Brazil – orchestra responds to international boycott

Brazil – orchestra responds to international boycott


norman lebrecht

May 05, 2011

Here’s a letter sent by the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra to the International Federation of Musicians, which has called a boycott on auditions for new players to be held in London (May 16-18) and New York (May 20-23)  by its chief conductor Roberto Minczuk. The OSB has sacked half its players for refusing to reaudition for their own jobs, as described in previous posts on this site. Many eminent musicians, led by the pianists Nelson Freire and Cristina Ortiz, are refusing to work with the orchestra and its conductor.

Here’s the letter:


Av. Rio Branco 135, sala 915 | Centro, Rio de Janeiro, cep 20040-006 | tel. +21 2142 5800 | fax +21 2142 5844Rio de Janeiro, May 4, 2011            To The International Federation of Musicians


Dear Sirs, given the recent demonstration of the FIM on the international auditions of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra and in deference to the work and representativeness of the Federation, we have provided some clarification regarding the restructuring process by which the orchestra has been through in the recent months.

We understand  that the “Call for an international boycott” to the orchestra  auditions reflects a biased interpretation of recent events, to reports released on the Internet that often go beyond and distort reality. In respect to the International Federation of Musicians, we want to position ourselves not only in relation to the process that led to the removal of some of our musicians, but also to clarify the basis on which the new auditions for the orchestra are organized.

Fidelity to the institutional mission to build a culture of excellence around the symphonic music in Brazil led the OSB  Foundation to invest in qualifying and broadening its work in 2011. The implementation of performance evaluations for the orchestra was a decision of the Foundation in order, along with the continuing evaluation that takes place in rehearsals and concerts, to recognize the artistic demands of each member of the group, provide suggestions for individual improvement and ensure best conditions for the work of the orchestra.

As emphasized since the announcement of the evaluations, the process did not seek the dismissal of musicians, but a real examination of the artistic situation of the OSB from a feedback on the performance of each member, who also served as official means for repositioning the musicians in their sections.This action was reported earlier this year and, and until the scheduled time for conducting evaluations, some of the musicians of the orchestra had showed dissatisfaction with the OSB Foundation’s decision.

In many negotiations, the Foundation sought to reach a consensus with this group of musicians, meeting with requests such as reducing the required repertoire for evaluations. The FOSB remained steady in relation to the indispensability of evaluations to continue its artistic development, but relaxed various aspects to ensure the fairness and legitimacy of the process with the musicians. No decision taken by  the FOSB, however, was good enough to meet the needs of this group of musicians, and the worsening relationship with them eventually led to their removal.

The Foundation resisted the most to this extreme alternative, which became the only one possible, given the context of insubordination and public defamation, in which it found itself inserted.The chronological report, which is found attached, shows details of the entire process. After the removal of the musicians, the OSB Foundation also undertook a last effort to resume negotiations and reached a consensus with the group about the necessity of the existence of evaluations. Given their requests, we designed a new format for the evaluations, to be held in June, and prepared a final proposal which called for the immediate reinstatement of all of them.

However, from that time on, the musicians have started to pressure the Foundation no Av. Rio Branco 135, sala 915 | Centro, Rio de Janeiro, cep 20040-006 | tel. +21 2142 5800 | fax +21 2142 5844longer about the evaluations, but on a point that was non-negotiable for the institution: the permanence of conductor Roberto Minczuk at the  position of OSB Artistic Director and Principal Conductor.

All attempts made by the OSB Foundation in order to circumvent this situation were not taken, given the requirement of the musicians in dismissing the artistic director of the orchestra. Thus,  a polarization of the debate and of the public opinion has been tried,  by shifting the attention from the primary focus: to raise the quality standard of the orchestra, which should be its irrevocable and continuous mission.

In five years under the artistic direction of Roberto Minczuk, the OSB has seen its annual budget leap from US$ 4 million to US$ 22 million, expanding its schedule of concerts and raising substantially the overall sonorityof the group, as it can be certified by the testimony of any reviewer who follows the work of the orchestra. The undeniable progress that have been made in recent years underlies the support from the OSB to the artistic project signed by the conductor for the orchestra, which is not guided by what has hitherto been obtained, but  by  the commitment to develop and further enhance this work over the next five years.In such circumstances, the Foundation made  a clear choice to go ahead in the qualification process for its music and its own organizational culture.

