Orchestral tragedies     

“The orchestra has terminated the cooperation with its chief conductor with immediate effect.  The accusations irreparably damaged the relationship of trust between the orchestra and the conductor – he will be replaced in all upcoming concerts”.

The orchestra took immediate action as soon as allegations surfaced in an online article about female musicians subjected to sexual harassment. That was Amsterdam’s renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra sacking its conductor Daniele Gatti in August 2018.

We saw no such swift action at the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO). For years, female musicians at the MPO raised concerns about sexual harassment. A young female Brazilian cellist lamented, on a podcast, the “shocking” and “toxic” environment at the orchestra.

She commented about the orchestra’s politically appointed CEO and Labour candidate Sigmund Mifsud: “I vividly remember thinking about how he was so worried about my t-shirt and not the €20,000 he forgot”. Mifsud had forgotten to apply for a €20,000 government grant to fund the orchestra’s Dubai trip.

The orchestra demanded Mifsud’s sacking. Another female musician resigned after being subjected to sexual abuse for over three years.  She raised her concerns with Sigmund Mifsud.  He allegedly tried to convince her to change her version of events.

The man she was accusing was Mifsud’s close friend. Mifsud now stands charged with tampering with evidence by threatening MPO employees to keep quiet about the sexual harassment scandal.

In her resignation letter to Mifsud, the musician wrote, “I have explained to your good self that my physical and mental health had deteriorated rapidly due to excessive stress caused by abuse and multiple incidents of sexual harassment that took place at the office and during work functions”.

Driven to desperation by Mifsud’s attempt to protect his friend, the musician resigned and lodged a criminal complaint with the police, The Shift revealed.

A 31-year-old MPO senior official was found guilty of unsolicited sexual acts, subjecting the musician to undesired sexual behaviour and misuse of telecommunications equipment for over three years. He was sentenced to one year imprisonment suspended for four years.

Defence lawyer Giannella Caruana Curran objected to publishing his details “to protect the identity of the victim”.  Defence lawyer Veronique Dalli stated that not many people worked with the accused, and it would be easy to identify the victim.

The prosecution and parte civile disagreed.  Naming the convict couldn’t expose the victim’s identity – there were far too many female musicians at the MPO.  Yet the court acceded to the defence’s request and imposed a ban on naming the accused.

While the victim’s career at the national orchestra was destroyed and her physical and mental health damaged, the accused got away scot-free.

His suspended sentence means he doesn’t need to spend a single day in prison. He remains on the MPO’s payroll on half pay. His identity is bizarrely protected by the court.

That is not the most shocking part of the story. The most disturbing fact is that Sigmund Mifsud allegedly tried to make her change her version of events and threatened musicians not to speak about the case to protect his close friend.

Repeatedly asked why he didn’t take her complaints to the police, Mifsud first asked for questions to be sent by email.  Then he ignored them altogether. He also ignored multiple reminders.

The culture ministry now claims it suspended the perpetrator on half-pay immediately after his conviction. The ministry set up a disciplinary board as well as an internal inquiry. But no details have been given of who appointed the Board of Inquiry, who sits on that board or its terms of reference.

Despite the shocking sexual abuse at the orchestra and the prolonged failure of its CEO to protect musicians, the MPO, ministry and government have all remained silent. No public statement, no ministerial parliamentary declaration, no strategy for addressing the toxic environment at the orchestra – and no accountability.

Now that criminal charges have been lodged against Mifsud, he has belatedly been suspended on half-pay.

When the Cleveland Orchestra, considered among the finest, received allegations of sexual harassment, it instantly sacked violinist William Preucil, its concertmaster, and Massimo La Rota, its principal trombonist. It commissioned an investigation which faulted the management for not doing enough to look into the allegations.

The orchestra subsequently revised its anti-harassment policy, adopted a set of ethical principles for orchestra members and established a confidential hotline for anonymous reports.

Nothing of the sort has happened at the MPO.  Its sole interest is shielding its political appointee Sigmund Mifsud. You wonder why.  Mifsud caused untold damage to the MPO.  In 2017, he sacked the orchestra’s renowned artistic director Brian Schembri after several confrontations.  Schembri described the decision as absurd, humiliating, unjust, abusive and even illegal.

Three years later, the MPO lost its second artistic director, conductor Raoul Lay.  Lay, too, had disagreed with Mifsud over appointing musicians who were “insufficiently proficient”.

Lay, who previously worked as an international conductor, complained that Mifsud ignored his advice. Even worse, Lay lambasted Mifsud, who “rarely answers his phone, sets appointments which he doesn’t keep and changes his mind on major artistic issues”. Lay concluded that “Sigmund Mifsud is basically unreliable in a relationship that requires follow-up”.

So why did Labour keep defending Mifsud? When contesting the 2013 general election on the Labour Party ticket, Mifsud was asked to name his political hero. He replied, “The person who encouraged me to get into politics is Joseph Muscat.. I believe in him, in his vision, and I admire him”.

Mifsud, who was a trumpeter until then, was rewarded by Muscat with the post of MPO executive chairman immediately after Labour’s victory.

Four years later, Mifsud organised a concert by the national orchestra featuring “the prime minister’s playlist”.  All proceeds went to the Marigold Foundation, run by Muscat’s wife, Michelle. When faced with a severe backlash, Mifsud commented cynically, “I thought it was a good and original idea, just as it is a good idea for the MPO to participate in events such as Independence Day, which are associated with politicians”.

Mifsud damaged the national orchestra beyond repair. It’s high time he’s shown the door, irrespective of the outcome of his criminal case.  When interviewed by Lovin Malta’s ‘Meet the Boss’, he was asked, “What is the single most important thing you’ve learnt in your career?”

“That you can’t be soft with the workers,” he replied. He certainly wasn’t.


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1 month ago

“… you can’t be soft with the workers… “
Karma has its ways.

And I would guess Nadine Lia’s gonna sink her teeth into this one. No choice, really.

Last edited 1 month ago by viv
1 month ago

He followed Muscat’s example and tried to leave no stone ( witness) unturned. But the witnesses , contrary to what happened in Muscat’s case , spoke out.
The most disturbing fact is that Sigmund Mifsud allegedly tried to make her change her version of events and threatened musicians not to speak about the case to protect his close friend.”
Daphne was murdered , we still have heroes.

Josette Portelli
Josette Portelli
1 month ago

I have just one question. Why Mifsud’s name has been mentioned while the accused’s is being kept away from the public? If the accused were a priest, I bet that his name would have already been handed down on a golden plate to the pack of wolves awaiting to have a delicious desert after having a hearty meal!!

Last edited 1 month ago by Josette Portelli
1 month ago

Check where the gozitan used to rent his flat in Malta

Catherine Desira
Catherine Desira
1 month ago

The gang of criminals a/k/a Labour Party is full of sleaze. None of them good for any purpose.

Until this gang is disbanded, Malta shall never find peace and stability.

Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb
29 days ago

What should happen is that all orchestral members should be given the opportunity, via an anonymous means, to convey what is truly going on behind the scenes. Who else knew about this. Usually, corruption starts from the top and trickles its way down to the proletariat. Untouchables, now it seems, who like to touch. Sigmund Mifsud needs to be removed completely, but like any scab when removed, pain is part of the healing, that will permit the wound to be fully purged from disease. I believe a full amputation of senior management is necessary, then retrain, relearn, reinforce the ideals of a national orchestra. Hopefully, the stench of corruption, will fade in time with the proper addressing of this matter, but not quickly enough for the victim. Yet another national disgrace.

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