After a challenging year without an orchestral season in Hawaiʻi, plans for a 12-week Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra season starting this October are being finalized, and a staff is being reassembled.
It was a hopeful time for the musicians of the new Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra in March 2012, when the organization played its first season after the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra was silenced in October 2009. The community and audience response to the concerts was enthusiastic. In spite of a very small office staff and a short lead time for planning a season (there had not even been time to create a season brochure), ticket sales for the shortened 16-week season exceeded budget projections. President Steven Monder (formerly the long-time executive director of the Cincinnati Symphony) performed a minor miracle in making the first season successful. As the season ended, a lot of excitement for the orchestra had been generated in the community. It seemed an excellent time to capitalize on the momentum and to plan the next season.
However, due to a number of causes, the season ended with a deficit. Concerned with having another season with a deficit, and reporting widespread skepticism from local business leaders, the HSO board decided that it wouldn’t be financially responsible to commit to having a second season unless a significant portion of the contributed revenue budgeted for the season, around $2 million, was raised in advance. This was a challenging task, since it would clearly be very difficult to try to raise funds without being able to assure potential donors that there would even be another season. As the autumn of 2012 began, no one was sure if or when the orchestra would return. Unfortunately, the Hawai‘i community was about to see the orchestra go dark for yet another season.
Thankfully, Steven Monder was still committed to seeing the organization succeed. He was able to convince board leadership that the organization could not raise money without offering concerts to the public. In November the board held a meeting to explore the possibility of a16-week season beginning in the fall of 2013. Although the board at first seemed encouraged by the projected numbers in the proposed scenario, upon further consideration, they lacked confidence that the necessary funds would be raised. Mr. Monder, HSO artistic advisor JoAnn Falletta, orchestra committee chair James Moffitt, board representative Stephen Dinion, and union president Brien Matson continued to encourage the board chair and its members to not give up hope, but instead to continue to search for a solution.
A possible way to move forward appeared when, in early 2013, a board member approached Hawaiʻi’s governor to see if there might be state funding to help get the orchestra back on its feet. The governor suggested that the organization apply for a grant-in-aid to cover the potential deficit. The HSO submitted a grant request for $900,000 from the State of Hawaiʻi. In March, board members began visiting legislators in an impressive and successful campaign to lobby for the funds. The reaction from all the legislators was positive, and there was clearly a desire to help.
Meanwhile, Mr. Monder stressed that, if there was to be any possibility of a successful 2012–2013 season, they needed to begin planning for the possible Fall season immediately. As a first step, the HSO requested that the union reopen the CBA, which guaranteed a 30-week 2012–2013 season. Due to the Board’s concern about risking another deficit, this was to be a master agreement with unprecedented flexibility built in. Length of season was to be tied to the amount of money received from the state. If the state gave nothing, there would be a 6-week season starting in the fall of 2013; if the state gave the entire $900,000, there would be a 16-week season instead. Additionally, the CBA would spell out what would happen if the state granted an amount between $0 and $900,000 as well. At the beginning of May, the Legislative session ended and the HSO was awarded a grant-in-aid of $450,000. According the newly renegotiated CBA, this triggered a scenario in which the HSO would perform a 12-week 2012–2013 season.
Throughout this process, the HSO musicians, led by James Moffitt, and Local 677, led by Brien Matson, have shown tremendous flexibility in trying to make this situation work, and have worked tirelessly to encourage, support, and expand board leadership. While the original 3-year CBA called for 30-week seasons each year, the contracted weeks for the first season were reduced to 16, the second season never happened, and the third season will include only 12 weeks. The musicians have tried to do everything possible to cooperate with the new management and board. Almost every request by management has been allowed, and no grievances have been filed, because no one wants to see this orchestra fail. While some musicians have been forced to leave the islands to find other work, musician leadership has continued to work hard to maintain contact with all musicians of the orchestra— even those scattered across the globe—through regular orchestra meetings, email updates, and conference calls for those musicians not in town.
The musicians would like to gratefully acknowledge a number of people whose dedication and commitment have been extraordinary. Attorney Barbara Jaccoma joined our team this year and has contributed critical advice and expertise to us during a difficult time, even as she is still getting to know us and our peculiar situation. She has done so with brilliance and relish. HSO Artistic Advisor JoAnn Falletta has continued to believe in the successful future of an orchestra in Hawaiʻi and has been an inspirational leader and a tremendous resource. We could not have made it to this point without ICSOM Chairperson Bruce Ridge, the ICSOM Governing Board, and the musicians of the other member orchestras who have always been true friends to the musicians of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and, now, the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra. Finally, none of this could have happened without President Steven Monder. He has been involved in this saga since 2010 and has always tried to steer things in a good direction. He has worked tirelessly to make this orchestra succeed and has done it in a way that shows respect and care for all involved.
One of the most important reasons that we haven’t given up is the public. Throughout this difficult situation, the public has continued to insist that there be a professional orchestra here, and they haven’t stopped believing in that mission. With that in mind, the musicians continue to work closely with the board, management, and community supporters as best we can to help bring professional orchestral music back to the people of Hawaiʻi for the long term. While we have often had to adjust expectations, and the future remains tenuous, we hope that our collective efforts will lead to demonstrable success in this coming season and for many more to come.