Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Top Harpist in Orchestra Is - Gasp - a Woman

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Top Harpist in Orchestra Is - Gasp - a Woman

Article excerpt

For harpist Anna Lelkes, the Vienna Philharmonic's latest tour at Carnegie Hall brought a bouquet few outsiders can appreciate:

After 25 years with the orchestra, her name appeared on the program.

"I don't know how that happened. But I know it was a kick I'm not going to forget anytime soon!" Lelkes says.

The Vienna Philharmonic's first harpist, Lelkes has never been on the program. The reason: She's not formally a member.

Why? Because she's a woman.

In its 153 years, the Philharmonic never has admitted women as member musicians, who vote on setting Philharmonic policy. The orchestra was unmoved even when the rival Berlin Philharmonic broke tradition in 1982 by hiring its first woman.

With good male harpists a rarity, Lelkes won an audition when she was invited to try out in 1970. Since then, she has played full time under the conducting of such legendary figures such as Sir Georg Solti, Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein and Ricardo Muti.

But although she shares the music load with her 149 male colleagues, and receives the same pay, she is barred from their club.

Only her hands are shown on televised New Year's concerts. The orchestra leadership refused a request to photograph her at rehearsal with the Philharmonic. They also wouldn't comment on why her name was listed on the Carnegie Hall program along with those of the men.

She's had little support from Viennese audiences.

"Admit women?" asked Elfriede Semmler, a matron in her late 60s, as she left the gold leaf and marble Musikverein hall after a recent concert. "That would mean the end of an important Vienna institution. I'm against it!"

Most orchestra members acknowledge that quality musicianship has nothing to do with sex. But they, too, invoke tradition, and some offer reasons sure to anger supporters of equality for women.

"Whenever there are women, there are always cabals and intrigues," said Otto Nessizius, a violinist who retired in 1987 but fills in for sick members.

Lelkes recalls Austrian conductor Hans Swarowsky telling her in the early 1970s that "Your place is in the kitchen. …

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