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Facebook protest prompts orchestral blackout

A row over re-audition procedures at the Brazil Symphony Orchestra has prompted many local musicians and overseas colleagues to black out their facebook photos in protest.

The points at issue are laid out in a letter (below) from the former Chicago Symphony oboist Alex Klein to the music director, Roberto Minczuk. They are mostly internal and occupational, of no wider interest beyond the working conditions of musicians in Brazil – although some comments on my facebook page from musicians in other countries indicate levels of intense solidarity and condemnation of the re-auditioning process.
photo: Juliana Coutinho
But the fact that the musicians are using facebook as their medium of protest gives the matter wider attention and ensures that the orchestra management cannot ride roughshod over the dissenters. It could signal a new phase in musical negotiation.
For blacked faces check, e.g., home pages of Juliana Bravim, Victor Astorga and more.

Open letter to the Music Director of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, Roberto Minczuk.

Dear Roberto,


I write in an open letter format to support your intention to renew the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, OSB, and establish a higher artistic level. The OSB used to be a leader among Brazilian orchestras, but thanks to your work and leadership during these past years as well as the dedication of the musicians who kept the orchestra alive for so many difficult years, we see that the orchestra is now receiving its deserved high recognition.


However, I beg you to reconsider the strategy of imposing internal auditions to the entire orchestra, or even to a single musician. This strategy has been used before in Brazil, at OSESP, leaving scars on the music market up to this day that affect musicians and the conductor himself. At that time, however, the OSESP internal auditions brought in judges from outside the organization, reducing or eliminating the perception that non-artistic standards – that is, a personal preference of the conductor – would be used in the process of choosing musicians.


To justify these auditions, much is said about the need to raise the level of our orchestras to international standards. Ironically, there is no precedent of great international orchestras going through internal auditions to reach that level. Instead, the major orchestras in the world reached a high plateau after the onset of labor movements that gave support to the musicians, giving them job security and reasonable working conditions that foster this high standard.


The Berlin Philharmonic began its journey as a significant leader among orchestras of the twentieth century after a movement in 1882 when 54 musicians complained about working conditions and formed a new group, leaving behind their conductor. And Chicago became a leading international orchestra after the departure of Fritz Reiner and the formation of its musician’s committee which defended the labor rights of its members. In fact, Chicago’s first international tour was only in
1971, eight years after the departure of Reiner, a period in which the Musician’s Committee established the foundations for better working conditions.


Against this historical movement you cannot fight. The days of the “Godfather” in factories and industries is now long gone. Today, modern enterprises value the feedback within the firm, with “bosses” and “employees” in constant two-way communication toward a better quality product. Neither Embraer nor Petrobrás order the re-interviewing of all its engineers. This is the secret of the success of large companies as well as major international orchestras. The election of internal auditions goes in the opposite direction to these modern ideas, and makes the OSB under your leadership look at the year 1950 as an example for the future. You do not deserve this comparison, Roberto, and you need to change the course of this discussion.


The auditions have other negative consequences. They create a work environment of “us against them” where the first possible opportunity is used to score points against the other party, generating distrust, unnecessary friction, and none of that is commensurate with good music, where harmony should reign, mutual respect, artistic cohesion, and that great moment where the orchestral conductor and orchestra are “one”, and form a magical partnership. A “partnership”, however, indicates a horizontal working strategy, side by side, between conductor and musicians. And not something vertical where the maestro is on top and his decisions are untouchable. The respect musicians must have for a conductor is not really different from that which an engineer has for the administration at Embraer or Petrobras, and it depends on a two-way street where the leadership “makes sense” for the highly trained technicians who assemble the company’s product. If, from the point of view of musicians the leadership of the conductor “makes no sense”, this musician will not produce his best work, unless the desired product is merely that of 100 musicians playing together. But looking at your career, Roberto, you know how to achieve more, and you deserve more than that. Perhaps other conductors settle for less, just as well as some companies accept a lower standard. But for a top-notch institution, we demand the highest quality in everything we do, on all fronts.


It is also wrong, therefore, for musicians to demand the immediate dismissal of a conductor. You have a 6-year contract, and you should have the right to carry it through without interference or internal strife against you. Shouldn’t you also lead by example and give the musicians their own permanence without the presence of internal strife that threatens their job security and livelihood? Wouldn’t it make more sense to ensure the reasonable job security for all – musicians and conductors as contracted – leaving them free to create music without wasting time and resources, and the wear-and-tear of internal auditions and dismissals?


