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Demolishing an orchestra: the human cost

We have been hearing from a number of musicians in the Malaysian Philharmonic about the effects of the recent mass sackings in the orchestra.

The worst of it, says one musician, is that no reason has been given and the actual dismissals are still being denied. ‘No reason leaves us zero chance to argue, clarify or negotiate,’ this player writes.

‘They have consistently refused to provide any reason for the firings,’ confirms another, who enumerates some of the victims:

- Our principal timpani player is a founding member of the MPO, and is one of the strongest and most dynamic musicians in the orchestra. Since 1998 he has been a major personality in Malaysian musical life and has trained several top Malaysian timpanists and percussionists (including at least one who is studying in the USA). I don’t think we can overestimate the cultural loss that will result if he is forced to leave Malaysia. Over the years, he has been invited to play trials with several of the best UK orchestras, and has always chosen to return to Malaysia. He was on his honeymoon when he found out that he was fired. He was vocally opposed to Maestro Flor’s contract renewal.

- The principal trombone has also been with the MPO since 1998. In addition to his duties with the MPO, he has always been an active part of the musical community with teaching, workshops, working and soloing with community and school bands, performing outreach concerts at hospitals and childrens’ homes, and countless other community activities. He also works regularly as a freelance player with other orchestras around the world, when his schedule allows. The low brass section of the MPO is consistently singled out by visiting conductors as one of the orchestra’s outstanding sections. He is married to a Malaysian and has two young children, both born in Malaysia.

- The concertmaster, another founding member of the MPO, can be heard on the many BIS recordings we made. He has two young children. He stood up against Maestro Flor when he attempted to make decisions in the string section that would obviously compromise the quality of their sound and playing.

- We have no idea why the co-concertmaster was fired. She has two children.

- The fired percussionist was hugely involved in community and education activities. She was a big part of GEMA, an ambitious education project initiated by the MPO, and administered jointly by the MPO and the Malaysian Ministry of Education. It involved coordinated long term plans to bring modern and fun music education programs to many primary school Malaysians over a period of 7 years. The whole program was cancelled with no explanation shortly after Puan Raina took over as CEO. As far as I can tell, her only crime was to stand and read a letter (written by others) in a Musicians’ Council meeting, shortly before the infamous “town hall” meeting referenced in your blog comments.

- The tutti violinist who was fired had been the chairperson of the Musicians’ Council for a number of years. He was perhaps the single most identifiable spokesman for the musicians. His wife, a tutti violist is a quiet and gentle person. She was also fired. I suspect that she was fired just to get the management’s point across that absolutely no questioning or dissent will be tolerated. They have a young child, born in Malaysia.

There are plans to audition new musicians in Munich, this May. Unless the Malaysian Philharmonic explains these sackings, they may risk a boycott.

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Comments

  1. Harold Braun says:

    Claus peter Flor?A mediocre conductor who has been a loyal supporter to the GDR communist regime.Gimme a break!

    • d volleyball says:

      Flor needs to wake up and realize that his communist regime tactics cannot be tolerated in 21st century Malaysia. I knew him personally when he was principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony. By the time he finally left, he was universally despised. He is indeed a mediocre musician at best, but any modicum of talent he does have is completely negated by his ego and despicable personality. To be blunt, he has no morals. Even as a principal guest conductor, he tried to meddle in DSO affairs and attempted to fire those musicians who didn’t support his contract renewal. Now it is apparent he is doing the same thing in Malaysia. He is so desperate to get hired, that I have been told (by my conductor friends) that he tries to use his Malaysia Philharmonic MD position as a “bribe” to get guest conducting gigs with other orchestras. (“Invite me to guest conduct your orchestra, and I’ll give you a paid vacation conducting the MPO…”) Shame on you, Flor!

      • Die Meistersinger says:

        I have heard these same “bribe” references about this mediocre conductor Flor. And his modus operandi in Malaysia is to hire and promote other mediocre musicians to principal postions (e.g, viola) as a bribe in order to gain their allegiance (think Stalin). This in itself has demoralized and demolished the MPO from its once proud position as one of the best orchestras in Asia. Speaking of his Dallas Symphony gig, the bio that Flor currently uses at the Malaysian Philharmonic states that he is still Principal Guest Conductor in Dallas. I believe that he was fired…er, “not renewed” more than four years ago! (I can send a scan of the bio from a recent MPO program this season if anyone cares to see it.) No morals indeed!

