Thai Philharmonic is weeding out foreign musicians

November 7, 2017 by norman lebrecht


Some fifty-buck PR has placed a so-called news item on Musical America today, naming the little-known Alfonso Scarano as chief conductor of the Thai Philharmonic Orchestra.

Here’s what’s really going down, according to our sources in the orchestra:

While the TPO is made up of roughly 20% foreign and 80% national Thai musicians alike, it is widely documented that the current Music Director, Dr. Sugree Charoensook, would ideally like to have a purely nationalistic orchestra.  Orchestra musicians have been on as little as a 6-month contract, which can be terminated without any warning.  TPO has recently held two large “auditions”, in April and October 2017, that changed the orchestra personnel significantly.  Some 30% of the orchestra changed mid-season in an unprecedented mass restructuring.

The audition in April 2017 was a “blind” audition where an unqualified and biased committee heard over 200 applicants for every single position in the orchestra over the course of 6 days.  The musicians were allowed to select their own musical audition excerpts and be compared to musicians playing completely different excerpts! Some musicians played as little as two excerpts while others played upwards of ten. The committee consisted of 7 people of whom 3 were active performing musicians. 2 violinists (one is the daughter of the music director), the 3rd flautist, music arranger for the orchestra, orchestral general manager (non classical musician given a voting stake), the foreign chief conductor, and the music director.

The committee were placed behind a screen but allowed access to their cell phones and tablets which they were allowed to receive texts from auditioning people to notify them who was playing.  Committee members were seen peering behind the screen as well as asking auditioning musicians to come and speak with the committee behind the curtain.  The audition was a sham and once the votes had been tallied, the music director tailored or changed the results to fit his liking.  There were no brass or percussion players were allowed to be on the panel even though full brass sections and percussion and timpani players were heard in the audition process.  The result was a completely different orchestra with approximately 7 principal positions changing hands as well as Thai musicians losing their jobs that had been working in the orchestra for 12 years.  If a new foreign candidate was selected to join the orchestra, the orchestra demanded them to give confirmation and move to Thailand within 2 weeks of the audition results.  This resulted in many foreign musicians rejecting the contract and prompted this article to be written by the music director deeming that foreign musicians had too much ego to work in Thailand.

The entire orchestra was then placed on a 6 month temporary “contract” because this audition had taken place in the middle of the orchestra’s 12th season.

The Music Director then demoted the longtime Chief Conductor to the position of  “Honorary Emeritus Conductor” at four concerts per season, without notifying him directly of the change and appointed a new Chief Conductor without consulting the orchestra musicians or orchestra board.  The newly appointed Italian Chief Conductor’s personality is on par with Toscanini in terms of temper tantrums and has been documented yelling obscenities at musicians, punching himself in anger at the orchestra, and writing degrading and disrespectful emails to other TPO conductors, staff and musicians.

The second audition took place during October of 2017 where eight string positions, three oboe, four horns and two percussion positions were advertised vacant.  More foreign musicians were fired after their 6-month contract ended because of personal disagreement with the Thai management which was in no way based on playing ability. This audition was not blind to ensure that the new Chief Conductor could do away with foreign musicians who might cause trouble for him. Other foreign musicians were given short one-year contracts to accompany what the music director thought of their attitudes towards the orchestra.  Most of the hot-seat Thai musicians were able to keep their positions with lengthy 3-year contracts.  There are now four musicians directly related to the music director that were given positions in the orchestra over other qualified players. 

Good to see the PRs are still making a living.


Comments (12)

  1. Sue says:

    Absolutely delicious!!

    1. Chopin says:

      Finally an article which decounces the horrible and inhuman practices of the TPO and the college of music in general!! Dont be foooled here, anybody defending any of these practices is either a family member of sugree or one of his close english speaking aides!

  2. Nick says:

    The Music Director of this orchestra is not a conductor. He used to play in bands as a saxophonist and trumpeter before eventually becoming the Dean of Music at the country’s Mahidol University. About 15 years ago he came up with a plan to form an orchestra using basically teachers and students from the faculty. He runs the management of the orchestra as his own personal fiefdom. He has even found the funds to have built a splendid and large new concert hall (I think about 2,000 seats) on the University campus. Unfortunately this is miles out of the city and involves the commitment of a lot of time getting there and back despite a new Skytrain Line ending not too far away.

