Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Malaysian Philharmonic: An Oxymoron
Hantu Laut

I received the article or more appropriate I would say a letter in my email box two days ago. I believe there are undeniable truths to the writer's claims.

Being a fan of classical music myself I would certainly prefer local musicians in our philharmonic orchestra.Calling it a Malaysian Philharmonic and with 0ver 90 % foreign fiddlers is certainly an oxymoron.

It is absolutely ridiculous that after a decade we still couldn't find local musicians to take over from those costly foreigners.We all know we are not spared from all those ill-conceived and costly ideas by none others than our equally ridiculous leaders who seemed not to care how taxpayers' money are spent. Petronas money belong to the people of Malaysia and should be prudently managed and not spent at the whims and fancies of politicians.

There is no exiguous supply of local musicians if they really care to look around.The only problem is you may find them heavily concentrated in one racial group.They may not be top-notch but with proper training they would have acquired the skill by now if serious effort had been taken from the very beginning.

The other appalling thing is local musician of the same standing as their foreign counterpart would be paid a miserly amount, even the better ones would be paid less than the mediocre foreign musicians.

Maybe, we should send Mozart, Chopin, Bach and the rest of the gang back to the graves and go back to the kompang, anklong, gambus and kampong where we are better suited and stop pretending that we actually appreciate western classical music, a bought culture and social elitism at the expense of the Malaysian people.

Below is the letter:

Dear friends,
There can be no smoke without fire. Perhaps we should all stop going for these musical concerts just to teach these people a lesson.
Is this how we waste our money pretending to be social elite? In this case the kompang and anklong will sound better.Talk about corruption and mismanagement in Malaysia, we get it every which way we turn.

Much as we like to encourage appreciation of Western Music in Malaysia why is it that Petronas sees it fit to finance the 'Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra' which is a misnomer because 95% of its 105 musicians are foreign and mainly European.

Each musician is paid between Rm 16,000- RM28,000 per month. They are given 2 months paid holiday and working conditions which are second to none in the world. They have not one but 3 European conductors.

The Chief Conductor is paid RM130,000 per month and the Associate Conductor gets paid RM50,000 per month.

The total Monthly budget for this orchestra is RM 3.5 million.

The Malaysian Conductor Ooi Chean See resigned because it was widely known she was being undermined and not allowed to develop in her career. During her time with the orchestra, her concert scehdule decreased gradually to the point she was doing only a couple 'Children's Concerts' per year.

The orchestra has been in existence for 10 years now and the total amount spent on this orchestra has been staggering RM 500 million.

Yes, Petronas does not have money for bridges for Malaysians but it has money to splash on foreign musicians. Petronas does not appear to have real desire to train or give opportunity to locals Musicians.

They promised to set up an
Academy of Music to train local musicians with the tutors drawn from the orchestra but this sadly has not materialised.

Since its inception, the Malaysian Philharmonic orchestra has not increased its Malaysian participation which still stands at a shameful 4%. They have cosmetic programs like 'outreach' to supposedly encourage the love of western classical music to local Malaysians but these are essentially self serving publicity stunts.

Even the newly formed 'Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra' is a publicity stunt with no serious commitment to develop Malaysian talent. It is poorly organised and its musicians meet about twice a year only!

The previous founding CEO of the orchestra Mr Hamid Abu Bakar was clueless about music and left the artistic decisions to IMG, an international music agency who have successfully milked Petronas for tens of millions of dollars.

The current CEO Juniwati Hussin is a chemist by training and is a slight improvement because she does actually attend the concerts and is not averse to learning to appreciate western classical music. But the overall artisitc planning and direction in controlled by the Europeans who have a vested interest telling Petronas that there is no talent in
Malaysia and the ignorant management of Petronas are happy to maintain the status quo. It would appear that they prefer foreign participation in this 'Malaysian Orchestra' rather than to have Malaysians. What a pathetic mindset.

I hope issues like this will be brought up in parliament. Why can't Petronas train local musicians, provide scholarships for locals to study abroad if need be, and then employ them in the orchestra. In a matter of a few years we can have an orchestra consisting of Malaysians true to the name Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and good enough to rival the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. There is an abundance of talent in Malaysia. The sad fact is, Malaysian talent is usually recognised overseas.


supa said...

Almost everything associated with the Government in Malaysia is seemingly done with political intent.
Perhaps it is the character of those in power; face value is of utmost importance.
Talent can be nurtured only if there is serious effort to do so. It is this serious effort that they do not care about.

SM said...


Just ask someone to take a look at Petronas Carigali. Just see how many Foreigners (in fact, there are so many Indonesians in Petronas Carigali that some of these Indonesians are calling Petronas "Petromina"!) are there!
There have been a mass exodus of Malaysians out of Petronas Carigali. These Malaysians (most of them Malays too mind you!) are working Overseas or with other Oil Operators in Malaysia & doing not only very well but are also well paid!
So, coming back to the Malsyian Philharmonic...what do you expect from Petronas?!

Hantu Laut said...


After a decade they still couldn't find enough Malaysian musicians to fill the job is absolute nonsense.

