First Woman To Have Become A Member of the 

Vienna Philharmonic Takes Leave of Absence


by William Osborne


On February 13, 2001 violist Ursula Plaichinger became the first non-harpist woman to win an audition for the Vienna State Opera. After a three year tenure, members of the State Opera Orchestra become members of the Vienna Philharmonic.  Ms. Plaichinger should have entered the Vienna Philharmonic 14 months ago, but she has still not been made a member.  She would have been the first non-harpist woman to join the Vienna Philharmonic in its 156 year history.

There is an application procedure and vote necessary for entering the Philharmonic, but it is merely a formality. There has never been a documented case of a member of the State Opera Orchestra being denied membership in the Philharmonic after the tenure requirement is completed. It is also noteworthy that all of the men who have completed the tenure requirement and who entered the orchestra after Ms. Plaichinger, have been made members. She alone has been left out.

Very little information is available that might explain why Ms. Plaichinger has not been made a member. The Vienna Philharmonic offers one of the most prestigious and high-paying orchestra jobs in the world. It seems unlikely that Ms. Plaichinger would not have applied for membership unless something put her under extreme duress. 

Two months ago Ms. Plaichinger took a leave of absence from the orchestra and is now living in Amsterdam. She occasionally returns to Vienna to play in various ensembles.

Given that she would have been the first non-harpist woman to enter the orchestra, the Austrian media should have long since inquired about what is going on, but there have been no reports. It is a difficult story to research, because the members of the Vienna Philharmonic have been strictly forbidden to speak with the press -- except by special permission and often while they are monitored by the orchestra's officials. 

It has now been eight years since the Vienna Philharmonic agreed to open its doors to women, but they have still not given a single non-harpist woman membership. Even if many expected that this sort of thing would probably happen, it is still very troubling and saddening news.