Malaysian Philharmonic opts for ethnic auditioning

Malaysian Philharmonic opts for ethnic auditioning


norman lebrecht

November 24, 2017

We hear that seven seats in the strings of the internationally-boycotted Malaysian Philharmonic have been earmarked for ethnic Malays – no Chinese or Europeans need apply.

That’s what the chief executive has been telling her colleagues.

The MPO has been a pariah orchestra ever since it cleaned out most of its foreign players.

Those seats may stay empty a while yet.


  • Bratschegirl441 says:

    Are you sure about this Norman? Not even Malaysian Chinese can apply? That Raina would prefer more Malaysians in the orchestra wouldn’t surprise anyone. That she would specifically push for ethnic Malays would be news to many.

    “…ever since it cleaned out most of its foreign players.” Not to split hairs, but the MPO is still overwhelmingly (90+%) comprised of foreign players.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I’m told Raina has announced only Malays need apply.

      • Bratschegirl441 says:

        Announced…to whom? Also, I’m sure you’re aware of the distinction between “Malay” and “Malaysian”. The vast majority of local classical musicians in Malaysia are ethnic Chinese, not Malay. This includes every current Malaysian member of the MPO.

        I can’t deny your story, but those I got a hold of in MPO had no knowledge of this.

      • Nick says:

        I have a feeling that inviting applications for ethnic Malays only – and therefore ruling out ethnic Chinese and others who are Malaysian citizens – may be illegal. I would be more inclined to believe that “only Malaysians” may apply is what has been used. If the intention is only to have ethnic Malays in the MPO (and that I submit would be a disaster), others could be selectively weeded out at the auditions. A dreadful practice but it would not fall foul of the law.

        • Sue says:

          So, inviting only your own countrymen and women to audition is “illegal”? It’s hard to work out which is the more egregious sin.

  • MPOfriend says:

    Although it might be unconstitutional : job advertisements with jobs open just to a certain race are rather common in Malaysia. Open the local newspapers and you will find plenty of ‘Melayu sahaja’ or ‘Chinese only’

    From the very beginning it was always the plan to gradually replace the foreign musicians with locals, so a truly “Malaysian” Philharmonic could arise. That was not a secret but an openly announced goal back in 1998.

    The question is not so much race or passport but if the candidates are qualified enough to join this professional orchestra.

    There is an audition procedure in place, designed to keep the quality of the orchestra, but it seems the management is willing to bypass this to get their quota of local musicians.

  • Bratschegirl441 says:

    Having now spoken to several MPO principals and others close to the orchestra, I assume that Mr Lebrecht’s source is mistaken. No one has heard anything about seats reserved for ethnic Malays. I’ve been told that management would like to encourage “Malaysians” to apply and audition, but this is very different than holding auditions just for “Malays”. Also, no one had heard anything about a strict seven-seat quota (or any quota).

    Perhaps a retraction would be appropriate, as well as further scrutiny of your “sources”, Mr Lebrecht.

  • Philly Tony says:

    This may be true.
    It may be not.
    As a former employee at this disaster Malaysian Pickup Orchestra, I can tell you first hand that racism like this happens on a daily basis. From inside the orchestra management to lighting, tech, and outreach personnel, there is a constant double standard. The musicians that remain here are an amazing group as they are working together daily to create music, in a hostile environment, and with no prejudice. Those sitting in the premier seats above the lighting booth, not so much! Honesty, Respect, Integrity and Transparency are words to Raina and not core values. Sad.

  • MalayTrumpet says:

    I am Malay trumpet player and regular in all profession ensembles except the MPO…I know MPO from being past youth orchestra member have real problem with this anti Malay thinkin that many have in the MPO like co principle trumpet Bill this….he don’t want Malay in section he calls foreigners and Singaporean but never local Malay to tell you truth this co principle trumpet guy is more badder that the local average player. why is MPO paying this anti Malay man so much money, this my country

  • Nick says:

    I fully understand Malaytrumpet’s frustrations. Without more background, though, it is difficult to know how to respond. Has he, for example, auditioned for the MPO? If so, how many times? Other orchestras in the region, notably the Hong Kong Phil, have gone through similar periods of local players objecting to overseas players taking positions for which they felt they were qualified. But these objections soon tailed off as the quality of the orchestra improved beyond all recognition.

    As I understand it, Petronas commenced the MPO with the specific objective of developing an orchestra of first class international standards. At that time about 20 years ago there were few local players of that standard. What often happens is that the presence of such an orchestra in a community acts as a catalyst to raise the overall performance levels of others. Whether that has occurred in Malaysia I do not know.

    But no orchestra, barring a community one organised for a specific community, can be made up only of local musicians. Look at orchestras in Europe and the United States. How many Japanese, Korean and now Chinese players do you see in almost all orchestras? The Berlin Philharmonic has had more than one Japanese concertmaster. 5 years ago 40% of that same orchestra were non-German musicians.

    Since it is Malaytrumpet’s country and if he is of the required standard, of course he should be given a position in the MPO when as opening appears. If he objects to the orchestra’s policies, then his only recourse is to write to the Board of Petronas directly. With its present cost-cutting, it does appear that there is a desire for more Malaysian players. On the other hand, as I wrote in another thread, I heard the orchestra in a programme of Beethoven and Brahms in March. I would have been hard put to identify any musicians not up to the standards of those required of a good international orchestra.