Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Innere Glut.
February 21, 2011 10:30 AM   Subscribe

“The prevailing attitude seems to be that issues of politics and morality—the sort of issues that most people can perceive clearly in connection with, say, corporate glass ceilings or the patronage of lunch counters—are suddenly off limits where music is concerned.”

The Wiener Philharmoniker, a democratically self-administered orchestra regularly considered one of the finest in the world, has 112 members. Four of them are women. One of the men is half-Asian.

“From the beginning,” said Dieter Flury, a solo-flutist, in 1996, “we have spoken of the special Viennese qualities, of the way music is made here. The way we make music here is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe. And it also doesn't allow itself to be separated from gender. So if one thinks that the world should function by quota regulations,then it is naturally irritating that we are a group of white skinned male musicians, that perform exclusively the music of white skinned male composers. It is a racist and sexist irritation. I believe one must put it that way. If one establishes superficial egalitarianism, one will lose something very significant. Therefore, I am convinced that it is worthwhile to accept this racist and sexist irritation, because something produced by a superficial understanding of human rights would not have the same standards.”
posted by kipmanley (110 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Audition new hopefuls from behind a curtain. Problem solved.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:34 AM on February 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


Until 1997, women were officially barred from membership in the orchestra...

Not "rejected after auditions proved them insufficiently Viennese in playing style".

"Barred".

Christ, what assholes.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


“I hold it incorrect that today the applicants play behind a screen; an arrangement that was brought in after the Second World War in order to assure objective judgments. I continuously fought against it, especially after I became Chairman of the Philharmonic, because I am convinced that to the artist also belongs the person, that one must not only hear, but also see, in order to judge him in his entire personality. [...] Even a grotesque situation that played itself out after my retirement was not able to change the situation. An applicant qualified himself as the best, and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned jury. He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the ‘Pizzicato-Polka’ of the New Year's Concert.” —Otto Strasser, the former chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic
posted by kipmanley at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2011 [15 favorites]


ANGLE--TABLE

All around Buggin' Out, peering down from the WALL OF FAME,
are signed, framed, eight by ten glossies of famous Italian
Americans. WE SEE Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Marciano, Perry Como,
Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti, Liza Minnelli, Governor
Mario Cuomo, Al Pacino and, of course, how can we forget
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa: THE ITALIAN STALLION,
also RAMBO.

CLOSE UP--BUGGIN' OUT

He looks at the pictures hovering above him.

BUGGIN' OUT
Mookie.

CLOSE UP--MOOKIE

MOOKIE
What?

CLOSE UP--BUGGIN' OUT

BUGGIN' OUT
How come you ain't got no brothers
up?

CLOSE UP--MOOKIE

MOOKIE
Ask Sal.

ANGLE--PIZZERIA

BUGGIN' OUT
Sal, how come you ain't got no
brothers up on the wall here?

SAL
You want brothers up on the Wall of
Fame, you open up your own business,
then you can do what you wanna do.
My pizzeria, Italian Americans up
on the wall.

VITO
Take it easy, Pop.

SAL
Don't start on me today.

BUGGIN' OUT
Sal, that might be fine, you own
this, but rarely do I see any
Italian Americans eating in here.
All I've ever seen is Black folks.
So since we spend much money here,
we do have some say.

SAL
You a troublemaker?

Pino walks over to Buggin' Out.

PINO
You making trouble.

BUGGIN' OUT
Put some brothers up on this Wall
of Fame. We want Malcolm X, Angela
Davis, Michael Jordan tomorrow.

Sal comes from behind the counter with his Louisville
Slugger Mickey Mantle model baseball bat. Vito is by his
side, but Mookie intercepts them, and takes Buggin' Out
outside.

SAL
Don't come back, either.

BUGGIN' OUT
Boycott Sal's. Boycott Sal's.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:43 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the ‘Pizzicato-Polka’ of the New Year's Concert.

Oh, good grief. You know who else was from Austria and discriminated against people based on their ethnic origins? Thread over.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:43 AM on February 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


Christ, what a bunch of assholes.
posted by kmz at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2011


What a bunch of Wieners.
posted by theodolite at 10:47 AM on February 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


It's an orchestra. Its existence is not mandatory for society, nor mandated by it. Neither is public participation of any sort required required. Its standards are its own.

If it's well and truly yours, you can do what you want with it.
posted by perspicio at 10:48 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it's well and truly yours, you can do what you want with it.

This is true! And then other people can call them dickheads for doing it, when they do something like this. See how that works? Freedom is a wonderful thing.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:50 AM on February 21, 2011 [29 favorites]


Neither is public participation of any sort required required. Its standards are its own.

Aren't most orchestras publicly-supported? I know the San Antonio Symphony orchestra is supported by a non-profit that receives government arts assistance. Even putting that aside, we have the obligation to inform potential ticket-purchasers of what sort of "aesthetic" they are supporting.
posted by muddgirl at 10:51 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Its existence is not mandatory for society, nor mandated by it. Neither is public participation of any sort required required.

True. Nor is it required that any member of the public patronize it. If they are so proud of it, let it be widely known for what it "well and truly" is - a racist, sexist musical organization. Let it be printed in the programs!
posted by rkent at 10:52 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, why not put it on their programs? On their tickets? "We proudly support the soul of Vienna, which is the soul of white men."
posted by muddgirl at 10:54 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's an orchestra. Its existence is not mandatory for society, nor mandated by it. Neither is public participation of any sort required required. Its standards are its own.