        • KL expat says:

          I heard Anna Reszniak is another one of these Flor appointed musicians. I went to the MPO Viennese waltz concert in January, listened to Reszniak’s sloppy solos, and wondered to myself, how could this girl be concertmaster? Then I found out Flor had installed her, even though the entire orchestra had recommended against her appointment as concertmaster. Apparently lots of rumors flying around about her relationship with Flor…

          • e-kl musician says:

            Dear KL expat,

            the situation is pretty bad already, there is no need to make it worse by spreading such innuendo. Anna is a great violinist and a good concertmaster – as far as I know her only relationship with Flor is that she’s the concertmaster of the MPO. Period.

          • mpoviolin says:

            @ e-kl musician

            So Anna is a great violinist and good concertmaster?
            Your opinion is based on…exactly what???

            As far as we know she never did hold a concertmaster position before and her (unasked for) performance her in KL, both leadership and solo playing, was rather underwhelming so far to put it politely.

            If she is such a great violinist how comes that her audition never convinced the violin section and she never would have been invited even for a trial without C.P.Flor’s intervention?

          • Juniandraina Sittinginatree says:

            I don’t know how she plays, but I’ve heard that her and Mr. Flor have been spotted having romantic dress-up dinners together at the Mandarin Oriental (where Mr. Flor stays when he’s in town).

            I’ve also heard that she can suck a tennis ball through a tennis racquet, but that may just be a rumor ;)

  2. Orchestra musician says:

    It’s tough to predict or even support a boycott Norman…by boycotting the upcoming auditions musicians can of course show solidarity with their unfortunate colleagues who have been sacked without reason from the MPO…unfortunately however there will likely always be musicians willing to travel to Malaysia to work for good money regardless of how terrible and corrupt the management there might be. Supply of musicians from the worlds conservatories will always significantly exceed demand. Also, a boycott of the orchestra might only serve to make life harder for those who remain with the MPO as they will struggle to find suitable new colleagues and maintain the standard of their once great orchestra..

    Sad times indeed with the situation presenting only a choice between a rock and a hard place for those considering auditiong for MPO in May – a boycott certainly won’t produce any winners!

    • Tamara Meinecke says:

      I am a tutti violinist in the Louisville (Kentucky, USA) Orchestra. All of us have been locked out since the end of May 2011 with no pay or benefits. There is no way I would audition for MPO, and I would do anything I could to support a boycott if the MPO musicians asked for one, *even if* I suspected that it might not be totally successful. If the management is bound and determined to treat people unethically, damage the musical community of Malaysia, and possibly even destroy the orchestra (as they are doing here in Louisville), I probably can’t stop them. But I can refuse to participate in such awful, inhumane behavior; and if many of us take a similar stand, perhaps, just perhaps, we can stop it.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      A boycott would not prevent the MPO management from engaging new musicians, if it were determined to do so. A boycott would, on the other hand, discourage experienced musicians from applying to audition. Very few musicians of high calibre would waste their time seeking work in an orchestra known to mistreat its members. Claus Peter Flor is not a significant draw, and the rapidly rising cost of living in Kuala Lumpur has made the MPO musicians’ salaries far less attractive than they once were.

  3. Alexander Radziewski says:

    orchestra musician,

    as an orchestra musician in Germany, I don’t agree with your point of view. Fighting against this inhuman behaviour of the management can avoid that this will become the standard in the rest of the world.
    This fight worked really good in Brazil a couple of month ago. .

  4. Alexander, the fight in Brazil worked only because the government didn’t offer work visas to the numerous foreign musicians who won auditions last summer. While many people cancelled their audition, many chose to take the audition anyways. I doubt the Malaysian government would do the same. Although I am saddened by recent developments, I echo the fear that a massive protest or boycott would primarily hurt the many MPO musicians who are choosing to stay.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      My own viewpoint is that a boycott is most likely to colour Claus Peter Flor’s curriculum vitae, and diminish the chances of his ever being offered the helm of a symphony orchestra in the West.

      • d volleyball says:

        An audition boycott would hurt the remaining MPO musicians. It’s much better to “boycott” the name Claus Peter Flor and let the word get out to every orchestra in the world to never hire this “destroyer of orchestras” (direct quote from another reputable conductor). Flor will never get his own orchestra again in the West. And if orchestras are wise, he won’t be doing much guest conducting either once people understand the extent of the damage he has done in Malaysia. After the MPO boots him out, he won’t be able to offer any more bribes…(see above).

        • Die Meistersinger says:

          Nope, not practical to boycott MPO auditions. Let’s give the orchestra a chance to recover and flourish again after Flor leaves.

