Austria and its all-male sound fetishism

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piston
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Austria and its all-male sound fetishism

Post by piston » Tue Mar 13, 2007 10:22 am

Most of you are probably well aware of the fact that the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has long cultivated a form of sound fetishism which supposedly requires both gender and racial uniformity. That "tradition" came under fire a decade ago and, while the orchestra's administration no longer openly acknowledges to cultivate such a "sound," it still makes it virtually impossible for women (safe for a token few) to join the orchestra. I attach below a recent update on this orchestra's hiring practices. Please feel free to share your views on this topic even if it has been visited on CMG before.\

(From Newsday.com)
Vienna is slow to change its tune
JUSTIN DAVIDSON
March 2, 2007

In the symphonic music world, the Vienna Philharmonic defines prestige. It performs annually at Carnegie Hall, its concerts are almost always sold out, its New Year's celebration in Vienna is broadcast around the world, and having stood on its podium is a conductor's equivalent of Olympic gold. The Philharmonic is Austria's preeminent purveyor of Austria's most visible export: classical music. But it is more: To many people around the world, and in its own corporate estimation, it embodies the quintessence of the Western musical tradition.

I have heard and written about the orchestra many times, but I will not be attending Friday's Carnegie Hall performances - or Saturday's, or Sunday's - and it may be years before I review it again. A decade after it supposedly committed itself to entering the 21st century, I believe that the Vienna Philharmonic has relinquished its claim to serious consideration as a dynamic cultural organization.

Almost exactly 10 years ago, on the eve of another U.S. tour and under pressure from the Austrian government, the orchestra struck down the statute in its bylaws forbidding women from becoming members. That change permitted Anna Lelkes, a harpist who had been playing in the orchestra in an unofficial capacity for many years, to become a full-fledged member. She has since retired.

In the decade since that change in policy, the orchestra has replaced about 40 people, and still has a solitary female member - another harpist, Charlotte Balzereit - and 136 men. Even if every one of the women now in the long and blockage-prone pipeline made it into this most rarefied of classical clubs, they would still only number five by 2010. The Citadel, the South Carolina military school that reluctantly admitted its first woman in 1996, has a far better record of adaptation.

When challenged on this issue, the Philharmonic answers that it is making a good-faith attempt to increase the number of women in its ranks, and offers a number of "buts": 1) Most members stay in the orchestra for life, which keeps the rate of turnover low. 2) The organization is dedicated to a fundamentally historical mission, so it need not reflect contemporary mores. 3) Its highest concern is the refinement of its art, and if the price to be paid for that is a sluggish creep toward equality, so be it. Finally, the orchestra's identity depends on a complex of highly local traditions, so any new member must not only be a brilliant musician, but also someone capable of imbibing and integrating with the orchestra's spirit.

Mary Lou Falcone, a New York-based spokeswoman for the Vienna Philharmonic, and one of the more indomitable women in a world historically controlled by conservative men, told me to be patient, that the orchestra works on its own time scale. "What I see is the openness of the Vienna Philharmonic to have auditions that include everyone. They're preserving the best of their tradition and a sound that's been there for 160 years, a distinctive sound, which most orchestras today don't have."

But the geological pace of change is not merely a regrettable obstacle in the relentless pursuit of quality. It is product of a narrowly preservationist, antiquarian philosophy, which fetishizes sound at the expense of spirit. The composers in the Vienna Philharmonic's pantheon were all disturbers of the peace, and they railed against the city's recurring fondness for the status quo. Beethoven was a liberal idealist, a radical egalitarian and artistic revolutionary who would have been revolted by the claim that performing his forward-looking, constantly renewable music required an inflexible reverence for custom.

Most orchestras are conservative: They keep reheating the same masterpiece soup, seasoned with the occasional novelty. But some - the Los Angeles Philharmonic, for example - aspire to flexibility, excitement, leadership and collaboration with the creators of today. Few major ensembles have quite so hidebound a philosophy, and none so monochromatic and homogeneous a membership, as the Vienna Philharmonic. (To take one top-tier example, women constitute 40 percent of the New York Philharmonic.)

The world's most important orchestra treats the symphonic repertoire the way re-enactment societies treat the Civil War: as terrain for the obsessive pursuit of historical correctness. There is a place for this, of course. We should be grateful for the efforts of so many dedicated people who put their expertise and time to the service of faithful reconstruction of the past. Obscurity becomes part of these organizations' charm.

But if we judge an orchestra's quality by what it contributes to the vibrant, dynamic musical culture that keeps the symphonic tradition alive, rather than by the transparency of its string sound, then the Vienna Philharmonic would occupy a dusty corner.

