Thursday, April 14, 2011

Brouhaha in Brazil

Roberto Minczuk
After sorting through much of the dirty laundry in the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra (Orquestra Sinfonica Brasiliera) on Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc, I've come to the conclusion that many orchestral musicians are afflicted with group think and a heightened sense of entitlement. In an effort to raise the collective artistic quality of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra to an international standard of top rank, music director Roberto Minczuk (protégé of Kurt Masur and artistic director of Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro) and the Board of OSB proposed an equitable re-evaluation procedure for the entire orchestra, an ensemble plagued by insufficient artistic level.

After the organization celebrated its seventieth anniversary, fiscal conditions changed for the better, due  to the sponsorship of private investors. These improvements now include a contract offering over 50 percent raise in salaries, a broader concert season, and an entire series devoted to chamber music, to be performed by all members of the orchestra.

Prior to 2006, auditions were held informally without adherence to industry standards, including the behind-the-screen aspect which is integral to impartial hiring. This lackadaisical and misguided approach resulted in the admittance of a number of substandard players. It might be noted that the privately funded Orquestra Sinfonica Brasiliera, in accordance with the Constitution, does not offer possibility of tenure. They are not breaking any laws here.

What I find admirable, is that rather than singling out individual players or turning colleagues into denouncers, or firing musicians for reasons that might be construed as personal biases, the Board of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra Foundation has insisted on a formal screened evaluation process; one that, in my opinion, appears to be completely ethical; a five-strong panel comprised of impartial, leading musicians from the United States and Europe are to offer performance evaluations and constructive feedback for all musicians. Side note: the OSB members were given a month of paid vacation, in addition to the regular vacation of 41 days, to dedicate themselves fully to the audition. A letter to the orchestra members by  Minczuk stated that none of the re-evaluation participants would be dismissed; only those who refused to audition would be let go; and this, in fact, has happened. Those who refused to audition were promptly dismissed. In his letter to the orchestra, Minczuk also stated, "We are fully aware that musicians that have been playing in the group for more than twenty years might not be in the same shape as younger players." Age itself would not be a liability.

Why do I react strongly in favor of this particular re-evaluation method? I'll tell you. Although principal players might be exposed during performances, that is not the case with the protected class of section musicians. Obviously, instrumentalists that were below par at the onset cannot suddenly catapult to top notch level by magical thinking. This begs the question: Why is it that in most other institutions, corporations, and organizations one is expected to submit to routine evaluations, but your average orchestral musician deems such a process "unfair"? Could it be that the loudest opponents sense the unveiling of a new business model—one that offers competitive standards?

I wish Maestro Roberto Minczuk strength on the podium in the face of entitled, self-satisfied group thinkers.

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