  5. One of the aforementioned musicians was suspended for several weeks at the beginning of the season for arguing with the music director in front of the orchestra, refusing directions, and subsequently calling in sick on concert days twice with little to no notice. Not the same as “no cause”.

    • Herr Inspektor says:

      I have very good reason to believe that the above “Anonymous” comment was authored by MPO CEO Raina Yeong Abdullah who instructed one of her press minions to insert it into this blog. Raina: Instead of offering unfounded, useless comments such as this, please step forward and tell us why you allowed Claus Peter Flor to fire these highly talented and reputable musicians. (And please don’t fire your press person; he’s not the one who passed along the tip.)

  6. Also anonymous says:

    This is a lie. It never happened.

    The management seems to be using their stooges to spread misinformation defending their outrageous behaviour. It’s good to know they are taking notice and getting worried.

  7. concerned and shocked says:

    There won’t be any explanation from the management. It’s a subsidiary of a multibillion dollar oil company; the people running it are without any background in the music industry.
    They CAN do whatever they want without the need to explain.

    Boycott or not…musicians should think twice before auditioning or excepting a job.

    The future of the orchestra in terms of quality, long time employment and salary is rather uncertain at this point.
    This recent dismissal of several key players shows that there is no concept or vision regarding the long term future of the orchestra. The non-existence of a pension plan and the 2 years only contracts and visa are proof as well.

    So it might be an interesting opportunity for young, inexperienced (and single) players but everybody having a family and looking for long term security should avoid the place.

  8. So, can I audition or not?

  9. just a thought says:

    It is pretty obvious that IF there would be any disciplinary or artistic reasons for the dismissals the management would have acted differently and earlier. There are plenty of clauses in the contract referring to disciplinary action, re-audition etc.

    So one can only speculate about the real reasons.
    It’s either personal, political or the first step of downsizing or closing the orchestra.

  10. Gustav Mahler says:

    All patrons be them Malaysians or Expats, we must support and save the musicians in order to save the MPO. No musicians derserve to be sack/dismiss/terminate. Especially the pioneers of the orchestra. All the principals mentioned are there from day one the MPO started and they have been the “icons” of the orchestra. I as a patron knows who they are and its also a following for me that they are good at their job and I greatly appreciate all of them. To the MPO Management, please take a moment to just reflect. Do you want to rob off the society the very “essence” that keep us city dwellers sane everytime we are at the DFP enjoying music by the MPO.

    • Yes, but Herr Mahler, this is getting creepy now. We expect you to stay dead.

      • Gustav Mahler says:

        Mikko

        I am very much alive, that is I am a fan of Mahler’s music, especially his Symphonies. I love those days when Maestro Kees close every season with one of Mahler’s symphony. Its a tradition to me.

  11. Thanks for the update Norman. I have to admit, no news about it in the local media.

    I trust that the information stated here are true. And that the (MPO) management is actually in a state of denial whilst pretending not to know to contain this issue as much as possible.

  12. It’s such a pity this is happening. The MPO is a great orchestra and actually Flor is a very gifted conductor. However he is known for letting his ego get in the way, and that is why this is his first chief conductor gig in a very, very long time. I don’t think he has had an orchestra since he was chief of Berlin Symphony, before the wall came down (now Konzerthaus Orchester). He came close in Dallas and Bonn but no cigar. This episode needless to say will do nothing to enhance his reputation. Napoleon syndrome….

    • Die Meistersinger says:

      I agree that Flor has talent, but as d volleyball says above, Flor simply has no morals, and this cancels out any talent he might have. He has not had his own orchestra since he was chief conductor of the Berlin Symphony (over 21 years ago!), and after this horrendous episode in Malaysia, no other orchestra in the world will ever hire him as MD. He may think he is being clever not revealing the reasons about the firing of the MPO musicians, but I really doubt MPO management will keep him after all the negative attention he is bringing to Petronas and Malaysia. Napoleon Syndrome indeed…I hear Flor’s favorite symphony is the Eroica!

  13. Too long. That’s what they’ve been doing. Playing too long. For too much money. For too few hours in a day. And at long last, albeit in a rather roundabout way, Petronas has finally come to realise it. Since so much has been made by so few for so long, it stands to reason that these so called ‘sacked’ expatriate concert musicians can ‘pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and smile…’ away from Malaysia, together with their family.

