Orchestra's foreign venture falls flat

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 August, 2002, 12:00am

Shanghai's attempts to build its No 2 orchestra into a world-class ensemble have sounded a sour note with nearly all foreign musicians leaving amid contract disputes and artistic differences, members said.

Eight out of 10 overseas players, hired to improve the group's sound quality, would not return to the 100-member Shanghai Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra next season, they said.

The orchestra sacked three in a contract dispute towards the end of the season, which finished last month. Five others chose not to renew their contracts.

The experiment of hiring foreign musicians was launched almost three years ago, after a city government official complained about a local trumpet player botching a solo in Swan Lake.

Other orchestras in China, including the more prestigious Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, have also hired foreign musicians. But the Broadcasting Symphony's foreign musicians said they were faced with several problems, including lack of artistic control, limited access to rehearsal space, and chaotic scheduling of performances.

The orchestra fined musicians 100 yuan (HK$94) for drinking water during rehearsals and promises of a US tour and teaching opportunities at the local music conservatory never materialised, they said.

Tension also developed between overseas musicians and their local counterparts, who earned a lot less than the foreigners' US$28,000 (HK$217,000) annual salary.

A spokeswoman for the orchestra would not give specific reasons for the departure of the eight musicians, but she said the organisation had been satisfied with their performances.

'They helped the whole orchestra improve,' she said.

The three musicians were sacked after allegedly leaving half-way through a rehearsal, citing emotional stress and illness.

Orchestra leaders described the move as 'coercion'.

The orchestra agreed to a cash settlement for the trio who had hired lawyers to settle the dispute.

Five foreign musicians, all graduates of the renowned Juilliard School of Music, in New York, wrote a letter to the school's dean requesting he bar the Shanghai orchestra from holding auditions on the college campus.