Um, public participation is not required? If that's the case, where would they get their audiences for their performances of symphonic masterpieces?
posted by blucevalo at 10:57 AM on February 21, 2011


You really can't behave this way and still lay any claim to being anything approaching a broadly-relevant cultural institution. If the Philharmonker wants to be an unrepentantly-racist boys' club playing outmoded Austrian folk music, they're welcome to do just that. But they can't do that while trying to pass themselves off as emissaries of "high culture," and nobody should allow them to do so, up to and including the bodies that fund it.

It is a pity though that, by being such unapologetic bags-of-dicks, they make it that much harder for everyone else trying make a case for the importance of sustaining a tradition of symphonic music.
posted by wreckingball at 10:58 AM on February 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


The way we make music here is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe.

But OK, here's a serious question: would they allow a white American to join? Because let's consider 2 kids from the greater New York area, raised on a combination of classical training and jazz/r&b pop music, who go to Julliard and audition for the VPO after they graduate - these two have a hell of a lot more in common with each other than they do with some Viennese fuddy-duddy, regardless of the fact that one is white and one is Asian.

... And, digging a little deeper, it appears at least their trombonist is a kid born and raised in Tennessee. Yeah, bet he's got loads of those "central European cultural roots."
posted by rkent at 10:58 AM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Aren't most orchestras publicly-supported?

The VPO received a state subsidy until 1996.

When the state said they had to accept women or forfeit the subsidy, they forfeited the subsidy.

So their bigotry is a matter of principle.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:59 AM on February 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


If fully accepted and understood, art, as the most sublime expression of human freedom, excludes no one but it also demands tolerance and understanding of others.

 — Vienna Philharmonic | News
posted by scruss at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2011


Politics and morality, politics and morality
Wieners much prefer their own musicality
This they'll tell you, Sister:
"You can't join in, you're not a 'mister' "

Try, try, try to find some Asians:
They've been excluded!
Try, try try to find a black guy - well!
Are you deluded?

Politics and morality, politics and morality
Go together in almost ev'ry locality
But not the Vienna Philly -
Where you must be white and have a willy.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:05 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's a bon mot from A Woman is a Risky Bet:
Our profession makes family life extremely difficult, so for a woman it’s almost impossible. There are so many orchestras with women members so why shouldn’t there be – for how long I don’t know – an orchestra with no women in it … A woman shouldn’t play like a man but like a woman, but an all-male orchestra is bound to have a special tone.
Which is why, of course, the first woman to be a fully member of the VP was a harpist: clearly the "most feminine" of instruments (seriously, though - harp has got to be one of the only instruments where there is a supermajority of professional female harpists).
posted by muddgirl at 11:07 AM on February 21, 2011


*shrugs*

Rap does the same sort of thing in a way, i.e. "white people can't rap". I've heard the same thing said bout the blues from time to time. Pretty much every music tradition tends to lay some sort of claim as to who can authentically play the music and resists what it perceives of posers.


So their bigotry is a matter of principle.

I can respect that in a "Yay you for being pigheadly stubborn as opposed to right" sort of way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:07 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rap does the same sort of thing in a way, i.e. "white people can't rap". I've heard the same thing said bout the blues from time to time.

It's tempting to just flip the races and say it's all even, but this is disingenuous. White Culture is everyone's culture - hardly anyone in Western Civilization can escape it. While I disagree with the idea that white people can't rap or sing the blues (since lots of white people do both), I think there is an authentic claim that your average white person does not have knowledge of those subcultures. This just isn't true for the white subculture - everyone knows it because it is the dominant culture.
posted by muddgirl at 11:09 AM on February 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Slayer is another band composed of all white men.
posted by Ardiril at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


So were the Beatles. This game is fun!
posted by blucevalo at 11:11 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This just isn't true for the white subculture - everyone knows it because it is the dominant culture.

Well, white culture is mostly rap music and everyone, except a small niche, turn their nose up at classical music, so claims of it being the dominant culture don't fit, IMO.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:12 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not trying to start a flame war here, but...

Yes, what a bunch of assholes.

BUT!

Say I am an expert in Polynesian music culture. Me - an awkward white girl from Minnesota.

If I go to Hawaii and want to see an authentic Polynesian musical concert/performance, I would definitely think it odd for someone that does not look Polynesian to be performing up there with them. So, even though I am supposedly an expert in Polynesian music and am the best darn Polynesian music performer technically, I can see how there would be push back on allowing this awkward white girl into this supposedly authentic Polynesian performance. The audience would, quite rightfully, think "WTF?"

So, I can see how this "authentic" Wiener Philharmoniker would prefer that they try to maintain the same-ish consistent appearance.

That doesn't mean they aren't assholes for it, but I can still see where they are coming from.
posted by jillithd at 11:12 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Slayer is another band composed of all white men.

Haha, that's totally the same thing!
posted by kmz at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2011


It totally is.
posted by Ardiril at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2011


and everyone, except a small niche, turn their nose up at classical music

Of course this isn't true, and even if it were true that would invalidate their claims that there is some authentic "Vienna" that is supportable by white men.

I would definitely think it odd for someone that does not look Polynesian to be performing up there with them

And I would ask what it means to "look Polynesian" - you mean dark-skinned, right? Even though many modern Polynesians have a large variety of skin tones?
posted by muddgirl at 11:15 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


There should be a competition with some all asian women's orchestra performing Mahler or Beethoven, where eventually they play before a random set of independent judges from Hungary (or Germany, depending on what historical allusion you wish to emphasize).

After the women win, we make a movie.
posted by john wilkins at 11:17 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


muddgirl: "This just isn't true for the white subculture - everyone knows it because it is the dominant culture."

"More people would be likely to be familiar with" is probably accurate. "Everyone knows" is absolutely not accurate. I'm a white male in my 30's. Don't know squat about white hipsters, skaters, juggalos, chavs, or anything about their respective subcultures other than what little I've come across on Metafilter. I'm not particularly well-versed in goth subculture, either.

