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Brazil Facebook protest – the burning questions

I have posted both sides of the dispute that has prompted many musicians, in Brazil and around the world, to black out their Facebook pictures in protest against the enforced re-audition of musicians in the national orchestra.

The musicians fear this procedure will cost many, perhaps most of them, their jobs. The conductor, Roberto Minczuk, insists that no jobs are at risk. On the contrary, the players who pass the audition will be paid more.
Clearly, neither side trusts or understands the other. 
Why else would an orchestra hold auditions except to select and reject musicians? One of the international musicians named for the jury says she was unaware of any such role; another has withdrawn. 
What happens now? Are the members of the Brazil Symphony Orchestra expected to play before the three remaining judges, one of who is contemplating resignation?
And how will the orchestra ever regain trust in a conductor and management who have such little faith in their own players? It would seem that many jobs are now at risk, including maestro and manager. 
How soon? Your guess is as good as mine. But I cannot recall an orchestral dispute in recent years when the two sides were so far apart and good will was so low.
Samba School Drummers section
Here’s a letter just received from the musicians’ committee, disputing some of Minczuk’s arguments:

Dear Mr. Lebrecht,


The OSB Musicians Commission considers important to make the following remarks about the letter by Maestro Minczuk, published on this blog:

 

1.  The period of commotion we are experiencing for about two months, is the result of hasty disclosure of a document calling on all the orchestral body (including leaders) to participate in a misguided “performance evaluation”, limited to a single individual presentation of 30 minutes long. Undoubtedly, it has never been done during the 70 years of existence of the orchestra, not stated on the employment contracts of the OSB musicians and certainly not adopted in any of the major orchestras of the world, as it is usually exposed by Maestro Minczuk. This document, received by the musicians on January 6th, 2011 made no mention of any layoffs, but the strangeness of the call at the beginning of summer holiday as well as the uniqueness of the proposal caused great commotion among the musicians. This type of audition is usually applied in order to enter the orchestra, not as a “performance evaluation”.

 

2.  The impression that the mass dismissal would occur was reinforced during the release of the 2011 season, about three weeks ago, when it was officially announced that all programming scheduled for March, April, May, June and July would be in charge of Brazilian Youth Symphony Orchestra, a music students ensemble, with no working contract with the OSB Foundation and which should actually be submitted to an educational program consistent with the goals of a real Youth Orchestra, and therefore, not able to replace the professional orchestra. If there is no intention to dismiss, what would justify this huge period without any schedule for the musicians of the professional OSB immediately after those auditions?

This impression of a massive dismissals, was also reinforced by the unexpectedly announcement of a Voluntary Retirement Plan, for which only three players signed up. A young musician who plays the English-horn in an exceptional manner, an oboist with extensive experience in international orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic and Berlin Opera and a violinist with over thirty years devoted
to OSB.

 

3.  This salary 6500.00 U.S. refers to a few positions in the orchestra. The base salary will be 3529,00 U.S. , plus extras for concerts and total assignment of image and audio rights. With this “wage increase” the orchestra nearly doubles the number of functions, and compels all musicians to exclusivity in addition to removing the bonus for years of service earned by the musicians after tough negotiations.

 

4.  The musicians certainly would agree to a well-structured program of “performance evaluation”, since it included the same criteria used in serious institutions, as demonstrated to the President of the OSB Foundation, Dr. Eleazar de Carvalho Filho, in a meeting with members of the OSB Musicians Commission, on February 12th, 2011. In this case, the evaluation would be subject necessarily to the analysis of the musician performance in the course of a given period (i.e. annual) and obligatorily subject to review by the sections principals and the Maestro. It could never be limited to a single individual presentation, which can be negatively influenced by uncountable factors.

 

5.  Maestro Minczuk has been the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of OSB for the last five and a half years. He had more than enough time to evaluate the members of the orchestra which he has worked with for hundreds of rehearsals and performances.

