Some good news for Honolulu

The Honolulu Symphony just got some really good news:

The Honolulu Symphony’s dire financial picture cleared considerably with a $1.175 million donation in the past week from one generous fan.

With the gift, the symphony was able to make up most of the pay musicians and staffers had forgone in recent months as the orchestra struggled with higher expenses and lower ticket sales.

The symphony paid the equivalent of seven weeks of back wages on Friday, said Kristin Jackson, a spokeswoman with the symphony.

Jackson would not identify the donor but said the individual has never given to the symphony before. The symphony likely will announce the donor’s identity today, Jackson said.

The Honolulu Symphony has never been one of the country’s more financially stable orchestras, but this year has been particularly bad, according to the Honolulu Advertiser:

The symphony had a rough year financially in part because of being displaced from the Blaisdell Concert Hall, its regular venue, by “The Lion King” tour, which ran from September to December.

The move to smaller — often more expensive venues — simultaneously cost the orchestra more money while ticket revenues decreased by at least $500,000. The regular operating budget of $6 million or $7 million rose to about $8 million.

Being displaced by traveling Broadway shows has become something of a theme of orchestras in trouble. It’s happened in St. Paul, it’s happened here, and according to friends in Columbus, it’s a factor in their situation as well (apparently the stagehands have been less than helpful there in large part because having a shorter orchestra season would allow more Broadway show weeks, which would provide more employment for stagehands).

I wonder if one of the common factors separating the orchestras that the Flanagan report identified as usually having surpluses from the rest was control over their primary venue. The causality may run the other way, of course – well-run orchestras are more likely to have found the funding to build a hall. But I doubt one could find any orchestra management who controlled their venue who would be willing to give that up, regardless of the headaches of running a venue. Not getting thrown out of one’s main venue for months on end at the whim of the city, or county, or some other entity that doesn’t give a damn about orchestras is, as the ads say, priceless.


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