Conductor hits at letters on sackings

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am

The artistic director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra has challenged anonymous players who have publicly criticised sackings to sign their letters of complaint.

In an interview with the Sunday Morning Post, Edo de Waart defended his decisions to sack three musicians, put 10 on probationary contracts and require the entire double-bass section to re-audition.

The moves prompted more than a dozen musicians to write anonymously to the South China Morning Post in February accusing de Waart of arbitrary sackings, referring to him as a dictator and megalomaniac.

The Dutch maestro spoke out as it emerged that some disgruntled musicians had complained directly to the home affairs minister last month over February's sackings and contract changes.

The letter, personally handed to Patrick Ho Chi-ping when he attended one of the orchestra's concerts, said the conductor's actions were unfair.

The writers, who declined to be named, also said seven of the 10 players put on probation were Chinese and said they had not been evenly treated. They added that one of those fired was seeking advice about possible legal action.

But de Waart said he was brought to Hong Kong with a mandate to rebuild the orchestra and make it internationally respected - and that was what he was doing.

'A small handful of musicians could have been sacked,' he said. 'Instead I have given them one-year contracts. I have spoken to every orchestra musician once in two years.

'In four years, I will have spoken to every single musician twice. It is normally never done in the orchestral world. With three people, I could not continue their contracts and I put only five or six on warning.

'If I give them a year, and in some cases two years, to practise harder, to wake up and to play your part and not just sit there and stroke the instrument, why is that bad? Why aren't people saying: 'Finally, something has happened'. I am asking them to be good enough to play in the HKPO and in certain cases to start vibrating and use the whole bow.'

De Waart said it was not clear how many had backed the letters of complaint, but he suspected it was just 'a few of the disgruntled ones'.

'If they are giving more statements to the public, they should sign them,' he said. 'Let us see how many of you feel that way. If there were 40, I would have to look at it and say I didn't know that there was this much of a brouhaha going on. If there were five people that signed the letter, it is much too many.'

The orchestra's chief executive, Timothy Calnin, said previous administrations notified players about contract renewals by putting a note in their pigeon hole on the day new contracts were issued, which had caused a lot of anxiety.

De Waart had tried to give players more security by giving those with performance problems a year to improve. And in February, the normal two-year contracts had been replaced with three-year ones that take effect in September.

All eight members of the double-bass section had also been promised a contract renewal of at least one-year before auditions took place.

Mr Calnin said the claim that the seven Chinese musicians had not been treated evenly was 'pretty offensive' and a 'completely inaccurate description of the situation'.

'Edo's decisions are exclusively based on a musician's ability to perform his or her job.'