Nurturing Orchestral Music

Timothy Tsukamoto, the General Manager of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, shares about the MPO’s initiatives

Published: 01 March 2017, Text by: Julie Goh, Photos: SooPhye

What is your role as the General Manager of the MPO?
As General Manager of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), I oversee all activities of the orchestra, including artistic planning (organising guest conductors and artists), management of the musicians in the orchestra, the orchestra’s music library, education and outreach activities, and the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. I formulate strategies, plans and budgets in all of the above areas.

General Manager of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Timothy Tsukamoto
General Manager of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Timothy Tsukamoto

What drew you to the MPO? How did you learn about the MPO and become the General Manager of the MPO?
I remember reading an article about the MPO in 1998 when the orchestra had just been founded and the Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS (DFP) had just opened. After seeing photos of the Twin Towers and the beautiful concert hall, I had always been intrigued and interested in the MPO/DFP, and when I was offered my current position, I accepted because I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in Kuala Lumpur.

Has your career always been in the roles of arts management?
I have always worked in arts administration/orchestra management. The highlights of my career include positions with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the United States, the Verbier Festival Orchestra in Switzerland, and the Hyogo Performing Arts Centre Orchestra in Japan.

The MPO has played host to ballet performances like Romeo & Juliet,  Photo © MPO
The MPO has played host to ballet performances like Romeo & Juliet, Photo © MPO

What do Malaysians think of the MPO? Do Malaysians appreciate classical music?
Malaysians do appreciate classical music! I have met many MPO fans who have been attending concerts since the inception of the orchestra in 1998. Some people I see at concerts almost every week. There may not be as many classical music fans in Malaysia right now as in other countries, such as in Europe for example, but that is because the orchestra is still young, and we are still in the process of reaching out to people who are not familiar with classical music. The MPO is Malaysia’s first and only full-time professional orchestra. There is still much repertoire which has never been performed in Malaysia, and this presents exciting opportunities for the future. The MPO currently has nearly 1,000 subscribers, and I know that we will continue to build a larger following as the years go by.

What about Malaysian classical musicians? Are there many of them?
Like all of the world’s great orchestras, the MPO is a truly international orchestra, with musicians representing over 20 nationalities, including several Malaysians. One of our current resident conductors, Harish Shankar, is from Malaysia, and we frequently collaborate with Malaysian artists. Our recent The Magic Flute production, for example, featured many local singers. The MPO has developed a special relationship with Malaysian child prodigy pianist Tengku Irfan, who has solo-ed with the MPO on numerous occasions, and will return again in May 2017. 

MPO resident conductor, Harish Shankar, Photo © MPO
MPO resident conductor, Harish Shankar, Photo © MPO

What are the benefits of exposing children to classical music? What can be done to encourage kids to love classical music?
There have been many studies conducted showing the numerous benefits of exposing children to classical music, including enhanced concentration and improved listening and social skills. Classical music inspires images and pictures in our minds, and listening to classical music can help children learn how to listen and to communicate better with others. The MPO has specially created a Family Fun Day (FFD) concert series for families and younger audiences to explore the lighter side of classical music and the amazing sounds of the orchestra. The music presented is ideal for children, and is selected to stimulate their imagination and tell stories. The MPO also manages the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (MPYO), which was founded in 2006 to encourage young musicians to appreciate orchestral music and to build a pool of well-trained Malaysian instrumentalists.

A scene from Giselle, performed by the Ballet Stars of Moscow, with music by the MPO, Photo © MPO
A scene from Giselle, performed by the Ballet Stars of Moscow, with music by the MPO, Photo © MPO

How does the process of building a concert season come together? How does an orchestra find its guest artists?
The overall aim and objective in building a concert season is to offer an exciting variety of repertoire and artists. Our core is the classical series, which is interspersed with family, pops, and other special concerts. Over the years, the orchestra develops relationships with favourite guest artists (conductors and soloists) who really connect with the orchestra musicians and have a rapport with our audiences. We then work together with the guest artists and their managers to match available dates, and select the repertoire for each programme. At the same time, we are also always on the lookout for new and engaging artists.     

Tsukamoto oversees all the activities of the orchestra
Tsukamoto oversees all the activities of the orchestra

What can we expect from the MPO in 2017?
2017 offers a stimulating variety of concerts. We just started the year with an incredible semi-staged production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute opera (performed for the first time by the MPO).

We have many leading international conductors, including Roberto Abbado and Mark Wigglesworth – each conducting the orchestra for multiple weeks – and soloists, including pianist Stephen Hough and violinist Nemanja Radulović, collaborating with the MPO. Another highlight will be Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos performed over three weeks. We have the FFD concert series and our Pops series will include Symphonic Pink Floyd and The Best of Rogers & Hammerstein concerts. A special concert will feature local pianist/composer Aubrey Suwito performing with the MPO, with popular local singers such as Dayang Nurfaizah, Faizal Tahir, Jaclyn Victor and Sean Ghazi. In addition, we also have regular chamber music concerts and organ recitals.

Our current season ends in June 2017, and then Season 2017/18, beginning in August 2017, will be the MPO’s 20th season, which will continue to provide attractive and entertaining performances. There’s really something for everyone this year. Our concert hall, the Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS has excellent acoustics, and the MPO is truly a first-rate orchestra. If you haven’t had a chance to attend a MPO concert at DFP, please come – it’s an experience not to be missed! 

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