The Honolulu Symphony Society announced yesterday that it has "accepted the resignation" of the 63 musicians that comprise its orchestra—much to the surprise of the musicians.
The announcement came after two separate meetings this month in which the symphony society and the musicians union failed to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.
On Sunday the symphony society declared an impasse in the negotiations with the Musicians’ Association of Hawaii, Local 677 of the American Federation of Musicians, after the union rejected the society’s "best and final" offer. The union subsequently filed a grievance with the local office of the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that the society had not negotiated in good faith.
According to yesterday’s e-mail announcement, attributed to society Chairperson Kimberly Miyazawa Frank, the musicians are "organizing a new resident symphony orchestra staffed by Honolulu Symphony Orchestra musicians."
"Therefore, HSS has accepted the resignation of these musicians as of July 13, 2010," the statement read.
Musicians union President Brien Matson said the musicians are not organizing another orchestra and did not resign from the symphony. Matson said he was "absolutely surprised" to learn of the society’s announcement.
Jonathan Parrish, co-vice chairman of the Orchestra Committee, was one of two union representatives who attended a symphony society board meeting yesterday. He said he was asked directly whether the musicians intended to form another, independent orchestra and replied that they did not.
He said he and the other representative were excused from the meeting without any indication that the society was considering severing the musicians.
Parrish said there was no basis for the society’s contention that the musicians had resigned for any reason.
"It’s hard to think of anything that would lend itself to that conclusion," Parrish said. "This ‘resignation’ is not legal or valid. It did not occur."
Honolulu Symphony Executive Director Majken Mechling said the board’s understanding of the situation was based on public statements the musicians had previously made.
"There’s not much more we can clarify than that," she said. "The clarity has to come from them."
As part of yesterday’s announcement, Miyazawa Frank also stated that the society’s board of directors approved a "financially responsible and sustainable conceptual plan that will allow it to continue fulfilling its mission of providing live, professional symphonic music for the people of Hawaii."
The plan, which will be submitted to U.S. Bankruptcy Court for approval by Oct. 15, is based on an extensive organizational analysis commissioned by the society and calls for continued traditional symphonic concerts, community performances in ensemble and chamber music formats, and music education.
The musicians union has previously criticized the analysis for unreliable data collection and bias against the musicians. Yesterday, Parrish dismissed the new "Way Forward" plan as being built on concepts already successfully executed by the symphony for more than 50 years.
"There’s nothing new in their plan," he said.
The long-struggling symphony canceled half of its 2009-2010 season and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year. As part of its proposed reorganization, the symphony society has called for an overall budget reduction to $1.7 million in the first year of reorganization from roughly $8 million. Savings would be realized primarily through a drastic cut in concerts and other public performances.
While the symphony society had said it would retain all 63 musicians at a higher base pay, the musicians said the reduction in schedule would effectively cut their overall pay to $3,256 from $30,885 (prior to the bankruptcy filing).
Both sides say they are willing to resume negotiations, and used identical language to lay out the criteria for continued dialogue.
"We’re always willing to negotiate as long as what they are proposing is financially realistic and sustainable," Mechling said, echoing similar statements by Parrish and Matson.