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Cello Strings |  © Couleur / Pixabay
Cello Strings | © Couleur / Pixabay
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10 Things You Didn't Know About the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Picture of Kate Jackson
Updated: 23 March 2017
The prestigious Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, considered to be ‘Austria’s most highly coveted cultural export’ is soon to celebrate the 175th anniversary of their first concert. Here are a few interesting anecdotes about this unique world-renowned musical group.

First show

The first performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was in 1842, and is known as the ‘Grand Concert.’

A late bloomer

Some of the most famous classical names that Vienna is synonymous with, including Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart, did not perform with the orchestra, but alternatively employed other various professional and amateur ensembles.

Stadtpark | © WienTourismus/Willfried Gredler-Oxenbauer
Stadtpark | © WienTourismus/Willfried Gredler-Oxenbauer

Golden years

The ‘golden era’ of the orchestra is considered to be between the years of 1843–1916, when legendary conductor Hans Richter led the musicians. Under Richter, the orchestra was elevated to world-greatness, performing work by some of the era’s most coveted composers such as Wagner, Brahms and Liszt.

House rules

A musician can only play in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra if they have previously been a member of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra – a rule decided by the orchestra’s first appointed conductor, Otto Nicolai.

New Year's Concert |© WienTourismus / Lois Lammerhube
New Year’s concert | © WienTourismus / Lois Lammerhube

Self-governing

The day-to-day running of the orchestra is democratically self-governed, with decisions made autonomously by the members. This has been the case since the birth of the orchestra, although slight modifications have been made over the years.

The orchestra during WWII

During WWII, all Jewish musicians were expelled from the orchestra, leading to five members later perishing in concentration camps and a further four players murdered at the hands of the Nazis. During this time, 20% of the orchestra members were members of the Nazi party.

Konzerthaus | © Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft / Tourist Board
Konzerthaus | © Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft / Tourist Board

Female members

The first official appointment of a female member was in 2002, although female musicians had been ‘allowed’ to perform with the orchestra since the beginning of the 90s. Protests were held against the orchestra before this time, criticising its old fashioned views. Today, the orchestra continues to have an unequal mix, with the male musicians drastically outnumbering the female, unfortunately making it one of the most gender-imbalanced orchestras in the world.

International shows

The first time the orchestra performed abroad was in Paris in 1900, at the Exposition Universelle. They have since gone on to tour all over the globe.

Music in Vienna | © WienTourismus / MAXUM
Music in Vienna | © WienTourismus / MAXUM

Concerts

Every year the orchestra performs at the Summer Night Concert, a colossal event held on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace, attracting monumental crowds of up to 100,000. Some of the world’s finest musicians have performed in previous years, including pianist Lang Lang. The Vienna New Year’s Concert is another annual prestigious event, which broadcasts to a global audience of a staggering 50 million.

Film stars

You’ve probably heard a track by The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra without realising it. They can be heard on a variety of notable film soundtracks; including Apocalypse Now, Birdman and Shutter Island.