A Determined Audience

The ability the powers-that-be at Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS, Kuala Lumpur, have to shoot themselves repeatedly in the foot yet still keep on walking as if nothing has happened never ceases to amaze. This week has seen two potentially catastrophic acts of unbelievable ineptitude, neither of which will create even the tiniest ripple in the consciousness of those who are responsible. Lessons will not be learnt and such potential disasters will be repeated in the future, but I have every faith that audiences will, with their characteristic and often incredible stoicism, take it all in their stride and continue to flock in, assuming that such incompetence is the norm in classical music circles.

It isn’t generally, but it is in the case of the Malaysian classical music scene, and the fact that so few people seem to be perturbed by it all makes me marvel at the determination of the Malaysian audience to support concerts and recitals despite the best endeavours of those who organise them to keep them away.

The stoicism seems, incredibly, to have affected me, too. In the past I might have been hopping mad at the all-out efforts the DFP management made to sabotage the organ recital on Sunday. Not a single notice or announcement was displayed in the building, those who tried to obtain tickets the day before were told that the recital was sold out but they should visit the box office on the day of the recital in case of returns, nobody opened the box office on the day until minutes before the recital was due to start, no staff were detailed to act as ushers and the hall remained firmly shut until a motley assortment of security guards, backstage crew and telephone sales people came to the rescue. Five minutes before the recital was due to start and I was running around trying to find people to open up the hall, queues snaked up and down both the staircases outside the hall, while dozens of people were still queuing at the box office. But no one was complaining. They all waited patiently and cheerfully, well aware of the problems but full of faith that things would, as always, sort themselves out…which they did with astonishing success. Even as the audience settled into their seats (something not easy since half the tickets were assigned to specific seats and the rest free seating), the house lights dimmed and the pre-concert announcement was broadcast, I went backstage, changing as I walked, and went out on stage only a few minutes behind schedule.

Sad to report to those dozens (maybe hundreds) who were turned away, we did have well over 50 empty seats, and I’m sorry you missed it. But when I spoke afterwards to the audience members who did gain entry, nearly all of them said they were used to such things, that it was all “part of the fun”. A German couple reported how they refused to take the “full house” response from the box office at face value and refused to budge until either a chart showing the seating plan was displayed or tickets issued. A family from Penang reported how Mum and one child stood in the queue on the steps while Dad and the other spent 30 minutes in the queue for the box office. A KL student reported how he had booked his ticket in advance only to be told, when he arrived to collect it, that no advance bookings had been accepted; yet he merely insisted on a ticket despite being told none was available. To the DFP audience, such shenanigans are part and parcel of attending a classical music concert, and I even get the impression that some positively relish the challenge of screwing tickets out of the box office and getting into concerts which seem, to all outward appearances, to be barred to the public.

 I did apologise publicly to the audience for the obvious failings of the DFP management, and do so again now. I won’t take these issues up with them – it’s really not worth it, for no matter what they tell me, the same will happen next time – but I would ask the audience to accept that these things happen in KL and they must be prepared. It is rather exciting, too, that our Sunday morning recitals are attracting such a huge and dedicated crowd, and rather than apologise for managerial inefficiencies, I am happier to issue my heartfelt thanks to the support and enthusiasm of the audience. The question-and-answer session after the recital turned out to be most interesting and, by popular request, will be repeated at future recitals.

The next scheduled recital will be on Sunday 3rd April at 11.30am, and will consist mostly of baroque music for organ and trumpets. It will also feature an all-too-rare appearance of the delightful six-stop chamber organ which spends most of its time gathering dust in the bowels of the Twin Towers. The full programme details will be posted up here in the next few weeks, but you would do well to get hold of your free tickets as soon as possible. Don’t order them by phone or wait until the day, the box office don’t work that well. Don’t rely on DFP publicity to remind you of the recital’s date, there won’t be any. And don’t despair when you turn up on the day to see huge crowds milling behind closed doors, you’ll be let in in time for the recital even if it’s left to an organist and two trumpeters to unlock the doors, tear the tickets, show you to your seats and make sure the toilets are clean!

But it’s not just the organ recitals that suffer from this endemic ineptitude. For reasons which this blog can not divulge, it has been seen fit to dispense with the services of MPO Conductor Emeritus Kees Bakels for this weekend’s concert. As a result, the glorious Elgar Symphony No.1 is out and, for the zillionth time, the MPO will hear Claus Peter Flor’s take on Dvořák 9. I have huge admiration for Flor, but he’s not the world’s most inspiring Dvořákian, and Symphony 9 needs something special to justify yet another performance. It may be there, but I somehow doubt it. Coming after the brilliant pair of concerts during which the MPO were on truly inspired form under the magnificent Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero (concerts which many in the orchestra and audience considered among the finest the MPO has ever performed) this weekend’s offering will seem very tame. Flor, for his part, is a riveting conductor in a way that Bakels never could be, but Flor is also an inconsistent conductor, while Bakels’ great strength has always been his astonishing consistency. You know that a Bakels performance will be a good one; you gamble on whether a Flor one will be a great one. I admire both men hugely, but to lose one in favour of the other is an act of, as I say, catastrophic ineptitude which the Malaysian audience may take in its stride but will, ultimately, be the poorer.

