Honolulu symphony bankruptcy saga


The long Honolulu symphony bankruptcy saga entered another, hopefully final phase on December 13th when the Honolulu Symphony Society (HSS) Board of Directors requested the court to place Hawaii’s besieged 110-year-old orchestra into Chapter 7 bankruptcy (liquidation). Federal Judge Robert Faris confirmed the expected request. Faris said in open court, “this entity has to stop” and instead of giving the Society until the end of December as they had asked, he made the order effective as of that day and that moment. Amen! This is the first positive news to come out on the matter and I’ll get to that part in a moment.

Judge Faris had been very professional during the year since the Honolulu Symphony declared bankruptcy and stopped holding concerts — but it was clear to anyone watching that he had, early on, grown weary of the vacuous testimony routinely delivered by Ms. Majken Mechling — the most recent in a long series of unqualified executive directors of the Honolulu Symphony.

What the fiscally (and morally) bankrupt HSS Board might have been thinking when they hired yet another ED with zero experience in managing a symphony orchestra — in the very midst of a fiscal catastrophe and giving her a $175,000 annual salary — is anyone’s guess. Mechling’s last gig was as ED of the American Diabetes Association. In Hawai`i and why anyone thought that qualified her for the HSS job is in itself worth pondering. But there she was in front of the bankruptcy court representing our 110-year old symphony orchestra — overdressed with too much clanking jewelry.

Sadly, the entire story of the loss of Hawaii’s revered symphony orchestra reeks with the stench of a corrosive combination of elitism, favoritism, nepotism, the failure of perhaps otherwise good people to stand up and speak truth to power — and just plain meanness. Hawai`i is a very small state with a little over 900 thousand of it’s 1.36 million residents concentrated on the small island of Oahu. Once one subtracts the large 2nd-language immigrant population, the working poor and the very poor, it get lonely at the top of uber-affluent Waialae Iki and Kahala. Obviously some very nice people live there too — but many of the boorish, bored board types and their handmaidens all hang together. In that social set, nobody criticizes anybody even in the face of such obviously bad decisions. I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks, but I do want to leave you, dear reader, on my promised positive note. Now that the deed is finally done and the old HSS organization is pau, rumor has it that three separate groups have been meeting to discuss rebirthing the orchestra. One could be led to believe that the money is out there with 6.4 percent of Hawaii’s households being classified as millionaires, but as one might imagine, the devil is always in the details.