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Breaking: US guest conductor sends open sympathy letter to Malaysian Philharmonic musicians

The Chicago conductor Karen Kamensek, general music director at the Hanover State Opera, was invited by Claus Peter Flor to guest conduct in Kuala Lumpur last month. She got on well with the musicians and was distressed to learn of the nine summary sackings.

Returning home, she has sent a letter to the musicians and authorised them to publish it as widely as they please. ‘I hope that Malaysia and the residents of Kuala Lumpur will rally to your cause, and protest the measures that are being taken to weaken and dismember your collective,’ she tells them.

Here’s the letter in full and, beneath, Karen and her Hanover orchestra performing a protest on behalf of under-threat Dutch orchestras:

 

To the musicians of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra,

It was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with you again
last week! Thank for a lovely few days of rehearsals, and two really
wonderful and energetic concerts! Your kindness, open-heartedness,
preparation, professional commitment, and unbounded musical joy and
energy continues to be an inspiration and a gift to me, and most
especially to your public! I was so happy to see so many smiling faces
in the audience. The program really spoke to them, and that’s why we
do it, for our public! I am inspired by your grace and
professionalism, considering the extremely difficult times that you
are going through at the moment. The collective and individual blows
that you have taken in the past few weeks, which perhaps show no signs
of stopping, are to me—as an international conductor, and music
director and chief conductor of a large German opera house—shocking,
and incredibly difficult to comprehend.

The MPO is a true musical pearl of Asia, and certainly holds its own
right up there next to the international orchestras of Singapore, Hong
Kong, and Japan. I hope that your management will seriously examine
their motives and actions, re-consider them, come clean with their
true intentions, and in the best case scenario rather invest more
time, energy, money, marketing, and interest in building you up to be
an even more prominent international-level orchestra, an even stronger
ambassador for culture and humanity, and an indispensable source of
cross-cultural education, out-reach, guidance, inspiration and comfort
for Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia

Anything other than a renewed and stronger investment in culture, be
it western, eastern, northern, southern, is more than just a gigantic
step backwards—-it is an international and local embarrassment.
Culture—sharing our different cultures, nurturing communication,
educating and learning from each other, performing together, listening
to music, playing music of every kind, coming together in a joyous and
tolerant space—these are the things that keep us human, that make us
better people. Music comforts us, allows our imagination to stretch
for unknown horizons, joins us with our fellow human beings on equal
ground, and elevates us to heights which take us away from the
hum-drum struggles of daily life.

But now you are struggling, and I hope that Malaysia and the residents
of Kuala Lumpur will rally to your cause, and protest the measures
that are being taken to weaken and dismember your collective, and
possible even destroy you completely. I hope they will think about
and weigh the consequences of what the loss of the MPO would mean,
what a cultural black hole would remain in your place, and offer you
more support! I would be terribly disheartened and disappointed should
this musical pearl, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, be thrown
away—and Malaysia will be too.

I wish you all the best in the coming months and years, in your
struggle to regain peace and energy and strength. If there is
anything at all I can do to help your cause, please don’t hesitate in
contacting me.

Most sincerely,

Karen Kamensek

GMD
Staatsoper Hannover

3.3.2012

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Comments

  1. A rallying cry?
    A rally? Like the recent elctoral rallies? Note that the organisers are facing charges and possible jail time. For rallying round a cause.

    A public demonstration?
    A Musicians March?
    Petitions?
    Letters to the Editor of the local daily?
    Pickets?
    Ballot boxes?
    Court proceedings?
    Appeals to other Malaysian Public Listed Companies?
    Appeals to multi national companies in Malaysia like Shell and British Petroleum and Siemens?
    To save the ‘sacked’ musician’s jobs?
    Really?

    I mean, really?

    Just to re-cap on the cost of this particular brand of culture (source: Malaysia Today dated 21 August 2009):

    i) Conductor Claus Peter Flor officially gets RM130,000 per month
    ii) Associate Conductor Kevin Field : RM50,000 per month
    iii) Other musicians : RM16,000 to RM24,000 per month — ExCluDing the various increments over the years, the all-expenses paid trips to various venues nationally and internationally, the travelling expenses, the relocation expenses, the moving in expenses etc.
    iv) 2 months annual leave. 2 months. For the summer break. Summer. In Equatorial Malaysia. Most Malaysians get by with 15 days annual leave. Minus the summer break.

    Petronas pays RM3.5million monthly to maintain the MPO. The Malaysian Government, via Petronas, pays RM42 million annually to maintain the MPO and their various benefits. In all, Petronas and the Malaysian Government has spent RM500 million to maintain the MPO. Taxpayers money. My money.

    Perhaps the Musician’s Rally might unearth a multi national company or Malaysian Public Listed Company willing to pay that amount in the current economy.

