Bomb Scares and Concentration

Camp Memorial Concerts

Sent to various lists on April 5, 2000


by William Osborne


On March 17th a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic in Paris was interrupted by a politically motivated bomb scare.  Bomb squads completely evacuated the Theatre des Champs Elysees for more than a half-hour before the performance could resume[1].


Before the concert, the Vienna Philharmonic--which forbids membership to non-whites and to all women except harpists--had sought to defuse controversy by circulating a statement about its position on the right-wing coalition government in Austria:


"The Vienna Philharmonic, founded in 1842, is a private association of professional musicians, self-governing on a democratic basis and operating without any governmental support. Although the goals of our musical organization are clearly defined, we feel our responsibility to take positions and to engage in social and cultural politics, particularly in view of the current situation in Austria, which fills us with the greatest concern[2]."


The Vienna Philharmonic's statement avoids criticizing the government by addressing a "situation" of "concern" that could refer only to Austria's international isolation and internal dissent. The Philharmonic's muted stance sets it apart from the hundreds of artists and cultural institutions that strongly oppose Austria's far-right coalition.  Over five hundred musicians recently signed an oppositional manifesto entitled "Not With Us" which forcefully criticizes the government's "lack of ethical standards and ambivalence toward National Socialism."  The signatories include luminaries such as Gyorgy Ligeti, Beat Furrer, Paul Gulda, Friedrich Cerha, Olga Neuwirth, and Andre Heller.[3] 


The highly conservative Vienna Philharmonic has benefited from Austria's gradual move to the far-right.  It has strengthened the orchestra's support within the government, helping it obtain additional funding and greater influence in important cultural events such as the Salzburger Festspiel[4].  [For documentation of the orchestra's sexist and racist employment policies see the appendix at the end of this post.]


Neverthless, the orchestra is trying to distance itself from the international isolation surrounding Austria's far-right ruling coalition.  The Philharmonic's  Paris statement claims it is "operating without any governmental support," in spite of the fact that it received a three million dollar grant from the government last October to increase its pension fund[5].  The grant was obtained through the intercession of Austrian President Thomas Klestil who has repeatedly criticized progressive tendencies in Austria's cultural politics, and whose party formed the coalition that brought the right-wing extremist Freedom Party to power[6].  The orchestra also receives governmental support because all members of the Vienna Philharmonic are also members of the Vienna State Opera which is owned and operated by the Austrian Federal Government.  The Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera Orchestra is thus attempting to distance its public image from the government while accepting its benefits and sharing many of its chauvinistic values.  


The Vienna Philharmonic's Paris statement continues:


"Political events in Austria led us to give a press conference in Vienna March 6th, when we reaffirmed our decision to give a concert at the former concentration camp at Mauthausen on May 7th, the annual celebration of the liberation of the camp. Sir Simon Rattle will lead Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. We view this concert as an expression of humility with respect to the victims, and, in this year 2000 as a symbol of movement toward a future more worthy of humanity."


The statement on March 6th was released just before the Philharmonic began a European tour in which they anticipated protests.  Plans for the highly controversial Mauthausen Memorial Concert were begun by the Vienna Philharmonic more than two years ago as a public relations gesture after the orchestra was widely criticized for its policy of excluding women and non-whites.[7] 


Critics suggest that if the Philharmonic were really interested in a "future more worthy of humanity" it would end its lips service toward women and non-whites and actually include them in the orchestra.  


Marta S. Halpert, director of the Vienna buro of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, has strongly criticized the Mauthausen concert.  In an eloquent article entitled "A Slaughter Yard Is Not A Concert Hall" (published in _Der Standard_  a leading Viennese daily), she describes the event as "tasteless and frivolous" in a place where the "cries of the tortured still echo from the walls of the camp's stone quarries[8]."  She insists the camp is no place for the Vienna Philharmonic's "striped pants and silver neckties," to say nothing of "cleaned-up honored guests from Austria's far-right government." 


