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Maestro walks out on Philharmonic, blaming ‘despotic’ manager

Alexander Rahbari has quit the Belgrade Philharmonic, saying the atmosphere is ‘filled with fear’ since Ivan Tasovac, a pianist, became its general director.

Rahbari, an Iranian-Austrian, told local media that he’d had three years of success with the orch until Tasovac started acting like a despot and ‘thinking he was God.’

He says the musicians fear Tasovac, who is politically well connected, and pay him compliments although they are very unhappy. He accuses  Tasovac of making deals that are good for him, not for the orchestra, and that he is immersing a fine ensemble in pop music and crossover. Lately, he and the orch’s council had cancelled Rahbari’s dates.

There may be another side to this story. We wait to hear it. Here’s the press interview (in Serbian).



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  1. Dear Norman,
    There are always many sides to a story, you are quite right. I have known Ivan Tasovac for many years and worked with the Belgrade Philharmonic a few times, most recently only a few months ago where I and my musical partner Hyung-ki Joo played and conducted some New Years concerts with our own repertoire.
    Of course, things can be hidden, but I felt no fear from the orchestra towards anyone, they are a young and inspired ensemble, passionate about music, full of life and musicality. Since Ivan Tasovac took over, the orchestra has made quantom leaps in quality and concerts are sold out, which they were never before. The way I know him, he is a brilliant visionary, excentric in the best form of the word and absolutely passionate about the orchestra, with great ideas of PR and concert programs. He has managed to have great conductors like Zubin Mehta there and yes, he is open minded and lets people like me do performances that are “out of the ordinary” and involve other types of music also. But so does the New York Philharmonic with whom we will do the New Years Concert in New York under Alan Gilbert this year, so perhaps his choices are not so bad after all ;)
    All the best, Aleksey

  2. Two years ago I guest-conducted the Belgrade Philharmonic both in Belgrade and at the NOMUS Festival in Novi Sad. I am surprised to hear of this situation as at the time I simply admired this orchestra’s management team. They work with great discipline and were most efficient. In general there was a great atmosphere. The orchestra itself is great, proud of their past and present achievements and they make music with enthusiasm. I saw no signs of problems in the week I spent with them. This is a short time of course but musicians usually are quick to share their problems if they are so unhappy.

  3. How sad that Rahbari felt the need to go “public” with his observations. I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to guest conduct the Belgrade Orchestra a few times. They are a talented ensemble with a good working atmosphere. But they are also fortunate enough to have an excellent administrative staff that understands the changing environment of Symphony Orchestras in today,s society.

  4. former member of Belgrade Philharmonic says:

    It would be nice if both gentlemen Igudesman and Arman showed some solidarity with maestro Rahbari instead of giving credits to their business partner Mr. Tasovac, considering they have worked with the orchestra for an entire week and despite that couldn´t see the obvious situation!?
    As a former leading member of this orchestra, I can say that Rahbari is 100% right about the despotic behaviour of Mr. Tasovac. In addition to that, there is nothing “visionary”, “passionate” or “open minded” about that, since there´s a LONG LIST OF REKNOWN CONDUCTORS, SOLOISTS AND ORCHESTRAL PLAYERS that left Belgrade Philharmonic because of Mr. Tasovac´s “visions”. But maestro Rahbari was actually the first to say “The King is naked”!
    At last, I just wish gentlemen Igudesman and Arman had some more courage.

  5. Alexander Rahbari says:

    Dear Norman
    Thank you very much for having interest on this kind of problems.
    With this mail i am sending to you my complete mail to see that in really i wrote much worst then was printed.
    For your opinion and other conductors i have absolutely full understanding ,because for short time and our interest everything is alright , but when you read whole mail you will find out that something is not right.
    More then half of my mail in really are phrases that many good musicians were telling me during these 3 years. Maybe i have to mention also that if i would not talk about these problems with the orchestra Mr. Tasovac would stay also good friend with me like anybody else.
    After publishing this mail i did receive more then 20 mails from the very good orchestra musicians

