliated against her for filing the first lawsuit.  The two lawsuits were subsequently consolidated, and were settled out of court in 1996.  Under the terms of the settlement, she resigned from the orchestra and received an undisclosed cash sum.  A joint statement released by Vigilante and the orchestra said that while Vigilante: "will miss the camaraderie of many of her fellow orchestra members, both she and orchestra management are pleased that a settlement was reached which avoided any further disruption of orchestra members' concentration on playing the best music in the world."

            

The patterns of destroyed uniformity are evident.  The woman was perceived as a hindrance to "concentration" and a "disruption", because the genderized dynamic of subjugation within the section destroyed the ability of the colleagues to work together.  In this case the conflict was between an associate principle and a section player.  If the allegations are true, the subjugation followed a continuum beyond hierarchical professional obligations, and became personal.  The lawsuit alleged that Gigliotti physically restrained Dr. Vigilante in a parking lot, and that he mentioned keeping a gun in his car. 

            

The relationship between hierarchical orchestral subjugation and genderized subjugation could hardly assume starker or more potentially violent outlines.  We would like to assume that there is a clear line separating threats and physical intimidation from the subordination required by a conductor or section leader, but as in many areas of life, the lines are not as clear as we would like them to be.  Because of its particular traditions of authoritarianism and misogyny, there can be disturbing tendencies when institutionalized and genderized subjugation meet within the orchestra. 

            

This case also demonstrates what happens to women in orchestras who confront harassment, and who receive no support from the administration.  The Philadelphia Orchestra essentially admitted guilt by the award, but due to the intimate way musicians must work together, it would have been unbearable for Ms.Vigilante to stay in the orchestra.  It would appear that the orchestra is not interested in creating an atmosphere that enables men and women to work together, but rather in removing women if they meet with problems.  This would allow the maintenance of a uniform male hierarchy and aesthetic.

            

When women attain positions in major orchestras, it is because their work is fundamental to their identity as human beings, and it is difficult to estimate the pain caused by taking away their careers.  The orchestra had the responsibility to act before the situation evolved to the proportions it did.  They damaged their reputation, and lost one of the world´s few women bassoonists in a top orchestra.

            

In cases of sexual harassment power and subjugation are ends in themselves.  Neither sexual attraction nor art are the issues.  It would also be obvious this was not rejected love.  If a man cares for a woman, he would not restrain her in parking lots, he would not demean her professional standing in a section, and he would not drive her from a world class job that is fundamental to her identity as a human being.  No act of caring could possibly produce these results.  Such actions are a form of violence, and result from misogyny.

            

The goal and satisfaction of the perpetrator in sexual harassment is to demean another human being.  That U.S.-Americans have even a Supreme Court Justice who was involved in rather egregious sexual harassment, is an indication of how oblivious western culture is to the abuse, sadism, and subjugation inherent in this form of violence.  It is also an indication of why victims sometimes feel they cannot turn to the courts for justice.[xvi]

            

Astoundingly, less than three months later further conflicts arose because the Philadelphia Orchestra management hired a new financial officer, Michael McDonough, who had left the Boston Symphony after accusations of sexual harassment by six Boston Symphony staff members.  Lawyers from the Boston firm of Foley, Hoag & Eliot were hired after BSO board president Nicholas T. Zervas called for an investigation.  They made a set of recommendations, and McDonough resigned shortly thereafter for "personal reasons".   But inspite of this he was hired by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  The matter soon reached the Philadelphia press and caused another scandal.[xvii] 

            

In March, the Pew Charitable Trusts, a long-time backer of the Philadelphia Orchestra, denied a request for an 18-month $750,000 operating grant, citing concerns over the way the orchestra was dealing with its accumulated deficit.  The Philadelphia Inquirer cited reports that the sum Vigilante received was over $100,000.  This is actually a very small sum for giving up a stellar career that paid about that much salary in just one year.   The cost in human terms was much higher. 

           

Under the agreement Vigilante is also not allowed to speak about the incident.  The woman has been removed and silenced, and the Philadelphia gentry can return to celebrating an internationally superior uniform hierarchy of musical masculinity.  Through the allegations in this case, we see a vivid and disturbing illustration of the strong and potentially violent tendancies to abuse that result from the historic correlations between orchestral and genderized subjugation.   