    In the meantime, auditions to find replacements for the current Concertmaster (male) and his duly released fellow musicians are currently under way. Therefore the nine who have been released of their commitments to the MPO may find their time better spent by attending auditions in other countries that will have them. After all, the nine are ‘excellent musicians’. It really shouldn’t be an issue to re-locate to anywhere else in the world. After all, the wider the experience gained in world class orchestras around the world, the better will their CV’s/Resume appear. And what an adventure a new country will be to their dependants!

    Take up the baton, Concert Musicians, and play on! Another orchestra eagerly awaits you elsewhere!

    And let your places be filled with younger, newer, fresher, more promising talent. Be gracious in bowing out. The curtain has come down. You’ve already had your standing ovation.

    Good luck. Good bye.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I felt an icy chill as I read this cynical epistle. Unfortunately, there are others world-wide who share this attitude concerning the performing arts (and other artistic endeavors, too). Yes, it is a privilege to be a symphonic musician because of the glories of the art of music, not because of free trips for concerts on tour. I know very little about the situation in KL; but, with with friends like the “Lady,” they hardly need enemies.

      On the other hand, I found Maestro Kamensek’s letter a rare public expression of solidarity with orchestra musicians. Brava!

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Clarification: I mean rare coming from a Musical Director and conductor in writing, publicly.

    • Aaron Teoh says:

      You strike me as someone well educated and in a position of some authority. I pray that you never have to face what these musicians have faced, because being expendable is not a nice feeling.

      Being told to leave a country you’ve lived in for years, that you’ve come to call home, is not a nice feeling.

      Saying goodbye to loved ones is not a nice feeling.

    • Well, I do agree what “Lady” point out the facts, which what Malaysia need is opportunity for locals then have a world class orchestra which 90% of them are expats.

    • JaschaHeifetz says:

      I think it is because of “Lady” – we will be deemed as an uncultured bunch of people.

      Well “Lady” can go and dunk herself in Pig-Shit because she wants to be an uncultured animal.

      I am going to practice my music instruments because I want to be known as someone who is
      cultured and refined.

      • boo hoo hoo says:

        wow… that is your definition of cultured and refine – playing with your instrument while calling names and using rude words against another person. well done indeed.

    • JaschaHeifetz says:

      By the way, “Lady” – how did Malaysia Today (MT) get hold of the musicians’ salaries?
      Did you leak it out to MT? If so, that’s terrible. If so, better get Claus Peter Flor & Kevin Field to sue you & Petronas. Would you like your HRD or CEO to go around leaking out details of employees’ pay? A big flat NO! Right?

      Why is also Petronas “wasting” even more money sponsoring F1 and also the losing Mercedes team under
      Michael Schumacher? Why don’t you put in a good word and get rid of Schumacher – since he isn’t performing? Get a world class Malaysian F1 driver. There are plenty of great Malaysian maniac drivers here
      on the Klang Valley highways to chose from!!!

    • JaschaHeifetz says:

      Malaysia is a silly country – as it chases away all its top talents in all professions. It takes in “foreigners” of low standard to do its “you-know-what”.

      Singapore is a smart country – as it has well-educated politicians (as opposed to Malaysia). It takes in all foreigners (only if they have top intellect – all from Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford are welcome – irrespective of
      race.

      The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) are an elitist orchestra. Sorry – I made a mistake – the BPO is a super-elitist orchestra. Since its earlier days (when most members were German), they still take the best players in the world. There are now English, Australian, etc players in the BPO. Sir Simon Rattle (British) is now the Chief Conductor of the BPO – taking over from Abbado (Italian), Karajan (Austrian of Greek descent), Furtwangler (German), Nikisch (Hungarian) and van Bulow (German). In the war years, the BPO was under
      Borchard (Russian) & Celibidache (Romanian).

      The MPO is a fledgling orchestra. Under Bakels (Dutch), Bamert (Swiss) and Flor (German). We had Datuk Ooi Chean See as a resident conductor but it did not work out and she went back to Bonn after being professionally undermined by MPO musicians, etc (according to another blog). So how are we going to get any top class Malaysian conductors & musicians – eh “Lady” – when either they are all chased away and choose to make their career abroad?

      What you say is a joke lah “Lady”. Since you’re so smart to find talent, see whether you can even play “Baa Baa Black Sheep” on the piano.

      The way things are going internationally “blog-wise” – the best musicians (including Malaysians) would not want to join the MPO. You can hold your auditions but looks like no-one will come to the auditions.

    • Gustav Mahler says:

      Lady

      Petronas and the Government pay your salary too, that is also my money. Why don’t you just resign and also go elsewhere and continue to be the next CEO of Lady Pte Lte.

    • Music lover unlike Lady says:

      What a truly nasty , spiteful, vengeful woman Lady sounds. There is no love in her heart and definitely no music either. She has not had one person agreeing with her. She has two big chips on each shoulder.

