Malaysia

Petronas MPO sackings spark worldwide audition boycott

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 1 — An international musicians union is calling for a worldwide boycott of the Malaysian Philharmonic (MPO) after the orchestra owned by Petronas allegedly sacked nine of its members without cause, with the controversy threatening the country’s reputation as a budding arts hub.

In a case that is set to embarrass the national oil company despite its efforts to create one of the world’s premier venues and best orchestras at the Dewan Filharmonik here, the union has called for musicians to boycott MPO’s audition in New York in October that was arranged to fill the vacancies created by the sackings.

The move has sparked speculation that Petronas intends to scale down its involvement in the arts.The move has sparked speculation that Petronas intends to scale down its involvement in the arts.The call by The International Federation of Music (IFM) has been highlighted by various international music and arts journals as well as Norman Lebrecht, one of the most widely read music and cultural affairs commentators in the world, on his blog Slipped Disc.

The IFM statement, which the British Lebrecht reproduced on his blog called on musicians worldwide to ditch the MPO’s October 12 audition in New York to protest the allegedly unfair dismissal of nine symphonists, some of whom have been with the orchestra for 14 years and have families with young children to support.

The strongly-worded statement criticised the MPO’s new chief executive Nor Raina Yong Abdullah for sending “non-renewal” notices to the nine symphonists in the orchestra “apparently for NO REASON whatsoever — and destroying their livelihoods”.

“This CEO, with absolutely no music background, has never spoken face to face with any of the ‘dismissed’ musicians,” IFM said in the statement.

“The MD, Claus Peter Flor, has remained virtually silent on the action, but has insisted that the decisions were beyond his control. His denials have been met with scepticism by the musicians,” it added.

Among those dismissed from their positions as concertmaster, co-concertmaster, tutti first violin, tutti viola, section percussionist, principal timpanist and principal trombonist were also founding musicians with the MPO.

The statement noted that seven of the nine sacked have filed legal action with the Industrial Relations Court and the court documents have been sent to the human resources minister for review.

The move has sparked speculation that the state oil company intends to scale down its involvement in the arts.  

The concept of FIRING long-term musicians, only to try their luck at hiring slightly cheaper ones, is disgraceful and beyond most decent people’s moral comprehension. — IFM

“Further, the remaining 70 musicians and their families will simply become ‘corporate targets’ for further ‘cost-cutting’ strategies,” it said.

The IFM also warned potential musicians planning to audition that the MPO would be scaling down their contracts, offering new members between 20 to 25 per cent less pay than existing members to replace the nine vacancies and 23 other pole positions onboard.

“This, in itself, is an affront to the music profession, and symphony orchestra standards. The concept of FIRING long-term musicians, only to try their luck at hiring slightly cheaper ones, is disgraceful and beyond most decent people’s moral comprehension,” it said.

The IFM also urged musicians worldwide to band together and write to Nor Raina and the MPO’s new general manager Timothy Tsukamoto to vent their displeasure.

“The Board of Directors must realise that the new CEO is destroying the reputation of a once great orchestra, and is harming the reputation of Malaysia at the same time,” it said.

Nor Raina could not be immediately contacted for comment as she was in a meeting, her assistant Hanis Halim told The Malaysian Insider today.

The MPO, housed in the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) at the foot of the landmark Petronas Twin Towers, styles itself as the region’s premier venue for classical music.

It is now in its 14th season, according to the DFP’s website.

The concert hall was officially opened on August 17, 1998 by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife and MPO patron Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali.

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