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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Symphony deserves better play from city

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Admittedly, this was a tough call. The notion that the city would want to book the Broadway show "Lion King" into the Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall, customary venue of the Honolulu Symphony, seems reasonable enough. The city needs to make money with its publicly funded facilities, and the economic boost of a big show may be too tempting to turn down.

And so the city's orchestra must seek out alternate sites to present part of its 2007 season. This is not entirely a bad thing: Reshuffling the schedule will bring the symphony to other locales, including the lovely Hawai'i Theatre.

This may be fine as the rare departure from the norm, but the fear is that there's little to prevent such upheaval from becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Not all venues are interchangeable for symphonic purposes. The outdoor ambiance of the Waikiki Shell can make for a delightful pops orchestra experience, but open-air theaters don't offer suitable acoustics for certain symphonic presentations.

And as visually appealing as the Hawai'i Theatre may be, neither its stage nor its auditorium will accommodate as many people. This has repercussions on ticket sales as well as the repertoire that can be produced in the space.

Under its arrangement with municipal landlords, the symphony can be bumped from the concert hall calendar with seemingly short notice. Although the symphony was aware that auditorium officials were working on this booking for months, the agreement wasn't finalized until about a month ago.

This doesn't give the symphony's management, already reeling from its recent internal reorganization, much time to offer its subscribers an attractive, cohesive season.

It's true that the city subsidizes the symphony's use of the concert hall more than any other nonprofit tenant. And the regrouping this year shouldn't further upset its long-term stability.

But it would be intolerable for this kind of uncertainty to become par for the course. For the symphony to survive in Honolulu, the state, city and county must support it. Beyond performances, its musicians provide education and entertainment to venues statewide.

The complex now dubbed the NBC originally was planned without a concert hall, and it was largely due to lobbying by symphony supporters that Honolulu has this asset today. A Web search turns up numerous citations of the concert hall as "the home of the Honolulu Symphony."

This city must consider: Do we want a world-class orchestra? We certainly have one. Let's see that we keep it.