The Vienna Philharmonic is an Austrian orchestra founded in 1842. The orchestra played its first concert on March 28 of that year. It has often been said that it is the best in the world. To a very large degree, it represents the history and tradition of European classical music, coming, as it does, from its capital city, Vienna. Here is a quote from its website: “One notable aspect of this orchestra is certainly the unique relationship between the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and the private association known as the Vienna Philharmonic. In accordance with Philharmonic statutes, only a member of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra can become a member of the Vienna Philharmonic. Before joining the Philharmonic therefore, one must first successfully audition for a position with the State Opera Orchestra and prove oneself capable over a period of three years before becoming eligible to submit an application for membership in the association of the Vienna Philharmonic. Without the Vienna State Opera, there would be no Vienna Philharmonic as we know it, and in Vienna it is common knowledge that this symbiosis is advantageous for both institutions, and that it greatly enriches the city's musical life.” It is perhaps ironic that the orchestra was assembled only after Beethoven had died (1827.) Numerous are the accounts of the bad performances Beethoven and other composers before him had to endure due to the lack of an orchestra which could play at the level of a Vienna Philharmonic.

The orchestra is also unique in its organization. Again, I quote: “Over the course of one and a half centuries, this chosen path of democratic self-administration has experienced slight modifications, but has never been substantially altered. The foremost ruling body of the organization is the full orchestra membership itself. In addition to the yearly general business meeting (required by law), several additional meetings of the full orchestra take place during the year. At these meetings, any and every issue may be brought up and voted upon. In actual practice, numerous decisions are delegated to the twelve elected members of the administrative committee. These members find out at periodically scheduled elections if their decision-making still inspires the trust of the entire orchestra. With the exception of changes to the statutes, which require a 4/5 majority, all decisions are made based on a simple majority, and the execution of those votes is the responsibility of the administrative committee. While the expansion into a mid-sized business enterprise has required the hiring of some extra administrative personnel, it is nevertheless the elected officials, members of the orchestra alone who make decisions and carry ultimate responsibility.” It is thus the oldest democratic institution in Austria. Although Otto Nicolai (composer and conductor) was hired to lead the orchestra’s first concerts when it was first organized and several conductors were hired to lead the subscription series thereafter, the orchestra has had no permanent conductor since 1933. However, some conductors (Wilhelm Furtwangler, Karl Bohm, Herbert Von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta) have enjoyed a closer relationship with the orchestra than others. The orchestra also did not tour extensively until after 1922. Over the years, it has recorded hundreds of works (many of them several times with different conductors.) Due to its long-standing rule not to admit women players, the orchestra was much criticized a few years back. The rule was bent somewhat in 1998 when a female harpist was hired as a permanent member, but the percentage of permanent women players is still extremely low - at this point, there may be four or five female musicians in the orchestra. The reasoning behind the rule has always been that female players will alter the sound of the Philharmonic, which is indeed debatable. The fact is that the Vienna Philharmonic’s sound remains quite special among the world’s orchestras. The orchestra is now widely known thanks to its annual New Year’s Day concert, broadcast worldwide from its main concert venue, Vienna’s Musikverein. It is said that tickets for that concert must be reserved ten years in advance.
This biography was most recently edited by...
steven - 22 Dec 2009
violinhunter - 8 Jun 2009
violinhunter - 16 May 2009