There are plenty of white subcultures (American and non) that "everyone" does not know. "Dominant" shouldn't be used as an substitute for "pervasive" or "ubiquitous." That's why they're subcultures.
posted by zarq at 11:19 AM on February 21, 2011


Also, fuck these guys. Assholes.
posted by zarq at 11:19 AM on February 21, 2011


Haha, that's totally the same thing!

One is a traveling band of musicians that entertains millions.

The other is the Philharmonic.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:20 AM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seriously, the bottom line is that you cannot tell the race or gender of a symphonic performer without looking at them (I know this from judging fiddling competitions - male fiddlers and female fiddlers fiddle exactly alike!) - so any claims to the Philharmonic's unique authenticity are purely visual. They are claiming that white men have a special claim on the "soul" of Vienna, and I think people have a responsibility to get pissed about that. If they want to change their name to the White Male Vienna Philharmonic, then that would solve that issue.

zarq - maybe I shouldn't have used the word "subculture", which muddies the issue. I am talking about White Culture.
posted by muddgirl at 11:22 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rap does the same sort of thing in a way, i.e. "white people can't rap". I've heard the same thing said bout the blues from time to time. Pretty much every music tradition tends to lay some sort of claim as to who can authentically play the music and resists what it perceives of posers.

But an upper echelon orchestra has a meritocracy aspect that isn't really applicable to the rap world. It would be more like taking a claim like "Chinese people aren't good at basketball" and using that as an excuse to disqualify someone like Yao Ming who is clearly a top caliber player from playing in the NBA. The Vienna Philharmonic both claims to only allow the best possible musicians and heavily favors white men (until recently explicitly not allowing women), which is why they have to come up with arguments such as the "soul" one quoted above that imply that being anything other than white and male makes it impossible to to perform at such a high level.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:23 AM on February 21, 2011


Of course this isn't true, and even if it were true that would invalidate their claims that there is some authentic "Vienna" that is supportable by white men.

The Vienna Philharmonic plays music soundtracks, that's what they're known for? Are you asserting that classical music is at or near the same level of popularity as Rock, Rap or Country music?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:24 AM on February 21, 2011


Even if you concede the race issue on some sort of cultural purity bullshit, which I don't, there's still the gender disparity.

It totally is.

Wow, I didn't realize Slayer holds regular tryouts for new members that are supposed to be based purely on musical talent. I stand corrected!
posted by kmz at 11:26 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


So then, "Vienna Waits For You" isn't strictly true, if you're a fiery Latina oboist, say? How depressing.
posted by newdaddy at 11:29 AM on February 21, 2011


You learn something new every day.
posted by Ardiril at 11:30 AM on February 21, 2011


Ardiril

Do you have a point? I really can't tell if you're being sarcastic or what exactly you're trying to say. Could you explain?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:32 AM on February 21, 2011


Slayer is another band composed of all white men.

One member of Slayer was born in Cuba. One was born in Chile. That really screams white men (à la Teutonic Österreich) to me!
posted by blucevalo at 11:32 AM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is oddly satisfying.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:33 AM on February 21, 2011


What would be really fun would be if every lunch counter in SF put up, for one week, a sign that said "No Austrian White Guys". Fun in a totally illegal, un-American, don't-ever-really-do-this kind of way.
posted by newdaddy at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the same site as the third link in the post: The Special Characteristics of the Vienna Philharmonic's Racial Ideology

Also:
Of course the private organization’s list of sins is long -- and not yet forgotten. One sees with lightening speed how little the Vienna Philharmonic fits into the times in which it plays. In 1994, the orchestra, with a reported yearly income of 15 million Euros [15 million dollars], cancelled its donations to a charity for hunger relief in Ethiopia, after its director, Karlheinz Böhm, publicly suggested the orchestra admit women. In 1996, flutist Dieter Flury, commented that the ‘sexist irriataions’ of the orchestra should be ignorned in order to protect its quality. In 1997, Chairman Werner Resel, thumped the timpani in a most manly manner when he remarked, ‘What functions best in Austria is ruined and destroyed by extremists.’ And most recently, chairman Clemens Hellsberger cast the orchestra in a bad light: in January the violist Ursuala Plaichinger was allowed to speak to journalists only in his presence – girls like to prattle, you know.
And: Vienna Philharmonic Update 2009.
posted by zarq at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2011


I guess my point is when you dilute your cause with frivolous claims, you sound like PETA and should expect others to become dismissive. Or, to be a bit more succinct, thanks for the OutrageFilter.
posted by Ardiril at 11:40 AM on February 21, 2011


muddgirl: " zarq - maybe I shouldn't have used the word "subculture", which muddies the issue. I am talking about White Culture."

Thanks for clarifying.

I see from the linked article that you're only interested in discussing white culture by indulging in bullshit stereotypes. What a shame. There really is a decent conversation to be had about both negative and positive aspects of dominant white culture in America, as well as our history of racism, oppression and sexism. Guess I'll look elsewhere for it.
posted by zarq at 11:41 AM on February 21, 2011


I'm going to take this 100% at face value:

The way we make music here is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe. And it also doesn't allow itself to be separated from gender.

If this is true - if truly, honestly, the soul of this music is tied irrevocably and innately to the gender and cultural/ethnic background of the performer - then we have no problem at all. You can have your performers audition from behind a curtain, and you'll still only select white men, because they're the only ones with the right kind of soul and the right kind of background to understand the pieces in their perfect, exact nature.

