'Oh my God, who can make music under coercion?' – composer tells orchestra to stop playing his works

'Oh my God, who can make music under coercion?' – composer tells orchestra to stop playing his works


norman lebrecht

June 29, 2011

The long-running calamity at the Brazil Symphony Orchestra took an ugly twist today when the senior composer, Marlos Nobre, found that the OSB had put one of his works on their programme next season. Mr Nobre referred back to a public ban he had proclaimed on the orchestra and its contentious conductor, Roberto Minczuk. Then he let fly, in a letter to the director, which gets personal from the start:

Dear Eleazar de Carvalho Filho,

I confess that I feel myself in a very strange situation, when I write this name that immediately lead
me to evoke my great friend – your father Eleazar de Carvalho,
master of the Brazilian conductors, whose memory I evoke here as an
example. As the conductor of the Brazilian Symphonic Orchestra, that
conductor – your father – does not always found flowers and
caresses. The exercise of conducting an orchestra sometimes is a hard,
painful and exhausting task, what your father once confided me, when
we both were professors (he taught conducting and I composition) in
the renowned Yale University, in the USA. But never – and I repeat
-, never the great, the very great Eleazar de Carvalho was carried
away by rancor, hurt and disputes about to summarily dismiss the
musicians of his orchestra. And, you see, even supported by his name
and reputation, his unique and unquestionable authority earned that
time, he probably could do it without major troubles.

When an eventual confrontation in face of his musicians took place,
your father – our Eleazar – the greatest Brazilian conductor of
all time, had the humility, wisdom and prudence to leave with heads
held high and never promote a fratricidal war, a personal vendetta. He
looked farther, not only to his career, but for the survival of a
sacred mark, the label “Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira”. Whether
your father already was great, enormous artistically and humanly, he
then became a giant, a wise, an enlightened person. And from there,
from his departure from the OSB, his masterful career steps to reach
that no conductor yet reached in Brazil, in the United States and in
Europe, today.
So, I’m sad – I confess to you, Eleazar Filho –, since, like
Roberto, I knew you when you were still a boy, in your mother’s
arms, the composer Jocy de Oliveira, colleague of mine. I saw you,
Eleazar Filho, to reach, adult, ascend the highest positions in the
financial administration of our country, especially in the BNDES,
justly favoring many musical events, moved by love for music, surely
transmitted by your father, Eleazar, and your mother, Jocy .
Now I see you and Roberto, those boys who I knew in my youth, I see
you both despising the great lesson that should be the example – the
myth of you both – as father and great conductor.

Instead of this consanguinity, Roberto and you, Eleazar Filho,
promote, together, the most impressive breakdown in music that we know
in the history of our country. I don’t understand, I cannot hardly
comprehend how you both – Eleazar and Roberto – cannot see that
you are fomenting one of the most rampages against the institution
itself that was handed to you both to be preserved and carried
forward. There’s a clamant irony when reading in your own name –
Eleazar de Carvalho Filho – the presence of a moral, musical and
artistic heritage that all of us desired to be preserved.
What is more serious in musical environment of Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil, Europe, USA, the youngest and the oldest musicians, the
greatest personalities of music in Brazil and other countries are
perplexed in face of a an absolutely inedited fact: you, Roberto and
Eleazar, remain undaunted, ignoring everyone and everything, you both
don’t listen to the voices outside you, and, I ask myself: shall be
you hear the inner voices, the deep voices of your consciousnesses?

Doubtless, the musical Brazil is in grave danger, not only because of
30 or 40 dismissals and the abandonment of their families, the
perplexity of their sons and grandchildren, too. But because of
Brazilian young musicians who cannot, should not be confronted,
discouraged early in their lives. Yes, how do you think, Eleazar and
Roberto, the Brazilian musical youth is reacting to all of this?
We already saw the courageous attitude, the unbelievable burning
behaviour of those OSB Youth Orchestra’s young musicians waking up
to don’t insult you, Roberto, but to deafly and silently protest,
denying to play under pure and explicit coercion.

