The Day The Music Lived Again

Hawaii Symphony Orchestra

Opening night for the new Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. Twain Newhart photo

There were many moments during the opening of the new Hawaii Symphony Orchestra that made my throat clutch with emotion. The first came before a single note sounded. We, the audience, were seated, riffling through the program with its teeny tiny print and staring up at an empty stage.

And then the musicians walked on.

We stood up and greeted them like heroes. We hollered. We clapped. We cheered. Some of us cried. And they, our wonderful, determined musicians, smiled back at us. Conductor Naoto Otomo stepped up to the podium and the music began.

To say it was an emotional night is an understatement. If “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” then it must be true that our symphony orchestra has built up a good bank of affection. It certainly felt like it in a packed house on opening night.

Now the question is: Can we sustain the love?

It’s a serious question and there are many who are hoping that things will be different this time around. The history of the Honolulu Symphony is turbulent, with more ups and downs than a theme park ride. The success or failure of the orchestra has always revolved around the same things: money, management and community support. Without all three there can be no symphony.

A lot of people are counting on new president Steven Monder, the former head of the Cincinnati Symphony, one of the largest in the country. Monder is backed by a group of the most dedicated and passionate people around – board members include Mona Abadir, Vicky Cayetano, Mitch D’Olier, Barron Guss, Paul Kosasa, Gabriel Lee, Mark Polivka, Ken Robinson and Oswald Stender. The board draws almost exclusively from the business sector – a good thing for an entity that has wrestled with, and been defeated by, the bottom line more than once.

They have expertise, community connections and passion to spare, but they can’t do it alone. The questions remain: Do we have a population that is large enough to sustain a symphony orchestra? Do we have the will, the commitment and the interest to ensure its survival this time around?

All I know is that it felt great to be in that concert hall and to experience once again the full aural symphonic experience.

The woman sitting next to me leaned over and said, “All is right with the world again.”

My neighbor, who attended the second performance on Tuesday night, said, “The important thing is, they’re back.”


My favorite moment when I go to a concert is always the same. The musicians tune their instruments (how I love that sound!). The conductor walks out amid applause and steps up to the podium.

And there is a beat of silence – that breathless anticipation – as the maestro takes measure of his people and raises his baton. And then, the music begins.

This time around, let’s – please – keep the music alive.