    Dear ladies and gentleman
    I am Alexander Rahbari the principal guest conductor of Belgrade Philharmonic orchestra
    3 Years ago when i came for the first time to your country and to the Belgrade Philharmonic.
    Every thing with Mr.Tasovac looked like a dream.
    I had the feeling that i did find the best Managing director in the world.
    Like Ideal person to work with.
    I did accept his offer to be Principal Guest conductor.
    Unfortunately by becoming closer to him i did discover that most of his actions are absolutely for him self and his name and not the orchestra.
    Every thing became superficial and Show absolutely Show.
    In the last 4 Months i was suffering from his unprofessional behaviors.
    It became absurd when i saw that he is not happy of my great successes with the orchestra.
    I thought they did bring me to Belgrade to work well with the orchestra and nothing else.
    Last week i was obligate to inform the orchestra about this situation.
    After that he did cancel whole my concerts and i did accept it.
    I did conduct more then 120 orchestra but this kind of director i had never before.
    The big shock for me was his behavior when he discovered that the orchestra love to work with me and unfortunately not with Mr. Muhai Tang.. .
    To work like that, is not good for anybody.
    Unfortunately i did discover that his knowledge in music is very limited and his abilities are very poor but he plays big game with everybody.
    I did discover that behind his smile and friendly face to the orchestra he is hiding very bad character and everybody are afraid of him and consequences .
    The musicians are absolutely afraid of him like real dictator. They are afraid to loose their job and they give him always compliments but behind him they are very unhappy.
    I did discover that in the last 3 years many orchestras that i conduct made much more progress concerning the director of the orchestra then Belgrade Philharmonic.
    Even the orchestra of Zagreb that one can not compare to Belgrade had much better programs conductors and did much more tour to important places.
    But in Belgrade the program is like a entertainments orchestra too much show and too much one man show
    Every thing he did was first for his name then for orchestra.
    The orchestra is fantastic but he treats them like real dictator .
    He is doing too much publicity some times for the things that in other orchestras are every day business.
    He has never interest for tour or recordings if it is not his idea or if his name is not involved.
    With the time he made from him self such a arrogant person that he can not even control him self any more.
    In One hand he is kissing the hand of great Maestro Mehta that he conduct ones more his orchestra and in other hand without any shame and education goes around and he says that Muhai Tang conduct better then Maestro Zubin Mehta. The musicians are making jock of his behavior.
    In Austria they call this kind of people FALSCHMÜNZER.
    Mr. Muhai Tang is a good conductor but with this orchestra has difficulty and Mr. Tasovac has not enough knowledge and experience to find some solutions for this problem.
    For any reason he is against everybody’s opinion and says that his decision was right.
    Belgrade Philharmonic is not a private institution .
    I love the orchestra .
    They love me .
    I love Serbian people and one day i will come back to your country and your wonderful orchestra.
    Best Regards
    Alexander Rahbari

  6. Alexander Rahbari says:

    Dear Norman
    The Tabu of talking about the Directors, Intendanten , Managing directors, Gerente ect. must break.
    I hope that will be only the beginning and others get courage to write.
    In between i have lot of mails.
    Belgrade is not the only one
    Spain is full of them ,and the good musicians are suffering lot.
    In Italy is a very normal case .
    Even in today Germany you find lot.
    Directors far under the normal standard of great orchestra musicians.
    Some don’t like even music.
    But, the Guest conductors, Soloists, even sometimes ( organized and prepared media) give them lot of compliments( until they are in power) , only to be able to come back again.
    Often between the directors they build up a huge solidarity atmosphere and that works very well.
    Of course they are also great directors but some good one are also busy with their personal interest on cost of tax payers and musicians. They are busy with their own compositions, playing, conducting, or protecting their wife or relatives.
    I conducted more then 120 orchestras and i know what i am talking about
    Mr. Tasovac surly is not the only one and not at all the worst one who came from somewhere over the head of Great musicians of Belgrade Philharmonic orchestra ( during the 3 years working i had not even smallest problem with anyone of them)
    Maybe he is abusing the taxpayer orchestra too much for his own one Mann show.
    sorry for my poor English
    Best wishes
    Alexander Rahbari

  7. Mina Miletic says:

    Well done Maestro Rahbari!
    I amire your honesty and courage!