Just remember the pressures of  the  musicians  on  the artistic directors  who preceded Minczuk. By refusing to accept one more constraint from part of its orchestra, the Foundation seeks to break with old institutional vices and strengthen a path in which the value of each musician resides in their own professional merit.That is why the International Selection Process calls for new musicians to the artistic and institutional design of the OSB. For years, we have had about 13 open positions in our orchestra, and that number was recently widened with the removal of the musicians who did not wish to follow the work of artistic enhancement of the OSB.

A total of 33  openings in various instruments are being offered by the Selection Process, with conditions of competitiveness in the international concert music market.By clarifying the whole process that led to the  removal of some musicians, we would like to draw the attention of the International Federation of Musicians, not only to the legitimacy of the OSB Foundation’s actions, but as well to the effort in order to build a culture of excellence in  the Brazilian symphony music. The auditions that will take place in Rio de Janeiro, London and New York in the coming weeks represent another step in this direction and we await the review of the FIM on the organized boycott to the OSB Selection Process.Sincerely,BRAZILIAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA FOUNDATION


  • Alex Klein says:

    Dear Norman,

    If FOSB recognizes FIM’s credibility by writing them, they should also consider asking FIM to mediate new negotiations with the musicians. FOSB unilateraly canceled all further negotiations, and had hopes of simply hiring new musicians to replace the ones sacked. Images of British coal minor’s strikes in previous decades come to mind. We just don’t do this anymore, or shouldn’t.

    The letter above intended to clarify OSB’s position to FIM in view of the controversial auditions and firings of its musicians, and the imminent international auditions to fill its ranks. Ironically, it also discloses how its expectations are far removed from the workings of a modern symphony orchestra. Apparently, FOSB’s management has been misinformed, misguided and ill-advised about the normal procedures that create, maintain and elevate the quality of an orchestral body. The participation of FIM representatives might illuminate these issues for OSB management, lest it be continually stranded by the ever increasing international criticism aimed at them and Mr. Minczuk.

    From this letter alone, it is my hope that management might learn the ropes on the following issues:

    * Auditions to “provide suggestions for individual improvement” are common in Youth Orchestras, but never in professional ensembles.
    * Other than string rotation and in-section assignments, orchestra musicians are never repositioned within their sections.
    * The musicians’ dissatisfaction has been in line with common practice in the orchestral world, as can be seen by the solid support from international unions.
    * Nowhere in FOSB’s letter is there an understanding that internal auditions as described by FOSB open the possibility and appearance of pre-existing dislikes by management or the conductor being used to judge musicians. This problem also opens doors to the appearance of discrimination and the existence of “black-listed musicians” within the group, making audition procedures one of the most carefully discussed issues in orchestras today as managements and unions impose strict rules to avoid any and all discrimination save for the artistic performance itself. These rules were not thoroughly followed in FOSB’s auditions, and arguably would not be followed in the upcoming international auditions either.
    * As explained on the second half of the above letter, the orchestra has raised its overall sonority substantially over the last few years. Although credit must be given to OSB’s management and the artistic leadership of Maestro Minczuk for establishing regularity of salaries and a pre-organized season during these years, what is still puzzling and missing here is the understanding that a “sonority” is created by those who “create the sound” of an orchestra: its musicians. No conductor “creates sound” and the very attempt to convince an international musician’s union to the contrary casts doubt on the whole effort here. In its attempt to promote the benefits of Mr. Minczuk’s tenure, the letter actually makes it clear that there is no artistic basis whatsoever to submit its musicians to auditions, thus rendering full support to FIM’s boycott which this letter intends to overturn. In fact, it can also be argued that the steadiness of salary payments and scheduling regularity of rehearsals and concerts in themselves go a long way towards improving an orchestra’s sonority, regardless of who is conducting them. And as the musicians point out, Mr. Minczuk was all too often distant from the orchestra to ensure his leadership would be solely responsible for this uplift in quality. All arguments tend to support the point of view that the musicians are largely – if not fully – responsible for it.
    * The musicians’ new demand for the removal of Mr. Minczuk is a sad development, and one I personally wished could be avoided, as I expressed to Mr. Carvalho and Mr. Fortes early on. However, when the line of mutual respect between conductor and orchestra is broken so many times and so deeply, it is a simple observation and conclusion that this marriage can no longer continue.


    Alex Klein
    Principal oboe, Chicago Symphony (ret.)

