Maestro fails to show up for last performance

A concert by the National Philharmonic of Malta was thrown into chaos when the music director, Brian Schembri, failed to show up either for rehearsals or for the concert, the last of the present season.

Schembri is in dispute over a new contract, apparently.

An unnamed deputy conducted.

Malta longs to be taken seriously as a hub of European culture. Incidents like these do it no favours.

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  • As an avid follower of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and of Maestro Schembri, the latter for the past 4 decades, I find it very hard – not to say impossible – to believe that a man of such professionalism, impeccable international reputation and unquestionable artistic merit would chose to ‘abandon’ any concert, let alone one of the orchestra to which he is Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. This decision on his part is indicative that he was given good reason, or plenty of them, to be compelled to take such drastic action.

    I have watched with pleasure the metamorphosis which the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra has been undergoing under his artistic direction, his thoughtful programming and his inspired conducting. I have also attended various concerts which the orchestra performed abroad under his direction, all of which received widespread acclaim and had excellent reviews which, most of the time – reasonably so – credited Maestro Schembri for his impeccable work with the orchestra. I therefore was very sorry to read that there seems to be a disagreement between the orchestra’s management – led by Sigmund Mifsud (a political appointee who has no formal education whatsoever and spent the past many years as the orchestra’s second trumpet) – and the Maestro (a professional who has studied music extensively with illustrious professors in highly-reputed institutions and who has various qualifications in the subject, as well as international experience with orchestras that include, amongst many others, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestre National de Radio France and the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation). I am certain that a disrespect of meritocracy plays no small a part in these so-called ‘disagreements’.

    For the sake of Malta’s cultural and artistic reputation, as well as in the best interests of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, I strongly urge the competent political and administrative authorities to intervene and ensure that the situation is resolved without delay and that education and talent are respected over political connections.

  • Excuse my language. Spare us this bull Mr. Gatt. The orchestra, turned philharmonic in 2004 under my chairmanship, was being nurtured a growing under Mro. Michael Laus who did not need any prima donna flurry to carry out meticulous work. With all due respect Mro Schembri found a structure in place and as we say in Maltese, “sab is-sodda mifruxa”. I will not go into the political aspects because it is futile once the MPO is a government entity. However, to abandon the orchestra in a concert with the involvement of a young prodigy, does not show any respect to say the least.
    As for any litigation over a revised contract of work, how about making the expired one public?

    • Until the orchestra got rid of most of the locals and started appointing foreigners, most of whom were out of work, the orchestra sounded worse than a junior school orchestra. That was about 25 years ago. The orchestra now sounds like a decent high school orchestra with the addition of a handful of brilliant elements.

      When Laus was initially appointed, why was he appointed? Tell us why Schembri was not appointed? Tell us why other people did not get appointed. Was there a call for conductors?

  • I too support the views expressed that Brian Schembri has been achieving miracles in lifting the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra to levels unimaginable before his tenure as Artistic Director. Not only have the orchestra’s technical standards improved to the level of a highly professional European orchestra but many of Brian’s conducting performances have produced interpretations which count amongst the best I have heard live including a stunning Eroica.

    Going to MPO concerts is now a major event in Valletta’s life and many performances are completely sold out well in advance.

    I completely depart from A Gatt in his criticism of Sigmund Mifsud. Sigmund as Chairman of the Orchestra has positively surprised and delighted everyone by his energetic and brilliant custodianship of the Orchestra achieving miracles with limited resources but with boundless energy. Just talk to any of the MPO musician and you will hear how much they support and appreciate Sigmund and how he has expanded the budgets and horizons of what is now a very fine orchestra they love playing in. Audiences see the joy of the players every time they take the stage together.

    It is impossible to achieve what has been and continues to be musical excellence without a strong partnership at the helm and while there might be the occasional tension I desperately hope that Brian and Sigmund continue to work together.

    However, this sad occurence does highlight that miracles can only be conjured for so long with inadequate funding. Symphony orchestras of the calibre of the MPO and Music Directors of the ability of Brian Schembri are expensive beasts. Malta has gems in both and the country with its 7.2% growth (latest confirmed 2015 figures) can afford to support these brilliant cultural ambassadors more generously.

  • The truth is that Sigmund Mifsud does not come anywhere near to being a top-class professional musician, nor is he fit to be a manager. He came out of a village band (all of which sound horrible), got a job as a trumpeter with the Maltese orchestra and then became a Malta Labour Party candidate for the election. In the latter he was unsuccessful but we did enjoy his political videos where we could hear his eight year old language. As soon as Labour won the general election, he was appointed CEO of the orchestra. That is how Malta always functions which is why its best people leave systematically.

    The orchestra manages mainly because there are certain people throwing a lot of money at it and others working behind the scenes. It is worth noting that the Malta Labour Party used to be dictator Dom Mintoff’s party which caused chaos in Malta in the 70s and 80s.

  • A deeply disharmonious society, undergoing a not-overly-stealthy ‘night of the long knives’, where the litany of ‘if you are not my friend… ‘ extends even to the lowliest of professions.

    Nocturnal equine decapitation is about as high as the arts seem to aspire to there…

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