Oh, my God, who can make music, think about music under coercion,
disenchantment, hopelessness, no matter it is?
Oh, my God, where are we, in which territory, country, culture,
place, cultural desert, exposed to the most depressing situation in
face of international organizations that directly repudiate this sadly
famous “Brazilian case”?

We must not, we don’t want, we cannot be explicitly famous because
of such clamorously negative situation, unfortunately stark, carried
to the point that simply no one can predict its outcome. What is
known, what feels good is that, it is not for anyone else.
And now, a lack of respect (and uniquely personal in this case):
after my public letter to you, Roberto, published everywhere, blogs
and newspapers in Brazil and in the world, the FOSB, without my
authorization, still includes in its season announced now, a music
composed by myself, though I expressly banned it! Yeah, I’m in my
right! So, it seemed to be a regrettable personal affront.

Now, some musicians pressed for reasons do not get me to imagine or
speculate, sold their souls to the devil after they publicly decried
the dismissals and the situation and the current direction of FOSB,
forgetting that they themselves are and will be the executioners of

Therefore, I, Marlos Nobre, request you: do not confuse me with them
– who are deserters from a holy war. Please, at least respect me to
be respected in the minimum of respect that remains throughout this
marathon of errors and unfortunate situation to which is being exposed
Marlos Nobre,
Rio de Janeiro, June 28th, 2011.


  • MusikAnT says:

    Wow. I guess engaging in hyperbole and histrionics must be something of a peculiarly Brazilian trait or pastime. “Holy war”? “Oh my God” indeed.

  • Alex Klein says:

    The term “Holy War” was used previously in an article featuring the conductor Roberto Minczuk in a major news magazine in Brazil. Mr. Nobre’s use of the expression, therefore, is not an exaggeration, but simply a continuation of an earlier argument raised by the conductor himself.

    Mr. Nobre is not the only one to raise major issues about the OSB situation. Myself, Antonio Meneses, Cristina Ortiz, Nelson Freire, Paulo Bosisio, Norton Morozowics, Isaac Karabtchevsky, and a number of Brazilian and foreign artists have expressed their astonishment at this situation, either through letters such as the above, or by cancellations of their engagements with the OSB (such as the recent cancellation of violinists Simone Lamsa and Joshua Bell) or the protests by foreign orchestras which are led by Mr. Minczuk.

    Put together, this group of artists represent a variety of musical fronts and ideas (even Brazilian Popular Music artists like Edu Lobo are rallying behind the dismissed musicians), and an undeniable unity of purpose. While all of these artists are very demanding on themselves, seekers of perfection and the utmost beauty in music, and representatives of top-level performance and composition, none of them will stand by and support what OSB and Minczuk are doing, even if the commonly heard excuse for such is a forceful improvement in quality.

    Quality is what we all want, but quality is a very wide word. Never in symphonic history has “quality” been achieved overnight. Symphonic quality is a recipe cooked slowly over a long period of time, decades even. If you can’t fathom a symphony orchestra maturing over a long time, think of wine. What the OSB proposes is that every 2 years you will go to your cellar and throw out every bottle that does not taste close to fresh grape juice. In fact, a Board member, Mr. Mussinich, said clearly on national television Globo that such auditions will be held every 2 years (!!!). This is a recipe for continuous disaster and a never-ending stalling of the orchestra’s brewing quality.

    New symphony orchestras are always welcome, but not at the cost of the sacking of half an existing orchestra. No matter what the excuses in this case, no matter what is promised, nothing can justify the firing of half an orchestra in a vain effort to achieve quality.

    OSB, Minczuk and their President Carvalho Filho need to rehire every single musician they fired, immediately, or their project will be forever tainted by negative press, which is the antithesis to fund-raising and audience development. If some musicians are past their prime to the point of creative difficulties for their colleagues, well, there are transparent procedures for that, being used every day in hundreds of orchestras worldwide.

