VPO To Play In Vatican

By William Osborne

[Sent to various lists December 31, 1999.]


On June 8, 2000 the Vienna Philharmonic, which forbids membership to women, will perform a concert at the Vatican. 


For those who might not know, the Philharmonic is comprised of 149 men and one woman harpist.   Three years ago, in response to international protest, the orchestra agreed to allow women membership, but it has since reneged on the agreement. 


The Vienna Philharmonic's relationship to the Vatican is long and interesting.  I can't outline the history here, but some of you might remember that the Austro-Hungarian Empire considered itself to be the "Holy Roman Empire."  That is why the "Kings" of the Austro-Hungarian Empire referred to themselves as "Emperors"--they were "Holy Roman Emperors."   Vienna tenaciously hangs on to its 19th century identity, so curious aspects of this "Holy Roman" mentality exist there to this day.  Briefly stated, that is why the Vienna Philharmonic--which refers to itself as the "cultural ambassador of Austria"--maintains a relationship to the Vatican.   (This is actually the second concert they have done for the Pope; the other was about 15 years ago.) 


Given the Catholic Church's overt sexism, I think it would be very useful if Italian women musicians organized a protest for this concert on June 11, 2000.   To have Priests and Swiss Guards in St. Peter's square protecting an all-male orchestra from women protesters would be a great image for the international media--and right there in that high Papal bastion of gender and moral understanding...


I remember a cartoon that appeared in one of the Viennese papers during the 1997 protest.  A priest had a comforting arm around the Chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic and was saying, "Ah my son, they're trying to enter our ranks as well."  It would be a great cartoon to include in the protest flyers.


Rome is a wonderful city to visit.  Maybe like-minded women from the Americas, and nearby countries like Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria would join.  I think it is an idea worth consideration and could really help women in music.


Do you have any suggestions for people in Italy who might be interested in this idea?


William Osborne