Quote Unquote: Why the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra Needs $997K by September

Originally from London, Michael Titterton was the voice, president and general manager of Hawai‘i Public Radio from the time he moved to O‘ahu in 1999 until last year when he retired. Before HPR, he worked in a host of cities across the U.S. as a reporter, producer and engineer, and taught broadcasting. Now he’s got a new gig: president of the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra.
Michael Titterton
Photo: David Croxford

IT FITS A DEFINITION of being retired: That’s the point at which one is supposed to do exactly what one wants to do, and this is what I want to do.


I’VE ALWAYS LOVED the symphony orchestra in Honolulu. It’s been a weak spot of mine for more years than I can count. Hearing not just classical music, but live classical music. It just does something to me.


WE LOST OUR SYMPHONY BEFORE, the one that was founded in 1902 and had such a colorful history. It actually went away. It died.


I AM ASKING THE CORPORATE citizens of our community to help us raise $997,000 by Sept. 30. Then I’ll stop begging and pleading.


WHAT WE HAVE NOW is the result of a few very brave citizens who got together and did two very important things: [one,] purchased out of bankruptcy the assets of the old orchestra, the music library and so on; and, two, resolved to form a totally new organization.


THEY WERE SO MOTIVATED to make this happen before every last musician left town—in which case you’d be left with an impossible situation, because then you’re never going to get it back again.


AFTER BEING ON THE BOARD for a split second or two, I realized they were digging the same hole: They were borrowing from the following year to pay for this one, and that never ends well.


All I set out to do is to try and make my enthusiasm contagious.


I’M REALLY, REALLY DETERMINED they break that cycle. It’s just not fair to anyone not to break that cycle. The musicianship is too good. Honolulu is too mature and too large and too much a player to not have a symphony orchestra.


IF THIS WERE A FOOTBALL TEAM and not an orchestra, of equivalent skill, passion, general all-around winning-ness, ability to put on an absolutely first-rate product and make a shambles of the competition, we’d all be falling over ourselves to shower them with goodness and money and contracts and largesse.


SELFISHLY, I DON’T WANT to live somewhere that doesn’t have a fine symphony orchestra.


MY DREAM for this orchestra is to see it in a few years doing an Asian tour. That’s my grail. We uniquely understand where East meets West.


I PLAYED DRUMS a long time ago.


I SORT OF STUMBLED into classical music by virtue of working in public radio. The more I was around it, the more I became intrigued.


I HATE THE IDEA of fundraising as much as anyone! I really do. I’ve developed by accident a certain reputation for it because I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do the things with my life that I’ve really wanted to. I don’t know why that is, I’ve just never wanted bigger houses or flashy things.


I LOVE WORKING with not-for-profits because I can do things where my heart is.


IF I BELIEVE IN SOMETHING strongly enough, as I did with public radio and as I do right now with the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra, raising money is just a part of it.


ALL I SET OUT TO DO is to try and make my enthusiasm contagious.


AND I WILL QUACK and I will quack and I will quack until the bills get paid. It’s not particularly noble.


SOME THINGS are remarkably the same. If it’s to happen at all, it’s to be a community effort.


IN OTHER WAYS, it’s completely different I don’t have the big megaphone to talk to lots and lots of people at the same time.


THE HAWAI‘I SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, as far I’m concerned about regional orchestras, they’re second to none. They’re simply superb.


WHAT WE ARE DETERMINED to do with the Hawai‘i symphony is to expand beyond the traditional donor base.


WE HAVE A VERY SUCCESSFUL SERIES that runs on Sunday afternoons. Saturday evenings have not gone so well.


I BELIEVE we can present the same programmatic material that we do on Sunday afternoons, which is always superb, but present it in a different, dare I say it, sexier, way to make it a great Saturday night out for a different kind of demographic.


THE QUEEN CONCERT we did last year was tremendously successful. Michael Jackson is being talked about for the next season and I’m very excited about that.


ANOTHER THING WE’RE LOOKING AT very seriously is how to bring the symphony into the arena of the tourist industry, with regular concerts in Waikīkī of Hawaiian-based music.


I REALLY THINK IT’S WORTH A SHOT. It’s not all dead white Europeans.


AT THE END OF THE YEAR, traditionally the Hawai‘i symphony does the Ode to Joy concert. It’s a wonderfully stirring, incredible piece of symphonic music. You get to the fourth movement, that wonderful opening with the discordant tones … then we work into the melody … Suddenly, the whole choir rises to its feet and slams into the Ode to Joy. It’s an incredibly powerful musical moment with the whole choir rising to its feet and singing as one.


THIS ICONIC MELODY and then knowing that they’re all people from around here—these are people you run into at the supermarket. This is our community here brought to voice and to harmony. I weep every time that happens.