  2. mpoviolin says:

    An impressing display of solidarity and support from a guest conductor; RESPECT!

    However, it seems the ‘lady’ is indeed serious about what she/he/it writes.

    Judging the level of music-love and education it surely could be somebody from MPO management.

    Lady, your post certainly convinced me. It’s time for every professional musician – local or expat – to leave this country.

  3. Grim Reaper says:

    ‘Lady’ is undoubtedly either Nor Raina Yeong Abdullah, current CEO of MPO (which is particularly comical as she is about as far from being a ‘lady’ as possible) or her closet friend, Juniwati Hussin. Have a good laugh, gentlemen. Your time will come.

  4. LadyLooks LikeADude says:

    This is not about saving money.

    FACT:

    Petronas was putting US 8 MILLION (MYR 24 MILLION+) PER YEAR just into their Yamaha sponsorship. This is a team of less than 10 people and a motorcycle.

    FACT:

    They continue to put and additional 30 MILLION EURO PER YEAR (MYR 119 MILLION +) into their Mercedes sponsorship for F1. This this is for a team of less than 20 people and an automobile.

    It’s sad what’s happening to MPO, but I do agree that someone with an actual brain should buy them out from these oil pigs.

  5. Linda Grace says:

    Guess Karen Kamensek has burned her bridges with this management., she has her nerve!

    In Philadelphia history, when the orchestra went on strike against prevailing management or lack of it, the orchestra gave a “strike” concert with the NY Phil and invited Neeme Jarvi, who had been a regular each season with the PO, to conduct, in the Sony Center in Camden.
    He was brilliant, everyone loved the concertt, which raised a good bit of money for the strike efforts—–but he was never invited back until the management changed.

  6. another orchestra musician says:

    The numbers Lady gives, above, speak for themselves. By the standards of full-time symphony orchestras of international stature, the MPO is remarkably inexpensive.

    The largest single budget position, among MPO personnel, is that of the Music Director. He costs more than the entire double bass section. Compared with music directors in North America and Europe, he is relatively very low-paid. Within a specifically Malaysian context, he costs approximately as much as do 40 mid-level office employees, or 100 low-level office employees, taken together. In the present instance, because his actions in Kuala Lumpur very possibly are costing him future career opportunities, he may judge his compensation akin to a severance package.

    At the time of the MPO’s inception, Malaysia, flying under the banner of Wawasan 2020, envisioned achieving developed nation status by the end of the current decade. Facts on the ground in the years since unfortunately saw Malaysia tread water, socially, and in real terms regress, economically. To most Malaysians, who struggle to make ends meet, the MPO must necessarily appear an extravagance.

    Malaysians tend to sense that the conditions of their birth unjustly exclude them from many of the privileges taken for granted by native Europeans and North Americans. Continuous reinforcement through the officially sanctioned media and through the organs of government bureaucracy, of the notion that any challenge to the existing structures is an evil thing, discourages Malaysians from even contemplating the steps that might be necessary to systemically bringing about improvement. Malaysians that are conscious of this often emigrate. Those that are not, or who are but cannot emigrate, or choose not to, knowing themselves caught between a rock and a hard place in their own homeland, have difficulty feeling sympathy toward of a bunch of coddled white foreigners. What ensues is often a the dialogue of the deaf between Malaysian and non-Malaysian, in which neither side lends an open ear to what the other side is saying.

    Lady, above, and Megat Terawis, elsewhere in these columns, are probably talking good sense when they advise the MPO musicians to pack their bags and leave quietly. Casting a foul scent on Music Director Flor is albeit not unwarranted; he well deserves to take a black eye for his complicity in helping demolish an artistic institution. The real loss nonetheless remains Malaysia’s. Close-mindedness and pride have here conspired to perpetuate the bonds preventing Malaysia from advancing.

    • christopher lim says:

      I am just an ordinary person, not some elite gifted musician. I do however appreciate beautiful music when i hear it. I agree with “Lady” ‘s comments though. MPO has either been very poor in their marketing or they do not market themselves at all. I did not even knew that there was such music in Malaysia until recently!!!! The powers that be could be just keeping this music within their elite circle. If this is true, do you think it is fair for the Malaysian Public? Alternately, MPO management has done a very poor job of marketing.
      End of day, i sympathise with anyone having to lose their jobs. It is always the pawns that gets the brunt of any battle. However, as a citizen, i look at MPO as just another extravagant luxury enjoyed by a circle of elitist using funds NOT derived from concerts but from resources that SHOULD be used for the basic needs of the people of Malaysia.
      IF MPO can fund themselves through the staging of their own concerts, THEN there is no issue. No one will see red over a person who tills his own land for his own needs.

