The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), based in Kuala Lumpur, is “non-renewing” 9 players: firing them in any other terms. On Feb 15, 2012, they were informed that in 6 months (August 15, 2012) they would no longer be employed.
Things like these are happening around the globe within orchtestras, but: repeated requests by the musicians for explanations or justifications behind the dismissals are being ignored completely by the management, who have only recently been moved into their administrative jobs by the parent oil company Petronas. The shift of power took place just over one year ago, in early 2011. The managers shuffled in have absolutely no music backgrounds or experience with managing anything related to orchestras. The music director, Claus Peter Flor, has – following the official management statement – been involved in these decisions, but has until now obviously remained completely silent regarding his role in the matter. Three weeks after the announcement he finally returned to conduct his first rehearsal it is reported from orchestra members that he had not a single word to say on the matter to the musicians.
It has been the practice of the MPO, since its beginnings in 1998, to give the musicians consecutive 2 year contracts over and over. It has always been understood (and much encouraged by previous management) that musicians will stay on and be renewed, as long as there are no performance issues. A 4-year ‘step-up’ in pay and a 10 year bonus had been included as incentives in the past. The philosophy of encouraging long-term musicians in the process of building a solid highly skilled ensemble, has been promoted by past managers. In the 2010 contract, however, musicians were informed a new clause would be ”added” to the contract, regarding renewals – a draconian clause that appeared to give management the right to remove people without reasons, and pretend that they were not in fact long term employees. The musicians voiced opposition to this clause – only to be told, “You can sign this renewal as it is presented – or resign”. The clause was used, at the first possible moment: Feb 15, 2012. It is unlikely that the clause will even stand up to legal action, under Malaysian Labor Laws, but management is resting their entire case on it. It is a disgraceful move, which should be fully exposed to the music and symphonic world.
Musicians report that the management is not even attempting the slightest inference about “artistic ability” in these dismissals, essentially acknowledging that the decisions are purely political. They have proceeded, cynically, to advertise abroad almost immediately for replacements: as though nothing unusual has happened and they are free to to y around with any musician, and their families, as they please.
One of the most egregious facts, by Western standards, is the firing of two Orchestra Committee members: people elected simply to be the orchestra’s voice to management. It is suspected that managers simply collected CCTV tapes of an orchestra meeting, and arbitrarily sacked the chairperson of this committee and one member who was simply reading out a composed letter to the Board, without prejudice, for the meeting to decide on its content, without ever interviewing either of them, or even trying to understand what is the role of an O.C. They then fired the wife of the chairperson as well, for pure vindictiveness, disregarding her 12 years of service.
This atrocious decision has outraged and very much disheartened virtually all the remaining musicians in the orchestra. With 20 positions currently vacant in the orchestra, adding these 9 terminations, plus the 3 resigned posts leaves over 30 spots empty in the MPO. The latest news is that new players are being offered contracts at 20 – 25% lower pay (in Malaysian Ringgit) than the previous contract, and existing members are being renewed at the lowest possible USD exchange rate, amounting to a 7% wage cut approximately. On top of this, in the new contract management is making it extremely difficult or impossible for a musician to take leave for auditions elsewhere. Basically, you’re committed to the organization if you move here, and you’re isolated from the music world once you arrive, until they arbitrarily decide not to use you anymore. Clearly this is a disaster for an orchestra that held so much promise only a few short years ago.
To sum up:
Rough times for management and musicians in the MPO. The international community of professional musicians is very well linked. Who will apply for vacant jobs in the MPO due to these circumstances?