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Symphony revival sized up


A group of prominent business and civic leaders has formed a committee aimed at returning the bankrupt Honolulu Symphony to the concert stage.

Led by Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Oz Stender, the group, informally named the Symphony Exploratory Committee, has asked Steve Monder, retired president of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and JoAnn Falletta, acclaimed conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, to develop a business model for the symphony. The group also filed for nonprofit status.

Falletta has served as artistic adviser for the symphony and has been a guest conductor here.

"It would be a shame if Hawaii does not have a world-class symphony," Stender said. "We’re the crossroads of the Pacific, and culturally we’d be starving if we didn’t have a symphony. … And I think the youth would really suffer."

Other committee members were identified as former Hawaii first lady Vicky Cayetano, a former symphony board member; Paul Kosasa, president of ABC Stores; Mark Polivka, president of Monarch Insurance; attorney Ken Robbins; Mona Abadir, chief executive officer of Honu Group; Mitch D’Olier, president of Kaneohe Ranch Co.; Gabe Lee, executive vice president of American Savings Bank; and Barron Guss, president of Altres Corp.

The group has been meeting quietly over the past few months, Stender said, but Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced its existence Monday night at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organizational meeting.

Abercrombie is "very strong in supporting the symphony," Stender said. "So he wanted people to know that there’s an opportunity here to rebuild the symphony."

Stender said the group has not yet reached out to the former symphony management or the community at large.

"We wanted to approach this thing with no baggage or bias," he said.

The outreach effort will start soon, said Cayetano, who said her motivation springs from a belief that music "represents the soul of our community."

"Definitely high on our list is organizing our community to see if there is support for our efforts," said Cayetano, adding "accountability and transparency" will be emphasized by the group. She said it should take about four months to see if community support for the symphony is strong enough to continue.

The symphony filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in November 2009 and converted the case to liquidation last December. Attorney Richard Yanagi has been assigned to oversee the sale of its assets, such as the music library, pianos and percussion instruments. He has requested a preliminary date of March 16 to hold the sale.

Monder, who retired from the Cincinnati Symphony in 2008, said his plan will focus on making the orchestra "absolutely essential to a large number of people here," while "keeping at its core the mission of performing great symphonic music. If we can craft ourselves to be of value to a lot of people, then there will be greater resources to sustain us."

Jonathan Parrish, spokesman for the musicians, welcomed the announcement of the group.

"Musicians are very excited to hear that this group of community leaders is seeking ways of restoring a professional orchestra in Hawaii," he said, "It makes us optimistic about the future of symphonic music for us."

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