We cannot afford to lose as respected, honoured and musically intense a man as Kees Bakels, and for once, I would hope the Malaysian audience might eschew stoicism and register their dismay at the sudden departure of a man without whom the MPO would not exist.

5 Responses to “A Determined Audience”

  1. 1 Peter Almond
    January 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Sounds fun!!

    Whilst I’m sobering up after my birthday excesses, I’ll offer a prayer that this time your Sunday morning recital will be organised to perfection and you’ll not be leaving the manuals reeking of toilet-duck!!!! Unfortunately, given the time-difference between the UK & Malaysia, by then my petitions will have been too late!!

  2. January 25, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Oops, thanks for warning the difficulties in getting a pair of the organ recital tickets.
    I guess I’m pretty lucky. Every year I attend one or two concerts in KL either by visiting orchestras or MPO. Ticketing was never a problem for me.
    In fact I’m considering attending one of the following concerts by MPO
    April 3rd
    Manfred symphony, Grieg piano concerto, and organ recital on the same day!
    (though SSO has just played the Manfred in better form than their norm)

    June 25-26
    Tchaikovsky symphony no.6, LUTOSŁAWSKI Little Suite, SCHUMANN Cello Concerto

    From the artistic view, which concert do your recommend?
    If I managed to schedule for the April 3rd concert trip, I’ll inform the box office asap in securing a pair of the organ recital tickets. I thought I can get it on the day…

    Btw, a side question, do the management of MPO/DFP read your blog? hah

    • 3 drmarcrochester
      January 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      Hi Vincent

      On the Carmen. I’ve seen fantastic Carmens on shoestring budgets, so the shortcomings to which I alluded cannot be put down to that. Imagination and aspiration are worth several thousand dollars; the staging lacked both. I didn’t know that about the conductor – following in Nielsen’s footsteps eh? (A plug for my pre-concert talk on Friday!)

      As for MPO recitals, with Thomas Sanderling at the helm and Alice Sara Ott at the keyboard, I’d go for the Manfred/Grieg. And, yes, the DFP management do read (and have some jurisdiction over) my blog. I think they prefer my sounding off in writing than sounding off in the flesh, but, fair play to them, they do accept criticism and often respond very poisitively. The trouble is, as they’d be the first to agree, they really have had no training in what they have to do, and they don’t begin to understand their product.

      All the best.


  3. 4 Ben
    January 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Dear Marc,

    It is indeed very saddening to hear of Mr. Bakels sudden and unexpected dismissal. I first read of this news in local daily ‘the Star’ and I was truly dismayed. The article in the newspaper hints of some ‘questionable’ and ‘political’ circumstances of which I had hoped the arts industry in Malaysia was immune from. I regularly attended MPO concerts and was a subscriber from it’s foundation in 1997 until I moved to Europe in 2008. Although I now enjoy the music of the great orchestras – Vienna and Berlin philharmonic and the Orchestra at Alla Scala; I grew up attending the MPO.

    The creative director (manager) must be respected as much as the general manager; otherwise the quality of the art and music will suffer greatly. The MPO is a good orchestra and has shone in select performances; but is far from being a truly great orchestra. I have attended performances that were truly memorable and some which were to be forgotten. I remember a number of seasons where the orchestra was having constant issues with the Brass section, and New Year concerts which were performed with insufficient practice after the short Christmas break. All in all, the Malaysian public had persevered in supporting the MPO year upon year. Evidence given with the annual ritual of subscribers camping out in the foyer of the twin towers on season launch day. Even though most of the audience are forgiving (perhaps even uninitiated), there are most definitely some in the crowd who notice the challenges, trials and tribulations the orchestra has / is going through.

    The departure of Kees is definitely a negative turn for the orchestra. I cannot but believe that the powers-that-be could turn a blind eye to the contributions of such a good man – giving most of the recent years of his life to founding and building the MPO – and therefore to the artistic and musical foundation of the country.

    I recall the season where Kees was taken ill by poor health (was this 2002?) and I wondered then if he would ever return and if we would once again see his flowing white hair on stage. But he recovered and all was well. I also recall when one Mr. Judd was named artistic director replacing Kees (2003?); but again we saw Mr. Bakels returning as always. (Now, we the public never really know what happened with James and why he didn’t take up the post – but we didn’t care as long as the music played).

    I do hope that Kees will persevere, and that the MPO and the Malaysian audience will not accept the loss someone who has given so much.

  4. January 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Strange. Never had problems booking tix over the phone. That’s because I pay by credit card and they have no excuse not to hold for me the tickets I’ve already paid for. I just collect them when I come for the show.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

January 2011


%d bloggers like this: