Brazilian Facebook protest – the conductor explains

Brazilian Facebook protest – the conductor explains


norman lebrecht

March 08, 2011

I have received the following letter from Roberto Minczuk, music director of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra.

Dear Norman Lebrecht,


After hearing and reading many untruthful letters and messages mostly on the internet, it is very important to clarify some key facts concerning the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra and the present evaluation process.  


First of all, the purpose of the evaluation is not to fire or dismiss anyone – nobody that participates in the auditions will be dismissed. As part of the deal to improve musicians’ working conditions, including raising the wages, the Board of OSB Foundation decided to go through an evaluation process. It is important to emphasize that Brazilian Symphony Orchestra Foundation is private and to support itself counts on the sponsorship of more than thirty private and public companies and institutions.


These evaluations will help fix a few old problems. There are, for instance, no written records for admissions for the orchestra prior to 2006.  It is a known fact that often auditions were held in a very informal way and did not follow standards that guarantee fairness and exemption. They were not held behind the screens and the repertoire was over simplified in all positions.  There are in the orchestra musicians who were admitted without any formal auditions even in key positions which generate much complain among the musicians themselves. 


After being heard individually in the evaluations, musicians will be given feedback and will have the opportunity to show improvement. In addition, we are fully aware that musicians that have been playing in the group for more than twenty years might not be in the same shape of younger players. Even so, we know how much experienced musicians can contribute to the orchestra’s routine. The evaluation will be considered, as I personally wrote to all musicians, only one component part of the process of development of the orchestra. 


We took special care that everybody had the opportunity to prepare themselves. Besides the regular vacation of the 41 days, the musicians where given another month of paid vacation to dedicate themselves only to preparing for the evaluation.


When I was first invited to become Brazilian Symphony Orchestra’s Artistic Director, five and a half years ago, the orchestra wasn’t fully organized in its internal structure and the Foundation’s total budget was around three million dollars. Musicians had a very low monthly salary of 1.200,00 to 1.800,00 US dollars that often was delayed up to six months. That situation appeared to me as the biggest challenge of my life, even greater than the one I had faced side by side with John Neschling in São Paulo (1997 – 2005), when we worked hard to restructure Osesp (São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra). 


After last year’s season, when we celebrated Brazilian Symphony Orchestra’s seventieth anniversary, the general conditions had significantly changed for the better. In 2011, the annual budget is approximately of twenty million dollars, the deficit is settled and the salaries can reach up to 6.500,00 US
dollars (x 13) plus benefits
, accumulating a total of eight five thousand dollars yearly plus health insurance.


I hope I have clarified some of the misunderstanding and I would like you to feel free to contact me for any further information you might need.




Roberto Minczuk


  • Stefan says:

    This is a no-win situation for everyone involved. A controversial solution to an entrenched problem. I wouldn’t want anything to do with it. This is now generating so much bad publicity that Mr. Minczuk should be concerned how he will be viewed should he ever wish to be considered for another music directorship. I don’t believe he has nefarious motives, but who wants their name associated with this mess? Career suicide.
    If they go ahead with these auditions, it’s just going to get uglier. The only real way to improve this orchestra will come with time. Start by instituting fair audition procedures NOW. In the years to come, un-auditioned players will gradually retire and be replaced by properly auditioned ones (as has happened in professional orchestras around the world throughout history, as audition procedures became more standardized).
    Or maybe hold auditions only for previously un-auditioned principal positions – let all players from each section have a fair chance at them. That should eliminate some of the internal griping. The best in each section will try out for them and the dead wood won’t. You’ll still have the dead wood, but what orchestra doesn’t?

  • giuliano saade says:

    I really admire your work Maestro and it’s never easy to make changes even when those are for the best. Your audience will be following. Best regards.

  • Willian Cardoso says:


  • Pedro says:

    The BSO musicians have to be united to expel maestro “Gaddafi”!! This man represents a cancer to the orchestral body and he is clearly trying to find ways of dismissing the old musicians in order to hire young people with reduced salaries!
    I will do everything in my power not only to support the musicians, but also to clarify what is really going on behind the stage. This dictator will not have the opportunity to develop his morbid plan!!!!
    Minczuk OUT NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • MusikAnT says:

    Thank you for providing the other side of this story, Mr. Lebrecht. Most enlightening.

