Monthly Archives: September 2012

Orchestral Apocalypse Index

Here is a comprehensive list of articles pertaining to Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012. Both pro- and anti-management viewpoints are represented. Please keep in mind that certain statements within these articles are of questionable veracity, so take everything here with a grain of salt. You can read about my personal questions about what’s been said on other pages of my blog.

I’ll update as new information is published or made available. If you have an article you want to have added to the list, the comment section is open to you.


SPCO Musicians Blog

SPCO Musicians Facebook page

Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Blog

Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Facebook page

SPCO Management (they’ve updated this relatively frequently with new documents)

Minnesota Orchestra Management (the only thing they’ve ever updated so far is “Industry News” and their “final offer” contract, so don’t go here expecting much news; also, patrons have had questions about the claims presented within this site)


MPR News Primer: Orchestra contract negotiations, MPR, 18 August

Fearing for ‘our orchestra, as we know it’, by Evelina Chao, Pioneer Press, 25 August

Do the Twin Cities need 2 orchestras?, MPR, 27 August

SPCO musicians take their case to the Fair, MPR, 28 August

MinnPost article, MinnPost, 30 August

Minnesota 2020 Journal: Sour Notes, Minnesota 2020, 31 August

Solutions today to ensure a vibrant SPCO tomorrow, by Dobson West, Pioneer Press, 1 September

Orchestra musicians plan free concert, Star Tribune, 4 September

Minn. Orchestra seeks big cut in musician salaries, MPR, 5 September

MN Orchestra opens up about contract negotiations, MPR, 5 September

SPCO faces deficit of “up to $1 million” for fiscal year, Star Tribune, 5 September

Minn. Orchestra, SPCO go public with calls for major cost cuts, Star Tribune, 6 September

Orchestra contract talks a matter of money vs. artistry, MPR, 6 September

Musicians seek audit of Minnesota Orchestra, Star Tribune, 6 September

MinnPost article, MinnPost, 7 September

SPCO proposes new contract for musicians, MPR, 7 September

SPCO makes new salary offer, MPR, 7 September

SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra in tough contract talks, Pioneer Press, 7 September

When Should A Conductor Speak Up?, Colin Eatock, 10 September

On governance, by Robert Levine, Polyphonic

Twin Cities orchestras make public appeal amid contract negotiations, MPR, 21 September

Labor talks at SPCO apparently fruitless, MPR, 22 September

Orchestra headed toward lockout?, Star Tribune, 24 September

Minn. Orchestra Musicians Say Strike Is Possibility, WCCO, 24 September

Could Twin Cities Orchestras Go Silent?, KARE, 24 September

The latest on SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra labor talks, MPR, 24 September

Minn. Orchestra, SPCO contract negotiations still without agreement. MPR. 24 September

SPCO rejects musicians’ contract counterproposal. MPR. 24 September.

SPCO contract talks stall; management wants 28 players, down from 34, Pioneer Press, 24 September

SPCO musicians make counteroffer; Minnesota Orchestra talks appear stalled, Pioneer Press, 25 September

Minnesota Orchestra’s final offer, Star Tribune, 25 September

As deadlines near, developments in contract struggles at MnOrch and SPCO, MPR, 26 September

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra managers reject union contract offer, Pioneer Press, 26 September

Contract negotiations continue at orchestras; final offer, counter-proposal, MPR, 27 September

Without contract, Minn. Orchestra lockout possible, MPR, 27 September

Minn. Orchestra musicians face lockout if no deal, Star Tribune, 27 September

10,000 lakes, one fish, and no settlements, by Robert Levine, Polyphonic, 28 September

Keep Your Eye on the Details in Minnesota, by Drew McManus, 28 September

Mn Orch musicians reject management proposal as SPCO bosses reject contract extension, MPR, 29 September

Minn. Orchestra Musicians Reject Contract, CBS Minnesota, 29 September

Musicians vote down contract proposal, Star Tribune, 29 September

Musicians veto deal in Mpls. as SPCO rejects contract extension, KARE, 30 September

Minn. Orchestra musicians seek arbitration, MPR, 30 September

Minn. Orchestra, musicians fail to agree; lockout expected, Star Tribune, 30 September

Minnesota Orchestra musicians headed for lockout, WQOW, 30 September

Lockout set to take effect for Minn. Orchestra, MPR, 30 September

SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra: Contract talks stall, Pioneer Press, 30 September

Minnesota Orchestra concerts canceled, no talks scheduled, Star Tribune, 1 October

Minnesota Orchestra locks out musicians, cancels concerts, MPR, 1 October

MN Orchestra cancels fall concerts, musicians rally, MPR, 1 October

SPCO talks to resume in 10 days, but MnOrch at impasse, Pioneer Press, 1 October

Locked-out Minn Orch musicians take cause to streets, MPR, 1 October

Good Question: Why Does The Orchestra Get Paid So Much?, CBS Minnesota, 1 October

Arts reporter explains Minnesota Orchestra lockout impact, My Fox 9, 1 October

Locked-out musicians regret concert cancellations, seek more talks, Workday Minnesota, 2 October

Minnesota Orchestra cancels concerts in the wake of lockout, Los Angeles Times, 2 October

MN Orchestra musicians locked out as SPCO’s ‘talk and play’, MinnPost, 2 October

Ground Zero for the Payless model, Robert Levine, Polyphonic, 2 October

Open Season, Frank Almond, 2 October

Locked out Mn Orch musicians plan season opening concert, MPR, 2 October

Minnesota Orchestra On Day 2 Of Lockout: We Want To Play, CBS Minnesota, 2 October

Labor Standoffs Silence Orchestras in Minnesota and Indiana, Associated Press, 3 October

Minn. Orchestra musicians plan to go solo, Star Tribune, 3 October

Management, board, also want quality, Star Tribune, 3 October

Walkouts and Lockouts in U.S. Symphonies: What Do They Portend?, NonProfit Quarterly, 4 October

Calculated, Callous, Corrosive Tactics from MN Orchestra,, 4 October

Leaders must solve orchestra dispute, Don Heinzman, 4 October

Blogosphere sides with musicians, MPR, 5 October

Former conductor will lead lockout concert, MPR, 5 October

Classical Musicians to the Barricades (Again),, 5 October [very hard for me to resist editorializing on this one, but I’ll resist…for now]

In the middle of a musical labor dispute, MPR, 5 October

Orchestra lockout prompts the question: What are experts worth?, MinnPost, 5 October

Labor strife is playing out at orchestras all across the country, Star Tribune, 6 October

Skrowaczewski to lead Minnesota Orchestra musicians in opening night concert, MinnPost, 7 October

Preserving a great art, Minnesota Daily, 8 October

Locked out musicians get gigs elsewhere, MPR, 9 October

During Lockout Season, Orchestra Musicians Grapple With Their Future, NPR, 10 October

A tempest strikes American orchestras, MPR, 1o October

MN Orch musicians to perform, will not honor tickets for cancelled concert, MPR, 10 October

Minn. Orchestra makes a stand, Star Tribune, 11 October

Can’t they just be happy with that lobby?, Star Tribune, 11 October

Board should not be opposed to arbitrator, Star Tribune, 15 October

Minnesota Orchestra to put on concert Thursday, KARE, 16 October

Amid Minnesota Orchestra’s strife, the show still goes on, Pioneer Press, 19 October

Minnesota Orchestra musicians hold their own sold-out opening night, MinnPost, 19 October

Music in midst of contract dispute, Star Tribune, 19 October

Musicians, at least, have got it together, Star Tribune, 22 October

Orchestral musicians fight to maintain ‘artistic excellence’, CNN, 22 October

SPCO Is 2nd Locked-Out Twin Cities Orchestra, Twin Cities Business, 22 October

Why not spend Minnesota Orchestra’s $140M endowment?, MPR, 23 October

Orchestras Face a Season of Lockouts, by Bruce Ridge, Labor Notes, 24 October

Orchestra salary cuts continue unfortunate trend, Manitou Messenger, 25 October

Employers get control by turning to lockouts, Star Tribune, 28 October

Matt Peiken at MNuet is now aggregating links to news stories, so for links to stories published after November 1, click here.

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Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO 2012 Negotiations, Week (Gulp) -1

This week is when the crap really starts hitting the fan in regards to the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra negotiations. Or, as it’s known around these parts: Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012. Here’s a comprehensive discussion of what all happened in Week -4, Week -3, and Week -2. Warning: this situation has become so complicated, so political, so bizarre, that if you’re just starting to pay attention now, you’d be well-served by reading the entirety of my Tumblr, which includes the discussions of what happened in the various weeks, as well as all the editorials I’ve written. Yes, I understand that’s a lot of reading, but to be fair, a lot of crap has happened lately.

25 September 2012 (published a day late; sorry)

A lot of information has come out lately. Here are some articles you can read at your leisure…

Orchestra headed toward lockout? Star Tribune. 24 September, 11:11AM

Minn. Orchestra Musicians Say Strike Is Possibility. WCCO. 24 September, 5:55PM

Could Twin Cities Orchestras Go Silent? KARE. 24 September, 6:05PM

The latest on SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra labor talks. MPR. 24 September, 9:20PM

Minn. Orchestra, SPCO contract negotiations still without agreement. MPR. 24 September.

SPCO rejects musicians’ contract counterproposal. MPR. 24 September.

SPCO contract talks stall; management wants 28 players, down from 34. Pioneer Press. 24 September.

Just some miscellaneous thoughts…

I’m disappointed that the media isn’t talking more about working conditions and managements’ visions for the future. These are not just squabbles over money, although you’d never guess it from the majority of press reports.

I’m not sure why Minnesota management refused to allow their musicians to address the board, especially since there were already plans for management to convene that evening…? I’d like to hear from them about that. Why wouldn’t you at least make the show of meeting with them? You wouldn’t have to actually listen to them, if you didn’t want to. You could play with your new iPhone and tune them out. But then at least afterward you could say you met with them when they offered to reach out to you. This just seems like an easily avoidable PR failure. (One of many, unfortunately…)

After this latest barrage of press reports, I feel like I’m understanding better why there has been no counter-proposal from the Minnesota musicians: they want more answers about the organization’s finances before they can decide what would be a reasonable proposal. I think that’s a totally fair request. Having just dug into some old articles, and found some pretty serious discrepancies in management’s attitudes (and numbers) between 2008 and 2010 and 2012, I believe the musicians are more than justified in asking for an independent financial analysis. In fact, I feel that donors should be clamoring for an independent financial analysis. (If I was Julia Dayton, I’d be making some very angry calls to Orchestra Hall administration after what management has all said over the past few weeks…) Once again, management, you’re free to step forward and clarify, either here directly or through the press or through your website. But until you do, I have to deal with the facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground say that the musicians have good reason to feel confused…and betrayed.

