Symphony to reorganize


POSTED: Friday, September 04, 2009

Honolulu Symphony officials announced a head-to-toe remake of the organization's structure yesterday, plus new financing that brings musicians' paychecks up to date, and the symphony will announce a new director next week.

“;When Wall Street collapsed, suddenly we were way behind,”; said Peter Shaindlin, chairman of the Honolulu Symphony Society. “;We approached the Honolulu Symphony Foundation for an advance, and they wanted us to take a good hard look at our business model.”;

The shakeup is unexpected in the rarefied air of symphonic music. Most American symphonies, founded in an age of enormous corporate bequests to endowments, are “;very status quo”; in the way they handle the business, said Shaindlin. “;It's just their culture.”;

The symphony foundation advanced the symphony society $2.131 million, largely contingent upon the “;appointment of a new executive director and development of a comprehensive balanced budget and a detailed business action plan,”; according to Mark Wong, foundation president. “;Those were the strings we attached.”;

;[Preview]  Honolulu Symphony moving ahead with concert season

Symphony undergoing organizational and financial changes.

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Consulting with a number of advisers, “;we discovered that our business organization was very static and inconsistent, when it needs to be flexible, changing almost with every concert,”; explained Shaindlin.

While the reorganization uses top-to-bottom cost-cutting measures—including an across-the-board 15 percent pay cut for every employee, including directors—the books showed that the largest expense was musician pay, something that simply could not be covered by limited admission income. Admissions were only bringing in 30 percent of the income, leaving the symphony to scramble for the other 70 percent from donors and endowments. As costs went up and revenue fell, the gap grew wider.

“;The irony is that this lack of consistent financial growth occurred while the symphony's artistry grew better and better,”; said Shaindlin, acknowledging that tough times forced the organization to get tough with itself.

One hidden goal was to increase public confidence in the organization. Replacing departed director Tom Gulick, the orchestra is keeping the identity of the new director under wraps, although, for the first time, the symphony has recruited locally.

The symphony's board has also doubled in size—to 30 from 14—seeking more hands-on members.

“;This new financial plan was created in incredible detail, to prove to donors we care about every aspect of the business and will carry through,”; said Shaindlin. “;We've written a bible for the symphony business.”;