The Malta Independent 20 May 2024, Monday
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Brian Schembri does not exclude future return to orchestra if necessary conditions are in place

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 4 October 2017, 14:28 Last update: about 8 years ago

Former artistic director of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Brian Schembri held a press conference today to deliver a detailed version of events leading up to his termination, while also stating that he would be willing to work with the orchestra again, if the necessary conditions respecting his authority are in place.

Schembri referred to statements made by the Executive Chairman of the MPO Sigmund Mifsud, that disagreement reached a peak when Schembri did not attend one of the concerts he was meant to conduct, according to his contract, in June.

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He said that when he came from Paris specifically for the end-of-season concert, executive chairman Sigmund Mifsud's strategy "remained to undermine my work. Hence it is true that I could not conduct the concert on last June due to friction with the orchestra management."

"These differences over contract breaches as artistic director - where I was being ignored and having my work, duties and responsibilities which fell under my remit eliminated - had been going on since January 2017," he said.

"I raised these obstacles in my duties with the authorities, including the highest official in the Culture Ministry, Permanent Secretary Johan Galea, who admitted to me that the situation was not sustainable to allow me to fulfil my duties and he had to intervene to try to find a solution, which he indeed did try to do."

He mentioned a incident where he was not paid part of his salary for his work between January and April. He said that an email sent by the permanent secretary was the catalyst which resulted in him being paid, "despite the fact that the orchestra's Executive Chairman Sigmund Mifsud says this is not true. There are a number of official emails which confirm this. I can also show bank statements."

He said that Sigmund Mifsud never found the time to attend mediation meetings. "That's how far goodwill went to remedy the situation. Practically, the person in question never attended a meeting except at the end to effectively tell me take it or leave."

Schembri said that, despite this fact, things kept escalating. "A week before the concert in question (the June concert) I was in Malta not only for the concert rehearsals, but also for other work related to the orchestra which fell under my responsibility. I fulfilled my obligations until the end, including running the auditions which were being held before the concert but which I did not continue, as Mifsud did agree to inform everyone involved in the process that I was still the artistic director. He only confirmed it privately."

On this point, Schembri said that well before June, the staff at MPO was informed by the executive chairman that there were disagreements between the two, "and they were asked not to consult me on or discuss with me any artistic matters until a new contract is finalised. This was misleading because I had a contract in force and at law I was the artistic director."

"For those of who know how I work, I do not reach compromises which can undermine the level for which I work; but in a hostile environment (and I am not referring to the musicians of the orchestra) which hinder the harmony of a modus operandi required for a successful result, I act professionally. This is because my ultimate aim is that while I protect my international reputation, this can never be done at the cost of the interests of followers of music, arts and culture"

"I was responsible enough to advise beforehand the highest authority at the ministry, the permanent secretary, and the chairman, that in the circumstances I could not conduct the orchestra, but I made it equally clear that if Mifsud ironed out these disagreements with everyone I was ready to conduct and remained on standby (for the June concert). This meant as well that the orchestra had enough time to make alternative arrangements, as in fact Executive Chairman Sigmund Mifsud preferred to do."

"On concert night I was present in Malta and available until the last minute, as many people can testify."

He said that while being attacked, and the public being informed that his contract was terminated because he failed to conduct the concert in question, "the same people levelling these accusations know how things went, that I was told I was sacked from the orchestra only because I did not agree with the new contract offered to me, which went against the binding contract in place."

Contracts

Schembri said that his original contract was that of an orchestra employee, valid for three years and automatically renewed for another three years. "Such contract is effectively defined as indefinite. In fact my contract was automatically renewed in December 2016, which means that my successes and work were being acknowledged and recognised."

Things started to take a different turn, he said, when the executive chairman, on behalf of the board, proposed considerable changes to the contract which were "absolutely humiliating and hence unacceptable. I have no doubt that the conditions proposed were engineered to leave me with no choice but refuse them"

"The conditions proposed meant that I would have kept the title without the authority required for the role of artistic director. In reality, the Chairman was already implementing the conditions proposed, eliminating me and keeping me in the dark of all that was happening behind my back "

He said that Sigmund Mifsud ultimately wanted to change his contract from an indefinite one as MPO employee (as was the original contract), to a definite one valid for four years. "Apart from this, he wanted to change the contract from that of an employee to self-employed. At law, it is illigal to oblige such an move from employment to a self-employed contract; as is it illegal to propose a change from an indefinite contract to a definite one."

"Unfortunately, any discussions on salient points were based on take it or leave it from the authorities concerned. My contract was terminated because I did not give in to the humiliation they wanted me to accept. This kind of pressure and intimidation is unethical and goes against the contract and the law."

Schembri said that the questions between him and the Mifsud were not related to any wage rise of wage decrease, stating that "we never had a problem on the contract regarding wage."

He explained that legal action is being taken over termination pay allegedly owed.

Asked if there was a push by government to try and keep his services, Schembri said that what happened was too little too late.

"What happened was too little too late." He said there was an informal outreach, but did not expand on that. He explained that this outreach was after he was terminated.

Brian Schembri said he would consider coming back to the orchestra, if there are the right conditions, and if it is an honest proposal that honours his work and that of the orchestra. "If there are the necessary conditions I don't see why I would say no. After all I didn't leave, they terminated my contract"

“I always defended my original contract. The whole June situation came up as my contract was breached.”

Photos by Baskal Mallia

 

 


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