The Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra) has announced the appointment of Maximiano Valdés as its new music director and principal conductor. His appointment will commence with the 2008–2009 season, coinciding with the orchestra’s 50th anniversary. Born in Santiago, Chile, Valdés was the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1989 to 1998.
ICSOM delegate Jeff Solomon reports that the Alabama Symphony Orchestra has successfully concluded its search for a new executive director and will welcome Kurt Long, formerly of the Dayton Philharmonic, to the ASO family. Jeff says that they are excited by this appointment and are optimistic that Long’s expertise will help them continue building the momentum established during the tenure of Music Director Justin Brown.
In January, the North Carolina Symphony held recording sessions for two CDs to be produced under the BIS label. The first CD features Branford Marsalis and his quartet and includes works by Michael Daugherty, John Williams, Ned Rorem, and Christopher Rouse. The second CD includes piano concertos by Rachmaninoff and Medtner, with Yevgeny Sudbin as soloist. Anticipated release dates for the CDs will be in 2009–2010.
The Nashville Symphony announced a new education initiative called “One Note, One Neighborhood” in April. The program will initially target eight schools in East Nashville over a five-year period. In addition to a comprehensive package of education services, including the NSO’s traditional outreach concerts, Young People’s Concerts, and education ensembles in the schools, the program also incorporates master classes and professional development for music and regular classroom teachers. The model focuses on improving one neighborhood at a time in all levels of the education process. An additional classroom component is a partnership with the W.O. Smith School, named for William Oscar Smith, a bassist and violist with the Nashville Symphony as well as a Tennessee State University professor. The W.O. Smith School was created to make quality music instruction and instruments available to talented, interested, and deserving children from low-income families. Students participating in the after-school component will receive music lessons from Nashville Symphony musicians, professional non-symphony musicians, or advanced students two to three times per week, all free of charge. These participants will later train to become music mentors to younger students in the program. “One Note, One Neighborhood” is a part of the Nashville Symphony’s education plan “Music Education City,” which is based on research showing that schools with comprehensive music and arts education show improved academic performance, a decline in violence and conflicts, higher graduation rates, and greater parental involvement.
Louisiana Philharmonic member Annie Cohen reports that despite everything, the LPO is doing just fine. They are back up to a 36-week season, and despite having to ferry around the region to various churches and other venues to do their concerts, they have essentially the same number of subscribers as during pre-Katrina days.
Honolulu Musicians End Season Without Full Pay
It was an exciting but difficult 2007–2008 season for the musicians of the Honolulu Symphony. Our organization’s strengths—particularly artistic and community service—and weaknesses—most glaringly financial instability caused by the lack of a strong board of directors—were all highlighted.
On the positive side, new board leadership, along with Executive Director Tom Gulick, has attempted to move the Symphony in the direction of expanding and improving its service to the public. For the first time in decades, no one blamed musicians’ salaries for the financial problems of the organization. Among the board’s accomplishments have been the complete restoration of pay after the cuts inflicted on HSO musicians in 2003, the hiring of Andreas Delfs as principal conductor, and the revival of inter-island touring for the first time in over a decade. The belated receipt of $4 million of previously allocated state funds for our endowment was also welcome news. The HSO is starting to take steps to become an organization that once again serves the whole state of Hawai‘i.
Unfortunately, a problem with our venue brought the board of directors’ inability to raise sufficient funds to the fore. In 2006, Honolulu officials informed HSO management that Blaisdell Concert Hall, the municipal facility where the orchestra performs, would be unavailable from September till December 2007, in order to make way for a touring production of The Lion King. In the summer of 2007, Executive Director Tom Gulick announced the appointment of a special fundraising “Campaign Cabinet” composed of prominent community members who were not already on the board. The cabinet was immediately charged with raising $1.8 million in new and increased contributed support as a way of addressing both weaknesses on the board and the losses expected from being kicked out of the concert hall for four months. Unfortunately, as the season began, the Campaign Cabinet had not raised the money that they had hoped for, and the future began to look shaky.
The 2007–2008 season opened in late August with a triumphant concert inaugurating Maestro Delfs’s tenure with the HSO. A week later the orchestra was booted out of the concert hall. Publicly, the HSO tried to make the best of it, portraying it as a time to perform in different parts of town and as an opportunity to reach new audiences. The reality was less positive. Even as the HSO tried its best to serve the public better, the displacement from the concert hall meant that we reached fewer people and served them less well. The smaller facilities we had to perform in could not accommodate the full orchestra. That meant we could not play anything except chamber orchestra pieces all autumn. In addition, it seemed that many older concertgoers, accustomed to the familiarity of Blaisdell Concert Hall, stayed home rather than venture out into an unfamiliar part of the city. On the other side of the coin, some of the halls were so small that they couldn’t accommodate all of the patrons who wanted to be there. This situation meant a loss of HSO earned revenue as well as increased expenses from moving orchestra and equipment all over Honolulu.
In December, during the orchestra’s first week back in Blaisdell Concert Hall, our executive director and board chair informed the orchestra that we would not receive the paychecks due that Friday and that they didn’t know when we would be paid. They asked us to continue to play the concerts that weekend. We did. After much internal discussion and consultation with ICSOM Counsel Lenny Leibowitz and AFM advisors, we continued to play the entire rest of the season with delayed pay, keeping the Honolulu Symphony’s mission of service to the community alive, even as the board was failing to honor its commitment to us.
Throughout this time, HSO musicians were paid sporadically and fell further and further behind in pay. By early March, we had fallen four weeks behind; by the end of April we were nine weeks behind. The burden of not being paid on time was worsened by never being given a firm date about when the next paycheck would arrive. Musicians have had to live with the uncertainty that the next month’s rent might not be there.
We have found some ways of getting help. We have used our internal musicians’ fund to provide interest-free loans to players who could not pay their bills. More recently, we are grateful for the assistance of the MusiCares Foundation and a generous, unsolicited gift from Local 802 to help us through. ICSOM Chairperson Bruce Ridge and other ICSOM officers have continually monitored the situation and offered to assist us if possible. Other help included a rally organized by the young musicians of the Hawaii Youth Symphony in front of the concert hall, waving banners to remind the public that their music teachers needed to be paid. Still, some musicians were not able to complete the season and were forced to leave the orchestra and travel off-island to look for work elsewhere.
In early May, Tom Gulick announced a $1.175 million gift from an anonymous donor. It did not come a moment too soon. On May 8, the day that musicians would have fallen 11 weeks behind in pay, we received 7 weeks of much needed back pay. After our season ended on May 18, we received another two-week paycheck on May 22. As of May 31 we are still owed four weeks of pay.
One major difference from previous HSO crises is that musicians’ salaries were not blamed for the financial difficulties. The executive director and the board have made it clear that the problem is not that we are paid too much, but rather that community support needs to step up. This is a departure from some past times when cuts were seen as the way to solve budget issues.
As we look forward, it is still a very unsure situation here in Honolulu. As of May 31, we have not yet been told when we will get any of the back pay we are owed. Our collective bargaining agreement is about to expire, and negotiations will have to happen by the time next season begins. Most importantly, the board will need to find the resources necessary to provide financial stability and to grow the organization—a huge task which they have only begun to face.
Submitted by Honolulu ICSOM Delegate Steven Flanter