    • Doug Kier says:


      I want to second your opinion of, “…there is no artistic basis…” for these re-auditions. If you read what is written in the letter from the FOSB and also take into account what Mr. Minczuk said in an interview with Veja Magazine in the May 4, 2011 edition, which seem to indicate some discipline problems within the ranks of the orchestra, other readers will agree.

      In the interview, Mr. Minczuk, in attempting to justify the re-auditions, doesn’t seem to be able to find an artistic reason for hearing players again. He talks of problems convincing musicians that it would be a good idea to play at the Campos do Jordão Festival, problems with players providing false reasons to be absent from rehearsals and concerts, etc. These are discipline problems, which result in artistic problems, but that are NOT artistically based. Discipline problems should be dealt with in a disciplinary manner. I am sure that there are rules in the OSB’s master agreement that would apply in these situations. To suddenly say that all the players need to re-audition because there are some who have a bad attitude sounds very much like revenge to me. And if you take into account all that has happened before, with the musicians voting unanimously a few years back to refuse to play with him, this theory holds water.

      For sure, the mutual respect that is required to make beautiful music together was lost some time ago.

      Douglas Kier
      Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo

  • Ana says:

    FOSB acts are always surreal and comic! Shame on FOSB!

  • Andre says:

    One more time we see FOSB trying to defend the indefensable. While at the same time finishing their demolition and destruction of the Brazilian Symphonic Orchestra. Lies and more lies only to mantain the money flowing into their pockets.

    The question here isn’t music, or musical quality, it’s keeping the money in their the expense of the musicians of the orchestra. Minczuk himself is rumored to get 5% of all the financing., Shame on You FOSB.

  • Rob Weir says:

    Dear Norman and all.
    FIM is responding exactly as it should in this situation and the unified and clarion call for reforming the current path the FOSB is on is also consistent. A very hard and well considered look has been given to all aspects of the FOSB position and have been found universally lacking in many key areas by established arts organizations and institutions globally. This isolationist tactic is ill advised at best.

    I really must bring into question the need/legitimacy of these international auditions in the first place. I know that it is an all too common practice amongst orchestras, particularly in South America, to go “offshore” and hold auditions for positions in their ranks. Perhaps this was a practice deemed necessary in years gone by before there were established universities and conservatories training young and talented players on all instruments within these countries. Even then, great musicians were in abundance and were being trained in the European and American traditions to a very high standard. I have first hand knowledge of this having heard and worked with some extraordinarily gifted musicians from all around South America. I can say with confidence that the future is bright and in very god hands! What I cannot understand is the willingness of donors and corporate givers in Brazil to flood an organization with millions of dollars and then have them turn around and potentially hire, with those dollars, 33 foreign players en masse. Was there an effort to have auditions nationally, under recognized and unbiased conditions, before resorting to traveling about the globe and collecting players from their own back yards? That is simply too easy and shows no willingness to build an orchestra from within. Are there no qualified musicians in that enormous country? I happen to know of about 33, or so, who are qualified and find themselves recently out of work. Are there no fair labor standards or practices to be adhered to before these monies are distributed. And what of the discrepancy in accounting I hear of? The FOSB talks of 22 million as being there basis but I have heard from reliable sources that 38 million is in their coffers. What is the answer to this and where did the heretofore unaccounted 16 million end up? There seem to be many, many questions still blowing about in the breeze and I would advise that before anyone hitches their wagon to this horse, they take a really good look at the potential for disaster that lurks all around this band of power hungry administrators and their fearless poster boy, Roberto Minczuk.

    Rob Weir
    The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

  • Among the falsehoods and reality distortions, the OSB Foundation management claims to be a in a “mission” to break up an alleged musicians corporatism that has sometimes been able to dismiss conductors. They blame the musicians instead of trying to understand the history.

    Maestro Eugen Scenkar, in the 40’s, stayed for eight years in the OSB and went out by his own free will to pursue his european career.

    Eleazar de Carvalho stayed for about 16 years and went out through a board of trustees maneuver, not wanting to take direct responsibility for his dismissal. They staged a scene to blame the musicians and to preserve themselves from the burden. If they had firmed a shorter term contract, much discomfort would have been avoided.

    Isaac Karabitchevsky remained in OSB for about 25 years. He left when his career was already consolidated and had no more enough time for OSB. His departure, despite having been consequence of the musicians initiative, was consensual, civilized and peaceful. And after all, his era lasted 25 years! A shorter term contract would have prevented some discomfort too.