For your information the KK Sympony Orchestra in Sabah can get 60 to 70 young Sabahans to play in the orchestra.Most of them are students and play part time.

Kuala Lumpur is a much bigger city, if they can't find enough musicians than I am sorry it's either a reflection of dearth of culture in the society or those responsible are not doing their job.

Hantu Laut said...

They are probably cheaper to employ than Malaysians.

I know at least one Malaysian who is also a blogger who is working in Indonesia with a foreign oil company.

Malaysians always get raw deal at home.

SM said...


Not so (I know, I have been in the Industry for the last 20 years!). You will be surprised what's happening there! These Indonesians & "Mat Sallehs" are payed good money (in US$ mind you!).
For some reason, they don't want to pay Malaysians decent wages but they are happy to pay the Foreigners well. Maybe they can justify the salaries of these Froeigners because they are "Expats"!
Then they turn around & "force" their contractors to hire Malaysians (or else!). Talk about Double Standards.
I can understand if there are not enough qualified Malaysians but there are loads of qualified Malaysians (a whole bunch of them working Overseas).

Anonymous said...

holy cow !. there you have it.

yet malaysians themselves are pointing everything to the NEP - ultimately benefitting the Malays only - what a sad case.

Hantu Laut said...

The others also have a fair share of the economic cake, maybe not as much as the bumiputras.

Anonymous said...

We obviously live in a time anybody can write anything in the internet no matter how correct or wrong the facts are.

Anonymous said...

The MPO is populated by a majority of foreigners because Malaysia doesn't have the educational infrastructure in place to supply the orchestra with local musicians of the calibre that a modern international symphony orchestra demands of its players. In Europe and America the training of orchestral musicians begins at junior school level with the provision of instrumental and class music lessons. At individual school and county level there are youth orchestras that provide early training in the skills of orchestral playing and its possible to graduate from these to national level youth orchestras. In addition there are, in the UK for example, at least four music colleges of international repute for the training of orchestral and other professional musicians. Since its inception the MPO has worked hard to develop its educational outreach programme. The outreach programme provides workshops, masterclasses, private music lessons as well as a mentoring programme for young Malaysian musicians. Young Malaysians have also benefited from the recent formation of the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra which provides the beginnings of the kind of orchestral training that will eventually enable more Malaysians to join the MPO. Malaysian composers have also benfited from the establishment of the MPO. Under the direction of Kevin Field the orchestra began a programme of workshops for Malaysian composers, resulting in performances of their works and the commissioning of further works. Kevin also initiated an international composing competition that placed Malaysia on the international circuit for such events. Orchestral musicians are among the most highly trained and skilled people on the planet. They need phenomenal sight reading skills, be able to play music of all periods and styles and play it to the highest standards all the time. And they need to continue to do this throughout their careers. The MPO is the only organisation in Malaysia that has made a start in developing these skills among Malaysian musicians while at the same time providing all Malaysians with the opportunity to hear live professional performances of orchestral music that are equal to the best in the world. This combination of sole national provider of orchestral training and professional orchestral concerts seems quite a good deal at the prices quoted. Bear in mind that in the UK the BBC alone maintains four symphony orchestras of international standing while London itself has many more, each with annual performing and outreach programmes equal to that of the solitary MPO.

The charge of elitism doesn't really stick and the idea that the MPO caters to the 'rich and famous' bears no serious examination. MPO ticket prices start from as little as RM8.50 (a concessionary price) and RM10 without a concession. These prices are for the Family concerts on Sunday afternoons. For other concerts, tickets start at RM17 and RM21.65 depending on the concert series. Students can buy a ticket for any concert and any seat in the DFP for RM10. If you want to attend an open rehearsal it will cost you nothing as a student and RM5 otherwise. Nobody therefore is excluded from attending MPO concerts on the basis of cost, although the strict dress code may put some off.

Yes, we can send the MPO conductor 'packing' and seek cheaper alternatives. But as with most other things in life, you get what you pay for. If Malaysia wants to have a 'world class' orchestra then it will have to pay world prices. If however Malaysians are prepared to settle for the merely 'competent' then so be it. As for the cost of the BBC orchestras, I don't have the figures but I do know that the BBC spends annually 35 million pounds on its classical music radio channel alone: that's RM210,000,000 annually and this doesn't necessarily include the costs of its four orchestras.

Finally, it is truly a pity to see such a needless and vicious attack launched against the MPO (the #1 arts organization in the entire country by the way) while blog-worthy topics like corruption in the Malaysian Police Department are never brought up. Disgusting.

Anonymous said...

Looks like MPO is putting out some corporate damage control.
The famous Ooi Chean See has recently resigned since she was relegated to childrens concerts in a not so subtle move to force her out. That alone should speak volumes.
The outreach program is a cuci mata exercise to give some veneer of social benefit. Even if Kevin Fields is being sincere MPO as a whole is a failure.

Anonymous said...

A famous talent like Ooi Chean See actually doesn't need the MPO! She can make it with any world-class-orchestra anywhere in the world! (And if not, it's because those foreigners hate Malaysia so much!)