 

6.  It is noteworthy that the “ritual” for admission to the orchestra is in its statutes and was always observed. He inferred in his letter that the musicians have been admitted in the orchestra without the necessary rite of the auditions. The personnel and accounting departments have the records of every musician’s admission and their history within the institution. However, there have never existed any official documents of the auditions with the notes of the judges. He did hire some musicians without auditioning them. He can veto any candidate.

 

7.  We are convinced that the orchestra and its management would not be subject to the current constraint if the musicians had participated in the drafting of the evaluation program, a possibility predicted in the Statute of OSB Foundation.

 Sincerely,

Luzer Machtyngier

President of the OSB Musicians Commission

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Comments

  1. I can’t help but think that the ruckus here is entirely down to very poor communication – initially from the OSB management, and possibly then whipped up into a greater frenzy than it needs to be by the players.
    Can any group of players really object to an ‘evaluation’ at any point? If it is undertaken sensitively and fairly, what is the problem? I have already commented here about a group which do re-audition annually, and they seem to get along fine. The system I’ve outlined (which seems more than fair) is one whereby once a player is in the ensemble, they retain their job provided they meet the minimum standard each year (so there’s no risk of being turfed out by the latest whizzkid) – thus maintaining an orchestral grouping and ensemble as a whole. If a player falls below the minimum standard, then they can be given 6 months (or whatever) to sort it out. Frankly, if they can’t meet the standard after that, why would they wish to stay?
    - – - – - -
    This whole saga does demonstrate a serious problem which some orchestras face – how, exactly, do you go about replacing a player who is well past their best and can no longer perform at the standard of the rest of the ensemble? Is it fair on an orchestra or a choral group to have their hard work tarnished by a principal player (say), who can no longer play in tune or in time? If your principal flute can’t deliver the major solos of the repertoire well any more, what can you do about it?
    More, is it really fair on the audience either?
    - – - – - -
    The initial letter posted on this blog was largely incorrect when it tried to draw a parallel with companies – suggesting that major corporations don’t re-asses their staff. But this is nonsense. Any good company regularly re-assesses its staff, and particularly those who are in critical positions (eg engineers) or are public facing (eg sales). Generally, those found lacking are offered chances to make it better and get up to scratch – and if not, are re-depolyed (similar to taking an orchestral musician and getting them to drive a desk, say), or made redundant.
    And surely this is right? Who amongst us would want to see heart surgeons who are not routinely re-evaluated? Who would want to go under the knife with a surgeon who isn’t very good but, you know, he’s got a family to feed so we wouldn’t want to get rid of him and besides, he keeps those in the morgue employed? And across in the arts sector – who really wants to go and listen to a band of players when some are a bit duff? When you are the consumer, you want the very best. Why then, as the provider, would you not wish to work towards providing that?
    Musicians need to remember – they are there to serve an audience, however remote that may seem when caught up in internal ensemble politics. To all those who oppose re-auditioning – what alternative do you suggest? Do you really support a job-for-life culture where once you’re in you don’t need to keep up to scratch? If not re-auditioning or some process of re-evaluation, do you prefer a system where the music director or artistic director (or even an elected orchestral committee?) can hire and fire at will [c.f. the recent case with the oboist in Wales]? What system do you suggest to ensure that our artistic institutions are as healthy, vibrant, and of the highest calibre that they can be?

  2. Eduardo Monteiro says:

    Hey Anonymous,
    YOu are very right, when you say that good companies reassess their staff, notably those people that occupy critical positions. Let’s then begin to discuss the audition to the most important artistic position in the orchestra, that is the chief condutor position?
    You need to remember that in the case of the Wales oboist, only he was re-auditioned. Not the entire orchestra, and that it happened after the problems with him were discussed during a long time with the competent representatives of the orchestra.
    The system I personally suggest to ensure high-level orchestral playing certainly doesn’t include the tremendous break in confidence that is happening in this case. Mutual confidence is something that should be the first thing to be cultivated on the part and in the interest of the management and the artistic director. Instead, they came with such an amateurish pakage of the worst possible orchestral engeneering, if you want to keep so posh, producing managing parts that will never match to each other. Once they were told about their faults, they began to threat and to insist on the bad habits they practice since many years there.
    Do you really believe, this would be the right thing to do, would their real aim be the artistic development of a symphony orchestra? Or aren’t you a musician? Do you know how a symphony works? I don’t think so.