Mind you, Roberto, your situation is quite different from Neshling’s when he did the auditions at OSESP in the 90′s. You conduct the world’s finest orchestras, Philadelphia, New York Phil, and have an important position in Calgary. All of these modern orchestras have “horizontal” agreements with their musicians. You need not be equal to Neshling to uphold your reputation as a great orchestral leader in Brazil, and do not need to use techniques which are discredited internationally to command respect and discipline from your orchestra. A wrong choice now could cause complications and raise suspicions in your reputation abroad. You do not deserve any of this after devoting so much to your career, and we need you in Brazil as a modern leader.


The OSB is an excellent orchestra, and includes many of the best orchestral musicians in Brazil. The institution itself owes them a big thank you for keeping this orchestra alive through many years of labor conditions that fell way below expectations. If there are musicians who no longer keep up with the work demands, maybe you can bring to OSB the separation principles already existing in Calgary and other foreign orchestras that you have already conducted. A musician facing dismissal deserves to know the reasons for his impending termination, and a real chance to offer improvements. If the termination is still desired, the musician deserves to defend his case through the Musician’s Committee, so as to prevent non-artistic reasons from permeating the decision to fire him. After that, if the dismissal is truly inevitable, then please give the musician some mercy and the dignity of a proper separation, with a round of applause, a certificate of appreciation, at least some recognition that his days in OSB were of value, for which the institution thanks him. Please consider the human being inside this musician because this message will then be clear to those who are remaining in the orchestra, that it appreciates those who actually produce its sound.


These musicians have families, Roberto. They have bills to pay. The path to the desired major renovation of an orchestra is not through the removal of musicians, but by encouraging them to produce the best music they ever played, nurturing their self-esteem. I agree, however, that it is much more difficult for a conductor to work under these conditions, where 100 musicians have their own opinion and often opposed to that of the conductor. It is also much harder for Dilma Rouseff to govern our country than it is for Kim Il-Sung to govern his. For this is the system we live in: a democracy, where there is freedom of e
xpression. An orchestra or company is not a democracy, but we Brazilians are democratic people, it is in our veins. We breathe the dialogue and free expression in all our affairs, and it is up to the smart leader to know how to transform all this energy into productivity. The experience with democratic values has its price, especially for those who lead. We cannot cede to autocratic values simply because or whenever they suit us. We are Brazilians, we do not respond well to autocracy, and that’s a good thing. The orchestra, as a micro-society, also breathes democratic values even if the format of the organization is contractual and business-oriented.


I ask you, my dear friend, to reconsider and cancel those auditions. You are in an excellent position to bring to Brazil the standards of an international orchestra. Do it. Bring to your country the true standards that made a Philadelphia or Cleveland Orchestra what they are today. Raise the level of productivity of the musicians, but please do it with respect and dignity.


Let’s turn the page and close this chapter of layoffs, misunderstandings, biases, authoritarianism, and the inevitable lack of artistic consensus it brings. No more mass layoffs of musicians, and no more demands for the immediate departure of the conductor.


We count on you, Roberto, on the musician who you are and what you represent for the future, to lead the OSB without internal auditions, not because it’s easy but because it is difficult. But it is the right thing to do.




Alex Klein

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  1. I’m not sure of the particulars in Brazil Symphony Orchestra, but the only re-auditioning process I know of that might be somewhat fair…(and that’s only if the whole orchestra is plagued by incompetency), is to re-audition the entire group behind a screen, of course.
    An adjudicating panel would need to consist of at least five unbiased listeners. For that matter, perhaps the music director might be re-auditioned as well.

  2. The National Chamber Choir of Ireland (I beleive), have done this for years.
    They have an exceptionally reasonable policy, which asks that musicians, auditioning each year, remain above a certain minimum standard. If they do, then they retain their job (so no danger of being ousted by the latest 14-year-old whizz-kid to audition). If they fall below, then the player is given 6 months to deal with whatever problems or issues are leading to the demise in playing (singing) quality, after which they either retain their job, or lose it if they continue t fall below the minimum acceptable standards.
    Personally, I would happily see such a system in operation across many orchestras, choirs, and other bodies. It seems utterly fair, and is entirely about driving quality upwards, and not allowing some orchestral players to “drift” in standard. There are so many orchestras with decidedly ‘dodgy’ parts to many sections that I can readily see how this could improve matters.

  3. bob nones, Canada says:

    or perhaps, Roberto, you might find that musicians from around the world who are discovering what you intend to do will rally around their colleagues, and punish your actions by ensuring that you’re not hired as a guest conductor in our orchestras.

  4. AVI has a point there; perhaps one could think of the process as taking a driving test (every few years or so) to make sure skills are up to standard. As long as it’s strictly fair and same policy for all.