Of course, if it's just a bunch of misogynistic racist bullshit, you might have a problem.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2011 [25 favorites]


I guess my point is when you dilute your cause with frivolous claims, you sound like PETA and should expect others to become dismissive. Or, to be a bit more succinct, thanks for the OutrageFilter.
Ardiril

What frivolous claim? This is a world-famous organization rated at the top of their field that has a long history of discriminating against women and non-whites. This organization is composed of members who must qualify for membership based presumably on musical talent, yet maintain that gender and race automatically preclude people from membership because they inherently cannot have the same ability as "central European" men.

You still haven't explained what point you were trying to make with your comparison to Slayer. The comparison seems pointless and irrelevant on its face, as others have shown above. What I can glean from your Slayer example is that you are attacking the straw-man that every group of musicians must be racially- and gender-mixed. That is not the claim being made here, nor anywhere as far as I know, so I'm curious as to what you were trying to say.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:47 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Er, that was supposed to link to here.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:49 AM on February 21, 2011


You really can't behave this way and still lay any claim to being anything approaching a broadly-relevant cultural institution. If the Philharmonker wants to be an unrepentantly-racist boys' club playing outmoded Austrian folk music, they're welcome to do just that. But they can't do that while trying to pass themselves off as emissaries of "high culture," and nobody should allow them to do so, up to and including the bodies that fund it.

Uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't most so called High Culture exclusionary? I completely agree that a publicly supported instution such as U-Cal Berkeley should be held to task for booking the VPO given their background.

I will not be attending any of the VPO performances. However, since I live 2000 miles away, I doubt that I will have any impact on their policies. But Berkeleyans should boycott, too.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:51 AM on February 21, 2011


The mere fact that when screened auditions were introduced, female membership in symphony orchestras rose from about 3% to close to 40% is pretty much solid proof that the classical musical world is discriminatory against women in ways that are totally irrelevant to the actual quality of music that's performed.

I sing in the chorus of the Seattle Symphony, and as a consequence I get to spend a lot of time perched on the stage looking attentive but doing nothing. I count up demographics in my head, sometimes, to keep myself engaged. Depending on who's seated, we run roughly 35-40% female, including the principals of 3 of the 4 string sections. (Though we have not one single female brass player.) Racially or ethnically? Erm. Well, we have a lot of Asian players. And our tympanist is black. And, actually, one of our recent associate conductors was both Asian and female, which is really a big deal -- if you think that opportunities for players are restricted by race and gender, well, the opportunities for conductors are even MORE so. (The first female conductor of a major American symphony orchestra got her job in 2007.)

On preview:

If this is true - if truly, honestly, the soul of this music is tied irrevocably and innately to the gender and cultural/ethnic background of the performer - then we have no problem at all. You can have your performers audition from behind a curtain, and you'll still only select white men, because they're the only ones with the right kind of soul and the right kind of background to understand the pieces in their perfect, exact nature.

Brilliantly put. If it's about the music, then the music should make that clear even from behind a screen. And if it's NOT about the music? Fuck off.
posted by KathrynT at 11:52 AM on February 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


Um, public participation is not required? If that's the case, where would they get their audiences for their performances of symphonic masterpieces?

From private individuals who are not required to participate.
posted by perspicio at 11:52 AM on February 21, 2011


Back in 2007 there was this Washington Post article about violinist Joshua Bell performing with a Stradivarius outside of a Washington Metro station that bemoans the fact that everybody walks by, that few (or nobody) recognized brilliance and genius when it was laid out to them like that, but I've been stopped in my tracks before by amazing performers in BART stations...

Tales of racism like this reinforce my impression that a lot of what's acclaimed in classical music isn't so much the ability to emotionally move an audience as it is the ability to play preconceived cultural games. And maybe when we walk by Joshua Bell in the metro we're missing his performance because what's amazing about it is as much the cultural context in which it normally happens as it is his ability to communicate with those who'd appreciate the music.

Or maybe I'm just a cranky bastard.
posted by straw at 11:54 AM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wedge issues like this are fun to talk about sometimes, but where do they actually lead? Obviously, in this case, if you don't approve of the orchestra's behavior, boycott their performances. Or if they unfairly deny you a job in the US or another nation where hiring discrimination is expressly illegal, then try to sue them. Otherwise, this issue really doesn't have a whole lot of relevance to the outside world beyond reflecting really poorly on the symphony and its values.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:57 AM on February 21, 2011


I assume if it can only be played by white Viennese men, it can likewise only be enjoyed by white Viennese men. But one suspects that this is not their audience.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:57 AM on February 21, 2011


Astro Zombie: "I assume if it can only be played by white Viennese men, it can likewise only be enjoyed by white Viennese men. But one suspects that this is not their audience."

They certainly seem to think it is.
A public school teacher who had taken his class to a rehearsal of the Vienna Philharmonic reported that a girl in the class asked why only men were in the orchestra. Werner Resel, the orchestra's chairman at the time, answered that the "Vienna Philharmonic is an orchestra of white men playing music by white men for white people".[6]

posted by zarq at 12:03 PM on February 21, 2011


If I go to Hawaii and want to see an authentic Polynesian musical concert/performance, I would definitely think it odd for someone that does not look Polynesian to be performing up there with them.

To the extent that this is true, you would be watching a museum exhibit rather than an actual musical performance.
posted by steambadger at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Classical music as a cultural value has been on the way out, anyway, hasn't it? This problem should sort itself out as new forms of elite culture take over, forms which are less about ethnical identity (race) and more about economic identity (class).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2011


Saul, where it leads is in increasing the perception of who can be a symphonic musician. Because membership in these organizations is reserved for those who are both exceptionally naturally talented AND who work their asses off starting from a very young age, it's important to widen the net of perception so that we can widen it in reality.

