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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Future of Orchestra Thrown Into Doubt

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A ban on employing foreign musicians has thrown into doubt the future of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, the acclaimed centerpiece of an ambitious cultural experiment, orchestra officials said Tuesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Monday that musicians were among 134 categories of foreign workers who will no longer be allowed to work in the Southeast Asian country.

Officials with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, whose 105 musicians are all foreign nationals except for five Malaysians, said they were seeking clarification from the government on the order.

"No one had heard of this," said an official who asked not to be identified. "It is surprising and we are seeking clarification."

The MPO is at the core of a cultural investment by state oil company Petronas, which spent 70 million ringgit ($18 million) to build a state-of-the-art concert hall linking the world's tallest buildings, the 452-meter Petronas Twin Towers.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's wife, Siti Hasmah Mohamed Ali, opened the 885-seat Philharmonic Hall in August 1998 and is the MPO's patron.

The MPO, led by Dutch conductor Kees Bakels, performed 72 concerts in its first season and has drawn some leading international musicians. The MPO employs musicians from 22 foreign nations.