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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Symphony plan takes money and some guts

By Majken Mechling

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Honolulu Symphony is in bankruptcy reorganization. Its board says the only way it can be saved is to become smaller.

Advertiser library photo 2009

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While our strategy does not include fighting the fight in the media, I am compelled to respond to the recent letters from readers who have conveyed misinformation and attack the efforts of those working to resurrect and sustain live professional symphonic music in Hawai'i.

I accepted this job in October 2009, knowing full well that it would not be easy. The financial state of the organization was desperate, and despite heartfelt efforts to avert it, bankruptcy was inevitable.

The board of directors of the Honolulu Symphony Society made the difficult decision to file for Chapter 11 reorganization and use the time to develop a factually based plan and budget that would be sustainable for the long term. Reorganization would also allow for a renegotiation of the collective bargaining agreement, which over the years had become grossly out of line with both industry standards and current-day employment offerings. What this board is doing is the only fiscally responsible thing to do.

The precarious financial situation leading up to the bankruptcy had, over the years, become the accepted state for the organization; and each year many well-intending individuals committed their time and money to the organization in an effort to save it. While we are all saddened that we are in bankruptcy, the bottom line is, the business model was not sustainable, and unless the Honolulu Symphony Society dramatically changes the way we do business, the orchestra will never come back.

This is the painful reality. We cannot sustain an $8 million annual budget. We cannot survive on revenue from ticket sales alone. We cannot be relevant only to those who come to the concert hall. And, we cannot rely on angel donors to bail us out of financial hot water each year.

Those working to save this beloved organization are willing to stand up for what is right, risk personal popularity and professional credibility and not be held hostage by those unwilling to do what has needed to be done for a long time. A few brave individuals over the years have tried to do the same, but were not able to overcome organizational and public pressure. And, despite the constant attack I am under, I continue to do what I am doing, because I know it is the right thing to do.

These very public attacks have caused me to question my desire to do what is necessary, to ask myself whether I should be working as hard as I am, take the public beating I am taking, and attempt to raise the money that we need to move forward.

It feels a lot like people hope the orchestra will be resurrected, cannot imagine Hawai'i without a professional symphony, but no one wants to get their hands dirty to make it happen.

I am committed to taking this to the end because Hawai'i deserves live professional symphonic music. I wish more people were willing to stand tall alongside those of us who are working toward a sustainable future. I wish they would endeavor to fully understand the financial situation and get constructively involved, rather than spewing lies and throwing stones at those who are working so hard.

But, at the end of the day, our small but mighty group of soldiers can't wish it for everyone. We need individuals and businesses to step up and share in the commitment to sustainability. If not, the sad reality is that live symphonic music will not be able return to the concert hall anytime soon.