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Malaysia packs Philharmonic concert with plainclothes policemen

Claus Peter Flor has been back in Kuala Lumpur for a week, working with the orchestra, refusing to say a word about the nine players whose dismissal he has ordered. Rehearsals have been correct, concerts as you’d expect. Ronald Brautigam was soloist in a Beethoven concerto. Nothing out of the ordinary. No further hints about the future of the orchestra.

But one of the musicians tells us he found it ‘very strange to have suddenly a full house with a lot of Malay looking single males in black suits.
Guess they placed at least 50 Petronas police as audience in case any untoward incident would happen.’



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  1. JaschaHeifetz says:

    Trust Malaysia to scare people – just bring their equivalent of the Russian KGB to the DFP hall!

  2. mpoviolin says:

    Not surprised at all if this is true.

    Quote from another blog at this website

    “In November, the entire MPO orchestra and staff were called up to a conference room on the 41st floor of tower 1 in KLCC where the Chairman of the MPO board (a board that had only met a single time during the entire 13 years of the orchestra’s existence) held what he referred to as his own ‘town hall’ meeting. Elevator full by elevator full they were escorted upstairs by Petronas security. Supposedly, there was about 150 MPO/DFP staff and musicians seated when Ms. Juniwati and Mr. Flor entered the room nearly arm-in-arm with a full Petronas security detail of about a dozen officers.”

    It is known that during the above mentioned meeting a sizable Petronas police force was standing by in case there would be any riots.
    Access to the MPO office has been restricted since because musicians are classified as security risk.

    No reason to worry. Unlike those uneducated, unqualified and rude people holding the power the MPO musicians are an educated, responsible, qualified and civilized bunch of people.
    We are happy to be guests of this beautiful country and proud to bring one of the best things from the western hemisphere to the Malaysian public: Western classical symphonic music.

  3. Gustav Mahler says:

    The Management of the DFP and MPO is so afraid their patrons go on a strike! Why not? to demand justice for the musicians.

  4. JaschaHeifetz says:

    The only reason the patrons and clients of the DFP would go on strike is because that when we hear sub-standard musicians filling in the places of the excellent principal players that are leaving (thanks to the management) – we will definitely give the MPO and DFP a miss. Who was to see a sub-standard orchestra and 5th rate soloists play in KL? We all can afford to fly to Singapore and watch the SSO and top-class soloists at their new “durian-like” hall i.e. The Esplanade at inflated Singapore hotel prices and the exchange rate of 1 SGD = 2.50MYR??

  5. More anonymity says:

    Better yet Jascha, Singapore now seems to have more than just the SSO, its best non-professional orchestra (Orchestra of the Music Makers) is performing the Rite of Spring at the Singapore Arts Festival and will be playing at the Cheltenham and Lichfield music festivals this summer.

  6. JaschaHeifetz says:

    Do you think our Malaysian MPYO can do Rite of Spring at Spore Arts, Cheltenham and Lichfield??? No – I don’t think so.

    Putting plain clothes cops and shutting the MPO down eventually (maybe Petronas’ long-term plan) will cause the Malaysian arts scene to die down.

    So, no point sending Tengku Irfan to Julliard (and study under a Jewish piano teacher) when he has nothing to come back to here musically.

    Petronas management = Thaddius Vent (in Oscar’s Orchestra). Malaysian public = (Oscar i.e. music lovers).

    It is a very sad month for music scene here in Malaysia.

    • JaschaHeifetz says:

      Also – I think Juniwati (= Thaddius Vent in Oscar’s Orchestra) and Raina (= Lucius in Oscar’s Orchestra).
      Go Google and figure!

  7. Michael King says:

    It is not surprising that they would resort to drastic security measures – they know full well, in the back of their minds that in these actions towards the 9 musicians, at least 7 of the cases are quite illegal, and NOT going to stand up to even Malaysian Labour Laws: This is the assessment of one of the top Industrial Relations lawyers in the country. Full stop. So, of course, they expect some kind of protest or disruption – it’s like an admission of guilt, all the extra security. And the protest should happen anyway! Patrons who truly admire the orchestra for what it once was (and still could be, with someone OTHER than Claus Peter Flor at the podium : Flor has yet to make a single statement about the events, and his part in it, to the musicians, after being back in front of the orchestra for almost 2 weeks. Cowardly, to say the least!) should get off their hands and make a stand.

    Here’s hoping the audience members find their courage – and BOO the Stasi bastard off the podium on the next Saturday evening opportunity! Save their orchestra while they still can!

    • another orchestra musician says:

      In Malaysia, just as in many other countries, work contracts offered by a Malaysian entity to non-Malaysians are subject to the prospective employee being accorded the necessary Employment Pass by Malaysia Immigration.