26 September

Remember how on the 24th SPCO management rejected the musicians’ proposal (details above)? That consisted of “a first-year guaranteed pay of $73,000 for the first two years, with an increase to $77,000 in the third year. They also asked for no change in the size of the orchestra, increased pension contributions in the third year and increased seniority pay throughout the contract,” according to the Pioneer Press. Well, the musicians have tried again…

According to the Pioneer Press:

The musicians agreed to further salary cuts that would bring the minimum annual salaries down to $70,000 for the first two years of the contract and $75,000 for the third…

In order to avoid reducing the orchestra’s size from 34 players down to 28, the musicians have asked management to take the money set aside for buyouts and apply it toward the operating budget.

“They’ve told us 16 musicians are eligible for a buyout,” said Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee. “That money should (be used) to preserve the orchestra rather than dismember it and start all over again.”

In addition, the musicians have offered to perform up to eight free concerts specifically for fundraising events.

I’m guessing the musicians feel fairly confident about this offer, as they’ve posted the entirety of their contract up on their blog, which they’ve never done before. Waiting on management’s response now… (One wonders where the money that management wanted to use for buyouts came from. Has anyone explained that? Right now, judging by press reports, it seems it just magically appeared. Abracadabra!)

I’ve been feeling for a few weeks as if the situation in St. Paul is slightly less bleak than the one in Minneapolis, and hopefully this proves it.

Speaking of the bleak situation in Minneapolis…

The situation in Minneapolis is bleak.

Yesterday Minnesota management offered their ominously titled Final Proposal, which makes a generous effort to compromise by…not really compromising much at all. Management is still claiming they want a $89,000 average salary. (Really, guys? You couldn’t even come up to, say, $90,500 to at least give a vague impression of compromise? A $1500 raise in the proposed average salary would only cost you roughly $135,000 more a year. [The exact number would vary depending on how many musicians would be in the group.] Michael Henson alone could cover the vast majority of that if he agreed to a 30% pay cut.) But I guess they did offer some clarifications and some changes in working conditions, and that’s…something. I guess. Not sure what those exact changes are yet. Musicians are still reviewing the document. Hopefully we’ll hear from them soon. I’m not optimistic about their response.

Richard Davis said:

“Nearly six months have passed and we have yet to receive from our players a counterproposal or even any indication of their priorities,” he said.

*politely raises hand* Um, Mr. Davis, I’m not sure where you’ve been over the last few months, but since you’re clearly just joining us, allow me to be the one to inform you that the musicians’ first priority is an independent financial analysis because the things you have said about the state of the orchestra’s finances contradict themselves. We have Google now, people! You can’t expect us to forget what you said in 2010! How are the musicians possibly supposed to know what their priorities are if they don’t even know how much money the orchestra may (or may not) be sitting on? It’s like someone saying, “Well, I’m not sure what my income currently is, or what it will be in future, but I do know with absolute certainty how much I can afford to spend on food, clothing, shelter, insurance, transportation, and everything else!” That’s the talk of a deranged mind. And a banker of all people should know that. Hell, maybe if you agreed to run an independent financial analysis, and the numbers came back that you’re saying will come back, who knows what could happen? Maybe the musicians would agree that your proposal is reasonable, and the only possible way to save the organization, like you’ve been telling us all along. Then maybe we could all move the crap on.

We also heard why management does not want an independent financial analysis:

unnecessary delay and duplication of efforts

One word for this: lame. On second thought, three words: lame, lame, and lame. Management doesn’t cite the cost (the thing my naive self assumed would be the stumbling block); they cite “delay” and “duplication of efforts.” Well maybe if you’d agreed to an analysis a few weeks ago, we’d be that much closer to getting the results! And maybe if you’d agree to an analysis, the musicians might temporarily accept your terms while the calculations are going on! And maybe if you’d agreed to an analysis, you could silence devoted patrons who are going so far as to wonder out loud if you’re engaging in fraud (comment section)! What would the down-side to such an analysis be, besides the inconvenience of “delay” and “duplication of effort”? It would make your musicians happy, as it would presumably answer the questions they have which they say you’re not answering. It would make negotiations less tense because everyone would be on the same page. It would be a net gain for management, as it would make the musicians look incredibly petty for being so obsessed with independent financial reviews lately. If nothing else, management could at least answer some questions about why you guys said you were doing so swimmingly in 2010, when now you say you were actually drowning in 2010.

Until further notice, I’m assuming there’s something fishy going on. Given the publicly available facts, what else am I supposed to think?

From Henson:

“If they want more conversation this week, we are here to find a resolution,” he said.

You guys didn’t seem to be interested in conversation the other day when you rejected a request for the musicians to give a presentation to the board…

Well, in the meantime…if you’re lonely and need someone to talk to about finding solutions to your orchestra’s countless intractable problems…you’ve always always got me and my Hundred Questions… Just saying. :) <3 xx

Here are the articles that came out today, so you can read all the details and try judging for yourself what’s happening…

Minnesota Orchestra’s final offer.  Star Tribune. 25 September.

SPCO musicians make counteroffer; Minnesota Orchestra talks appear stalled. Pioneer Press. 25 September.

As deadlines near, developments in contract struggles at MnOrch and SPCO. MPR. 26 September.

Also interesting: yesterday’s Minnesota musicians’ blog entry discussing their last negotiating session.

Some highlights (lowlights?):

 Board Chair Jon Campbell expressed regret at the Board and Management’s handling of the endowment funds over the past ten years, noting that they had been unhappy with the advice they had acted upon and had to change investment advisers. Campbell also admitted that the Board and Management had been wrong in 2007 regarding their investment predictions.

After lunch, Musicians asked questions related to the most recent endowment charts, with the main question being: Where does the $97 Million that the Board has raised thus far (in the Building for the Future Fund) fit into the total endowment structure? The Board and Management did not answer [editor’s note: lol], but said they would provide that information later…

Finally, Musicians requested to speak to the entire Board of Directors at that evening’s meeting, and be given an opportunity to offer their morning presentation. The Board and Management rejected that request.

Stay classy, Minnesota Orchestra management. Stay classy. *thumbs up*

27 September

Well, this is not a day of events I’m looking forward to summarizing. And it probably will only get worse from here on out. I knew it was bad when I realized I was in the mood to listen to a lonely mournful lumberjack singing sad incomprehensible lyrics…in falsetto.

God I’m depressed. *takes swig of alcohol*

Yesterday SPCO management rejected their musicians’ proposal. Here’s the article from the Pioneer Press, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra managers reject union contract offer.

In a statement late Wednesday, Sept. 26, SPCO president Dobson West called the proposal a “very small step forward” that does not provide any material savings and places the financial burden on the orchestra’s audience and donors.

Did he really need to qualify “a step forward” with the condescending “very small”? At this point, it seems as though any small step should be considered a giant leap. Because if you’re making any kind of progress at all after nine months, frankly, that’s a miracle. This new contract is taking as much time to gestate as a human baby.

What the SPCO musicians’ contract would look like by now if it was human

While I’m on the subject of the SPCO (which I haven’t been on very often lately) I wanted to throw in my two cents about memberships: they’re ridiculously, criminally cheap. How about offering something like two months of free concerts, to see if you’d even be interested in attending, and then after that, increasing the price of a membership to $10 or $12 a month? I’m living way below the poverty line, and I’d be happy to pay $7.50 (the musicians’ offer) or $10 or $12 a month for access to world-class concerts. Honestly, I’d pay $20, but music is obviously the most important thing in my life, so I’m a skewed sample. But surely people who are really interested and invested in the orchestra, who are told that an increase in the cost of membership will go directly to keeping that orchestra intact during difficult financial times…surely those people would be willing to pony up an extra $2.50 a month? If they don’t feel invested enough in the orchestra to pay that little bit more a month…would they really then bother coming to the shows? I have a very hard time believing they would. And isn’t that the whole point of the membership program…to cultivate new audiences? Not people who come once or twice and then stop… People who come and then keep coming. People who feel invested in the quality of what’s happening onstage. People who will support the other people (also known as the “orchestra”) onstage.

I don’t feel comfortable running all the calculations on how much this proposed contract will save the SPCO because I don’t have the expertise (or time) to wade through all the numbers, but I’d be interested in seeing management’s math on that one. There’s a letter on their website about the 24 September negotiations, saying that the union’s second proposal only saved $100,000 over the three-year life of the contract, but none has been posted about the musicians’ most recent proposal. Maybe that will come later. Or maybe they’re waiting until after this weekend to unveil the numbers. I don’t know.

Also, why has Mr. West not explained the $1.6 – $3.2 million – not sure of the exact number – which has been made available for the 16 musician buyouts? Once again, I’m so curious to hear where that number came from, when, how, why, etc. I don’t think he’s mentioned the background on that…has he? Have you heard anything about it? Let me know if you have.

Here’s an excerpt from West’s September 7 letter:

This proposal represents a significant stretch for the Society and our donors. Our donors have spoken loud and clear: there is no additional funding available to support the status quo and in fact, current funding levels will not be sustained for the status quo. Significant additional funds will be available, however, for real transformation – an orchestra of exceptional artistic quality with our fixed expenses in line with our sustainable revenues, with the flexibility to meet a rapidly changing environment and with fair and respectful compensation for our Musicians, at rates we can afford.

I wish we could hear from these donors. I haven’t heard from them in the press, and I would very much like to. I would like to hear them explain in their own words why they feel the status quo is unsustainable, and if they feel the artistic quality of the orchestra will decrease as a result of these specific cuts, and also their qualifications for making such assessments. I wonder if there are any large donors who are expressing concern about a possible sharp decrease in quality and cohesion…? You’d think there would be. Many small donors have.

Also, a respectful base salary for a new musician in an ensemble that aspires to be one of the greatest chamber orchestras in the world is not $50,000 a year. Especially not in a state where the median income is about $57,000. Sorry. That’s not much more than the musicians would earn if they were teaching privately full-time. Actually, with their training, they could probably make more money teaching full-time, especially if they supplemented with other performance opportunities. According to this website, $50,000 is about what a subway operator, sales representative, or librarian makes a year. And no offense to those good folks, but they didn’t invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into their education and career starting at the age of five. I don’t see how you could realistically aspire to be a super-selective elite world-class musical organization while offering a salary that is not much different to one a teacher could make. What would keep those whip-smart musicians from opting to teach…or heck, becoming very musically talented subway operators, sales representatives, or librarians?

My last hope: management in St. Paul is actually secretly willing to agree to the majority of items in this proposed contract, but they’re waiting for the next set of talks to see how much they can squeeze out before the contract deadline. And then the conflict will end and rainbows will shine and unicorns will fly. Naive? Probably. But I want good news. I’m to the point where I’m getting pissed at other people’s good news, and that’s never a good sign. Chicago Symphony ends their strike? My first grumpy thought: why can’t our strikes last a day? Referee lockout over? Minnesota management would never compromise… Teachers’ strike over? How’d they come to an agreement? What’s their secret? Lucky bastards!

