The orch where all string posts are vacant

The orch where all string posts are vacant


norman lebrecht

March 10, 2015

The Malaysian Philharmonic, under boycott by international musicians organisations for unfair dismissals, is advertising a new round of auditions in Germany. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. A corrrespondent writes:

With great concern I see the MPO advertising for a new round of auditions in Germany at “”, in “Das Orchester” and at the MPO website. What really bothers me is the fact that the positions at are advertised as “permanent” This is simply misleading. Those are two year contracts and technically you can be fired anytime without any reason given with 6 months’ notice.

There are around 30 vacancies to fill (comparing the current listing on the website with the original size in 1998) and the fact that – with exception of the double bass – ALL string principal positions are vacant speaks volumes about the current state of affairs.




  • Emil Archambault says:

    Ummm…all string principals and “all string posts” are quite different things…

  • Orchestral Musician says:

    According to the MPO web site, they have 11 openings. Including the aforementioned string positions, and four principal winds. That’s a major turnover for any orchestra!

    Strangely, the MPO site has no mention of Kees Bakels, their founding Music Director.
    Has he been erased from their history?

    • Orchestral Musician says:

      Of course, the “tutti violin” opening could be for several positions.

    • stringplayer says:

      At the Website MPO advertised for 17 positions.

      At the MPO website there are 76 musicians listed (at least one of them resigned already)

      Original size of the orchestra in 1998 was 105 if I remember right.

      Did they scale down the orchestra? At least there was no official announcement

  • Nick says:

    Under Kees Bakels and managed in its first years by a branch of IMG Artists, the Malaysian Phil became a splendid orchestra in a very short space of time – far more quickly than it took the Singapore Symphony, Hong Kong Phil and Seoul Phil orchestras to reach a similar standard. It also had a new hall with superb acoustics designed by Kirkegaard.

    Then its backers muscled in, getting rid of IMG and putting in place managers who might have known something about oil but precious little about orchestras. The rot started. James Judd was appointed to succeed Bakels in 2003. Yet Judd never even appeared on the podium as MD as his contract was terminated without explanation in April 2004. In 2005 its GM was fired. It took 9 years before the Malaysian courts fined the orchestra US$147,000.

    The last post here on the subject of the MPO was I believe in January 2014 under the heading –
    MALAYSIAN PHILHARMONIC WILL FACE SACKED MUSICIANS NEXT WEEK IN COURT. Does any reader know what happened as a result of that action? I can find nothing on the internet.

    Re the present recruitment exercise, either a lot of musicians have finally got pissed off or the Music Director has been wielding his axe with Board approval. The lead-in to this thread states that the orchestra is under boycott. I suggest that international musicians’ organisations may have advised their members not to consider the orchestra, but it is extremely difficult to stop young musicians desperately seeking work from applying. I once had a meeting with the American Federation of Musicians in New York. The executive in charge of overseas affairs made it clear the AFM had absolutely no power of boycott outside the USA.

    The MPO is still in a position to recruit major conductors and soloists as I see that Janine Jensen, Sarah Change, Ashkenazy and Sarasate are all on this season’s programme. It would no doubt help the musicians’ case if conductors and soloists were encouraged to join a ban. There will always be musicians prepared to fill slots whatever the pitfalls.

    • MWnyc says:

      I remember news articles from the Malaysian Phil’s early years saying that the orchestra was a pet project of longtime prime minister Mahathir Mohamad himself.

      I gather that the trouble at the Malaysian Phil began shortly after Mahathir retired in 2003. I had always figured that once he was no longer in office, the orchestra would gradually fall apart – basically because there would be no one else with enough power in the government who would care enough about the orchestra to devote the effort and money to keep it together and good.

      • SDReader says:

        The age-old problem!

      • Nick says:

        The MPO was certainly one of the big-scale pet projects favoured by Dr. Mahatir, along with the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix and the Petronas Towers. All Mahatir had to do was talk to the big players in the business sector and – lo and behold! – major projects materialised.

        The problem with the MPO is that it is not a hardware infrastructure project. So whilst Malaysia is stuck with a hugely costly F1 race, Petronas who run the Twin Towers and the Concert Hall in between is no doubt happy it’s no longer stuck with the MPO on the scale envisages 20 years ago.

    • SDReader says:

      Sarah Change. Bravo!

    • Paul Philbert says:

      To reply to “Nick” and his query…

      I am one of the claimants in the case against the MPO, having served as the Principal Timpanist from its inception in July 1998 until August 2012. Our claim was heard in January, and April 2014; final documents were served to the Judge in early August 2014, and we currently await the publication of her verdict.

      In view of the developments of the last few days, I’d like to express my sadness that the downward trend continues to overshadow an orchestra that I still hold in a very special place in my heart. I wish my former colleagues THE very best for the future!


  • stringplayer says:

    There is indeed no news regarding the court case of the dismissed musicians.
    Dragging on since 2012.

  • Mahler007 says:

    There are ensembles in Europe that run on 2 or 5 year contracts which are automatically renewed but can always be revoked — alone the funding (whether private or public) for an orchestra is often renewed but not 100% guaranteed. The fear that the orchestra could fold at any moment is no different from any orchestra in the world. The MPO is a fine orchestra and it should be supported by positive, not negative rhetoric.

    • stringplayer says:

      The MPO was a great orchestra. Thanks to a malicious management it deteriorated dramatically over the last few years. All problems including the amount of vacancies and the need for subs are self-inflicted.

      For adventures young people the MPO might still be a good place for a two years gig.
      But after what happened, anybody who is looking for job security – especially musicians with family – should think twice.

      With the current management there is little hope for a positive change. The way they’ve treated the founding music director Kees Bakels, fired some of the most qualified and dedicated players , drastically changed the contracts, implemented pay cuts etc. tells a lot about the people who are running the show now.

      That’s not “negative rhetoric” but provable facts.

      Positive impulses can only come from the very top. Does Petronas still want to have a first class orchestra and is able and willing to pay for it?

      The moment musicians are treated fairly and with respect again the situation will improve.

      The moment the management focuses on quality instead of money saving and politics it might become a great orchestra again.

  • Fiddleman says:

    If one does not wish to audition, there is a simple solution–don’t apply. The boycott is affecting my friends in the orchestra, not the management/board. It is sad to see how many commenters would revel in the demise of the orchestra, to the detriment of 70+ wonderful musicians.

    I recall that one of the most strongly worded public letters to MPO was from a member of the Calgary Philharmonic, whose own Music Director (Roberto Minczuk) had recently fired dozens of players in Rio. Did Maestro Minczuk face similar criticisms from Mr Lebrecht or from his Canadian colleagues? The irony of the timing was noticed.

    • stringplayer says:

      Please type “minczuk” in the search box above and you will find plenty of articles.

      In fact any orchestra management or conductor firing musicians without valid reason or fair and transparent procedure should be under international scrutiny, criticism or boycott.

      Of course such a boycott can’t physically prevent people from signing up or auditioning.
      But it sends a clear signal in the right direction.

    • Anonne says:

      I think he did, on both counts. As he should have.