The Malta Independent 18 November 2017, Saturday

Main issues between Brian Schembri and Sigmund Mifsud were contractual – Albert Marshall

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 14 September 2017, 10:22 Last update: about 3 months ago

Arts Council Chairman Albert Marshall told The Malta Independent that the main issue which arose during mediation sessions between former Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) Mro Brian Schembri (right) and Executive Chairman of the MPO Sigmund Mifsud (left) revolved around Schembri’s contract.

Schembri's' contract was terminated last August, Schembri said on Facebook, adding that the decision was unfair and abusive. The termination of his contract has prompted many of Malta’s prominent talents to speak out in his favour.

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Last July, this newsroom had highlighted the problems between Mifsud and Schembri, who were definitely not playing the same tune at that time. In July, Culture Minister Owen Bonnici had decided to hold a ‘mediation meeting’ at the Ministry in Valletta. Albert Marshall was asked to assist in the mediation.

Asked about the main issue encountered during mediation, Marshall (below) said, “the issues between Brian Schembri and the Board were essentially of a technical nature, nothing personal, but they happened to be taken very seriously by the Artistic Director when it came to revising his contract. He took exception to that and as far as I am concerned, that was the main difficulty encountered. I was trying to negotiate between the two parties. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. As far as I’m concerned it was contractual agreements which weren’t resolved.”

Marshall said that not many mediation meetings had taken place, “but part of the mediation process was to get the Mifsud and Schembri to talk between themselves in the hopes that they would resolve matters between them. In any type of a resolution process by a third party, the best strategy is to make the protagonists of the quarrel work things out between them. The meetings between me and them were few, but there were also talks between the two protagonists which I hoped could lead to a resolution, but they didn’t.”

Contacted by this newsroom, National Orchestra Chairman Sigmund Mifsud said that there is no doubt of the artistic capabilities of Brian Schembri. He however mentioned that there were internal issues which escalated. He said that despite one grave incident, management tried to reach an agreement with Schembri, but did not manage.

Sources close to the MPO told this newsroom that it was Mifsud who had originally fought to bring Schembri into the post of artistic director which eventually the government accepted in January 2014.

Schembri, last Tuesday announced the following on his Facebook page; “ I would like to inform you that last August, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) Board, under the Executive Chairmanship of Mr Sigmund Mifsud, has unanimously decided to terminate my contract as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the MPO."

"This decision is in absurd contradiction with the general consensus that the unquestionable and notable artistic development that the orchestra has gone through these last few years was the direct result of my contribution. This was even admitted by the Executive Chariman of the MPO himself a few weeks after our historic performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in Rome. This huge success was then followed by several other acclaimed performances at the Bozar in Brussels (with Joseph Calleja), in Vienna's Musikverein and Klagenfurt Konzerthaus and Beethoven's immortal 9th Symphony in Malta, to mention a few. All these events received well-deserved critical acclaim as well as endless standing ovations for all involved,” he added

"I will not here - as yet - enter into details as to why such a humiliating decision was unfair, abusive and, in my opinion, illegal. For the moment, all I can say is that I have never in my life been treated so basely and disrespectfully by persons in authority who were supposed to support me in the job they themselves engaged me to do, that is to develop the orchestra to the levels that, by common consent, were hardly imaginable before."

"For the moment I was given no other reasonable option but to demand the National Orchestra Limited to pay me the termination payment according to our legally binding contract. Hopefully this will end a very painful moment in my professional life and will allow me to move on,” Schembri said

"There is so much more that I had wished and planned to do to continue developing this orchestra into an artistically high-level professional ensemble. However, even if I have been so grossly and unceremoniously sacked by the National orchestra of my own dear country, nothing will ever change the fact that together with the musicians, I have succeeded in leaving the orchestra in a much better state than I had found it."

"I wish all my musician colleagues the very best for their own future. I sincerely hope that in spite of all, our common wonderful chapter in the history of the MPO, which has been so vulgarly aborted by the absolute arrogance and incompetence of the various authorities, may still serve as a foundation for future necessary development."

Schembri’s Facebook post has caused many known Maltese artists to speak up about the issue. International tenor Joseph Calleja, had a thing or two to say about the issue. "Whereas I am not privy to the other side of this sad story, I can definitely vouch for the fact that we don't have artists like Brian Schembri growing on trees in Malta. Brian is an accomplished musician and consummate artist with still a lot to give in our ever growing and dynamic musical scene. There is no denying the great work he has already achieved with the now excellent Malta Philharmonic and it would be a great big pity if a compromise to retain the Maestro's services is not reached. In the hope that good sense will prevail."

Singer Androcles Scicluna said: “I believe that a written protest should be made signed by all of us who disagree with this atrocious and irresponsible decision.

International Jazz guitarist and the Malta Jazz Festival Artistic Director Sandro Zerafa said that Schembri is one of the best things that ever happened to the arts scene in Malta. “He is the embodiment of artistic integrity. Such personalities are a bastion of hope in the dreary climate of bankability, populism and cultural degradation reigning in the world nowadays. This is a bad mistake.”

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