    ‘Sacked’. ‘terminated’ — strange words to be use when they’re actually given 6 months notice. Definitely much much more than the Malaysian wage earner. And how much exactly does the concertmaster earn each month? Defnitely much much more than the Malaysian wage earner. And really, we’ve fed them far too much. Petronas, good for you. And Flor — way to go!

    May more Malaysians be a part of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. May more Malaysians make more money for less hours. May more Malaysians bing glory to their country and their homeland.

    • Yes, thanks Raina. Remember what MPO holo said “you will only reap what you sow”. Maybe not this week, or this month, or this year… but you will.

    • mpoviolin says:

      Lady, are you for real or is this sarcasm?

      Surely the controversial appointment of the new concertmaster (happen to be a blond East European lady, just the way the music director likes it) does not fit in the picture if the goal is replacing “expensive expat musicians” with Malaysian musicians.

    • Gustav Mahler says:

      Lady, Lady, Lady Raina

      Since when does art has to be justified in terms of money and profit? Arts is meant to bring people togerther. Those “expats” musicians you are reffering to, they are good! they are the MPO’s image and there is nothing wrong if they are not Malaysians. MUSIC transcends all boundaries. Tell me which music organizations make money. What was the goals in setting up the MPO from day one? Its to promote Classical Music to the general public regardless of status. May Malaysians take over the MPO? that would be the greatest joke of the century, as usual Malaysia BOLEH and end up Malaysia TIDAK BOLEH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and what is NEW???????????????

      Let me personally wish all musicians in the MPO all the best. I would miss all of them. I will ensure that your next season’s subscription is zero, nil “0″!!!!!!!!! since you want the MPO to pack their bag. A personal note to you Raina, you might as well also resign from your post because I am sure that your pay cheque per month is huge, much, much more than the malaysian wage earner!!!!!!!!

      • JaschaHeifetz says:

        To Lady,

        And when you have no more excellent foreign musicians to fire, you’d also be jobless whilst defending about 100 law suits from the fired musicians. Oh – how I wish I listened to my mother who wanted me to be a lawyer (or doctor) when I grew up. Drats – should have listened to Mum. She knows best!!

  14. Islamman says:

    Thanks for your input, Raina

  15. Granville Bantock says:

    Why do you all want to save the MPO i.e. preserve the status quo for an orchestra which is owned and managed by people to whom classical music, culture, diplomacy, sensitivity etc is a foreign language?

    Air Asia was bought for RM 1 by Tony Fernandez because it was run into the ground by its former management.

    Let corporate Malaysia collectively do the same with the MPO, establish a trust or foundation, an experienced board of trustees with both international and local presence and run it properly. It will always make a loss (No Symphony orchestra in the world makes a profit on operations alone) but if that loss can be shared by many with a common purpose to grow and sustain the arts in Malaysia to international standards, then it is worth pursuing.

    Please stop crying out to save the MPO in its current incarnation. It will only temporarily stave of the inevitable. Instead spread the word to other Berhad companies and garner support for a takeover. If you know CEO’s or have significant shares in any YOU can help make this happen instead of just moaning about it.

    Personally I’m already on the case but if I’m the only one I won’t get very far.

  16. Holly Craven says:

    Ooof, Lady, you have issues that seem to really stem from this idea of the MPO being Malaysian only. As I said earlier, music transcends boundaries and it UNITES cultures. It seems to me you are trying to use music to do the exact opposite of this.

    I lived and taught in Malaysia when I was 22 (not THAT long ago!!). A long way from home, what I loved the most was the welcoming and caring attitude of everyone with whom I came into contact. Malaysia is a wonderful melting pot of cultures with Malay, Chinese and Indian living pretty harmoniously side by side, accepting each other and welcoming in expats from all over the world with open arms. It seems to me that you want to stop this.

    I challenge you to find me ONE internationally renowned orchestra which is made up purely of it’s own countrymen. The joy of music is that you can go anywhere in the world and let your music making speak for you. It is a magical thing to be able to do, and compartmentalising it to “you’re an expat, you can’t play here” is a) like the playground taunts of “you can’t with me today” you hear from 5 year olds and b) undoes ALL the good that people have strived for over the years.

    Shame on you.

  17. JaschaHeifetz says:

    I think Lady know “nuts” about music. The MPO was founded to be the best in the region. It was good (Bakels), awful (Bamert) and better (in the beginning of the Flor regime). With this, bringing in Malaysians to play in the MPO is plain silly.