      Pegawai dagang / Expatriates – i.e., skilled workers, from developed countries are, in Malaysia, generally restricted to a maximum of 7 years’ stay (an initial 2-year Employment Pass, two 2-year renewals, and a final 1-year renewal), during which period they are expected to have trained their own replacements. Their replacements, naturally, are expected to be Malaysian nationals.

      The recently created Talent Corporation work/residence permits, valid for 10 years and which allow the employee to shift between Malaysian employers, are issued only to skilled workers currently in possession of a valid Employment Pass and who, further, are able to present a letter of good conduct from their current employer.

      Because all the MPO’s founding members long ago exceeded the presumptive 7-year term of their employment, and because Petronas has not, nominally, dismissed the musicians concerned for ostensible reasons of misconduct or artistic insufficiency, it will be a simple matter for Petronas to argue that Immigration had simply put its foot down : that Immigration was cutting back on the number of number of musicians it would grant a further Employment Pass renewal to. Whether such an argument reflects actual truth would be moot, under the present circumstances, as there would be no means of proving the contrary; and indeed, a simple telephone call from the Prime Minister’s Office to Immigration would suffice to make it the truth.

      Malaysia Immigration makes no secret of its restrictive policy toward skilled foreign workers, judging their presence a necessary, transitory evil. Economists and sociologists often argue that Malaysia, if truly it desires to advance as a nation, would be wise to encourage, rather than discourage, the influx of skills and ideas; fearful of losing their political hegemony and also the support of their political constituencies, government officials have heretofore resisted meaningful reform to these policies. In this they doubtless enjoy tacit approval from an overwhelming majority of Malaysians, who are keenly aware that non-natives previously lorded over their country, and who understandably resent seeing non-natives being given privileged access to highly-paid Malaysian jobs.

      In sum, the musicians that were dismissed are likely best advised not to expect vindication in a courthouse.

      • JaschaHeifetz says:

        Malaysia prefers to get in low quality cheap labour that can help them win the next “you-know-what”. So that some select few can prosper again. There are heaps of low quality cheap labour here. 100 foriegn MPO members cannot add much to “you-know-what”.

        Whilst Singapore go for quality, I hear that their NUS has risen in the World University rankings yet again for 2011-12. NUS is 28th with an 84.07 score. Where is any Malaysian University? Not even in the top 100. I didn’t bother to look down the list. I rest my case.

      • mpoviolin says:

        Quite opposite, the many years of dedicated service will be a strong point in favor of the dismissed musicians. No “immigration reason” given for the dismissal. In fact no reason given at all.

        Beside this there are still some other founding members and many members with more than 7 years of service playing with the MPO. So if there would be an immigration problem the impact would be much bigger.

        It’s quite obvious for everybody here that this is a personal vendetta against a few outstanding musicians who spoke up against the music director and his renewal. Main concern the corrupt way auditions and appointments were handled.

        • another orchestra musician says:

          The question isn’t whether the musicians in question deserved to not have their contracts renewed. It also isn’t whether Music Director CPFlor had taken a dislike to some of them. My point is merely that Petronas will be able to argue, if circumstances oblige it to, that their employment is contingent upon approval from Malaysia Immigration – approval Petronas had been informed would not be forthcoming.

          It is common for Malaysian employers to have difficulty obtaining Employment Passes in the desired quantity from Malaysia Immigration. Petronas may argue, in explaining why some contracts were renewed and others not, that Immigration is gradually reducing the number of Employment Passes it allows the MPO.

          I feel bad for the musicians in question, and for the entire orchestra. I will feel worse if the musicians in question are emboldened to instigate legal action. The battle would not be an even one.

          Who profits from the crime? is a question worth posing. Does CPFlor get a better MPO by dismissing nine of its strongest players? Certainly not. Does Petronas obtain a better return from its investment in the MPO? Also not. Look, therefore, beyond the smoke. All the talk of injustice done, of clueless management, of a nasty conductor, is but entertainment for the gallery. The real story lies elsewhere.

          • mpoviolin says:

            Sorry, still in disagreement here.

            First of all the management could have renewed all the contracts.
            If there really would be immigration issues they could have said so later with a big ‘sorry’ and crocodile tears of course.

            Funny also that “immigration” just picked the key players who spoke up against the renewal of the MD.
            And its way too early to involve immigration at all. Management will apply for visas much later.
            So no judge will buy into this one.

            Beside this at least one of the affected musicians got PR (so DEFINITELY no immigration issue), and another one did not serve 7 years yet.

            Hhhmmm, guess it does not look good for the management.

            The whole orchestra is waiting for the dismissed members to take legal action.
            That will be news #1. We surely hope they will win and Petronas will have to pay for its arrogant and miserable attitude towards them, and at the end of the day: us.

            Considering all the rumors about the MPO folding in 2014 all of us could be easily in the same situation in a couple of years.