The orchestra's defenders make one additional argument: It is a completely private association, which receives no public funds, and so it does not actually have to change at all. Aside from its symbolic value to the Austrian nation, however, it is also an association made up entirely of Austrian civil servants: the tenured membership of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. For those musicians, membership in the Philharmonic amounts to a second job. It is difficult for an American to understand why the glacial pace of change in a group so tightly (if indirectly) linked to the government causes no apparent public embarrassment except in the liberal Green Party.

The Vienna Philharmonic cannot keep women out forever, especially since it professes not to want to. Even a group that holds nostalgia in such high regard has its progressive contingent. Inevitably, the orchestra will change. And when it does, I will recover my interest in hearing what it has to say, hoping to detect that great old sound fired by new ideas.

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Post by johnshade » Tue Mar 13, 2007 12:47 pm

I just visited the Weiner Philharmoniker web site and under "internal matters" they announce three new members. Their pictures indicate that all three are male.

Well-known conductors apparently are not boycotting the orchestra. For the coming season these conductors are scheduled to appear: Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Muti, Valery Gergiev, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Georges Prêtre, Mariss Jansons, Pierre Boulez, Christian Thielemann, Sir Charles Mackerras, Seiji Ozawa, and Franz Welser-Möst.

Under "Job Description" the web site states, "The Vienna State Opera Orchestra is the basis of employment for the musicians who, as a private association, make up the membership of the concert orchestra known as the Vienna Philharmonic. Employment opportunities are thus announced by the director of the Vienna State Opera, with reference to the concert activity on the part of the Vienna Philharmonic." Note, no mention is made of equal opportunities.
The sun's a thief, and with her great attraction robs the vast sea, the moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun... (Shakespeare)

piston
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Post by piston » Tue Mar 13, 2007 1:01 pm

A small number of women are currently identified in the "musicians" section of the orchestra's official web site. But, with the exception of the harpist, their name is followed by an asterisk, with the following explanation: an asterisk denotes newly engaged members of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra who do not yet belong to the association of the Vienna Philharmonic)
Thus, while hiring has not constituted an insurmountable obstacle for gifted women, integration into the all-male community has not really occurred between 1997 and the present. It should be noted that the Vienna Symphonic Orchestra is slightly more open to female musicians. The following site provides interesting data on male/female composition of 35 important orchestras as of November 2005:

http://www.osborne-conant.org/orchestras.htm

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Post by Ralph » Tue Mar 13, 2007 2:02 pm

I won't buy a ticket for the VPO when it performs at Carnegie Hall. Not until they really change their practices with regard to gender.
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Post by Barry » Tue Mar 13, 2007 2:48 pm

Ralph wrote:I won't buy a ticket for the VPO when it performs at Carnegie Hall. Not until they really change their practices with regard to gender.
When did you start that policy?

I saw them a couple Fridays ago and did notice three or four women among the strings, but I assumed that they weren't full-fledged VPO members, and Piston's above post confirms that. They probably send them on tour to places where people are more likely to protest their hiring policies.
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Post by Modernistfan » Tue Mar 13, 2007 2:56 pm

Outrageous. If there is one principle of business that makes any sense at all, it is the principle that, if you hire on any basis other than the ability of the applicant to do the job, your quality and productivity will suffer as a consequence. At this point in time, when women make up 40% of the New York Philharmonic, a similar proportion of most other top-tier American orchestras, and probably 25-30% or more of orchestras such as the London Philharmonic and London Symphony, just to name a few, there is no basis for this nineteenth-century ethos.

No one is asking the VPO to hire unqualified applicants of any race, ethnicity, or gender. However, it boggles the mind that qualified women cannot be found or do not apply to so prestigious an orchestra.

Some of the justifications for excluding women are, frankly, preposterous, and they would be attacked successfully if anyone brought a discrimination suit. It is hard to believe, as has actually been alleged, that the male players would be distracted by the presence of women in the orchestra. These are top-ranking professionals who have practiced long and hard to achieve and retain their positions; they are not participants in the East Hackensack Volunteer Fire Department Orchestra (apologies to Ralph for demeaning the reputation of that fine ensemble).

The VPO also, for the most part, discriminates against players from the former Soviet Union (including many Jews) and against Asians on the grounds that "their sound would not blend." I can see, in a very limited number of instances, some musical justification for such a position. For example, brass players in the Russian orchestras have, at least in the past, played with a far more prominent vibrato than would be the norm in Vienna. However, such a musical decision needs to be made carefully on a case-by-case basis and cannot be imposed as a blanket rule.

