Vienna Phil Update 2012: 

Philharmonic Daughters and Secret Histories


William Osborne

December 30, 2012


The last year has brought some small but significant new developments to both the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and its symphonic formation, the Vienna Philharmonic.  Ursula Wex, who was hired by the Opera Orchestra in 2003, has been admitted to the Philharmonic.  Her tenure period should have been three years, but was extended to nine due to maternity leaves.  Her admission raises the total number of women in the Philharmonic to 7 among 126 tenured positions -- which is 5.5% of the personnel.[1] 


In addition, the State Opera Orchestra has hired three new women in 2011-12: harpist Anneleen Lenaerts, violinist Patricia Koll, and flutist Karin Bonelli.  This raises the total number of women in the Staatsoper Orchestra to 10 among 146 positions -- which is 6.84% of the personnel.[2]  If these three new women pass their trial year in the Staatsoper orchestra, they will be included in the orchestra’s Philharmonic formation after completing a tenure period that is normally three years.  


In addition to these developments, the Philharmonic recently opened its archives. This has led to a new book about the orchestra’s Nazi past, and some controversy about the orchestra’s willingness to discuss its history during the Third Reich.


The seven women members of the Philharmonic are pictured below, 

along with their instrument and year of membership. 


Charlotte Balzereit

 harp, 2004

Ursula Plaichinger

 viola, 2007

Isabelle Ballot

first violin, 2008

Daniela Ivanova

viola, 2010

Olesya Kurylyak

first violin, 2011

Albena Danailova

concertmaster, 2011  

Ursula Wex

cello, 2012



And here are the three new women members who joined the Staatsoper Orchestra in 2011-12: 


Anneleen Lenaerts, harp

Patricia Koll, violin

Karin Bonelli, flute




A Father-Daughter Tradition


Patricia Koll’s employment by the Staatsoper in February 2012 is one of the most important to date for women in the orchestra for three reasons.  First, she is the only Austrian woman the orchestra has hired in the last nine years – excluding oboist Helene Kenyeri who was fired.  Second, Ms. Koll is the first woman to be hired who was born, raised, and educated in Vienna .  For over a century, the Vienna Philharmonic has rightfully claimed that it preserves Viennese musical traditions, which makes hiring local musicians especially important.  


The third and perhaps most important reason is that her father, Heinrich Koll, (pictured below with his daughter) is one of the orchestra’s solo-violists.  The Vienna Philharmonic has a history extending back to the 19th century of hiring the sons of Philharmonic members.  The orchestra feels these father/son relationships have helped maintain the orchestra’s traditions.[3]  Patricia Koll is the first daughter of a Philharmoniker to be hired, thus creating a father-daughter continuum.  This could establish the understanding that father-daughter relationships are as essential for maintaining musical traditions as those with sons.  (And of course, this will someday conceivably include mother-daughter relationships.)[4] 


The employment of flutist Karin Bonelli is also significant.  She is only the second woman wind player hired by the orchestra.  (The first was oboist Helene Kenyeri who was won her audition in 2007 but did not pass her trial year.) The 24 year-old Ms. Bonelli, who studied at the Bruckner University in Linz and at the Vienna Conservatory, defeated about 100 other applicants.[5]  It is essential for the Philharmonic to hire Austrian trained musicians for the wood winds and horns because these instruments play an especially important role in defining the orchestra’s unique sound.  Some of the instruments, such as the Vienna oboe and the Vienna horn, are not played any where else in the world and can only be learned in Austria.[6] 


It is thus notable that over the last 15 years, the Vienna Philharmonic has seen an increase in the number of foreigners it has hired, especially in key positions.  All three of the orchestra’s previous solo-cellists, for example, have recently retired.  All three were Austrian and all three were replaced by Hungarians.  In another key position, the new concertmaster, Albena Danialova, is Bulgarian.  Only four of the ten women in the Staatsoper Orchestra are Austrians.  The other six include two Bulgarians and one each who is German, Belgian,  French, and Ukrainian.