    How many Malaysian violinists have been trained in the Julliard, Curtis, Indiana (USA) under the professors there? How many Malaysian violinists have been tutored by Zakhar Bron (one of the top professors that have taught Repin & Vengerov)? Can you have a whole section of Malaysian violinists play in the MPO? Sure you can – but I am sure that they will not be up to international standard. Performing arts is one that you cannot bluff your way through. Either you can play or you cannot play. How many Malaysian violinists can give an ardent interpretation of the difficult violin solo (a portrait of Richard Strauss’s wife Pauline) in Ein Heldenleben? Not many. Name one top Malaysian violin soloist in the world – I don’t think I can think of any.
    You can’t even build up a violin section that is good (let alone great) of violinists in the MPO. Violin is the second “most learnt” instrument after piano. How do you find the Malaysian talent to play all the exotic instruments like the cor anglais? I don’t think its that easy.

    Don’t think that your Malaysian audience is that dumb and cannot distinguish a mediocre performance, from a good one to a exceptional/extraordinary one. Once “Lady” let poorer Malaysian substitutes into the MPO – I can guarantee you an empty hall – “Lady”.

    Also, I heard rumours that CD recording for BIS has been cancelled. Perhaps BIS is dropping the MPO. I don’t know. But the Singapore SO is still recording for BIS. get sub-standard Malaysian players for the MPO – even Naxos may not want to record the MPO!

  18. My name is Ebred Reijnen, I am violonist in the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
    Since I played in the MPO during several months as a ”sub” , about 10 years ago, I still feel connected with those fantastic musicians. I experienced this high qualified orchestra as a cultural oase in the far east. Musicians are extremely motivated and taking their job very serious. I am deeply chocked about this news and I hope that we can support our colleagues of the MPO in any way.

    Warm greetings,

    Ebred

  19. This Lady Raina was introduced to the country’s First Lady, Rosmah in a Permata Seni programme. The rest is history.

  20. Fida Ruzki says:

    although I would love to see many Malaysian musicians play in the orchestra, but to treat all those talented musicians in such manner is unacceptable. I might be novice and just started, but I do want to listen to good music.

  21. Passive Observer says:

    To get back to the thread for just a moment! The musicians: gave their best of their 10 to 15 years of training to a foreign country, in the hopes of building up the arts scene / the music scene / a higher level of culture and sophistication. Gave and gave. Gave up careers in home countries in some cases.
    These individuals, I know for a FACT, coached the young malaysians – in MPYO, in outreach programs, in private instruction, in chamber music, in schools, in senior’s homes, in convalescence centers. They took pride in bringing their skills to this nation. They brought the best of their abilities and experience to the stage – in hundreds of concerts, at a level that a Malaysian public would not have been able to listen to and witness otherwise. They bought into the plan, put forth by a previous generation of intelligent managers and leaders: the Mahatirs, the Tun Azizans…
    They moved far away from family and friends, took the risk – built connections, meaningful lives, homes new famillies. Left their professional networks behind in the meantime, believing they were making a difference and a contribution in an “arts frontier”.

    Their sole reward for this: A KICK IN THE ASS ! From a ‘convert’ CEO who wouldn’t be qualified to clean toilets outside of her comfortable Petronas office. Who probably hasn’t ever spoken to one of the musicians personally, as I gather from office staff who consider her a horrifically under-qualified paranoid reclusive, at the end of a mediocre career.

    This is Malaysia? Yes. This is Malaysia. 12 years in… and not one step closer to 2020. The visions of a few, cannot succeed unless their successors are of the same stealth and spirit, to uphold principals and standards of excellence. These current CEO’s lack both, sadly.

  22. Dannielle Riechman says:

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  23. Michael King says:

    Mervyn Philbert suddenly disappeared from all these discussions. At request of Principal Cockroach (I mean, Violist) Jin Zhen Hong – incredible obedience! Coincidence? How satisfying is that?? You ask someone to stop impersonating you on the blog, and they miraculously disappear. How you know?!?! Is it possible that he is a different, yet equally adept conductor-ass-kisser? Or… one and the same person?

    Who was he kidding? Every musician past and present knows his broken Shanghai accent in speech, perfectly replicated in the blog posts. Review his most amazing statement if you please: “Only 9 people get fired – and you’re sad?” – This, from a “colleague” within the same orchestra as the wrongfully dismissed. And this incredible maggot is soon to get up in front of his colleagues and peers to attempt a solo with the same orchestra. How must that feel? Knowing that there isn’t ONE milligram of support behind you. Not one ounce of respect.

    What goes around comes around. The music business is one of the most diligent places for that statement to be witnessed. “Break a leg”, my little insect friend.
    MK

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