R.I.P. Honolulu Symphony

Seeing the Honolulu Symphony die a long and painful death after enriching the community for over 100 years has been one low points of these recessionary times.

Not that the recession was entirely responsible for the symphony’s demise; it’s been on life support for years because of poor management and lack of support and survived this long only because of a $1.175 million gift from an anonymous donor a couple of years ago.

“Like libraries and museums, a symphony cannot be replaced overnight — it could take decades to rebuild such an institution,” the generous donor said.

It’s not only the loss of the concerts featuring an extensive repertoire of the world’s finest music, but the potential loss of outreach programs and private instruction that have touched 20,000 students a year and elevated the spirits of our community.

You have to ache for the musicians, who tried to stick it out despite a low-$30,000 base salary that often wasn’t even paid in recent years and would have shriveled to virtually nothing in the failed reorganization plan.

It was a disappointment that our public officials never recognized the importance of a professional symphony orchestra to the quality of community life and provided little support; the Legislature denied a grant at a critical time, the city kicked the orchestra out of the Blaisdell Concert Hall to cash in on a run of “The Lion King” and officialdom was mostly absent from attempts to save the symphony.

There’s some hope that with the Honolulu Symphony’s bankruptcy, the orchestra will re-form under a new and better-managed organization, but the challenge is daunting.

In the meantime, we still have Ballet Hawaii and Hawaii Opera Theatre, which both contract with symphony musicians, to keep a classical flame burning.
If you missed my last mention, here are a couple of symphony musicians trying to keep the hearth warm with lines of holiday cards with musical themes: Grin-n-Barrett Cards by Paul Barrett, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, and Normzart Greeting Cards by clarinetist Norman F. Foster.

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13 Comments on “R.I.P. Honolulu Symphony”

  1. Carolyn Golojuch Says:

    Another victim of greed. Check the highest paid board member who collected her big bucks while the music played on. The is criminal on so many levels. The musicians are to be praised for their love and dedication of. Art and Culture.May the band play on.

  2. Angelo Says:

    So sad to see professional musical organizations to under because of poor management and economic woes. They folks only made $30,000 a year. They are wonderful people for playing for that much when their major orchestral counterparts make 2-4 times more!

  3. Michael Says:

    December 14, 2010….The Day the Music Died.

  4. ppcc Says:

    from Golujuch:
    “Another victim of greed. Check the highest paid board member who collected her big bucks while the music played on.”

    Sounds like the demise of Aloha Airlines

  5. ppcc Says:

    However the difference between Aloha airlines and the Symphony is that there was a demand for air travel, even during a down economy. For the symphony most people in Hawaii, especially kids growing to adulthood, find listening to the symphony BORING. People/kids cannot sit still for hours, focusing their attention only on listening to a symphony orchestra as they rather be on the phone, texting, tweeting, downloading music, reading/sending emails, internet surfing, facebook, etc. The fall of the symphony in Hawaii is just a sign of the times.

  6. charles Says:

    David, are you suggesting the taxpayers should subsidize the symphony?

  7. David Shapiro Says:

    Charles, the state has been known to support the arts but obviously it’s a lost cause at this point.

  8. Jim Loomis Says:

    Here’s a relevant anecdote: My former boss, Frank Fasi, conceived and staged the Mayors Symphony Ball for several years in a row, raising a great deal of money for the orchestra. Later, during one of his re-election campaigns, someone on his campaign committee asked if any of the symphony board members would be willing to hold a coffee hour for Frank. Not one of them volunteered.

  9. charles Says:

    David, I’ll take your answer as a yes. Do you think the average taxpayer out there is willing to subsidize the symphony with his/her tax dollars in this economic climate?

  10. David Shapiro Says:

    Charles, the issue came up in a somewhat different economic climate. As I said, it’s a lost cause now whatever the economic climate.

    Jim, you hit it on the head. Top elected officials — and top people in the media — used to be strong, visible supporters of the Symphony. No more.

  11. Michael Says:

    ppcc’s comparison to the need for air travel and music is comparing an apple to an orange. Tell me something that is new. Old news since 2008 closure of Aloha Airlines. One had 2 years to think of what to say in their comment. I expected more facts since google or yahoo have tons of articles on the closure.
    They now have tons of information on Honolulu Symphony too. In 2 years one will bring this subject up again. Boring and Old news again.

    Still 2 cents with 1 cent thinking.

  12. zzzzzz Says:

    @Charles–I support subsidizing the Symphony as much a I support the government spending on art. E.g., I would have supported diverting some of the money the state spent on art to the Symphony, although I had concerns about management, including the one Carolyn mentioned.

  13. Nada Marriott Says:

    The loss of the Symphony is more then several performances a year. It spreads over the entire community. If the musicians are looking for work, and wanting to keep the classical music going, why then were they not available to provide a few brass people for the Oahu Choral Society’s Christmas Concert this year? We had to use amateur players, which we were grateful for, but we missed the proficiency of the professional musicians. Could it be because this was for the Honolulu Symphony Chorus?? We felt like step children when the symphony was in full swing, and now we feel like orphans. We are bunch of musicians that pay dues to sing in a chorus that should be able to perform with an orchestra. But how are we to do that, when the “orchestra” people are not willing to participate, even when offering to pay them??? Now, THAT’S sad.

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