  • MusikAnT says:

    So please correct me if I’m wrong. But do you really mean to tell me that this labor dispute is an actual “holy war”? Think about that for a second–and I mean really think, not just react impulsively and sentimentally–and get back to me on that. If you still insist that this labor dispute is indeed a “holy war” and that use of that term isn’t merely abusively extravagant, then you’re beyond help.

    By the way, didn’t the Philharmonia Orchestra adhere to similar auditioning standards back in the Walter Legge days? If I remember correctly, contracts were only issued on a yearly basis. Players had to reaudition every year for their positions. Apparently, Legge did this to keep the orchestra on its toes. Well, I don’t know about you, but the old Philharmonia sound pretty fabulous to these ears.

    Mengelberg ran the Concertgebouw along similar lines. Did they suffer in quality? The dazzling virtuosity of that orchestra speaks for itself on those 78 RPMs. In fact, I’d say they were a better orchestra back then than they are now.

    Of course, Mahler famously ran the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Philharmonic like an army brigade. In fact, he sacked very many members of that orchestra–and polished it to one of the greatest artistic peaks in musical history.

    Sometimes I wonder whether orchestral musicians today need to be guided under sterner hands. Sure, orchestras are pretty nifty today too. But, more often than not, the playing, while technically brilliant, fails to really excite and catch fire. It often happens that comfort leads to complacency.

    • AVI says:


      And see the recent thread on this blog “are the Tchaikovsky competition orchestras good enough?”… if one thinks not, then one should ask oneself what could be done to improve them, and how that might be gone about.
      I don’t have an answer as such; but so many people angrily and vocally decry any attempt to do so, without proffering a solution or an idea of their own.

    • Alex Eisenberg says:

      Dear MusicAnt, you seem to be unable to grasp what Mr. Klein is talking about. Why do you waste your time discussing the use of terms rather than the issue itself? Composer Marlos Nobre was just repeating the phrase first used by that infamous conductor Roberto Minczuk. His was the original and ridiculous “holy war” hyperbole. However, the man was not joking. A conductor who fires half an orchestra is evidently a psychopath, which is what any “holy warrior” is – so it is just natural that the man calls himself a holy warrior. He believes he is the great savior of Brazilian music, just like Muslims believe they must take over all nations in order for their perfect religion-government to reign over the earth and forced converts be saved from impurity – and just like all means are fair game for Jihadists, the same applies to Mr. Mintczuk, who beheads half an orchestra in order “to save it from itself” – behind his absurd behavior is a sick thirst for power: he desperately needs to show himself as Brazil’s foremost conductor, who turned the OSB not only into Brazil’s top but even into a world-class orchestra, as if this were at all possible and he had this magical capability. Reality is entirely different. OSB members told me he was placed among the last in a list of conductors who were considered potential candidates for the OSB music directorship. His hiring was a political arrangement carried out without any participation of orchestra players. The exact details of that arrangement are not yet known, as many more legal procedures must be launched in order to unearth how it happened. As a non-Brazilian you are certainly unaware of how culture is dealt with by Brazilian politicians and financiers. The very fact that the FOSB Board not only fired half the orchestra but had the guts to use Brazilian taxpayer money to fly to Europe and stage local auditions to hire non-nationals to replace beheaded OSB players speaks volumes about the degree of corruption in it. The mere existence of such a state of affairs is unimaginable within the administrations of major US and Western European orchestras. In addition to that, Brazilian orchestra players have much more to lose when fired than US orchestra players, for Brazil doesn’t have professional orchestras at all middle-sized towns. And most Brazilian orchestras pay very low wages. So when a OSB player loses his/her job, he/she might be unemployed for a long time.

      As for what you say about other orchestras, please wake up. You are in the 21st century. It is now much harder for dictators in the West to get away with crimes than it was 60 years ago. And why should Legge be taken as an example? The man was such a megalomaniac that he wanted to disband the Philharmonia out of personal caprice, when it was no more serving his purposes. But the musicians were evidently way greater than he was and simply let him go and formed the New Philharmonia. In fact, contrary to what you say, the NPhil example should be followed in toto by OSB players! They should get rid of the psychopath who took the OSB musical directorship over against the musicians’ will, and also expel Mr. Eleazar de Carvalho Jr. from the OSB Board. What Philharmonia players did to Legge is the best possible model for OSB players!

