Ozawa and the Vienna Philharmonic

By William Osborne

[Sent to various lists on February 21, 2000.]


This post is in two parts.  The first is a _Boston Globe_ article about Seiji Ozawa's forthcoming trip to Vienna to assess Austria's political situation before he accepts an offer to become the Director of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.)  His position would begin in 2002.  He is concerned about the right-wing extremist "Freedom Party" which is the largest member of the current ruling coalition.  In the second part, I provide documentation of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic's policy of excluding non-whites, especially Asians. See “A Brief Documentaiton of the Vienna Philharmonic’s Exclusionary Policies


The State Opera Orchestra 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. 


Under the Philharmonic name, the ensemble uses only guest conductors they choose themselves.  (It has been Philharmonic policy since the end of the Second World War to not have a chief conductor.) Ozawa is not one of the Philharmonic's favored conductors--he has led them only once in the past while others such as Muti, Abbado and Maazel have directed them repeatedly--but he will lead them a second time on their European tour this spring. 


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. The orchestra feels such musicians would destroy its image of Austrian authenticity. See “A Brief Documentaiton of the Vienna Philharmonic’s Exclusionary Policies


In the interview below Ozawa was asked about bringing women into the Vienna Philharmonic.  His somewhat evasive answer ends the article. Ironically, no journalist asked about the orchestra's policy of excluding non-whites.   


This raises some interesting questions. Obviously one conductor of color in front of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra doesn't makes up for its being the -only- all-white orchestra in the world--a situation created by overt racism.  Why didn't the journalists in the interview ask about the federally owned State Opera Orchestra's racism, especially in a country now ruled by a right wing extremist party?


(Joerg Haider has praised Adolf Hitler's employment policies and refers to the concentration camps of the Holocaust as "punishment camps.")  Will the orchestra's xenophobia and all-white status be addressed by journalists during Ozawa's forthcoming trip to Vienna?  How will the press corps and international community respond if the State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic tells us their all-white "purity" is just a coincidence? Will any journalists even wonder why the orchestra is all white?  How is this consent manufactured?


William Osborne


(You may forward this post.  Please include the documentation.)




The Boston Globe

February 17, 2000

By Peggy Hernandez, Globe Correspondent and Richard Dyer

Page: E1 Section: Arts


TOKYO - Seiji Ozawa will visit Vienna in 2 1/2 weeks to meet with friends and to assess, firsthand, he political climate of Austria in the wake of the ascendancy of an ultraright leader who once praised Hitler.


Ozawa, who has agreed to assume the music directorship of the Vienna State Opera at the conclusion of the 2001-2 Tanglewood season, yesterday told reporters during a news conference here that he could no longer ignore developments in Austria.


"To me, music must be away from the political movement. I am not thinking of changing my mind  about my musical life because of a politician but, again, I must go and see," said Ozawa, who is relinquishing his musical directorship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra to go to Austria.


Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Ozawa raised the subject during a session called to announce the formation of a new training program in Tokyo for young Asian artists. Ozawa asserted he has no political party affiliations; nonetheless, he was clearly pained about recent news reports from Austria.


"I feel it deeply what is happening in the world, especially in Austria right now," Ozawa said slowly, the only time his ebullience left him during his two hours with reporters. He recalled how his own countrymen rejected him at age 27 as non-Japanese when he returned from training abroad to direct the NHK Symphony, Japan's prestigious classical ensemble. "I never forgot that kind of shock," Ozawa said. "All my life my belief is to include everybody."


Inclusion is at the heart of debate in Austria. About two weeks ago, the European Union condemned Austria after the government's conservative People's Party formed a coalition with the ultraright Freedom Party. Joerg Haider, a politician who wants to impose stringent immigration restrictions in Austria, leads the Freedom Party and has in the past praised Hitler's employment restrictions. Haider's rise to power has sparked demonstrations in Vienna and outrage worldwide.


"Maybe I should not talk about politics but, in life, if you won't see things, you don't know," Ozawa said. "I really must go there now and meet and learn what is this."


Mark Volpe, managing director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, said yesterday, "Seiji's mantra has always been that music transcends political boundaries, but let's not kid ourselves, music and musical institutions have been used for political purposes for generations. Seiji is philosophically inclined to be inclusive, and he is reserving judgment until he gets to Vienna and has contact with the situation and experiences the dynamics there. I don't read this as he's going to quit in Vienna, but this is an issue, and he is going to have to sort it out."


Asked about the potential impact on Boston if Ozawa were to resign, Volpe said, "Let's not skip several steps in the logic."


Ozawa, who was scheduled to leave his family's home in Tokyo and return to Boston today, met with reporters to announce the formation of an opera academy for young instrumentalists who will receive two months of intensive coaching and perform Mozart operas.


Known as the Seiji Ozawa Ongaku-juku, or Music Academy, the program will begin this spring with approximately 40 instrumentalists under the age of 30 who will play five performances of "Le Nozze di Figaro" with an internationally prominent cast in early June. Ozawa will lead those performances as well as productions of "Cosi fan tutte" in 2001 and "Don Giovanni" in 2002. Ozawa's aides said $1.5 million from the Rohm Corp., and ticket sales will fund the academy.


"What is important for you if you go to a concert is that something in you is moved because of a feeling the performer gives the audience," Ozawa said. Asian musicians, he said, are often technical masters but "too shy to give feeling or hesitate to become more involved with what is on stage." Ozawa said he hopes his academy can be a catalyst for infusing passion into Asian classical performances. Opera, he added, was the best medium to accomplish his goal.


[Ed. note by W.O.:  It goes without saying that highly emotional genres such as Chinese Opera, Noh Drama, Kabuki Theater and Japanese shakuhachi music illustrate that Asians create emotive music of incomparable power. Those trained to professional levels naturally bring these same human qualities to western music. Ozawa's comments almost seem to be pandering--an unfortunate gesture given the racist climate in Austria.]


"Opera has many feelings," Ozawa said. "What you see is more realistically there: happiness, sadness, aggressiveness. When you see opera, there are wider or deeper expressions. All (emotions) visually are there."


Ozawa said the academy would not conflict with his commitment to the education program at Tanglewood Music Center, nor his remaining tenure as music director of Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood's summer program. Ozawa also said his dream is that, some day, his new academy could work in a partnership with Tanglewood, the Saito Kinen Orchestra - his Japanese-based ensemble - and opera houses around Europe.


Ozawa said the impetus for the new academy is continuing twin desires: to teach promising talent, thereby repaying debt to his mentors, and to embrace opera as much as possible. Asked whether, in Austria, he will attempt to introduce female artists into the all-male Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Ozawa said that the Philharmonic is drawn from members of the State Opera Orchestra, which he will lead. While he may introduce women to the opera orchestra, Ozawa said he would not have direct influence on the self-governing Philharmonic.




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

Wiener Phiharmonikern_ (Wien: Paul Neff Verlag, 1974)

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

fuer Unterricht und Kunst, 1995) p. 6.

[3] Ibid.

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

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

Noblen Bund der Wiener Philharmonicer Als Mannbarkeitsritual", Sociologia

Internationalis (Beiheft 1, Berlin 1992).

[5] "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.

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

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


(You may forward this post.  Please include all of the documentation.)

William Osborne