Austrian Politicians Critize the VPO

February 9, 2001

There has been renewed political debate in Austria concerning public funding for orchestras, such as the Vienna Philharmonic, that discriminate against women. In response to these developments, Frauenraum, a women's cultural center in Vienna, plans to organize a press conference and panel discussion about women in orchestras on March 2nd, the same day the Philharmonic will be performing in Carnegie Hall.

In 1997, Austria's Social Party cultural secretary, Peter Wittman, threatened to cut the subvention of the Vienna Philharmonic if they did not begin admitting women. He was backed by the Chancelor of Austria, Victor Klima, and the women of the Social Party. This was not an especially radical step, since it is against the law in Austria for public institutions such as the Vienna State Opera Orchestra/VPO to exclude women. (The opera orchestra runs the VPO as a private enterprise on the side, so the law also effects the nominally private Vienna Philharmonic. The all-male membership of the two orchestras is identical and illegal.)

In January of 2001, Green Party politician, Friedrun Heumer, reiterated that orchestras without a certain number of women should not receive government funding. But in a change of position adapted to Austria's current far-right political climate, the Social Party Mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl, rejected her stance, claiming that it would be a form of "censorship." Ms. Heumer accused Häupl of making a "populistic turn" and said the accusation of censorship is "completely absurd." She accused the Social Party of a double standard, and noted that, "even from the perspective of ensuring high standards, it is nonsense to eliminate half the candidates[1]." 

Conservative City Councilman, Peter Marboe, praised the new stance of the Social Party: "This is a new cultural politic in Vienna. Funding threats should have no place in cultural politics[2]." Marboe's statement is not without irony, since Austria's far-right government continues to face strong protest due to its cultural policies that some view as a sort of _Kulturkampf_. It is also against the law for the State Opera to exclude women.

Franz Morak, the conservative State Secretary for Culture, said, "I am against every form of quotas for women in orchestras." And concerning the Vienna Philharmonic, he added: "They decide for themselves who will constitute the orchestra. They are a fortunate example of orchestral self-administration[3]." 

Far from having quotas, the Vienna Philharmonic does not admit women at all. 

In 1997, Carnegie Hall said it had spoken with the VPO about its employment policies and expected change. The orchestra, however, continues to exclude women, and Carnegie continues to present the ensemble on a yearly basis. Sexism should have no place in America's most prominent concert hall. 

As plans develop for Frauenraum's press conference and panel discussion they will keep you posted.

William Osborne

[1] _Der Kurier_ Feb. 3, 2001.
[2] ibid.
[3] _Der Standard_, February 6, 2001.