Vienna Philharmonic attacked for past Nazi ties, being too white

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has garnered a loyal television audience around the world with its annual New Year’s concert broadcasts, which air in the U.S. on PBS. But this New Year’s celebration was somewhat marred by attacks made on the orchestra concerning its past sympathies to the Nazi party.

The venerated orchestra has also found itself under renewed attacks for being the least diverse musical ensemble in the western world in terms of race and gender equality. In past years, the orchestra has been picketed during overseas tours by those who perceive its practices to be discriminatory.

Reports in the Austrian media said that a Viennese politician has demanded that the orchestra come clean about its past Nazi ties. In an interview with ORF, the Austrian broadcaster, that aired in late December, Harald Walser called for the creation of a committee to investigate the orchestra’s its dealings with the Nazis.

Among the accusations is an honor that the orchestra apparently bestowed on Baldur von Schirach, a Nazi leader who was convicted as a war criminal. Walser also accused the orchestra of failing to disclose all documents from the World War II era, and of destroying some of those documents.

A separate attack this week from a classical-music journalist focuses on the Vienna Philharmonic’s racial and gender composition. Norman Lebrecht, who runs a widely read classical-music blog, wrote that the orchestra has no Asian or other non-white members, “even though one third of the students at Vienna’s University of Music come from the Far East.”


He also noted that the Vienna Philharmonic has only six female musicians out of 126 members.

The orchestra has been repeatedly criticized in the past for its exclusion of musicians who aren’t white males. In 1997, the orchestra voted to end its men-only policy. But the orchestra has changed little since then, say its critics.

The New Year’s concert, which aired on Tuesday, was conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, the artistic director of the Vienna State Opera and the Cleveland Orchestra. The PBS broadcast was hosted by Julie Andrews, who in her role as Maria von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” defied the Nazis in Austria.


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