(Gah, I'm writing this badly. I've been in and out of the ER with my infant over the past couple days, it's clearly affecting my concentration.)

To put it a different way: if we don't start and keep vocally and loudly objecting to the idea that only white guys can be symphony musicians, then only white guys will EVER be symphony musicians, because little black or hispanic or native american kids will never see themselves as ever being symphony musicians, and will exclude themselves from the group of people who put in the effort needed to achieve that reality. It takes decades of work to make it to membership in a major symphony orchestra. What we do and say now affects the kids who are going to be the players 30 years from now.
posted by KathrynT at 12:06 PM on February 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, that's one orchestra I won't be going to hear. Ever.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:07 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sangermaine: I am doing no more than making the same jokes others make on MeFi. I just take a different perspective. If you don't like it, take it to MeTa.
posted by Ardiril at 12:07 PM on February 21, 2011


First, I applied for a book reviewer job at The New Yorker, but that didn't work out too well. Then, I thought getting a PhD in particle physics might be my ticket to the bigtime. . . . not so much, it turns out.

But I was SURE that these fucking cello lessons would pay off!
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:12 PM on February 21, 2011


In essence what this man seems to be saying is that, in Vienna, the orchestra does not play from the white tees.
posted by three blind mice at 12:19 PM on February 21, 2011


That's it, Wiener Philharmoniker. Mefites are officially boycotting your performances.
posted by codswallop at 12:21 PM on February 21, 2011


(seriously, though - harp has got to be one of the only instruments where there is a supermajority of professional female harpists).

It's true, I can't think of a single other instrument that is primarily played by female harpists. I wonder what it is specifically about the harp that attracts female harpists to it?

just joshin' ya
posted by FatherDagon at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's kind of embarrassing that it took the Austrian government until 1996 to cut off their public funding because of this sort of shit. But at least they did eventually cut off the funding...
posted by klausness at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2011


Perhaps there's no problem here. For all we know, there may be some musical performances that can only be produced by an orchestra of white men; and it may also be that those performances are so illuminating, so transcendent, that they trump the fundamental American values of equal opportunity and fairness. I'd love to hear someone make that case.

It's easy enough to do a blind test of this on your own. Find some performances by Mitusko Uchida (Japanese woman) and Arthur Brendel (white man), of Mozart piano concertos or sonatas. Or Martha Argerich (white woman) and Arthur Rubinstein (white man) playing Schumann. Or compare Jaqueline Du Pre (white woman), Mstislav Rostropovich (white man), and Yo-Yo Ma (Chinese man), all playing Dvorak's cello concerto. Different listeners will have different preferences among these, but I doubt you'd say the white men have even a slight edge over the women and minorities, let alone that any of these musicians are unable to capture the essence of European classical music.

Of course, an orchestra of dozens, playing a standard repertoire that mainly requires sheer excellence (by very well-established measures) rather than spontaneous, individual originality, is different from a rock band made up of 4 friends who casually get together in a basement room to make original music together from scratch based on the unique synergy between them. Race/gender discrimination has to be looked at in its actual detailed context, not as an abstract logical exercise.


It's an orchestra. Its existence is not mandatory for society, nor mandated by it. Neither is public participation of any sort required required. Its standards are its own.

It's true that a society doesn't need orchestras. But if children being taken to "the symphony" by their parents or on a field trip from school are presented with all white male players, that is going to make an impression on them. The impression will tend to be different based on the kids' race and gender, because people tend to look to people who resemble them as role models. That is part of society, and those kids don't have much of a choice in all that. The fact that you could imagine an alternate universe without orchestras has little bearing on this reality.
posted by John Cohen at 12:32 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Wiener Philharmoniker is just a conservative outlier of something that was (and arguably still is) remarkably common in the performing arts. Yes, at one time there really were debates about whether it was appropriate to have non-white performers in the pit, or on-stage as part of the chorus, corps de ballet, or minor characters. Instrumental ensembles fare a bit better than opera, ballet, and drama. Putting a non-white person in the background, much less in a leading role for something other than Aida, Othello, or Porgy and Bess still is going to be treated as a political decision. (Never mind the fact that it's only the iron will of Gershwin and his estate that's prevented the blackface performances for his Opera.)

Granted, a lot of institutions have changed to more meritocratic auditioning and hiring practices, but the evaluation process has traditionally been rife with bias.

There's jokes about hip hop above, but the popular music industry in the United States was notoriously segregated until the 60s, and arguably de facto discrimination still dominates certain genres.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2011


Shame they put some kind of racial aesthetics over producing the highest quality music possible. Not sure why I'd go see them, when I could easily see orchestras who appeal to much higher standards.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess my point is when you dilute your cause with frivolous claims

Because claims that are frivolous to the point of absurdity claims never occur with causes on your side of the argument. I see.
posted by blucevalo at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2011


It's funny, if anything, I think that much of classical music culture has been moving in recent years in an Alex Ross direction, at least gesturing (often inadequately, but still) in the direction of no longer defending the strict boundaries between so-called art, concert or classical music on the one hand, and popular and traditional musics on the other.

It's hard to say how representative this is, but as a scholar of popular music, I feel like I'm surrounding by all sorts of examples of attempting to accrue "prestige from below" through eclecticism Kronos Quartet-style, in order to announce "I'm not this kind of ugly elitist!"

For example, I have a friend who is a composer in a prestigious department who moonlights in a 1980s cover band. I also have a friend who is a musicologist of the renaissance period who proudly displays his article about Beavis and Butthead's style of musical critique on his CV. The gestures sometimes seem a little forced. It is worth mentioning, however, that he wrote the article years ago when it was less dated than it is now.

