University suspends Solti conductor for ‘intimidation’

University suspends Solti conductor for ‘intimidation’


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2017

Shortly before his opening concert on Friday, Brown University told Brandon Keith Brown, music director of its orchestra, that he was ‘relieved of his duties’.

Apparently, students complained that he was too harsh in rehearsals.

Brandon Keith Brown came to attention as the audience favourite in the Solti conducting competition in 2012.

He has been unavailable for comment. Report here.


  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Solti would have been proud.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I suspect there will be commenters lamenting the state of today’s college students, perhaps invoking buzz words like “snowflakes” and “safe spaces”. Or perhaps they will tell of how the great Toscanini railed at them and how wonderful it was.

    I don’t know anything of the Brown University individual but I can imagine the situation being like one i lived through in college. A conductor was hired to lead an ensemble largely on the expectation that he would be “tough” and have “professional standards”.

    The ensemble only got worse, however. He could shout and emit a very professional glare at every error but he couldn’t teach solutions to student musicians.

    His lack of rapport was brought up with the department chair whose response was, “Oh, I suppose you think he should just stand there and tell jokes?”

    No, but leading an ensemble of student musicians, many (most?) of whom are not music majors is a rather different task than leading musicians who have to tolerate you to get paid.

  • Colin Price says:

    As a semi-retired orchestra conductor, I have learned that you can’t bully musicians, either professional, student or amateur if you want to get the best. You need a finely tuned mixture of persuasion cajoling and encourage ment. Much of this comes with experience. The days of the tyrant conductor disappeared long ago, or they should have done.

  • Garwith Vaughan says:

    I had the privilege of performing under Solti. R is true that be did sometimes bark and bully a bit if you did give him what he wanted, but he also showed you how to give him what he wanted.

  • Robert Roy says:

    I remember leading the second violins in Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture. The CONductor was a real bully and succeeded in turn the beginning of The Allegro from competent to appalling in about 5 minutes as he yelled at us to play it better without offering explanations as to how it could be achieved.

    I remember him saying ‘That’s not how the Vienna Philharmonic play it!’ I seem to recall replying that, in that case, perhaps he should ditch us and go and conduct the Vienna Philharmonic!

    Oddly, they seemed to have resisted his ‘talent’ so far!

  • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    Well, I don’t know how he conducts and runs the rehearsal, but at least he looks quite intimidating.

    • Ignatius Sancho says:

      You mean “Black”? Noted.

      • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

        PC triggered …
        But NO!!! The intimidating look of this man has nothing to do with his blackness. There are many charming black people, but this one doesn’t look very intellectual and musical.

        • Robert Holmén says:

          The picture indicates a brain case of above-average proportions and I’ve watched enough old movies to know that indicates high intellectual ability.

          • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

            You mean E.T.?

          • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

            Moreover, there’s a difference between intellectual and intelligent. Based on the story told here about this man, you can make your own judgement.

          • urania says:

            What story? There are just a few facts, no story. How can you judge a person in such a superficial way? I do think that he does look highly ok! And what has race to do with all this???

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      It seems that we have some adepts of phrenology here.

  • Alex Davies says:

    I’ll refrain from naming a certain English church musician who is known for shouting at his singers, although I suspect that some readers will know of whom I speak. He used to shout at choirboys (one of whom reported a threat of physical violence) and I’m told that he now reduces adults to tears in rehearsals. The results are excellent, but that has everything to do with his musicianship and nothing to do with his interpersonal skills. Indeed, I imagine that improved interpersonal skills would only render even finer results.

    • Bill says:

      You hit the nail on the head – results due to musicianship. I’ve played for some conductors who had played for Toscanini and Szell in days past, and while the experience could be quite unpleasant if you (or your colleagues) came unprepared and failed to play at a high level, there was no denying the musical gifts, and they knew how to tell us what we needed to do. Sure, I’d rather play for a reincarnated Abbado than a reincarnated Szell, but the choices I get so often seem to be musically ho hum, and after enough of that, even a complete tool with some musicality will be welcome for awhile. For me, playing great music well is an acceptable trade off for a few bumps and scrapes along the way. I can hang out with more pleasant personalities after the concert, after all. Your mileage may vary.

  • Bruce says:

    I have played for conductors who were tough and demanding, and I’ve played for conductors who were simply bullies and jerks. Never played for a bully who got good performances out of his musicians.

    (It’s worth considering that perhaps the bullies got what they most wanted, which was everyone in the orchestra afraid of them. If what they’d wanted was the best possible performance, they would have thought about how to achieve that goal and gone about their work differently. If they thought that musicians play best when they are terrified/ resentful/ insecure, then that might explain why they were never very good musicians.)

  • Robert Holmén says:

    There must have been a ghastly incident because “student complaints” are generally pretty low on the radar of college administrators. Student are always complaining, right?

    After listening to some recent Youtubes of the orchestra I’d say it is almost certainly not comprised mainly of highly-focused performance majors. It is probably a collection of people who were talented players in high school but are now pre-med and pre-law and political science majors with many other demands on their time.

    • Bruce says:

      Considering that bullying tactics aren’t especially effective with professionals or dedicated conservatory students, it’s surprising he thought they would be effective with non-majors.

      (Assuming the bullying allegations are the real reason for his release, that is. For all we know the real reason could be sexual abuse/ harassment.)

      • Robert Holmén says:

        We don’t know much… but a subterfuge like that is unlikely given the real legal peril a coverup of sexual harassment creates for colleges.

        No, I think the intimidation thing is plausible. Someone might have caught several egregious tantrums on cellphone. Or perhaps there are faculty members playing in the ensemble who could corroborate student complaints.

        Probably a rather unique situation among colleges, however.

  • Pacer1 says:

    As usual, so much second guessing going on without first hand knowledge of what had actually happened. There are several video clips of his rehearsals of this Brahms symphony online. Although posted selectively by Mr. Brown, it is at least apparent that he brought a very clear standard to the podium, and was doing what should be done at a university: teaching. If asking music students to play correctly is intimidation, then we’re all in trouble.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      I looked on his YouTube channel.

      There are only four videos; none are of his rehearsals with the college orchestra.

      • Bill says:

        There were some the other day, rehearsing the finale of Brahms 1 and demonstrating what he wanted with violin in hand. Seemed quite reasonable to me, but he is unlikely to intentionally post something that shows a fireable offense (and I make no assumption that he committed any such offense).

    • Fiddler says:

      I met Brandon a number of years ago, and while I had no personal qualms with him, I am aware of at least two other Universities PRIOR to Brown, where he was let go / fired from for aggressive behavior / serious attitude problems.

      That being said, some of the above speculating, however, with no prior knowledge of the individual is pretty terrible.

  • Alexander says:

    I’m a long time pro in a top orchestra and I played under this guy for a week in a competition orchestra comprised of professional musicians from all over the country 2 years ago. During the week, he managed to insult almost every individual in the orchestra as well as the young competition soloists. He has a talented stick yet he is THE biggest condescending A-Hole I’ve Ever worked with in my 35 years as a professional string player. There was never anything pleasant or nice or positive that came out of his mouth. Getting fired is exactly what he deserved.