Brazil crisis – now Kurt Masur gets involved

I have been sent the following open letter from conductor Kurt Masur, by the Brazil Symphony Orchestra’s director of marketing and communications, Ricardo Levitsky.  

Dear music lovers in Rio! 

1970 I started my first concert series with OSB. 

For 40 yeas I followed the changing fate and ups and downs of this 
Orchestra. Yet, there were always enough music lovers in the audience 
to fill the concert houses. Most of the musicians, even until now, used 
to take several other jobs in order to be able to feed their family. 
Everybody has been dreaming of having better situations as an orchestra 

And now we have been given sensational better situations! 
Soon will be the cidade da musica reopened, and orchestra 
musicians will be paid much better fee, as good as some professional 
Orchestras in London or in good orchestras in USA! 

And I am surprised that some members of orchestra are refusing new 
auditions for bringing the artistically level to the necessary highest 
standard as those well paid orchestras in the world! 
I know the current music director, Maestro Roberto Minczuk as a great 
and honest human being and he handsels everything honest and careful. I 
trust him that he will be able to bring the orchestra then up to the 
highest level of music making which gives great benefit to all music 
lovers in Rio de janeiro. 

His talent and his vision of the future is for me absolutely 

As a proof what I mean, you should read his letter and statement he 
gave to the blog of Norman Lebrecht on March 8th. This letter of 
Roberto Minczuk makes you think about the great chance of future music 
life for all of you in Rio. 

Every body of you has the responsibility about the future music life in 
Rio. I recommend strongly to the members of OSB, if you are also in 
concern of the future of music life in Rio, you should sit together and 
talk your concerns. 

Don?t miss this great opportunity and chance in the history of this 
orchestra and I beg you all not to be uncontrolled emotions but act 
wise and careful. 

With Love 

Kurt Masur

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  • The only response we, the Brazilian audience, can give to Mr. Masur’s advice is the public petition below(translated into English)that started just yesterday at noon and already has 1350 voices against the actions perpetrated by the Brazilian condutor Mr. Masur defends.
    Aurora Neiva, PhD
    Associate Professor – Faculdade de Letras (College of Languages and Literature)
    UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)
    OSB managers, stop harassing OSB musicians and immediately reinstate the full professional orchestra in the first half of the 2011 season!
    This is a public petition to be submitted to the OSB Foundation Board of Trustees and OSB sponsors: BNDES (National Bank for Social and Economic Development), Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (Vale do Rio Doce Corporation) and Prefeitura Municipal do Rio de Janeiro (Government of the City of Rio de Janeiro).
    We, the undersigned, regular audience and subscribers of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra (OSB), one of the most important and highly respected musical institutions in the country, hereby vehemently protest against the actions perpetrated by the Executive Management of the OSB Foundation and its Artistic Director, Mr. Roberto Minczuk against its orchestral body: all members of the ensemble have been required to take part in reauditions for the same orchestral positions they currently hold, as if they were first time job applicants at the OSB. According to both conductor and administration, this procedure was devised as part of a restructuring project of the orchestra they intend to implement (cf. and This plan, however, has been highly criticized and condemned by most professionals in the field, many of whom among the most highly respected both in the national and international musical arena, as one can see in numerous texts published on the internet, such as the ones found in the links below:
    A series of unacceptable consequences can already be felt as the result of this restructuring project; they are facts that we, OSB audience and subscribers, must speak out against:
    1- The removal of the professional orchestra from half the season’s concerts and the abusive, unethical and unpedagogic situation the OSB Youth Orchestra has been compelled to face since its young musicians have been scheduled to replace the major orchestra in the series traditionally performed by OSB, including the opening concert of the season.
    2- The lack of professional respect for both novice and tenured musicians, who have already been punished with suspensions from the job, without pay, for refusing to participate in the so-called “performance evaluation” process, and the threat of dismissal due to gross misconduct if they are absent again from the reauditions.
    3- The clearly unilateral and despotic attitude on the part of the FOSB managers when, three days into the musicians’ collective vacation, the Foundation sent them a letter informing all musicians that an evaluation process would be held: this was done without any input from the musicians or their representatives. The refusal, on the part of the administration of the orchestra, to engage in dialogue and negotiation, preconditions for a sound professional relationship in any free and democratic society, is further evidenced by recent events: not a single representative of the OSB Foundation attended a scheduled meeting with the OSB musicians’ representatives and the Musicians’ Union at the Brazilian Labor Ministry on March 10.
    4- The plans for hiring musicians for the positions already open and for the ones that will be created after the mass dismissal of tenured musicians: auditions are planned to be held abroad (i.e. in London and New York) before residents in Brazil are given the opportunity to audition, as published in the OSB official site. It is very sad to see that this plan reveals a disdainful attitude towards musicians who currently live and work in Brazil. That is how the FOSB administration and Mr Minczuk plan to transform OSB into a “truly” international orchestra
    We, therefore, demand an immediate reversal of the situation presented in this document by requesting that both parties (musicians on one hand and FOSB and Mr Minczuk on the other) sit down and start a dialogue before our beloved OSB is fully disintegrated. The country cannot do without a traditional institution such as this, which has always been in the forefront of the battle towards the promotion and enhancement of classical music in Brazil and which has been source of so many moments of sheer beauty, art and joy for the last seventy years.
    We, the undersigned, forward this public petition to the Board of Trustees of the OSB Foundation and the orchestra’s main partners and sponsors (BNDES, Vale do Rio Doce and Prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro) in high hopes that they intervene to help promote understanding between both parties involved so that a harmonious and fair outcome may be reached.

