Datuk Mustafa Fuzer Nawi, the National Symphony Orchestra’s (NSO) music director and chief conductor since 1999, is no stranger to big ticket events at the national concert venue Istana Budaya in KL, where the NSO is based.

He has seen the NSO going from strength to strength, playing a diverse range of classical, pop rock and jazz shows to even broadening its contemporary appeal with video games live and movie soundtrack concerts in recent years.

In fact, the NSO has provided orchestral flourish and polish for some of the biggest homegrown stars in concert at Istana Budaya, including Yuna, Datuk Siti Nurhaliza, Datuk Jamal Abdillah, Anuar Zain, Ella, Wings, Amy (Search) and Datuk Ahmad Nawab.

The upcoming 25th anniversary NSO concert is another high-profile evening that Mustafa, 58, hopes will draw attention to the national orchestra.

On Nov 17, the NSO will be rolling out its big anniversary party at Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya. Under the batonship of Mustafa, the concert will showcase classical fare, including Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 In C Minor, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Mozart’s Overture To The Magic Flute.

That’s not all. The NSO has a side of Hollywood pops on offer – the Gladiator soundtrack (composed by Hans Zimmer) and James Horner’s Apollo 13 movie soundtrack.

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The NSO musicians rehearsing for the national orchestra’s grand 25th anniversary show at Istana Budaya on Nov 17.

Pop singer Jaclyn Victor will provide guest vocals on Tan Sri P.Ramlee’s Tunggu Sekejap and I Dreamed A Dream (from Les Miserables).

“This concert is a great chance for people to see what the NSO is about. We have some very talented musicians on board, and we need to grow with younger musicians coming through the ranks,” says Mustafa.

The upcoming NSO concert features 75 players, with a number of guest musicians roped in.

He does agree that the NSO, to some extent, is not as highly visible as he wants it to be in the mainstream circles.

“Many people don’t even know that the NSO exists. Well, maybe the Malay audience may know us as the Okestra Simfoni Kebangsaan but many English speakers don’t,” he adds.

Despite the milestone 25th anniversary, there is much work to be done to keep the NSO in the public eye.

Mustafa, who studied music (the violin) at Hochschule fur Musik und Theater in Hannover, Germany (1986-1991), cannot emphasise enough that the NSO is “your orchestra, our orchestra, it belongs to Malaysia”.

At present, the NSO has 41 full-time musicians. And it continues to engage the music communities beyond Istana Budaya.

On a regular basis, NSO works closely with universities and music faculties in Malaysia, giving talks, lectures and free masterclasses. NSO’s outreach programmes include activities by Permata Seni Muzik and Percussion Ensemble (Penso).

Interestingly, Mustafa’s relationship with the NSO is as long as it has been around.

He began as NSO’s concert master in 1993. In 1997, he was awarded a government scholarship for a two-year post-graduate conducting course at the Conservatorium Hogelschool Enschede, the Netherlands, where he studied orchestra, choral and ensemble conducting.

In 1999, he returned to Malaysia and began his directorial role with the NSO.

Historically, the NSO existed under another form before it was formally established in 1993.

Back in 1982, the then Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports established the Youth Symphony Orchestra (Orkestra Simfoni Muda) as a foundation, leading up to the establishment of the NSO.

In 1989, the newly established Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism worked towards the NSO idea by appointing 14 full-time musicians. In the early years, many of the musical instruments were donated by the Japanese government. In fact, when the NSO was officially launched, it was led by Japanese conductor Teruoki Oguara.

“Our journey since our inception has been difficult. We didn’t even have a full-time conductor in the beginning. But the situation is better now,” says Mustafa, who conducted some of Istana Budaya’s major shows, including Puccini’s Tosca in 2003 and Franz Lehar’s Merry Widow in 2004.

However, due to the lack of government funding, Mustafa says the NSO can only perform 12 to 14 concerts a year compared to other well-funded orchestras which are able to put up at least one concert every other week.

“For a concert, such as a classical concert, the cost will add up from RM80,000 to RM120,000. This cost occurs due to the number of guest musicians that we have to invite to meet the requirement of each performance, as currently the number of NSO musicians is still not complete … per concert, we need, at least, a strength of 60 to 70 musicians,” he says.

“The problem that we are facing currently is that we don’t have fixed cultural funding and sponsorship.”

Nevertheless, Mustafa says the show must go on with NSO. He has two more years to retirement, and he wants keep the NSO cause close to his heart. Right now, he promises the 25th anniversary concert will be a spectacular evening.

“We will be playing great music on the night. Trust me, you will enjoy yourself,” he concludes.


National Symphony Orchestra’s 25th Anniversary Concert is on at Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 17. Showtime: 8.30pm. Tickets range between RM50 and RM150. More info: www.ilassotickets.com.