CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
"We need stability and, I hope, prosperity. At the very least, we need the promise of stability," says Andreas Delfs, the Honolulu Symphony's principal conductor.
Symphony’s new maestro busy reshaping, rebuilding
A symphony orchestra needs a face, otherwise it's just a herd of thundering musicians. That's one reason that symphony conductors become stars in their own right, because they inject personality into the group. The leader of the pack.
After a lengthy worldwide talent hunt, the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra filled this crucial position last March with Andreas Delfs named as principal conductor and artistic director. The German-born Delfs comes from the Milwaukee Symphony, and the Honolulu appointment has a smaller budget and less prestige than he's used to -- but he's in a position to help save a symphony.
Now, well into the season, how's it going, maestro?
"Wonderful! Smooth!" he says, rather unsurprisingly. "I've used this past week to get out and meet people -- Rotary clubs, Governor's Ball, the Youth Symphony -- as many folks as possible."
Salesman. Promoter. Enthusiast. Key elements of his position.
"I've enjoyed rehearsals more than I could have imagined. There is no problem with the musicians in the symphony -- they are playing at the peak of their game. What we have to work on is the public perception of the symphony. We had -- ahem -- a lot of ups and downs. We need to acknowledge that there's a new team in town and we aren't playing the old games. We need to tell our plans and be open to discussion.
"The lack of stability in the past hurt us. Well, the time of mistakes is over! We need stability and, I hope, prosperity. At the very least, we need the promise of stability."
It won't happen overnight, Delfs sighs. "Attitudes cannot be changed by words. It has to be proven. Be patient; it's coming. For the first time in a long time, we have key players in all the right positions."
Speaking of right positions, at this critical juncture the symphony was bumped from its longtime venue at the Blaisdell Concert Hall to make room for Disney's "The Lion King."
"Some patrons are still confused by that. We need to be back in Blaisdell, and we will be soon," Delfs said.
"We've mostly been playing in the Hawaii Theatre, which is beautiful and adequate. A little dry acoustically. Chopin, for example, needs reverberation, and so it was necessary to add some extra strings to extend the warmth of the vibrato.
"The symphony needs a home of its own, with great acoustics."
The Blaisdell Concert Hall, he said, is pretty good, but it's primarily a multipurpose structure. It's not dedicated to music.
"We need our own hall. I am very passionate about this. It's a long-term goal. Nashville, Omaha, Orange County are building new halls, and they're not bigger or more wealthy than Honolulu. I know it will happen one day."
How are the finances?
"Not as healthy as they could be, quite honestly," Delfs said. "There are still outstanding pledges and grants we could really use, and it complicates the bookkeeping. We cover about 33 percent of our annual cost in ticket sales, and in a healthy orchestra it's about 45 percent.
"We need an endowment, a large endowment. Our base has to become healthy. We're working on it day and night to become financially solid. ... It's given me a number of sleepless nights. Otherwise, everything is going quite well, I believe."
As for himself, Delfs is staying at the Halekulani and is enchanted by the nightly programs of Hawaiian music. "Hawaii -- very musical islands! Wonderful! You hear songs everywhere you go. Now that I'm able to really study Hawaiian music, there is so much more to it than pure entertainment. There is a narrative depth that is splendid."
During the holidays, the whole Delfs family will be together here for the first time. "My girls are 9 and 11; the boys are 13 and 15. All play piano, cello, violin -- they'll need a youth symphony to play in."
And next season will be the first time Delfs' musical personality will color the program. "The current season is very good, very interesting, but it was selected long before I came on board. The next season will be very exciting. Now I get to enter myself in my own plans!"