  8. stephen gunzenhauser says:

    Mr. Rahbari lives in a past century and does not seem to understand the need for Symphony Orchestras to move forward and change with the changing audiences. The Symphony Conductor is no longer “the prophet” bringing culture to the public. The Conductor is part of a team that provides inspiration to an audience. The Conductor must work together with the staff. Ivan Tasovac is eager to help the Belgrade Philharmonic to become an Orchestra that meets the many needs of the Serbian public. Writing such foolish letters that are not even grammatically correct reinforce the general public’s view that musicians are out of touch with contemporary society. Let us get beyond this and allow the Belgrade Orchestra to move ahead and provide cultural preservation as well as entertainment. Let the orchestra not become an obsolete Institution appealing to a declining audience base

  9. Alexander Rahbari says:

    Mr. Guzenhauser did not understand that the problem is not conductor and not at all the orchestra.
    He did not read even carefully everything. God knows what he wants to reach in this situation?
    The orchestra is great any my self even had never any problem with Mr. Tasovac.
    You know him only for few days.
    If you would have in your room excellent musician crying because of director , also you would not talk with such a accent.
    They are many directors which are doing excellent job for the orchestras and audience without playing Prima Donna.

    Concerning my grammatical , i wrote sorry for that
    English is my 4th language from 8 other languages

  10. Novagerio says:

    I do also admire Mr.Rahbari’s honesty, courage and fighting spirit. Nevertheless, I’m afraid that if you challenge politicians and business persons in the modern world who do have power, especially in areas where they don’t have the slightest (artistical) competence, then it’s pretty much a lost battle… But then again, if you can’t fight for your artistical integrity and ideals with courage and honesty, then it’s better to stick to politics and leave the arts alone.

  11. stephen gunzenhauser says:

    I could not understand much of your English. It is disjointed, chaotic and I also speak many languages (German, French, Italian, Spanish-but perhaps you should stick to speaking a language that you are capable of! Make a point, and show clarity. As a musical leader your writing skills should be comensurate with your verbal skills.

    • Yang Wen Li says:

      Maestro Rahbari’s English is not the issue here. Your comment is totally unfair and irrelevant. Besides, I could understand Maestro Rahbari’s English perfectly well. I do not see what your problem is.

      Congratulations for speaking your mother tongue better than someone else’s 8th language.

  12. Alexander Rahbari says:

    Dear Novagerio
    Thank you for your understanding
    Do something is better then nothing.
    if every conductor would scarify a little bit of his income and if is neceser would stay on the side of musicians , the things would become surely much better.
    In the moment that i decided to do something in favor of the orchestra , i had still 7 concerts with contract and i knew i will loose them.
    Today one important musician of Belgrade phil. wrote to me that Slobodan Milosevic also wanted to give the feeling that without him nothing will work and was also convenience that millions of people are on his side.

  13. Alexander Rahbari says:

    Dear Mr. Gunzenhauser
    I think you have forgotten that we are talking about the problems of great orchestra musicians and not who writes better our mother language.
    Do you remember, when was the last time whenyou made a remark against one of the directors who was not working professionally ?
    that’s the problem and not if great Maestro Toscanini was speaking well English or not.
    In case that my English is so difficult for you to understand i am sorry for that, i did never learn this language but i can write to you in German french or in Italian, or we can ask the secretary to write to you with much better English, up to you

  14. Koleginica says:

    Bravissimo maestro Rahbari! You are the only “prophet” for our orchestra and the only voice of musicians.Maestro Gunzenhauser please listen a voice of musicians of Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra if not dont come to Belgrade again.

    Sorry for my poor english.

  15. former member of Belgrade Philharmonic says:

    Dear Stephen, the main subject here is NOT Maestro Rahbari´s english. Please read the page title and avoid Your impolite and unloyal comments. I wish You knew the following before You wrote Your comments: just over 100 members of Belgrade Philharmonic have shown their support to Maestro Rahbari even at concert-night, directly in front of the audience. Hopefully this brings a better light to the matter…

  16. A future member of Belgrade Philharmonic says:

    To artist is a must to pinch, kick, put a finger in the eye to the `sleeping society`, establishement, whoever. If not him, who do we expect to do so? Bankars, politicians, directors, butchers..?