These demographic trends raise questions about the identity of the Vienna Philharmonic.  Is it a Viennese orchestra? Or does it have wider Austrian roots?  Or is its cultural identity formed by the whole lower Danubian region of Europe?  The question is complex because the orchestra has historically been all three at once, though the balance between the three groups is changing.  In an increasingly globalized world, competition among the world’s major orchestras for the best musicians has become more intense and international.  These pressures have forced an orchestra that once considered itself Viennese to become more widely Austrian, and finally, to begin embracing an even more cosmopolitan relationship with the countries of Austria’s lower Danubian history.


“Didgeridoo Howling and Congo Drumming” 

In addition to these problems, the orchestra’s continued resistance to women has shifted the political climate that surrounds it. In the summer of 2011, women members of the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) joined the Greens and Socialists in a censure of the orchestra’s employment practices. The only party that still fully supports the Philharmonic is the far right Freedom Party. One of its members countered that the Greens should just "sit in their backyards and content themselves with their didgeridoo howling and Congo drumming." 

In July 2011, the government also voted to take 2.29 million Euros (3.02 million dollars) in government funding away from the Philharmonic and give it to the State Opera Orchestra. Since they are the same group, minus members who have not yet been tenured into the Philharmonic, the gesture has been viewed as largely symbolic. In reality, the sanction does have some bite.  The Philharmonic used the government’s subvention to help finance its pension plan. Without the government funds, more of the Philharmonic’s income must go for pensions instead of into its current members' pockets. This is a loss each member could potentially feel.


Honor Rings for War Criminals


Another sign of the slow changes taking place in the Vienna Philharmonic is that it has begun opening its archives to scholars who wish to study its close collaboration with National Socialism during the Third Reich.  The most notable result to date is Fritz Trümpi’s 357 page book, Politisierte Orchester, published in 2011, which provides a detailed comparison of how the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics were utilized by the National Socialist regime.[7]  The book focuses almost solely on documentation.  Little analysis is provided that might explain why both orchestras were so willing to collaborate, nor about how they dealt with their Nazi pasts after the war.[8]  One of  Trümpi’s more interesting observations is that 47% of the Vienna Philharmonic’s members belonged to the National Socialist Party, while only 20% of the Berlin Philharmonic’s members joined.


The opening of the archives has also led to controversy.  In a report published by Austria ’s state radio and television network (ORF) on December 19, 2012, the historian and Green Party politician, Dr. Harald Walser (pictured at right,) has alleged that the orchestra is still hiding some of the most serious details of its Nazi history.  He also notes that the records of some of these events are missing from the orchestra’s extensive archive.[9] 


In 1942 the Vienna Philharmonic presented one of its highest awards, “The Honor Ring of the Vienna Philharmonic,” to the war criminal Baldur von Schirach, who was responsible for the deportation of 65,000 Austrian Jews to death camps.  (In a speech in September 1942 he described their deportation as a "contribution to European culture.")  The Chairman of the orchestra, Dr. Clemens Hellsberg, who has a Ph.D. in musicology, has written an extensive book about the history of the Vienna Philharmonic entitled Democracy of Kings.[10] It includes a section about the orchestra’s history under the Nazis, but makes no mention of the award given to Schirach. 


And to make matters worse, in 1966 when Schirach was released from Spandau -- a special high security prison for war criminals in Berlin --the Vienna Philharmonic had a copy of the ring made and delivered to him by an emissary of the orchestra.[11]  


Hellsberg denies that there is any record of these events in the orchestra’s archive.  This is ironic because the archive is massive and includes documents from countless cultural and political events from the era including even the most minor if they involved the orchestra.[12]  Since Schirach was the Gauleiter of Vienna --one of the highest political positions in the city under the Nazis-- it would be highly unusual if there were no records of his "Honor Ring" in the Philharmonic's archive. 