  • Pretty top-notch imbroglio now! But OSB’s musicians should really follow the advice of the wise old man: “Take opportunity” is the most important thing right now, and was forever, at least for him. Maybe he should, when he conducts next time in Rio, give some lectures on how a politicaly correct member of the former East German “Nomeklatura” could, in a couple of days, transform in the most ardent supporter of “freedom” and doing so, boost a rather dull career to new international heights.

  • Whose English is that ? And where the helll is this so called “open letter” available online, anyway ? So strange. I doubt the alleged use of social media by remaining dictators for counter propaganda looks so awkward.

  • Isn´t it great and incredible that a country known only for its carnival and football should be involved in this heated discussion over a symphony orchestra?
    I´m hopeful for classical and as for those who think classical music is dead, think again.

  • What to say this letter of Masur? The master! The best thing to do is to admire his intelligence and vision and ignore the cowards! Best Regards

  • Dear Mr. Masur,
    with great respect , I would like to ask you: Have you ever heard from such an audition in Europe, or USA? This is such an absurd and a demonstration that Mr. Minczuk has no idea of what he is doing here in Rio….Is that the way to improve musical life in Rio for the music lovers from Rio ? Ofcourse it is not the way.
    It is sad for us to hear from you that in order to have a better future as musicians we need to go through this…
    Thank you.
    Sammy Fuks.
    Flutist and member from the artistic commitee- Petrobras Symphony Orchestra-Rio.

  • Minczuk, while hardly a benevolent man, is still doing what needs to be done. Sports teams need to take stock, why can’t orchestras?
    Musicians in Brazil have to get over the notion that once they get a job, it’s theirs forever regardless of how they perform. There IS a lot of deadwood in that orchestra. It kills the music for everyone when players can’t play well, usually from not practicing enough. What Minczuk is proposing doesn’t even involve firings, just creating a meritocracy. What’s wrong with that? Tenure WILL be abolished if musicians keep abusing it around the world.

  • I cannot believe that the one who wrote this letter is the same that was director of the New York Phil for more then 10 yeaRs!Please, next time you write, make sure you dont make those kind of mistakes again. I am ashamed to read this letter and think that Kurt Mazur wrote this.

  • Masur is defending his engagements and those of his son. It doesn’t matter, how much he has achieved in his life. There’s always room for more money in his wallet.
    It’s a shame, Kurt!