    And I am not sorry for my poor English.
    Why would anybody be, mr. Gunzenhauser, unless to hide the lack of essence behind the convencial?

  17. current principal member of the Belgrade Philharmonic orchestra says:

    Mr.Rahbari is not a prophet of the Belgrade Philharmonic orchestra and it is NOT true that ’100 members of the orchestra showed their support to Mr.Rahbari at concert-night’.(whoever wrote this must have been absent from the concert in question)
    Mr. Rahbari speaks from a highly personal point of view, that of an offended, egoistical and unprofessional guest conductor of the orchestra, who tried his very best to impose his will and preferences on the orchestra and its management, as if he were in a different position, that of a principal/chief conductor. And this I think lies at the heart of the whole drama.
    My personal view, and I think I am far from being alone in this, is that we did not need Maestro Rahbari’s ‘fathering’ or ‘protection’ from our management, even when he was still working with us, and we certainly do not need it now!
    I admire Maestro Rahbari for his conducting abilities, and we have had many highly inspiring weeks with him, but the manner of his behavior in the past weeks has truly appalled me. First his speech to the auditorium right after his last concert, in which he complained to the audience about his problems with Mr.Tasovac (not a single person reacted to this on the spot) , then the letter to Serbian press, and the further communication with the international press (in SUCH bad English, which I find shameful for a cosmopolitan professional such as any conductor should be, let alone someone of Mr.Rahbari’s age and status) – all this has led me to believe that it might not be such a bad thing for us to lose him, as we first have thought and even grieved over!
    Mr.Rahbari’s almost unreadable letter states that he loves the orchestra. I find this questionable and utterly unconvincing, for I find this letter to be very disrespectful not only of the management which hired him, but also and even more importantly of the very orchestra – he must have known that he was shutting the door for further collaboration, while unleashing such a dramatic attack in the public eye and ear, and I guess to anyone that would listen. What is actually the point here? He lost the orchestra he claimed he so loved, we have lost a conductor with whom we have had a fruitful relationship with, the Belgrade audience lost a well loved figure who helped create truly special concerts… I am afraid it is Mr.Rahbari’s ego here which needed to be satisfied first and foremost, no matter what the consequences were, and for that he lost my respect for good.

    • Boris Bunjac says:

      Dear Mr. Tasovac, I know that these are your words and it is quite difficult for me to understand why don’t you use your name while sharing thoughts with public? I have already asked you the same question at the orchestra meeting, has your name became so big that it can not fit in such a small comment like this?
      Language in your comment is exactly the same language that was used when you made one more FAKE email that was supposed to look like it was written by Muhai Tang with intention to get me out of the orchestra, I knew from the beginning that you were the only one who could write such an wrong interpretation of true. Of course you do your writing in Serbian and then you have professional to translate it for you.
      I am the one of three principal players that really speaks English well but none of us would be able to use phrasing as your translator did. NO ONE in Belgrade Philharmonic can speak and write that kind of English and there are few words written with capital letters which is a kind of signature that you always make trying to point out things that should capture someones attention. I might, just for fun, live that email (mentioned above) as well for others to compare.
      Shooting targets from the dark and using others names is not something that anyone should be proud of.

      Principal Timpanist of Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra since 1992.

      • current principal member of the Belgrade Philharmonic orchestra says:

        Boris Bunjac, you are very much mistaken on many accounts in your comment:

        I am not Ivan Tasovac, nor have I been in any way instructed by him or anyone else to post my previous comment. However, I do have every right to post a comment in which I express my own attitude and thoughts regarding the matter, without using my name.

        I am one of your colleagues from the Belgrade philharmonic orchestra, a principal perfectly capable of writing a letter in decent English, without the help of a translator (and no, I did not write the comment in Serbian first)

        I have not written nor read a previous ‘fake email’ you mention, regarding a different issue, irrelevant to the subject of this blog.

        So you see, there are members of the orchestra who can speak and write English, contrary to your statement in capital letters. The next time you make this kind of statement, I suggest you give us a test to determine the level of our English speaking abilities.

