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19/05/2008

The Great MPO Debate


by foxgang amadeus beethkovsky
donplaypuls' intrepid correspondent for musical affairs


The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) issue is not an easy one to criticize lest one is accused of being a music and culture Philistine.

And for the record, my eclectic taste in music does include Holst, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Mozart et al.

But perhaps, one way of looking at it is by comparing it with Indian Carnatic Music and Bharathanatyam Dance (ICMBD).

ICMBD is much older than Western Classic Music by at least a thousand years, and it is a highly developed and sophisticated art enjoyed by several hundred million Indians and their diaspora. But nowhere in the Western Hemisphere, or for the matter anywhere outside India, is this art form subsidised, year in, year out, to the tune of some $ 30 million per year, by any Government or Semi-Government Body, as Petronas does with the MPO, where almost 100% of the musicians are foreigners. What the capital and annual maintenance cost of the Auditorium is, is anybody's guess, since it is bound to be blacked out under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

So, what gives with MPO and Petronas subsidies? Has that man-for-all-seasons and people (just dumped by London voters) Red Ken Livingstone ever suggested in his 20-odd year tenure as the mayor of London, that Dikir Bharat, Mak Yong, Malay Dance and Malaysian Culture should be given an airing at the South Bank or at the Royal Albert Hall in London bank-rolled by the GLC's coffers?

Tourists visit the MPO because it is there, not that they have ever threatened a UN sponsored international boycott and embargo on KL if they could not relax to the strains of Beethoven and Bach whilst washing down their Satay and Durian Dodol with Tiger Beer (sad is it not that Anchor is a poor, second cousin, nowadays!) or perhaps it is quaffing caviar with Chianti, Beaujolais, Chateau Lafitte and Dom Perignon.

When will we stop imitating our 'unknown neighbours immediately across the Causeway,' who today are totally confused as to whether they have their own unique culture, or, they have evolved into some foreign outpost of London, New York and Paris. And, perhaps, of Vienna.

When is the Malaysian Government ever going to get its priorites right? We spend $1.2 billion to buy Russian Warplanes that will never be used (because no one is going to invade us anytime soon) so as to be condescendingly allowed (read as conned) to sponsor a space tourist, at the additional cost to us of only another paltry $ 40 million. What next, Buy 20, Free1? But we cannot afford to give scholarships and bursaries to some who are less equal than others and who score 10A1's in the SPM examinations, despite the PM's guarantee? Or is it, will not?

When did we surrender and hock our national identity and collective conscience to Messrs. Elgar, Chopin and Tchaikovsky? When did the Flying Dutchmen, Aida and the 4 Tenors become part of Malaysian culture? By all means let these world class Western luminaries visit us every now and then; let our children learn to appreciate them as much as they have a desire for them. But not at the taxpayers' expenses. We do have other more important priorities. And, if your little wunderkind cannot fathom Italian and Enrico Caruso, it will not be fatal to his maturing. He has lots of time ahead of him to cultivate such uplifting interests.

The least Petronas could do is to put a gun to the heads of the Conductors of the London, Paris, Vienna, Munich and Moscow Symphony Orchestras and get them to underwrite 80% of the bills.

But then, if we keep buying jumper jets, submarines and Kalashnikovs from them, they will only load it upfront anyway!!

Catch 22, all the way!

2 comments:

SG said...

Nicely said! To further rub salt on the wound, the price of a ticket to these concerts are quite beyond the budget of the average Malaysian, rendering them as something to be indulged in perhaps once every several years (if ever). So, excuse me if I take issue with using taxpayers' money for such an extravagant, and yet largely irrelevant, cause.

Pemikir Rasional said...

I am a great appreciator of classical music: my favourite composers include Ravel, Satie and Poulenc.

This doesn't however mean that I am supportive of malspending by the Petronas Philharmonic.

This is precisely the point that The Chief Minister and Member of Parliament Saudara Lim Guan Eng raised.

For Malaysia's economic circumstance (incidence of poverty amongst the populace, income inequality, etc.), is it ethical to spend an outrageous amount of money on hiring and maintaining a philharmonic orchestra?

Why can China, for example, develop its own exceptional, home-grown talent to fulfill its need for philharmonic orchestras?

Why isn't musical endeavour given adequate support locally and why are we instead spending an exorbitant sum of money to support a philharmonic orchestra when the large majority of the people in the country are struggling to meet ends meet?

This is the crux of Lim Guan Eng's argument.