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Symphony survival

A resurrected Hawaii symphony is on the cusp of delivering its music

By Steven Mark

LAST UPDATED: 2:25 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

The resurrection of a professional orchestra in Hawaii is creating a lot of noise these days. That noise might become music this fall.

A season of classical and pops concerts performed by the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, the new name of the former Honolulu Symphony, is expected to be announced within a few weeks, said representatives of the Symphony Exploratory Committee, the group of business and civic leaders trying to revive the orchestra.

"We're poised to hopefully have our new symphony … begin playing in October," said JoAnn Falletta, a highly regarded conductor who has been advising the group. "We've come so far that there's no turning back."

Falletta, who has taken on the role of artistic adviser for the symphony, said the major task facing the organization now is finding a place to play. The Honolulu Symphony performed in Blaisdell Concert Hall for decades, but when it declared bankruptcy in November 2009, other groups reserved the facility, making a traditional symphony schedule impossible.

"Right now, venue is the challenge that we face, and that's because of our lateness in putting this together," Falletta said. "We would normally have put together this season a year and a half ago."

Falletta and Steve Monder, the retired president of the Cincinnati Symphony who has also been advising the committee, said the organization's financial condition is firm enough to begin scheduling performance dates. Earlier this year the Symphony Exploratory Committee approved a $6 million budget for the season and reached a contract with the musicians union for a 30-week performance schedule.

Monder called the finances for the symphony "secure but not complete."

The group has pledges from donors, but contributions cannot be collected until a schedule is presented, Monder said.

"We have interest and support, but until we have a proper structure to accept it, we have to hold off a bit (on collecting funds)," he said.

As artistic director, Falletta has the responsibility of finding guest artists and conductors for the season, as well as helping fill any vacancies in the orchestra. She said Hawaii's attempt to restore the symphony has created a buzz in the classical music community on the mainland, with many artists indicating willingness to come here.

"On the mainland, people are hearing there's something happening here," said Falletta, conductor and music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. "It's so inspiring for people because right now we're looking at a symphony world where orchestras are very threatened. … I think it could be a beacon of hope for symphonies that are in trouble."

Falletta also listed a number of ways that the new symphony will try to deepen its ties to the community, among them concerts screened on the beach, travel to the neighbor islands and an expanded program for youth.

"Maybe it's a bit of a scary time because we don't know exactly what the new direction is going to take, but that's actually a time of opportunity for us, too," she said. "We're not bound by saying, ‘We've always done it this way, and so we always have to do it this way.' As long as we're making music at an extremely high level and playing it with the greatest respect for the people of this community, we can change the parameters in many other ways."

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