Halpert's article also questions the Vienna Philharmonic's appropriateness for the concert, citing the ensemble's website which she says "...lacks courage in addressing the orchestra's past."   She notes that it "neglects to mention that over 40% of the Philharmonic's members belonged to the Nazi Party...a representation that was well above the national average."  The Vienna Philharmonic's close support of Hitler eventually allowed it to became one of the Third Reich's major progaganda organs[14].  Before the war the orchestra had 18 Jewish members.  Now it has two.  


The concert is also opposed by the Mauthausen Prisoners Group, an organization of camp survivors who point out that the event is taking place against  their will[9].  French, Italian, Belgian and Dutch representatives of the Mauthausen Prisoners Group have already given notice that they plan to boycott the memorial concert[10].  The event, however, will help both the government and Philharmonic counter criticism of their racist ideologies without obligating them to change their chauvinistic values.


The concert's official organizer and Director of the Austrian Jewish Welcoming Service, Leon Zelman,, was invited by _Der Standard_ to respond, but refused, referring to Halpert's commentary as "primitive[11]."  Clemens Hellsberg, Chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, said "the decision to proceed with the concert was not easy for the orchestra."  When asked about the political situation in Austria he refused to comment[12].


In letters to the editor many of  _Der Standard's_ readers echoed Halpert's sentiments[13].  Dr. Hava-Eva Bugaier, whose husband survived Mauthausen, describes the concert as an "irreverent spectacle" that should be canceled if even a part of the former prisoners object to it.   Another reader, Helmut Schiestl,  wrote that the concert is "irreverent", and that the Nazis also had a penchant for abusing the jubilant music of Beethoven's 9th.  He feels that the best memorial at the camp is "silence and self-contemplation" that "does not service the self-aggrandizement of a doubtless excellent orchestra." Marie Laurenti writes that it is "cynical to sing the 'Ode to Joy' [in German more literally "Joy of God's Revelation" ("Freude, schöner Götterfunken')]  at such a location", and that "those who find anything beautiful in such a spectacle are to be pitied due to their complete lack of consciousness."  For her all that remains "is to cover one's face and rend one's garments."


Last December information was placed on the Internet noting that the Vienna Philharmonic's official website was using quotations by an SS Officer, Wilhelm Jerger, to substantiate the ensemble's claim of cultural authenticity[15].  Jerger, a former chairman of the Philharmonic and a Lieutenant in the SS, published a highly racist book in 1942 including the father-to-son genealogies that comprise the orchestra's history.  The tables contain asterisks by the names of all non-Aryan members.  Jerger goes on to explain that the Philharmonic's "blood" was tough enough to resist damage by these dysgenic influences.  After the notice appeared on the Internet, the orchestra quickly deleted all quotations of SS Officer Jerger from its website[16]. 


The Vienna Philharmonic, which has long been under fire for excluding women and non-whites, does not want Austria's far-right government officials to attend the concert.  It would  weaken the orchestra's plans to use the concert as a public relations event to counter criticism of its own chauvinistic policies.  With so many wolves in one place, there could be a shortage of lamb suits.


The way to assimilation is often paved with saddening ironies, but the price of this concert is too high.  The Vienna Philharmonic and Austrian government are exploiting the event as a hypocritical and self-serving public relations spectacle, a callous act of irreverence toward the victims of torture and genocide.  It will enhance the image of both institutions without requiring them to change their racist policies.


This illustrates once again that the Vienna Philharmonic accurately reflects the bigotry and hypocrisy of Austria's far-right government. 


William Osborne

(You may forward this posts to lists or individuals.  Please include the appendix and endnotes.)


For more information about the author of this post see the MSNBC article about his work for women in music at:


APPENDIX: A Brief Documentation of the Vienna Philharmonic's Exclusionary Policies

[Endnotes for both the appendix and the article above at are the end of this post.]


The Vienna Philharmonic's racial ideology is directed mainly toward Asian musicians, since many have reached the highest professional standards and pose a real "threat" at auditions. Approximately half of the students at the Wiener Musik Hochschule (Vienna Academy of Music) are foreigners, and many of them are Asians who marry and settle in Austria where they also have children. 