Last night I read about the Atlanta Symphony musicians agreeing to the deep cuts management had proposed…and it devastated me. Especially when I went to the Atlanta Symphony’s Facebook page, and saw their breezy, wildly wildly inappropriate status update: “Let the music begin! A new contract has been ratified and the 2012-13 season will open on October 4. See you soon!” Hey, you know what, Atlanta Symphony? F*** you! It made me wonder what the end-game in Minnesota will look like (ugly, probably), and when it will come. It’s clear that management doesn’t respect their musicians, or even understand what the word “respect” means. How can we as a community show that as passionate music lovers we do? How can we pressure all those who have treated others so rudely to go away? How can we encourage incompetent people to step down, and competent ones to step up? How can we patrons help to rebuild whatever long-term damage may result from the toxic environment that managements have so unnecessarily fostered? How do we make sure we don’t become so entrenched on the musicians’ side that we can’t recognize healthy compromise when we see it? I want to know what I can do to help. I want to keep as many of these people in the Twin Cities as I can, and I want them to have careers that are as satisfying to them as those careers are to me.

For a laugh, here’s the most useless discussion I’ve read yet about this entire fiasco. (And trust me, I’ve been in the Strib comment section, so I’ve read some useless discussion.) I mention it here solely for entertainment’s sake. It starts with the assertion that (I’m paraphrasing) “hey musicians, you’re spoiled, coddled, childish brats – but no disrespect intended!”…and it goes on from there. We hear that “when the rich have money, they give it away. When they lose money, they don’t.” This makes total sense, since according to the New York Times, in the United States, “The bottom 99% received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.” Yes, that certainly does explain why orchestras have been doing so well post-2010! And then we also hear that Minnesota has “canceled opening concerts due to lack of funding or, due to unresolved contract negotiations, enforced a musicians’ lockout.” Fascinating. Someone has clearly opened a portal to the future! Can I hop through to see how this all ends?? There may be some worthy points hidden deep in the essay…somewhere…but in the face of such monumentally lazy writing, I’m not keen on making the effort to dig them up. Dear commentators: if you are going to write stuff like this, or post stuff like this, please make sure the text you’re about to post is free of fundamentally basic errors. Otherwise, you lose your audience before you begin, even if you do have some good points to offer. Surely Mr. Lebrecht knows that Minnesota isn’t actually locked out (yet). If he doesn’t, that’s unsettling, because even I know what’s happening at all the major orchestras, and I don’t comment on orchestras for a living.

In an attempt to get away from all this frustrating news, I watched a couple Daily Show episodes, and watched this interview with Bill Clinton. And I was surprised to find that what he said applies, in a certain way, to this whole orchestral apocalypse. Bolds mine, obviously.

I think… Just forget about politics. Just think about any time in your life, [when] you’ve been confused or angry or frightened or resentful or anything and you didn’t know what was going on. In those moments, explanation is way more important than eloquence, and rhetoric falls on deaf ears. So the only chance I had to get anybody to really listen was to say, “Here, look, this is what I think happened – boom boom boom boom – and one of my favorite responses came from a guy, he said, I’m a conservative Republican, and I never voted for Clinton. I never even thought he was eloquent. But he treated me like a grown-up, and I appreciated that. I felt like we could sit down and have a conversation. People need to be told… The American people are plenty smart enough to figure all this out…

I think the American people take this election seriously. They know they have to make choices that will affect their lives, and it’s not very helpful if you take up their time and you don’t explain what those choices are…

So I wanted to try to explain that in simple terms. No one else would do that. No one…unless you were being driven by ideology instead of by evidence… This is a practical country. We have ideals – we have philosophies – but the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mole the evidence to get the answer you’ve already decided you’ve got to have. It doesn’t work that way. Building an economy, rebuilding an economy, is hard, practical, nuts and bolt work. You have to look at what the competition is doing; you have to look at what the factors resisting growth are; you have to look at the strengths of the country. This country has enormous assets that most of our competitors don’t have

This economics is not ideology. It’s hard work. And it’s seeing what the competition’s doing, it’s analyzing the alternatives… [Jon Stewart: Results-oriented. Merit-oriented.] Yes. That’s what America needs. We need to get the show on the road here and stop all this kind of mindless and fact-free fighting.

Yes, management, I’d be so appreciative if someone could treat musicians and concerned patrons like intelligent adults for once. If someone could answer our questions, and trust us enough to engage in a dialogue, and not leave out inconvenient facts, and not act like our concerns are baseless or naive or irresponsible, and not be condescending or adversarial. That would be so d*** lovely. Thanks.


Some late breaking news:

Contract negotiations continue at orchestras; final offer, counter-proposal, from MPR, 27 September.

Without contract, Minn. Orchestra lockout possible, from MPR, 27 September.

And Minn. Orchestra musicians face lockout if no deal from the Star Tribune, 27 September.

Management at Minnesota has also posted their most recent contract.

Sooooooooooooo, looks like the Minnesota Orchestra is headed toward a lockout. They meet on Saturday on whether to accept the contract (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the vote will be NO), and are requesting to meet with management on Sunday. After that…let the silence begin!

And so we’ve come full-circle. I offer you some melancholy music:

*drinks more alcohol*

Head on down to the comment section if you want to engage in some group therapy.

28 September

Not too much news yet this morning, besides this excellent blog from Drew McManus called “Keep Your Eye on the Details in Minnesota.” He notes that management’s transparency concerning their new contract is actually not very transparent at all, since there’s no old contract to compare it to. Amen. Personally I find it insulting that management thinks anything on their website clarifies anything, besides maybe the fact that they think we’re dumbs***s with the reasoning capabilities of five-year-olds. (Idle question: do you think Mr. McManus’s blog will appear under “Industry News“? Or is his blog not as reputable as the anonymous writer’s from the Huffington Post?) (Also: notice that under “Industry News”, management still has a link to an article, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians on strike”…days after Chicago came to an agreement. Apparently in Minnesota Orchestra management’s world, that strike is still bitter and ongoing. If that isn’t a blatant example of “mol[ing] the evidence to get the answer you’ve already decided you’ve got to have”, I don’t know what is.)

While I was over at his blog, I hopped over to Mr. McManus’s entry on Atlanta’s concessions, and read this about the St. Louis unrest of 2005…

For example, in St. Louis, the executive overseeing their bitter labor dispute in 2005 left shortly thereafter and following that departure labor relations, along with the organization’s overall health and vitality, began to increase.

I thought this was relevant to the Minnesota situation because a few days ago there was an article in the Star Tribune that drew parallels to the St. Louis dispute, saying that things are better now, and implying they might improve quickly in Minneapolis, too. Well, no wonder the situation is better in St. Louis; it wasn’t made clear in the Strib article that their executive departed. I’d think that before you really start healing the wound, you’d have to kill all the bacteria causing inflammation…right? (And yet Detroit didn’t change leadership after their whole fiasco. So who knows. Might be too early to tell what would be the best course of action. And obviously the situations are different at each orchestra, depending on the power structure, politics, available resources, community, etc., etc.)

Soooooooooo….once again we come around to the question: how can we hold those who are accountable for this toxic atmosphere responsible?

I wanted to share a little anecdote from my personal life… I was speaking the other day to my grandparents about what’s happening with the Minnesota Orchestra. I summarized the situation as neutrally and briefly as possible, explaining that management wanted to cut base salaries by $40,000; that management raised $100 million over the last few years for a fundraising campaign; that what they’ve said over the last couple of years about the orchestra’s financial status contradicts itself; that they are not making an effort to answer questions about those contradictions; and that they have repeatedly refused requests from their musicians for a second opinion on their financial status.

“Well, if I win the Powerball, we’ll give them money,” my grandpa said.

My grandmother’s eyes flashed. “Oh, no, we won’t! Not if they’re mismanaging their funds like that!”

If my grandparents put together the pieces in thirty seconds…might the broader public do the same thing, too…whether there’s any truth to the assumption or not?

30 September (2AM)

I just got home from performing a concert and having a post-concert dinner out and I don’t have time to write much, but I thought I’d leave this here for any morning viewers. (Because I am sleeping in tomorrow! woohoo!)

Mn Orch musicians reject management proposal as SPCO bosses reject contract extension – 29 September, MPR

Minn. Orchestra Musicians Reject Contract – 29 September, CBS Minnesota

Musicians vote down contract proposal – 29 September, Star Tribune

Also, I see someone found this blog today looking for “minnesota orchestra 100 questions”. Was it management? Helloooooooooo! Management! We’ve got tea brewing for you! Come back!

The eve of the apocalypse seems as good a time for ever for me to repeat something I haven’t said for a while, and that’s I’m pre-emptively sorry. I’m sorry to anyone I’ve hurt, offended, mis-characterized, misjudged, misunderstood, during the course of the whole fiasco. Unlike certain members of management (cough), I don’t view myself as an infallible human being (since, you know, I’m not). I’m viewing this whole mess from the sidelines via Internet reports, and I obviously don’t have the whole story (stories?). (To be fair, I’ve acknowledged that from the very beginning.) I’m also very upset right now. I’m in music because of the example these people have set for me. I haven’t met most of them, and yet they’re some of the most influential people in my life. And of course anyone who sees their heroes being threatened immediately gets testy and defensive, sometimes unreasonably so. (I’m sure even Michael Henson, Dobson West, Jon Campbell, and Richard Davis would!) A certain lack of perspective in such a situation is sadly inevitable. I also tend to lash out with sarcasm when I’m pissed, and then come to regret it later. Soooo, if you ever think I’m flying off the handle, please be clear and say so, and pull me aside and tell me that I need to take a step back for a bit. I’d appreciate that. I’d appreciate it even more if you could do it politely, because my nerves are rather frayed right now. Thank you kindly, darlings. I’ll try my best to keep my temper under control and to stay open to all respectful, reasonable positions.

I also want to remind people that as this conflict gets more and more and more (and more) technical over the coming weeks (months?), I’m going to be less and less and less (and less) qualified to understand what’s really going on. (Only someone with the qualifications of, say, Drew McManus will be able to read the tea leaves with any authority, and that will likely be difficult even for him, since he’s just as much of an outsider to this situation as I am.) So remember to take everything I say with not just a grain of salt, but with a salt mine, as I said in an earlier entry. I started this blogging project a month ago knowing absolutely nothing about how orchestra contracts are negotiated. Although I’ve been dropped into an intense crash course on orchestral politics, and I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time, I still don’t know a tremendous amount about how the whole labyrinthine system works, and so I’m learning as I go along. (Embarrassingly publicly, as it turns out…) But I hope you’ll be patient and come along with me, anyway. Experts out there, feel free to weigh in. The comment section is always open. As these situations get more and more complicated and emotional, I’d like for this blog to be less me blabbing and offering my snarky profane non-expert opinion, and more of a place for concerned patrons to gather and discuss and ponder in a reasonable intelligent way…since management has sadly refused to provide such a place for us. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra website can’t really be much of a clearinghouse, either, for obvious reasons.