            

Before Wolfgang Sawallish became GMD of the Philadelphia Orchestra he held the same position at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where discriminatory views can be more openly expressed.  For example, Hans Pizka, the opera´s first horn, has rigorously defended the Vienna Philharmonic´s gender discrimination on both the Orchestra-list and International Horn Society-list of the internet.  He elaborates on the importance of uniformity:

 

"Again a word about the Vienna Philharmonic: the same educational, musical, and ethical background, together with the same male feeling created this unique body of music, or is there any doubt?  An all women orchestra with all having the same educational, musical, and ethical background will sound fantastically harmonic also, no doubt, but how about all the intrigues?  Men used to have intrigues also, but seem to handle them easier."[xviii]

 

We see again the perceived importance of "the same male feeling" which creates a "unique body of music".  Mr. Pizka attributes the lack of uniformity caused by gender integration to physical and psychological differences between men and women:

 

"And be fair to me, isn't the general spectrum of feelings (psychic sensations, enthusiasm, sadness, etc.) different between man and woman?  Isn't the same the case between nationals and no-nationals [sic]?  It is, believe me.  And because of this particular uniformity, the Vienna Philharmonic has this very particular sound and expression and success and success as the best selling recording orchestra.  This is the success secret of the Vienna Philharmonic."[xix]

 

            

He did not explain what these "psychic sensations" in that "unique body of music" might be, and some people disagreed, stating that musicians can maintain uniformity by adapting to any style.  Here is one woman´s response from the orchestra-list:

 

"Finally, as it has already been pointed out, any professional musician worth his/her salt can and will adapt to whatever style of playing is required.  Please do not insult either me or my colleagues by saying that we are unable to do this because of some mysterious hormonal or ethnic factor."[xx] 

 

Mr. Pizka eventually conceded that since women are allowed educations, they could play in mixed orchestras.  But he still insisted that the Vienna Philharmonic should exclude women and foreigners, because their world superiority is created through male and ethnic uniformity.  The "mysterious hormonal or ethnic factor" remains a "success secret" outsiders cannot know.

            

These views of ethnicity and gender were an important part of 19th century aesthetics, and led to a national and historic approach to art, that created a new function for the orchestra as the arbiters of a national identity through music.  The ultimate expression of this development was probably Bayreuth, which can be likened to a temple for the celebration of national myths and rituals.  The form and structure of today´s orchestra is locked in 19th century aesthetics, and is still influenced by these concepts.  Since orchestras represent national culture, ethnic uniformity is considered essential.

            

Special problems arise, however, when orchestras go to the extreme, and ask people to accept "racist and sexist irritations", such as were expressed in the interview cited above.  Our negative reaction is increased because the 19th century concepts of the revelatory power of music and its "mystical" relationship to "The Nation" were abused by the National Socialists.  Here is a typical example of their fanatic, nationalistic romanticism, taken from a speech Hitler gave while laying the cornerstone of a museum:

 

"Art is an exalted mission requiring fanaticism.  He who is chosen by providence, to reveal the soul of a People around him, to let it sound in tones or speak in stone, suffers under the power of the All Mighty, as a force ruling him, and will speak his language, even if the people do not understand or do not want to understand, and he would prefer to take every affliction upon himself, than even once be untrue to the star, that guides him internally."[xxi]

 

The patriarchy is evident.  Music is "divine providence", coming from the "All Mighty", to "reveal the soul of a People".  The ideology that a particular musical expression or style is inseparable from the central European soul, the People, or the Nation, eventually had catastrophic effects for central European culture.  It manifested itself in the concepts of Ahnenerbe (the belief that culture is genetically inherited), and the Blut und Boden ideologies advocating the racial superiority of "The People" in the Third Reich. 