Anyway, the point being that I think that this particular Austrian example seems like grasping to stubbornly assert fading dominance. It seems ugly and sad, a testament to the dark side of the discourses of superiority embedded in the history of classical music.
posted by umbú at 12:37 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shit, even High School All State Orchestra in NH held auditions behind a screen.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:41 PM on February 21, 2011


That's because no one wants to look at a tuba player.
posted by electroboy at 12:42 PM on February 21, 2011


After the women win, we make a movie.

That movies will be a long time coming.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:43 PM on February 21, 2011


I think I have a... unique perspective on this. You see, my great-uncle Josef (dead ten years) was a graduate of the Vienna Conservatory. Quite possibly one of the best violinists Ive ever heard.

He also was the most excruciating perfectionist I've ever had to endure a lesson from. He refused to give my mother piano lessons because 'women have no discipline that does not come from the end of their cleaning-tools' (direct quote and I remember how shocked I was to hear it). His anti-semitism was both casual and reflexive, and at times confusing to me at the age of ten. Race never came up, but I'm fairly sure he was racist, as well.

It was part of his times (born in pre-WW1 Germany, attending the Conservatory in those times). I wonder how much of the attitude they have is passed down from the pre-war era, part of the orchestral culture - it's social and spiritual DNA - and become so much of How It Works that some of the members have become blinded by it and to it.

It's terrible, of course, but rather a lot of European organizations are hidebound and creaky about things like women and not-white men. (My mother's family is from the Erzgebirge region, near Dresden, and there was a small scandal when a woodcarver's daughter applied for membership in the woodworker's association - the first one to do so - because he had no son and so had taught her. She got in, based on her carvings.)
posted by mephron at 12:43 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


mephron, anti-semitism is racism.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 12:53 PM on February 21, 2011


blucevalo: exactly, so since contrary opinions are only met with condescending jokes and name-calling, we can just skip the opinion part. Nothing new there anyway. ;-P
posted by Ardiril at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2011


mephron, your great-uncle must have thought Leonard Bernstein was no better than a gangsta rapper. His loss.

Once you get behind the most expensive seats in a symphony-orchestra-sized theater, it's damned hard to see the faces of the orchestra members well enough to identify their ethnicity. In the cheap seats of a good theater, the sound is as good as the front row. I understood the disparity in price for a play, but not a concert... until now.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:09 PM on February 21, 2011


It is hard for me to imagine that artists, supposedly so attuned to emotions and the human condition, could still be so bigoted.
posted by polymodus at 1:09 PM on February 21, 2011


so how many american orchestras are mixed in proportion to the population? how many women/hispanic/black people are there in US orchestras? And in the UK? And in Europe?

i am (strangly) reminded of the furore over whether an Isreali Orchestra should perform works by Strauss.
posted by marienbad at 1:10 PM on February 21, 2011


blucevalo: exactly, so since contrary opinions are only met with condescending jokes and name-calling, we can just skip the opinion part.

If you think that "contrary" opinions are the only ones that are met with condescension and name-calling here, you've not been around long enough.
posted by blucevalo at 1:13 PM on February 21, 2011


so how many american orchestras are mixed in proportion to the population? how many women/hispanic/black people are there in US orchestras?

As someone said above, U.S. orchestras at least are 35-40% women now. Don't know about race.

Are you going to argue that there's no difference between an orchestra that is explicit in its Male Whites Only membership and one which auditions people behind a screen?
posted by rtha at 1:17 PM on February 21, 2011


TheGoodBlood: I've had people claim it is and that it isn't; that it's more properly anti-Judaism and that it's just against Semites; that the people who don't like the Ethiopian Jews are racist and that they are anti-Jewish. I tend to separate anti-semitism from other forms of racism just because that's how it came up when I was growing up.
posted by mephron at 1:19 PM on February 21, 2011


so how many american orchestras are mixed in proportion to the population?

Not many. The NY Phil is something like 40% women, and there are plenty of "minority" members, whatever that might mean to you. But, there are way more asian members than black members, and that's across the country. Why? Because they hold blind anonymous auditions where the performer is judged SOLELY on their playing ability. And so it reflects a lot on the importance of music training in certain demographics. I've taught music in public schools in NYC and trust me when I say, almost NOBODY is trying to teach violin, oboe, french horn or other such orchestral instruments to black kids. That's just plain fact. I wish it were different but that's the nature of art funding in our city. It really sucks. But there you have it.

As for Vienna, I'm indifferent. Orchestras who run themselves are free to admit whomever they want. And the trial period for entering Vienna is one of the most rigorous out there. They are over 150 years old and one of the best orchestras in the world, steeped in a tradition and performance style that offers a true "window to the past" as far as playing technique and interpretation. They are stubborn but not cripplingly so, as they are very slowly allowing women to rise in the ranks of their orchestra. Now I'm talking SNAILS PACE but it is happening. The greatest orchestras in the world (and I include not a single American orchestra in that group) are great because there is something about each one that is special, individual and different. To homogenize all of these orchestras for the sake of feeling better about ourselves would really make their music-making boring. Listen to the Vienna Phil playing Strauss polkas, and then listen to the New York Phil.. there is NO COMPARISON. Likewise, nobody would play Gershwin better than the NY Phil...
posted by ReeMonster at 1:19 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


marienbad: " i am (strangly) reminded of the furore over whether an Isreali Orchestra should perform works by Strauss."

My understanding is that the bulk of the furor was over Wagner and that Strauss was banned as an afterthought.

They still play Carl Orff, though. Which makes no sense. Wagner may have been an antisemite but he was private about it and he died decades before Hitler came to power. . Orff wore his on his sleeve. I'm not in favor of censoring any of them, but the least the Israelis could do is be logically consistent.
posted by zarq at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2011


blu: I've been here since '01, and yup, I know. Opinions on this site are worthless from the get-go. I don't know why anyone bothers posting them.

