Honolulu Symphony files for moral bankruptcy

The truly shocking part of this announcement is the fourth paragraph (italicized):

The Honolulu Symphony Society Board of Directors announced on Friday that it has decided to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The announcement comes after more than a week of uncertainty. The chairman of the Honolulu Symphony’s board of directors told KITV, that as of last week the symphony did not have enough money to make its payroll.

The city stopped selling tickets to the symphony’s November events on Thursday because of rumors that the orchestra would cancel those concerts. The symphony said it will not be able to complete the rest of the season in 2009. It is uncertain if it will be able to complete other dates in 2010.

The board said that it voted on Oct. 30 to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and that it is $1 million in debt.

“Given its current and projected financial status, the society cannot continue to sustain a 64-piece orchestra,” Honolulu Symphony Society Executive Director Majken Mechling said in a written statement. “We cannot continue with business as usual.”

The musicians’ union president Brien Matson had been waiting for a call back from Honolulu Symphony officials for one week to learn about the future of the 110-year-old organization.

“Even now, political leaders, citizens, corporations and foundations in this State have an opportunity to step in and become more involved with the future of their orchestra. It is a ‘moment of truth’ for Hawaii in terms of its actual cultural commitment,” Honolulu Symphony Society Chairman Peter Shaindlin said in a written statement.

Why on earth would they vote to file for bankruptcy a week ago and not tell anyone (including the musicians) about it until today? Worse, they went around dodging phone calls from both the press and the union. Worse yet, until Thursday, they were selling tickets to events they knew wouldn’t take place because the orchestra had no money and would be embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings for many, many moons.

Is there something in the pineapples out there in mid-Pacific that causes people to treat orchestras so badly?

Update: an article for the Pacific Business News had some even more interesting mendacitiies:

The Honolulu Symphony Society Board voted to file for bankruptcy at a meeting on Oct. 30 but waited a week to announce the decision, until after management met with the musicians’ union.

Which presumably is why management hasn’t been returning the union’s phone calls this past week.

The article also reported on management’s thinking about the future. It’s shockingly – strategic:

“Given its current and projected financial status, the Society cannot continue to sustain a 64-piece orchestra,” Mechling said. “We cannot continue with business as usual.”

The board, which met with the musicians’ union on Friday, has proposed reorganizing the symphony as a smaller orchestra whose costs would be more in line with revenues.

“Our suggested goal was to provide a year-round platform of music for our community that will reflect the desires of the community we serve,” Mechling said. “We want to bring to the residents of Hawaii classical, pop, local entertainment and new musical opportunities that the next generation can embrace, appreciate and sustain for the next 110 years.

“In order to do this we must be far more strategic, leaner, more efficient and willing to creatively and artistically work with a substantially smaller core group of musicians that will be the base for our sustainable future,” she said.

Whatever else the management can’t do, they have certainly mastered the buzzwords of the current zeitgeist. But perhaps they think it’s good that they’re willing to “creatively and artistically work with” musicians, albeit “a substantially smaller core group of musicians.” This will, of course, require the musicians to be far more strategic – especially in the balancing of their checkbooks.

Do they have strategic food pantries in Honolulu?

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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