      Now, concerning Mr. Nobre’s words about conductor Eleazar de Carvalho – the father of Namesake Jr. – I beg to differ. Being a musical pioneer in Brazil at a time when good music education in this country could only be achieved by taking the first plane to Europe does not turn that pioneer into a great musician. Carvalho became a myth more as a result of his skill at keeping discipline and authority than his capacity as an artist. His recordings betray mediocre, mostly inexpressive interpretations as compared to great artists such as Leonard Bernstein or Giuseppe Sinopoli. I understand Mr. Nobre’s words as a thankful compliment to a conductor who occasionally conducted performances of his music. And here I agree with Mr. Nobre, all the more so in a country whose native concert music is mostly ignored and often despised by most of its conductors (in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king).

      Finally, you probably have no idea who Mr. Klein is. He was principal oboe at the CSO for many years until very recently. So he knows full well what he is talking about.

  • AVI says:

    I take Marcos’ views on board. But didn’t a whole raft of Soviet composers write some rather fantastic music under all sorts of oppression, repression and in generally undesirable circumstances? Doesn’t some of the best art come out of adversity? Not all good music comes out of or is made in pleasant circumstances.

    • Palvez says:

      Yeah – but we are not talking about composers and the best conditions for them to have their masterpieces produced – the bottom line here is half the number of the musicians of an orchestra being sacked overnight by a confirmed despotic conductor allegedly based on an improvement in quality – we are talking about qualified talented professionals who had to produce their resumés and audition for their positions, complying with the standards and the administration ‘policy’ at the time and who had been able to keep their jobs for time enough to count on their wages to provide – school – rent – food – for themselves and their families and lead an ordinary urban life as it is – apart from all the philosophical and artistic aspects of the picture – so – I ask somebody – how does one do the morning after ? Wasn’t there any other way to deal with the issue ?!

  • MusikAnT says:


    Say, thanks for your condescending reply! Your mincing apologia for Brazilian hysterics wasn’t at all hilarious. And hey! Great job at driving that ad hominem attack with all the subtlety of a freight train crashing through a suburban living room. Thanks for playing!!! :3 :3 :3 <3 <3 <3

    Some clarifications are in order.

    First, you failed to mention that a good deal of the Philharmonia's best players left the orchestra before it was reconstituted as the NPO. Legge's folly was clearly the rival London orchestras' gain. Having said that, the Legge period is–whether you like it or not–widely considered to be that orchestra's golden age. In fact, today's Philharmonia sounds rather tired in comparison to its more robust sounding predecessor. Legge, along with Karajan and Klemperer, made the Philharmonia one of the best orchestras in the world. Today it's not even the best orchestra in London.

    Incidentally, the Philharmonia didn't "expel" Legge. Wasn't possible; it was technically Legge's orchestra. They merely regrouped under a new name. An idea which the sacked OSB musicians should pursue instead of the vindictive and petty name calling currently on display.

    Oh and here we go again! "You're not from [x country]! Therefore you have no right to comment on [x country's] musical affairs!" I've answered this bogus criticism fully elsewhere on this blog. Suffice to say, I doubt you chide non-Brazilians who happen to support your position with the same old saw.

    I'd go on answering you… but why? In your tunnel-vision view of things, your position is the only correct position. Any opinion to the contrary is wrong. Minczuk is "sick"; a "power hungry dictator". I'm sure you'll find other things to accuse him of. Perhaps he eats babies, tears off the tags from mattresses, or doesn't clean his hands after going potty? Hey!–maybe he's covering up Area 51, too! And now that I think of it, was Minczuk on that grassy knoll on November 22, 1963? Feel free to add more wacky conspiracies and outlandish accusations! You Brazilians have already far outpaced my own feeble imagination. I can't wait to hear what else you'll come up with next!

