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By the sword: Now Malaysia slashes its music director

Claus Peter Flor, who aided and abetted a hardhat management in unfairly getting rid of some of the best players in the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, has himself been laid off. If you have tears to shed, save them for a better cause.

The MPO remains under an international musicians’ boycott. Conductors should resist this unsavoury temptation.

florclaus peter flor photo: IMG Artists

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  1. pj.ross says:

    What goes around,comes around

  2. Bloody conductors (not all)….the corrupting effect of power.

  3. “Conductors should resist this unsavoury temptation”? I beg to differ – surely now this is a chance for MPO to put the past behind them and rebuild. They need a new musical director that can turn things around and campaign for fairer treatment of musicians. Please just take a moment to think about the musicians that are still left in the orchestra – do you really think they would want the international boycot to remain? Of course not, they want to attract the best players to keep up the standard of the orchestra! It would be tragic if the boycots continue and MPO ceases to exist – what a waste and a further upset to those with families still working in KL.

  4. MPOsage says:

    Every conductor with a career and a brain should (and will) think twice before taking this job.

    The previously very positive international reputation of the MPO is totally gone after the change of management and the renewal of Claus Peter Flor in 2010, after the unjustified sackings and the offer of inferior contracts to the remaining orchestra musicians in 2012.

    Right now there are many vacancies and more musicians are planning to leave.

    The only way to turn around this orchestra is to return to the ‘old’ ways how management treated musicians; the old contracts; and of course to reinstate all unjustified sacked musicians.
    Only this would send a clear positive message to the rest of the world in this messy situation.

    No musician playing on an international level, with job opportunities elsewhere, will consider a job in an orchestra where you can get fired anytime without any reason given; with a contract that leaves no doubt that the management does not want to employ you for an extended period of time.

    When the orchestra was founded in 1998 there was the vision to have a world class orchestra and the will to pay for it.
    At the moment both vision and will seem to be gone.

  5. James Creitz says:

    Sad that this orchestra has done its best NOT to hire Malay musicians (yes, there are some very good ones, many trained in Europe and the USA).

    • mpo member says:

      why they didn’t audition?

    • Musician says:

      This is nonsense. Everyone is assessed at audition equally, the players don’t care where they’re from. It’s true that there are some highly trained Malaysians (probably not Malay) but they don’t turn up for auditions. Many of those who do are simply not good enough.

      As for the boycott, it is certainly damaging the remaining musicians who are struggling under an enormous workload with severely reduced numbers. The orchestra wants the best candidates possible and the best conductors possible. Anyone not coming under the banner of “showing solidarity” is only hurting the orchestra further.

      • MPO Watcher says:

        I disagree with Musician. I know of at least one Malaysian musician who applied for a vacancy while she was working outside Malaysia but was never even called for an audition. She did not follow up as shortly after, she was offered a position in a European orchestra. It is unlikely she would ever return to Malaysia to join the MPO. I believe a great part of the problem lies in the recruiting process. There was, for a very long time, an unofficial “hire Malaysians last” policy unless they were managed by the “right people.”

        • MPOfuture says:

          Dear MPOwatcher, I wonder where you heard about ‘an unofficial “hire Malaysians last” policy’.

          Because I know from a trustworthy and informed source within the management that quite the opposite was the case. In fact there always was a “Malaysian first if on the requested level” policy.

          Everybody, especially the management, would have been happy if more Malaysians would have joined the orchestra.
          I don’t know anything about the case of the Malaysian musician you’ve mentioned. But I watched most of the recorded audition tapes for the string sections over the years and can ensure you that there were very few Malaysian candidates to start with and most of them really far from the level required for a world class orchestra.

          The few Malaysians who played an audition on this requested level got the job. If they turned out to be the great musicians and colleagues we hoped for, is a totally other story.

          Anyway, until Flor took over and auditions/promotions became his personal playground based on corruption there was a relatively transparent and fair audition process in place.

          There are no doubts that now, after some of the best international players got canned or resigned on their own, more importantly after previous and likely future salary cuts, also the required level will be lower and ergo more Malaysian will join.

          The question soon will be if it is worth to spend that kind of money on a mediocre orchestra with bad international reputation.

    • MPO Watcher says:

      James, I believe you are referring to MALAYSIAN musicians and not Malay musicians. All nationals of Malaysia are called Malaysian, not Malay. Malay is the name of the dominant ethnic group in the country, but do take note that a quarter of the population is made up of ethnic Chinese and there are several Chinese Malaysian musicians in the MPO. They are sometimes mistaken for nationals of China, Singapore, Korea or Japan. The ethnic Chinese in Malaysia take classical music education very seriously and several of the ethnic Chinese musicians and opera singers have sought careers outside Malaysia.

  6. Replacement of Flor will not bring back the MPO to it’s former quality. But it is a start. I am not convinced doing so is actually the plan, but we will see. At least the musicians can finally breathe normally again. That was about time.

    Yes, there once was a vision for a world class orchestra, and the willingness to pay for it, but was it ever set up out of love for music, I wonder? Oil companies usually have quite different priorities than high standard classical music, and I wonder how this will influence the name and influence of Flor’s successor.

  7. PK Miller says:

    The wrong Director can make as profound a difference as an exceptional one. And the Music Director DOES make or break an entity like this. Still remember our original interfaith choir. Sometimes, it seemed we had a lot of fun w/our founding Director but maybe were not as diligent in our preparation. The next Director was anything but the charming Irishman, was a consummate professional but made us learn the music. If a Music Director of any ensemble antagonizes his/her members like this guy, then maybe it needs to be Out damned spot.

