A Taste of Honolulu’s Grand Plan

Let’s see if you can answer today’s orchestra management question:

Q: What do you call an orchestral association that doesn’t employ orchestra musicians?

A: A presenter…

We’ll learn more about Honolulu Symphony’s Mystery Meat after this Friday.

According to reports in an article by Marisa Yamane in the 10/10/2010 edition of Hawaii’s KHON2.com, the impending Chapter 11 re-organization plan from the current Honolulu Symphony leadership would turn the 110 year old orchestra association into a performing arts presenter. The punch line is they would apparently consider themselves a symphony orchestra association.

However, it seems that the Honolulu Symphony’s current executive director, Majken Mechling, doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that in order to be a symphonic orchestra, the organization must actually employ enough orchestral musicians to perform orchestral music. According to the KHON2.com report, Mechling claims that the organization will opt for hiring and importing predominantly Asian orchestras as a cornerstone of their re-organization plan. The other components of the plan intend to focus on education programs that “reach out to young children” and community outreach in the form of “apprenticeships and scholarships.”

The brief descriptions of the education and outreach components sound particularly generic and ordinary within the field (not to mention the Honolulu Symphony had similar programs in place prior to filing for bankruptcy) but without additional details, we won’t know more. Consequently, the only component that appears to be changed from the previous structure is permanently replacing existing contracted musicians with subcontracted orchestras from outside the US.

Ultimately, the proposal to move from orchestral association to presenter is one the bankruptcy judge will have to consider when the Honolulu Symphony presents the complete plan at the next scheduled bankruptcy hearing this Friday.

In the meantime, if you’re just getting up to speed on what’s been happening at the Honolulu Symphony and what sort of executive Mechling is, you can catch up through the Honolulu Symphony article index.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “A Taste of Honolulu’s Grand Plan

  1. Hmmmnnn..

    Nothing wrong with being a presenter, but using Honolulu Symphony Association (as opposed to a now defunct ‘Honolulu Symphony Orchestra’ moniker)still seems a bit sketchy because of past activity.

    I may have a “Modest Proposal” (Sorry Mr. Swift!)to this image problem, however. Looking at the most recent issue of Trade-A-Plane, the Association could purchase a 20 year-old Airbus or Boeing commercial airliner for less than $8 million (maybe as little as $4 million in this economy), paint it with the Honolulu Symphony Association logo, and go pick up the orchestras they invite to play.

    (It is all so sad, really!)

  2. The current Honolulu Symphony management begs to be shamed, ridiculed, laughed at, and mercilessly lampooned. They are worse than inept– they are brazenly satisfied with their own ignorance. At a recent splashy club event in Waikiki, they unveiled a tasteless vision for the future of the orchestra which apparently incorporates crude elements of rap and hip-hop. Too bizarre for words.

  3. I feel like throwing a marathon luau featuring the complete works of Milton Babbitt. And that’s not a happy feeling to have.

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