    I have no idea where the money all comes from to make this venture work. From an audience perspective, part of the problem has been the weakness of most of the conductors Prof. Sugree invites. Over many years the recently demoted Chief Conductor rarely was able to inspire his forces to anything more than pretty routine performances. The appointment of a virtual unknown seems to continue this trend. Sugree also has a strange notion of including Thai classical music at the start of every concert. Yet such music was never written for a western-style symphony orchestra and people wanting to hear Beethoven or Brahms are put off with having to sit through it. Thai music should certainly be performed more frequently but, I believe, on Thai instruments and in the far smaller spaces for which most of it was written.

    It is a shame that this is the country’s only full-time orchestra. The Bangkok Symphony Orchestra is part-time, yet performs in the centre of the city and is able to lift its game with far better conductors and often extremely fine soloists – Krystian Zimerman being one of the more recent.

    1. Thaimakmak says:

      It’s all about money and loyalty, they don’t care about talent. They spent $1,000,000 on a chandelier when that kind of money could have been used for better resources. The director only cares about himself and his Fans… I’m glad someone has finally called him/them out on their corruption. Also look into the law suits that have been paid off just so the university doesn’t ” lose face”.

  3. Surat Sukha says:

    The orchestra was created so Sugree’s family could have somewhere to play. Just check how many relatives receive a salary from the orchestra or the music college. Sugree is very well connected with the Military Junta. General Prem was invited to one of the auditions. Alfonso Scarano, who makes a living as a music language teacher in Italy, suits perfectly in this story. Thai taxes would be better invested somewhere else.

  4. Ka ja says:

    Welcome to Thailand

  5. PK says:

    According to the information posted on the “About” section on this site,

    “…Rules: When posting on Slipped Disc, please observe the following simple rules: 1 No abuse 2 No defamation 3 No personal attacks. 4 You may post anonymously or under a pseudonym, but only under one name. Rule violators will be spammed out…”

    I find it hard to believe that this article does not violate any of these rules.

    It is abusive. The “source in the orchestra” is using this article as a mean to express his disgruntlement, presumably from his failed audition, to attack the orchestra and its personal. This is the very definition of abuse – to use (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose.

    It is defamatory. This article damages the good reputation of the orchestra, and of many people in the orchestra who are extremely qualified for their positions. These people have done their best before, during, and after the audition, and have continued to prove themselves worthy of their appointments. Should these members be judged by the opinion of their failed ex-colleague?

    It is openly, and personally, attacking the music director, and everyone else mentioned in this article. I think this point is quite self-explanatory. The article practically puts a very large target on their heads.

    Lastly, some of the information here is not even accurate! It may not all be false, but it surely is not all true. What do you call a testimony that is not “the truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth”?

    1. Johny Walker says:

      Auditions in this orchestra are a complete joke. Many people are qualified but others are just friends of Sugree. They all know that

    2. Chopin says:

      this article is very accurate and describes well what is going on in this vipers nest that is the TPo and the Mahidol College of Music. The TPO is a toy for the corrupt man which is Dr sugreecharoensuk, putting his wife as orchestra s director and his three kids in it, it is self explanoatory! there is a lot of cronyism and corruption there,it is widely known, no need to comment further. Btw, any troll defending the orchestra or this college s management on this website is probably a family member of Dr Sugree!

    3. Chopin says:

      Finally an article whoich decounces the horrible and inhuman practices of the TPO and the college of music in general!! Dont be foooled here, anybody defending any of these practices is either a family member of sugree or one of his close english speaking aides!

  6. Ex-member says:

    There was one time I got sick but I didn’t want to be absent so I went to see doctor in the morning of that day and came to rehearse in time but staff said to me that he was lazy to change a checking list of musicians because he kept it already ( he wrote that I was late ). Eventhough my colleague told him that I would come in time, he didn’t care. When salary came, I didn’t get full amount of money on that day…

    And so…

  7. Nick says:

    When loosely-run orchestras employing overseas musicians like the TPO and the Malaysian Philharmonic are the subject of so much criticism and when the often rarely qualified individuals who run them treat them virtually as their own playthings, it is absolutely correct that International orchestra players’ Associations call them out. Indeed, i believe they could do more in persuading overseas musicians of the serious pitfalls they can encounter after relocating many thousands of miles away from their home. These orchestras provide very little by way of contractual guarantees. When they are broken or when the terms of service are unilaterally changed (sometimes drastically so) to the detriment of the musicians, there is no arbitration or legal action in those countries that is likely to protect them.

    It is also extremely unfortunate that the agents of so many soloists and some conductors sustain these orchestras by permitting their artists to perform with them. If there was some form of worldwide ban that could be put into effect, the administration of these orchestras might finally be forced to rethink their cavalier attitude to what should be the serious business of orchestra management.

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