(Note with regard to my comment at the top of this post. For Boston Red Sox fans, the real curse was not anything relating to Babe Ruth. It was the fact, that in 1945, under pressure from some local politicians, they gave Jackie Robinson a tryout, and then refused to sign him. Imagine Robinson hitting leadoff in front of hitters such as Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Vern Stephens. They would never have been able to get them out. That team could probably have won three World Series with me pitching. In fact, the Red Sox did not actually field a black or Hispanic player until 1959, the very undertalented Pumpsie Green. I rest my case as to what discrimination does to success and productivity.)
Last edited by Modernistfan on Tue Mar 13, 2007 3:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Mar 13, 2007 2:57 pm

What's next? Will people insist on hearing the Vienna Boys and Girls Choir?

Before anybody takes me seriously, I understand how ridiculous and untenable the situation with the Vienna Philharmonic is. And boys and girls can in fact sing together (the pre-pubescent voices if identially trained sound almost identical). Occasionally in English-tradition choirs they do, but aside from tradition the main reason they don't is that the boys don't get along with the girls. Of oourse, in Vienna, reputedly a somewhat conservative city, well, do you think it's just possible that might also be true for the big boys and the big girls? :)

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Post by Modernistfan » Tue Mar 13, 2007 3:14 pm

One interesting point regarding discrimination on ethnic or racial grounds is that Vienna has always been a melting pot. All you have to do is look at the considerable number of Slavic names among today's orchestra members. Their ancestors probably emigrated from areas such as Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Slavonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, or Slovenia during the nineteenth century, during which time all of these areas were part of the old Habsburg Empire and under Austrian control.

An example (not part of this issue, of course) is the Viennese composer Ernst Krenek (properly and originally Křenek) (1900-1991) who was born in Vienna and would wind up in Southern California, teaching at USC in Los Angeles. His name marks him as being of Czech ancestry. (Krenek was run out of Austria as a composer of "degenerate music" during the Nazi period. He was also attacked as a Jew, which was not correct, as he was Catholic. Still, his use of jazz in works such as "Jonny Spielt Auf" and of dodecaphony in "Karl V" got him branded degenerate and a Jew into the bargain.)

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Post by piston » Tue Mar 13, 2007 3:18 pm

In the case of violinist Iva Nikolova, for instance, the orchestral players voted not to accept her candidacy within the orchestra, after a one-year tryout period, because she would undermine the "emotional unity" of the male violinists. Unfortunately for Ms. Nikolova nobody had previously indicated that her playing was too loud or out of character with the other musicians. The voting procedure, or what I read about it, struck me as a completely arbitrary procedure.

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Post by davidzalman » Tue Mar 13, 2007 3:21 pm

The VPO's hiring policy is its business entirely, and none of anyone else's. If the VPO doesn't want girls among its members, that's just dandy albeit self-limiting IMO. The idea of boycotting VPO concerts because of that hiring policy is perfectly ridiculous and also self-limiting. Attempting to force Vienna's VPO to accept America's moronic PC ideology is beyond moronic, not to say outrageously and insupportably arrogant.

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Post by piston » Tue Mar 13, 2007 3:31 pm

Your position on this issue was also voiced by a Mr. Resel as follows. He was the orchestral manager who "tried out" a few female musicians:

Those familiar with the Vienna Philharmonic will remember that Mr. Resel, now 71 years old, was Chairman of the orchestra in 1997 when international protests led it to begin admitting women. (pic at right.) He vociferously opposed the entry of females, and even suggested that the orchestra disband rather than accept them.[13] At one point, when asked about the lack of women in the orchestra, he justified the policy with the explanation that, "The Vienna Philharmonic is an orchestra of white men that plays music by white men for white people".[14]

Mr. Resel retired in 2000, but in September 2006 he was appointed to a purely administrative position as Orchestra Manager by Ioan Holender, the Director of the Vienna State Opera.[15] Since Mr. Resel is now the Orchestra Manager, he also allows himself to once again play in the ensemble when occasion arises.

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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Mar 13, 2007 3:37 pm

Since Mr. Resel is now the Orchestra Manager, he also allows himself to once again play in the ensemble when occasion arises.
I was unaware that there were any opera scores that called for whoopee cushion. Pity--he wouldn't need the cushion.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Brendan

Post by Brendan » Tue Mar 13, 2007 6:42 pm

One has to wonder if an all female orchestra would inspire the same opprobrium - or be applauded for "empowering women" or some such.

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Post by Modernistfan » Tue Mar 13, 2007 6:52 pm

There have been such all-women orchestras. There was the Women's Philharmonic based in the San Francisco Bay area. They disbanded a few years ago, because, in the present climate, there was really no need for them anymore. Their former conductor, JoAnne Falletta, has gone on to acclaim, first at the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra in suburban Los Angeles, and now the Buffalo Philharmonic, where she records for Naxos.