    • MusikAnT says:

      P.S. The above was directed to Alex Eisenberg.

      • Alex Eisenberg says:

        I didn’t say you have “no right” to comment on Brazilian music affairs. What a distortion. What I said is that you have no idea how politics is in Brazil. And I said this because you can’t understand why things are the way they are without studying the context. Since I explained to you what the OSB context is and you ignored everything and preferred to pose as a victim of an attack (the only real hysteric behavior I’ve seen here thus far), it is a complete waste of time to continue this exchange. Have a nice life and be happy…

  • IAhiahiau OIAJoija says:

    It is a shame that some of the comments being posted in this blog are being based on bigotry.

    Mr. Eisenberg makes a huge generalization calling all the Muslims murderers. It is the same as calling all Israelis as mass criminals because its army brings disgrace and kills the poor Arab families in Gaza. (They also have the bad habit of ceasing any attempt any attempt of humanitarian help for the Gaza people – as denounced in the case of the Red Cross ship attacked by Israel army).

    Mr. MusikAnT is also being bigot for all the demeaning and generalizing comments he’s being making about people from Brazil.

    By the way , I understand and agree with Mr. Klein’s opinion on the OSB case.

  • Ademir dos Anjos says:

    Hey MusikAnt, get real! Mr Eisenberg didn’t use any ad hominem argument, nor anybody is acting histerical except you!
    OSB put a piece of mister Nobre in his schedule after he strongly expressed that this phony orquestra should not play his music again. That was disrespectful! Alas, as has been all of your own commentaries in this blog…

    You said: “Sometimes I wonder whether orchestral musicians today need to be guided under sterner hands. Sure, orchestras are pretty nifty today too. But, more often than not, the playing, while technically brilliant, fails to really excite and catch fire. It often happens that comfort leads to complacency.”
    Do you have any idea of the stupidity you are saying? Use those principles to rise your children, if you like, but that state of affairs should be banished from the grown up world, for its own good…

  • Jenni Lunde says:

    “Oh, my God, who can make music, think about music under coercion,
    disenchantment, hopelessness, no matter it is?”

    Look up the history of Prague’s National Theatre in the 1940s and 50s. It’ll make your blood run cold. First Nazis, then Commies, and zero artistic freedom under either regime, for musicians or artists or composers. Yet they created beautifully shaped interpretations of music and true works of art! Add to that that many of these people were Holocaust survivors (Karel Ancerl, Marie Podvalova) or victims of the extreme poverty that was the Great Depression of Europe before WWII (Beno Blachut)…and it doesn’t seem like Brazil has much to complain about!

    For the family members I never got a chance to know (because of WWII) and all the musicians who have lived and died in my family, I thought I’d point that out. Music is a tool *against* disenchantment and unhappiness. Or at least, it should be…

    Oh, ans Shostakovich is a good composer to look at when studying music made under coercion…

  • Ademir dos Anjos says:

    I must say that is very difficult to follow the argumentation line above… Is M. Jenni Lunde saying that we must be glad to work under coercion? Is she hypothesizing that, even if in Brazil they are not killing mountains of people and there is not a war at sight, we should act as if we live under exceptional circunstances and let authoritarian people do what they want to? Or, what a menace, should we just not complain, cause things could get much worse?
    Brazil has a recent case of authoritarism in its history, when in the 60s a dictatorship was imposed to the nation and the civil rigths where disenfranchised. It officially was terminated in the 80s, but the 20 years of darkness still can be felt. For instance, the juridic powers of the republic are packed with people that had collaborated or had been formed under the dictatorship period. The military government has gone, but the structure that supported it is almost untouched. All sorts of arbitrariness happens in the country, always favoring the economically powerfull in detriment of the common people.
    But even Marlos Nobre, who lived the old dark days, is willing to make of the country a better one, as are the musicians and their audience, fighting against those truculent businessmen who insist in put the nation on a leash.