  3. Luiz Benedini says:

    I would like to address some of the points raised in Anon´s letter. My answer is yes to the question of musicians objecting to evaluation. Because it depends on the method of evaluation. It should be an ongoing procedure and not a topical one. Any musician could not prepared in a short period of 60 days to perform the most important concerti and a vast orchestral repertoire. Orchestral musicians are trained not to be individual players. They must play together, they must lower their individual instrumental voice in the benefit of the collective orquestral sound. Besides, even soloists would not be prepared to play three or four major concerti – plus other additional pieces – at such short notice if they are not in his immediate repertoire.
    Yes, companies evaluate their employees. But not by a test. They do it by assessing their productivity, the relationship with their subordinates and superiors, their behavior in the group, their initiative, their creativity, their team work capacity in a period of time. And, remember, bosses are also evaluated mainly on their ability to keep the team proud of and happy in their work and motivated by their leadership. Of course, nothing is more important than adequate leadership to make a good orchestra.
    How is it possible that the OSB musicians were not evaluated in the course of five and a half years? Some maestros say they cannot know if the violinist in a row is playing well. Allow me to tell a story. Toscanini conducted all Beethoven´s symphonies in Montevideo for the Sodre orchestra. In his very first rehearsal, just after he lowered his baton a couple of times he furiously descended the podium and grabbed the neck of a violinist in the fourth or fifth row who was playing out of tune. Oh, yes, maestros can and should be able to evaluate every player in his orchestra.
    As to the problem of replacing members of the orchestra that cannot any longer meet the standards, the solution is not that difficult. That musician – who should be judged by musical and not political standards – must be made aware of his flaws. If they can be remedied, the problem is solved, if the musician lacks the will to practice yes, he should be dismissed, and if the poor productivity is a result of age, he should be given a dignified and properly paid retirement in accordance with the period of his life he served that orchestra.
    Finally, the case in the OSB is exactly the same as the oboist in Wales. The OSB music director can hire and fire and he can, according to the statutes of the orchestra, disagree with the other jurors in the audition procedures. His voice prevails and he has veto power. The proposed “evaluation” therefore cannot be right.