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Post by Gurn Blanston » Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:29 pm

Well, I can stand to be politically incorrect, even if it puts me in the same political bed as Mr. Zalman. :roll:

I don't care a damn if the VPO hires women or not, or blacks or not, or Asians or not. They are, IMO, the greatest orchestra in the world, and whatever they are doing is working. I will continue to purchase their recordings whenever possible, and if I should ever be so fortunate as to see them play live, I will hop on the opportunity with both feet. I love women, all women, 8 to 80, blind, crippled or crazy. But if the VPO doesn't want them in their club, so be it. It's THEIR club...

8)
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Post by Ralph » Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:42 pm

Barry Z wrote:
Ralph wrote:I won't buy a ticket for the VPO when it performs at Carnegie Hall. Not until they really change their practices with regard to gender.
When did you start that policy?

I saw them a couple Fridays ago and did notice three or four women among the strings, but I assumed that they weren't full-fledged VPO members, and Piston's above post confirms that. They probably send them on tour to places where people are more likely to protest their hiring policies.
*****

Barry,

I didn't buy tickets for the VPO for years and then started when I thought they had seen the light a few years ago. Evidence now showing that isn't true I'll abstain for the time being.
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Post by Ralph » Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:44 pm

davidzalman wrote:The VPO's hiring policy is its business entirely, and none of anyone else's. If the VPO doesn't want girls among its members, that's just dandy albeit self-limiting IMO. The idea of boycotting VPO concerts because of that hiring policy is perfectly ridiculous and also self-limiting. Attempting to force Vienna's VPO to accept America's moronic PC ideology is beyond moronic, not to say outrageously and insupportably arrogant.
*****

Actually, there is no question that the refusal of a corporation to hire females is a clear violation of Austrian Civil Rights law which even the VPO has admitted.

You're entitled to your opinion but not to your facts which are wrong.
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Post by Ralph » Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:48 pm

Brendan wrote:One has to wonder if an all female orchestra would inspire the same opprobrium - or be applauded for "empowering women" or some such.
*****

In this country an orchestra that is salaried is subject to Civil Rights laws, federal and state. Requiring all musicians (employees) to be one gender or the other would be a clear violation and the same is true in Great Britain and Germany and Austria.

Of course an orchestra that is a social organization can be all-male or all-female although I know of no such entities.

American law requires that any gender requirement reflect a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ). That can never be the case for musicians.
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:58 pm

That political correctness is enforcable by law was never in question. That we only apply our notions of political correctness (and the law) selectively was more the point. But the point is largely moot as far as I'm concerned: the VPO don't tour Down Under, or very rarely.

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Post by davidzalman » Tue Mar 13, 2007 8:17 pm

Ralph wrote:
davidzalman wrote:The VPO's hiring policy is its business entirely, and none of anyone else's. If the VPO doesn't want girls among its members, that's just dandy albeit self-limiting IMO. The idea of boycotting VPO concerts because of that hiring policy is perfectly ridiculous and also self-limiting. Attempting to force Vienna's VPO to accept America's moronic PC ideology is beyond moronic, not to say outrageously and insupportably arrogant.
*****

Actually, there is no question that the refusal of a corporation to hire females is a clear violation of Austrian Civil Rights law which even the VPO has admitted.

You're entitled to your opinion but not to your facts which are wrong.
I adduced no facts at all. I merely expressed my opinion. If it is a fact that the VPO is subject to the Austrian Civil Rights law which prohibits the VPO's hiring practices, then Bravo! for the Austrian government for not pressing the point. There's a huge difference between organizations such as the VPO and, say, some widget factory, and what applies to and is right and proper for the latter should never be applied to the former which is an exception in every sense of the word.

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Post by piston » Tue Mar 13, 2007 8:48 pm

Individuals who erect anti-PC into a monumental dogma apparently can't see the individual experience which the like of Mr. Resel create for gifted musicians. My God! I wonder how these individuals would react if, after having shown that they're fully qualified, that they perform for months without anyone being capable of a single objection, they still have to test twice where others only have to test once and that, in the end, it is to no avail because of something like "emotional stability". Apparently, individuals hold such hate against categorical entities, however great the injustice caused against a member of this entity, that they're willing to overlook even the most blatant violation of human rights. Dogmatism is the problem here, not the "rights" of the VPO or those of Mr. Relse. It's the very same dogmatism that motivated Huey Long, Lenin, and ...., fill in the blank. Why isn't it possible to acknowledge an injustice for what it is without making a political statement about PC'ism? Frankly, I don't give a hoot about the big buzz words! If individuals are blatantly unjust, they're just that! Indeed, I would give more credit to VPO administration if they had come out and said, "Frankly, it would be unfair to give women any false hope. We're biased and this orchestra is a male orchestra. Our ideology might have an impact on our earnings but we hold to it, truly and truthfully." Don't justify deception...........