Also, TGB: Semites are an ethnic group, not a race. (Yeah, I know, that one's old as the hills, too.)
posted by Ardiril at 1:29 PM on February 21, 2011


Wagner may have been an antisemite but he was private about it...

Oh no, he wasn't.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:49 PM on February 21, 2011


blu: I've been here since '01, and yup, I know.

Then you know better than I that contrary opinions are bashed and so are non-contrary ones.

Opinions on this site are worthless from the get-go. I don't know why anyone bothers posting them.

Then why do you pay any attention to them? At core, what is this website but a collection of people's opinions and the wrestling matches that ensue over them? Why does anyone bother posting anything anywhere?
posted by blucevalo at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Opinions on this site are worthless from the get-go.

Case in point!
posted by rtha at 2:02 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


mr_roboto: "Oh no, he wasn't."

I was about to argue that the only antisemitic essay he published was done under a pseudonym but I see from Wikipedia that I'm wrong. He was publicly outspoken about his hatred of Jews, and actually republished that essay in a brochure later in life under his own name.

So, I stand corrected. :(
posted by zarq at 2:27 PM on February 21, 2011


Why does anyone bother posting anything anywhere?

Why are we born, only to suffer and die?
posted by steambadger at 2:30 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


If this is true - if truly, honestly, the soul of this music is tied irrevocably and innately to the gender and cultural/ethnic background of the performer - then we have no problem at all. You can have your performers audition from behind a curtain, and you'll still only select white men, because they're the only ones with the right kind of soul and the right kind of background to understand the pieces in their perfect, exact nature.

I don't agree with them at all, but I'm guessing that the Wiener Philharmoniker would argue that the gender/cultural background comes only really comes into play when they are attempting to form an ensemble, something that you can't detect by hearing a soloist audition.

And it is really true that the ability to perform an excellent solo audition doesn't perfectly correlate with the ability to play well in a group. But unlike them, I would deny that the ability is correlated with race and gender.
posted by straight at 2:43 PM on February 21, 2011


Why are we born, only to suffer and die?

Why is the sky blue and water wet?
posted by blucevalo at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2011


polymodus wrote It is hard for me to imagine that artists, supposedly so attuned to emotions and the human condition, could still be so bigoted.

What is bigotry if not emotional? It certainly isn't rational. And it is, unfortunately, part of the human condition.

It is true that, in general, artists tend to be more liberal than the average person. But if you've got an artistic tradition that holds up racism, or I suppose more accurately ethnocentrism, as an ideal that will affect the artists too.

More to the point, racism (both casual and otherwise) seems to be vastly more common and accepted in Europe than in America.

And that isn't too surprising. America has more ethnic diversity than most European places, and most European nations were originally founded on the basis of ethnic nationalism. That's going to affect artists too, even if there is a general, fuzzy, inclination on the part of artists to be socially liberal.

Add to that a big emphasis on tradition, and of course that tradition being racist and sexist, and of course you'll get racist and sexist artists.
posted by sotonohito at 2:46 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is the sky blue and water wet?

Rayleigh scattering and magic.
posted by electroboy at 3:17 PM on February 21, 2011


Later for these sad-ass throwbacks. They can take their pure, white, male aesthetic superiority and shove it up their French horns.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2011


Later for these sad-ass throwbacks.

Haha, as if they need your patronage. Have you ever seen or heard them live or even on a recording? So then don't listen to 'em, big whoop.
posted by ReeMonster at 3:48 PM on February 21, 2011


I will admit that the best recording I've ever heard of Sibelius' Fifth was played by the Vienna Philharmonic, but oddly enough that has to do with their successful rendition of the aching melancholy at the heart of what so many take to be joy in the third movement; a particularly Nordic emotion I would have thought beyond the grasp of the neurasthenic Österreich.
posted by kipmanley at 3:55 PM on February 21, 2011


Slayer is another band composed of all white men.

I know very little about the history of Slayer, but quite a bit about how rock bands are formed: a couple of guys are sitting around a dorm room working out the chords to "Matchbox", and one of them says, "Hey, we're pretty good. We should start a band," and the other one says "My sister's boyfriend plays bass," and they get a Myspace page and a couple of local gigs. Then the one who can actually play gets bored and goes off to grad school, and the others perch on bar stools for a year or so and irritate everybody by talking about how they really almost made it big, dude; and then they get bored, too, and everybody forgets the whole thing ever happened.

Since our society is still pretty segregated socially, it's often true that all these people are the same race; which says something, I suppose, about the culture at large, but very little about the band in question. But if it turns out that Slayer actually had open auditions and refused to hire a guy because he was Japanese, then I think they're assholes, too.
posted by steambadger at 4:18 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've lived in Vienna for a few years and had a chance to know and befriend quite a few Viennese and Austrians. That said, this sounds like an incredibly typical, even cliche, Viennese/Austrian attitude. These people have the most infuriating way of openly admitting to bigotry, and then snootily defending it as "tradition" and telling you that you, as an outside, could never understand why said bigotry is perfectly proper and called for.

In general Austria's got a lot of work to do... I don't know how in the world they manage to escape a world wide reputation as a giant bunch of bigots.
posted by tempythethird at 4:20 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if it turns out that Slayer actually had open auditions and refused to hire a guy because he was Japanese, then I think they're assholes, too.

Vienna Phil does not hold "open" auditions.. musicians must prove themselves by winning a position in the Vienna State Opera, and perform there for three years at a high level after which they may submit an application to the Vienna Phil.. it's not as open an audition as most other orchestras but it's their right to operate the way they want to operate.

