Eminent bass is sacked in Belgium

Eminent bass is sacked in Belgium


norman lebrecht

March 06, 2014

We hear rumblings from Ghent, where the international bass-baritone Gidon Saks has been informed in mid-term that the university will not apply for a renewal of his work permit.

His place is being taken by a nondescript local teacher. Students and faculty are unhappy. Apparently, this part of a new policy of Belgianisation.

UPDATE: We have received this message from one of Mr Saks’s foreign students:

…Mr. Saks told us from beginning of first semester that he was struggling with his contract, and that it always happened since he first arrived to the school 9-10 years ago.  In spite of that, he continued to work with us in the Opera Workshop (if you can call it like that, when we even don’t have a pianist and have to go seek STUDENT’S collaboration), where at the end he worked as director, vocal coach, hair dresser, make up designer, style assistant, lightning director, and even fell from some stairs trying to put something onstage and resulting with a swollen knee that was already gone through surgery, and with a wobbly pace for some weeks.
A punctual man, who was always willing to work with the students.  Who is willing to give us two voice lessons per week, when the school just pays him one.  He didn’t have to do all that extra work!  He didn’t have to be teaching us extra hours! He didn’t have to stay from 9am to 6pm almost without a break just to teach everyone who is willing to work with him! That is called passion, and aim to help young singers.  That is something that unfortunately is not found in all teachers, and sometimes lesser in the ones who ask a 150-200 fee!!!
I want my teacher back, and I am happy you posted that note, and I hope it gets viral and overcomes the stupid laws of the Belgian government.  What the school says is he wasn’t granted a working permit renewal because he didn’t have a title (BA, MA, even high school diploma).  But, SO WHAT????? What about all the work he has done in those past 9 years?? Why they didn’t cared about his titles the years before?  Why now???? 

gidon saks, ghent


  • Basia Jaworski says:


  • With a Scottish mother he should be able to get a British passport very easily and thus circumnavigate the problem. Funny how Brussels has been progressively stripping EU states of their sovereignty but Belgium apparently reserves the right to make up its own rules. Deux poids, deux mesures…

    • Simon says:

      Maybe this is not a Belgian, but a specifically Flemish problem, wouldn’t surprise me. There is a certain paranoia among Flemish politicians of Flanders losing its cultural identity because of two many French-speaking Belgians and foreigners who might speak French but not Dutch moving there

      • Philippe says:

        Oh, come on, don’t believe everything they write in the papers about the supposedly xenophobic Flemish. Or gobble up gratuitous and insidious prompts about ‘Belgianisation’ (with perverse echoes of ‘Nazification’ and ‘Balkanisation’). We do have our political problems here but that has very likely nothing to do with this case. Saks is listed on the Ghent Conservatory website as guest professor and that means he holds no official position whatsoever. He may well be a very giffted singer but if in the ten years he has been at the Conservatory he has not been able to comply with the demand for official qualifications to solidify his position, then that’s too bad. I believe these sorts of rules apply in all EU countries.

  • Mathews Roland says:

    Gidon Saks was born in South-Africa. Raised in Israel. He started to sing at the Flemish Operahouse in Antwerp and later became teacher in Ghent. Apparently he might be to good as a teacher. Belgium wants only less quality and people that think they are Gods. I can name a bunch of those over here.

    About he missing some titles. Well… When you work you have to know how to do it. It’s not because you have a title you can teach. Belgium is allready full of those titles that even cannot hold their instrument ( voice ). When you go for an audition a title is not asked. Only…. let us hear what you can. I think that when you work with Valery Gergiev you can sing. I heard several of his students over the last few years and must admit they can sing. SO? He proofed he can teach.

  • Who is the ‘nondescript’ local singing teacher and what proof is there that they are without defining characteristics and by suggestion, not up to the job?

  • Tristan Van Dowve says:

    Is kind of funny to see this kind of articles, when the person that writte them and the persons also who react are really not so aware of the situation I

    Here in Belgium, first of all there are some thing in favor but also some against, for example the decisions are taken for the university or ministerium of education and not from the conservatorium even this happen in the conservatorium in Brussels they have an audition for take the place as a teacher, then the conservatorium take 3 candidates and then the university or ministerium of education take the desition of who takes the place as a teacher athereof them the important is who have the best cv and the highest diplomas, so for that the level here in Belgium is so bad in comparative with Nederland,England, or Germany, now as I sow from one person of above in dead the teacher appears as a guess teacher and I’m sorry but the conservatorium of Gent is one of the more bad conservatoriums in all Belgium plus I hear that even in the conservatorium of gent they don’t have enough budget, so is really hard to take a decision agains or in favor but if we want to be hard about the profetional musical studies gent is not the better school of singing and I thing that we can see the results in his students, if he would have really good and top students then I think is our obligation to fiigth for this kind of teachers if not I’m sorry but the work it can do it somebody else….