        • Boris Bunjac says:

          Still shooting from the dark, and what ever name you use it is only a part of what is called Ivan Tasovac. Definitely you are not a principal musician in the orchestra for the same reasons I have already mentioned. I would also like to add that when somebody speaks the truth feeling proud for having chance to do so it is quite normal to use his name which gives extra power to his words. Until you decide to present your self, please be so kind and stay where you are, in the dark.

        • Yang Wen Li says:

          Please. It’s so obvious. It’s so ridiculous that I laughed out loud. Mr. Tasovac, are you 15 years old?

  18. Radan Jovanovic says:

    Full support for Maestro Rahbari, and musicians!

    For more then 7 years I was listening almost every concert of Belgrade Philharmonic. That orchestra was one of my inspirations for starting learning to become a conductor, which I’m studying now. For that 7 years I’ve noticed that lot of leading musicians started leaving the orchestra (including phenomenal principal trumpet player), lot of new conductors with questionable ability started conducting, lot of “tutti-frutti” programs started appearing, and quality of performance started being lower and lower. From all conductors only Rahbari could really improve the performance of the orchestra (there were also last few years great performances with ex chief conductor from nineties Emil Tabakov, and also with Zubin Mehta, Daniel Raiskin, and good performances with few other conductors), but except Rahbari they only conducted one or two concerts. Every concert with Rahbari was getting with better and better performance quality. Last concert of Rahbari with Belgrade Philharmonic playing Stravinsky Ballet suites 1 and 2, Firebird and Petrouchka was simply phenomenal. Meanwhile, quality most of other concerts with chief conductor Muhai Tang were getting with poorer and poorer performances. Hope it will change, but I know with Tang as a chief conductor will never be even close as with Rahbari.

    Hope to see Rahbari soon conducting Belgrade Philharmonic.

  19. kolega iz belgrade philharmonic says:

    dear Maestro,it is so hard to try to give you back to us now…and the loss is ours.We are all very sad that you left but some true things had to come out on the day light.Mr.Ivan is in the one hand good for the orchestra,but in the other hand all your words are also true and we are so happy and unhappy at the same time…unhappy with the fact tjhat you are not coming and that things won’t change even after this…the fear and the wanting to survive needs are very sad feeling,our best wishes to you and your family

  20. belgrade phill musician says:

    Maestro Rahbari had and still have support of 95% of musicians of Belgrade phil. We enjoy how he works with us,and we have great respect for him. And we undrestand him well….in any language.
    He droped out of favour of Belgrade phil.menagement because of his polpularity within orchestra,because Muhai Tang conctract expires at the and of the season,and has to be extended. And for menagement it is strange situation,because if they ask orchestra,they would support maestro Rahbari,not maestro Tang. So it is the easiest to remove maestro Rahbari,so maestro Tang would not have any competition.
    We realy hope to play again with maestro Rahbari somedays again.
    And his remaks about program,season and condcters are totally the view of orchestra musicians.

  21. Sinopsis says:

    Dear Maestro Rahbari, thank you for your enormous courage to speak so openly and honestly on this issue. This is the very core of the problem, which exists in many orchestras worldwide. However, it is a sad shame that Mr. Stephen Gunzenhauser communicates in such an impolite and awful manner on public web. He is constantly making allusions on Maestro Rahbari΄s knowledge of English, which is not the point of this discussion. Letʹs speak here without any shame, in our bad versions of English and issue the real problem! What to expect of an arrogant, loud American who doesn΄t even know where Belgrade is situated on the map of the world, but is eager enough to make business there and take the money. For Americans, everything is the business – money is the honey! Thatʹs why Mr. Gunzenhauser will never be able to understand Serbian inner feeling and mutual understanding that we have with Maestro Rahbari.
    Most people on this forum do not really understand why Mr. Stephen Gunzenhauser felt so invited to participate in this discussion – maybe because he has some more arrangements in the following season in Belgrade with Mr. Tasovac or something else? Why is he so hurt, if he does not have any personal interest in the whole thing?