After the Second World War the Vienna Philharmonic instituted blind

auditions, but they were soon eliminated.  In his memoirs, Otto Strasser, a

former Chairman of the Philharmonic, described the problems blind auditions



"I hold it for incorrect that today the applicants play behind a screen; an

arrangement that was brought in after the Second World War in order to

assure objective judgments. I continuously fought against it, especially

after I became Chairman of the Philharmonic, because I am convinced that to

the artist also belongs the person, that one must not only hear, but also

see, in order to judge him in his entire personality. [...] Even a

grotesque situation that played itself out after my retirement, was not

able to change the situation.  An applicant qualified himself as the best,

and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned

jury. He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the

'Pizzicato-Polka' of the New Year's Concert."[18]


The Vienna Philharmonic believes that  Asian features do not fit with

cultural authenticity in the rank-and-file of their orchestra.  They

thus changed their audition procedures so that applicants could be seen for

the final round.  They also require a photo with job applications. 


The Philharmonic's views have been studied by Dr. Elena Ostleitner, a

Professor at the Wiener Musik Hochschule's Institute for Music Sociology.

She notes that, "Even in a renowned orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic,

it is difficult, if not impossible, to fill vacancies, because the

Philharmonic members say the musicians applying do not fulfill their

artistic requirements, or are visibly of foreign origin."[19]  The

Philharmonic's views are shared by some other Austrian orchestras.

Ostleitner recorded the following statement by an Asian woman:


"I auditioned for an orchestra, and I led in the point tabulations as long

as I played behind a screen. Due to my name it was not apparent that I am

an Asian. But when the screen was removed, I was rejected without comment.

Friends in the orchestra confirmed my assumption. They do not take

foreigners, and if they do, then only those in which it [foreign appearance]

is not visible."[20]


Another Viennese sociologist, Prof. Roland Girtler, of the University of

Vienna, has made the same observations:


"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!"[21] 


It is not merely musical performance, but also the racial physiognomy of

Asians that is the critical issue--though Girtler does not view this as

racist.   His observations are confirmed by members of the Philharmonic.

Dieter Flury, the orchestra's solo-flutist, notes that both gender and

ethnic uniformity are essential to the orchestra:


"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. 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."[22]


Similar views were reported in a radio broadcast of the Austria National

Broadcasting Corporation.  A public school teacher who had taken his class

to a rehearsal of the Vienna Philharmonic reported that a girl in the class

asked why only men were in the orchestra. Werner Resel, the orchestra's

chairman at the time, answered that the "Vienna Philharmonic is an

orchestra of white men playing music by white men for white people".[23]


Statements such as these contradict the claim that the Vienna Philharmonic is just "coincidentally" the only all-white major orchestra in the world.  And it makes the orchestra an unlikely candidate for a concentration camp memorial concert.


Seiji Ozawa has recently been named Music Director of the Vienna State Opera.  The opera is owned and operated by the Austrian Federal Government and its conductor is appointed by the house's Artistic Direction--not the orchestra.  Officially, Ozawa's appointment concerns only the State Opera Orchestra since the Philharmonic is nominally a "private" enterprise the opera orchestra's members run on the side using exactly the same personnel. 


Ozawa's appointment by the opera house's administration produces an interesting dynamic, since it stands in stark contrast to the orchestra's practice of excluding Asian musicians from its rank-and-file membership.  In early March Ozawa traveled to Vienna to assess the political situation in Austria before deciding to accept his position at the opera[24].  Obviously one conductor of color in front of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra doesn't make up for its being the -only- all-white major orchestra in the world--a situation created by overt racism[25].  Even though the members of the Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera Orchestra did not appoint Ozawa and actually exclude Asians from rank-and-file membership in the orchestra, they will likely use him as an alibi, just as they do with their token women harpists.



[1] Richard Dyer, "Bomb Scare Halts Ozawa Concert" _The Boston Globe_  (March 24, 2000): E14.

[2] ibid.

[3] "Nicht mit uns" _Der Standard_ (March 10,2000).

[4] Michael Steinberg, "In Salzburg, a Fresh Skirmish in the Culture Wars" _The New York Times_ (October 17, 1999).  

