The Honolulu Symphony Revival

Symphony, Revived: Not content to let the symphony die, local business leaders have a new business model, one they hope will ensure symphony musicians take the stage this month.

photo: david croxford

Photo: istock

This January, the curtains lowered on the 110-year-old Honolulu Symphony, after an emotional, yearlong Chapter 11 bankruptcy that morphed into a Chapter 7 liquidation in the ninth hour. But, just as quickly as the symphony collapsed, high-ranking business leaders announced they wanted to revamp it. Comprising such members as OHA trustee Oswald Stender, Kaneohe Ranch president Mitch D’Olier and United Laundry Service president Vicky Cayetano, among others, the Symphony Exploratory Committee had a plan. In March, the group bought the symphony organization’s assets for $231,000 including its music library, donor list, supplemental instruments and some office equipment. All the committee had to do was come up a viable financial model and an employee contract with the musicians union.

Fast forward eight months, and the committee and the musicians are poised to commence the season of a new and improved Hawaii Symphony, hopefully this month. “We developed a business plan of $6 million and negotiated a three-year contract with the musicians,” says Stender.

This may sound similar to the old symphony’s business organization, but Stender says there are two key differences. “We won’t have concerts unless we have money,” he says, referring to the former management’s mountain of debt. “And this time there’s transparency.”

As of press time, the symphony committee had raised $1.5 million, including $400,000 from the Honolulu Symphony Foundation. If it reaches the $2-million mark, the curtains will once again rise at the Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall, says Stender. If not, he adds, then it will be postponed another month. The musicians are also planning on performing at the Waikiki Shell and the Convention Center, adding more pops pieces to its repertoire and doing  community and school outreach performances. “Youth is an important part of the symphony,” says Stender.

The committee’s next step is hiring a board. Steven Monder, formerly of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has already signed on as president. Whether or not the musicians take the stage this month, or next year, squabbling between the musicians and the management might finally be a thing of the past. “Everyone has been very supportive,” says Stender.