Hawaii Strong: Hawaii Symphony Orchestra returns to stage for first time in a year

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 5:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the last 14 months, the iconic Waikiki Shell has been silenced by the pandemic.

But this weekend, music is making a comeback as the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra will be kicking off an eight-part concert series.

It will be the orchestra’s ― and the Waikiki Shell’s ― first in-person event in more than a year.

[This story is part of HNN’s “Hawaii Strong” series, profiling businesses in the islands adapting to the pandemic and its economic fallout. To suggest a profile, send an email to hawaiistrong@hawaiinewsnow.com.]

“Music is a way to communicate without words, beyond words,” said HSO concert master Iggy Jang. “So when you’re told you cannot perform your vocation, your passion, you cannot communicate anymore.”

To stay in tune through COVID-19 shutdowns, the HSO hosted online performances, but couldn’t escape a $2.1 million hit in ticket revenue.

Fundraising and donations were critical in balancing the books.

“We all thought that we’d miss a couple performances and we’d snap back right away, but for us, it was how do we redefine what success looks like?” said HSO Executive Director Dave Moss.

“Success was 2,500 people at the Blaisdell, now it’s 200 people and a full orchestra at the Waikiki Shell, but it’s a step in the right direction for getting back to normal.”

The work to get here was a multi-act performance in itself as HSO had to establish extensive safety and distancing protocols for its musicians, staff, and the audience.

“There’s no intermission, so there’s no mingling between audience members and for our musicians on stage, rigorous protocols in place,” Moss said. “All the musicians are being tested twice, even though most have been vaccinated at this point. We really are committed to finding a safe way to return.”

This past fall, the orchestra launched a concert series titled ‘Sounds of Resilience.’

This weekend is the first of an eight-show set that’ll last through the summer, featuring the work of local composer Michael-Thomas Foumai.

In a way, the performances are providing an opening overture for the return into a pre-pandemic world.

“You can play for two people, 20 people, 200 people or 2,000 people, we put the same sort of professionalism to our music and it’s just this communication that is a dialogue between musicians and audience,” Jang said.

“That is what we miss the most and that is what we’re looking forward to the most.”

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