At last week’s Midwest Clinic, a colleague asked about the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra’s (HSO) impending bankruptcy. She was curious why the board decided to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy (known as reorganization or rehabilitation bankruptcy) as opposed to Chapter 7 (also called liquidation bankruptcy). At the core of the conversation was the HSO’s plan to reorganize as a per service or dual core/per service artistic structure…
The HSO board and executive leadership have been purporting the reorganization’s plan to reduce the number of salaried musicians from the mid 60s down to somewhere in the low to mid 20s as a model they claim will meet the area’s demand. However, throughout the organization’s history of financial trouble, the musicians have remained steadfast against the idea, claiming that it will be too difficult to attract quality musicians and eventually hurt the community. They also assert increased production costs associated with a per service structure will mitigate any potential savings.
What will be fascinating to watch is how all of this will shake itself out when the HSO presents their reorganization plan to a court appointed trustee. Ideally, the HSO and its musicians will work out these details to mutually satisfying terms before they present a plan to the trustee and this is where musician stakeholders will have an opportunity to assert the most influence on the organization’s fate.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the variables in a situation like this are numerous and interact in dynamic fashion so prognosticating is, at best, an academic exercise. Nonetheless, the artistic complement to any proposed business model will be a critical component to the reorganization plan. If the HSO and musician stakeholders do not come to an agreement or if a trustee is not satisfied with the business details associated with the proposed artistic structure, the HSO could find itself moving from reorganization to liquidation.
Although Chapter 7 has an undeniable stigma attached to it, there have been instances in the business where that option has produced favorable results. In Colorado Springs, the former Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra and its stakeholder musicians did not see eye to eye on the organization’s future. As a result, the musicians didn’t oppose the board’s petition to file Chapter 7 and working with local philanthropic leaders, formed a new board and orchestral association, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, the very next season. Ultimately, time will tell if path is one that might provide a better solution to Hawaii’s future of live, orchestral classical music.
- More on the HSO bankruptcy: Honolulu Symphony files for bankruptcy, plans to downsize, 12/19/2009 Honolulu Adviser.
Speaking of the Midwest Clinic, here’s a photo from the American Composers Forum booth. Just to get a good idea of just how small this business can seem, the gentleman on the left is composer Stephen Paulus. At the Grand Teton Music Festival this past summer, I had the pleasure of hearing the premier of Stephen’s cello concerto which was performed by cellist and Inside The Arts blogger Lynn Harrell. The lovely woman in the middle is composer Alex Shapiro. Regular readers will recognize Alex’s name from several articles here, including her mind expanding contribution to the 2006 Take A Friend To The Orchestra program.