      • bone founder says:

        There are so many aspects of this situation that have to be taken in to consideration. A symphony orchestra is an elitist organization and as we can see around the world, many are in financial trouble because of that. There are ways to attract the popular audiences to concerts and the orchestras that make the change will survive.

        I was part of the MPO for 10 years and if I would be asked to say in two words what my impression was of it, I would have to say missed opportunities. From the beginning it was clear that things were never going to work out because of the way that the administration worked. We all came from different cultures and background and we could never agree as musicians on what was the best way to do things. It gave the management a perfect opportunity to do what ever they wanted. Over the years the MPO has been invited by the BBC to perform at one of their concerts and also several times by Japanese companies but every time the MPO management turned them down. They made bad decisions after bad decisions and now the musicians and the audience are paying the price.

        Another aspect of this was that as a person I felt guilty about getting paid so much money when I knew that most of the population and local musicians – NSO – were getting 10X less to live on. It was also very difficult to give back to the community and feel part of it as a foreigner. So has expatriates working and living in Malaysia, we were always considered some kind of elite and that is not healthy in the long run. Everyone is important in life and there should not be any of kind of preferences just because we can play our instruments well.

        My feeling guilt is gone since I left the MPO and I am now much more involved in the community were I live. When I lived in Malaysia I always felt that it was wrong to be there, I felt that we were taking advantage of the situation. Perhaps it would be best for Petronas to shut down the whole thing and concentrate their energies on making Malaysia healthier and more educated, perhaps then there would be room for a symphony orchestra.

        • federicogonzalez says:

          Dear Bone Founder,

          Obviously you are a disgruntled EX-MPO employee..yeah, you had your time with MPO and obviously got fired or kicked out.

          Please spare a thought for the existing musicians in the orchestra who have made Malaysia their home and stop trying to add more wood to the fire.

          Be happy with your current situation wherever that may be and stay there!

          • siew eng says:

            pity you can’t hear the compassion in bone founder’s reconciliatory note. he was sparing a thought for the citizens of the country, whose coffers are going to the musicians somewhat disproportionately to the needs of the people.

            btw, i too value good music that transcends our everyday existence and reminds us of the miracle of life, but the fact is that a large majority of humans on earth cannot afford this seeming luxury. so you can get off your high middle-class horse and come down to have a closer look at the shit where most of us live.

          • Isis Lam says:

            Hi Siew Eng,

            You say you value good music, what kind of music? Just curious…

            Some of these wonderful musicians travelled half way around the world to come to Malaysia to work. Maybe you would be contented to listen to hotel lobby type of music where the musicians get paid per service and no admission fee required. Or just be happy attending NSO concerts. Nothing wrong with that.

            Well, It seems it was a mistake to start this orchestra in the first place. I guess if this orchestra is going down, it was a good attempt anyway.

          • another orchestra musician says:

            Bone Founder, above, was certainly not disgruntled during his tenure with the MPO, and he also wasn’t fired or kicked out. Siew Eng, I think, is right : although Bone Founder may be off target in attributing the financial woes of symphony orchestras to the elitist image such organizations often propagate, he scores a bullseye when he affirms that symphony musicians, to be valued by a community, must participate systemically within it. And I think he deserves credit for acknowledging the discomfort he felt during his years in Malaysia. Some of his expatriate colleagues have been more successful than he was, in overcoming the difficulties of social integration; but not one among them could honestly claim that the integration is without awkwardness, or that the disparity in living conditions between those of the MPO players and those of average Malaysians is not a major cause of this awkwardness.

  7. Hi Lady…

    Just tell me something.. How many years did you study to be able to do what you do in your job? Musicians study all their lives. After work and even during those 2 months holidays that you are talking about. Every day. Like a professional sportsman. Actually, musicians DO NOT have holidays. Ever.
    When you go to work, do you need to perform something amazingly difficult alone in front of hundreds of people? Something that, if you do not perform it really well, all your colleges and Company will be judged as bad?
    Do you know how many hours does it take to manage to have the perfect attack of a note, to have the perfect bowing for a delicate phrase of music, to know how to play correctly in the many different styles of music ever written? Do you know how many muscles do you have in your face, around and inside your mouth? How many of them you need to play a wind instrument? And your other thousands of muscles that are needed to play any instrument at all and all the coordination and movement detail control you need to be able to do it? And how much of your brain do you need to play music? I mean to MAKE music, like those musicians do? And I know what I’m talking about, I’ve heard them play many times. They are really musicians, not just technicians. Yes, because all that I said here so far could well describe a technician or a sportsman, but for making music you need even more than that; you need to hear thousands of recordings, inform yourself about music history, about the lifes of the composers… But above all, you need something that obviously you do not have and they do: an amazing talent, a great love for music and arts and a soul. A sensitive soul that feels music and that feels other people and speaks to people’s heart. According to what you wrote, I think you only have the sight of ringgits in the place of your’s. And that’s sad. Have you never heard one of their concerts?
    But actually, now that i read better what you wrote, you’re not so worried about the money after all, because you’re saying very naturally that other nine are coming, younger and fresher… So, is it something personal against those nine?… It makes me wonder.