Walser and others have called for the formation of a commission of historians to research the matter to determine what actually happened regarding Schirach and why the Philharmonic’s archives seem to be mysteriously incomplete.[13]  Hellsberg has said such a special commission is out of the question since any historian or researcher can access the archive.  Walser claims that access is still being hindered. 


"There was no zero hour."


The Vienna Philharmonic still does not have any non-Caucasian members.  The orchestra has traditionally felt that such individuals would destroy the ensemble’s image of Austrian authenticity.  For the last 40 years, around a third of the students at Vienna ’s University of Music have been Asian, but none have ever been hired even though many have reached the highest professional standards, and even though Asians are common in all of the world’s best known and respected orchestras.  Some members of the Philharmonic have also expressed beliefs that Asians, regardless of their training and background, make music differently than Westerners – a perception that is not uncommon in  German-speaking orchestras.[14]


The Vienna Philharmonic’s ongoing problem with racism stands in correlation to the difficulties it has had dealing with its Nazi past.  The cultural values that caused 47% of the orchestra’s members to join the party were, of course, not dissipated simply because the war was lost.  A long process of cultural transformation has been necessary and is still in progress.  The re-presentation of the Honor Ring of the Vienna Philharmonic to a convicted mass murderer in 1966 is only one of many examples.  The German musicologist  Fred K. Prieberg described this process of gradual transformation in candid terms: 

“There was no hour zero.  That is an invention of certain historians.  Things went on as before, just with a more or less deeper disguise.  A good example is Karajan’s lies about his Party membership.”[15]

Silent Websites


The ORF article also notes that the orchestra’s website presents an incomplete history of its Nazi era – one that has been “prettified and is against historical facts.”[16]  Hellsberg counters that the orchestra can’t be expected “to immediately change everything to create a one-to-one correspondence” regarding new information that materializes.  He gave no explanation, however, for why such seemingly important information is only now appearing, or for why records seem to be missing.  He has promised that the website will updated by this spring to present a more complete picture of this history.[17]


The events of the last year show that change in the Vienna Philharmonic continues to be slow and difficult in spite of positive developments such as the formation of the first father-daughter continuum in the orchestra, the hiring of a woman wind player, and the partial opening of its archives.  It is also apparent that the Philharmonic has lost much of the long-standing support among Austria's political establishment that it once enjoyed.  The political demands for change and transparency have become stronger and more consistent, and backed by at least pro forma financial sanctions.  These pressures have combined with the modern perspectives of the orchestra’s many new young members to create positive change, even if progress with gender and racial diversity will likely remain well below international norms for the foreseeable future.  




(For a more complete understanding of changes taking place in the Vienna Philharmonic’s employment practices, it would be helpful to also read the updates I have published for the years 2006 and  2011.)





[1]  See the personnel listings on the orchestra’s website at:

[2]  See the personnel listings on the website of the Vienna State Opera at:

< >

[3]  Clemens Hellsberg, Demokratie der Koenige: Die Geschichte der Wiener Philharmoniker (Zurich: Schweizer Verlagshaus: Wien: Kremayr & Scheriau; Mainz: Musikverlag Schott, 1992)

[4]  In 1997 the Vienna Philharmonic prevented a highly qualified woman candidate from the Berlin Philharmonic, Gertrude Rossbacher--who was born in Vienna and educated at the Wiener Musik Hochschule--from auditioning for an open solo-viola position.  See: Jan Herman, "For Violist, the Rules Never Seem to Change," The Los Angeles Times (February 27, 1998)  The article can be read online here: 

< > 

 [5]  “Karin Bonelli: 23-jährige Wiener Philharmonikerin“ (  See the article online at:;art4,925659 

[6]  Women wind players can still face notable discrimination in some German-speaking orchestras.  An interesting example is the Bayreuther Festspiel Orchestra, which like the Vienna Philharmonic prides itself on maintaining old traditions.   Only 9% of Bayreuth ’s orchestra personnel are women (excluding its five female harpists.)  The orchestra’s total m/f ratio is 163/15.  The ratio in the winds and percussion is even more extreme at 63 to 1.  The one woman among the 63 male wind players is the oboist Beate Aanderud. 