  8. Brian Larson says:

    Time to break the silence? Perhaps.
    I’m the previous Chairperson of the MPO Orchestra Committee. I have avoided commenting here as much as possible, since our case is now before the Industrial Relations Court, here in Malaysia. They also targeted my wife, a 12 year member of the string section. As you can imagine, there are many things I would love to say – but that will wait for another time.

    I felt the need to respond to “Brian”, since I have been receiving a number of messages here asking if that is me. I was the only “Brian” in the orchestra, thus it could be easily confused. It is not. It does have the “ring” of a member of the orchestra – and I can understand using ‘anonymity’ here, as there is a general fear among the musicians about speaking out at all in a public forum. If this is the case… please choose another ‘nick-name’? :)

    As for the boycott – and the problem of how to “attract the best players to keep up the standard of the orchestra”, the opinion is naive. I worked, previously, for many years in North America, and in fact at the top a national Orchestra Musicians’ organization there, as 1st V.P. The boycott exists NOT to punish the orchestra, current players, management, etc – but to protect their own professional union members from stepping into a precarious situation, and in turn, bringing down the standards of RESPECT int the industry that they have spent decades fighting for and building up. Deciding not to renew a music director doesn’t change the main reasons behind the boycott. The arbitrary, and unexplained termination of 7 (actually 9) long term musicians, and the changes to the contract, removing any sense of job security – and respect for the orchestral profession – has yet to be answered satisfactorily. To ignore that fact, and remove their boycott notice – whilst the action before the court (pursuing reinstatement) is still continuing – would be another disrespect. This issue has NEVER been about “replacing with Malaysians”, “hiring Malaysian”, etc etc – so it is completely missing the point to even bring it up. The orchestra has held mainly international auditions since the whole fiasco unfolded in February 2012 – they are still seeking international players. Of course Malaysian auditions are held, but, if I am not mistaken, they are expected to play at the same international standard as any other candidate, if they wish to join.

    Does the MPO wish to be taken seriously, attract the best quality international musicians (and conductors!), as they had done in the past? That depends greatly on how they resolve this current situation. I must agree with MPOsage – the “old” ways should be reconsidered – take a close look at WHY they hired IMG in the first place, in 1998, to structure their contract, so that it would have the “respect” of the international community. You cannot simply remove vital clauses that protect the artists, and begin treating your musicians like Bangladeshi clothing factory workers, or telemarketers – clocking hours – then cry out to the unions abroad “why are you still boycotting us ?!?!?”. They have every right to ask for explanations and to expect a return to: RESPECT. Let’s hope this happens, and the orchestra can focus on great music making once again. :) Cheers.

    • I am not part of MPO, so my observations may be ill informed.

      MPO is a rather odd orchestra. It is funded by an oil company, it is governed by a board of business and political cronies who are largely ignorant of, or un-interested in what it does, there is a fair amount of incompetence, and stories of money going in the wrong pockets, and it is rife with intrigues and conspiracies. Forgive me for saying this….. but it sounds like business as usual for Malaysia.

      But within this dysfunctional organisation are super people, real professionals who are doing their best in a difficult situation, putting on some really good performances. And there are audiences for whom MPO is their only opportunity for exposure to live western classical music.

      What will a continued boycott achieve ? The governors will not care. It will not change anything for the better. It will certainly not foster a culture of respect. But it does presumably lower the standard of the performances and the morale of the existing players. And having lots of extras flown in must increase costs, and therefore raise the chance of some bean-counter somewhere deciding the whole enterprise is not worth while, and the money would be better spent on Formula 1, or corporate bonuses.

      If this were a commercial company (like its paymaster) there would not be a boycott. Rather it would be widely known that it does not offer job security, or much respect for staff, and has governance problems, but it does offer reasonable pay, and an interesting and perhaps even exotic lifestyle outside of work – nice for those who want it. Then people can make their own choice. 

      A new music director could bring some fresh air, and an inspiring one might, just might, be able to charm some sensible decisions from the trolls on the board. It will be tough, but good luck I say, and I hope someone who is good, politically as well as musically, gets selected. Or is there a stooge in the background already ?

      • Brian Larson says:

        Peter: I will definitely agree with you – there are some super people left in the MPO, doing their best. Let’s hope they stick around long enough to see the situation turn around for the better. However: You’ve answered your own question, regarding the boycott: “.. it does not offer job security, or much respect…” You must understand that this is a recent change of attitude and of direction. It is also not acceptable by the unions abroad. The boycott is a “warning” only – not enforceable, but at least the players going into the situation are well informed. The symphonic world is a small place: if the MPO wants to compete for the players, then compete in an international way. The contract is their “best foot forward”. If they’re counting on “interesting and exotic lifestyle outside of work” (agreed!), this is great for a new graduate, single person looking for transient work… but not for serious orchestra building.

        Also – “having lots of extras flown in must increase costs” – correct again – astronomically so. A miscalculation on their part, no doubt, that great musicians would still come flocking to the job. They won’t once they read the fine print. It’s a simple matter for the “bean counters” to reverse. But – losing face is an expense that’s hard to calculate.

  9. Just an opinion says:

    Against the clear voice of the orchestra the new MPO management renewed Flor in 2010 and fired several key players (assumed to be anti-Flor) in 2012. Plus MPO lost some more good musicians who voted with their feet because of the same reason.

    All this just to fire Flor a couple of years later? So what’s the genius plan you gotta wonder?

  10. wow drama!!! add an opera house and then you’ll know treachery

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