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Symphony cancels concerts and will downsize


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POSTED: Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Honolulu Symphony Society scrubbed its 2009 concert schedule and intends to downsize the 64-musician orchestra as it files for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy next week.

The announcement yesterday came a week after a majority of the board of directors of the 109-year-old orchestra voted to file for bankruptcy protection in the face of a debt that reached $1 million.

The decision will leave the Blaisdell Concert Hall dark on 11 dates in November and December despite “;decent”; ticket sales. Hundreds of season subscribers were advised to call the offices for information. The fate of the 2010 concert schedule is unknown.

“;We cannot spend money we don't have,”; said Executive Director Majken Mechling in a news release. “;We cannot continue with business as usual.”;

Board Chairman Peter Schaindlin said in the release that the society is hoping for a savior. “;Even now, political leaders, citizens, corporations and foundations in this state have an opportunity to step in.”;

The symphony announcement said its major budget expense is $4.1 million in payroll and benefits for the musicians and backstage and technical support staff. Ticket sales only cover 30 percent of costs, so donations are necessary to continue to function, it said.

;  In September the society received a $2 million advance from the Honolulu Symphony Foundation, making it possible to pay musicians for 11 weeks from last season.

“;It is a devastating experience for all of us,”; said Musicians Association of Hawaii spokesman Steve Dinion. “;We are shocked that they are going through with it, particularly since two months ago we gave them a half-million-dollar concession, which amounted to a 15 percent pay cut. They said that was what was needed to gain credibility and bring forth donations.”;

Several orchestra members received notification yesterday from the Hawaii Medical Service Association that their medical insurance coverage was canceled effective Nov. 1.

Attorney David Farmer, who represents the musicians union, said the notices could signal that there is an intention to undo the collective-bargaining agreement, which is in the second year.

“;They said they will seek Chapter 11 reorganization, but this has Chapter 7 written all over it. That would basically be liquidation. My prediction is they will end up with an empty carcass, and a new symphony will rise out of the ashes.”; That happened in Oakland, and “;there was no symphony for five years.”;

Groups that work with Honolulu Symphony members also expressed concerns.

Ballet Hawaii has worked with the Honolulu Symphony for more than 15 years, hiring its musicians for the annual “;Nutcracker”; production.

“;I feel terrible,”; said John Parkinson, executive director of Ballet Hawaii. “;We support both the musicians and the symphony.”;

He said the “;Nutcracker”; performance brings in top dancers from across the nation and will go on this year but might have to change its orchestration to suit a smaller number of musicians.

The Hawaii Youth Symphony has already seen two of its coaches, who were members of the Honolulu Symphony, move out of state because of the symphony's situation.

“;We're very concerned,”; said Chris Yuen, president of the Hawaii Youth Symphony.

Honolulu Symphony musicians serve as private instructors, mentors and coaches for the Youth Symphony. Without the Honolulu Symphony the talent pool for teachers would shrink as musicians move away, he said.

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Star-Bulletin reporter Rob Shikina contributed to this report.