(Which isn’t to say I won’t resist sharing my opinions entirely. Surely y’all know by now I’m incapable of not sharing opinions! ;) )

More of those non-expert opinions thoughts tomorrow. Hope you had sweet dreams last night. It’s 2AM here, so probably time for me to head to bed. I’m hoping for dreams of a happy resolution, where we discover that the Twin Cities can somehow love and support two world-class orchestras.

30 September 2012

Well, last night’s early-morning entry is looking a bit prophetic on my part, as the Minnesota Orchestra musicians have just announced their intention to seek binding arbitration to settle their contract dispute, and this is the first step in this entire drama that I feel wholly unqualified to speak a single word on. I think I last heard the phrase “binding arbitration” in my ninth grade civics class, and that was nearly ten years ago, so for those of us who need a little refresher course

Binding Arbitration: The submission of a dispute to an unbiased third person designated by the parties to the controversy, who agree in advance to comply with the award—a decision to be issued after a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.

Arbitration is a well-established and widely used means to end disputes. It is one of several kinds of Alternative Dispute Resolution, which provide parties to a controversy with a choice other than litigation. Unlike litigation, arbitration takes place out of court: the two sides select an impartial third party, known as an arbitrator; agree in advance to comply with the arbitrator’s award; and then participate in a hearing at which both sides can present evidence and testimony. The arbitrator’s decision is usually final, and courts rarely reexamine it.

Lots of people have strong opinions about unions and binding arbitration. When you Google “binding arbitration union”, there’s lots of stuff about binding arbitration and public sector unions. (A lot of people who don’t like public sector unions don’t like binding arbitration; many claim the decisions that come out of arbitration are too favorable to them.) So I tried “binding arbitration union -public.” Here’s an article discussing how American Airlines unions sought binding arbitration earlier this year; it claims that unions usually don’t like binding arbitration. (But in this particular instance, American was nearing bankruptcy, which, as I understand it, could have led to the possibility of the airline being able to reject the union contracts entirely, so in this case, binding arbitration was better than nothing.)

There’s less when you look up “binding arbitration union orchestra.” The first story that comes up is the great Louisville Symphony Debacle (LSD). There, however, it was management who suggested binding arbitration, and then only after many months of contentious negotiations. Detroit musicians offered binding arbitration only after five difficult months of striking, and only reluctantly. In March the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony signed a contract that allows for musicians and management to enter binding arbitration if they disagree on salary in 2014. Other than that, I can’t find record of a group of professional orchestra musicians who have offered binding arbitration before the work stoppage actually started. Let me know if there was one at some point, because I’m not finding it.

Feel free to take a moment to giggle at my lack of knowledge. At least I admit my limitations. And can Google.

I don’t know if this is the case or not, but it feels as if the musicians knew this was coming…doesn’t it? It feels as though they – or their PR team, or both – have studied other orchestras’ meltdowns and are making their decisions with their missteps in mind. The one time during this whole fiasco that I felt they were thrown maybe a little bit off their game was back when management released their contract without telling them. By being the ones to first mention the possibility of playing and talking, and the first to suggest binding arbitration before the lockout even began (an option the Louisville and Detroit managements would have loved), that really makes the musicians look ready for reasonable compromise, and demonstrates an affection and concern for their audience…an affection and concern we haven’t heard much of from management. I’ve also been very happy over the last few days to see the musicians really clarifying why they haven’t offered a counter-proposal (because they lack the necessary information to make an informed one). That explanation has been in nearly every article lately, and it’s good to hear; for a long while there, I think it just seemed to casual readers as if the musicians were unwilling to engage, rather than merely waiting on a request for financial information.

And before we’d barely had time to swallow this, much less digest it, we hear that management has rejected both the orchestra musicians’ offers to “play and talk” and to go through binding arbitration. Waiting to hear a response from management now… I can’t wait to hear Michael Henson come up with new and exciting ways to demonize the men and women whose talents he relies on for his exorbitant paychecks! Bless their hearts, but Davis and Campbell aren’t quite as entertaining on the hypocrisy scale.

Popcorn, anyone?

I wonder: if Minnesota board wanted to come across as the most incompetent, most oblivious, most tone-deaf entity imaginable, what would they do differently? Maybe hire outside musicians a la the LSD situation, but otherwise… Not much. (And you know, at this point, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see them trying to hire outside musicians. The effort would fail miserably, but I can see management trying it in some capacity anyway, since they don’t really seem particularly concerned about the quality of the orchestra. I pray to God this doesn’t actually happen, but if it does, I urge all qualified players to show up for the job and then launch into your best impersonation of the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Then maybe, if we’re very lucky, we could get Anna Karkowska to solo with the Minnesota Replacement Orchestra! And then we could force management to sit through two hours of it! On second thought, let’s make it ten! While we’re employing non-union musicians, we might as well make the most of them! Hey, let’s do the Ring Cycle for kicks, with no breaks in between, and see how low our artistic quality can get! It’s the Orchestral Quality Limbo Stick Game! Catchphrase: how low can you go while you’re locking out the very best? Fun for the whole community! Woohoo!)

I feel badly about this, but I’m starting to feel the SPCO story slipping away from me. I’ll still keep posting links to articles about the situation, but things have flown back and forth so quickly lately there that I’m forgetting what offer was made when and what was said and who wants $77,000 here and who wants $50,000 there and was that base or including overscale or proposal number two or rejected proposal number three, etc., etc., etc. My brain can’t keep up with the limited amount of time I have to blog. That doesn’t mean I support the musicians or the organization or an equitable solution to that crisis any less; I just feel I have less to say about it, because I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable when I’m not. Maybe if the SPCO comes to an impasse, I’ll get time to breathe and study the details of what has all been going on there lately. However, for now I think I’m going to have to focus primarily on Minnesota situation; I’ve just spent more time with it lately, and it’s easier for me to keep up with. Of course if you want to discuss the SPCO meltdown in the comments, you’re welcome to, and I’ll try to engage with you as best I can!

News stories/blogs that have surfaced lately:

Musicians veto deal in Mpls. as SPCO rejects contract extension – KARE, 4:20PM, 30 September (strangely, this article is actually from MPR, though)

Minn. Orchestra musicians seek arbitration – MPR, 30 September

 10,000 lakes, one fish, and no settlements – Robert Levine, Polyphonic

I’m going to start a new page called “Orchestral Apocalypse Index.” It will consist of links to all the pro- and anti-management articles and blog entries I’ve found. That way you can have the tools you need to begin making decisions about who and what to support, and you won’t need to wade through my wordy profane blather. If the article is halfway intelligent, and not just some anonymous dude on his blog going “zomg lyke musicians suckkk and r wayyyy 2 overpAID”, I’ll include a link to it. Additional submissions of links to blogs or articles I may have missed will be welcome in the comment section. So keep an eye out for that.


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Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?: Part II: Michael Henson Edition

When I read the latest Star Tribune article on the Minnesota Orchestra crisis, one quote in particular struck me as being so patently absurd, and so directly opposed to everything that had come before it, I felt like I’d wandered into a new upside-down dimension. Either Michael Henson is going off the rails, or I’m becoming dangerously entrenched and reading much too deeply into a couple of sentences, and I’m not sure which it is. If you could convince me I’m crazy, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

Here’s the portion of the article that made me feel as though a Rod Serling sighting was imminent:

Michael Henson, president and CEO of the orchestra, said on Friday that no immediate financial crisis exists, but he likened the investment funds that help fund each season to a retirement account.

“You can’t spend 90 percent of it in the first four years of retirement,” Henson said. “You need to make it last.”

He indicated the orchestra would like to draw no more than 5 percent annually from the funds; the draw rate has averaged nearly 10 percent over the past 10 years, he said.

Before I begin, I’m going to assume that Henson was quoted accurately, and that his words weren’t manipulated or misrepresented in any way. We should hear within the next couple of days if he objects as to how his comments were portrayed.

With that assumption out of the way, let’s try to unpack this “no immediate crisis” remark.

First, I’d like to say a few words on the nature of crisis.

If you are on track to spend ninety percent of your income in your first four years of retirement, then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

If you’ve staked the long-term fiscal health of your organization on overly “optimistic economic assumptions and the hope of limitless benefactor generosity,” then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

If you say on your website that “if the Orchestra continues to operate at its current rate of spending, our endowment will be depleted by 2018“, you are not only in IMMEDIATE CRISIS, you’ve been in IMMEDIATE CRISIS for years.

If your only hope of creating a “fiscally responsible” organization means cutting musicians’ pay somewhere between 25-50%, then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

If you knew you wouldn’t be able to work for the next few years, and knew your only income would be your life savings, and you knew you’d run out of that savings by 2018, then you would be in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

If you knew that all American resources would, at the current rate of spending, be depleted by 2018, then newsflash: we would all be in one hell of an IMMEDIATE CRISIS.

Call this what it is:


Financial crises don’t start when your checks start bouncing. Crises start when you make the calculations and realize that all resources will be depleted by a particular point in time (say, 2018) if you don’t make major unprecedented changes (“significant departure[s] from the traditions of the past,” according to management) that run the risk of changing the face of your organization. The risk of such a thing happening is, in and of itself, a crisis. A huge one. Period.

I’m racking my brains and I can only come up with three explanations for this bizarre statement. Leave a note in the comments if you can think of another.

1) The orchestra is truly IN IMMEDIATE CRISIS!!!ZOMG111!!!1!ELEVENTY!!!1!…but Michael Henson either A) lied or B) accidentally said it isn’t. That means that Michael Henson is either A) a liar or B) incompetent.

2) The orchestra is not in immediate crisis, and management is misrepresenting what’s actually in the endowment in order to get a sharply concessionary contract.

3) Henson didn’t actually use those exact words, and didn’t mean to insinuate that the Orchestra isn’t in crisis right now, but he made a statement that led Graydon Royce to feel comfortable risking his and his paper’s reputation by interpreting it in that way. I have no reason not to trust Mr. Royce. (And like I said, we’ll see in the next few days if any statements emerge from Henson disputing how his remarks were interpreted…) If this is true, then that means Michael Henson is communicating poorly at a moment in time when he needs to communicating with crystal clarity. It also suggests that he hasn’t thought enough about how to explain the Orchestra’s problems coherently and persuasively. If you need unprecedented concessions from your musicians because if you don’t get them, the organization as you know it will no longer be able to “survive”…then for God’s sake, run with that. Yes, Campbell and Davis made some pretty damaging PR mistakes within the last few weeks, and that sucks. But Campbell and Davis have s*** to do. Those guys were probably sneaking a five-minute phone call into the Star Tribune in between eating caviar, approving billion dollar mergers, and telephoning Tim Pawlenty to ask if he’d be interested in being CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable (where Davis is a director, FYI). But this is Henson’s full-time jobFor which he is being paid $400,000+ this year alone. He should be fully capable of handling a simple newspaper interview without mucking up his message.

Some additional questions…

If there isn’t an immediate crisis, why tamper with working conditions? How much would the changes in working conditions save the orchestra? Have they run the calculations on that? Why haven’t they made those calculations publicly available with their proposed contract? They’ve got an awesome shiny website with which to disseminate such information…

Also: why not agree to an independent financial analysis?

I’d like to take a moment to discuss the current musicians’ contract, which management is saying doomed all prospects of fiscal sustainability. This shamefully irresponsible contract was signed in October 2007, according to this Playbill article. Michael Henson came aboard in September 2007, so I’m not sure if he had any say in negotiating or ratifying that.

But even if he didn’t, dude was super-proud of how things were going financially at the Minnesota Orchestra as late as July 2010…almost three years into that irresponsible five-year contractIn retrospect, this is a hilarious article to read. [Edit 10/15: This article has since been removed from the Minnesota Orchestra website. Feel free to draw your own conclusions as to what that means. There has been no explanation so far. You can take a peek at the screenshots I took here.] For a bit of perspective, let’s remember that the much ballyhooed Strategic Plan was published in November 2011. In the introduction we read that “the ideas in this plan have been developed, tested, and honed over the last 18 months.” So that means management started working on the ideas contained within the Strategic Plan in the spring of 2010. Insinuation: they were seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices the organization must resolve to ensure a sound future” before the spring of 2010. (This meshes with the claims of the Open Letter, which claims, “This is a journey that began several years ago, when the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Orchestra recognized that the organization could no longer survive [my bold] based on optimistic economic assumptions and the hope of limitless benefactor generosity.”) So, having established that, I’d like to let Michael Henson from July of 2010 say a few things. Remember that during this time, he had not only been seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices” within his orchestra for at least the last few months, if not the last couple of yearshe was also, behind closed doors, writing a plan to address those financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices.

Take it away, Michael Henson of July 2010!

The former Bournemouth Symphony head is strategising his way through the recession – and winning. [my bold]

“There’s no single strategy to beating the downturn,” Michael Henson asserts. “There has to be a whole series of strategies to maintain a focused approach. The priority is continuing the excellence in the artistic work.” With orchestras across the US hard hit by the recession – and management strategies the number-one talking point at the League of American Orchestras’ conference in June – the Minnesota Orchestra stands out as a beacon institution among the bad news. It’s planning a European tour in August (its second in two years), expanding its online content and starting a large-scale renovation project at its home venue – having recently announced the end of a highly successful fundraising scheme. “I would say the support we get from the community is unique,” Henson boasts.

“Minnesotans are highly educated and committed to education,” he goes on, “and with a community this size – around 5m people in the region – we have a wide range of arts organisations, and a collective desire from individuals and corporations to support them.” In 2008-09, contributions accounted for 44 per cent of the orchestra’s $32.5m income. “On top of that, we’ve made some concessions at various points, there’ve been some layoffs and pay cuts in administration,” Henson notes; in August 2009, he took a seven per cent pay cut himself [heh], while Osmo Vänskä, music director since 2003, took 10 per cent [the organization’s fiscal leader took a smaller pay-cut percentage-wise than the music director? classy]. At the same time, Henson negotiated modifications to the musicians’ contract, resulting in around $4.2m in cost savings up to 2012 – mostly through salary and pension reductions, and a wage freeze in FY2010. The orchestra currently numbers 95 contracted players, with six positions open; delaying filling those positions could save up to $1.8m in the long term. [Why are these concessions not mentioned on management’s website? Have they slipped Henson’s mind? Pity, because he seemed awfully proud of them in 2010…]

The orchestra announced in June 2009 that it had raised $14m of its $40m goal for the renovations. One year later, thanks to a last-minute $5m donation from the Target department store chain, it announced it was up to $43m. “The extra will mean we have enough to do it right – to improve chair Y as well as chair X,” says Henson. It also bodes well for the orchestra’s more long-term fundraising programme, “Building for the Future”, which aims to supplement its endowment by $30m, and provide a further $30m for artistic and educational endeavours. Including the renovation funding, the campaign has raised $82m of its $100m target. “Even though we’re in a recession, we have to keep up the commitment to the long-term vision,” Henson continues. “The board agreed to take the risk on this.”

This year, Minnesota will be the only US orchestra represented at the Proms, a fact with added significance for Henson. “We have already made six live broadcasts this season on the BBC,” he notes (another echo of his Bournemouth days). “Our appearances at the Proms, the world’s greatest music festival, have grown from our close relationship with the BBC and will contribute to the process of increasing our visibility.” Its 2010 tour will also take it to the Edinburgh Festival and the Concertgebouw Amsterdam. “We have to keep up our international presence,” Henson says, indicating again his multi-stranded approach to building up the orchestra’s standing. “It’s all about keeping the key priorities in mind.”

This does not sound like a man (or a board) who has been seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices” for months or years. Nor does it sound like a man (or a board) who is thinking very deeply about those significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices and writing a Strategic Guide of how to address them. And this surely does not sound like a man (or a board) who is anticipating the necessity of a sharply concessionary contract – a “significant departure[s] from the traditions of the past” – a mere two years later, in September 2012. So of course one has to wonder: was Michael Henson being disingenuous to this reporter, or is he being disingenuous to us now?

In case you were thinking this was just a bad interview…may I present to you the Michael Henson of December 2009

Henson says the last fiscal year was also one of artistic success for the orchestra both at home and abroad.

“We are quietly pleased with the results,” he said. “We are in control of a difficult situation and I think we are looking forward to the future with a similar amount of control, mindful of the economy we face.”

He says the coming year will continue to present economic challenges but he is confident the orchestra is keeping a careful handle on the situation.

That’s nice. But if you were drawing out of the endowment at an average of 10% during this time, then you were (by the parameters you set forth in the Star Tribune yesterday!not in control of a difficult situation. You were not keeping a careful handle on it, and you had no right to be pleased – quietly or otherwise – with how things were going. Yes, I know that when non-profits are struggling, there is a reluctance to admit how bad things are for fear of scaring away donors and fostering death-spirals. But if things are bad, and you sugarcoat them, when the chickens come home to roost, you can’t treat the public like clueless idiots for asking why your tune has changed. You can’t be in a house, smelling smoke, feeling heat, and hearing smoke alarms, while simultaneously telling people you’re totally in control of any fire that may be forming on the property…and then, when the flames start coming out the windows, scold the public – who wasn’t even in your damn house – by saying, “Guys, I’ve been talking about this raging inferno for years. Help me put it out!”

Of course that leads me to wonder: maybe the fire wasn’t actually burning yet?

Here’s another article from December 2008:

As was the case last year, the orchestra drew only 6 percent from its endowment to help address the budget. The $191 million endowment was down 11 percent because of stock-market performance. The board is allowed to draw up to 7 percent, but spokeswoman Gwen Pappas said the organization has been very firm about avoiding that method.

Okay, so… Based on that 2008 article, let’s try to figure out what’s been happening with the endowment draw rate. I’m using an average of 7% for pre-2007 years, even though Ms. Pappas said the organization had been avoiding that percentage, and it may well have been lower…

2002 – 7% or less

2003 – 7% or less

2004 – 7% or less

2005 – 7% or less

2006 – 7% or less

2007 – 6%

2008 – 6%

I obviously don’t have all the numbers, but based on the ones I do, I don’t think it’s particularly outrageous to assume that, if Henson’s “ten percent over the past ten years” statement is actually true, then in 2009, 2010, and 2011, the board must have increased the draw rate to an annual average percentage of 17%+. This seems frankly unbelievable, especially since Richard Davis went on record in December 2010 as saying, “This was a season characterized by disciplined budget management and significant expense cuts, which kept our operations stable in an unpredictable environment.” I don’t know if anyone would call a 17% annual draw “disciplined budget management” (especially not the Richard Davis of 2012), but…okay. I’d be curious to know what all happened in 2009 that necessitated such a dramatic climb in the draw rate. Yes, the crashing economy no doubt had a lot to do with it…but does that explain all of it? (Or, is Michael Henson lying about the draw rate?)

Also, since the post-2009 draw rates were clearly such dramatic outliers, regardless of exact percentages, why didn’t Henson say something like “over the last three years, our draw has increased to an average of 17%+, but before the recession began, it was no higher than 7%”? Were ulterior motives at play? Did he want to make it look like the huge draws were an indication of systemic failure, rather than merely a result of the recession? (This meshes with management’s insinuation that problems have been in place “for many years.”) Did he want to keep the public from placing the blame on him? Did he just pull that number out of nowhere, forgetting that a quick Google search is all it takes to check his statements against Star Tribune articles?

[Important Edit 10/29: More information on draw rates here.]

And why isn’t Henson willing to clearly discuss everything that happened in his tenure, positive or negative? It smacks of a rather desperate insecurity. He was proud to say in December 2009 that he was in control of a difficult situation, and that he was pleased with how things were going. In July 2010 the Minnesota Orchestra felt comfortable posting an article on their website saying, “The former Bournemouth Symphony head is strategising his way through the recession – and winning.” Implication: management thought they were strategising their way through the recession, and winningBut now we’re being told that, “Whoops; our bad; we didn’t actually mean ‘winning’; we meant ‘veering ever-closer toward an inevitable fiscal Armageddon.'” Then why didn’t you tell us then???

Binds like this don’t happen overnight. If the Orchestra’s only options truly are to deplete their endowment by 2018 or impose 25-50% wage cuts, there is an immediate crisis, no matter what Mr. Henson says. Obviously someone, somewhere, screwed up. Badly. And even if part of the blame rests on the musicians’ 2007-12 contract, not all of it lies there. If the problems really were this serious back in July of 2010, and December of 2009, and December of 2008, then Michael Henson knew about them. And he had a duty to say something. Or at least email whoever was in charge of the website and say, “Guys, you might want to take down that ‘Michael Henson is winning’ article…it will come back to bite us in the a** in 2012 when we’re forced to reveal how hopelessly f***ed we are…”

Michael Henson is either misrepresenting the facts now, or he was misrepresenting the facts then. Period.

(Also, I have a funny little factoid for y’all: when you Google “Michael Henson Minnesota Orchestra”, my Hundred Questions are on the first page. So every time Michael Henson does a Google search on himself and his employer, he’s going to be reminded of me. Aww.)

Like I said, convince me I’m crazy. Please. Because this just seems too wild to be true. As always, the comments section is open to everybody.

Update, 9/26.According to the musicians’ blog, at their most recent negotiating meeting, the musicians asked management questions about “inconsistencies found within the Board and Management’s financial information.” I’m assuming at least some of those questions were similar in nature to the ones asked above…? “The meeting proceeded with an assurance from the Board and Management that the Musicians would receive answers to these questions later…” Interesting. Feel free to speculate as to what that means… If I hear or read anything from management addressing what I wrote above, I’ll add it to this entry. If you hear anything, post it below.


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Hello, Minnesota Orchestra Management!

Hello Minnesota Orchestra management!!! Welcome!!!

Slap on a name-tag and step right up! We’ve been waiting for you!

Just in case the discs I sent you on 19 September didn’t burn correctly – or they don’t work on your system – or they’ve gotten lost – here is a link to the hundred-ish questions I’d like you to answer re: the Minnesota Orchestra…

Here’s the link again.

And here’s the link again!


Here’s a link to a PDF version of my questions.

And here’s a link to a .doc version of my questions.

And if you want any more document formats, let me know, and I’ll convert them right away for you.

I’m trying my best to make it as easy as possible for you!

I’ll keep this entry at the top of the blog for as long as it takes until I hear back from you!

When you’re done, let me know. We’ll get in touch about how you want to deliver your answers. My return mailing address is on the manila envelope I sent you. Or you can comment in the comment section. Or contact me through Facebook. Somehow we’ll touch base with one another.

Anyway, thanks so much for your time. You really have no idea how much it’s appreciated. Can’t wait to hear from you, and neither can my readers…

Edit, eight months later (5/30): I’m still waiting…


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Hundred-ish Questions Send-off!

Hello dear readers!

I just wanted to let you know that today I sent out three packages containing my Hundred-ish Questions for Minnesota Orchestra management. I made a little video last night showing everybody what I put into them…

Sorry I look so tired here. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been blogging a lot lately… :)

Here’s a PDF of the file I sent out. As you can see, it’s basically the same thing as what’s in my blog entry, with a few tiny tweaks.

And here’s a copy of the receipt, with my phone number whited out…

So there’s proof I sent it out! And yes, I did spend $25+ on this likely fruitless endeavor. (I was picking up the 16x16x16 box for someone else, but the $3.29 “retail package sales” was for tape because I’m poor and all I had were old crappy manila envelopes that needed more than my spit to stay stuck for more than ten seconds.) The fact that I so readily spend such a large percentage of my income on this type of quixotic quest is probably one reason I’m not as wealthy as Campbell or Davis.

Unfortunately, my computer keeps telling me I still have files to burn. Whut? This obviously leaves me thinking, um, did those files actually burn? I thought they did, but…if they didn’t burn…and management puts in the CDs and there’s actually nothing on them…well, awk-ward. This wouldn’t be the first time technology has let me down. [Edit 9/20: Thanks to a reader comment, I realized this sounded like I didn’t check the discs before I sent them. I did. See comment section here for a discussion of the particular weird issues I have with my particular weird laptop.] BUT I did put my blog’s address in the PDF, and I’m guessing that Michael Henson at least has (maybe) (possibly?) heard some vague rumblings of this blog’s existence, so… One way or another, management should find a way to get those questions, unless they’re really really stupid. They can’t deny a paper copy didn’t get delivered, anyhow. In a last-ditch effort to entice Campbell and Davis and Henson and their colleagues here, I’ll sticky an awesome colorful greeting at the top of the blog. Ooo, shiny.

The guy at Pak Mail said it should be in Minneapolis by Monday or Tuesday. For what that’s worth.

Anyway! That’s today’s news.

I’m not sure what to expect (absolutely nothing?) but at least we tried.

I’m working on some other stuff, too. It’s interesting what’s all online about various people. If you know where to look. *shrug*


Filed under My Writing

Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO 2012 Negotiations: Week -2

Hullo, y’all. New week, new blog entry. Here’s my coverage of week -4 and here’s my coverage of week -3.


16 September 2012

Not much has happened on the Orchestral Apocalypse front since I wrote last. I thought maybe there’d be stuff in the Sunday newspapers about this week’s developments, but…no dice. I’ve recently been reminded – politely – that the local reporters I’ve been snarking at lately are good people who are doing their best in a very difficult confusing situation. Sigh. This is no doubt true. So if any reporters are reading this, I’m sorry if I’ve come across as insensitive over the last couple of weeks. I’m not frustrated at you: I’m frustrated at the infrastructure. I’m pissed that no one has the time or resources to give this story the attention it deserves. Newspapers can’t afford in-depth coverage; news broadcasts don’t have time; bloggers aren’t experts and don’t have access to important people; and then the public gets screwed. We live in a media-rich world in which no media source is rich enough to be able to cover all the stories that deserve to be covered. And that just sucks. Boo.

This morning I published a very long blog entry called “A Hundred-ish Questions for Minnesota Orchestra Management.” In it, I (you guessed it!) ask management a hundred questions, give or take a few, about the direction they want to take the orchestra, from the point of view of a dedicated patron and orchestra lover. I’m planning on sending multiple physical copies out in a week or so. And I’m also planning on asking someone from the musician’s negotiating committee to pass a copy along, if they feel it would be appropriate to do so. (Obviously it will be up to them if they actually deliver it.) (Edit 9/18: I’ve heard from a reliable source that it will be most likely to get to those in charge via mail, so that’s what I’m going to do. Soooooooo, dear management, keep checking your mail, guys! Because I will keep badgering you about this! xoxo) So if you’ve got a question you want to ask management, comment away. This may be your best chance to catch their ear.

Although there may not have been many developments lately, there has been some interesting analysis going on…

Writer and composer Colin Eatock wrote a blog the other day called “When Should a Conductor Speak Up“? It discusses the question: where’s Osmo? At the end of his article Eatock concludes: “But if the management of the Minnesota Orchestra ‘wins’ this dispute, and forces a harsh contract on the players, and Vänskä seems content to go along with it all, then the artistic damage done will be on his head.” Them’s fighting words, Mr. Eatock! I’m not sure if the situation is that simple. Osmo is going to have to choose the least worst option from a bunch of very bad options, and his decision of how to handle the situation is going to be a deeply personal one. I don’t think we should be judging him quite yet. IMHO. *shrug* Still, an interesting article.

(But while we’re on the Osmo topic… This will be a bit of a flight of fancy, so hang on tight. In September 2009, Vänskä renewed his contract until 2015. To refresh your memory, the stock market crashed in the fall of 2008. [Remember the suspension of the McCain campaign? Ahh, yes. Those were…interesting times.] In September 2009, the Dow Jones was at about 9500, down from a high of roughly 13,000 in May of 2008. Not that the Dow is the be-all, end-all of economic data; I’m just using it to back up my own personal recollection, which is that, in September 2009, even the anemic recovery we’re currently experiencing seemed a ridiculously optimistic proposition. Ridiculously optimistic. I’m guessing that Minnesota Orchestra management was quaking in their boots: if they see financial disaster coming now, surely it seemed even more alarming and imminent back then? Right? Anyway, here’s where I’m going with this: one of the things Vänskä must have thought about before renewing his contract for such a length of time was whether or not the orchestra seemed likely to be financially stable through 2015, and whether or not his musicians seemed likely to be relatively happy with the musicians’ contract everyone knew was going to be re-negotiated in 2012. I’ve only met the man once in a CD signing line so I can only surmise; but I wonder: if he had known this was coming, would he really have wanted to stay? What numbers did he see when he was deciding whether or not to sign his new contract? Who did he discuss financial issues with? Did he look at statements and projections himself? Did he trust what the CEO and/or board of directors told him? What kind of picture was painted to him about the organization’s fiscal future, back in the dark uncertain days of 2009, that nonetheless reassured him enough to sign a contract past 2012, when everyone knew the musicians’ contract expired? Did some financial catastrophe hit the Minnesota Orchestra between then and now that was unforeseeable in September 2009? Or was Vänskä just not paying any attention to money? That idea seems hard to swallow; we all know the dude’s a notorious perfectionist. Would a man who brings a metronome to a Minnesota Orchestra rehearsal really not spend hours poring over his orchestra’s financial statements and projections while making a decision whether or not to stay until 2015? Is this perhaps a point in favor of the musicians’ claim that different people have been shown different numbers at different times? What do you mean, the tinfoil hat isn’t attractive on me? I think it’s a lovely look! … I don’t know. It’s just a thought I’ve been having, and it won’t go away. Feel free to tear it apart in the comments.)

Here’s another interesting article from violist Robert Levine, called “On governance.” Excerpt: “We also assume that most board members know what they’re doing. I’ve come to realize that’s not really true in most places. There’s very little formal training or support for board members, so new board members often model their behavior on what they see around them – which is to say that boards tend to perpetuate how they work and how well they function.” Read the whole thing; it’s thought-provoking.

TPT Almanac ran a segment about the SPCO negotiations on 14 September. Newsflash: Carole Mason Smith and Dobson West are in the same room and on camera together and not killing each other! I’m so impressed, guys!! Eye contact is…negligible to non-existent. But still! I can’t imagine Minnesota Orchestra management doing something like this (psst: Minnesota Orchestra management: that’s your cue to prove me wrong). Anyway, Carole and Dobby, let me hug you both. Yes, even you, Mr. Dobby. It will be a very very very brief hug because to be frank I don’t trust you farther than I can spit, but still. A hug. Congratulations, guys. Let’s do more of this in the future!

(I feel like a marriage counselor.)

Here’s some late breaking news I found just as I was wrapping this post up…

Looks like the Minnesota Orchestra had a great concert this afternoon at Lake Harriet. Look at this crowd… Holy frigging crap. That doesn’t look like the Minnesota Orchestra at Lake Harriet; that looks like the New York Philharmonic in Central Park. And when you remember that this concert was only scheduled twelve days ago, and that it wasn’t advertised on the Minnesota Orchestra website…well, um, wow. Congratulations, you guys. If any of my readers made it to the show, talk to me! The comment section is, as always, open to everyone.

The Minnesota Orchestra musicians have also announced a second concert: Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra raise money for Community Emergency Service. This concert will be in Edina on 23 September 2012 at 4pm. I’m working that day, too, so I won’t be able to make it. Anyone else able to go? I’m not sure how many of the musicians will be there, but I’m sure you’ll be in for a treat regardless of how many make it.

18 September 2012

The big news of the day comes from this video of the Minnesota Orchestra Lake Harriet concert.

It’s definitely worth a watch, but if you can’t or don’t have time, here’s the meat of the message transcribed:

When we hear that $14 million in taxpayer money is being plowed into building a new lobby for Orchestra Hall, but that the budget for filling the hall and paying the salaries of those who fill it with great music has to be slashed by thirty to fifty percent…that’s upsetting. And we know it’s upsetting to a lot of you as well. I actually had no problem paying my share of the tax that built Target Field. But if we had built that ballpark – if we had built that little jewel in the Warehouse District and then the owners of the Twins had turned around and told us they could only afford to have the St. Paul Saints play there – that would have made me pretty upset. That would have made me feel like I had been duped into paying for a building rather than paying for the continued existence of major league baseball in the state of Minnesota, which is what I thought I was paying for. Minnesotans know the difference between major and minor league sports teams, and we know that you know the difference between major and minor league arts. You have always supported the best, and it has made this one of the greatest places not just in this country, but in the world to be an artist or a musician.

Those words come from violist and certified badass Sam Bergman. Who knew violists could orate?

This video made me realize that musicians have one key advantage that management will never, ever, ever have: passion for this orchestra. Let’s face facts. Jon Campbell and Richard Davis (and maybe Henson, too, to a certain extent, but I’ll leave him out of the analysis for the moment) aren’t particularly invested in what happens here. Hardly anything is at stake for them. No matter how it ends, Campbell will still be employed at Wells Fargo, collecting money and enjoying health insurance coverage. There he’ll go back to meeting (or not) with the unwashed, unsatisfied rabble. He’ll go back to dealing with allegations that Wells Fargo has been dodging taxes. He’ll go back to dealing with the headaches of being on the board of a non-profit health care organization that was associated with a debt collection agency that used “aggressive and possibly illegal attempt[s] to collect payments [from patients]…even as the patients were seeking emergency treatment and other health care services.” (Google Accretive for the whole awful story. I don’t know exactly what Campbell had to do with all this, if anything, but it is an unavoidable fact that, being on the Fairview board of directors, he’s been battling fallout from scandal this summer.) According to this website, he’ll go back to being the director of Peregrine Capital Management (“a boutique equity firm“) – the chairman of Fairview Health Services – a trustee at the Minneapolis Foundation – the Chairman of the Board at the Greater Twin Cities United Way – the Director at Abbot Downing (which “provides comprehensive services to ultra-high-net-worth clients“). God only knows what else he’s got on his plate besides that. Same goes for Richard Davis. No matter what happens to the Minnesota Orchestra this fall, he will go back to US Bancorp, and back to enjoying the $25 million Forbes says he has earned there in the last five years. He’ll go back to being praised as the new “golden boy” of Wall Street by the New York Post. At least according to this website, he’ll go back to being a member of the Board of Governors at the American Red Cross – a member of the board of directors at The Clearing House – Chairman of Financial Services Roundtable – Director of BITS Financial Services Roundtable (which “represents 100 of the largest integrated financial services companies providing banking, insurance, and investment products and services to the American consumer”). In other words, Campbell and Davis both have so many responsibilities and commitments that the Minnesota Orchestra is probably roughly priority #3,955 for them…and understandably so.

Soooo…remind me again why they’re on the orchestra’s board of directors? Why do they have a hand in making such consequential far-reaching decisions? Is it because of their money? Their power? Their influence? Is it too much to ask that the minimum qualifications for a seat on the board of directors of “the greatest orchestra in the world” be money, power, and influence plus “basic knowledge of how a major orchestra works” plus “enthusiastic passion for first-rate symphonic music” plus “deep-seated respect for all of the organization’s employees”? Really? Is the bar for management really set that low when the bar for musicians is set so high? Question: how are we expecting Campbell and Davis to make informed decisions on behalf of the orchestra when they’re off doing a billion other things, and busy making a billion other dollars doing them? Yes, they’re rich – obscenely so – but no matter how much you idealize and idolize the wealthy, you’ve got to admit that the ability to amass money doesn’t turn a person into an omniscient all-knowing superman who is able to magically keep track of all the specialized s*** that must go down at all of these companies, charities, and organizations. Especially when the IRS and state attorney general enter into your professional life.

Guys, it’s okay to admit you can’t do everything. None of us is God. Sometimes as fallible human beings, we bite off more than we can chew, and that’s okay. But you’ve already bitten so much off that you’re not going to be able to swallow, much less digest, without having to deal with some serious stomach problems and/or clogged toilets.

I think I’m going to add that to my Hundred-ish Questions: how on earth are you able to keep up with the needs of all the organizations you either work at or serve? It just strikes me as being patently impossible. Jack of all trades, master of none.

So anyway. The point of that ramble is this: the passion advantage currently stands at 1,000,000 to 1. The musicians are winning. And according to this metric? They will always win. Why? Because money alone can’t buy passion. No matter how many millions you have in the bank.

In other news, this article called “The Commoditization of Symphony Orchestra Musicians” has been making the rounds, and is worth a read.

Also, here’s a short video from progressive group Minnesota 2020 about keeping the best musicians in Minnesota. Not much, if anything, new in there, but it’s a video, so…have at it.

21 September

This week has been relatively quiet, hasn’t it? We’ll probably start hearing more within the next few days, though. The SPCO meets with management today. There’s been no word yet if management has approved the formal language of the proposed contract, or if the musicians are still expected to give feedback on it without having the language in place. Minnesota Orchestra musicians and management meet on Monday. This may well be the calm before another storm the likes of what we saw on September 4 and September 5. If the SPCO releases the formal language of their proposed contract within a day of Minnesota management releasing something big…I will be forced to wonder if some kind of coordination is happening in an attempt to influence media coverage. Because bad news is always more powerful when it’s given all at once, as opposed to released on a drip.

Okay, okay. I’m taking off the hat now.

There are a few miscellaneous things I wanted to pass along…

(1) I haven’t actually had time to listen to this yet, but Star Tribune writer Graydon Royce was kind enough to stop by the blog the other day, and he passed along this link… “I would also refer you to a forum in which I participated last week with blogger Drew McManus and Orchestra League president Jesse Rosen on WQXR, New York…!/articles/conducting-business/2012/sep/14/how-troubled-orchestras-can-bounce-back-and-flourish/ ” Like I said, I haven’t had time to listen yet, but maybe you do! Tell me what you think. You can stop by the comment section below to read all Royce’s feedback.

(2) I forgot to mention that a statement by Osmo was read at the Lake Harriet concert. It’s a thing of beauty:

“When I arrived in Minneapolis in 2003, I set many lofty goals for the Minnesota Orchestra. I knew that with hard work and dedication to our art, we would be able to achieve them and take our place among the greatest orchestras in the world. Our musicians have met every challenge I set out for them, and I could not be prouder of what we have achieved. And I also believe that, if we stay focused on our mission of bringing great music and great musicians to Minnesota and the world, we can have even greater days ahead of us.”

Frankly this was a way more pro-musician statement than I was expecting at this stage of the game. Consider for a moment… I don’t think anyone was expecting him to say anything at this event (were you?) This was a pretty anti-management event. It was put on without management’s permission or support, and included a fiery speech attacking management’s proposals. And by submitting a statement to be read at it, Osmo gave the event his subtle, tacit approval. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but from where I’m sitting, this statement struck all the right notes. Bravo. This isn’t the first standing ovation I’ve given Osmo Vänskä, and it certainly won’t be the last.

(3) MPR has a new article out today called “Twin Cities orchestras make public appeal amid contract negotiations.” I personally found  it pretty slapdash for an MPR report, but maybe I’m just having a bad day. Let me know what you think. I was concerned about the omission of two things in particular: (A) the fact that SPCO musicians haven’t yet seen the formal language of management’s contract, and (B) the fact that working conditions remain a vitally important focus of the negotiations at both orchestras (commentators and journalists really, really need to highlight the importance of these, since 99% of the population doesn’t understand what working conditions mean to professional orchestral musicians). I’m still interested in / puzzled by Minnesota management’s claim that the musicians have offered no counter-proposal. I know there’s more to the story than that. Management has been demonstrably disingenuous on their website, so why would they start telling the truth now? I know these musicians; they’re some of the smartest people you could imagine. And let’s be honest: the long-term fiscal health of the orchestra is a h*** of a lot more important to them than it is to anyone on the board of directors, including Michael Henson (we all know he’ll find another high-paying job elsewhere after this is all over, no matter how it ends). Maybe for whatever reason the musicians can’t or don’t want to speak about this, and that’s understandable, but at some point when we’re doing the autopsy of these negotiations, it would be interesting to hear more about the whole “lack of counter-proposal” thing.

Michael Henson also said something hilarious in the MPR report:

Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson said management is incredibly respectful of the musicians and their talent. But he too says transparency is now what is needed, particularly as the contract deadline is now less than two weeks away.

Bold mine. Hahahahahaha. What a dry sense of humor. Oh, those Brits!

However, this statement from Henson comes as a great relief to me. Because if Michael Henson believes that transparency is vitally necessary, then clearly there’s no excuse for him not to be working on my Hundred Questions, right? If transparency is key, he should not only take two minutes to acknowledge he received my questions, but he should be answering them, too. Soooo….cool beans! I can’t wait to hear from him. Let’s put the kettle on; I’m sure he’ll be here any minute… *dusts off the sticky at the top of the page, which, you may notice, now includes a link to the hundred questions, a PDF version of the hundred questions, a doc version of the hundred questions, and an offer to convert the hundred questions into whatever format anyone on the board desires*

Okay, the snark of those last two paragraphs is too much for even me to handle. Paging Michael Henson. Reality called, and they want you back. Come join us, Mr. Henson. The waters of reality are warm, refreshing, and inviting.

Let’s end on a high note. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have begun a petition to “keep world-class musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra.” I’ve heard that over 1000 signatures were gathered at the Lake Harriet show (!), and right now, less than 36 hours after releasing that petition, the musicians are looking at an additional 950+ names. (If you haven’t already, please take a moment to sign yourself!) So, if those Lake Harriet numbers are indeed correct, within the span of a couple of days, the musicians have gotten approximately two thousand signatures supporting them, without the money, PR advantage, and web presence that management has. Also remember, the people who share things on Facebook and read orchestra blogs and sign petitions are a tech-savvy demographic that skews young (and probably liberal). And as consultants are fond of reminding us, the young aren’t the core audience at Orchestra Hall. Think of what those numbers might climb to if we’re able to reach the coffee concerts crowd.

In that MPR article, a PR consultant named Jon Austin said, “The number of people whose hearts and minds they are competing for, frankly, is pretty small. Probably could fill the Minnesota Orchestra Main Hall and maybe overflow into the lobby a little bit. But it’s a pretty small number.” LOL. Sorry, I just can’t let this stand. This statement may have been well-meaning, I don’t know, but it’s just so factually inaccurate, it’s just…wow. I have no idea what the reasoning behind this “pretty small” assumption was, or why MPR decided it was a judgment worth printing. The Minnesota Orchestra alone has 9100+ Facebook likes, and you know the vast majority of the Minnesota Orchestra’s fans are not on Facebook. Judging by the number of people who attended the Lake Harriet concert on such short notice; the reaction my blog has gotten; and now the number of signatories the musicians’ petition is attracting…I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to tell Mr. Austin that his assumption is flat-out wrong. Huzzah! The number of people who are concerned about the future of the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO could clearly fill Orchestra Hall several times over…at the very, very least. Mr. Austin is totally underestimating how many people have opinions about this conflict, either pro- or anti-management, and if performances are affected in the coming weeks (as I’m guessing they will be), that number will climb dramatically, quickly. And that’s not just the wishful thinking of an orchestra lover: we have the data and the attendance and the signatures to back it up. So please, let’s not fall back on the old tired stereotype that only a handful of people cares about orchestral music, because as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, that’s just not true…at least not in the Twin Cities. There is more than enough bulls*** floating around out there right now; we don’t need any more. Let’s have a little reality check here: one of the very few things we know for certain about this conflict is that, no matter what happens, thousands and thousands of people care. Period.

