Women in the orchestra

Looking at the video’s of the Young People’s Concerts from my last post, it dawned on me that there wasn’t a single woman in the orchestra, all men. The children in the concert hall, however, where mostly accompanied by women. This was 1958; almost 58 years have past, and so much has changed.

In another Bernstein video recording, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for his Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1973, the only woman is the principal flutist. She is principal, but nevertheless, she’s the only woman.

The Wiener Philharmoniker counts (or did so at the beginning of 2012) eight female musicians.

Does that mean men are better musicians? Of course not. It’s an old tradition which will need some more time to disappear. Meanwhile, let us not be bothered too much by this (still small) disbalance.

Read more about it: here

And I’d like to end with some quotes from the article. Note that it is somewhat dated; the article is from October 1996, and the year after, in 1997, the  Wiener Philharmonic was forced by politicians to delete this rule, and accept both male and female musicians into their orchestra. Suposedly the members of the board are not the same people anymore, and they might have a much more open opinion about the matter than their predecessors. So I do not wish to harm anyone by presenting you these quotes, nor do I wish to form an opinion pro or contra the decision orchestras made to not allow female musicians.

[One has] found that women were concentrated in lower paid orchestras, and that they are notably less present in major orchestras.

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra openly states that ethnic and gender uniformity gives them aesthetic superiority.

Music is something special.  It is a special deep knowledge, it has something to do with magic.  I think many men’s groups are to be understood in this way.  They carry secrets that are involved with music and tones, just like in Australian aboriginal or Indian cultures where men play certain instruments, and not the women.

It would absolutely not be a shock [if women were allowed into the orchestra], no surprise, absolutely not.  The only consideration is whether an established structure already existing as a unified whole, should be frivolously tossed overboard.

They view the male “soul” of the orchestra as a fragile organism, subject to infection or defilement, and even possible death by the inclusion of women.  And yet the regenerative ideas of maternity, sexual attraction, and female creativity would disturb uniformity.

These fears of women, maternity, female sexuality, and the contaminated altar are found in numerous cultures, and deeply influence their art and religious expressions.  In Europe such fears contributed to the exclusion of women from both liturgical and secular music, and led to some of western music’s most unusual practices, such as the castrati.

In today’s situation, occupational groups such as professional musicians, must open themselves up, because there exists a wonderful and large offering of women musicians who want to offer their services.  Earlier they didn’t have free entrance to the universities and conservatories. But if women are allowed to enter universities, and if they can develop high artistic ability, then they must be let into orchestras.  I can understand that.  Indeed.  It is just that from the men’s perspective art is fun.  It’s fun, it’s all about fun.  It’s not just about art.  That’s just an excuse.

[…] The conflict also ended Karajan´s 40 year relationship with the orchestra. [Sabine] Meyer suffered extreme harassment, such as seating herself at rehearsals only to have the men slide their chairs away from her.  Their “emotional unity” was disturbed.  The German musician´s union supported the orchestra, noting the all male ensemble had the “democratic right” to choose who it wanted.

The musicians, male and female alike, are reduced to the relative equality of powerlessness [by the appearance of the conductor], and yet traditional gender culture asserts that women are to be subjugated by men, especially in public.  Since men do not want to be as equally powerless as women, the master-servant roles become confused and orchestral uniformity and discipline are disturbed.  Traditionally, with women present, men do not want to be subjugated, they want to subjugate.

And be fair to me, isn’t the general spectrum of feelings (psychic sensations, enthusiasm, sadness, etc.) different between man and woman?  Isn’t the same the case between nationals and no-nationals [sic]?  It is, believe me.

A woman’s response: Finally, as it has already been pointed out, any professional musician worth his/her salt can and will adapt to whatever style of playing is required.  Please do not insult either me or my colleagues by saying that we are unable to do this because of some mysterious hormonal or ethnic factor.

Suffice it to say that not all conductors or orchestras follow these patriarchal patterns so clearly.

We could summarize these conservative tendencies of international orchestras with the following five factors. 1) They believe that music has qualities defined by gender and ethnicity, and that the uniformity of these factors produces aesthetic superiority.  2) Traditional values about the sexuality of subjugation and women disturb the uniform dynamic of authority in the orchestra´s hierarchical atmosphere.  3)  The gender bias is constellated with chauvinistic overtones of national and ethnic superiority.  4)  The attitudes toward women are affected by the cross-national interaction of the conductors and musicians.  5) Patrons expect a masculine and ethnic character to orchestral music.

It is certain that we are witnessing an historical movement that will continue.  Women musicians are assuming positions of leadership, and are creating a wide-reaching cultural metamorphosis.  By returning the feminine to humanity, they are giving society a new identity, and a deeper understanding of human consciousness that is profoundly transforming the world of music.

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