Besides, plenty of American orchestras are corrupt in their audition practices. Auditions for the best orchestras are usually not truly open. There is a resume round and sometimes a tape round, when applicants must send video or audio recording. After that there is a multi-round live audition. But sometimes, the orchestra doesn't want to deal with that, and just invites 5 people to take a secret audition. So, really, every orchestra does some shit that wouldn't be considered "fair" by the great majority of people who are generally ignorant of such things.
posted by ReeMonster at 4:59 PM on February 21, 2011


So, really, every orchestra does some shit that wouldn't be considered "fair" by the great majority of people who are generally ignorant of such things.

Sure. And, generally, it's their right to do so. I'm leery of putting too many non-artistic rules and regulations on artists (although the matter is complicated somewhat when an organization is publically funded.) But it's also my right to excoriate them if they base decisions on artistically irrelevant and socially harmful criteria.

And note that being an asshole has never ruled out artistic greatness.
posted by steambadger at 5:24 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


And note that being an asshole has never ruled out artistic greatness.

Wouldn't disagree with you on that one! ;)
posted by ReeMonster at 5:34 PM on February 21, 2011


In 1997, Chairman Werner Resel, thumped the timpani in a most manly manner em>

With his penis? Because that WOULD be manly.

Come to think of it, if you really wanted to exclude women, the best way would be to require that every member play the instrument with their penis.

posted by emjaybee at 7:35 PM on February 21, 2011


Dammit, forgot to close bold/ital tags. Probably would have gotten it right if I'd been typing with my penis.
posted by emjaybee at 7:35 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sometimes type with my penis. It's made of silicone and I can swap it out for one with a bigger head for times when I must play a timpani with it.
posted by Jilder at 7:46 PM on February 21, 2011


> It is hard for me to imagine that artists, supposedly so attuned to emotions and the human condition, could still be so bigoted.

Au contraire. It is precisely because artists are so attuned to emotions and the human condition, that they can still be awful people. The human condition, in all of its grand unfiltered horror, naturally includes things like anger, hate, resentment, despair, superficiality, ignorance, denial, etc. There's nothing about great art that guarantees that the practitioner will be a correspondingly pleasant person; in fact sometimes artistic dedication requires a willingness to become awful, to undergo a Faustian trade where artistic advancement comes at the price of twisting one's self (honestly, it sometimes gets tiresome how often here on the blue where people bemoan what unpleasant people their favorite authors/actors/artists/musicians/etc actually are in person).
posted by PsychoKick at 10:44 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've lived in Vienna for a few years and had a chance to know and befriend quite a few Viennese and Austrians. That said, this sounds like an incredibly typical, even cliche, Viennese/Austrian attitude. These people have the most infuriating way of openly admitting to bigotry, and then snootily defending it as "tradition" and telling you that you, as an outside, could never understand why said bigotry is perfectly proper and called for.

In general Austria's got a lot of work to do... I don't know how in the world they manage to escape a world wide reputation as a giant bunch of bigots.


Odd. I have family in Austria (I'm from there originally myself), and that's not my experience at all. Maybe my family is atypical, or maybe the people you met are atypical. My experience would be that Austrians would openly admit to the bigotry that exists in Austria, spend a few hours complaining about it, and then do nothing. Austrians (or at least Viennese) can definitely go head-to-head with the British as far as whingeing goes. But I've never heard people actually defend bigotry as "tradition" (snootily or not).
posted by klausness at 3:55 AM on February 22, 2011


there don't appear to be many africans in austria - maybe 20,000

if you read the whole article, it's pretty clear if there were more, they would be pretty unwelcome there

my conclusion - as far as race goes, the constitution of the philharmonic is a fair representation of the populace - unfortunately, it also seems to be a fair representation of the attitudes of the populace

seems to me if they have this austrian only attitude they could be consistent and play for austrians only, right?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:21 PM on February 22, 2011


klausness - Well, those Austrians complaining about bigotry have to be complaining about somebody right? Strache gets a lot of support even in Vienna.

I'm in my late 20s and my friends of a similar age belonged to your "complain and do nothing" category, though even these young people, well... don't get them started about how how they feel about the Germans.

At my place of work, where I met older people, bigotry was nearly universal. Of course nobody would use the word "tradition" to defend it, but normally the argument was something along the lines of "Well this is Austria, we have a very long and complicated history here, its not how you think, you wouldn't understand" when defending such nice notions as bans on mosque building, or that Jews are "just somehow weird." I also definitely got the feeling that everyone was just waiting for me to say something, anything, about the Nazis or the war, though I knew enough not to bring it up.
posted by tempythethird at 9:55 AM on February 23, 2011


there don't appear to be many africans in austria - maybe 20,000

if you read the whole article, it's pretty clear if there were more, they would be pretty unwelcome there


I have to take issue with the article's claim that "nigger" is commonly used in Austria. I assume that they're referring to the word "neger", which I would translate as "negro". That is, it's an inappropriate term, but one that can be used out of ignorance rather than malice. I can't think of a term that has the same malicious connotations as "nigger". There are (unfortunately) terms like "nigger" that refer to minorities with a significant presence in Austria (such as people from Turkey and the Balkans), but none that I know of that refer to Africans.

Well, those Austrians complaining about bigotry have to be complaining about somebody right? Strache gets a lot of support even in Vienna

Yes, of course. My point is just that I don't see more bigotry in Austria (at least in Vienna, which is where most of my family lives) than in the UK (where I currently live) or the US (where I lived before that).
posted by klausness at 4:17 AM on February 24, 2011


« Older Reviving a Masterpiece of 16th-Century Type Design...  |  Security reporter Brian Krebs ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments