Tag Archives: society can be really weird sometimes

Five Takeaways From The Conversation on Female Composers (Link)

Hey, y’all! I just wrote a follow-up to my last blog entry for NewMusicBox:

“Five Takeaways From The Conversation on Female Composers”

Many thanks to the fine folks over there. Feel free to continue the conversation! The places where I’d most like you to continue the conversation would be at local artistic committee meetings, at music stores, at your private teachers’, and anywhere else where repertoire is decided and debated.

It's been fun, Spectator!

It’s been fun, Spectator!


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In Which I Learn Why There Are No Great Women Composers

Lots of people have hobbies like knitting, jogging, or stamp collecting. Because I am the nerdiest nerd to ever nerd, the closest thing I have to a hobby is learning about the history of women in music. It’s a topic that doesn’t get as much press as the old chestnuts like “classical music is dying” or “Stradivari’s secret varnish” or “lockouts.” Nonetheless, once in a while the mainstream media will run articles about women composers, and when they do, I enjoy reading what other people have to say on the topic.

Today a very special article ran in the conservative British magazine The Spectator. It’s called “There’s A Good Reason Why There Are No Great Women Composers.” I’m not going to link to it for reasons that will gradually become obvious to you.

It begins:

Last week a 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus to include the work of women composers.

Wow. A 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus? How did she do this? Did she hack an extensive computer network? Did she threaten the board and then hold it hostage? Did she storm their office with firearms and issue terrifying proclamations with her foot resting upon the skulls of her enemies?

The truth is actually far more frightening: she began a change.org petition.

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Naked Nymphs and the Atlanta Symphony

A provocatively titled blog post made the rounds the other day: “Maybe Atlanta Symphony Should Lock Out Its Marketing Department Instead.” It included a link to the Atlanta Symphony brochure for the ill-fated 2014-2015 season. I clicked it, thinking to myself, well, it can’t be any weirder than the Dallas Symphony’s Beefcake Beethoven

And then mid-thought this loaded.

aso brochure 1


Holy –

Holy wow.

I might as well warn you: I’m gonna talk about naked people now. So if you’ve got a problem with reading about naked people, I’ll catch you later, once I start writing about 990s again.

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Peter Gelb’s Series of Unfortunate Events

Another summer, another lockout looming!

This time it’s the Met’s. If you’ve been following my Twitter account, you know my thoughts. (There I’ve posted such in-depth analyses as Who looks at the Minnesota Orchestra negotiations and says, “I want THAT for my non-profit”? and I don’t think Peter Gelb got the memo about the power of audience advocate groups. Anyone want to deliver that memo? It’s kinda important.)

But as the deadline grows nearer, it’s time to dig deeper into the story. Let’s turn to the New York Times‘s July 23rd article, “Met Opera Prepares to Lock Out Workers.” Met General Manager Peter Gelb, here’s your chance to convince me you’re not Michael Henson 2.0. As you speak, keep in mind Song of the Lark Lockout Tip Number One:

When you’re preparing to initiate a lockout, don’t come across as a dick.

So. The floor is yours.


In letters to the company’s unionized workers, Mr. Gelb, who is seeking to cut pay and benefits, wrote that “if we are not able to reach agreements by July 31 that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis, please plan for the likelihood of a work stoppage beginning Aug. 1.” He added, “I sincerely hope to avoid such an unfortunate event.”


An unfortunate event? An “unfortunate event” is having to take a detour during construction season. An “unfortunate event” is getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. An “unfortunate event” is going into a bakery craving cherry doughnuts and finding out the guy in front of you just bought the last cherry doughnut.

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Advertising Beethoven’s Crotch

Whenever I need a break from music, I log on to Tumblr, scroll down, and zone out.

Then the other day in the midst of mindless scrolling I saw this.



Of course I immediately wondered if this was the work of a trickster with too much time on his hands and a grudge to bear against the Dallas Symphony, so I opened a new tab and Googled “dallas symphony beethoven festival brochures.”

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Michael Henson’s Massive Bonuses

Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson saw two massive bonuses as he was planning for his musicians’ major work stoppage, totaling $202,500.

This information comes courtesy of the 990 that covers the time period between 1 September 2011 and 31 August 2012. It was recently quietly posted on Guidestar.org. This document is not on the Minnesota Orchestra’s website, so you will have to go to Guidestar.org to see it.

Henson bonus

Click to enlarge

Henson took home $386,916 in base compensation – $202,500 in bonus and incentive compensation – $9,800 in retirement and other deferred compensation – and $20,097 in non-taxable benefits for a grand total of $619,313.

Here is the explanation on the 990.

supplemental information

Click to enlarge.

Michael Henson’s bonus amount in Part II, Section B, Column 2 consists of bonuses for two separate fiscal years that were paid in the same calendar year. The bonus for fiscal year 2011 was paid in March 2011 and the bonus for fiscal year 2012 was paid in December 2011. Per IRS regulations, this schedule was filled out based on the calendar year 2011.

For comparison’s sake, here are some other American orchestras by budget – their expenses – who their executive directors are – how much they were compensated – and what percentage of the budget their compensation is.

Here are orchestras who haven’t yet publicized their 2012 990. This is from FY 2011.

Los Angeles Philharmonic – $103,925,230. Deborah Borda – $1,602,228 – 1.5%

New York Philharmonic – $68,400,555. Zarin Mehta – $887,401 – 1.3%.

And here are orchestras who have publicized their 2012 990.

Boston Symphony – $85,844,758. Mark Volpe – $622,938 – 0.7%

Chicago Symphony – $80,055,672. Deborah Rutter – $577,189 – 0.7%

San Francisco Symphony – $78,338,012. Brent Assink – $638,857 – 0.8%

Philadelphia Orchestra – $57,182,000. Allison Vulgamore – $610,446 – 1.1%

Cleveland Orchestra – $51,298,527. Gary Hanson – $584,498 – 1.1%

St. Louis Symphony – $26,597,756. Fred Bronstein – $394,572 – 1.5%

Houston Symphony – $25,817,059. Mark Hanson – $295,979 – 1.1%

Baltimore Symphony – $25,116,360. Paul Meecham – $261,843 – 1%

The Pittsburgh Symphony, Dallas Symphony, and Indianapolis Symphony were in a time of leadership transition so I left them out.

The Minnesota Orchestral Association’s expenses were $32,908,241. Mr. Henson’s compensation was $619,313… or 1.9% of expenses, roughly double the rate of other orchestras.

Edit, 1pm: The entry was altered. I – and my proofreaders! – made a (rather embarrassing) decimal error in calculating the percentages above. Apologies. But the point of the entry still stands.

As everyone who has been following the lockout knows, the Minnesota Orchestra posted a six million dollar deficit in FY 2012. Michael Henson’s compensation and bonuses would account for a full tenth of a six million dollar deficit.


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2013 Symphony Ball

Well, before the story moves on and my memories become completely irrelevant, here are my thoughts on the 2013 Symphony Ball – or, to be more precise, the rally that Save Our Symphony Minnesota planned and executed during the 2013 Symphony Ball.

To my intense irritation, the media played up our gathering like they were expecting a second Haymarket Riot. The New York Times sported the headline MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA PLANS GALA; DISSONANCE IS EXPECTED. One local television station warned of an upcoming “tense protest.” WCCO called it “a situation.” People on Facebook said that things could “get ugly.” A politician even Tweeted that he was excited to mock us. It was ridiculous, especially since I’d sat in on conference calls with my fellow SOSMN volunteers, and I’d heard firsthand how they’d spent untold hours planning the event and mapping out messaging. They could not have made it any clearer in their media advisories and press releases that this was meant to be a peaceful celebratory rally led by audience advocates. Of course, this angle was the focus of approximately none of the mainstream media’s coverage.

Jon Stewart once said in an interview:

The bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict, and laziness.

There may be something to that.

I chose to wear evening dress (albeit with leg warmers, two layers of socks, and long underwear). After I got dressed, a friend brought me to the hall, and my mom and I walked around the block, taking in the scene. A large crowd had already gathered around Peavey Plaza, which looked like a combination circus, prison, and ShopKo garden center. There were tents, guards, and shrubberies. A tented sidewalk extended out from the hall’s main entrance, made a sharp turn to the left, and drained down to the empty Peavey Plaza fountain, which now was the location of a Symphony Ball tent, in which exciting activities would no doubt take place (dinner? dancing? dozing?). The tents didn’t have any windows, but there was a plastic French door on the Twelfth Street side that bravely attempted to add elegance to the proceedings. Generators buzzed near the sidewalks with massive cords leading into the great white tent. What were they for? Lighting (a blue hue eventually began glowing from the ceiling)? Heaters? A DJ booth? Endless possibilities! Parked next to the generators were trucks full of wine bottles. Caterers were unloading them. They were dressed like stewards on the Titanic.

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Save Our Symphony Rally

I was invited to speak at Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s rally “Ending the Lockout Will Be A Ball.” Details here. I mean it when I say it’s a tremendous honor to have been asked. I also mean it when I say it’s incredibly awkward to be asked to speak, when Michael Henson is going to be a few hundred feet away, not listening to any of us, and attempting to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a non-existent orchestra, and maybe coming up with a condescending soundbite to give to the press about us.

We have indeed entered The Twilight Zone.

This will be the weirdest Symphony Ball in human history. There will be no symphony. Michael Henson, Jon Campbell, and Richard Davis will be ensconced inside (obviously). There will be security personnel milling about to protect vulnerable donors from The Union. The tents have already sprung up in Peavey Plaza. Some of the wilder rumors circulating include suggestions that windows are being darkened and shrubbery is being rented to shield the people who are fundraising for the orchestra…from the orchestra. As I always say, what’s the use of a $50 million glass lobby if you can’t obscure it with shrubbery and dark window cling? Yeah, that’s right: there is no point.

Anyway, SOSMN is having a rally to show support for the…I don’t even know what to call it at this point. I want to say “the orchestra”, but there’s this idea circulating that the musicians aren’t the orchestra, so… We’re there supporting the people who play great orchestral music in Minneapolis; let’s say that. There will be musicians there, friends there, families there. Some people will be dressed in gowns and tuxes. Others will be in sweaters and sweatshirts. It’s not going to be that structured…just a fun time milling about in downtown Minneapolis with some really fabulous first-rate music in all sorts of genres. We’re not out to vilify anybody. Just want to have a great time, chatting, dancing, singing, and listening. If our presence makes the board uncomfortable, then that’s not our problem, frankly. It’s about time they remember there’s an audience out there, because they sure haven’t listened to us so far!

Here’s an approximate visual representation of how I’m thinking this party will go down.

  • Arrhythmic dancing
  • A band
  • A guy in a suit
  • A guy in a sweatshirt
  • More dancing
  • Singalongs
  • Random hugs

I can’t guarantee there will be scantily clad dancers, pyro, or an abominable snowman with Shake Weights, but other than that, I think it’ll be very similar!

“Partyin’ partyin’! YEAH! Partyin’ partyin’ YEAH! FUN FUN FUN FUN!!!”

Well, I’ve slipped in my token Colbert reference for the week. Hope to see you Friday night in Minneapolis.


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On “Patron Advocates”

In the latest Minnesota Orchestral Association email blast, there was a sentence that could not have irritated me more if it had been specifically designed to do so (which, knowing the MOA, it probably was).

“It is the Board’s privilege and duty to serve as responsible fiduciaries for the Minnesota Orchestra. In many ways, we serve as advocates for Orchestra patrons [my bold] and our goal is to ensure that these patrons—you—have a sustainable orchestra for many years to come.”

As Dr. John Watson would say:


Want to know why this was especially galling? I had to rely on a friend to forward this email to me, because the MOA hasn’t written or called my family in about a year, despite the fact all our contact information is complete and up-to-date. Many of my most vocal readers have met the same fate (while, ridiculously, musicians and their families are routinely hit up for money).

So. That being said, I have some stories to tell you.

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Notes On Richard Davis

A few days ago, the following letter appeared in the Strib.

On July 18, Minneapolis Institute of Arts members will vote on a slate of 10 nominees for vacant three-year positions on the board. One of the nominees is Richard Davis, the CEO of US Bancorp and a major architect of the current disastrous Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

Unfortunately, MIA members must vote on the entire slate rather than for or against individual nominees. We therefore urge all MIA members concerned about the future of the arts in the Twin Cities to contact the MIA and request that Mr. Davis withdraw his name from the ballot.

We are proud to live in a city noted for its philanthropy (both corporate and individual), and appreciate those who volunteer to lead our nonprofits. But orchestra fans horrified at the catastrophic damage inflicted by this board’s tactics do not want to see Davis governing another Minnesota gem. Even under the most charitable interpretation of his actions with the orchestra, the continuing stalemate and controversy make him a very unwise choice for another local arts board.

This letter was signed by the following members of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Jackson Bryce, St. Paul (Marjorie Crabb Garbisch Professor of Classical Languages and the Humanities Emeritus, Carleton College); Carolyn Hawkins, Minneapolis; Christine Gregory Knutson, Minneapolis (associate director of development, MIA, 1989-1993); Nita Krevans, St. Anthony; Sheila McNally, Minneapolis (Professor Emerita of Art History, University of Minnesota); Philip Sellew, St. Paul; Patti Stuhlman, Edina, and Stephanie Cain Van D’Elden, Minneapolis.

So while the Strib’s on the topic… Let’s talk a little bit about Richard Davis.

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