  • Brulhilde says:

    Well in most conservatories in Europe and certainly in Belgium, the school can employ singing teachers based on an eminent career and experience. This is legal and the teacher is not asked to show a teaching degree.

    This smells like there is a political agenda behind it. In Belgium in the educational system, a lot of teaching jobs are given to people wth the right ‘partijkaart’ / if you’re a member of the right political party because basically they are government jobs. That is in my opinion why unfortunately to often people who sometimes haven’t even sung one role on even a provincial opera stage are teaching at conservatory level BUT they rock a pedagogic degree and the right party membership!! Good luck Mister Saks, if this is what happend, you’re better of elsewhere it is a loss for the students however.

  • Mathews Roland says:

    I had a full career in music education in Blegium ( Flanders ), so I think I know something about it. The conservatoires became one with the university from the moment the Bologna treaty was signed in 1994. Before that date there was NO degree as Bachelor, Master of whatever. Here is was called a first price ( 80 % of the marks ). Then a Higher Diploma ( also min. 80% of the marks are needed ). We can say that a ” first price degree ” is about a Bachelor, and the ” Higher Diploma degree ” is about Master degree . I don’t know what the fuss is about if people have a degree from before 1994!!! Having a good party-membership card is very important in Belgium. However I’v never had that and I always worked as teacher-accompanist and voice teacher in education. Was Korrepetitor at an operhoude for 10 years, was pianist of a Radiochoir for 4 years, was pianist in a Ballet Company, have been conducting choirs & orchestras – all simutaniously. Now In Ghent Mr Saks was not the first one who got sacked. Also the Viola-teacher ( Prof. Michael Kugel ( Russian ) ) had problems, but could stay on due to some pressure, only with a reduced numbers of hours, but still as a full teacher in the Netherlands. Also a Russian violin teacher had to leave, but she was picked up by the Lemmensinstituut in Leuven…. I know the reputation of the Ghent Conservatoire being of a lesser quality, but the singing class NOW with Mr Saks has never been better. This is an example for all other conservatoires in this country. Belgian vocal education is a disaster. But the quality I heard in Ghent is an exception to this. This was also the reason why I adviced student to go to Ghent instead of an other city. At the other hand I know many teachers in Ghent to shouldn’t be teaching at all.

  • Wim De Temmerman says:

    Gidon Saks at the School of Arts Ghent

    The board of the School of Arts Ghent (The Royal Academy of Fine Arts & Royal Conservatory) wants to express its appreciation concerning its collaboration with Gidon Saks, and also its hope to continue this collaboration in years to come. The board strongly deplores that it is currently unable to finalize a labour contract, due to the objective, legal restriction regarding the number of consecutive labour contracts for non-EU-citizens, in spite of the many efforts made by the University College Ghent. New options to continue this much appreciated collaboration will now be explored in consultation with Mr. Saks. On his recommendation Catrin Wyn-Davies has been appointed to teach the course ‘Muziektheatrale Vorming’ till the end of this academic year. Her experience as a music teacher and international artistic curriculum guarantee a high pedagogic standard. All singing students of the Royal Conservatory have been informed by the dean himself. Of course they also deplore, as do the board and his colleagues, that Mr. Saks is currently unable to resume his activities in the school.

    We firmly deny that this turn of events has anything to do with any language politics, nor Belgian nor Flemish. The School of Arts Ghent, on the contrary, aims for international students and teachers and is the only school of arts in Flanders to offer English masters in Music, Visual Arts and Audiovisual Arts.

    Wim De Temmerman


  • Gidon Saks says:

    Dear Mr Lebrecht,

    My situation has not been entirely correctly reported. It is not the School of Arts, but the Belgian government that refuses to grant me another work permit. Apparently, Belgian law places a limit on the number of working visas issued to a non European tutor, and it appears my limit has been reached. I am in the process, along with the School of Arts in Ghent, of rectifying this problem.

    Catrin Wyn-Davies has replaced me for the remainder of the academic year – a soprano with both superb performance and teaching credentials.

    Thank you,

    Gidon Saks