Brazil – an American union flexes its muscle

Brazil – an American union flexes its muscle


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2011

The American Federation of Musicians has made a formal representation in the ongoing orchestral standoff in Rio during the hours of Barack Obama’s visit.

The AFM objects to the reaudition process that is being forced on the OSB musicians and describes those in charge of the Brazil Symphony Orchestra – director Eleazar de Carvalho jr. and conductor Roberto Minczuk – as tyrants. That does not augur well for any tour or career plan they might wish to pursue in North America. 
The same constraint may also apply to the foreign musicians who have been brought in as ‘evaluators’ in the audition process. Here’s the letter:

1501 BROADWAY, STE 600

NEW YORK, NY  10036



March 18, 2011

Sr. Eleazar de Carvalho

President da Fundacao Orquestra Sinfonica Brasileira

Av. Rio Branco, 135 sala 915

Centro Rio de Janeiro 20040-006





Dear Sir:


The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada stands firmly in support of our musical brothers and sisters in the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra!

Musicians throughout the world have learned of the unfortunate circumstances that now exist in the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra and are extremely disappointed to learn that members of the Orchestra have been issued an order to participate in “performance evaluations”.  If Director Roberto Minczuk chooses to follow the path of histories dictatorial and tyrannical conductors he will be remembered as such and he will not be welcome in front of American orchestras. We do not believe that the famous Brazilian Symphony Orchestra is of the same character.

Tyrannical behavior is hostile, humiliating and intimidating. Daily we witness people, throughout the world, freeing themselves from dictatorial rule. It is disappointing to see professional musicians in Brazil being subjected to such devastating, unprofessional an inhumane treatment. There must no longer be fear of tyrants anywhere in the world and especially in the beautiful and creative world of the arts.

An orchestra is the living instrument of the conductor. He/she must treat such an instrument with respect and nurture it to perform well. Without such treatment the orchestra, regardless of the individual level of performer, will never perform to its highest potential.  A successful mark of a Music Director is how he leads, and nurtures; not in how he dictates! Musicians are dedicated artists who train for many years. Their performance is reviewed every time they appear on stage. Musicians cannot be creative or fully expressive under duress.


We encourage you to do all in your power to halt such egregious action.  Please engage the musicians in productive dialogue as they are the family within your musical community.


Most Sincerely and Respectfully;






NEW YORK, NY    10036

212-869-1330 EXT. 1-220

646-269-3760 = CELL



  • Thomas P says:

    To draw an implicit parallel with the Arab Spring is a bit over the top but, I suppose, as Norman suggests, the AFM could impose a no-fly zone. In any case, one would think the AFM could compose a letter that sounded in tune (i.e., was grammatical) and without the clashing exclamation cymbals.

  • I’m in agreement with Thomas. The tone of the AFM letter sounded a bit, shall we say, hyperbolic? Tyrannical dictatorship…really?

  • Ana Clara says:

    I think it was right to the point.
    Explaining: the Board of OSB already received thousand of letters about their “misbehaivor” and are insisting on re-auditioning.
    It has been two months since the musicians are asking for an agreement!!
    So, I think the tone was very appropiate to this “Tyrannical dictatorship” people that are threatening people (those who have family) with dismissal letters.

  • Euclides Moreira says:

    Hhumm, Tyrannical behavior is hostile, humiliating and intimidating?? I guess the AFM letter is doing the same thing with the evaluators and the Foundation members it self, or not?
    Is looks like there a double standard here, this letter sounds like was composed by a former KGB leader, do what I say if not you will suffer the consequences..we will send you to the white bear.
    The AFM such regret for such letter, this is a shame and a tyrannous note that does not match with the AFM standards. Shame on you, Mr. Durham.

  • Eduardo Monteiro says:

    For those who are here in Rio de Janeiro, seeing what is happening on a daily basis, there’s absolutely no exaggeration on the part of the AFM in this letter. Yesterday, we had a meeting with the musicians of the OSB Young Orchestra. These young musicians are being forced to play the subscription concerts instead of the professional orchestra. Their conductor said, when an young musician complained: if you are not satisfied, then you must leave. This is dictatorship, yes it is. And a violence against young musicians too. I hope this can say enough against the immoral people, who are the actual heads of this shameful OSB Foundation. As for the evaluators, although they were warned, they agreed to do what they knew they were doing for an ammount of money. Some of them want to say now, they were cheated by the OSB’s Chief Conductor. They are simply trying to justify their misbehavior, their lack of ethics and moral principles. I applaud this letter of the AFM for it matches precisely what is happening here.

  • Eduardo Monteiro says:

    Their last move is to force all musicians on the OSB Young Orchestra to apply to the OMB, that is where the musicians get a permission to work, in order for them to play the subscription concerts instead of the professional orchestra.

  • Joaquim Nogueira says:

    The letter sent by the AFM shows how out of contest and how tyrannous the AFM leadership is.
    When a contract says that you can be evaluated anytime there is not immoral issues but a break of a contract. It seems to me that the last move of the BSO will be to fire those who are not accomplishing their obligations, since now less than half of the orchestra have done so. The other half did the evaluation and is happy with the results.
    There are many Brazilians musicians which are looking forward to join the BSO, this is a great opportunity in years for many professional musicians that play in regional orchestral all over the country.
    The evaluators from abroad are there (in Rio de Janeiro) in person and they had the opportunity to see and learn what is going on alive, they are not in Rio just for money as Sr. Monteiro is writing here.
    Mr. Monteiro should write the truth, that now, only a small group still fuzzing around trying to avoid any by law and internal regulations of the orchestra.
    AFM has no jurisdiction or any power in Brazil and the tune of this letter shows how inappropriate and threatening they are.
    I completely agree with Euclides, the head of AFM should regret for such offensive and disrespectful letter.

