The Guardian (London) January 10, 2003
The Guardian (London)
January 10, 2003
SECTION: Guardian Foreign Pages, Pg. 19
HEADLINE: First woman takes a bow at Vienna Philharmonic
The Vienna Philharmonic orchestra has appointed its first female musician, signalling the fall of another of Europe's all-male bastions.
Ursula Plaichinger, a 27-year-old viola player, has caused a sensation in artistic circles by appearing unannounced at the 158-year-old Philharmonic's traditional new year's concert in Vienna.
The performance was seen by millions around the world and a recording has already sold out in Austria. Yesterday, Austria's top-selling newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung, splashed Plaichinger on its front page while criticising the Philharmonic for refusing to allow the musician to be interviewed.
The newspaper complained: "The first woman with the Vienna Philharmonic may be allowed to play but she can't talk."
It said that Plaichinger had been banned from giving interviews by the orchestra's manager, Clemens Hellsberg. A spokesman for the Philharmonic denied the claim.
When the Guardian asked for an interview, a spokesman said: "We do not allow individual members to give interviews to prevent an unfair bias on any individual. The orchestra has to function as a unit."
The Philharmonic dropped its objections to admitting women in 1996 after the government threatened to cut off funding. But while women were given access to auditions, none were recruited.
Henrietta Bruckner, a teacher at the Vienna Conser vatory of Music, said that "women needed to be 150% as good as the men".
Otto Nessizius, a violinist who retired from the Philharmonic in 1987 but who still fills in for colleagues, was quoted as saying that the ban on women had been justified because of their "intrigues". "With women, there are always cliques and intrigues," he said.
Candidates for the Philharmonic face up to five auditions. In the past, the orchestra has been forced to temporarily accept a female harpist, Anna Lelkes, because of the shortage of male harpists. When she performed, she was not mentioned in the programme or shown on television. The cameramen were told to focus on the male performers and only Lelkes' hands made a momentary appearance.
When asked about this, a Philharmonic spokeswoman said: "Her hands were only shown because the camera angles were different in those days and the harpist is in an awkward position. But you would need to be a technician to understand this."
Lelkes was one of the strongest opponents of women joining the orchestra even though she admitted once being told by the Austrian conductor Hans Swarowsky: "Your place is in the kitchen."
Austria has often been in the spotlight over the way women are treated. In 2000, the position of women deteriorated after a coalition between the People's party and the far-right Freedom party abolished the women's ministry.