Rattle leads musicians in outcry against Brazil ban on wood for bows

Rattle leads musicians in outcry against Brazil ban on wood for bows


norman lebrecht

November 08, 2022

Yo-Yo Ma and Simon Rattle are fronting an international campaign today to stop Brazil’s outgoing Bolsonaro government from crminalising the trade in a unique wood that is used for making bows.

The best bow are made from pernambuco, which grows in northeastern Brazil.

Jair Bolsonaro has submitted a motion to criminalise use of the wood. It is due to be heard by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at its forthcoming meeting on November 25.

Bow makers say only 200 trees a year are affected and they have taken measures to renew the plantations.

Why the anti-environment Bolsonaro is pursuing this measure is unknown.

You can sign a petition against it here.


  • Hayne says:

    So musicians are “pro enviroment” until it affects them directly. Then they’re “anti enviroment.” Hard to keep up…

  • lamed says:

    Is there a petition for Amazon Indians to go to Yo Yo Ma’s home, seize one of his cellos, cut it down to make kindling wood for survival? I’d sign it.

    The economic imperialism, the cultural arrogance, ecological absurdity, oh, Yo Yo Ma, what have you become?

  • Milton Ribeiro says:

    I´m Brazilian and, unfortunately, I follow Bolsonaro’s actions in these 4 years. He is always against artists because them, most part, do not vote for him and disapprove him.

    • Pedroso says:

      Milton Ribeiro. I am Brazilian too and I muito say you are perfectly right.

    • MWnyc says:

      So you’re saying that Bolsonaro is basically pushing this law out of spite?

    • lamed says:

      I have no doubt Milton Ribeiro and Pedroso are Brazilians. But so is Bolsonaro. And so are the indigenous people most directly affected by cutting down their trees for export to Europe and US to make little musical instrument parts so that European and American musicians can play Bach and Mozart more prettily.

      A correct claim to nationality, per se, doesn’t make a correct claim on behalf of a country or of a people, much less a correct moral claim.

      • Alex Klein says:

        The Pernambuco region has been depopulated of indigenous peoples long ago, so the argument that protecting the trees would similarly protect the First Nations of the region is without merit due to European colonization, territory grabbing, exploitation and, yes, genocide. The few remaining individuals from the original tribes have been mostly absorbed into modern (ie. White European imposed) society.

        The plight of Pernambuco wood is similar to that of the Mpingo (Ebony) tree in Eastern Africa and its use on clarinets and oboes. They both “can” be harvested sensibly provided a sufficient effort is applied to protect it from extinction and guarantee that it thrives again.

        On that end, Yo-Yo Ma and Simon Rattle are on track for a reasonable solution where everyone wins, specially the trees themselves which would gain an economical reason for their protection.

  • Euphonium Al says:

    My guess is Bolsonaro is making an ideological point to cast his left-wing opponents as hypocrits. Not sure why he selected this partciular tree species to make the point, however: I doubt too many people outside of the classical music world will notice this little kerfuffle. Moreover, as the comments on this website ably demonstrate, plenty of classical musicians, listeners, and donors lean to the right.

  • Nelson says:

    Hayne & lamed…..2 pea brains in a pod….there are always trolls amuck here who put the jerk in kneejerk with moronic reactions for the sake of “shocking” us. Enjoy your ignorance!

  • Norabide Guziak says:

    Blame Lula. He was the corrupt, deforestation-hungry president before Bolsanaro and he’s now ‘President’ again. Any current problems are down to him.

    Oh, sorry; doesn’t fit with the propaganda narrative? Deal with it.

    • Hayne says:

      Lula is just another cog for the WEF. As Emma Goldman said, “If voting made a difference, they wouldn’t allow it.” That’s why they don’t.

    • Rob Keeley says:

      I suspect that if this had been a Lula law, Sir Rattle and his liberal-left sycophants, sniffing a fashionable bandwagon to jump on would be fawning all over him.

  • Tim says:

    Snakewood aint intolerably bad as a bow material

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Notably, rare trees cannot be used other than in musical instruments?! Using the same way of thinking, we should allow ivory for piano keys.

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    There’s no need to use wood. Not today. Why stick with an ancient, long-surpassed, obsolete technology? Should we still be using large arrays of candles for stage-lights?

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    In a time when new materials, sometimes produced using very advanced means like nanotechnology, why fell rare trees for producing bows? The same can be said of violins, cellos and oboes.

  • Gustavo says:

    “Why the anti-environment Bolsonaro is pursuing this measure is unknown.”

    Pinching the topics from your opponents seems to be a tactic to weaken their line of argumentation.

    In 2011, Merkel did something similar with initiating the nuclear phase-out in Germany (while pushing for Russian gas and renewables). Since then, the Greens have been a lame duck with no agenda of their own.

  • Gustavo says:

    What are batons made of these days?

    Narwhal ivory?

  • Dragonetti says:

    A sense of perspective is needed here. So about 200 trees per annum are needed for bow making. That is a minuscule drop in the ocean compared to the area of forest that is illegally cleared for logging or, even worse, for grazing. Properly managed there would be no environmental impact.
    Pernambuco just happens to be the the most wonderful wood for bows. Nothing comes close for strength, flexibility and weight.
    There is only a relatively small market for top quality bows. This smacks more of a publicity seeking move by a not universally highly regarded politician who has recently received an unsatisfactory election result.

  • JB says:

    I would respectfully suggest that foot stamping is not the best way forwards here and musicians should be very careful about the way they approach this so as not to come across as entitled, parochial and hypocritical. Believe it or not, Bolsanaro has much bigger fish to fry and there actually is a serious problem with pernambuco harvesting.


    I don’t pretend to know much about bows, but I’d have thought (perhaps naively) that it must now be possible to find an alternative material? Alternatively, if bow making only uses 200 trees a year, might it be possible to take cuttings and grow the trees elsewhere? Yes, it will take time, but then most new ideas do. Time for a bit of diplomacy I think, and the problem might go away!

    • Les archets - pernambuc est essentiel says:

      “I don’t pretend to know much about bows”, in that case why are you commenting on something you claim to know nothing about.

      It’s nothing to do with destroying a relatively common Brazilian tree.

      Pernambuco, is in short supply, particularly the old dark types which made the marvellous Kittel, Simon, Peccatte, Hill bows, and many many others.

      We all look for that perfect balance of weight, strength and flexibility.
      No other material works.

  • Una says:

    Same with ivory piano keys. They were got rid of for the sake of elephants in Africa for something better. Why are musicians so pro environment until it affects them and then its all up in arms about ‘me’ and my violon bow – and then okay as it’s sourced in Brazil. Wonder if they would have been so vocal had the wood been sourced in Epping Forest in Essex or Hyde Park in central London, or even the Central Park, New York??? Doubt it!

  • David K. Nelson says:

    What is interesting is that, at least according to my bow-rehair guy, even a number of my cheapest “emergency” bows — things my mother found at rummage sales for a dollar or two — that evidently came with long-gone factory fiddles that might have been sold by Sears Roebuck circa 1900, are pernambuco wood. Some of them even have genuine ivory at the tip, although the frogs are simple and pedestrian but seemingly genuine ebony. The harvesting of pernambuco (and ebony) must have been intense at that time since Sears surely peddled tons of cheap violins, all with fairly plausible looking Strad labels, thus now accounting for many “attic Strads” that most of us string players have been asked to look at over the years.

  • Strongbow says:

    Bamboo is the answer…

  • Grabenassel says:

    The best bow doesn’t help if you have no sound and bow technique….