[5] For details see my e-mail to the IAWM list, Sept. 24, 1999. 

[6] For general background see: Michael Steinberg, "In Salzburg, a Fresh Skirmish in the Culture Wars" _The New York Times_ (October 17, 1999).

[7] For additional details see my post to the IAWM list of January 14, 2000 at: 

[8] Marta S. Halpert, "Ein Schlachthof ist kein Konzertsaal" _Der Standard_ (March 4, 2000).

[9] Peter Mayr, "'Europaeischer Event' und das Gedenken" _Der Standard_ (March 4, 2000).

[10] idid.

[11] "Innenminister darf Konzert lauschen" _Der Standard_ (March 7, 2000).

[12] ibid.

[13] "Leserstimmen: Pietaetloses spektakel" _Der Standard_ (March 14, 2000).

[14]  Clemens Hellsberg, _Demokratie der Koenige: Die Geschickte der Wiener Philharmoniker_ (Zurich: Schweiyer Verlagshaus: Wien: Kremayr & Scheriau; Mainz: Musikverlag Schott, 1992):464-505.  Hellsberg's book is relatively open in dealing with the Vienna Philharmonic's Nazi collaboration but he also rationalizes many aspects of it.

[15] For details see my post to the IAWM list posted on December 31, 1999 at:

[16]  See my post to the IAWM list dated January 1, 2000.

[17] "Innenminister darf Konzert lauschen" _Der Standard_ (March 7, 2000).

[18] Otto Strasser, _Und dafuer wird man noch bezahlt: Mein Leben mit den

Wiener Phiharmonikern_ (Wien: Paul Neff Verlag, 1974)

[19] Elena Ostleitner, _Liebe, Lust, Last und Lied_ (Wien, Bundesministerium

fuer Unterricht und Kunst, 1995) p. 6.

[20] Ibid.

[21] "Musikalische Misogynie," broadcast by the West German State Radio,

February 13, 1996. See also: Roland Girtler, "Mitgliedsaufnahme in den

Noblen Bund der Wiener Philharmoniker Als Mannbarkeitsritual", Sociologia

Internationalis (Beiheft 1, Berlin 1992).

[22] "Musikalische Misoggynie" broadcast by the West German state Radio,

February 13, 1996. See also: William Osborne, "Art Is Just An Excuse:

Gender Bias in International Orchestras," _Journal of the International

Allicance for Women in Music_ (Vol. 2, No. 3, October 1996):6.

[23] "Von Tag zu Tag", broadcast by Austrian National Radio and Television,

December 11, 1996, 4:05-4:45pm.

[24] For more details about Ozawa's appointment to the Vienna State Opera and his concerns about the political situation in Austria, see:  Peggy Hernandez and Richard Dyer, "Ozawa Plans Vienna Return to Assess Political Climate" _The Boston Globe_ (February 17, 2000): E1.

[25]  There are some significant orchestras in the former east block which have no non-white members, but the circumstances are very different from the Vienna Philharmonic's.  The East Block orchestras were isolated by the iron curtain and had very few foreign music students or residents of color.  Today these orchestras are not among the major international orchestras because they are still very poorly paid.  This makes it difficult for them to attract foreign musicians.


For additional information about the Vienna Philharmonic and women in

orchestras see these websites:


"Art Is Just An Excuse: Gender Bias in International Orchestras"


"The Image of Purity: The Racial Ideology of the Vienna Philharmonic in

Historical Perspective"

Part I:

(a link to Part II is at the bottom of Part I)


"A Difficult Birth: Maternity Leave in the Vienna Philharmonic"


"You sound Like a Ladies' Orchestra: A Case History of Sexism Against Abbie

Conant in the Munich Philharmonic"


William Osborne, "Symphony Orchestras and Artist Prophets: Cultural

Isomorphism and the Allocation of Power In Music"  _Leonardo

Music Journal_ (Vol. 9, 2000). 

[Leonardo Music Journal is available from the M.I.T. Press.  Researchers and journalists may also obtain the article from the author, William Osborne at: ]