This is a sad affair from the point of view of the players and aficionados of the orchestra, and perhaps from the point of view of the development of a classical western musical culture in the Kuala Lumpur, but not many here will shed a tear at its passing, if it were to come to that.
The orchestra set tongues wagging at its inception, when the talking classes found out how much
the musicians were paid. I have heard the orchestra twice, and I can say they are good, but I have generally avoided going as a matter of principle. Although ticket prices are relatively low, they have a dress code - men have to wear a jacket or "national costume" for evening concerts - and there's a certain snob factor built into the marketing.
The orchestra was established during the administration of Mahathir Mohammed, who is notorious for his megalomaniac projects, including the Petronas Twin Towers where the orchestra is based, and a brand new administrative capital filled with monumentally bombastic architecture.
Whilst the presence of a professional symphony orchestra in Kuala Lumpur has contributed to the development of musical culture in the capital, one has to question the direction of this development. The last time I paid any attention to the orchestra (this would have been 5 or 6 years ago when I took some students to a concert), the overwhelming number of players was foreign. The orchestra has an outreach programme and the players give private lessons, but I'm not aware that any serious attempt has been made to set up a proper music academy or to nurture a core of local musicians. This is in complete contrast to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Whilst vast sums of money have been spent on the orchestra, very little, or no money has gone into nurturing a more indigenous musical culture. Small scale groups, either self-funded or funded by the community, keep alive the music of the Indian and Chinese diaspora in Malaysia. Some money from the public purse is used to fund souped up versions of Malay music, but it is far easier to locate performances of traditional Indian and Chinese music in Malaysia than it is to hunt down authentic Malay music.
This new twist in the tale will probably lead some to shake their heads and say that the orchestra has finally shown itself to be a Malaysian establishment through and through - in the cronyism and corruption that is entrenched in the political culture and which pervades many other aspects of society.
A general elections is due any time now. If the orchestra were to go along with the current government, it would not be entirely inappropriate.