"Even a half-Japanese"

February 25, 2002

The highly respected German news magazine, Focus, recently printed an article about the Vienna Philharmonic entitled "Ein Himmel Voller Geigen" (December 31, 2000) that contains some interesting comments. 

The Philharmonic has long forbidden membership to people who are visibly members of racial minorities, because they feel such individuals would destroy the orchestra's image of Austrian authenticity. For details see "The Special Characteristics of the Vienna Philharmonic's Racial Ideologies at <http://www.osborne-conant.org/posts/special.htm>

Focus reports that a "half-Japanese" is now being "allowed" to play with the orchestra:

"Even a half-Japanese, son of a Philharmoniker, is now allowed to fiddle along. For a long time this was considered unthinkable, because the television pictures of the New Year's Concert, Mozart Masses and Beethoven Symphonies were broadcast as nostalgic greeting cards of Middle European 'blessedness' to the whole world." 

("Sogar ein Halbjapaner, Sohn eines Philharmonikers, darf jetzt mitgeigen. Das galt lange als undenkbar, weil die Fernsehbilder von Neujahrskonzert, Mozart-Messen und Beethoven-Symphonien als Gru▀karten nostalgischer Mitteleuropa-Seligkeit in alle Welt gesendet wurden.")

I believe this is the first time that the Vienna Philharmonic's discrimination against people who are visibly members of racial minorities has been acknowledged in the established media. (The sentence is difficult to translate in its subtlties. The term "Halbjapaner" can have an ugly tone approaching "half breed." An equivalent in english might be like saying "a half-negro." There is a quality of racial sarcasm to the statement that is disturbing because it is difficult to determine how ironically it was meant.)

Focus also interviewed two musicians in the orchestra who insist women play differently than men:

"Officially, it is said, no women at the auditions have been good enough. But of course, there is also an unofficial opinion: 'There is no question that women play differently than men,' said a musician quite plainly. This would be a very different sound, even if she had studied with the same teacher as a Philharmoniker--man. A colleague stood nearby: The immense amount of work would scare women away. A glance at the rehearsal plan -- and they would be gone. Where? He shrugged his shoulders. Food, kitchen and childbirth, he seems to say."

It is notable that these statements were made to the reporter only about two months ago, even though the orchestra says its doors are completely open to women. The Vienna State Opera has hired a woman violist and appears now appears to be moving from categorical exclusion to tokenism. 

William Osborne
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P.S. I have interesting information about the VPO's response to Fred Feinberg that Varda posted, but I want to include updated information about the representation of women in some other central European orchestras. It might take a couple days to collect the information.