Outlawed Malaysian Philharmonic cuts player contracts

Outlawed Malaysian Philharmonic cuts player contracts


norman lebrecht

February 19, 2016

The pariah of world orchestras, under an international boycott over its mass sacking of foreign musicians, is now coming under extreme financial pressure.

We understand that players are being offered one-year contracts, instead of the usual two, and are having to take a ten percent pay cut.

The admin is blaming the oil price collapse but they have only themselves to blame for the disaster.

Auditions for several vacancies have been called next month in New York and Chicago. Do. Not. Go. There.




  • Gerald Martin says:

    Damn those unintended consequences. Now the remaining musicians suffer for the sins of the orchestra administration. Kind of what would happen if a boycott of Walmart were truly successful: layoffs, pay and hours cut for remaining hourly workers.

  • Not Surprised says:

    4 days prior to the announcement, (11th Feb) the original seven terminated musicians applied to the court to appeal the August 2015 verdict which denied their claims. The MPO sent its lawyer to try to quash the application. The judge agreed the case should be reviewed and ignored the MPO’s lawyer – there may be hope yet. Hearing date to be set soon.
    Pay cuts were not the only outcome of Monday’s announcement. A prominent principle musician in the wind section was given notice his position no longer exists. Using the same wording as previous terminations (end of your “Fixed Term” contract), he’s been given 6 months notice to pack up, wrap up his life (and career). Musicians are not regarded as employees – even after working full time for as many as 14 to 17 years.

    There is a rumour now that the March auditions in Chicago and New York are being called off. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if the response has been less than overwhelming!

  • Anonymous says:

    Th audition tour is cancelled

  • Nick says:

    The worrying fact is there are many more fine musicians happy to perform with orchestras paying salaries than there are vacancies. No doubt the AFM includes the Malaysian Philharmonic on its International Unfair List but it can not stop the orchestra holding auditions in the USA. Nor can it stop musicians from accepting contracts if offered.

    But all musicians should heed NL’s warning. To travel a great distance to play with an orchestra in a very different economy and culture can pose huge problems when the contract is just for 12 months. Accommodation is one. I have no idea how easy or otherwise it might be to obtain a 10 or 11 month lease on an apartment in Kuala Lumpur, but I expect it will be considerably more difficult and more expensive than a normal 2 year lease. Then, with no Union to look after their interests, musicians are entirely at the whim of a board and administration that has illustrated more than amply its near total lack of understanding of orchestral management. As the situation of the fired musicians has shown, no musician can expect any sympathy from the country’s law courts.

    Politics now also make the Malaysian Philharmonic a particularly dicey employer. The orchestra was born out of the political agenda of then Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamed. The present Prime Minister Najib Rajak is mired in a morass of serious problems, including alleged fraud over an unexplained $700 million in his personal bank account and the Swiss prosecutors now suggesting up to $4 billion has been appropriated from Malaysian state-owned companies. He has fired both the Attorney General and his Deputy Prime Minster. Even 90-year old Mahatir has joined marches aimed at ousting him. In this highly unstable political atmosphere, how likely is it that Petronas will wish to continue its political obligations by throwing cash at the Philharmonic?

    Soon after its founding, the orchestra was a very fine ensemble. Very sadly it now seems more like a train wreck waiting to happen.

  • exmpo says:

    This latest development will hardly come as a surprise for anybody who followed the related news during the last few years.

    The oil crisis and budget problems are convenient excuses at best.

    At the time of the sacking of several key players in 2012 the oil price was well above 100$.

    The premeditated disassembly of the orchestra started years ago. Mainly because of political, cultural and religious reasons.

    Obviously no willingness anymore to maintain a first class orchestra with (necessarily) foreign and well-paid musicians.

  • Paul Philbert says:

    Very sad news. My thoughts are with my former colleagues during these difficult times.

    • Nick says:

      I also feel for those already in the orchestra, not only those recruited from overseas but especially for those from Malaysia. Overseas musicians will eventually have other opportunities. For South East Asian musicians, there is only a handful of similar orchestras within the region, but there are few vacancies arising each season and strong competition from overseas musicians.

  • John Smith says:

    The orchestra is still a high-class ensemble. The past couple seasons have included performances with Fabio Luisi, Susan Graham, Janine Jansen, Midori, Nabuko Imai etc. It has always been a private business run by the Petronas oil company with two-year contracts which were renewable. The musicians will find new places in other orchestras, free-lancing and teaching careers. Wishing them luck!

    • Nick says:

      Yes, it’s always been paid for by a private business but its establishment, standards and running for its first five or so years were delegated to a division of IMG Artists. After dispensing with IMGA’s services, management was taken over by inexperienced and usually incompetent Petronas staff. I expect a detailed examination of the books will probably show a considerable waste of money over the years as a result. But that will never happen. As the paymaster, Petronas calls the tune.

      I do wonder where the local players, some of the younger of whom might be staying inexpensively with their parents and others have families of their own, will find “new places”. The only regional full-time orchestras of comparable standard or above and likely to pay roughly similar salaries or above are in Taipei and Hong Kong. Yes, one or two might find work there. The majority probably not.