    And about the article and the mine musicians: I’m with you and I’m so sorry for this terrible events… Petronas and that music director should feel ashamed for this.

    • Barry Johnstone. says:

      But management – who do FAR less, and get paid MUCH more – will try to always justify the even huger gap between a player’s salary and the astronomical fee paid to a ‘conductor’! I don’t consider that this gap is justified in the slightest. How many conductors are multi-millionaires compared to orchestral musicians?

      • SadAministrator says:

        Dear Barry,

        I know this is off your main point – contrary to popular belief, not all administrators are paid much more and do much less. Try getting phone calls at 2am when musician got drunk and lost his/her instrument; or family issues; or something else. Concerts dont happen by themselves, human beings are required to organise concerts, promote them, find funding. Administrators slog to get the show on so that musicians have a chance to do what they do best, and audience enjoy an evening of great performance.

        Yes, top tier CEOs and GMs do get quite a bit more, but an organisation needs more than just GMs and CEOs.

        Do spare a thought for the poor administrators at the bottom of the food chain when you critique the management as a whole, people who have no choice but to obey CEOs & GMs, and still being treated like 2nd class humans by musicians.

        SadAdministrator

    • long time subscription holder says:

      I have been enjoying the MPO concerts since the beginning, most of that time as a subscriber. I haven’t enjoyed every concert, we all have our musical preferences, but what I do enjoy, every time, is to watch the musicians as they play. I see their passion and concentration on what they are doing. I notice them when they come and join the audience if they aren’t playing in part of the concert. It is for this reason I always prefer to sit at the back, V,W,X Rows, at the side, so I can enjoy with my eyes as much as with my ears.
      Musicians are a bit like teachers – people think they work short hours and have long holidays. Both assumptions are nonsense. What this commentator says is absolutely correct, if they don’t practice, their hands / face muscles, whatever they use to ply their craft, will become rusty and they will not be able to contribute effectively in what is a group effort. People will notice and judge the whole orchestra by their failing.
      I do hope that the management will not use cost as a justification – as another commentator says, F1 and MotoGP sponsorship costs a whole lot more and the results aren’t any more tangible than the ‘results’ of the MPO.
      If they must go, I will be very sad, because I have grown to enjoy seeing their familiar faces over the years, but I can say this.. Please don’t go for cheap and inexperienced. By all means have some Malaysian if they are ready, but this is not the place to put them if they are not. The MPYO is for that. Please let the MPO continue to be what it is well known as – a World Class Orchestra.

  8. Local Malaysian musician says:

    To Lady:

    As a local Malaysian musician I feel ashame on you, as others had replied to u stated, the amount tat Petronas had spent for the orchestra is much more lower than the rest tat Petronas had spent! n do you know MPO players are not only play concerts, go trip, sit there for nothing! They train our children, yrs by yrs, they train MPYO, they form High-wind ensemble, string ensemble n our children, teenagers receiving this high standard for FREE!

    If u are musician in this country I can say u totally not connected to this circle, if u are not musician pls shut up, becos u dunno how important MPO to us!

    If u never listen or watch a concert from them pls watch, if u dunno music pls go do some research, malaysian musician, I myself proud to hv them! Because they bring best music, n best education to us!

  9. mpoviolin says:

    @Sophia,
    Could not agree more!

    No, “they” normally don’t come to the concerts EVER.
    But they came (Juniwati, Raina etc) to the very concert after they sent out the letters, not renewing several of the key players.

    It was a very nice and moving concert indeed with maestro Mc Gegan conducting and several of the dismissed players performing various solo parts in a flawless manner.
    It’s time to weep for the MPO. RIP.

  10. Michael says:

    To Lady :

    It is because of people like you that Malaysia will and never be a developed country.

  11. One of the MPYO says:

    I still remember how moved I was when I first listening to the MPO concert. How my musical journey enriched by the concerts, countless lessons given by my teacher, a principal player of the MPO. I just couldn’t believe that this is actually happening.

    Few years ago, I imagine that in later years, MPO might go on concert trips around Malaysia or give workshops around Malaysia to help more young and energetic fresh talents. Never have I imagine this huge step backwards.

    It is true that those 9 musicians, those 9 great musicians, have no problem finding new posts in another country. It is because of that, that make us, the local musicians worry. And our fear of the rest of the orchestra members, looking at this world-wide famous act of shame, would plan their way out quietly. It is a loss beyond measure, for us.

  12. poormusician says:

    Consider the fact that string instruments can be in the hundreds of thousands in USD and bows can run up to close to a hundred thousand USD sometimes more.

