Put to the test
For those veteran musicians of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra who have been asked to undergo an audition when their contracts are about to expire, the test is nothing less than a knife hanging over their heads. Long used to having their contracts renewed automatically, some have alleged that reasons other than performance are behind the move, which they claim is aimed at ousting them.
But a contract is a contract. It is not unreasonable to require a musician to pass a test before being given an extension. Most of the world's top orchestras routinely test their players to ensure that only the best remain.
That is how it should be. But it is also important that the tests be conducted fairly by qualified assessors who hold no preconceived prejudices against the audited players. Skilled musicians should not be let go simply because they have been around for years.
For many years 'blind' auditions, in which candidates play unseen from behind a screen, have been the norm for the world's top orchestras when trying to recruit new talent. They even go to the trouble of carpeting the audition room so that women wearing high-heel shoes do not disclose their sex inadvertently.
These measures are taken to ensure that no musicians are discriminated against on grounds of gender or race, and have been credited for increasing the number of women and minority players in many orchestras. No doubt similar measures should be in place to ensure fairness when incumbent players are tested.
If it is true that the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which went professional in 1974, has never assessed its players since they were hired, then the players now being asked to undergo examination in order to keep their jobs are justified in feeling they might be targeted unfairly.
It is now up to the orchestra to demonstrate that the test is necessary, non-discriminatory and conducted fairly.