On the eve of an American tour, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO), all-male for the 155 years of its existence, has voted to accepted women as full members.
Specifically, the VPO members have decided to accept a particular woman, Anna Leskes, a harpist. For years, she has performed with the VPO, widely regarded as one of the finest musical organizations in the world, without full benefits of membership, including voting rights. But, a Philharmonic spokeswoman said, "As of Thursday, she is a member."
The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM), which has been campaigning for change at the VPO, called the vote a historic occasion "worthy of celebration." But it warned, "Without a specific plan outlining how women will be admitted in the future through the audition process, the VPO can expect further protests."
The IAWM, based in Washington, is planning to distribute leaflets outside the halls in New York and Costa Mesa, Calif., where the VPO is to perform this week.
Thursday's vote came after a meeting two days before between orchestra officials and Peter Wittmann, Austria's state secretary for cultural affairs. The orchestra is, technically, a private organization that can choose its own members, but it has been under pressure from the government to change its policy. The government subsidizes the State Opera Orchestra, from which the Vienna Philharmonic draws its members.
One of the stated reasons for reluctance to admit women to the VPO was a concern that a wave of simultaneous pregnancy leaves could leave the orchestra unable to perform at full strength.
This issue has been addressed by a new gender-neutral rule, said Michael Gerbavsets, Dr. Wittmann's spokesman: Any member away from the orchestra for more than 24 months must reaudition before returning.