  4. Thanks, Luiz & Eduardo, for your replies.
    The thrust of my post, really, was to ask – what are the alternatives? I see many orchestras with under-performing musicians. In a situation where the management, or the conductor, can “hire & fire”, everybody complains (generally rightly, in my view). Now that auditions are mooted, everybody complains.
    I wished to ask – what is the alternative? What great system is there that we’re not using? Are auditions the answer, but it’s just that the OSB handled the process badly?
    It seems clear to me that the current systems often don’t work – many orchestras have duff players who really shouldn’t be there. Most orchestral players will happily name a few in their orchestra if you ask them in the pub, and most aspiring orchestral players can name a few in their instrument who they feel are well past their best but remain in a job. It’s the same in most walks of life, of course!
    The exact ins and outs in Brazil and in Wales aren’t really relevant – I’m interested to know what you – as players, administrators, conductors, managers, and others – feel could be done better, and how.
    - – - – - -
    Eduardo:
    You mention many things, but I feel are a little short on specifics.
    - the conductor is often appointed by democratic vote of the orchestral players, following a trial run – an ‘audition’, if you like. Players often eject a conductor if they don’t like them. The conductor is almost certainly the subject of more rigorous assessment and evaluation than the players in most orchestras already. What is your point in mentioning it?
    - you say what your system would not do, but you don’t say what system you actually suggest! What system do you suggest to maintain and improve the artistic standards within and of an ensemble; and how would that system cope with dealing with poor or under performing musicians?
    - – - – - -
    Luiz:
    - sure, orchestral playing is different to solo playing. Good orchestral auditioning practice already takes this into account as far as it can. That doesn’t mean auditions are not worthy of consideration – why else would that be the first way of appointing new members in most orchestras, pre-trial?
    - I’m asking about an ‘ideal’ situation, so there’s no question of preparing pieces at short notice. I’m asking “what is the best system” or “what is a better system”. I’m quite happy with the idea of, say, an annual audition; plenty of time to prepare…
    - you are right that evaluation is more than just a single test. That’s why a standard orchestral new job entry is based around both an audition and a trial. In a re-evaluation, the trial is already taking place all the time a member is in the ensemble. Is there anything wring with having an audition as well? Of course, I agree that those other factors should be taken into account.
    - I don’t really want to dwell on the OSB situation – there are too many uncertainties to make a good call. I would prefer to ask – what is the better system we could be using?
    But since you ask the question “How is it possible that the OSB musicians were not evaluated in the course of five and a half years?” I can answer that it is entirely possible! I can think of EU and UK orchestras where there is no formal or meaningful evaluation amongst players, so I’m sure the same could easily be true in Brazil.
    As for the Toscannini anecdote – are you suggesting that you expect a good conductor to be able to do this? And if so, do you want the conductor to do this? – so are you suggesting that the best system for you is the the conductor decides who is playing in tune or not, who should be employed or not, and hires & fires at will??
    - I agree entirely with you penultimate paragraph. An under-performing musician should be made aware of such, and given an opportunity to rectify the problem.
    My question, though, is *how* do you do that? Does the conductor decide that a player is under-performing, and tells them, and who judges if they have improved? Isn’t an audition (blind?) in front of their peers – other players – more fair?
    - if your final paragraph is suggesting that the Wales case was unfair because you believe it to be the conductor firing the player at will, then I agree with you. And again, I ask – what system could have dealt with this better?
    Surely if that orchestra were regularly auditioning, that oboist would have been gently told to up his game a long time ago instead of a sudden ousting? Wouldn’t that be preferable?

  5. Carlos Monteiro Zhopa says:

    As much more we read these blogs when browsing and surfing the internet we realize that definitely a change for good is going to happen at the OSB foundation, or already happened. Time to throw a wrench here as well in some people that do not have the MORAL to be posting things here.
    Recently Mr.Luiz Fernando Oliveira e Cruz Benedini started to support these few musicians that are not accepting what they call an intifada against them. Curiously Mr. Cruz Benedini (I will make it short since his name is humongous) was fired, yes he was FIRED from the foundation for many different reasons. If you just Google his name, you will find many interesting articles about him, initially he was a diplomat, representing Brazil abroad but then he was involved in corruption, he was getting his hands where he was not supposed to, check this out (unfortunately available only in Portuguese): http://www1.an.com.br/2002/set/06/0pai.htm http://www1.an.com.br/2002/set/06/0pai.htm and this as well http://intocaveis.com.br/GS1/Gs2/GestaoFHC-Enriquecidos.htm Here is just a translation from one section of the article from the link:
    “Mr. Cruz Benedini bought three apartments and one house in Miami (that’s in the late 90), the market value of these properties was more than one million US$D, the ownership was in his name and wife. Just for the house he paid US$D 845 k. The earnings of a consul is from 8k US$D up to 10 k US$D. An incompatibility was found between his income and his assets…. and more and more in Portuguese”
    If you keep digging over the internet you find that he fraudulently diverted many dollars to his own benefit through dirty actions.
    Yes, he was convicted and charged with many counts of fraud and for allegedly looting a bunch of money from somewhere. Arrest warrants were issued against him, but as usual in Brazil and because he was a diplomat at the time, he got around. To get away from the prosecution he even tried to retire but was not allowed. Evidently you will hear from him and his lawyers that he was found not guilty, that his not guilty, this was never proved and so on. You hear that from people like Mr. Maluf, Mr. Kadafi, Bin Laden and …….. As usual, the ones with good connections and corrupts do not go to jail in Brazil, they always have a Brazilian way of getting away from the law, there is a different constitution for them .
    Cannot say that with assurance but why he was dismissed, fired from the OSB foundation? Where there is smoke there is always fire, as they say in Portuguese. More scandals? Schemes? Frauds? Definitely his carrier profile was not really an asset for the OSB foundation . His carrier as a diplomat was a shame for the country, he was persecuted several times and he still fighting with the law up to today. Everything I wrote here was extracted from the web, nothing created.
    People like Mr. Cruz Benedini has no moral to say anything against the OSB Foundation decisions and as a musician I would like to ask you, Mr. Luiz Fernando Oliveira e Cruz Benedini to stay away, instead of helping you are damaging, your contributions are not welcomed, stay away from us.
    Carlos Monteiro Zhopa
    Pandeiro – Unidos da Tijuca