    You do the math.

    We musicians dont just pick up our instruments and earn money like nobody’s business…do you factor in the cost of music lessons, sometime from the age of 4! AND the cost of constantly upgrading your instruments and bows!! You are pathetic to think, this is easy money!

    Wake up! This is not something easy to do! If you want easy, go to Law School or pursue a degree in MEDICINE! You earn more money that way and the cost of books are peanuts compared to what we pay for our instruments!

    Do you even consider the price we take to get here? The amount of competition for just ONE position in an orchestra..it can be in the hundreds of applicants! and you think it is EASY?!

    I truly feel sad for the musicians here..this kind of mentality will never help this country progress..

  13. A Young MPO Lover says:

    to Lady,

    What do you mean by ‘You’ve already had your standing ovasion.’ ???????
    Its really cruel to say that.
    You said that we should have some younger, newer, fresher and ‘more promising’ talent to fill in their places, but who is to educate them and build them up into more ‘promising’ musicians when those who CAN educate them are asked to leave the country?
    You said that taxpayers are wasting their money on ‘this particular brand of culture’, why cant you see what ELSE Malaysia has wasted loads of money in?
    I wonder how much you’re getting paid to do whatever you’re doing and whatever you’re trying to do.
    You do not know how music students get inspired coming out from an MPO concert. I bet you havent experienced tearing while listening to a certain piece of music or watching the movement of a pianist’s fingers and the sound that is created.
    You DO NOT understand music.
    The first article I read about the problems of the MPO made me sink in deep depression.
    I went to the sunday concert yesterday, passing by the principal timpanist and seeing the male concertmaster holding his violin walking towards his seat, makes me feel sad thinking that I will soon see someone else on the first chair and infront of the timpani.
    Im not sure what is happening inside, but I know there are loads of people out there that doesnt know that Malaysia has a GREAT orchestra, and I can see from the programs of the season that they are trying to get more audience and share music to different kinds of people.
    All the hard work they’ve gone through to be what they are now and you say they should be throwed out of the orchestra just like that?
    ‘Take up the baton, Concert Musicians, and play on! Another orchestra eagerly awaits you elsewhere!’
    ‘ Be gracious in bowing out. The curtain has come down. You’ve already had your standing ovation. Good luck. Good bye.’
    Heartless.

  14. A Young MPO Lover says:

    to Lady,

    What do you mean by ‘You’ve already had your standing ovation.’ ????
    Its really cruel to say that.

    You said younger, newer, fresher and ‘more promising’ talent should take their places, but who is to educate them and built them up into more ‘promising’ musicians when those who can educate them are asked to leave?

    You said that ‘this particular brand of culture’ is using up, or maybe you meant wasting alot of money. Why cant you see what ELSE Malaysia has wasted alot of money on?

    I wonder how much you’re paid for whatver you’re doing and whatever you’re trying to do.

    You will never understand how much influence the MPO is to all music students/musicians. You will never know how inspired after a music student step out of the concert hall. I bet you never teared listening to a certain piece of music.

    You do not understand musicians. You DO NOT understand music.

    The society always think that classical musicians are very wealthy and lead an easy life, they can concentrate on music and do what they want to do. Our musicians from the MPO have to worry of being ‘sacked’. I bet you think playing an instrument or playing a piece or a concerto is easier than breathing. You do not appreciate what effort they have put into music and what effort they have put in their entire lives and yet, ‘Another orchestra eagerly awaits you elsewhere!’.

    We should be proud that people love our country and is willing to stay in our country to play music for us and educate us. It is not the pay that they received that makes them stay. It is the passion towards music and the heart of theirs that wants to nurture young, talented musicians of a high standard. Do you appreciate it?

    ‘After all, the nine are ‘excellent musicians’. It really shouldn’t be an issue to re-locate to anywhere else in the world. After all, the wider the experience gained in world class orchestras around the world, the better will their CV’s/Resume appear. And what an adventure a new country will be to their dependants!

    Take up the baton, Concert Musicians, and play on! Another orchestra eagerly awaits you elsewhere!

    And let your places be filled with younger, newer, fresher, more promising talent. Be gracious in bowing out. The curtain has come down. You’ve already had your standing ovation.

    Good luck. Good bye.’

    Heartless.

  15. Trollface says:

    Lady:

    A new country awaits you! Go forth and be happy! Stay there, anywhere but Malaysia.

    Seriously, I wonder how you’d feel getting sacked and then being told (cynically) to leave the country you consider home.

  16. just my two cents says:

    Lady makes it sound like there are financial reasons to fire those musicians? I mean not renewing them, because this makes such a huge difference after up to 14 years of dedicated work.

    Terminating the good players of the orchestra can’t be in the interest of the orchestra.

