KUALA LUMPUR : When the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) gave notices to its members that their contracts will not be renewed, little did they know that it was going to turn into a controversy.
Nine MPO members were given non-renewal notices last year when their contracts are scheduled to end next month. They comprise several nationalities – Russian, Japanese, American, Canadian, British and German.
The matter had since been interpreted as “unlawful sacking” and criticised heavily by industry players including the France-based International Federations of Musicians.
In a statement posted on its website the federation described MPO as destroying the livelihood of the musicians who have families mostly with young children and who have already adjusted to living in Malaysia.
Seven out of the nine musicians who received the non-renewal notices have filed a legal suit against MPO at the Industrial Court.
The federation also wrote that the reason MPO “fired” the musicians were just a feeble attempt to try their luck in hiring cheaper musicians. It described the act as ‘indecent and disgraceful’.
The attack continued when the federation called for a global boycott of recruitment auditions which will be held in New York City in October.
However, sources revealed what the seven musicians and the federation have failed to understand was that non-renewal of contract is a normal practice in any industry and it is just part and parcel of the working world.
They further said the federation’s argument about MPO offering scaled down contracts to newly-selected members is also nothing unusual.
A souce said in an industry where musicians are in abundance, everything is expected to be more competitive.
“An orchestra like MPO should be able to exercise its options and it will also have the liberty to make the most viable business proposition.”
Further to that, the federation’s move to blame newly-appointed MPO chief executive officer Nor Raina Yong Abdullah for making the wrong decision was petty and unbecoming of a highly regarded organisation.
“The failure of the federation to view this matter as purely a business matter has further complicate the issue when an amicable solution for the musicians could have been reached and the legal suit avoided.”
An MPO source who requested anonymity: “Our legal base is covered. We have tried to settle this the best way we can but they chose to take it to court. MPO will not budge and we will stand by our decision.”
There is also another rumor spreading that MPO’s move to not renew the contract of the musicians was due to an impending dissolution of the MPO.
“This is part of a smear campaign. We are not shutting down. The case has been taken to court, let the legal process take its course,” the source said.
It was learnt that the reason given for the non-renewal of contract apart from old age is the “Malaysianisation” of the MPO.
The federation when contacted told The Mole, that they regard the matter as unfair when a short term contract (or successive short-term contracts) lasts over a period as long as 14 years.
In an email respond, the federation’s general secretary Benoit Machuel wrote: “The legislation in socially advanced countries generally provides that 3 (three) short term contracts in a row automatically result in the employee being offered a permanent contract.
“More generally, unless the contract is meant to answer a short term need, it definitely has to be a permanent one. We do not believe that 14 years correspond to the common acceptance of a short term need.
“When a musician has been working for 14 years without being notified of any complaint whatsoever, the non renewal of the contract without motivation is obviously equivalent to an unfair dismissal, especially if the intention is to replace the musicians concerned.”
According to Machuel, there is no intention to describe MPO as an unfair organisation.
“It is the decision which is unfair. Should this decision be redressed, we would certainly acknowledge the goodwill of the MPO management.
“Of course, should the MPO management persist in its current attitude, that would certainly have an impact on its reputation until more respect is given to the artists who make this institution what it is.”
Machuel explained that the boycott is to put international pressure on MPO so that it reconsiders its decision and willing to have a peaceful dialogue.
Apart from promoting fair employment in all orchestras around the world, the federation also aimed to deliver a global message that when musicians were unfairly dismissed no other artists should take their positions until the matter is solved.
He said the federation is ready to intervene as facilitators in this issue should MPO and and the orchestra’s elected representatives agree to do so.
The federation pointed out that it had launched a similar boycott in 2011 and successfully got the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra (OSB, Rio de Janeiro) to re-install 40 musicians who had been unfairly dismissed by the conductor, Roberto Minczuk.
There are currently 72 musicians in the MPO lineup excluding the nine whose contracts were not renewed. They are aged between 27 to 56. Out of the 72 musicians, 29 have served MPO for more than 14 years making them the longest serving members.
There will be two upcoming shows in August: “An Oriental Journey” and “Keroncong Merdeka” while in September the MPO has lined up “MPO Goes Retro” and “MPO and Friends”.
At year end, Grammy winner, Larry Carlton will perform with his quartet with the MPO.