Honolulu symphony can't pay musicians
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By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Leidemann
A Honolulu Symphony concert went off as scheduled last night at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, although musicians did not receive their regular paycheck on Friday and are unlikely to be paid before the end of the year, symphony officials said.
About 65 full-time musicians, as well as part-timers and other staff members, were told late last week that the Honolulu Symphony Society did not have enough money to meet its $60,000 biweekly payroll, officials said.
"It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, especially at this time of the year," said Jeff Minter, chairman of the symphony's board of directors.
Minter and other symphony officials yesterday said a variety of factors, including being forced to play most of its fall season outside its home base at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, contributed to the shortfall.
The move to other venues around town to accommodate a months-long visiting engagement of "The Lion King" musical, caused the symphony to suffer higher costs and reduced revenues at the same time it was increasing musicians' pay and trying to upgrade the orchestra's financial base.
However, top officials said yesterday they believe the symphony is moving in the right direction and will be on better financial footing in the coming year.
"We are making progress. We've been working quietly and diligently to solve our problems, but the money is just taking longer than we expected to come in," said Executive Director Tom Gulick, who was hired in 2006.
Musicians generally took the missed payroll in stride and are willing to work with the new management to solve the long-term financial problems of the organization, said Paul Barrett, chair of the musicians orchestra committee and principle bassoonist.
"First off, we appreciate they are not blaming us for the problem. That's new," Barrett said. "We've given cuts and taken freezes for years and lost ground to other orchestras and we can't give anymore. Now it's time for the community to step up to the plate if they want to continue to have an orchestra. Small contributors, large contributors, the city, the state — everybody needs to do their bit."
PAY CUT RESTORED
In the fall, symphony officials restored a 20 percent pay cut imposed on musicians in 2003, Gulick said. The musicians' base pay is about $33,000 per year, among the lowest in the nation for similarly sized orchestras.
However, the higher salary costs came at the same time the symphony was forced to go on the road to smaller venues such as Hawai'i and Mamiya theaters, while nearly sold-out shows of "The Lion King" filled the concert hall.
"The travel costs of moving the symphony were extraordinary and the smaller theaters didn't fit us very well revenuewise," Gulick said.
To help offset the costs of the forced move, city officials have agreed to waive concert hall rental fees for the symphony through January, he said.
Symphony officials also are hoping that Gov. Linda Lingle will release $4 million in state funds for the Honolulu Symphony Foundation authorized by the state Legislature two years ago.
"If we had had that money, we could have earned an extra $400,000 in interest by now, which would have helped a lot," Minter said.
The symphony also hopes to finalize details of several large private donations in coming weeks, easing its financial plight, and has received about $490,000 in state grants this season to support its educational outreach programs, including performances for O'ahu and Neighbor Island school children.
Despite an uncertain financial situation, musicians have been extraordinarily upbeat and enthusiastic in recent rehearsals, said Andreas Delfs, who took over as principal conductor earlier this year.
"There hasn't been a drop in concentration at any rehearsal. That says a lot about the trust they have in the new leadership and their ability to move forward," Delfs said. "If we can master this crisis, I feel like we're on the verge of greatness.
"All you have to do is come hear us once and feel the power of the music to know that's true."
The hiring of Delfs, former musical director for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, was considered a key part in restoring the symphony to a place of prominence in the Honolulu arts scene and solidifying its financial base.
Barrett said orchestra members will continue to perform through the end of the year, with or without pay.
"It's a little scary and, of course, we'll suffer, but what are we going to do?" he said.
Reach Mike Leidemann at email@example.com.
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