  • Dear Mr. Masur.
    I hope you enjoyed your week with us here in San Francisco. I think the concerts were a great success. While I was left with fond memories of our Mendelssohn collaborations I’m afraid my memory of our lengthy discussion about the OSB situation will not be so fondly remembered by me. I had been led to believe from your tremendous personal history of achievements in building social and artistic change in Europe and elsewhere, that we could expect the same wisdom and careful thought to be applied by you with regards to the horrible developments in Brazil. I relayed to my friends throughout the international music community that I truly believed you would help your friend, Roberto Minzcuk, come to the realization that change, however it may be wanted or maybe even needed, must only occur primarily with the best interests of the individuals and stakeholders taken into account and secondarily to serve a broader agenda and community. I would never have believed that an almost cavalier and ultimately damaging approach to achieving “artistic” excellence would have been so erroneously endorsed by you. I must believe that you are, I am afraid to say, being bamboozled. You spoke to me of the history of the orchestra and wit it your associations with many players who are a part of that history. I simply cannot believe that, armed with factual and measured information you would be willing to throw these people to the dogs! That cannot be your intention but it is what you are saying in your unbridled support of Mr. Minzcuk and his band of henchmen. At the very least you must be made aware of the pure fact that you are not doing him, Minzcuk, any favors what so ever by encouraging this behavior. The eyes of the international music community are focusing in greater numbers on this man and they do NOT like what they are seeing. We are not a vindictive bunch but we are loyal to our colleagues and they are being unfairly attacked. Mr. Minzcuk is running the risk of alienating himself from the very community of musicians that he depends upon for good musical collaboration and, in turn his very livelihood. Perhaps, like other dictatorial and delusional “leaders” he cannot see this. A pity as it is indeed there and, in the end, he will be eaten by his own imagined sense of power.
    So, as my friend Ole Bohn has said, it is not too late to go back and begin the process of healing these self inflicted wounds. One of the greatest gifts a human being can give to another is the ability to admit a mistake. People have an amazing capacity to forgive when the forgiveness is requested with humility and dignity. It is NOT too late, I am choosing to believe, even for you Mr. Masur. Look at ALL the facts and then you will, no doubt, want to reassess your position and that of Mr. Minzcuk.
    All the best of wishes to you and your lovely wife.
    Looking ahead to further shared musical experiences.
    Rob Weir
    San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

  • I sincerely think that Mr Masur is not fully informed about the situation of Brazilian musicians in OSB and about the Cidade da Música… The letter above just shows a naive impression about the current facts. Regards!

  • Dear Norman,
    I have fond memories of working with Maestro Masur in the Chicago Symphony, Beethoven 7th, listening to every word he said, no matter which section he was working with. Every word out of him was a statement of artistry rooted in longstanding tradition. It was a lesson no one on stage could afford to miss.
    Even more memorable is that which may be remembered as his best moment of all, when he used his stature to lead the East German people into freedom after enduring decades of difficulties. Kurt Masur apparently felt, then, that the plight of East Germans might be improved if they were exposed to the lifestyle and benefits of West German society. Ironically, this is exactly what the issue is with the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra: the improvement in quality of life and work to an orchestra, attached to a considerable infusion of new money, benefitting a group of professional musicians who suffered terrible work conditions for a very long time. At no point in history did I notice Mr. Masur’s alluding to the replacement of East Germans by their Western counterparts merely because they were more apt to run the country. Here, however, Mr. Masur appears to be in support of replacing those who suffered by those who supposedly could do a better job, even at the cost – quite literally – of their own homes.
    In fact, I am not only puzzled by Maestro Masur’s statement, but feel that he may have inadvertently done his protégé a disservice. I explain:
    Maestro Roberto Minczuk’s job is not on the line. He has a 6-year contract that is not being disputed by the musicians, even if some wish he too would be compelled to proceed with these “performance evaluations”. While there is no evidence of the existence of a movement to displace Minczuk, it appears, from Masur’s words, that there should be a reason for your readers to consider the benefits of keeping Minczuk around instead of letting him go. This deviation from the subject at hand to focus attention on the conductor may have opened the door for a search of potential criticism that would justify Masur’s preemptive statement on behalf of his protégé. Frankly, this is not fair to Roberto Minczuk nor the OSB musicians, nor is it valid for our discussion.
    The issue here is how to significantly elevate the quality of an ensemble when managements finds itself a new pot of gold. Mr. Minczuk and the OSB management believe the way to do it is by replacing aging or unfavorable musicians with new ones, who might immediately jumpstart the orchestra into the realms of the Berlin, London or New York Philharmonics, or at least put OSB in their tracks. But a reality check reveals that these ensembles, and just about every major orchestra you can think of, achieved their greatness not y way of finding a fountain of youth, but actually by giving value to the very tradition held by their older and more experienced players, granting musicians the right to freely express themselves musically, and giving them long term contracts devoid of such regular auditions or individual evaluations.
    The prospect of long term contracts brings the question of “how long” musicians can hold their seat. This is of particular interest since no one gets younger and stronger in this life, and young people need job opportunities too. Logic demands that a fair system of replacement be established to bring new energy into the orchestra even as it maintains its traditions. As far as I have been able to tell, no OSB musician demands to receive work guarantees not attached to evaluations. The position of the OSB members committee is clear in that musicians must be evaluated on a daily basis, in rehearsals, and not by re-auditioning as if they are new to the orchestra, nor by exposing themselves in non-orchestral situations while facing the prospect of being denied a return to their jobs. . This corroborates with the modus operandi of all major orchestras, and does not prevent a musician from being discontinued based on his/her inability to maintain standards. Musicians found not to be holding their own may be submitted for discontinuation, but must first be given clear instructions as to “why” that would happen, and be given a reasonable chance to make improvements. If that does not happen and the discontinuation is still moving forward, the musician must have the right to elect assistance from the musician’s committee or local union to defend its point of view and make sure that there are no ulterior motives behind the discontinuation, such as a personal or non-artistic dislike of his person – or the color of his shirt for that matter – by the conductor or management.
    There is a reason major orchestras do it this way, and this is also the reason all professional orchestras like OSB aim to achieve these benefits. They do, however, come at a high cost for conductors and management who insist on having control over every aspect of the musicians’ lives. Progress requires freedom, and freedom needs someone in power to let go of it for the benefit of others. These benefits provide long term advantages to the development of fine artistic values within the orchestra, which are then passed on and on to the next generations. I felt, playing with the Chicago Symphony, that the standards applied to our playing were first introduced by Frederick Stock in the 1920s, and I hear a connection between Berlin’s Simon Rattle’s sound and that of Furtwangler’s.
    This is the issue at hand, this issue was not addressed by Mr. Masur, and, in fact, nor can it be properly addressed by any conductor. I thus humbly question your statement of “what do conductors think”. Why does it matter what conductors think? They do not produce the sound of an orchestra – musicians do – and the best conductors know that and are great at working with it. I remember a conversation I once had with another of the greatest conductors of our time, Daniel Barenboim. He explained the simple and obvious detail of how a baton makes no sound, and that the power of a conductor to create music is limited to the extent the musicians are willing to apply themselves and cooperate. The answer, thus, might not be in the eternal changing of musicians in the orchestra through auditions, but through a diligent work that enriches the lives of the musicians and opens to them the possibility of being creative and supportive of the conductor’s ideas.
    I would love to hear Mr. Masur’s comments and experience on that.