          • another orchestra musician says:

            Yes, the musician with PR definitely is exempt from dismissal on the grounds he wouldn’t have received an Employment Pass – unless he was perceived as having behaved in a manner inconsistent with that of a good PR holder. PR status is awarded with some significant strings attached, and Immigration can revoke one’s PR status at any time.

            Speaking up against actions of the MPO management, and by extension, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, to whom Petronas directly answers, can certainly be interpreted as inappropriate behaviour by Malaysia Immigration. All the more so if those who speak up do so also outside the context of their workplace – for example, to their Malaysian students and friends, or via Internet blogs. Word of such things can and does find its way back to Putrajaya. Picture yourself labouring away silently for RM2000.-/month in a Malaysian government office : how will you feel when presented with reports of big-mouthed expatriates paid eight times your own salary by your own government?

            If you are a Malaysian judge, and even if, in this case, the Defendant chooses not to evoke concerns of national security, i.e., Immigration, which would have unchallenged primacy over civil statutes, do you rule in favour of the Plaintiffs, who as guests have been treated with comparatively enormous generosity by a government that does not yet ensure its own citizens a minimum wage?

            Consider also that the Defendant, in this case, need but wait the Plaintiffs out. Courts tend to move slowly, and the Defendant can also seek delays and adjournments. Once September arrives, the Plaintiffs will be tourists. At this point, only the PR holder will still be able to work in Malaysia, and legally reside there full-time.

            Surviving owners of units in the Highland Towers complex might be able to offer the MPO players a useful perspective on the efficacy of challenging the Malaysian government in court.

          • mpoviolin says:

            “Laboring away silently for 2000 RM” ROFL, really good one.

            Should we feel bad about this?
            I would suggest starting to learn an instrument if you are 5 years old, practice every day several hours until you finish your studies in your mid-twenties. Then if you worked hard enough and most likely spent huge amounts of money for your education – you might be able to get a well-paid job in one of the worlds top orchestras.

            “Laboring away silently for 2000 RM” oh you’ve made my day.

            I always wondered why MPO/DFP needs about 100-150 office workers to do the job of 10-15 qualified people. There is no opera, no ballet or choir, no reason to have an army of office workers for this relatively small orchestra.

            10x2000RM salary to get one job done; you end up at 20k as well.

            What works in an office more or less successful won’t work on stage of a concert hall. You can’t replace one qualified musician with 10 beginners. The hall is too small and the result would be ..aeehhmmm… painful. (Just come and listen to the local auditions in June and you know what I’m talking about.)

            Like we would have to say sorry for getting paid what we are worth.
            May I remind you that Petronas together with the Malaysian government invited those top musicians to come to Malaysia in 1998 to form a world class orchestra?

            To interest international top players you have to offer a salary which is comparable to other leading orchestras around the world.

            In the audition process 1997 the founding members prevailed against THOUSANDS of other applicants worldwide.

            The musicians, who decided to stay here for a longer period, did so believing in a positive long term future for the orchestra; a future which most likely does not exist anymore.

            I have no doubts that my fired colleagues are able to find other well-paid jobs somewhere.
            Also many of the remaining musicians are practicing for auditions…
            Malaysia’s loss – some other countries gain.

          • another orchestra musician says:

            I well know, and I have indicated elsewhere in these comments, that, in comparison with the musicians working in major US and European orchestras, the MPO players are not particularly well paid. All the more so, given that the cost of living in KL is today no longer particularly low. A recent international ranking put it at 83% of that of New York City. MPO players who have children may find that the effective cost of living, for them, actually exceeds that of New York City, because sending their children to local public schools, in KL, may not be a prudent option.

            But the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians are obliged to live on far less money than the MPO players do. They work longer hours, they work in generally far less comfortable conditions; they are given less vacation time. Not less relevantly, they know that speaking out against the actions of their bosses is considered a significant offense, and that if their bosses happen to be a government entity, detention without trial, in a village near Taiping may await them.

            Try reversing the situation : imagine that your own government were to establish an elite Chinese Opera troupe in your capital city. Imagine that these performers, uniquely skilled all, and who have trained since early childhood, receive salaries 5 times higher than the salaries of average professional-level employees in your country. Would you be enthusiastic about such use of your tax contributions?

            I do not know whether the offices at Level 2 currently house 150 staff dedicated to DFP/MPO/PPAG. When last I saw those offices, they assuredly did not. It is, on the other hand, no secret that symphony orchestras of international stature commonly employ bulky administrative staffs, often numbering in the scores, and supplemented by large corps of volunteers, often numbering in the hundreds. The Philadelphia Orchestra, for example, employs 16 paid staff for its IT services alone. A quick glance across the Web, or into a few program books, will confirm for you that arts organizations of even modest scope tend to carry a large component of non-performers.