    Yeruham Sharovsky remained for about 6 years. He left because of many problems that, however, were not detected by management, well intentioned, but little tuned with the orchestra daily live. He walked away after the musicians requirement has been granted. A contractual limit would have also prevented the traumatic experience.

    The OSB management board have always insisted on the same key, entering into too long contracts and giving the conductors too much power. They have exhaustively repeated their own mistakes and have not yet realized that the era for all powerfull and almost lifetime conductors is over. Presently, all around the world, the orchestras hire conductors for a limited time – usually between two and four years – that is rarely extended and when it is, in addition to artistic success, it must have the musicians massive approval.

    From the beginning the orchestra board of management insisted to ignore the musicians advice. For maestro Sharovsky’s replacement – Minczuk’s predecessor – the musicians were asked for a three names list but the management chose one that was not in the list. Recently they said they could not be held hostages to the musicians but they became hostages to the conductor. They did not hear my own previous recommendations about deadlines and power limits and they signed a contract that gave everything to the conductor. Even including clauses in frontal disagreement with the OSB Foundation statute.

    They have never claimed for clauses that, despite being included in the contract in favor of the orchestra – as, for instance, the issue of priority to OSB – they have been systematically ignored by the conductor and the management board. OSB has invested millions in advertising, publicizing the conductor’s name at the expense of their own orchestra and the institution. They let the fundraising be controlled by the conductor and let him close his link of power continually tightening the tourniquet on the neck of the institution.

    It is natural that the conductor now feels like the orchestra’s owner. The administration failed to mediate and manage all those interests in favor of the institution and invariably made it in the conductor’s benefit. Recently I have heard a highly regarded football club manager (CO) telling that one of the club major objectives should be keeping talents within their ranks.

    This is an evident and simple priciple that, however, has been ignored by the OSB managers. The OSB has been losing its top talents over the years. Lately precious musicians were gone without any effort to keep them. In the last five years a few new hires were offset by losses of talents on the other hand making the hiring job comparable to filling a bathtub that is leaking from the other side.

    And now about 40 musicians, including two concertmasters, two principal cellists, wonderfull trumpet players etc. are dismissed just because they refused to accept absurd humiliations.

    There seems to be toward an amateurish – perhaps freudian – veneration of conductors. They have not realized that the greatest assets of a symphony orchestra is the orchestra itself, their talents, culture, traditions and procedures, moreover, well known principles of modern management.

    Where is the oft-repeated excellence in this jury for the auditions now? This jury includes someone who is not even a musician but a marketing man and, despite the priority clause of his contract, the conductor is not present (he is conducting somewhere else). And the board of managers keeps quiet. In this context art is clearly the least important issue. The so called “excellence” is nothing more then a clichê, a siren call, which incidentally, looks more like a shark call. In fact the conductor does not want to lose the bite of about US$ 800,000 a year. Note that more than 50 percent of such fee is paid as a sponsorship percentage received by the orchestra, disregarding the Brazilian Simphony Orchestra Foundation Statute.

    The boycott for the OSB auditions is against those who use a cultural institution as means of achiving an unbounded ambition, perpetuating a personal career and dreams of power despite of the art, of the artists and of the common good.

    Bernardo Bessler
    (former Young OSB conductor and former OSB concertmaster)

  • Kenneth Burward-Hoy says:

    I have been following this boycott with disgust, and reading comments from musicians and unions alike. The process of re-evaluating through auditions is legal and the accepted process of employment worldwide. The Brazilian orchestra management has rehired 50 musicians who auditioned, and dismissed 36 who wouldn’t or couldn’t audition. What is the problem? If you can’t audition why are you sitting in an orchestra where performing in public is your job ?? If you auditioned years ago does that mean you have, or are entitled to, a job for life? (Maybe in the old Soviet Union.)
    In 1970, I was associate principal violist with the Dallas Symphony USA. Anshel Brusilov was appointed the new conductor and requested all non-tenured players to re-audition. We all auditioned, no one was fired and no union boycott. We were all qualified in the first place.Good on the orchestra management and their conductor for trying to improve the standard of their orchestra (with recent funds given them) for the city ot Rio de Janeiro.
    Kenneth Burward-Hoy
    Former Principal Violist with
    Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and a Principal Violist in New York