            

An obvious implication of these ideologies is that the most authentic performance of western classical music can only be created by the ethnic group or nation of the composer.  This was advocated by the Kampfbund der deutsche Kuenstler (Fighting Group for German Artists) during the Third Reich: 

 

"Since we do not value, that a watered down internationalism is identified with German artistic genius, we must require, that in the future German art is represented abroad only by German artists, that carry in their person and their attitude of mind the seal of the purest Germaness."[xxii] 

 

Excessive nationalism and ethnocentricity are often constellated with sexism, and is one more aspect of the chauvinistic mind set and its invidious attachment to groups.  These problems have hardly left us.  Bosnia illustrates the brutal power European patriarchal ethnicity still has, and how for women it translated into mass rape.  But today most people have returned to more rational and humane definitions of national music styles, and are dismayed when asked to accept "racist irritations".  But if the Vienna, Czech, and Berlin Philharmonics are any indication, "sexist irritations" might be a different matter.  

           

The historical context for U.S. orchestras is different.  They do not have a 19th century heritage, and they evolved in a multi-racial society.  But there are certain influences that seem to be carried over.  The major U.S. orchestras are also used as national symbols; they have a notable lack of certain minorities and women; and their patrons are predominantly the white gentry who expect certain national, ethnic, and masculine characteristics in the concerts they attend.

            

In spite of this, North American social forces have increased equal employment opportunities for women and other minorities in orchestras.[xxiii]  ICSOM, the union-related organization that serves players in major orchestras, worked to establish new audition procedures. Now, all positions are publicly advertised; the musicians audition behind a screen; and the General Music Director´s right to intervene in the auditioning process has been constrained. The result has been an increase in the number of women in orchestras. 

 

An interesting example of how the removal of visual criteria, and restraints on the GMD, can help establish equal opportunity is found in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.  Charles Dutoit fired Margaret Morse, the associate principle oboe.  She auditioned again behind a screen and won her position a second time.  Dutoit was reported to be "sore". 

            

In many European countries the situation is somewhat different.  In Germany and Austria, for example, the candidates are generally required to include a photograph of themselves with the application, and can only audition upon invitation.  Until recently, they were also required to submit a handwritten application, and the handwriting was sometimes analyzed.  Many orchestras still refuse to use screened auditions, especially in the final round, since they feel it is important to know what the musician looks like when he or she plays.  The scope of the visual criteria is very undefined.    

            

Since the top conductors work internationally, correlations are found between their views and the patriarchy of these international orchestras.  For example, Lorin Maazel, a frequent guest of the Vienna Philharmonic, has openly defended their categorical exclusion of women.  In an interview in the widely read German magazine Bunte, he was asked why there are only men in the Vienna Philharmonic: 

 

"Because it is a guild like the Meistersaenger.  Only the sons or male students of the musicians were allowed to enter.  It is, therefore, the only orchestra in the world that has held on to its own style for over 150 years.  The members decide who directs each new years concert.  In 1996 I will do this for the ninth time."[xxiv]

 

The orchestra maintains its style and uniformity through the continuity of a male hierarchy that passes on special knowledge that women cannot know.  For Mr. Maazel the tradition is something sons can maintain, but not daughters. 

            

Across the Atlantic, the Pittsburgh Symphony is facing a sexual harassment and sexual discrimination lawsuit that evolved under Maazel´s tenure as GMD.  Trombonist Rebecca Bower has been assigned to perform primarily second trombone even though she won and is tenured to play the co-principal position.  These decisions were made by Lorin Maazel.  The gender ideologies of top orchestras appear to follow international patterns, determined by common traditions and the cross-national interaction of the participants.

            

Yet another example of a GMD´s patriarchal conflict with a woman musician was illustrated by Monique Buzzarte in the February 1996 IAWM Journal.  She recounts the experiences of trombonist Abbie Conant in the Munich Philharmonic under the Rumanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache, who demoted her with the declaration: "You know the problem, we need a man for the principle trombone."  It was again a question of uniformity and subjugation.  Conant´s strong protest caused an international scandal, and in the Munich Philharmonic´s Febuary/March 1992 edition of the Philharmonische Blaetter, tutti cellist and former orchestra chairman, Joerg Eggebrecht, denied that GMD Celibidache is a sexist.  His remarks reveal patterns found in other international orchestras:

 

"Sergiu Celibidache is an extraordinary European, so impressive, because in him an unobstructed masculine aura is projected that is not corruptible. And the world is in great need of this, because we live in a fatherless society, a world without standards in that point.  And there he is, such a man, who does not allow himself to be corrupted and quite openly expresses ­especially during concerts‑‑, what is happening inside him, and that is naturally a deeply moving vision.  Listeners and performers can still experience music with him as a 'revelation'."

