In March 2012, the musicians of the former Honolulu Symphony will return to the concert stage. The board of the new Hawaii Symphony has announced a shortened 16-week season that will kick off the start of a new professional orchestra in the islands.
It has been a long journey. The old Honolulu Symphony played its last concert in October 2009. At that time the old board cancelled all concerts and then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2009. A required reorganization plan from old orchestra management never materialized, and one year later, in December 2010, the bankruptcy was converted to Chapter 7 liquidation.
Meanwhile, a new group of community leaders had begun a dialogue with the symphony musicians and our union about bringing professional symphonic music back to Hawaii. Calling themselves the Symphony Exploratory Committee (SEC), they began to build a new organization. They enlisted the help of Steve Monder, former executive director of the Cincinnati Symphony, and JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony, both of whose expert guidance has proved invaluable to the SEC.
In March 2010, as part of the bankruptcy process, the SEC purchased the music library, instruments, and other assets of the old organization. Shortly afterwards, it changed its name to the Hawaii Symphony Board. In April, a collective bargaining agreement with the musicians’ union was negotiated. That collective bargaining agreement has since been modified to reflect the board’s desire that the season should be well within the capabilities of the organization.
There is still a lot of work to be done to assure that the orchestra will succeed. Many Honolulu Symphony Orchestra musicians have left the islands during the more than two years in which there was no orchestra here, and it will be a challenge to assemble all the musicians needed to get the full orchestra playing again. In addition, Steve Monder has been working hard to recruit an effective management staff. One positive note is that the old Honolulu Symphony endowment, totaling about $10 million, was not liquidated in the bankruptcy and is being used to support the new Hawaii Symphony.
At one point the musicians and the public had been told that performances would begin in the fall of 2011, but the process has taken a bit longer than expected. In the wake of the failure of the old Honolulu Symphony, there has been skepticism from some quarters that an orchestra can thrive here.
But now we are starting, and the initial reaction in the community is very positive. The musicians feel that, with an excellent board and management at the helm, the Hawaii Symphony should have a bright future.