[7]  Fritz Trümpi, Politisierte Orchester,  (Köln: Böhlau Verlag, 2011).

[8]  For an analysis of the Vienna Philharmonic’s collaboration placed in a broader historical context see:  William Osborne, “Symphony Orchestras and Artist-Prophets: Cultural Isomorphism and the Allocation of Power in Music.” Leonardo Music Journal  9 (1999): 69-76.  It can be read online here:  < > 

[9]   “Die NS-Vergangenheit der Philharmoniker” (ORF, March 19, 2011)

The ORF broadcast can be listened and a transcript read here: >  

See also: Norbert Rief, „Wiener Philharmoniker: NS-Ideologie im Walzertakt?“ (Die Presse, December 29, 2012.)  The article is avialable online here:


Walzertakt?_vl_backlink=/home/politik/zeitgeschichte/ >  (viewed December 30, 2012)

[10]  Clemens Hellsberg, Demokratie der Koenige: Die Geschichte der Wiener Philharmoniker (Zurich: Schweizer Verlagshaus: Wien: Kremayr & Scheriau; Mainz: Musikverlag Schott, 1992)

[11]  “Die NS-Vergangenheit der Philharmoniker” (ORF, March 19, 2011)

The ORF broadcast can be listened and a transcript read here:  

[12]  Fritz Trümpi, Politisierte Orchester,  (Köln: Böhlau Verlag, 2011).

[13]  Norbert Rief, „Wiener Philharmoniker: NS-Ideologie im Walzertakt?“ (Die Presse, December 29, 2012.)  The article is avialable online here:


Walzertakt?_vl_backlink=/home/politik/zeitgeschichte/ >   

[14]  Lucas Wiegelmann, "Deutsche Orchester und ihr Rassismus-Problem" (Die Welt, August 11, 2009.)  The article is online here:

[15]  Fred K. Prieberg,  Gespräch mit Tilman Jens für „Kulturzeit“ in 3sat am 9. März 2005.  „Es gab keine Stunde Null. Das ist eine Erfindung gewisser Historiker. Es ging alles so weiter wie bisher, nur mit mehr oder weniger ausgeprägter Tarnung. Ein gutes Beispiel ist Karajans Lüge über seinen Parteieintritt.“  

[16] This was not the first time the orchestra has faced criticism about its website.  In late December 1999, the Vienna Philharmonic added quotes to its website by Wilhelm Jerger to substantiate the orchestra’s claims about its unique style.  Jerger was the Chairman of the orchestra during the Third Reich and a Lieutenant in the SS.  In 1942, he wrote a book about the orchestra which contained long father/son genealogical tables of some of the major string players.  Jerger placed asterisks by the names of all individuals who were "non-Aryan”  and explained that the genetic stock of the Philharmonic was so "tough" that the purity of their "blood" and style was not notably damaged by such dysgenic influences.  I wrote a report about who Jerger was and put it on the net.  The next day, January 1, 2000, the VPO quickly removed all references to him from their website.  The orchestra, of course, had no illusions about who Jerger was.   

The lack of minorities is also a serious problem in American orchestras where only 2% of the membership is African-American.  When the Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic hires its first non-Caucasian member, it will serve as an important milestone for post-war social progress in Austria.  And even more, it will set an important example for the classical music world as a whole in Europe and America.  

[17]  Norbert Rief, „Wiener Philharmoniker: NS-Ideologie im Walzertakt?“ (Die Presse, December 29, 2012.)  The article is avialable online here:



(All website listings were viewed on December 30th, 2012.)