            The core issue in this discussion, I feel, is the attitude many of the MPO players’ advocates are displaying. They speak of Malaysians as Europeans once commonly did of Africans. It’s okay for the MPO players to be treated much more generously than Malaysians, their lines seem to imply, because skilled foreigners are worth 10 times as much as dumb locals. It’s okay for the MPO players to demand privileges they feel they would enjoy in their home countries, while not sparing a thought for the darker-skinned humans that invited them in the first place. After all, the noble white man is here bringing precious, time-honoured culture to the savages!

            How many MPO players’ advocates, in this forum, have spoken out against the dissolution of PPAG? How many MPO musicians, for that matter, have even engaged a PPAG member in conversation? Are the MPO musicians aware that rebab, nafiri, and serunai are the ancestors of the instruments they hold in their hands today? Please try explaining, after answering these questions honestly, why any Malaysian should care about the dismissal of 9 MPO musicians.

          • mpoviolin says:

            Oh, I’m not arguing here with you. After all you are right and the MPO is just displaced here in Malaysia.
            And then…where is the public local outcry about the closure of PPAG?
            Hhmmm, uncultured savages indeed.

            “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

        • Is it you Lady? says:

          If there would have been disciplinary or artistic reasons to fire those musicians there surely would have been different ways to get rid of them much sooner.

          No reason given for dismissal after long years of dedicated work. That is what the courts will deal with.

          Good luck justifying that.

          Was it worth it, the controversial renewal of C.P.Flor?

          Word is that money changed hands for him to be renewed. The fish rots from the head.
          Maybe the MACC should have a look at the whole thing.

        • JaschaHeifetz says:

          Yes – loyalty does not count. Playing in the right “camp” counts in Malaysia.

          So after years of quality loyal service and they dismiss you – call up your lawyer and
          set up yet another law suits like ex-GMs, etc.

      • Malaysia Cannot says:

        ‘Lady’ has obviously assumed a new alias… What a pathetic wretch. And misinformed as well.

        The industrial labor court says that, if you are employed for 5 or more years, you have a reasonable expectation to be employed until retirement! Given that there were no artistic issues on record for any of the people whom were dismissed, it will be extremely difficult for Petronas to justify such a sudden termination of 9 key founding members. A Chinese or Indian judge would look at this as the Malays trying to kick out the foreigner and will really sock it to Petronas!

        Can you say cha-ching la??? Petronas will have a very memorable bite taken out of them for their arrogance. They have grossly underestimated their opponent. There are no other creatures on earth who are better endowed to see something through than a professional classical musician. You can take this to the bank, and so will they!

        Rock on!!!

        • JaschaHeifetz says:

          Yes – take it to the industrial labour court. In Malaysia, they generally favour the workers rather than the employers. If the employer did not do the full process of “rehabilitating” non-performing musicians, then the musicians have a case to win.

          More so, if the musicians (like Akiko Danis, Kevin Thompson and Paul Philbert) who always are inspired to play very well and at a high professional standard). I am not too clear who the other 6 are – so I can’t name them here.

  8. Gustav Mahler says:

    I am a ptron of the MPO for the pass 13 years and last week’s concert I have decided not to attend even though the fifth Beethoven Piano Concerto is one of my favourite. My decision not to attend is my way of a strike. On top of that I have also called the Box Office to cancell all my future concert tickets and demanded for a refund. The Box Office refuse to refund me in the context that all concerts are on going and yet to be cancelled. I told them that I paid to listen to the best musicians in the orchestra and they are the principals of the orchestra, no question about that.

    I would urge all patrons of the MPO to boycott all performances by the MPO and also demand for a refund for all tickets sold. The message has to get across to the Management of the MPO and DFP that Patrons are not happy with the whole situation.

  9. Tony Montana says:

    Boycott? Gustav obviously didnt hear the rumours about the shutting down of the MPO so you think the management gives a two flying hoot if patrons are”boycotting” the orchestra?

  10. JaschaHeifetz says:

    It would play into the Petronas management’s hand Gustav. Karina was given a task to shut down the MPO in 5 years time – I heard. So, don’t be silly GustavMahler. Rise from the dead and resurrect the MPO. Don’t stay away from DFP. Come back and haunt the DFP like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Come alive and conduct your Mahler symphonies in DFP – including No 8. It would be a Mahler premiere. Mahler conducts Mahler in Sym No 8 – only at the DFP!!!

  11. Gustav Mahler says:

    Dear Tony I obviously have heard about the shutting down of the MPO, me not ignorant.

    We need to perform the Resurrection first before we can “Veni Creator Spiritus”. Gustav Mahler shall rise from the dead to haunt the all wrong doers in this situation. I am in the process. Wish me all the best.

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