Weeding out incompetence part of growing pains of an institution reaching world class, says director
A controversial music test is necessary to screen out 'incompetent' players who could block the Hong Kong Philharmonic from becoming one of the world's top orchestras, director Samuel Wong said yesterday.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Mr Wong, who took over four months ago, confirmed that 16 musicians - all string players - had been asked to take a 'voluntary' music test on Tuesday but two had refused. The remaining members of the 93-strong orchestra were exempted from the test because Mr Wong believed it was not necessary for them to take it.
The move has been criticised by some musicians as unfair and discriminatory. They said those asked to take the test had been with the orchestra for at least 10 years.
Mr Wong said the test was 'part of information gathering for quality control'. He warned that the orchestra could refuse to renew the contracts of incompetent musicians even without the test.
'These are the growing pains of an excellent, super institution reaching world class. So our standard has to be very superior. In that spirit we do this period of review and quality control,' he said. 'As a music director, it is a natural time for me to do this.'
He hit out at criticism from some musicians that he had only been in charge of the orchestra for a short time and did not have the knowledge to assess individual musicians.
'I have been here observing them for three weeks at close range with full attention. And I have been observing them for five years as a guest conductor,' he said.
'The orchestra is a public thing. If somebody is not doing his job, there is no secret. I may say that gross incompetence can be spotted in one hour, not just three weeks.
'In any corporation, if an incompetent person is allowed to remain, that would undermine the reputation and morale of the corporation. Someone who is obviously not doing their job and who can remain for years and years in the organisation - that would undermine the organisation much more than any test.'
A music academic said the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra had reached international standards but was not among the leading orchestras. He said replacing musicians with new blood might bring improvement to the organisation but would not immediately make it a top outfit.
'Besides the quality of the musicians, good co-operation between members and the conductor is equally important because an orchestra is team work,' the academic said.
'If the music director intends to improve the quality of the orchestra rather than playing politics, I would give my support to his move.'
The Philharmonic - Hong Kong's only professional orchestra - has 44 Chinese members and 49 from other countries, including Japan, Korea, the US, Australia and Israel.