    It also won’t be cost-efficient.

    There are the moving costs, the audition costs for new players, the moving costs for the new players (who most likely will not be as qualified and less experienced.)
    And there might be a huge payoff to the dismissed players – up to 2 years salary if they go to court.

    The person responsible for these dismissals should be made responsible for those costs, don’t you think?

    There are also whispers that new contracts for new musicians joining MPO have a substantially lower salary attached than previous contracts for the same position?
    Any explanation?
    Not exactly fair, is it? I mean to get less money than your colleagues for the same work?

    This would be yet another reason not to audition for this orchestra.

  17. Malaysian says:

    To Lady: oh melayu. Dengki didahulukan, kualiti ketinggalan. Tu sebab orang kita tak boleh maju. Oh melayu

  18. Saidah Rastam says:

    It’s too convenient and simplistic just to blame the new management of the MPO. The situation has run for more than 10 years. There are fantastic people like Kevin Field and Joost Flach who have done plenty to bring benefits to Malaysian youth. But by and large the fact remains that after 10 – or i think it’s 14- years in existence, the MPO experiment overall has not been a success – too little information transfer, too little real audience enthusiasm, too little to show relative to the fabled cost of running this orchestra. This Kamensek lady is also very irritating, going on about the benefits of music to a civilised society, as if we have to be told. Malaysia lacks even basic music education, a fact that having an expensive orchestra does nothing to change. Of course music has benefits to society – that is a separate issue from whether Malaysian taxpayers should continue to fund this MPO. In the same office as MPO is the Petronas Performing Arts Group: a group of traditional musicians – these guys were ALL given notice, as from the beginning of the year! Some have been with Petronas for 20 years. They have young families too, they are scared too. Where is the noise there? They are paid 10 times and apparently in Flor’s case 80 times less than the MPO musicians – and this has been the situation for many years. Unbelievable situation? I think so. But where is the noise there? Previous comments say Petronas can well afford to continue the MPO, as it is spending even more money on Formula 1. Well I don’t think Petronas should be spending taxpayers’ money on F1 EITHER. I am a musician too; any arts outfit has to justify its existence, even if the matter of money is always too sordid for us artists. And nothing I have read in the comments to this and previous articles support the argument for the continuation of the funding, though many of them express sympathy for the dismissed musicians, which I feel too. Personally I want the MPO to continue, (and no, I don’t know any of the people in the new management and am using my real name so this is verifiable) but the slant of things being said in this and previous comments in this blog really make me wonder. There is the presumption that “for Malaysia, it will be a tragedy to lose the MPO”. Well, balancing the benefits to the average Malaysian music lover such as myself, and the annual millions that the MPO costs, I question this presumption.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      Wonderfully put, SR. Kudos!

    • A well put comment that went unnoticed by the remaining commentators. I would love to see Ms Kamensek response to your comments. or the author of this blog.

      And i totally am in agreement to this statement:

      ” Malaysia lacks even basic music education, a fact that having an expensive orchestra does nothing to change” .
      At this point in our society decent music education remains in the realms of upper middle class and above only.

      And the MPO marketing team only in recent years have been trying to break the “elite” perception of its existence, a little bit too late im afraid.

  19. just my two cents says:

    Considering the huge wealth of the company nobody really will believe that this is about money.

    But let’s talk about money anyway. 1 US$ = ca 3 RM; 1 Euro = ca 4 RM
    So the above stated average salary of MPO musicians is ca 6700 US$ or 5000 Euro before tax.

    Is an average MPO musician’s salary high in compare to the average salary of a local office employee?
    Surely it is.

    Is an average MPO musician’s salary high in compare to other expat ‘expert’ salaries for instance in the oil business?
    Certainly not, I know personally several expats here in KL making twice that money or even more.

    Is an average MPO musician’s salary high in compare to other orchestra salaries worldwide?
    It’s rather average especially if you consider the fact that the foreign musicians are not allowed playing gigs or to teach privately here in Malaysia.
    And, more important, there is no pension plan.

    Lady, complaining about the high salaries is pointless.
    If you’ve bought a Ferrari you should not complain about the price or maintenance costs afterwards.
    You either can drive it, or sell it but sending it to the scrapyard is plain stupid.

    • German Orchestra Musician says:

      At the first glance the salary stated above actually looks very good compared with an average TVK-B or even TVK-A salary in Germany. How high are taxes in Malaysia? How expensive to life there?

      On the other hand no pension plan and the fact that obviously there is no long time security for foreign musicians. Sounds like a pickup orchestra to me; a bunch of music mercenaries on short time contracts.
      Could imagine that it is very difficult to develop a real ‘Klangkörper’ how people would say in Germany. Meaning a ‘soundbody’ with parts working together perfectly; a thing you normally only achieve after years of playing together as a group.
      No gigs in Malaysia allowed for the musicians? Are you kidding? Would not be a place for me.
      About 40% of my total income here is from teaching and gigs besides playing in the orchestra.