  • ole bohn says:

    Dear Roberto Minczuk,
    I have read your letter with great interest. It was meant to clarify the situation going on in your orchestra, but I am perhaps even more confused than before.
    My greatest concern is that I don’t believe what you are writing. The facts you are stating are to me so contradicting, that I simply cannot understand you are telling the full truth.
    To start with the good points. I am very happy that you are trying to improve the working conditions and the salary for the musicians of the OSB. For so many years they have worked under very difficult circumstances, low wages which didn’t come on time etc. Despite this, the orchestra has maintained a very good standard. Like all orchestras in the world, the OSB has also become better in the last 10 years.
    In previous times I am sure you are right that the audition procedures were not as rigid as today. When I first started to come to Brazil 20 years ago, the saying was still that ” if you aren’t good enough to become a soloist, you can always play in an orchestra”. This is certainly not the case today, in Brazil as in the rest of the world. Musicians are better trained, the teachers have become better and there are more musicians around.
    However, the musicians who entered the orchestra years ago are valuable members of the orchestra, regardless of what you are saying. Every orchestra has a “weakest member”, even in the orchestra of utopian quality.
    Mr Minczuk, it is not a way to improve an orchestra by have having an “evaluation” with jury members from foreign orchestras.
    What for ? I really thought you, yourself,as a capable conductor could spot and hear the weaknesses in the orchestra, without foreign help . No orchestra in the world would let this happen. You know that ! Try it in Calgary !
    I remember when Maris Jansons took over the Oslo Philharmonic in the 70’s, a long development process started. Like the OSB, Oslo Philharmonic was a good orchestra, but Maris worked continously with the musicians, as a group and individually to improve the standard. The result was that now Oslo Philharmonic counts as one of the best orchestras in Europe. Perhaps I shouldn’t say so, there are no bad orchestras, only bad conductors. A good orchestra can play well with a bad conductor, but a bad orchestra can also play marvellously with a good conductor !!The best thing is however an orchestra who has developed together with its conductor.
    Mr Minczuk, you state that no musician who participates in the audition will be fired. My first question is, what happens to all the musicians who don’t want to be humilitated by having to audition, after having served for years in the orchestra?Please, answer.
    You write that the people at the audition will be given feedback and given an ample time to improve.Mr Minczuk, I am sorry, I don’t believe you a second! Aren’t you able to give musicians feedback during your daily work with the orchestra? As orchestra musicians we audition at every rehearsal and concert and we get constant feedback from colleagues and conductors . Why don’t you give feedback? Why do you have to have an evaluation and seeking help from orchestra members abroad? I really thought you had better judgment.
    In the Norwegian National Opera Orchestra, we have called in brilliant musicians to work with different sections of the orchestra.Orchestra members could also take private lesseons The result has been marvellous.Our orchestra is now on high international standard. It was not the case before.
    Why didn’t you invite your international jury to work with your orchestra members? Instead you have hired them as ” executioners”. What a waste of money!
    Why don’t I trust you ? You have suspended most of the season and let the OSB youth orchestra play instead. It is hard to notice , when you enter your web site. In Norway the subscribers would be furious, if that happened. At the same time you have announced auditions in New York , London and, afterwards, in Rio. Are you really augmenting the orchestra, or are you firing musicians ?? Please, answer. Wouldn’t it be more honest to say that you want about 60 musicians in the orchestra to be fired, so you can build a new orchestra? Or I am I totally wrong?
    Mr. Minczuk , you have played in a wonderful orchestra and you have been given opportunity to conduct very fine orchestras around the world. As you well know, none of these orchestras have been built by firing musicians, but by hard work over many years. Very often conductors have been associated with the great work. You have a wonderful opportunity to build a legacy for yourself with the OSB, providing that you work hard and well with the musicians you have at your disposal. Let the musicians grow and get new musicians the natural way, not by dismissing people. I think you should do it. Show that you have the wisdom and the knowledge. My respect for you would be enormous if you call off this audition/ evaluation and instead work together with your musicians to make even better concerts.
    Grande abraco de Ole Bohn

  • Conor Biggs says:

    Dear Mr. Minczuk,
    I read with dismay the witch-hunt petition on Facebook, and felt it so important to hear the other side of the story. I don’t know Brazil, even less the world of Brazilian classical music, but I am a professional singer working in Belgium, and I know enough about this métier to know that there are always two sides to any discussion. Innocent until proven guilty, at the very least.
    The best of luck with your career.
    Yours sincerely.

  • Clara says:

    I really don`t believe in any word of this gentleman. I`m from Brazil and already had a personal experience with this sir about lying and falsity. And I`m sure I`m not the only one!
    How can he say “the Board of OSB Foundation decided to go through an evaluation process” if the president already said in a official note that it were his idea!! Check this out:
    On the penultimate paragragh the president himself tells “The auditions was proposed by conductor and artistic director Roberto Minczuk.”
    The musicianns actual salary if about U$2,400 plus U$1,200 of some image agreement…
    This doble sized U$6,500 salary is, maybe, a “will be”… It`s not truth yet!
    I wish he could sign under this letter. Even though it`s hard to believe in this statement. maybe I can believe it in a year or so if he could change he`s way of dealing with musicians.
    It`s a shame for all Christians to hear that he also calls himself a Christian. He has a history with musicians in Brazil that is not great to hear about…
    Maybe this words are a little bit strong but I`m sure a lot brazilian musicians agree with me.

