An orchestra at war with its powerful conductor

An orchestra at war with its powerful conductor


norman lebrecht

September 22, 2015

Two months ago we were approached by musicians of the Symphony Orchestra of the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) with lurid tales of the breakdown of their relationship with chief conductor Emil Tabakov. Since much of the material was highly subjective and the orchestra of limited international interest, we declined to publish it.

Since then, much has happened.

According to the musicians, Tabakov, 68, was suspended by the director of BNR’s music department for ‘systematic violations of his labour profile and endless conflicts with the orchestra.’ Tabakov called in political allies – he is a former Bulgarian Minister of Culture – and hit back, forcing the director’s suspension and returning to his podium.

‘Our indignation,’ say the musicians, ‘is enormous’.

Not much we can do from the outside, except to point out that all is not well in the musical state of Bulgaria.

emil tabakov


  • V.Lind says:

    Now that you have published, I am intrigued as to precisely what “systematic violations of his labour profile and endless conflicts with the orchestra” entailed. Did they tell you more? Inquiring minds want to know!

    • Member of the orchestra says:

      Dear VLind,
      I’m member of the orchestra. So with small correction all above is true. The director even did’t menage to cast away this evil. His connections are so strong that until now there is no force able to remove him from his post. After all this is a radio orchestra. Every conductor in the world has interest in conducting it. So if you need proof we have documents wich prove it all. So what, communism is still doing its bitting in all nashional businesses. Especially in the media.

      • IP says:

        And do you happen to play the trombone, I wonder…for your reputation travels before you. The infinite dirt of connecting Tabakov to communism — he was minister in an interim government that followed the financial collapse brought about by the Communist government of Videnov. They stayed in office for four months, pulling the country out of catastrophe and preparing for the next elections, which is obviously a crime by Bulgarian standards.

  • BNR musician says:

    Hey V.LIND , i will tell you just short example . Music director Emil Tabakov , said to principal conductor Emil Tabakov , to record with BNR orchestra 5 symphonies and one requiem from composer Emil Tabakov. And of course music director Emil Tabakov decide how much money National Radio must pay to composer Emil Tabakov for copyright . This is just one of many examples . Funny story . What do you thing about it 😉

  • Uwe Geller says:

    Not surprising at all. As far as I know, this conductor has been thrown out also of other orchestras before, because of similar reasons. Good, that the musicians approached you, Norman.

    • BNR musician says:

      That’s right Uwe , your information is correct . Also interesting fact is how he left Belgrad philharmonic orchestra . You can check it .

  • Vik Iliev says:

    Wow!! It got international nowl! We´ve all heard stories, but it seems the pressure is too big on him now. How can a conductor continue working with an orchestra that refuses to play under him?….Regardless of talent, music making is highly intimate process and without it is just playing notes….

    • Gerhard says:

      There are conductors who do their best to work with the orchestra they are conducting. But there are also others, thank goodness lately in decreasing numbers, who get their kick out of the power game. They thrive on conflict and like to rape any orchestra in their power as long as the circumstances will allow them. I do not know this particular maestro, but if the allegations are true, he would certainly not be a singular phenomenon.

  • BNR music journalist says:

    I have only one question to those musicians of BNR SO who are unhappy with their conductor. Why were you silent when Tabakov was not only your conductor but also the chief of Music Production Dept., i. e. your chief? Now he is just a conductor.

  • BNR music journalist says:

    It’s not true that the Chief of Music Production Dept. is suspended. She is on sickness leave.

    • BNR music journalist says:

      An addition to the post above. Neither Tabakov nor the manager of Music Production Dept. Mrs. Chavdarova has been suspended. I don’t swear Tabakov never broke the rules but Chavdarova’s sick leave is a result of music producers’ protests against her authoritarian manner of management whose main feature is violating the rules according her own interest. It could be described by that famous sentence: “L’etat c’est moi”, said by Louis XIV but he was an absolute monarch.

      • BNR musician says:

        Dear journalist . no one claims that Tabakov or Chavdarova are suspended . This was written in bulgarian article with not correct translation , not here . The fake accusation to mrs. Chavdarova are from producers close to Tabakov. You forgot to mention the MEMORANDUM in defense of Helia Chavdarowa signed from 90 % of BNR musicians . Not only symphony orchestra . Also BNR Big Band orchestra , and BNR traditional folklore orchestra . This document is a fact and you can’t hide it . Please don’t be a “troll” It is time for people to learn the truth

  • IP says:

    It is sad that N Lebrecht got mixed up with a lurid Balkan story. Tabakov is an excellent conductor who has done, among others, a perfectly viable set of Mahler symphonies with Bulgarian forces, lots of recordings for Naxos, a wonderful recent recording with Svetlin Roussev and a great Britten disc for Decca. It seems that there is some animosity between him and an anonymous (at least musically) producer at the Radio. Now, we know the usual business of orchestra members with their conductor, but it is harder to see what business they have with the producer. Evidently, their accusations cannot be put into civilized English, and I doubt whether they would look much better in any other languange. My advice: stay out of this.

    • BNR musician says:

      Dear IP , mister Lebrecht already has letter with our accusations written on “”civilized English . Please accept my most sincere apologies that members of our orchestra are not polyglots like you .
      Nо one claims that Tabakov is not a good conductor , but his behavior is unacceptable . He had a luck that work in country of absurdity like Bulgaria . Disrespectful behavior and conflict of interests are just two from top 100 reasons why he must leave with dignity .
      Just ask Ask yourself … Is it coincidence that he has been thrown out from his previous 3 orchestra ???

    • Uwe Geller says:

      This conductor is excellent? Excuse me, but this is rather far from the truth. I had an occasion to see him here and excellence is not the right word to describe him. The musicians here also disliked him, because of his behaviour. It is very praisable, that Norman publishes about these kind of issues and helps the orchestra. In countries of the ex-Eastern block, totalitarism obviously still plays a great role. This has no place in a modern society and no conductor, or whoever can afford anymore such behaviour.

      • BNR musician says:

        Thanks Uwe . Is good for all to know that people outside our country had similar observations . And not everything is just “biased” accusations of Bulgarian musicians .

  • Musical says:

    That’s all true! Sad story for one pathetic old conductor, useless and evil! Thank you Norman for this short note! The battle beggins. There is no music and art in this orchestra, there is only fear! It’s time, after 8 years! I know everyone who wrote here! You are pathetic “trolls “, nothing more!