 

The images of the "father", the "unobstructed masculine aura", and "revelations" are the essence of orchestral patriarchy.  The fear of chaos, the fear of a world without the uniformity of "standards", and the fears of contamination as found in the "corruptible" confirm again our observations.  They speak of "revelations", and of deeply moving visions as a sort of magic.  We see the male soul as a carrier of secrets.

           

  In a commentary about critics during an interview in Munich´s Abendzeitung, Mr. Celibidache referred to the gender identity of music in colorful terms:

 

"These people who daily poison everything, should take a pause or write about gynecology.  In that area everyone has a little experience.  But in music they are virgins.  So they will remain, and so they will go into the other world, never fertilized by a single truly experienced tone."[xxv]

 

Again, the purity is poisoned, and the "virgins" are unable to be fertilized by the arcane and secret rituals of music.  This seems to be in the same vein as the conductor Hans von Buelow, who described the conductor-orchestra relationship with the term "orchestral coitus".[xxvi]

            

How will women conductors and musicians enter the orchestra, if we maintain these patriarchal images, endlessly repeated by the recording industry, of the conductor saving the "fatherless society" with "revelations", and fertilizing the "virgins" with "truly experienced tones" in the act of "orchestral coitus"?  Will something of our artistic heritage be lost?   Do we want to maintain these images? 

            

Suffice it to say that not all conductors or orchestras follow these patriarchal patterns so clearly.  The Munich Philharmonic´s GMD prior to Celibidache, Rudolf Kempe, brought the first women into the orchestra, and demoted a recalcitrant male trombonist for continually harassing one of them, the trumpeter Janice Marshelle Coffman.  (After one year she left to take a position in Stockholm.)  Leonard Slatkin has also openly supported women musicians, even writing public letters on their behalf.  Until last year he was the GMD of the St. Louis Symphony, and in a recent case of sexual harassment in that orchestra, the man was removed, not the woman as in Philadelphia under Sawallish. 

            

These examples give us an overview of how extensive the problems of gender integration in orchestras are, and how they manifest themselves.  Allmendinger and Hackman found several effects when women become a significant minority in orchestras (i.e. 10 to 40%): tightened identity group boundaries for both genders; increased cross-group stereotyping and conflict; less social support across gender boundaries; and heightened personal tension for everyone.  But they make an interesting observation about the intimidation of women in orchestras, and how institutions can seek a frictionless work atmosphere at the expense of creative growth: 

 

"It is no doubt true that, in male-dominated organizations, neither the organization nor its members are obtaining the benefits (such as personal learning and improved task performance) that compositional diversity [gender integration] can bring.  Indeed, our qualitative data suggest that many women find that there are strong incentives for them to keep a low profile, to behave closely in accord with existing orchestral norms, and generally to be as non-intrusive as they can.  This stance is costly to the orchestra because it protects majority members from exposure to unfamiliar perspectives and from the need to scrutinize and reconsider traditional behavioral norms."[xxvii] 

 

In the arts this might imply a tendency to achieve social harmony at the expense of creativity, a trade off for which orchestras and their patrons are known. 

            

We could summarize these conservative tendencies of international orchestras with the following five factors. 1) They believe that music has qualities defined by gender and ethnicity, and that the uniformity of these factors produces aesthetic superiority.  2)  Traditional values about the sexuality of subjugation and women disturb the uniform dynamic of authority in the orchestra´s hierarchical atmosphere.  3)  The gender bias is constellated with chauvinistic overtones of national and ethnic superiority.  4)  The attitudes toward women are affected by the cross-national interaction of the conductors and musicians.  5) Patrons expect a masculine and ethnic character to orchestral music. 