  22. No name tutti says:

    Well done Maestro Rahbari! The emperor is ( finally ) naked

  23. Sinopsis says:

    I had an honor and pleasure to work with maestro Rahbari, but also with a conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser. Is it necessary to mention that American conductorʹs skills shown in Belgrade few years ago, were below any average. The musicians of Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra were amazed how it was possible that such a poser comes and conducts at all? Packed biography is the one thing, the reality is the other. On the opposite, Maestro Rahbari is a whole light year ahead! The musicians from the Orchestra where Mr. Gunzenhauser is the chief conductor know far too well that he maintains his position on the basis of his political links only, just the same way Mr. Tasovac does in Belgrade!
    Everyone in Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra will confirm that autocracy of Mr. Tasovac has reached the highest point! These days, behind his cool facade, he boils inside and tortures musicians by daily meetings after rehearsals, asking them to guard and detach themselves from the already well known and famous letter of Mr. Rahbari. It΄s a kind of constant pressure on the Orchestra, frightening in a very perfidious manner. Isn’t that in itself a kind of torture?! And yes, people are not allowed to speak openly, because they are concerned for their jobs and other consequences. All over the building there are eyes and ears of a handful of his informers. Each word of Mr. Rahbari is totally correct ! And more than 90 % of the Orchestra can confirm that!
    Also, I would like to address very sad and ridiculous comment of the “Current principal member of the Belgrade Philharmonic orchestra” which does not correspond to the true situation at all ! Belgrade Phill. Management, don’t you have any shame at all ?! But, when arrogant Mr. Tasovac steps down, you will go with him as well!

  24. Strike committee says:

    It is very indicative that Maestroʹs letter was published just in a couple of newspapers in Belgrade, but the most popular newspapers on purpose did not release this SCANDAL NEWS in the box reserved for culture. It is clear to everyone in Belgrade that Mr. Tasovac pulled his political contacts and put his fingers in it, in order to stop spreading Maestro Rahbari’s glorious letter! On the contrary, if that were some glorifying article on Mr. Tasovac΄s great skills and fake abilities, that would surely be printed on front page, with big letters.
    Why nobody says that in the same unprofessional manner Mr. Tasovac dealt with other conductors, that he didn’t see any more interest with.
    Itʹs truly unbelievable how he constantly swaps and changes the focus of Orchestraʹs future activities, depending on his own, personal interest – not the Orchestra΄s. As soon as the end of his directory mandate approaches (every four years), he is trying to make such an atmosphere in public, an illusion that he is irreplaceable. This is the end of his THIRD mandate, 12 years altogether!!! And he doesn’t have any intention to step down, just like Slobodan Milosevic! On the other side, it is well known that the Orchestra hasnʹt made any serious tour anywhere for many years, because of his incompetency to realize such a project. Also, for many years the Orchestra hasnʹt made a single CD or DVD recording for any recording house. The only shame in this situation is that Belgrade musicians are not loud enough in public and that Maestro Rahbari has to be the one who will open the eyes of the people. Is it possible that the fear is so big? We cannot allow „Current principal member of the Belgrade Philharmonic orchestra” to publish lies on this forum and speak nonsense in the name of the rest 90% of Orchestra’s musicians!
    Bravissimo Maestro Rahbari!

  25. Michael Schaffer says:

    This doesn’t have much to do with the topic at hand, but I recall Maestro Rahbari made a number of recordings with the orchestra of Belgian Radio and Television, and I was wondering what happened to that orchestra. It doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

  26. Alexander Rahbari says:

    My dear Musicians of Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra
    Thank you for the unusual reaction after the concert and your e mails after that.
    You have to know that:
    If i would have the possibility to talk to Mr. Tasovac , certainly i would not go to talk to the orchestra or Public.
    After that i thought he will wake up and we will be able to talk about the problems but instead he did cancel my 7 concerts with the orchestra.
    After his reaction, i had no other choice but thank God , the possibility of the media.
    Even now if he continue with his childish behaviors, i will publish more material about him..
    I Had wonderful time with the musicians of Belgrade Phil. and every member of the office which are very professional.
    We had never any problem and i am missing them very much.
    The price that i had to pay for that, was very heavy but i do not regret anything.
    I will do it again if necessary
    I wrote with my own poor English that you believe it’s me if not,3 of my 7 children could write much better.
    I love you and will never forget the handreds of hours that we did spend together
    Kisses to everybody
    Alexander Rahbari.

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