  • Sidelined pro says:

    There are at least 2 ‘casualties’ of the contract renewals as well. 1 wind, 1 brass – no reasons given, as usual. “End of Contract” in 6 months (August) – just as before. There is speculation that someone spoke out, or complained about management. As usual, no reasons are necessary because the MPO does not consider musicians as employees, nor the entire orchestra business as a “real job”. The contract is clear in its wording. The position of English Horn is apparently being reduced to part time. Some bean-counter upstairs figures it will be cheaper to fly in a sub when needed?? Air, hotel, and the fee. Can’t possibly save more than a few Ringgit over the year, and totally downgrade the music level – but no matter – just dump a long-term professional musician in favour of a few bucks. It should be noted the MPO has no M.D. nor even a Principal Conductor since Fabio Mechetti resigned at the end of October. These “musical” decisions are taken by a H.R. person from the Petronas oil & gas division… if you held up a chart of musical instruments and asked her to pick out “english horn” – that would be another form of entertainment. 🙂

  • Fiddleman says:

    Which brass player was let go? Had not heard that.

  • Ronald Gardiner says:

    Do any of you original unfortunate MPO musicians remember the first 3 seasons when 40 of us were “required” to re-audition in order to retain our jobs? (1998-2001)
    “Hear, and You will See” How many of you are left? Kees Bakels (“cheese Bagels”) was our fearless “arm-flapper” at the time. How does it feel? Where was all the outrage when we tried to come together and seek out legal help, after hearing that at least 40 of us were being required to “re-audition”? Many of us had relocated our lives from the opposite side of the globe in expectation of forming a legitimate professional symphony orchestra.
    Seriously — 40 musicians. That is almost half of the orchestra. What an epic joke.
    So sorry to hear that nothing has changed, except for the level of the orchestra based on what I have heard on this random youtube post of John Williams Movie Themes. No disrespect intended. I just seem to remember that after rehearsing/performing Glazunov “The Seasons” and “Aus Italien” 100 times, we finally sort of got it together …
    That is probably not entirely your fault given the circumstances in which you must deal with.
    I guess some things never change. Inept and incompetent management. Arrogance + Incompetence = Ignorance …… Good luck with that.
    You have my deepest sympathy and understanding.

  • Steve pratt says:

    When I arrived in Malaysia 2012 the MPO was in my opinion one of the best that was due to maestro flor . Since he departed the MPO has been running on a wing and a prayer sub standard conductors and soloists and I blame the politics . You need world class conductors like barenboim to bring his magic here a wiff of performers with connections to the middle east is met with stony silence … Malaysia should move forward

    • Nick says:

      You will no doubt have read my earlier rather substantial comments. I stand by all of them. But I disagree that the answer will always be simply top class international conductors. There is quite a number wirh Asian connections who are extremely good. The key is experienced and effective management. And with Petronas extremely unlikely to take that step again, there is little improvement likely to take place in future I fear.

      • Concerned says:

        I cannot agree more. The admin has taken a new low in the recent months. One of the main “assistant executives” left in the summer for further studies in London, and yet the admin does not bother to hire a replacement. The orchestra is left with two weak and incompetent subordinates to take over her role. It is a sad situation and the orchestra members are beyond furious. However, none of them will speak up because Raina will fire them before they even know it. Check out the most recent news!

        It is interesting to note that some of the orchestra members, in fear of losing their jobs, take the side of the admin/management. For example, in the “firing” of the two members (wind and brass) mentioned above, the orchestra members spoke poorly of the English Horn player’s behavior and actually justified the firing. They have already started auditioning and giving trials for the English Horn position. This position is not being reduced to part time; in fact, they just didn’t like the previous guy and got rid of him without needing any reason. Hurray to private organizations!

        Another more recent development is the accusation of a miscarriage declared by a viola substitute from Korea in November. The orchestra members can be quite nasty, as they act out on their suppressed emotions for being treated poorly by the company for decades. They have been working under fear for years, and in turn, they subconsciously, or maybe consciously, treat the only people lesser than them — the substitutes — unfairly in order to exercise what’s left of their “power”. Rather than taking this accusation seriously, the admin chastised the Korean for speaking up about the terrible behavior of a long-term section violist. She claimed that his behavior was the cause of her miscarriage, which happened when she returned to the hotel after sharing a stand with him unexpectedly during a concert due to a last-minute seating change. The violist has the orchestra’s full support, so naturally, no one believed her, and instead of being sympathetic towards her situation, the admin warned her of potential law suit if she were to speak further about this accusation.

        There are just so many layers of wrong in this specific example, but why does this keep happening to MPO? Why must the orchestra musicians live under fear in order to provide semi pro music scene to a country that desperately needs culture?

  • Michelle says:

    They laid off tons of folks. Many went to all that rip off us ($$) music schooling –bachelor’s, masters, diplomas ($$) etc….for what exactly? 1 year anemic “contract” or able to be frivolously fired at will (very american btw)?!
    Many left that orchestra and are now lawyers, gardeners, tropical fish sales, technology helpers, or moved home to live with mom /dad and get that inheritance someday. All that practicing, auditioning, time lost, empty promises and someday yammer. Wow.