Not A Post About Philadelphia

In order to head off the steady flow of emails and FaceTweet messages coming in asking about Philadelphia, know this: I don’t plan on writing anything about it until after the blackouts are lifted. That being said, today’s post is going to focus on news this week from Honolulu where it looks like the island is once again home to a professional orchestra…

Early reports indicate that the Symphony Exploratory Committee, the group which purchased all of the defunct Honolulu Symphony Orchestra’s assets lock stock and barrel, has reached a deal with the musicians’ union that puts 64 musicians under employment for 30 weeks a year with an annual payment of $30,000 per year for the first two years and $31,250 in year three (via 4/12/2011 Pacific Business News). Beyond those figures, not much is known about the agreement and copies are not yet available; in fact, some of the new orchestra’s musicians have yet to see a complete version of the agreement.

Moreover, the three year agreement is reportedly a wait-and-see style arrangement as reports the following:

During the 3rd year of this agreement, if the Board confirms a 2014-2015 season, a $1,000 retention bonus will be paid to each core orchestra musician.

One of the initial challenges for the new group will be securing suitable performance venues as the traditional concert hall is currently home to an extended Broadway show run. There’s also no word yet on the new orchestra’s name or who will be running the organization beyond the current administrative caretaker, former Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra president Steven Monder.

Until more details are available, here’s the official joint press release from the Symphony Exploratory committee and the musicians announcing the deal.


HONOLULU – April 12, 2011: The Symphony Exploratory Committee announced today that it has reached a three-year agreement with the musicians of the former Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. At a joint press conference, the group of civic and business leaders and the musicians of the soon to be named orchestra, announced an approved contract and are developing plans for a 2011-2012 season. The Symphony Exploratory Committee recently purchased the entire lot of assets from the former Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, which was sold at auction after Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.

The Committee, led by Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Oz Stender, includes Mona Abadir, chief executive officer of Honu Group; VickyCayetano, chief executive officer of United Laundry, Mitch D’Olier, president of Kaneohe Ranch Co.; Barron Guss, president of Altres Corporation; Paul Kosasa, president of ABC Stores; Gabe Lee, executive vice president of American Savings Bank; Mark Polivka, president of Monarch Insurance; and attorney Ken Robbins. With the assistance of JoAnn Falletta, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony, and former President of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Steven Monder, the Committee has now completed negotiations and is moving forward with an approved budget for a new season to begin in the fall of 2011.

“Committee members recently met to confirm our joint belief that having a symphony orchestra organization in Hawaii is critical to the State’s artistic and economic vitality,” said Stender. “This agreement and the purchase of the assets of the former Honolulu Symphony – including instruments and music – are both significant landmarks in making the dream of a new orchestra a reality.

“In the coming months, we will work together with supporters of orchestral music, community leaders, musicians, civic and government leaders, the Honolulu Symphony Foundation, performing arts companies and artists, as well as residents and music lovers in general, to confirm their participation in creating this new orchestra,” offered Vicky Cayetano.”

Musicians’ spokesperson, Jonathan Parrish added, “This agreement represents what we expect will be a very productive and rewarding relationship between the musicians and the Symphony Exploratory Committee. The SEC’s recognition of the value of what a resident orchestra brings to our community made it possible to come to an agreement quickly. Throughout the negotiations, we felt we were treated with respect as professional musicians and are grateful for the Committee’s commitment to a resident professional orchestra in Hawaii. The Symphony Exploratory Committee members have said a professional orchestra is the soul of our state. The actual concerts have always just been the tip of the iceberg. The musicians of the orchestra are an important music resource for the entire community and state. Through their regional and educational concerts, school programs, private teaching, chamber music concerts and more, the orchestra enhances the quality of life for everyone.”

In the coming months, the Committee, which recently was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation and has subsequently filed for federal tax exempt status, will reach out to the community to quantify its needs from educational, artistic, civic, and economic perspectives to help determine the prioritization of the orchestra’s activities and programs.

With the assistance of Monder and Falletta, Committee members will continue to develop artistic and business plans for a healthy and vibrant new resident professional orchestra in Honolulu that will provide all residents, schools and families the artistic, educational, and professional resources they need to thrive and maintain Honolulu as a culturally rich city.

“This agreement is extremely good news for the people of Hawaii, who will be able to enjoy their superb symphony again in the very near future. I am deeply grateful to the members of the committee, to Steven Monder and to the musicians for their dedication and firm conviction that the symphony orchestra is a critical artistic, educational and economic resource for our state,” said Falletta. “There is a limited amount of time to plan a season, given that many artists and performance spaces are already booked, so you might see some differences in the types of packages and series than what was offered previously. We must be more agile in programming and scheduling, possibly presenting festivals and showcasing more local talent. Although a challenge, it should also be seen as an opportunity.”

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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0 thoughts on “Not A Post About Philadelphia

  1. Drew-

    I was wondering about this bit of the agreement I saw online and wonder if you know any details-

    “$1,000 of each musician’s salary may be used for regional (statewide) radio and television broadcasts.”


    I know that there were concerns about the way the marketing was handled in the past so perhaps the musicians wanted to ensure there were sufficient funds to run a proper campaign.

    This seems like bad move for both the musicians and the administration.

    Knowing that they can call upon $64,000 from the musicians, the management may not put sufficient effort into budgeting enough money for promotion.

    Having some skin in the game as it were, the musicians may feel they have greater license to criticize the promotional campaigns.

    Am I missing something? Was this misreported or lacking key details?

    • I am wondering about this point too and from what I can tell, it looks like the media agreement is structured as a flat fee as opposed to a per use system. Assuming that’s correct, I don’t know if it will have impact on overall marketing budgets but to that end, I did notice a quote from one of the SEC members stating that the new organization will have smaller overhead costs. that too is a general statement but I don’t think administrative expenses were unrealistic in the old group so much as ineffective.

      Granted, I’m hoping more details will be produced over the next few weeks that will cast more light on all of this.

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