  • Myroslsaw Martinenkko says:

    I was just browsing the slipped disk when I saw this AFM letter to the BSO of Rio de Janeiro.
    As a former (retired now) member of the Bielo Russian State Academy of music, I really see how “democratic” the AFM is. We here in Bielo Russia are called iron fist country but I see here a shameful letter produced by the Americans (AFM), they surpassed us.
    Just getting in to details here about the BSO turmoil, I am not in Brazil so what I know I have read basically from the posts here. I know the excellent work of Mr. Minczuk in Brazil and where he goes. Many colleagues of mine had the opportunity to work with him and there is not such tyrannous and dictatorship thing on his character. You should meet him in person first before saying thing and practically calling names.
    Here in Bielo Russia, major orchestras go under a constant evaluation and once the musician joins the orchestra as a member he needs to prove he is an excellent employee as well, not only a musician.
    As this is a regular and basic thing (evaluations) we have no such issues with musicians going against any evaluation. Recently some colleagues were in Hungary and the whole orchestra was evaluated there as well, similar process.
    I am pretty sure this happens in the US and Canada all the time, as I have many colleagues that immigrated to work in North America to play in the major orchestras.
    But now to write a repulsive and abusive letter to a world class, one of the best active conductors of the music industry is not a wise thing to do. This is like going backwards.
    In all my years working in the music industry I have never read or seen such repulsive and disrespectful letter as the one from the American union here. I always respected that institution as a serious institution but it seems that this has gone to the vacuum, things have changed and looks like even deteriorated over the years.
    The words of this letter are disgraceful and have not being written by someone that really understands the sovereignty of an orchestra.
    At least here in Bielo Russia, the repercussion of this letter proved to us how inappropriate some American institutions can be. Totally unacceptable, you should write an apology letter to the conductor and the orchestra foundation, if you want to keep you image and honor.

  • Rob Weir says:

    Dear Myroslsaw.
    I wish to correct you on one point in particular that should really not go uncorrected. I have played in a couple of fine Canadian orchestras and currently play in a major US orchestra. We do not, nor are we ever required, to submit to performance evaluations of the kind being held in Brazil or the ones you refer to in the country where you work/worked or Hungary. In fact such evaluations simply do not exist at all after the primary, usually anonymous and screened, audition process is completed through the tenure process. (By the way, this system seems to be working out pretty well for us I’m happy to report!) Our orchestras, here in the US and Canada are, unless I am mistaken, pretty well thought of throughout the musical world, are they not? I am so happy that colleagues of yours have been able to join us in the making of great music. They, too, seem to be thriving along with us and enjoy all of the things that come with playing in a professional North American orchestra.
    It’s important that truth is separated from fiction in your reference to us. You can rest assured that my information is first hand and quite reliable, Myroslsaw, but thanks for the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions along these lines that you or your friends have about the system and the way it works in the USA and Canada.
    As for the other statements, re: The AFofM? All I know from my own experience is that because of my American Federation of Musicians membership and the conditions under which I work, coupled with the wages I receive, I am enjoying a wonderful lifestyle with my family while having the ability to play music at a very high level with my colleagues. I should add that the AFofM oversees not only the affairs of our orchestras but also casual musicians, hotels and clubs, Broadway shows, movie and television contracts, recording contracts, and on and on and on. Along with that we have an amazing organization called ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians), another called ROPA (Regional Orchestra Players Association) that both work in the interest of, in the case of ICSOM the larger orchestras, and ROPA, the regional or smaller orchestras. So you see, we are well organized and, therefore well taken care of. We always have a reliable and respected body at work for us and our interests which, by extension, serve the interests of the communities in which we work and our managements. We are all very, very lucky and owe a great deal to those who came before us to ensure that we would be treated fairly and with respect by our employers. We do undergo constant SELF evaluation to maintain a fine level of artistry which, in the end, serves every member of the orchestra and, most importantly, the music.
    All the best to you, sir.
    Rob Weir
    The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
    Member, The American Federation of Musicians
    Local #6, San Francisco

  • harold emert says:

    Dear Norman:
    Despite rays of sunshine as a result of your blog spreading the bad news,the real news today about the possible fate of the Brazilian Symphony musicians who refuse to be re-evaluated is even worse: Half(41) the orchestra could be fired,according to the O Globo newspaper today(Wednesday).The reason:insubordination!
    I am told that when Chicago had a tyrant called Fritz Reiner in the last century,its flautist committed suicide.The Brazilian Symphony crisis has resulted so far in one reported fatality:a fiery French Horn (Maestro Minzcuk’s instrument!) who refuses to be re-evaluated after over two decades of fine playing, ghas landed up in a local hospital,the victims with a heart attack!
    Meanwhile the season is scheduled to go on with big announcements that brilliant Brazilian pianist (who lives in the UK) Cristina ortiz will play with Youth Orchestra–substituting the professional one(until everything simmers down) on 30 April.
    Maestro Alistair Willis will lead the same scabbing Youth Orchestra with violinist Simone Lamsma on 3 June and Stewart Goodyear,pianist, is scheduled on 23 September.
    If we invited Britain’s football star Beckham to play in brazil with Flamengo ‘s Youth squsd rather than pros,would he accept it,kowing the youth team was replacing the pros until “everything was settled.”
    Meanwhile letters of support keep pouring in but what good willthey all due tyrant Maestro Minczuk gets his way?
    Harold Emert
    Brazilian National Orchestra