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National Orchestra management not observing contract – conductor’s lawyer

Mro Schembri missed last concert

A 2016 stock picture showing (from left) Sigmund Mifsud, Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and Brian Schembri. Photo: Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Facebook

A 2016 stock picture showing (from left) Sigmund Mifsud, Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and Brian Schembri. Photo: Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Facebook

It is open war at the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra as a clash between chairman Sigmund Mifsud and artistic director and main conductor Brian Schembri has reached boiling point.

Sources said disagreement between the two had been going on for months and culminated in Mro Schembri not appearing in the final concert for the season held last Saturday at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, in Valletta.

The management is accusing the conductor of abandoning his musicians because of issues he had with his contract. A lawyer for Mro Schembri yesterday rebutted the accusations and pointed his fingers at the management, particularly Mr Mifsud.

“Mro Schembri categorically denies that he abandoned the performance in question. On the contrary, he specifically travelled to Malta for auditions that were being held and to conduct the concert in question,” lawyer Kris Borg said.

Mro Schembri insisted on a clear direction by the chairman that he was still the orchestra’s artistic director, which Mr Mifsud confirmed to him but reportedly would not convey to the other members

“It was the direction of the orchestra that did not respect the conditions of the contract, which binds both sides and which forced Mro Schembri to await due compliance by the direction of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra before continuing with the auditions and the direction of the concert in question,” he said.

“Mro Schembri remained on standby till the day of the concert in question but to no avail. He left the island the day after the concert,” Dr Borg added.

The orchestra end-of-season concert was conducted by an Armenian conductor who was flown in purposely.

The Times of Malta is informed that the situation developed during the previous week when Mro Schembri insisted on a clear direction by the chairman that he was still the orchestra’s artistic director, which Mr Mifsud confirmed to him but reportedly would not convey to the other members.

According to Mro Schembri’s lawyer, it was Mr Mifsud’s “intransigence” that left the conductor waiting in vain for the matter to be clarified before continuing with his job.

The sources said Mr Mifsud had, for months, been insisting on a new contract for Mro Schembri who resisted any changes in his conditions.

Mr Mifsud, himself a former orchestra member, was appointed executive chairman in 2013 and unsuccessfully contested the last two general elections on behalf of the Labour Party.

Mro Schembri, who worked abroad for many years, has been conducting the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra for a number of years, including when Mr Mifsud was still a musician.

When contacted, Mr Mifsud declined to give comment saying “this was an internal dispute”.

The matter reached a point where even the Office of the Prime Minister was roped in to try to solve the matter, this newspaper was told. Further mediation efforts are planned for this week.

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