  6. Eduardo Monteiro says:

    In case of the OSB, another conductor was chosen by the musicians. The actual Chief Conductor began his activities without having the confidence of the musicians and only a few years after he caused 9 musicians from the OSESP to be dismissed, because HE made a gross mistake during a rehearsal. That is why he would never have been chosen by the musicians. He wasn’t chosen based on any test or audition of any kind.
    Every orchestral musician in the world knows how to improve quality in orchestras. If you read the dozens of articles on the subject many real musicians have written on the Facebook, after the OSB crisis was lauched, you can have a good idea about how it can be done. Musicians don’t speak a lot about it, because it is clear to them. Sorry, I won’t give the receipt here. I can guarantee though that what they are doing is wrong. If you don’t want to trust the opinion of a 30+ years experienced musician, I can’t help you. Sorry

  7. About Luiz ……..Cruz Benedini
    Ghost in the Palace
    Fired after a scandal and rehired after a judicial order, the ambassador and pianist Luiz ….Cruz Benedini is based at the DSC, Department of Stairs and Corridors of the Itamaraty. They forgot about him.
    Fantasma no palácio
    Demitido após um escândalo e reintegrado judicialmente, o embaixador e pianista Luiz Fernando Benedini está lotado no DEC, o “Departamento de Escadas e Corredores” do Itamaraty. Esqueceram-se dele.

  8. Zé do Pistão says:

    This a quick note here how low and disgraceful are those posting comments here and writing letters against the BSO Foundation.
    They, the UNION and others (Luzer is one of them), have being threatening other musicians to not show up at the evaluation, if you show up you will face consequences? What kind of consequences? Just post here what you are going to do, you bunch of cowards.
    What they will do against us? Is this a free country? Democracy? Where is my right to do whatever I think I should do? If you disagree, fine but stop calling and emailing the ones that want to stay away from this shameful attitude and disagree with you.
    We got rid of that disgraceful Luiz Benedini and he is back here, hitting the fan with his comments. You Benedini, you were fired as our Executive Director due to your incompetence and double standard man. You are a nonsense person, there is a room for you reserved at Bangu, the state penitentiary. By the way, they have a small theater there where you can play your piano.

  9. Rob Weir says:

    Anon.
    Unless you can identify yourself as an orchestral musician of any note or even a musician at all your incredibly naive comments serve only to take up space that might otherwise go towards dialogue between people who actually work in this business.
    Thank you.
    Rob Weir
    Bassoonist (and tenured member!)
    San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
    NL adds: I do not normally allow anonymous comments. Because of the sensitive nature of this dispute, I have waived that rule. Do let me know, readers, if you think I should reinforce it.

  10. Eduardo Monteiro says:

    The two Zhopas and Zé do pistão (Joe trumpetist) are trolls.
    People who defend the OSB’s management invariably don’t reveal their identities. Most probably because they aren’t musicians, at least in any orchestra. Or because they belong to the adulator’s team.
    The statement that Luzer could have threatened colleagues made me laugh so loudly, as I haven’t done in months.
    @Rob, I think you are right. In this case, I decided to denounce them as trolls, so that people can have an idea, who in defending whom.
    If a link war is to be initiated, the management and artistic direction of the OSB will have a great lot to lose.

