I was driving home a week ago when I heard an interview on the radio with a couple talking about founding the Orchestra of the Hawaiian Islands. (MP3 download) Now given that the Honolulu Symphony has just declared bankruptcy after years of financial struggles, this elicited a “say what?” moment for me.
It turns out this is a program of American Music Festivals, a once Chicago and now I guess Hawaii based organization. The organization was founded in Chicago and created project based ensembles to perform cultural exchange concerts in Russia and Eastern Europe in addition to the Chicago area. Apparently this was accomplished by contracting freelance Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians.
American Music Festivals is run by a husband and wife, artistic director and executive director team. When she was offered a job at a school on the Big Island of Hawaii, they moved their operations to that state. Their intention is to utilize Honolulu Symphony musicians to increase the size of their projects from their current 12 piece string ensemble up to full symphony size.
They aren’t looking to replace the Honolulu Symphony at all. If the symphony is revitalized, they envision themselves complementing its outreach efforts. Much of their interest is in local and international outreach. Their plan is to institute cultural exchanges with Japan and perhaps other Asian countries. They hope to bring Hawaiian music to Japan and add the music to their existing exchanges in Eastern Europe.
What interested me about the interview was the concept of how technology, transportation and communications allows endeavors like this to be so mobile. Where they live seems to have little bearing on whether they can accomplish their goals.
Of course, part of this is due to the fact their organization has no fixed orchestra. When asked whether he might one day want to establish an orchestra with regular salaried members, Artistic Director Philip Simmons said, “Why would I want to do that though? Why would I want to create all those problems for myself?” The organization focuses on project driven events which provides them with the flexibility to do different things with a variety of groups locally and worldwide.
Simmons suggests that maybe the old models and formulas for a concert experience aren’t working anymore. He doesn’t say his structure is necessarily the new way, but offers it as an alternative.
Given that the Honolulu Symphony has talked about operating with a much reduced ensemble, perhaps a collaboration between them and the Orchestra of the Hawaiian Islands (OHI) can bring enough funding together to assemble the numbers the Honolulu Symphony had performing for them in the past. They wouldn’t necessarily be competing for the same funding pot. The OHI is serving an area of the state the Honolulu Symphony once did but really hasn’t had the funding to do so in recent past. OHI may be able to gain funding from people interested in supporting local performances.