Symphony now in tune with financial solvency
An influx of donations covers delinquent paychecks and brings a sense of optimism
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It wasn't exactly a holiday miracle, but close. On Christmas Eve, Honolulu Symphony Orchestra officials huddled with the mayor and others to figure out a short-term solution to a cash-flow complication -- there was not enough money in the symphony's accounts to meet payroll.
But a last-minute outpouring of public contributions helped cover the red ink. As of this week, more than $450,000 has been received, more than tripling past year-end contributions. The city also helped by allowing the symphony to use Blaisdell Concert Hall rent-free this month.
According to representatives of the symphony and the musicians, the paycheck problem is the last vestige of now-vanished management problems, and the organization is speaking with one voice for the first time in years.
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STAR-BULLETIN / 2007
Financial troubles for the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra resulted in musicians not receiving their final paychecks of the year last month. Here, Paula Fuga performs with the symphony.
In their holiday stockings a couple of weeks ago, Honolulu Symphony Orchestra musicians and staff did not even get a lump of coal. The cupboard was bare. Instead of their final paychecks of the year, they received IOUs.
Symphony and city officials even huddled on Christmas Eve to resolve the cash-flow crisis.
"It was a tipping point," said symphony bassoonist Paul Barrett, chairman of the musicians' committee. "We've been called the 'financially troubled Honolulu Symphony' for so long that it's become part of our name. Not getting a paycheck during the holidays is traumatic for anyone."
Ironically, noted Barrett, the paycheck crisis became public just as musicians, management and supporters were finally in harmony. Community contributions in the past few weeks have totaled more than $450,000, roughly triple the year-end donations of previous years. Musicians have been paid, and next week the entire symphony will make its first Maui tour in 15 years. It is back in the Blaisdell Concert Hall after having been evicted by Disney's "The Lion King."
Tom Gulick, the symphony's executive director, expressed gratitude for the public response and to the city for providing the Blaisdell Concert Hall rent-free in January.
"We're not out of the woods, and we're still a bit behind in payroll but we're a family now. We're all in this together," said Gulick.
Symphony Chairman Jeffrey Minter said he hoped that corporations and organizations will come forward as well, "because those are the institutions that can sponsor events."
The Christmas Eve summit included Gulick and Minter, as well as symphony officials Rick Fried and Bill McCorriston, meeting with Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Director of Enterprise Services Sid Quintal.
Quintal, in a letter published in this week's Star-Bulletin, urged the symphony to make its evolving financial situation public. "We're hoping they can get over this hump, and make sure they don't do it again," said Quintal. "We're giving them the benefit of the doubt. So far, so good! Cautiously optimistic."
In his letter, Quintal said that the city had offered to arrange for a lump-sum financial contribution from "Lion King" producers to the symphony, but the symphony turned it down. "You'll have to get the details from the symphony, but I think emotion might have played a role," said Quintal.
Minter declined to comment on that matter.
Barrett explained that "Lion King," "as wonderful as it was for Honolulu audiences," canceled the multiplier effect symphony productions have on the local economy.
"Other than eight or so local musicians and a handful of stagehands, the 'Lion King' money went elsewhere," said Barrett.
Barrett also called the current financial problem a "hump" that will be overcome. "In the past we were drifting, a perfect storm of problems and missed opportunities, lurching from crisis to crisis. Now -- for the first time in a very long time -- the musicians and management and supporters are speaking with one voice. We have trust in one another and have shared goals. It's like night and day. And the community senses this and is stepping up with contributions."
The main thing, cautioned Barrett, is that community support continue. "We're everybody's orchestra but we can't become complacent."
"There has been a sea change in public attitude toward the symphony," said Gulick.
Both Quintal and Barrett said that if $4 million in state funds earmarked for the symphony two years ago had been released by Gov. Linda Lingle, the current "hump" might have been averted.
According to a Lingle spokesman, the money has been released to the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, but the grant is held up because it requires matching funds. Minter said the actual total of matching funds to be raised is not clear. "We're looking into it."