  5. It should be remembered that the “Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire” was an institution self-funded, where musicians were voting in the Conductor, not the other way around. It lasted over more than a century (130 years)and was, it must be acknowledged, the standard setter of musical quality in France.
    For the founders of the Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire such deviance in the way an orchestra is being restructured at the will of a single man, using statutes which appear to have been changed in not entirely clear fashion would have been unimaginable. Classical music in many parts of the world has had its golden period, and going down since then. Television has had a huge influence in putting the conductor higher and higher above the orchestra (you could not see him on the radio!). It is time to revive the Orchestras using a structure copied over the ones of this golden era, putting back the musicians at the center of the Orchestra´s decision making process. Again that is not an utopia, or you have to say that a 130 years of glorious history of the Societe des Concerts never existed, was an utopia???

  6. Genna Krupperheimer says:

    Dear Mr. Alex Klein,
    I do not believe you have the courage to say something about the OSB or about Mr. Minczuk.
    You just resigned you position as musical director, or whatever it was at the OSM in São Paulo. You fired half of the choir, you ruined the season, you did nothing, NULO, TOTAL INCOMPETENCE as conductor. You proved how incompetent you are, OSB have CLT, they get paid decently, OSM musicians are begging for bread, salaries are a shame, no benefits, fake contracts and you!!! did nothing!!! Nothing, you screwed what has left and left to the exile.
    There is nothing else to say about you, you are useless and incompetent. Shame on you, and all the OSM (Orquestra Sinfonica Municipal de São Paulo) musicians know very well what I am writing here about you and short stay with us.
    Please, do not try to be nice with the OSB musicians once you have ruined the OSM in São Paulo, stay where you are and, please, quiet.
    You did not care when you fired the singers in São Paulo, why you care about the OSB? Do you think you can replace Mr. Minczuk? You want to replicate what you did in Sào Paulo??? I do not think so.
    We will all remember the ruins you left in São Paulo, at the Theatro Municipal, this is marked for life,

  7. Trofim Chudak says:

    I have played with Roberto many times and he is a gentleman, a world class conductor, there is a big confusion going on here. The evaluation that is going to take place in Rio de Janeiro, is NOT for the whole orchestra as Ms. Kransberg is mentioning. The whole orchestra was not plagued by incompetence, if you look the rules and openings that were published for the evaluation you will notice that strings were targeted. As you see not all strings are soloists and this is probably the reason the Foundation OSB, and not only Mr. Minczuk, is taking these steps.
    People that are outside of Rio are getting the wrong impression and being miss leaded but some individuals.
    I really recommend Mr. Lebrecht to get in touch with the OSB foundation and Mr. Minczuk to get this straight, is not fair to have only posts against the OSB direction. Many of them, as the one of Herr Klein with no sense, since he was just recently fired due to his lack of experience/skills to lead an orchestra in the biggest and richest city of Brazil,Sao Paulo.
    For those who does not know, Mr. Minczuk continues to conduct orchestras all over the globe, as recently did in the Europe and Japan.
    At the end of this month (March) he will be in Vancouver with the VSO and all I can say is that in Europe musicians had no complains in performing under his command, the same in North America
    I have also heard from a colleague that was in Rio recently that the OSB practically killed the 10th of Mahler during the performance, and that was when Mr. Minczuk wasn’t not there. This really raised everybody’s eyebrows in regards to the competence of Minczuk, the orchestra really performs better under his command.
    Reinforcing my suggestion, Mr. Lebrecht, you should get in touch the OSB Foundation and Mr. Minczuk, things should be clarified by the right source.

  8. Almeida Jenkins says:

    This information is not complete, every “caos” or “fight” have two sides. Mto Klein participated in audition to the Paulistano choral, in the theater of opera in Sao Paulo (where he was dismissed), 75% of the singers was reproved by Sr. Alex Klein and Mto Thiago Pinheiro, this happened in your first month in Sao Paulo. Sr. Klein is totally confused and now without orchestra.
    The commission of Brazilian Orchestra in Rio de Janeiro do not put in the press the real situation, why they do not show the conductor letter? Why? Another question: why they have afraid to be test? In the letter do not say anything about be fired.
    Lets hear both sides of the any story.
    Almeida Jenkins from Brazil

  9. StevenRetallick says:

    A re-auditioning process for an entire orchestra is completely unreasonable in my view. Any group of colleagues that works together is aware of their respective strengths and weaknesses, but the point is that a good orchestra is greater than the sum of its parts. If there is a problem within a section then there should be procedures, official and unofficial, to try and rectify the situation. But to expect a musician who has long service within an orchestra, for example, to play an audition with all the attendant stress involved is simply unreasonable.

