Chinese Orchestra scandal leads to axing of three dissenting principals

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Three principal musicians of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra were fired from their positions today after talks to address recent criticisms from the three on governance and artistic issues had broken down. The group, with the help of Civic Party legislator Kenneth Chan Ka-Lok, held a press conference to express their displeasure against the decision, and reiterated their determination to “save the Chinese Orchestra”.


 

Hsin Hsiao-ling, Hsin Hsiao-hung and Liu Yang, respective principals of the orchestra’s gaohu, erhu and zhonghu sections, had earlier criticised the orchestra of poor governance and artistic direction in a public press conference on January 25. They called for the resignation of both artistic director Yan Hui-Chang and executive director Celina Chins. A special commission was formed to investigate the allegations, but after three failed attempts to speak to the three musicians behind closed doors, the Council of the orchestra decided to cut ties with the three.

According to Kenneth Chan, the three received text messages and letters signed by Executive Director Chin Man-Wah in the morning, notifying them their contracts would be terminated by immediate effect. The content of the notifications explained their respective compensation packages and demanded they clear their lockers by 27th February, but did not offer any explanation to their dismission.

Burned bridges

The Chinese Orchestra later issued a press release titled “After losing all trust with the three principals, the Chinese Orchestra reluctantly terminates their employment contract”. The press release claimed that after many failed attempts to hold talks with the three, the principals “clearly did not have the good faith nor the confidence to communicate with the commission”. It also stated that the three principals’ crusade to “save the orchestra”, left fellow musicians in the orchestra “puzzled” and “with resentment”.

The document stated that, after long discussions within the council, it was decided “all trust and capacity to cooperate had been lost, and three principals’ contracts would be terminated, and that the council was “forced to do so under the premise of safeguarding the overall interests of the orchestra”.

He says, she says

In the press conference today, Hsin Hsiao-ling hit back at the allegations stated in the press release, claiming they were refused entrance during the first attempted meeting on 9th February, because they insisted on bringing in a lawyer to ensure the talks were fair. According to Hsin Hsiao-ling, the second meeting on Wednesday failed solely due to scheduling conflicts, where the two parties agreed to meet the next Friday. Then on 13th of February, the lawyer the three brought to the meeting was again refused entrance, leaving the three to attend the meeting, where they left in protest against the allegedly “unfair” meetings. The three accused the special commision of lacking transparency and independence, as it was formed by members of the current council.

Set the stage

Kenneth Chan claimed that the three principals had evidence to back up their accusations against the management of the orchestra, but wished to present them only when a fair and transparent platform is available. He also stated his wishes to organise a meeting with Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-Sing, who has shown concern for the incident but has not been directly involved so far.

The three principals said they would seek legal advice to confirm if they have grounds to appeal the termination of their employment. The employment agreement within the Chinese Orchestra allows appeal for termination with 14 days.

Publically funded

The Chinese Orchestra was established in 1977 and became an independent body under the management of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra Limited in 2001. The current chair of the council Dr Carlye Tsui, has been in this position for consecutive years since 2001 except for 2007 and 2008. During those exception, Dr Tsui was a member of the council and vice chair respectively.

Despite being a limited company, the orchestra is still funded by public funds under the Home Affairs Bureau. During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Government subsidies made up 80% of the orchestra’s revenue, amounting to over 58 million Hong Kong dollars. The Chinese Orchestra will receive a total funding of 62.5 million Hong Kong dollars from the Home Affairs Bureau this year.