            

The observation of gender and ethnicity in orchestras opens dark corridors in western music.  How can we resolve the conflicts of gender bias, and yet preserve the worthy achievements of our patriarchal artistic heritage?  Is western music the universal grammar that we think it is, or does each gender and European country experience and create classical music in significantly different ways? 

            

What exactly is it in an orchestra that would be destroyed by the presence of women?

Why do these orchestras have such a phobia of female fertility, and how is this represented in the literature of music?  If much music literature is misogynist, as some feminists claim, would not the most authentic performance be by misogynists?  Why have Austrian women not protested against the Vienna Philharmonic?  Is the solution to gender conflict separate but equal orchestras?  

            

Oscar Wilde has said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life."  Since we create our identity through art, what effect does the hierarchical and genderized subjugation characteristic of orchestras have on our social percepts?  How can we better define the disturbing tendency to abuse that evolves in the historic correlations between orchestral and genderized subjugation?  Why does the recording industry maintain the patriarchal image of conductors and orchestras?  What role should music schools have in deconstructing the gender bias of our orchestras? 

            

It is clear that women often bear the brunt of abuse in music, and for the sake of our humanity we must find answers to these questions, and many more.  Power and public subjugation, threats, the whipping and slashing of the phallic baton, and the orgiastic build to climax under the watchful and absolute authority of the conductor are part of what patrons expect from orchestras, and these expectations seem to contain vicarious satisfactions of sadism.  Indeed, world-class musicians like Kathleen Vigilante and Rebecca Bower, among others, have experienced "the incentive to keep a "low profile", and to be as "non-intrusive" as possible.  The problems of abuse in music, and the identity of women, are personified in their stories.  Why do sadomasochistic tendencies seem to be an inherent part of western music?   Are these tendencies essential to our self-expression, or is art just an excuse?

            

There are many areas of management and research where work could be done to improve the status of women in international orchestras.  Orchestras should periodically review their administrative policies concerning discrimination and sexual harassment, because clear definitions of unacceptable behavior, and appropriately enforced sanctions, do reduce the incidence of conflicts.  Careful consideration should be given before purchasing recordings of national orchestras that categorically exclude women, because those orchestras might be significantly demeaning the human right to self-expression.  Music schools should offer adequate gender in music curriculum to prepare students for a world that is rapidly transforming.  Gender in music scholars should consider that social reality adds legitimacy to their work, and deflects the nihilistic tendencies of some post-modern criticism.  Additional research and documentation should be completed about gender exclusive orchestras to see if they really are justifiable.  More research should be done about the history and concepts of sadism and abuse in western music, because it would bring reason and clarity to a great deal of what women musicians confront.  The professional organizations for women should be structured to include performers, and not just composers, because many women performers have no where else to turn. 

            

These approaches will help end gender bias in orchestras, but we might eventually discover that integration will not be the relevant issue, because composers in the near future might restructure the patriarchal nature of music, and patrons might reject orchestras as instruments by and for the privileged classes.  Male and ethnic uniformity would no longer be the inherent aesthetic or social value.  Gender integration would thus not be a question, because the orchestra would evolve out of existence, or transform unrecognizably.

 

It is certain that we are witnessing an historical movement that will continue.  Women musicians are assuming positions of leadership, and are creating a wide-reaching cultural metamorphosis.  By returning the feminine to humanity, they are giving society a new identity, and a deeper understanding of human consciousness that is profoundly transforming the world of music.



 

 

[i]"Out of the Typing Pool, Into Career Limbo," Business Week, April 15, 1996.

 

[ii]Allmendinger, J. & Hackman, J.R., "The More, the Better?," unpublished working paper  (Harvard Business School, January 1994) pg. 11.  See also: "The More, the Better?  A Four Nation Study of the Inclusion of Women in Symphony Orchestras," Social Forces, December 1995, 74(2):423-460, University of North Carolina.

 

[iii]"Wie so geh´nie so," Broadcast by West Deutscher Rundfunk, February 13, 1996.

