JoAnn Falletta conducts.
Image: courtesy Hawai‘I Symphony

As our city symphony returns to the stage, some players from behind the scenes confide their hopes

The sleeping beauty formerly known as the Honolulu Symphony has awakened from fitful slumber, thanks to the heroic new board of directors, the intrepid musicians who kept the faith, and the brilliant JoAnn Falletta, who arranged the conductors, soloists, and repertoire for its exciting new season as the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.

Falletta conducted the Symphony’s last concert two years ago, before it fell under the silent spell. “It was one of the most emotional moments of my life,” Falletta says as she remembers, “how silent these two years have been.”

Goard chairman Oswald Stender, an Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) trustee, comments on why this orchestra matters. “Culturally we would be remiss. We would be the only state in the union that has no symphony. You[‘d] have to go to California or someplace else,” Stender says.

“Imagine if we threw out of the library everything that’s been written for the last 300 years,” Falletta adds.

Success, naturally, is a recurring theme among the organizers. Another major member of the resuscitation team was Steven Monder, manager for many years of the powerhouse Cincinnati Symphony. Monder came out of retirement to help the Symphony steer a course toward sustainability. Regarding the long-term odds, however, Monder is cautious in his predictions. “You have your good periods, your not so good periods, and most of the time it’s in between,” he says.

Sustainability, most agree, depends on community involvement, with various ideas as to how to achieve this. Falletta believes in the sheer power of the music to reach people. Monder hopes for multiple streams of revenue.

Stender spoke of bottom-line appeal: “Not everybody loves Beethoven’s Fifth. If you look at ticket sales, the Pops were fantastic. And with the symphonic music, when they played with artists from out of town, particularly from the Orient, big sales.”

All three approaches will probably play out. The new board met for months without involving any parties to the last debacle, letting the past be the past until they had enough of a plan to begin to consult the musicians. The players were cautious at first, but became enthusiastic once the curtain really was set to rise. A primary fear was that there would be another faltering start as happened two years back, when a season was shuttered early for lack of funds. This time, the new board of directors has set up a solidly funded, if brief, season.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t start too soon,” Monder muses, “but eventually you have to jump in, and we think this is the time. We have a significant season with significant artists.”

The guest performers and programs lined up by Falleta include several Hawaii favorites and a few new faces like Manuel Barrueco playing Rodrigo’s exquisite Concierto de Aranjuez. Falletta kicked off the season with local darling Lisa Nakamichi playing Mozart under the baton of conductor Naoto Otomo, and will end it with Jon Kimura Parker playing Gershwin and Rachmaninoff under Jung-Ho Pak.

“It’s a wonderful collection of people playing everything from Dvorak, to Takemitsu,” Falletta says. “It’s a very diverse program, but with an emphasis on treasures that people have really missed in the last two years.”

Our hometown musicians have sorely missed playing, as well. Some stayed and taught or played chamber music. Others have come “back from the mainland on two and three weeks’ notice to be with us,” Falletta says. “That they’re so passionate about the orchestra and playing for the people of Hawaii, it’s deeply moving.”

This season, it can’t be overemphasized, is an experiment, and it will take concerted effort from all parties–players, community, and audiences–to succeed. Hawaii Opera Theater’s season made a stirring prelude, and HOT is providing logistical assistance with ticket sales.

“We’re going to know how important the Symphony is to the community and how well are they going to support it,” Stender cautions.

“That’s the easy part,” Falletta enthuses. “Just come to the concerts and enjoy the music, and help as much as you can, whether it’s a small donation or a letter to a congressman. Take a child, attend a free event, just keep music in your life, and that’s a pleasure! And spread the word that the Symphony is back.”

How could we not? Such an orchestra is a city’s pride and joy.

Listening forward: Symphony Spring schedule


Jeffrey Kahane, conductor and piano

Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall, 999 S. King St., Sun., 4/1 at 4:00pm and Tue., 4/3 at 7:00pm, tickets start at $30, $10 student tickets with ID, [hawaiisymphonyorchestra.org], 593-9468


JoAnn Falletta, conductor, Michael Ludwig, violin

4/6, 8:00pm & 4/7, 8:00pm


Sarah Hicks, conductor, Joe Burgstaller, trumpet

4/22, 4:00pm & 4/24, 7:00pm


Junichi Hirokami, conductor, Manuel Barrueca, guitar

Includes Takemitsu’s To the Edge of Dream for Guitar and Orchestra

5/4, 8:00pm & 5/6, 4:00pm


Maximiano Valdes, conductor, Zuill Bailey, cello

5/13, 4:00pm & 5/15, 7:00pm


Jung-Ho Pak, conductor, Jon Kimura Parker, piano

Includes Tan Dun’s Internet Symphony No. 1, “Eroica”

5/19, 8:00pm & 5/20, 4:00pm

Be Our Guest

With the addition of pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane to the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, this Sunday’s performance is bound to be uplifting and full of passion. Kahane’s resume includes everywhere from Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony to the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Israel Philharmonic. He has won numerous awards since the 1980s and recorded with greats such as Yo-Yo Ma. Honolulu, get ready.

The program starts off with Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, which Kahane will conduct from the piano. “[This is] a work that never ceases to move and inspire me,” Kahane says. “It is truly one of the most revolutionary works in the concerto form.”

The second half of the evening will be Dvorak’s New World Symphony, led by Kahane. “It is a piece that is particularly meaningful to anyone who cares about the history of music in America,” he says. While he has played both pieces many times, Kahane is looking forward to sharing his excitement with the revived symphony.