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Honolulu Symphony files for moral bankruptcy

0 Robert Levine

The truly shocking part of this announcement is the fourth paragraph (italicized):

The Honolulu Symphony Society Board of Directors announced on Friday that it has decided to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The announcement comes after more than a week of uncertainty. The chairman of the Honolulu Symphony’s board of directors told KITV, that as of last week the symphony did not have enough money to make its payroll.

The city stopped selling tickets to the symphony’s November events on Thursday because of rumors that the orchestra would cancel those concerts. The symphony said it will not be able to complete the rest of the season in 2009. It is uncertain if it will be able to complete other dates in 2010.

The board said that it voted on Oct. 30 to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and that it is $1 million in debt.

“Given its current and projected financial status, the society cannot continue to sustain a 64-piece orchestra,” Honolulu Symphony Society Executive Director Majken Mechling said in a written statement. “We cannot continue with business as usual.”

The musicians’ union president Brien Matson had been waiting for a call back from Honolulu Symphony officials for one week to learn about the future of the 110-year-old organization.

“Even now, political leaders, citizens, corporations and foundations in this State have an opportunity to step in and become more involved with the future of their orchestra. It is a ‘moment of truth’ for Hawaii in terms of its actual cultural commitment,” Honolulu Symphony Society Chairman Peter Shaindlin said in a written statement.

Why on earth would they vote to file for bankruptcy a week ago and not tell anyone (including the musicians) about it until today? Worse, they went around dodging phone calls from both the press and the union. Worse yet, until Thursday, they were selling tickets to events they knew wouldn’t take place because the orchestra had no money and would be embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings for many, many moons.

Is there something in the pineapples out there in mid-Pacific that causes people to treat orchestras so badly?

Update: an article for the Pacific Business News had some even more interesting mendacitiies:

The Honolulu Symphony Society Board voted to file for bankruptcy at a meeting on Oct. 30 but waited a week to announce the decision, until after management met with the musicians’ union.

Which presumably is why management hasn’t been returning the union’s phone calls this past week.

The article also reported on management’s thinking about the future. It’s shockingly - strategic:

“Given its current and projected financial status, the Society cannot continue to sustain a 64-piece orchestra,” Mechling said. “We cannot continue with business as usual.”

The board, which met with the musicians’ union on Friday, has proposed reorganizing the symphony as a smaller orchestra whose costs would be more in line with revenues.

“Our suggested goal was to provide a year-round platform of music for our community that will reflect the desires of the community we serve,” Mechling said. “We want to bring to the residents of Hawaii classical, pop, local entertainment and new musical opportunities that the next generation can embrace, appreciate and sustain for the next 110 years.

“In order to do this we must be far more strategic, leaner, more efficient and willing to creatively and artistically work with a substantially smaller core group of musicians that will be the base for our sustainable future,” she said.

Whatever else the management can’t do, they have certainly mastered the buzzwords of the current zeitgeist. But perhaps they think it’s good that they’re willing to “creatively and artistically work with” musicians, albeit “a substantially smaller core group of musicians.” This will, of course, require the musicians to be far more strategic - especially in the balancing of their checkbooks.

Do they have strategic food pantries in Honolulu?

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