      I remember, about 10 years ago many musicians talked about this new orchestra in Malaysia.
      Apparently it attracted a lot of young, very strong professional players and substitute work was very well paid if calculated in Euros (back then the Euro was very weak) .
      Soon some impressive recordings proofed the high quality.

      I’ve met several people who went there to play as substitutes. All talked very highly about the place and the orchestra.

      But over the last few years things must have changed. The news here at the Lebrecht Blogsite confirms this.

      I never believed in those privately owned cultural adventures in Far East or the Middle East.
      What’s the next one going down? Qatar?

  20. Back to the mill and to this saga, ad infinitum ad nauseum. Dear Lady, I just wonder whether the schadenfreude manifested in your suggestion of the “one way ticket” for the dismissed musicians (mentioned elsewhere in this blog) has its roots in what I feel is a personal antipathy for ‘foreigners’ (and lest we forget, the MPO has players both Occidental and Oriental players) that strikes me as one that borders almost on the xenophobic. If so, has it ever occurred to you that blind, wilful and irrational “hate” can sometimes lead to negative consequences that regret alone cannot undo later when the damage is already done? Yes, ma, it costs a lot of money to maintain an orchestra of the standing of the MPO and no doubt in these economically straightened times, it is a luxury which some say that the nation can least afford, especially when the the debate on the “minimum wage” is an ongoing hot topic here at the moment. (And who would deny that members of the MPO are on “maximum” wage? But as the saying goes “if you pay peanuts what do you get?”) And no doubt governments everywhere, especially when tinged with philistinism, would willy-nilly, place the funding of the Arts ie. theatre, music et cetera at the bottom on the scale of priorities. And I believe only a few orchestras get govt. funding, fully or partially eg.the Berlin Philharmoniker (but the folks of Das Land der Dichter und Denker take their kultur very seriously and treat Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven like demi-gods). But as per some of the comments here: do the millions spent on the MPO reap more benefits for the citizens than, say, the millions spent on motor sports racing with its association to an activity connected with ‘speed’ (remember the slogan “SPEED KILLS”) and which, if any study be done impartially, might more likely see a correlation between this sporting activity and the high accident rate on our roads than between that sort of activity occurring almost every other weekend on the stage of the DFP? One need not be a maven on this matter to know which is the answer and only an incorrigible schlemiel will admit otherwise. I rest my case.

  21. Music is, well, music and it being a universal language belongs to everybody willing to lend an ear (though not being tone deaf would help too). But to single out “classical” music as an art form of Western provenance and, ergo, does not justify the enormous sums of the rakyat’s money being doled out to keep alive what is perceived to be at best, an elitist pursuit and at worse, an extravagant indulgence in these austere times, says more about the prejudices of its detractors than any knowledge in their possession which might predispose them to a less jaundiced view of a subject which, to say something in its favour, transcends the barriers of race, identity and so forth. About the salutary effects that music can have on someone, I need not expatiate here as there’s nothing more that can be said about them which has not already been said by Ms.Kamensek’s in her letter above. But about the POWER of music to transform things, there can be no doubt. You want proof? Here it is.
    In 1975, an enlightened Venezuelan economist, Jose Antonio Abreu, founded El Sistema (“The System”), a music education program to help deprived kids from the back streets of Latin America to learn a musical instrument to enable them to play in an orchestra. According to a BBC report, to date the System (and I quote verbatim here) “has kept thousands of children from the drugs, alcohol and gang-related violence of the streets and has led to the creation of 30 professional orchestras in a country that had only two before it started.Currently, 275,000 children attend the Sistema’s schools and many of them play in one of the 125 youth orchestras.” PHEW! Simply mind-boggling. A supreme achievement of a man which cannot be measured in purely monetary terms! If Senor Abreu has not won the Nobel Prize, at least he is deserving of the NOBLE Prize for his contribution to humanity. (In addition, the latter too would not be tainted by the ‘impurity’ which has attached itself to some of the former’s awards when they were given to people that didn’t entirely merit it or worse, for some dubious achievement.)
    Anyone who is curious enough to know what the Sistema has accomplished need not go any further than tune in to You Tube for the 2007 Proms performance of “MAMBO” by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel (himself a product — and the orchestra, the apotheosis — of the System) to savor the tangible harvest of Abreu’s vision, truly a product involving a miraculous transmutation of ‘base metal into gold’, if ever there was one. And if the listener will not allow any inhibitions to get in the way of joining in the fun, then grab an instrument, guitar, violin, trumpet or anything lying around or failing that, even the missus’ wok/kuali or saucepan will do and in synch with the music, beat the hell out of it. Music that is as life-affirming as it is LOVE personified.

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