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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An orchestra set to scale is reasonable

Can music fans hope for a future that includes the Honolulu Symphony?

The answer, to be sifted from a mammoth, just-released organizational analysis, is yes as long as the reimagined orchestra has a business model that ensures for its long-term support.

The Honolulu Symphony Society, which holds the pursestrings of the orchestra's long-empty purse, has taken an important first step toward crafting the needed reorganizational plan by preparing the detailed study for U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Faris.

There are clear hints of the forthcoming plan in the analysis and it seems a well-reasoned one: A smaller orchestra, with a scaled-down season of concerts, would have more realistic survival odds in a city of Honolulu's size.

The persistent financial troubles of the symphony have soured relations between the society and the orchestra's musicians, who regard the analysis as deficient. They wanted the right to submit another plan to include their perspective, and this week won Faris' approval to submit an alternative blueprint.

It's good to hear that competing ideas will be aired, but the final plan will have to make drastic changes. The analysis calls for cutting the overall $7 million yearly budget by more than half and trim performances from 43 to 20.

That's sounds like a rational starting point. With a robust fundraising component, restoring an expanded program can begin, once the economy recovers.

But for now, orchestras nationally have to reckon with a hostile financial landscape. The shrinking base of subscribers is courted by rival entertainments, and younger audiences are disappearing.

Honolulu residents deserve access to a live orchestra, as well as the educational resource of private lessons that its musicians provide to our talented youth.

A symphony based locally is what can fulfill these needs. But its longevity, rather than its size, is what matters most.