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Post by Ralph » Tue Mar 13, 2007 9:26 pm

davidzalman wrote:
Ralph wrote:
davidzalman wrote:The VPO's hiring policy is its business entirely, and none of anyone else's. If the VPO doesn't want girls among its members, that's just dandy albeit self-limiting IMO. The idea of boycotting VPO concerts because of that hiring policy is perfectly ridiculous and also self-limiting. Attempting to force Vienna's VPO to accept America's moronic PC ideology is beyond moronic, not to say outrageously and insupportably arrogant.
*****

Actually, there is no question that the refusal of a corporation to hire females is a clear violation of Austrian Civil Rights law which even the VPO has admitted.

You're entitled to your opinion but not to your facts which are wrong.
I adduced no facts at all. I merely expressed my opinion. If it is a fact that the VPO is subject to the Austrian Civil Rights law which prohibits the VPO's hiring practices, then Bravo! for the Austrian government for not pressing the point. There's a huge difference between organizations such as the VPO and, say, some widget factory, and what applies to and is right and proper for the latter should never be applied to the former which is an exception in every sense of the word.
*****

I found as a factual assertion your belief that our laws mandating gender equality are a reflection of "PC." Would you say that about race?

And the idea that one employer should be entitled to discriminate because it represents high art and another merely a common commodity is anathema to me. But it also is to the law in most countries today.
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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Mar 13, 2007 9:41 pm

It is of course appropriate to cite law, and modern civilized law, in these matters, not to mention issues of state funding which have not yet been mentioned (they are crucial in the VPO case). But ultimately, no modern organization in a country of the civilized, democratic world can tolerate an organization in the public eye that discriminates on the basis of sex, not to mention everything else one might add to the list. This issue long ago met whatever criteria there could be for moral and legal considerations having in the end perhaps technically important but in human terms not even trivial distinctions. In plainer English, it is wrong for a major symphony orchestra to exclude women because some things are just wrong.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by davidzalman » Tue Mar 13, 2007 10:12 pm

Ralph wrote:I found as a factual assertion your belief that our laws mandating gender equality are a reflection of "PC." Would you say that about race?
I made no such assertion, and harbor no such belief.

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Post by david johnson » Wed Mar 14, 2007 4:13 am

the vpo is playing well w/o our guidance. they'll change when they think they should, period.

dj

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Post by pizza » Wed Mar 14, 2007 4:16 am

davidzalman wrote:
Ralph wrote:
davidzalman wrote:The VPO's hiring policy is its business entirely, and none of anyone else's. If the VPO doesn't want girls among its members, that's just dandy albeit self-limiting IMO. The idea of boycotting VPO concerts because of that hiring policy is perfectly ridiculous and also self-limiting. Attempting to force Vienna's VPO to accept America's moronic PC ideology is beyond moronic, not to say outrageously and insupportably arrogant.
*****

Actually, there is no question that the refusal of a corporation to hire females is a clear violation of Austrian Civil Rights law which even the VPO has admitted.

You're entitled to your opinion but not to your facts which are wrong.
I adduced no facts at all. I merely expressed my opinion. If it is a fact that the VPO is subject to the Austrian Civil Rights law which prohibits the VPO's hiring practices, then Bravo! for the Austrian government for not pressing the point. There's a huge difference between organizations such as the VPO and, say, some widget factory, and what applies to and is right and proper for the latter should never be applied to the former which is an exception in every sense of the word.
It is true that you adduced no facts at all. Your sentence: "The VPO's hiring policy is its business entirely, and none of anyone else's" purports to be an unqualified statement of fact and is erroneous. The word "is" purports to make the statement factual. The words "should be", or words of similar import, if they had been used in its place, would have made the statement an opinion.

The rest is utter nonsense as Austrian Civil Rights law doesn't except orchestras from its application.

In the not too distant past, selective application of Austrian law based upon factors extraneous to its legitimate purpose caused enormous harm both to employees of orchestras and to employees of widget factories. Austria should be hissed rather than cheered.

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Post by johnshade » Wed Mar 14, 2007 1:23 pm

pizza wrote:Actually, there is no question that the refusal of a corporation to hire females is a clear violation of Austrian Civil Rights law which even the VPO has admitted.
.
(a) If the VPO is illegally commiting a wrongful act why are they permitted to give concerts in Austria? (b) Is the VPO violating a civil or criminal law by giving concerts in the US? (c) Can someone get an injunction to prevent the orchestra from giving concerts?

