Klarinet Archive - Posting 000002.txt from 1998/03
From: "David C. Blumberg" <reedman@-----.com>
Subj: Vienna Article
Date: Sun, 1 Mar 1998 00:31:32 -0500
New York Times
February 28, 1998
Even in Vienna, Legends Adjust to Time and Trend
By JAMES R. OESTREICH
NEW YORK -- By the time-honored standards and
traditions of this orchestra, it almost qualifies as
"A new age has begun for the Vienna Philharmonic,"
Wolfgang Schuster, a percussionist in this self-governed
aggregation and its press information officer, said. A
new and younger management team has taken over from the
pair long known in international orchestra circles
simply as the Professors: Werner Resel, still a cellist
in the group and its former president, and Walter
Blovsky, a violist and the former general manager.
Others might call it an evolution, even a glacial one.
In any case, the symbol of change, in the public mind,
is not so much Clemens Hellsberg, the new president, a
violinist, or Peter Pecha, the new general manager, a
violist, as it is Anna Lelkes, a harpist.
In a conversation Thursday, the date Feb. 27 came
repeatedly to the lips of Hellsberg and Schuster,
obviously permanently engraved in their memories, for it
was just a year ago that the orchestra hired Ms. Lelkes,
the first female member in its 156-year history.
The move was a response to protests from government
officials at home and public outcry abroad, specifically
in the United States on the eve of the orchestra's last
On one level, the gesture was almost meaningless, since
Ms. Lelkes had in fact performed with the orchestra for
26 years as an extra. On another, it was momentous,
shaking Austria's premier cultural institutions to its
Yet although Ms. Lelkes is listed in the program for the
orchestra's three concerts conducted by Riccardo Muti
this weekend at Carnegie Hall, she is conspicuous by her
absence. Barring possible encores, the only program
using harp is the one Saturday evening, with Mahler's
Fourth Symphony, and by the orchestra's arcane internal
workings, Schuster explained, the choice on this
occasion happened to fall to the other harpist, Harald
Kautzky, with no contention involved.
"She is not shy," Schuster said of Ms. Lelkes. "If she
were unhappy, you would have heard about it."
The orchestra has not yet hired any other women, but at
least it has been trying, Hellsberg said. Five positions
have come open in the last year. For the first two, in
tuba and trumpet, no women applied.
The next opening was for a principal violist. Of the 22
applicants, 4 were women. Of the 14 players invited to
audition, one was a women, the first ever to be so
courted. She did not audition, and a man was selected.
Generally, Hellsberg said, only two-thirds of those
invited, male and female, actually appear for auditions.
The reasons, he added, may include insufficient time to
prepare or a full appreciation of the hard work involved
in the job for relatively low pay.
The players, hired by the Austrian state into the
orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, run the
Philharmonic as an independent enterprise, and some
candidates evidently learn belatedly how extensive the
combined orchestral and operatic duties are. Hellsberg
and Schuster called the pay low -- laughably so, to
judge from their titters -- in relation to that at other
major European opera houses and orchestras, let alone by
American standards, though they were unable or unwilling
to specify a typical annual income.
The next job opening came in the second violins. "We
tried to invite more women than men," Schuster said. Of
the 25 women who applied (against 47 men), 9 were
invited to appear (along with 16 men), and 3 actually
auditioned (with 11 men): again, the first women ever to
do so. No one, male or female, was chosen for the
A principal cello opening drew 6 women applicants (38
men). Four women (20 men) were invited to audition, and
2 (13 men) did so. A man was chosen.
Even before women entered the picture, the orchestra
carried out all auditions before the final round
(usually the third or fourth) blind, with the candidates
concealed by a curtain. The spokesmen explained why the
curtain is removed for the final round, citing the case
of a concertmaster who had to leave the orchestra
prematurely despite his beautiful playing because he
carried his bow arm too low. This is no small matter in
the Vienna Philharmonic; since the orchestra has no
permanent maestro, the concertmasters take an unusually
active hand in coordinating the ensemble through gesture
and body language, which must be visible throughout the
Certainly, these players were not about to pretend that
they could distinguish male from female playing behind a
curtain. But neither were they willing to concede
anything to affirmative action beyond the professed
attempt to spread their preliminary net wider.
Clearly, whatever the fairness of the audition process,
progress will be slow, although other top-flight
orchestras around the world seem to have found no lack
of qualified female candidates, and many have made
significant strides toward equality.
Quality of orchestral musicianship is the principal
criterion, the spokesman said, although this orchestra
carries the additional burden of maintaining its fabled
tradition and its unique sound. It is not true, as some
have suggested, that the orchestra draws only from
students of its members, and Hellsberg bristled at the
notion that any xenophobia might be at work in the
exclusion of non-Viennese or non-Austrians.
What the spokesmen freely admitted is that no one will
be hired who is not steeped in the Wiener Klangstil, the
Viennese sound style. Rather than trying to maintain the
style as a private preserve, however, the orchestra has
been trying to make it available to outsiders through
the International Orchestra Institute Attergau for
Wiener Klangstil, a summer program in the Austrian Alps
founded in 1994 by Schuster.
In many cases, as with the old-fashioned narrow-bore
horns, the particular instruments used by the orchestra
largely determine the style. But with the strings, the
sound is cultivated entirely by the players.
"In general, the Philharmonic imagination of the ideal
orchestral sound and artistic interpretation of music
can be described as a particular combination of
components of the Viennese Classic and German Romantic
style," Schuster and Gregor Widholm, of the Institute
for Wiener Klangstil at the Vienna Hochschuele fuer
Musik, write in a booklet.
"The famous sound of the Philharmonic violins is caused
exclusively by the artistic personality and performing
tradition of the players," they add. "Recent research
work shows that differences in timbre can be measured,
but the reasons why are not investigated up to now."
And just what do the Viennese, and this orchestra in
particular, do rhythmically to the second beat of a
waltz meter to achieve that inimitable lilt? The
spokesmen collapsed in laughter and incoherence. "We
shouldn't analyze it,' Hellsberg said. "It's like a
centipede. If it stops to think about what it is doing
with each step, it will stumble and fall."
For all the constant appeal to tradition, the Vienna
Philharmonic is a surprisingly young orchestra these
days. Players must retire at 65. No one over 35 is
hired, since a 30-year period of service is required for
a full pension. Schuster, 56, estimated that only about
5 of the 128 players are older than he.
The resignation of Werner Resel, the oldest member of
the orchestra at 63, from the presidency, and the
election of Hellsberg, 45, represent a wholesale
changing of the guard. Although Resel's action came
little more than a month after the hiring of Ms. Lelkes,
any link between the two events is denied.
"Prof. Resel wanted a change of generations," Hellsberg
And what DID result from the Lelkes fracas? "We have
learned in the last year that we all have to be more
involved in the administration, that it's important to
work together in a democratic, organized community,"
Hellsberg said. "It sounds very simple, and it's an
experience thousands of years old. But it seems our
people still have to learn it."
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company