When the world-renowned Vienna Philharmonic opens its American tour next month in Orange County, a coalition of women’s groups is vowing to turn out in protest over the orchestra’s long-standing refusal to hire women.
“We’re going to have people out on the street,” JoAnn Perlman of the South Orange County chapter of the National Organization for Women said Wednesday. “We don’t want to break any laws, but we will get as close to the entrance [of the Orange County Performing Arts Center] as possible.”
The Vienna Philharmonic, which commands the highest fees of any international orchestra in the world, will appear March 4 and 5 at the Performing Arts Center in concerts sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society. The orchestra, which is 155 years old, then will travel to New York under different sponsorship for concerts March 7-9 at Carnegie Hall, the only other stop on the tour. Protests also are being planned there, organizers say.
Dean Corey, executive director of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, said Wednesday, “We don’t see bringing them here as an endorsement of their position on women. We have no opinion on the matter whatsoever. Our mission is our mission: to bring great music to the county.”
The exclusion of women, Corey said, is “Austria’s issue.”
The groups mounting the protest disagree strongly.
Monique Buzzarte, board member of the Washington-based International Alliance for Women in Music, said Wednesday that it will be joined by the New York chapters of NOW and the American Federation of Musicians in " a peaceful protest” at Carnegie.
“There has not been a protest in Europe yet,” she said, “at least not one that the IAWM has sponsored. But we can safely say that as long as these policies continue, the Vienna Philharmonic will meet these protests wherever they play.”
The orchestra could not be reached for comment.
But William Osborne, an American writer and composer living in Germany, wrote in the October 1996 journal of the International Alliance for Women that several Viennese players interviewed on German radio had said that “artistic quality” would be threatened by the inclusion of women. Osborne also quoted players as saying that “ethnic and gender uniformity” produced “aesthetic superiority.”
Osborne quoted second violinist Helmut Zehetner as saying, “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.”
The International Alliance for Women in Music appealed to the Orange County local of the American Federation of Musicians to join plans for a demonstration against the orchestra but was rebuffed.
“We’re not going to get involved,” Frank Amoss, president of the musicians local, said Wednesday. “If they want to make an issue of the fact that the orchestra doesn’t hire women, they should get in touch with the orchestra itself. I’m sure the Vienna Philharmonic has a board of directors. I don’t want to see them out on the sidewalk deterring people from supporting live music in the county.”
Gender bias is not a new issue in European or American orchestras, where men customarily outnumber women. But a policy totally excluding women is extremely rare if not unheard of these days.
“Many top orchestras share the Vienna Philharmonic’s ethnic and gender ideologies,” Osborne wrote in journal of the International Alliance for Women. But the Berlin Philharmonic, the Munich Philharmonic and major American orchestras began to hire women in the early 1980s. The Berlin orchestra now has perhaps a dozen women in full-time positions. Buzzarte said.
The Vienna Philharmonic has never played in Orange County before. It last appeared in Southern California in 1987 at the Hollywood Bowl. In music circles, here and elsewhere, getting a booking is considered a major coup for the county’s Philharmonic Society.
Corey would not give a precise estimate of what it will cost to bring the orchestra to the county, but it probably is in excess of several hundred thousand dollars.
“We think there are more suitable forums for protest in this country and around the world than demonstrating in the street against the Vienna Philharmonic,” he said.
Perlman said NOW does not “have grandiose ideas of stopping the performances at the center. Our goal is to educate the public.”