Vienna Philharmonic Update 2009
December 31, 2009 (Corrected January 7, 2010.)
Under intense international protest the Vienna Philharmonic agreed to admit women in 1997. Unfortunately, in the first ten years after that momentous decision, they hired only one, harpist Charolotte Balzereit.
Recently two additional women have completed their tenure in the State Opera Orchestra and have also been admitted into the Philharmonic. This means that after 12 years, there are now 7 women in the State Opera Orchestra, and that 3 of them are tenured into the VPo. The three in the VPo are:
Isabelle Ballot, first violin
Ursula Plaichinger, viola
Charlotte Balzereit, harp
Cellist Ursula Wex has been in the Staatsoper Orchestra for 6 years but she has still not been admitted to the VPo. The orchestra is denying her tenure due to maternity leave.
The Philharmonic averages 137 positions in total, so the representation of women twelve years after it opened its doors to them is only 2.1%.
This slow rate of employment is also found in the Berlin Philharmonic. It began admitting women in 1983. Twenty-six years later women represent only 12.5% of the orchestra. By comparison the National Orchestra of France, the Zurich State Opera Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic all have close to 40% women.
On the positive side, concertmistress Albena Danailova is doing well in the Staatsoper. She won her audition in 2008 and began working with the orchestra in September of that year. Concertmasters have a two year trial period before they are tenured in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and are admitted into the VPo, so if all goes well, Ms. Danialova should become a member of the VPo in September 2010. The current 2.1% ratio for women in the VPo after 12 years is dismal, but the appointment of a concertmistress in the Staatsoper might be a sign of progress.
Though the Vienna Philharmonic has historically maintained gender and ethnic uniformity among its members, they have allowed for outside influence through guest conductors and soloists. They have found it beneficial to consciously use these guests to rehabilitate the orchestra's public image, while at the same time quietly denying rank and file membership to women and "visible" racial minorities. This has been an effective public relations device for resisting change, and fits with sociological models that suggest that isocratic groups form controlled relationships with outsiders to mutually enhance their image and status. The employment of a woman concertmaster might be a continuation of this strategy.
as two years ago, a woman tutti violinist in the
Staatsoper Orchestra was treated in ways that were widely viewed
unfair. Her case vividly illustrates the problems women in the
orchestra can still face.
On the other hand, the attitudes of some of the orchestra’s members are slowly changing. And in general over the last 30 years, the average representation of women in most other top German-speaking orchestras has risen from less than 5% to almost 20%.
The Vienna Philharmonic has still not hired a visible member of a racial minority. The orchestra has traditionally felt such individuals would destroy the ensemble’s image of Austrian authenticity. This policy is directly mainly toward the many Asian musicians who study at the University of Music in Vienna – often a quarter or more of the student body.
It is still very difficult to obtain information about the Vienna Philharmonic. Secrecy is strictly enforced among the members due to the negative press caused by the ensemble’s employment practices. Musicians who speak publically can face severe punishment.
It is also problematic that feminist musicologists in the German-speaking world write very little about the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonics’ employment practices. And what little has been written has not been widely distributed. There are several complex reasons for this. Among them, Germany and Austria have very authoritarian histories that to this day inhibit some forms of social protest. The societies are also somewhat less individualistic. Those who protest against important national icons, like the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, can face career problems in the music world, including mobbing and ostracism. These orchestras are also used to represent their countries abroad. Even some feminist musicologists strongly resent that activism against these orchestras has taken place mostly in the English-speaking world. The lack of participation by German-speaking musicologists is unfortunate, because there are some who could be very helpful with the IAWM’s efforts. When I contact them here in Germany and Austria, I often meet not only with a lack of cooperation, but sometimes even hostility. (The most notable exception is Regina Himmelbauer who has been central to the IAWM’s efforts.) The relative silence among the general German-speaking public, and among German-speaking feminist musicologists, has allowed the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics’ discrimination against women to continue into the 21st century. This is unfortunate, because these institutions have a great deal of iconic power, both within their countries and abroad. With three women members after 12 years, are seeing progress, but it is unnecessarily slow.
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 This number can be confirmed on the orchestra’s website at:
< http://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at > In the listing of musicians, those in asterisks have passed their trial year at the Staatsoper, but have not completed the three year tenure necessary to become official members of the Philharmonic.
 Fritz Trümpi, „Oder glauben Sie, ich sei ein Mann?“ Berliner Zeitung (December 30, 2008) This article also contains a rare interview with the new concertmistress, Albena Danailova. The article is online:
< http://www.berlinonline.de/berliner-zeitung/archiv/.bin/dump.fcgi/2008/1230/feuilleton/0008/index.html >
 Regina Himmelbauer, Der Anteil an Frauen in europäischen und US-amerikanischen Orchestern Zusammengestelt auf Grundlage der eigenen Website-Angaben der Orchester (zw.16.11. und 23.11.2005)
 Sabrina Paternoga: "Orchestermusikerinnen. Frauenanteile an den Musikhochschulen und in den Kulturorchestern. Geschlechts- und instrumentenspezifische Vollerhebung an deutschen Musikhochschulen und in den Orchestern", Das Orchester, 5/05, p. 8.
 William Osborne, “Symphony Orchestras and Artist-Prophets: Cultural Isomorphism and the Allocation of Power In Music Leonardo Music Journal (Vol. 9, 1999) M.I.T. Press.
 The orchestra has two half-Asian members, but their family names are German, and their appearance does not make their racial make-up immediately apparent.
 William Osborne, Tokenism and Firings: The status of women and people of color in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic ten years after it nominally ended its discriminatory policies. Decebmer 12, 2006.
< http://www.osborne-conant.org/ten-years.htm >
(This version of the update, posted on January 7, 2010, contains corrections about the date of Albena Danialova's tenure which had been posted earlier.)