If I would not be illegally commiting a wrongful act, and if I lived in NYC, I would buy a ticket and attend a VPO concert. I, however, can certainly understand why someone would feel a moral duty not to attend a VPO concert. Is the problem one of law or moral duty?
The sun's a thief, and with her great attraction robs the vast sea, the moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun... (Shakespeare)

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Post by pizza » Thu Mar 15, 2007 8:11 am

johnshade wrote:
pizza wrote:Actually, there is no question that the refusal of a corporation to hire females is a clear violation of Austrian Civil Rights law which even the VPO has admitted.
.
(a) If the VPO is illegally commiting a wrongful act why are they permitted to give concerts in Austria? (b) Is the VPO violating a civil or criminal law by giving concerts in the US? (c) Can someone get an injunction to prevent the orchestra from giving concerts?

If I would not be illegally commiting a wrongful act, and if I lived in NYC, I would buy a ticket and attend a VPO concert. I, however, can certainly understand why someone would feel a moral duty not to attend a VPO concert. Is the problem one of law or moral duty?
I didn't originate the sentence you attribute to me -- it was Ralph's statement and was contained in my post as a quote.

I don't know Austrian procedural law so I can't say whether injunctive relief would be available to the government. Maybe Ralph can help you out there.

As far as moral choices are concerned, everyone is free to decide those matters for himself.

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Post by Dalibor » Mon Mar 19, 2007 11:39 am

I think the best players and best musicians should be chosen for elite orchestras without paying attention on gender/race etc. membership. But I know this is not quite how it's done today

John F
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Post by John F » Tue Mar 27, 2007 4:33 pm

The Vienna State Opera Orchestra are employees of the Austrian government and their boss, State Opera Director Joan Holender (male), declared a nondiscrimination policy long ago. The Vienna Philharmonic, whose membership is a subset of the State Opera Orchestra, is a private concern governed by its members, so they have no *legal* obligation to be open to women, blacks, orientals, or whoever.

The first woman to be admitted to the Philharmonic was the State Opera's longtime harpist, Alice Lelkes, who had often played in their concerts including the celebrated New Year's event, but somehow the TV cameras never showed more of her than her hands. She was already approaching retirement age. Her successor is also a harpist. In recent years the cameras have tended to linger on the few young women in the VPO's string section, as if to ward off criticism and, worse, the possible economic impact if a successful boycott were actually mounted. So far no such thing has happened.

(Incidentally, the violist Ursula Plaichinger has been listed in the VPO's roster as a probationer for several years now, she's played in every VPO concert I've seen on TV or in person since 2003, yet the asterisk remains by her name. Why she has been neither accepted nor released, I don't know.)

The Philharmonic is not just tradition-bound but ingrown, as can be seen by (for example) the number of double reed players named Öhlberger who have played in it since their patriarch Karl Öhlberger was principal bassoon in the '50s. And those who aren't actually the children and grandchildren of old Philharmoniker are almost always their pupils at one of the Vienna music conservatories. No doubt this is the basis of their claim, and I'd say of the fact, that there really is a continuity of this orchestra's musicianship, style, and sound from generation to generation.

In a time when the audible differences among the world's top orchestras have become very hard to make out, the Vienna Philharmonic remains its own individual self, quickly identifiable by ear alone. For me this is what makes them special and, I'd say, treasurable. They and they alone can make this continue, and as far as I'm concerned, the means by which they do it is their business.

Those who are rejected for membership for any reason other than musical skill or style--nationality, race, sex, whatever--may rightly feel they have not been treated fairly, and that's a pity. But their careers are by no means over. They can of course remain in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. If they prefer not to, Vienna is full of orchestras that should be eager to hire almost-Philharmoniker, and then there are hundreds and hundreds of other orchestras in Austria, Europe, the world.

To set one's heart on joining a particular famous orchestra, or on any objective whether it's a particular corporation, a particular university, or for that matter to be President of the United States, is common enough. But few succeed and most fail, and the many who fail need to get on with their lives and make careers elsewhere. People do it all the time.
Last edited by John F on Wed Mar 28, 2007 3:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by piston » Tue Mar 27, 2007 7:15 pm

As I said, I would be "male" strong -- morally, ethically, and politically -- and tell the world (and all female applicants) we want to be true, and not to give outstanding female musicians false illusions. As good as they may show themselves to be, we're an all-male orchestra and they'll never be integrated in our community. That would be brave. But the tokenism the VPO has been practising is pretty cowardly, whatever the quality of their "splendid" sound. Honesty is the issue here, not traditions.

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Post by Ralph » Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:17 pm

johnshade wrote:
pizza wrote:Actually, there is no question that the refusal of a corporation to hire females is a clear violation of Austrian Civil Rights law which even the VPO has admitted.
.
(a) If the VPO is illegally commiting a wrongful act why are they permitted to give concerts in Austria? (b) Is the VPO violating a civil or criminal law by giving concerts in the US? (c) Can someone get an injunction to prevent the orchestra from giving concerts?

