Honolulu Symphony cancels remaining 2009 concerts

AP News
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Posted: Nov 07, 2009 12:12 AM

The Honolulu Symphony said Friday it's canceling concerts for the rest of the year and filing for bankruptcy, citing a big drop in donations.

The symphony, the oldest in the nation west of the Rocky Mountains, said it has $1 million in debt and doesn't have enough money to support operations into November and beyond.

The Honolulu Symphony Society's board of directors voted to file for Chapter 11 protection at a special meeting on Oct. 30. Papers will be submitted to court next week.

"We made payroll, even in this economy, through October. But when we reached toward the end of October, cash ran out and dried up," said Peter Shaindlin, the board's chairman.

Ticket sales have generally been OK, though weak at some recent events. Even so, ticket revenue covers only 30 percent of costs, and donations, which cover the remaining 70 percent, have dropped sharply during the recession.

"These are difficult economic times and everyone is doing whatever it takes to maintain the products and services they provide in our community while being economically prudent," executive director Majken Mechling said in a statement.

The 109-year-old body hopes to come back as a leaner and more efficient operation, but it's not clear when concerts will resume. The symphony is aiming for early next year, said spokeswoman Kristin Jackson said.

The symphony spends $4.1 million each year on payroll and benefits. Musician salaries account for the biggest single expense.

Mechling said the symphony can't continue to sustain a 64-piece orchestra, but she didn't say how many musicians the organization would have in the future.

The organization's finances have been in trouble for about two years.

In May 2008, an anonymous donor gave $1 million to cover almost two months of unpaid wages. Earlier this year, the symphony took a $2.1 million advance from its endowment to pay employees several months of back pay.