Malaysian Philharmonic will face sacked musicians next week in court

Malaysian Philharmonic will face sacked musicians next week in court


norman lebrecht

January 16, 2014

The orchestra, which is under an international musicians’ boycott, is about to present its defence. Here’s what we hear from the ground:

The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and its parent company Petronas will be facing seven dismissed musicians in the Industrial Relations Court, from Jan 20. The hearing is scheduled to run for 4 days.

The Labour Minister, after reviewing the file, referred it to court. Since announcing the terminations in Feb 2012, the MPO has not explained its actions. Its sole defence is that the foreign musicians “were not employees” but only on a “fixed term” contract, even though most had been employed full-time for up to 14 years.

Contracts were renewed automatically every two years up until 2012, under new management, shuffled in by Petronas. Since then, the MPO has flown in dozens of substitute players to fill the gaps.

The timing and outcome of this hearing have a broader significance: the remaining musicians’ contracts are up for renewal in mid February and Petronas is seeking a new music director to replace the compromised Claus Peter Flor. No maestro of any merit would take the job with 30 empty seats in the ensemble and an international boycott to block new hirings.





  • JB says:

    What is the background of this boycott?

  • J. Heifetz says:

    Typo error on Malyasian

  • DOVmember says:

    Good luck to all the musicians, both the group in court and the remaining ones in the orchestra!

    Luck they will need considering the level of corruption in this country. Truly no place you could recommend to any musician at the moment.

    No question, the outcome of this court case will affect the international reputation and the future of the orchestra.

    Please keep us posted, Norman.

  • Does Petronas really want the orchestra at all?

  • It is a real pity, because it is in spite of everything, an excellent orchestra. Even under this bad circumstances the fabulous Austrian guest-conductor, Martin Sieghart, managed in December 2013 to conduct – among other pieces – a fantastic and very idiomatic Brahms Second Symphony.

  • Peter says:

    Why doesn’t anyone think of commending Petronas for sponsoring a symphony orchestra ? Instead of continually complaining about the rather imperfect way that they do it.

    Would it be better for anyone if they decided to stop ? And focus all their sponsorship money on motor racing, or other more conventional oil company activities ?

    Thanks to Petronas, MPO has for 15 years made live classical music performances of a high standard available to audiences in Malaysia, who would otherwise not have had this opportunity.

    How many other companies in the world can say the same ?

    • Dirk Fischer says:

      Very true. For whatever reason, Petronas managed to set up a great orchestra of well-payed international musicians in a country where there is little interest in learning western classical instruments or attending concerts, for that matter. From what I understand, the orchestra was an experiment to create something new and special, and it has – unfortunately – failed.

      The situation that those musicians are in is, of course, nothing I would wish for anyone to happen. However, it should not be forgotten that they have worked and lived under extremely good conditions and that the recent events, as outrageous as they might be, do not change that.

    • Wayne says:

      Peter. I agree your comment

    • Jin says:

      Well, people’s livelihoods are concerned here. Not to mention people who have been serving for more than 10 years. It’s not the imperfections: it’s how they deal with it. To which they have made to moves to correct.

  • Cheryl Tan says:

    I mean sure, but they built this thing that’s going to implode. I don’t think we should rest at patting them on the shoulder for just setting something up. Doing something that folds after a decade or two is not building something. It’s just a waste of time and money. It’s not going to bring a long term benefit if you don’t do it properly.

  • Nick says:

    I know only a little of the background to the founding of the Malaysian Philharmonic. I suspect it was yet another of then-Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammed’s ‘grand’ national projects which he persuaded major companies to pay for – the F1 Grand Prix has already been mentioned in a related article. Since Petronas had zero knowledge of founding and running orchestras and concert halls (thanks to Kirkegaard, the smallish hall in the Twin Towers complex has superb acoustics), IMG Artists was brought in on a long-term consultancy deal to manage both. After that contract expired quite some time ago, it appears Petronas has tried using its own executives to oversee the orchestra – with the sort of results you’d expect from a large-scale commercial outfit expecting musicians to ‘behave’ like their other employees. Perhaps Petronas has taken advice from consultants. If so, the consultants clearly told the company only what it already wanted to know.

    It is desperately sad that this type of ‘hire and fire’ mentality and management by outsiders rather than experienced and trained arts managers (if that indeed remains the case here) is not new in the developing world. Some ‘old school’ Music Directors in the mould of a Reiner or a Szell still believe that improving standards and/or ridding themselves of critics within the orchestra’s ranks is best achieved by replacing musicians. The first step on that road is re-wording contracts to allow firing at will. The second is to muzzle musicians with threats of termination if they talk with the media. Musicians are not slaves. They deserve to be treated like all experienced specialist professionals. If a company like Petronas can not accept this and bring in experienced management to run the MPO, its troubles are, I suggest, far from over.

  • Gabriel says:

    Typical “South-East Asian” music scene….. For example, same or even worth things happen with Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra. Totally unfair audition, musicians sucked with unreasonable reasons, etc. Then, these problematic orchestras have a little audience.