If I would not be illegally commiting a wrongful act, and if I lived in NYC, I would buy a ticket and attend a VPO concert. I, however, can certainly understand why someone would feel a moral duty not to attend a VPO concert. Is the problem one of law or moral duty?
*****

There's no basis for injunctive relief against the VPO when they perform in America. For a start no one would have standing to raise the question.
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Opus132
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Post by Opus132 » Wed Mar 28, 2007 7:34 am

Modernistfan wrote: No one is asking the VPO to hire unqualified applicants of any race,
Yet unqualified applicants get hired all the time when political correctness gets in the way. Is equality so important that we have to degrade and dump down everything just to perpetuate this socialist illusion?

Look at Ralph, he won't even attend concerts based on his personal bigotry. That sounds like extortion if you ask me. What if the Vienna philharmonic chooses it's members based on skill, and all the female applicants simply haven't made the cut?

I actually applaud their efforts. It's pretty rare to see somebody fight for their own principles against the brainwashing of modern society...

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Post by val » Wed Mar 28, 2007 8:00 am

Opus132"

Yet unqualified applicants get hired all the time when political correctness gets in the way. Is equality so important that we have to degrade and dump down everything just to perpetuate this socialist illusion?
Yes, unqualified applicants get hired because of that "socialist illusion". But, what about the qualified applicants? They don't get hired because they are jews (1937!), negros, women. Why do you talk about the unqualified instead of talking about qualified people that never had a chance because of their sex, skin colour or race?

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Post by pizza » Wed Mar 28, 2007 8:10 am

Opus132 wrote:
Modernistfan wrote: No one is asking the VPO to hire unqualified applicants of any race,
Yet unqualified applicants get hired all the time when political correctness gets in the way. Is equality so important that we have to degrade and dump down everything just to perpetuate this socialist illusion?

Look at Ralph, he won't even attend concerts based on his personal bigotry. That sounds like extortion if you ask me. What if the Vienna philharmonic chooses it's members based on skill, and all the female applicants simply haven't made the cut?

I actually applaud their efforts. It's pretty rare to see somebody fight for their own principles against the brainwashing of modern society...
Try to name one orchestra that hired an unqualified musician based upon the idea of "political correctness".

You have a strange view of "bigotry" and "extortion". Everyone has a right to vote with his feet on any issue. Unfortunately the VPO has nothing to fear. There will always be enough male chauvinists to fill the house.

Their efforts stink.

For an overview of the efforts to include musicians of quality regardless of race or gender, see:

http://www.osborne-conant.org/ten-years.htm

It should be noted that the Vienna State Opera, from whose roster most of the applicants for the VPO are chosen, and which is subject to Austria's anti-discrimination laws, provides the majority of services for the VPO. No performance of the VPO would be possible without the ongoing subsidy of the Vienna State Opera, and their relationship raises a question as to whether the VPO can be considered a private club. It also raises a question as to whether the Austrian government turns a blind eye to the orchestra's discriminatory policy.

Opus132
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Post by Opus132 » Wed Mar 28, 2007 8:12 pm

val wrote:Why do you talk about the unqualified instead of talking about qualified people that never had a chance because of their sex, skin colour or race?
Because all i care about is quality, not fairness. If the current system yields the best results, then that is the best system. Excellence over politics is my motto...

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Post by Opus132 » Wed Mar 28, 2007 8:33 pm

John F wrote: In a time when the audible differences among the world's top orchestras have become very hard to make out, the Vienna Philharmonic remains its own individual self, quickly identifiable by ear alone. For me this is what makes them special and, I'd say, treasurable. They and they alone can make this continue, and as far as I'm concerned, the means by which they do it is their business.

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Post by John F » Wed Mar 28, 2007 8:47 pm

<< No performance of the VPO would be possible without the ongoing subsidy of the Vienna State Opera, and their relationship raises a question as to whether the VPO can be considered a private club. >>

I understand what you're thinking, but legal issues aside, and substituting "organization" for the prejudicial "club," I don't buy it.

Playing in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is a full-time job, with seven performances a week for ten months a year. ("Provides the majority of services for the VPO" is incorrect if we understand "provide" and "services" in the same way.) They earn their pay; opera orchestras work far longer hours than symphony orchestras, even if they don't rehearse nearly as much in Vienna as at the Met. The Vienna Philharmonic is a sideline carried on by some of the State Opera players in their own time; it plays 10 pairs of subscription concerts during those 10 months, plus extras like the Nicolai Concert and the New Year's Concert. And some of the same players perform in string quartets and chamber ensembles, also sidelines that are fitted into such time as they have left.