  10. Anibal Mendizabal de Castro says:

    My name is Anibal Mendizabal de Castro, loving Musician after to have studied almost 10 years of violin when he was young. I come from a family who had music like something very huge and elevated.
    Moan deeply what it happens with the Brazilian orchestra, mainly being friend gives some of them. I know related histories rather well ace Mr. Minckzuk.
    It seems to me that this gentleman must the first person have made a will itself, like giving the example of legitimate since he entered of a way totally nonhonest after to be realised an election of three people who where the name of Mr. Minczuk did not appear.This Mr. Roberto Minczuk is met like authoritarian, hypocritical, false, treacherous, self-centred to the end. Where it is always will have bad to be, discord etc, etc. Proud, highly specialistic in destroying the car it considers of the people who work with. Cynical. He thinks that the people are dismissable like a fruit that rots.
    Mr.Roberto Minczuk, his always empty, full art don’t mention it. It seems plastic music. It is but false that a bill of 3 dollars, but false that a Stradivarius violin of the Gesù commenting in public about the violin of the violinist Rachel Barton Pine that has a Guarneri of the Gesù. Some qualities of this hateful person.
    In order to finish my I protest here, could only emphasize to quality but of this individual, COWARD COWARD thousand times COWARD.
    I hope to have collaborated with the truth and justice. Very been thankful

  11. Karl Philip says:

    With all due respect to the musicians of the Calgary Symphony Orchestra, but I have to wonder if they are all absolute virtuosos because I don’t remember hearing anything like what is happening in Rio having happened in Calgary? I wonder why is that? Why hasn’t Mr. Minczuck tried to re-audition the players in Calgary? Oh, well, he knows Calgary Musicians would not accept it and Maestro does not want to burn the bridges to other North American Orchestras, which is exactly what he is doing in Calgary, waiting for a bigger orchestra to invite him. So he plays quiet there while he thanks he can do what ever he sees fit in Rio, where he thought musicians would stay silent about it. Big mistake! What he is doing is unheard of at least in any orchestra one would call first class! Not even the great Dictators of the baton in the past like Fritz Reiner or Toscanini tried something like it! Don’t be fooled!! if he gets to auditions them, he will fire some, if not most of the orchestra!

  12. Why is Minczuk auditioning the orchestra? Is it because he desires to do evil? No, it is because he desires to raise the standard of the orchestra. The example of Berlin is given, as an orchestra which is managed by the players. But I know that in that orchestra, there is tremendous pressure upon each player by all the musicians to maintain the highest standards. The pressure for excellence is so high that some musicians quit. Is there such pressure on the Brazil orchestra? Or are the players complacent, preferring to shout about workers’ rights, instead of showing they know how to play their instruments.

  13. Steven Retallick says:

    I feel I must respond to Ford’s comments which seem extraordinarily naive. My experience has been that conductors invariably abuse their power when allowed free reign in their desire to ‘improve’ an orchestra. Typically blood letting ensues with musicians being let go. It can take years for an orchestra to recover, and in fact conductors make lots of mistakes both in their choice of candidates to let go and of candidates to replace them.

  14. Re-auditioning orchestra musicians can’t be seriously considered an adequate manner to increase the quality level of an orchestra.
    Being a professional conductor requires not only skills in conducting a musical piece, but also a high level of competence HR management and in building a collective project.
    Mr. Minczuk apparently lacks the letter two.
    As Sture Carlsson (President of European League of Live Performance Employers Associations) said at the 2nd FIM International Orchestra Conference (Amsterdam, March 7-9, 2011): “A conductor that doesn’t treat musicians properly should not be invited again”.

  15. Marcos M. says:

    The point here is not the re-audition by itself, the problem is this kind of process is being used in many orchestras in Brazil to remove the musicians which the “all mighty” conductors desire. It is nothing new in that country.
    I played with Roberto as a peer orchestra musician and also under his conducting. I can tell you so many times he was not professional as an “orchestra musician”. Playing wrong notes or even different phrases to “test” if the conductor was listening, joking around during rehearsals, and other things that I could go on and on.
    When he became a conductor he was the most hypocrite because he will yell and disrespect musicians, acusing them of “making mistakes” to get him. He wouldn’t remember of his french horn days and he will keep repeating big major parts ad nauseum and make the musicians tired and being pointless. And even saying: “I am adopting the “zero tolerance” on my rehearsals, I will not admit any mistakes.”
    I wish he had grown out of his own ghosts but apparently not.
    I know him and this is a vendeta to eliminate musicians that are not accepting his authoritarian agenda. He did that in other orchestras in Brazil and he wants to do again.
    He won’t do that in other countries because he knows he can’t do it that easily. But be aware, if he has any chance, his true colors will come up! Careful Calgary…

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