 

[iv]During internet discussions about the VPO, I among others, mentioned that the orchestra uses string instruments all made by one instrument maker.   This is completely untrue.  I researched the matter and found that they use string instruments made by many different makers.

 

[v]For information about the genderized perceptions of musical instruments in Germany from 1750 to 1850 see, Hoffmann, Freia. Instrument und Koerper: die musizierende Frau in der Buergerlichen Kultur. (Frankfurt, Insel Verlag, 1991).

 

[vi]"Orchestra Credits 1st Woman", Associated Press News Group, April 4, 1995.

 

[vii]The letter to Vienna Philharmonic was written by Jeanice Brooks, and they addressed their response to her.

 

[viii]I  enquired with the Vienna Philharmonic press office to find out how many women composers the orchestra had performed in the last five years.  They had not performed any.

 

[ix]Rieger, Eva. Frau, Musik, & Maenner Herrschaft.  (Kassel, Germany: Furore Verlag, 1988) pg. 222.

 

[x]I obtained this information in an interview with a former member of the orchestra.

 

[xi]Allmendinger & Hackman, 1994, pg. 28.

 

[xii]Their study did not include female-dominated orchestras, but it would be interesting to see if the results are similar.  

 

[xiii]Rieger, pg. 226

 

[xiv]Piperek, Maximilian.  Stress und Kunst.  Gesundheitliche, psychische, soziologische und rechtliche Belastungsfaktoren im Beruf des Musikers eines Symphonieorchesters.  (Vienna, 1971).  See also Rieger, pg 226.

 

[xv]"Philadelphia Orchestra and Bassoonist Settle", Philadelphia Inquirer, February 22, 1996.

 

[xvi]For a sustained and profound discussion of sexual harassment and equality before the law see, MacKinnon, Catharine A., Only Words. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

 

[xvii]"Philadelphia Orchestra: Another Harassment Mess", DOS Orchestra, No. 56, May 24, 1996.

 

[xviii]Pizka, Hans. International Horn Society-list, October 23, 1995.  One should note that Mr. Pizka´s statements about women in orchestras are often much harsher and more explicit than those I have quoted here.  It is also interesting that in this quote he adds "ethical" uniformity as something important for orchestras.  Based on other comments I have heard, I believe this to be uniform religious affiliation.

 

[xix]ibid.

 

[xx]Knowles, Leslie. Orchestra-list, January 29, 1996.

 

[xxi]"Kulturrede beim Reichsparteitag 1933 in Nuernberg", Baustein zum National-theater, I/3, December 1933, pg. 67.

 

[xxii]"Deutsches Operngastspiel in Suedamerika", Deutsche Buehnenkorrespondenz, II/31, October 1933, pg. 4.

 

[xxiii]For additional discussion see, Edwards, J.M., "Transformation and the American orchestra: Women and gender issues," unpublished paper presented at a conference on women and gender, London.  July 1991.

 

[xxiv]"Mr. Neujahr", Bunte, December 23, 1994, pg. 73.

 

[xxv]Reissinger, "Vorletzter Akt im Celibidache‑Drama?" Abendzeitung Muenchen, November 14, 1984, p.7.

 

[xxvi]Rieger, pg. 230.

 

[xxvii]Allmendinger & Hackman, 1994, pg. 29.

 

Thanks to Monique Buzzarté for her assistance and comments.

 

William Osborne is a composer living in Germany.  Among his teachers were George Crumb and Ludmila Ulehla.  His wife, Abbie Conant, was principal trombone of the Munich Philharmonic for 13 years.  Together they founded "The Wasteland Company" in 1983, an ensemble devoted to exploring the identity of women through the medium of  music theater.  In the last three years they have taken their productions to over 30 cities in America and Europe, including performances and  workshops at many well-known U.S. schools such as Juilliard, Eastman, Indiana University, North Texas State, USC, and the San Francisco Conservatory.  You can reach Abbie and William at 100260.243@compuserve.com.  

 

Home

Bios

Music Theater

Recordings

Press

Performance Inquiries

Articles Index

E-mail

Links

Video

Performances

Works

Colleagues Comment

Wired Goddess

    Taos Studio Photos Poetry Trombone Class Miscellaneous