As far as I know, string quartets are not required or even expected to meet any externally applied standard as to who may play in them. (Unless you count the Nazi era, when race laws caused the reconstitution or break-up of ensembles that had Jewish members, like the Rosé Quartet.) Quartets come together, rehearse and perform and tour, and eventually dissolve because the members choose to associate with each other and work together, essentially on the basis of shared artistic views and personal chemistry.

The Vienna Philharmonic has chosen its new players on that basis for more than a century. They feel this has worked for them, and who's to say that it has not? The VPO is one of the great success stories in classical music. Presently, a majority of the younger players are said to be all in favor of an integrated orchestra, but the entrenched old ways are not gotten rid of so easily. More of the older generation may have to die off before enough of the orchestra gets behind this reform to make it really effective. I can wait. Meanwhile, I won't deprive myself of the pleasure of hearing this great orchestra until then, as I may not live that long. <grin>
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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Mar 28, 2007 9:56 pm

Ralph wrote:
johnshade wrote:
pizza wrote:Actually, there is no question that the refusal of a corporation to hire females is a clear violation of Austrian Civil Rights law which even the VPO has admitted.
.
(a) If the VPO is illegally commiting a wrongful act why are they permitted to give concerts in Austria? (b) Is the VPO violating a civil or criminal law by giving concerts in the US? (c) Can someone get an injunction to prevent the orchestra from giving concerts?

If I would not be illegally commiting a wrongful act, and if I lived in NYC, I would buy a ticket and attend a VPO concert. I, however, can certainly understand why someone would feel a moral duty not to attend a VPO concert. Is the problem one of law or moral duty?
*****

There's no basis for injunctive relief against the VPO when they perform in America. For a start no one would have standing to raise the question.
Standing room only for the VPO, eh?

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by pizza » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:22 am

Opus132 wrote:
val wrote:Why do you talk about the unqualified instead of talking about qualified people that never had a chance because of their sex, skin colour or race?
If the current system yields the best results, then that is the best system.
The VPO can't decide which system will yield the best results if there is no internal basis for comparison. It deliberately continues to cut itself off from resources that are respected by orchestras throughout the world and is in no position to intelligently speculate as to whether it would improve if women or non-caucasians were admitted into the inner sanctum.

I don't believe for a moment that seeking the "best results" is on their radar screen where this issue is concerned.

The International Alliance for Women in Music has a VPO Watch page that's worth reviewing:

http://www.iawm.org/vpowatch/index.html#top2

The following article by IAWM member William Osborne on racism as a policy of the VPO is also worth reading:

http://www.iawm.org/vpowatch/racism.html#top

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Post by Opus132 » Thu Mar 29, 2007 7:17 pm

pizza wrote: I don't believe for a moment that seeking the "best results" is on their radar screen where this issue is concerned.
I suppose once the VPO loses their trade mark sound and become as sterilized as a lot of other major orchestras we'll see if it was mere chauvinism or an attempt to preserve tradition.

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Post by Ralph » Thu Mar 29, 2007 10:11 pm

Opus132 wrote:
pizza wrote: I don't believe for a moment that seeking the "best results" is on their radar screen where this issue is concerned.
I suppose once the VPO loses their trade mark sound and become as sterilized as a lot of other major orchestras we'll see if it was mere chauvinism or an attempt to preserve tradition.
*****

They'll lose their "trademark sound" because women are members? Bizarre.
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Post by pizza » Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:54 am

Ralph wrote:
Opus132 wrote:
pizza wrote: I don't believe for a moment that seeking the "best results" is on their radar screen where this issue is concerned.
I suppose once the VPO loses their trade mark sound and become as sterilized as a lot of other major orchestras we'll see if it was mere chauvinism or an attempt to preserve tradition.
*****

They'll lose their "trademark sound" because women are members? Bizarre.
They don't make a pretense at claiming that women are technically inferior. They say straight out that women don't "look right" in the orchestra. Some women have qualified on screened auditions but were rejected outright when the judges saw they were women.

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Post by Ralph » Fri Mar 30, 2007 7:52 am

pizza wrote:
Ralph wrote:
Opus132 wrote:
pizza wrote: I don't believe for a moment that seeking the "best results" is on their radar screen where this issue is concerned.
I suppose once the VPO loses their trade mark sound and become as sterilized as a lot of other major orchestras we'll see if it was mere chauvinism or an attempt to preserve tradition.
*****

They'll lose their "trademark sound" because women are members? Bizarre.
They don't make a pretense at claiming that women are technically inferior. They say straight out that women don't "look right" in the orchestra. Some women have qualified on screened auditions but were rejected outright when the judges saw they were women.
*****

That same bigoted reasoning was why I was rejected many years ago for Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes! :(
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