Bankruptcy could threaten Honolulu Symphony

Bankruptcy could threaten Honolulu Symphony
Minou Lallemand
Minou Lallemand
Noelle Tarumoto
Noelle Tarumoto

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

IWILEI (Hawaii News Now) - After years of money troubles, sources tell Hawaii News Now that the Honolulu Symphony may finally be going bankrupt.

But the Symphony's top executives are keeping so quiet, its musicians and even city leaders say they're frustrated with the communication breakdown.

Honolulu's Department of Enterprise Services says it's been trying to get a hold of the Symphony's management for a week now, but still no word.

A spokesperson for the Symphony's musicians, Stephen Dinion, says they've also been trying to contact management the past few days, but their calls have not been returned.

That leaves the Honolulu Symphony entering its 110th season on an uncertain note.

Sources say bankruptcy threatens to upstage the Symphony's performance.

Budget woes have already forced the Symphony to reschedule this weekend's concert series to next year. Enterprise Services Department Director, Sidney Quintal, says the Symphony failed to tell the city about the cancellation.

The Enterprise Services Department rents out the Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall to the Symphony. Under a contract with the city, the Symphony must pre-pay in installments to buy certain dates. Quintal says if the Symphony cancels an event, it must still pay the city for the venue.

The Symphony has paid through January. But with bankruptcy talks looming, the future of the orchestra is in question, and city leaders say the symphony is not giving them answers.

A Symphony spokesperson says only Board Chair Peter Shaindlin and Executive Director Mijken Mechling are authorized to comment - a comment they have yet to make.

At Ballet Hawaii in Iwilei, dance teachers say, as far as they know, their annual Nutcracker show with the Honolulu Symphony in December will still go on.

"The Symphony has been performing with Ballet Hawaii for as long as I can remember and it's just a very special tradition to have them for Christmas," said Minou Lallemand, a ballet teacher.

It's a tradition dancers say they prefer over having to perform with taped music.

"I'd rather have the Symphony, because it's nicer and it's clearer," said 11-year-old Noelle Tarumoto, one of the Nutcracker ballet dancers.

The Honolulu Symphony has been plagued with financial problems for years, leaving musicians without a paycheck at times.

By the time the 2008-2009 season ended in May, the Symphony still owed musicians 15 weeks of back pay.

In September, musicians re-opened contract talks to tackle the Symphony's budget woes.

The Symphony Foundation offered an advance of $1.8 million to cover back wages, on the condition that musicians appoint a new executive director, and create a new budget plan for the 2009-2010 season.

Musicians, conductors and staff also agreed to a 15% paycut.

On September 14, Mechling was appointed as the new Executive Director to lead the symphony out of its financial turmoil.

Dinion says they were told as early as October that management identified funding to get through the end of November. He says a fundraiser was also in the works to raise $1 million by the end of the year, to get through the rest of the season.

Unanswered questions may be addressed on Tuesday, when the city meets with the Symphony's management to talk about the orchestra's financial situation.

It starts at 4:00 p.m. at the Blaisdell Center offices.