  • Dear Norman,
    very interesting points if this was registered here by somebody else, but here is what I have to say in regards to Mr. Klein’s baloney.
    Where were you when the same evaluation took place at the OSESP (Sao Paulo State Symphony)? And when all musicians from the RTC Orchestra (Radio and Television Cultura) were dismissed? The same with the Orchestra of São Bernardo do Campo, where every single member was fired without any notice? And right now, as I write here a massive audition process and evaluation is going on in the city of Curitiba, State of Paraná. Why you do not say anything about the process over there? Or there is nothing over there for you?
    Can you please, explain to us in plain English here the horrible and miserable work you did at the São Paulo Municipal Orchestra? An orchestra of more than 80 years of existence, older than the BSO and even with better musicians than the BSO. One of my relatives was the first conductor, Ernst Melich, he is probably coming back after you, since you created a chaos during your short stay. You should be ashamed of your self and stop saying things as you has the competence to do it. You proved to be the most useless and incompetent conductor we ever had in São Paulo, perhaps the worst in the history. The biggest mistake of the history of São Paulo Symphony was to select and hire you as a conductor, a profile that you are far, really far away to achieve. You as a member of a jury dismissed 75%, yes, seventy five percent, of the singers of the Paulistano Choir, the most traditional classic choir of São Paulo State, for you 75% percent was not competent to stay, this was a great job? A dirty job, yes, really dirty. May be on your little head, yes, you will keep hiding this from the media and the public and showing here as a very capable person.
    You divided the orchestra, you created conflicts, you even suggested in one of our rehearsals that musicians in Russia make $300/month and if someone is unhappy…… A musician asked you, is this a threat? You responded saying if you are smart you understood the point. You got every musician stressed in a daily basis, you were lucky to be in São Paulo and to have professional musicians just sitting and waiting for your collapse, which happily happened. But, due to your incompetence, lack of experience, you resigned, abandoned the orchestra with late pay, no improvements and not mentioning that you treated the whole body of professional musicians as a bunch of high school kids.
    Today, the Orquestra Sinfônica Municipal of São Paulo celebrates e rejoices the victory a freedom, the orchestra is free (the rest of this post has been deleted as defamatory, NL).
    Ulrich Udo Melich

  • Bravo Masur!
    The musicians need be more professionals and just PLAY! I know the Brazilian Orchestra in Rio, they need a evaluation, this is TRUE. No more easy money for then.

  • Dear Mrs. Neiva,
    it would be great to have even the whole petition and the opportunity to sign in English so you can get international response.
    All over the world, we musicians face the danger to be thrown back into the times of being servants.
    Alex Radziewski
    Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

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