  • Almeida Jenkins says:

    Explanation is always so easy for anybody, but, why lose my precious time to explain the musician professional behavior? it’s so obvious!
    Some people wrote in Blogs such dreadful lies against Mto Minczuk, loose the center of all and the human respect, maybe everybody have a litle of “Gaddafi”, (I hope not).
    Dear brazilian musicians, just play, and make the beautiful art. In the conductor letter says: “First of all, the purpose of the evaluation is not to fire or dismiss anyone – nobody that participates in the auditions will be dismissed.” – So dears musicians and writers, Not making political acts, using the networking to change the conductor. Change your mind and professional behavior, we want music with quality, not speeches with hatred. Let’s be more smart and professional

  • Raimundo Nonato says:

    I see now how intelligent is this director. He arrived to the brilliant conclusion that,
    in order to impress the audience with his show, it is easier to have in front of him an
    orchestra capable of playing alone. In spite of his intelligence, he apparently does not know
    how to make an orchestra play well. Indeed, in order to accomplish this nontrivial task,
    some important qualities are essential, such as good hearing, good knowledge of musical
    instruments, good musical culture and good relationship with the orchestra players. I heard
    once about a Roumanian director who made an impressive career in Italy in the fifties,
    conducting orchestras not so refined as the Berlin Philharmonic. Nonetheless, the musical
    result was quite impressive. He was not only an intelligent guy, like Mr. Minczuk is, but also
    an outstanding musician.

  • Clara says:

    This conductor is director of two major orchestras in Rio de Janeiro:
    The Brazilian Symphony Orchestra and Municipal Theater Symphony Orchestra.
    On November 2008 both Orchestras have made a petition for the dismissal of maestro Minczuk from both orchestras at the same time!
    It was about 115 musicians in MTSO and 85 musicians on BSO in total of 200 voting for his dismissal! unanimously! I repeat it: UNANIMOUSLY!

  • Barbosa says:

    I believe that all the musician who didn’t accept to participate in the audition have a significant reason for doing it. First of all, it has already been said that nobody who don’t reach that diserable standarts won’t be fired.(so it’s not necessary that the musicians soil their pants).
    Secondly, as Minczuk said, that OSB is private institution that counts on the sponsorship of investidors, therefore, as any other business in the world it should provide profitable feedback for its investidors.
    Being a music-lover, but not a musician, I strongly agree with all the changes propused by Minczuk, who is evolving the brasilian musician to an international standart in little time.(It must also be outlined that never before have the brazilian classic music received so much recognition in the international scenary as nowadays, and current situation owns much to Minczuk. Classic music, is not part of the brazilian popular culture, at leats wasn’t, and as the numbers can prove, after Minczuk, the interest of the general population rose to outstanding standarts.)
    As part of this makeover, some sacrifices will be needed, and it is up to the musicians to trust in their talent and go through this audition.
    I sincerely hope that all goes for the best, and that those changes head for better future. If the improvements propused by Minczuk find its way, in a very soon and forseeable future, we might be celebrating the achievement of a high-quality music.(made in Brasil).

  • David says:

    Bravo Maestro Minczuk, your posture is evidence that the renewal process of the OSB is on track! The musicians strong and quality are at your side! I admire you for your vision and approach, very different than they are opposites, they are dirty and low. You have the support of many international and Brazilian musicians! Continue on this path with strength!

  • Micheal says:

    For this and other reasons I’m a fan of this guy! We need you to reshape our classical music! You are the instrument for the revolution of Brazilian classical music!
    My most sincere support to Mr. Minczuk!

  • Joaozito says:

    Mr. Minczuk, I’m your fan, your work and history in our country is fantastic, please…put quality in OSB, there are some musicans poor and weak in this orchestra, we need a new history, quality and strong people, today ! This people have fear, because are weak! Please Mr. Minczuk dont listen this people, go ahead!!!
    Best regards and god bless you!!!

  • Jeniffer says:

    Dear Mr. Minczuk you deserve to be applauded for their elegance and clarity!
    Yours Sincerely.

  • What, you can’t figure out where the weaknesses are during regular rehearsals and concerts? Ridiculous. Sort out your review/dismissal/appeal protocol, mate. Apply it fairly to the players you deem under par.
    Your re auditioning, with no dismissals, to sort out crappy paper work makes you look like an amateur outfit. And a cruel one, at that.
    Maintain your standards the way they do in Berlin, London, and Chicago. It seems to work.

  • Why should every orchestra or arts organization feel obliged to protect “dead wood”? Why do so many musicians feel entitled to keeping their positions if skill level is questionable or not up to par? How is a sense of entitlement fair to all colleagues in the orchestra, audience members paying for excellent product, or for that matter—deserving, capable younger players lacking employment opportunities as a result of the present system which protects the status quo?
    If one has maintained a high level and personal standard of professionalism, what is there to fear in a blind audition in front of established, outside colleagues willing to offer feedback where each and every member is treated with equal respect?