  11. Dear “Rei do pistão”
    I`m a musician, Percussionist and personal friend of all the three trumpet player of BSO and I`m pretty sure you are not one of them! ok?
    And I`m really sure that the three won`t participate of this shameful audition.
    “have being threatening other musicians to not show up at the evaluation, if you show up you will face consequences?”
    the BSO musicians are very very very fair to each other and have never threatened anybody! ok?
    YOU ARE CERTAINLY Mr. MINCZUK WRITING, AREN`T YOU???? HAUHAUHAUHAUHAU

  12. @ Eduardo
    I have no wish to enter a debate about who amongst us has experience in the orchestral – and other musical – worlds. Suffice to say that I have sufficient experience, both personal and from close friends and colleagues, of working with, in, and for orchestras across the EU, UK and elsewhere in the world.
    @ Rob
    It is clear that while we are in the midst of the current fracas, anyone saying anything which does not “support the musicians” will be ‘flamed’. Since I work in music, I clearly have no wish for this to happen personally (heck, like the musicians themselves, I have a job and a family to support!). I’m sure you will understand my desire to remain anonymous at least for now. I’m more than happy to have my thought on record at a time when tempers are less frayed and reasonable discussion is more possible.
    I’m not entirely sure why you consider my comments to be naive; moreover, I am only trying to promote the discourse you write about. Maybe, then, you would offer your opinion? What system works in your orchestra, and what could be better about it? How would you go about improving things if, say, you felt your principal clarinet and long-standing near-desk-partner and friend wasn’t up to the job at the very top level any more? What’s the fairest answer?
    [Norman, if you feel you wish to disallow anonymous comments then of course I understand - it is your blog after all; but in that instance I must refrain from posting further.]
    - – - – - -
    But really, why the queries as to who I am and what I do? That is irrelevant.
    Eduardo, you ask us to trust you that musicians know better how to improve, and how to maintain a standard in an orchestra. Yet you don’t offer an insight into /how/!
    My original posting was only to *ask* the question – how?
    How is this done now, and how could it be done better? How should it be done?
    I see plenty of orchestras where it does not happen. Where there are players well past their best, and no-one dares to say anything. Where there are players who are not up to scratch. Where performances are marred by poor playing from poor players.
    This is not to take away from the many hundreds of thousands or more of dedicated, professional, experienced, high-quality players of course. But I simply wanted to ask – how do we do things better?
    Does anyone have an answer, or a suggestion?
    In reality, my experience or otherwise is a moot point. I’m seeking to ask those who so clearly oppose the move in Brazil – how would you do it? What system would you suggest? How do we go about it?
    Does anyone want to actually engage in that question? I’m not proposing a solution (I gave an example of how it can work elsewhere, but it’s not my opinion necessarily that that is right); I’m asking – what is the solution? What might work well for all concerned?

  13. Dear colleagues in Brazil, musicians of the OSEP,
    re-auditioning is simply illegal. Once you have got your orchestra job by an audition you have made it.
    Everey musician has to keep his artistic standard individually. 133 German orchestras, amongst them the famous Berlin Pilharmonic, the Munich Philharmonic and others, have unlimited, longterm contracts. Only by building longterm relations – without re-auditioning – high perfomance teams in the orchestra can grow and develop. Re-auditioning is not the way to rise artistic stantards. They are forbidden.
    My recommendation to all musicians: just boycot any illegal re-auditioning procedures.

  14. Karl Dietrich Fleuschner says:

    Lieber Herr Mertens!
    I think you do not have a clue of what is going on, you shoul get informed
    First before posting such comments.
    There are german conductors that have being working with the “OSB” for many
    Years, talk to them to get informed. I am pretty sure they will be able to tell you the details.
    You cannot compare German orchestras with orchestras in Brazil, particularly “OSB”.
    Pass auf with your comments,
    Gruss nach D.
    Karl

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