Speaking of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Facebook page… (I went there for the first time in a long time to get that 9100 likes figure.) And while I was there I noticed something that y’all may find interesting…

Whenever anyone expresses frustration or dismay over management’s proposals, the Orchestra writes a little note along these lines…

And so on and so forth. Interestingly, there are only two posts they haven’t acknowledged…



As the Internet meme goes…

I did have the thought that it might be worth eventually posting a link to the Hundred Questions on Facebook if I don’t hear an acknowledgment of its receipt relatively soon. I don’t want to annoy anybody, but… Dude, I spent a long time on those questions. It would be really nice to get some acknowledgment, even if it’s something along the lines of “YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT TO ASK ALL THESE THINGS, FOR SHAME.” I really don’t think an acknowledgment is too much to ask for.

Am I the only one who feels bad for whoever is running the Minnesota Orchestra Facebook page? You know s/he has no input into any of this, and yet s/he must toe the line as politely as possible, with the threat of being fired by email hovering over his/her head (if this reference doesn’t make sense to you, click this link and look at the questions right above “Website Stuff”). Anyway, tough gig, that. I’m guessing I’d get the termination email sooner rather than later.

I do want to take a moment to praise the Orchestra’s new stock response to patrons’ concerns. It has changed from “look at our pro-management website” to “we will share your concerns with management.” This is an improvement, and a move toward dialogue. I recently had this conversation…

So, um, yeah. I think that kind of speaks for itself. It might be worthwhile to keep checking on that, as I believe this is the first we’ve heard that management is claiming it will eventually update its website “as new questions arise.” Of course new questions have arisen in the last week, and as best as I can tell, nothing has changed on the website except for the section called “Industry News” which is where management gets some kind of weird kinky thrill linking to articles about orchestras in distress. (Fun factoid: positive industry news, or at least non-negative industry news, like what we’ve heard lately out of the National SymphonyChicago Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony, has never been posted in “Industry News.” I’m not sure what to take away from those omissions besides the fact that management doesn’t really want to provide a comprehensive “view of the current landscape,” and that they must think we patrons are stupid idiotic simpletons who can’t understand the need for sharp concessions unless we only see articles that support management’s thesis.) (Another fun factoid: management officially considers the Huffington Post to be a “reputable news source.” That’s an…interesting perspective. Apparently a blog entry written by an anonymous author on a gossipy website famous for such Pulitzer-eligible journalism as “Kathy Griffin Without Makeup Is Barely Recognizable“, “Ohio Woman Finds Out Husband Was Her Father“, and “Miley Cyrus Flashes Side-Boob, Talks Sex Scenes, and Losing Her Virginity“…apparently that website is a more reputable, more serious news source than this one. Come on, management. I haven’t even talked about side-boob here once. What do I have to do to be reputable? Turn anonymous, steal others’ work, and start salivating over the Amanda Bynes trainwreck?

I can only assume though if they’ve seen that Huffington Post blog, they’ve seen this one. Don’t pretend you haven’t. Come out, come out wherever you are! I won’t bite; I promise. I may poke at you, and poke hard at times, but I do it out of love, and out of a pure desire to see this orchestra be the best it can be. My first loyalty is not to you; it is not to the musicians; it is to the orchestra as an institution. I swear. Plus, did you see the video I posted of myself? I’m a 5’5″ 90-pound shrimp. You could snap my arms like toothpicks. For God’s sake.

22 September 2012

Not much analysis on my part today, but here’s some news…

From MPR: “Does SPCO, Minn. Orchestra musicians’ skill justify their pay?” FYI, the short answer is “yes.” And the long answer is “yesssssssssssssssssss.” I can certainly think of some people who don’t deserve their salaries, but happily the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra musicians are not among them.

From MPR again: “Labor talks at SPCO apparently fruitless.” That headline seems just a tad disingenuous; judging by the article, there may have been some fruit, just not enough fruit to end in a final agreement. Heck, that article doesn’t even say if musicians got the final language of the proposed contract that they were waiting for. According to the previous MPR article, talks were scheduled for both yesterday and today, and it doesn’t appear that they were cut short, as I believe they were at a certain point in the negotiations not too long ago. So I’m going to believe there was progress, if only because I want to.

Also, in an exciting twist, the Chicago Symphony is now on strike. Hullo! Atlanta, YOU get a labor dispute; Indianapolis, YOU get a labor dispute; Minneapolis, YOU get a labor dispute; St. Paul, YOU get a labor dispute; Chicago, YOU get a labor dispute! EVERYBODY GETS A LABOR DISPUTE!!!! WOOOOOOOOOO


Filed under My Writing

A Hundred-ish Questions for Minnesota Orchestra Management

Are you a patron who is confused by what’s happening right now with the Minnesota Orchestra? Do you have a question you want to send to management? If so, I want your input! This is an open letter I’d like to send to the board of directors, and I’d love for you to add to it.


Dear Minnesota Orchestra management,

Well, this is awkward.

A few days ago I wrote a blog entry titled “Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?” In it I called you dangerously oblivious incompetents “who are too arrogant to realize they know nothing about the organization’s very reason for being.” Despite the bravado, those were tough words for me to write. I’m a peacemaker who gets anxiety attacks when criticizing anyone about anything. So let’s “reset” our relationship: I’d like to give you a chance to convince me (and my thousands of readers) that I’m a raving partisan lunatic.

How? I’ve come up with a list of approximately a hundred questions that I’d like anyone on the board of directors to answer publicly, but especially Jon Campbell, Richard Davis, and Michael Henson. Ideally I’d bring my voice recorder and come visit y’all myself, but I’m guessing it will be difficult for us all to find mutually convenient times in which to ask and answer all these questions aloud. So I’m thinking it might be best if you answered them in writing. Take 10, 15 minutes out a day for a few days. Answer a few a day over the next couple of weeks. If certain questions are too sensitive given the current negotiations, say so and move on. When you’re done, save as a PDF and send it to me (try contacting me through Facebook, or if that doesn’t work, ask the musicians to get it to me), and I’ll publish it here unedited. Surely despite the no doubt extraordinary demands on your time, you could find a spare quarter hour every day for a week or two to explain yourselves and your plans more fully…since they will, after all, affect the future of one of the great orchestras of the world. Pretty important topic, that! Plus, I know you agree: transparency is key.

These aren’t meant to be judgmental gotcha questions. I’ve done my best to phrase them fairly and neutrally. I don’t mean to vilify. My only purpose in asking them is to try to get inside your heads, since I’ve had such difficulty doing so over the last couple of weeks. Ultimately, all I want is to understand the future you’re envisioning for the orchestra that means so much to me. I promise.

Clearly you have utmost confidence in the direction you want to take the Minnesota Orchestra. So what would you have to lose by explaining that direction more fully, and inspiring confidence in others? If you answer me, you could reach an audience of literally thousands (“Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?” got thousands of hits in the last few days, and those are just the views I can see; I know there are many more I can’t). You could cultivate goodwill among your musicians, your patrons, your public…reassure those who are afraid you’re in over your head…force me to eat my own bitter words. Agreeing to give a hugely in-depth interview to a blogger (especially one who has been highly critical of you!) would be a daring move that would prove you’re serious about bold leadership and a robust dialogue…and as a bonus, it would be a “forward-looking digital…initiative to reach broad audiences & raise visibility.”

You have everything to gain in such an open and honest exchange of ideas, and absolutely nothing – nothing – to lose.

So let’s have at it. Would you mind answering all – or heck, even some – of these questions for us? And if you have time for nothing else, can you at least clarify some questions I had about your website?

And if not, why not?

I’ve given the Minnesota Orchestra a lot of free publicity over the last two years. I’ve spent hours upon hours writing about the Inside the Classics series – the Greenstein Microcommissionthe Sibelius Midori showyour shows in Winonayour January 2012 Brahmspalooza. I don’t get paid for doing this. I do it out of love and enthusiasm for this orchestra. These posts have been read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people all over the world, largely by a well-educated young tech-savvy demographic that I’m guessing you’re rather desperate to reach. I’ve done you guys a favor. So would you mind doing me one? I guarantee you, you won’t be able to read my past blog entries about the Minnesota Orchestra and say I don’t share your stated goal of supporting “an artistically excellent, fiscally responsible, world-class orchestra that benefits our audiences, supporters, community and musicians for years to come.” I’m here; you’re here. Let’s talk.

Here goes.

Personal Questions

How many Minnesota Orchestra concerts have you attended over the last year?

What were your favorite five, and why?

Do you feel your attendance (or lack thereof; I don’t know) at concerts is relevant to your ability to oversee the orchestra?

Would you like to be more involved with your patrons? If so, how?

What did you think of Judd Greenstein’s Acadia?

Who are three of your favorite musicians in the orchestra to watch, and why?

When and where did you study music?

How would you describe your relationship to music in general, and orchestral music in particular?

Who is your favorite composer, and what do you like most about his work?

What kinds of music do you listen to the most?

What do you bring to your job that uniquely qualifies you to safeguard and support the Minnesota Orchestra?

What do you feel you can learn from your musicians?

What do you feel they could learn from you?

What role do you envision a musicians’ union as playing in today’s world?

Do you believe classical music is dying?

If you do, why? What moves you to devote so much time and energy to trying to keep it alive?

If you don’t, why? What do you believe is keeping it alive, vital, and relevant?

What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made during your tenure?

Why do you think you made those mistakes?

What steps have you taken to avoid those mistakes in the future?

What have been your biggest successes?

Why do you think you achieved those successes?

In your opinion, what mistakes have the musicians made in the last five to ten years?

Why, in your opinion, did they make those mistakes?

What, in your opinion, have been their biggest successes?

Why do you think they achieved those successes?

How have you felt about the press’s coverage of the labor dispute thus far?

Artistic Vision

Would you classify the upcoming season in the convention center as more similar or dissimilar than what you have envisioned for future seasons in the new Orchestra Hall?

If you personally had total control over programming, and didn’t have to answer to anybody, what percentage of shows would be pops and what would be classical? And why?

What does the phrase “heightened artistry” from your Strategic Business Plan Summary mean to you?

Do you believe that artistic quality can be heightened if a relatively large percentage of musicians are actively seeking employment elsewhere?

How big of a concern is turnover to you?

What steps are you planning on taking to minimize turnover after the new contract takes effect?

Do you feel confident you have an understanding of the way in which turnover may or may not affect artistic quality? Please elaborate.

Do you have a plan in place to meet the challenges of heightening artistic quality while also dealing with potential turnover and demoralization?

When are you planning to hold auditions for seats that are now empty?

Have you thought about what to do if many of your principals leave in a short period of time, since they are the ones most likely to find work elsewhere the fastest?

As a purely hypothetical question, if Vänskä told you that your proposals ran a high risk of severely impacting the artistic quality of your orchestra, would you consider altering them in any way?

Have you thought about what you want to see in your next music director?

Have you thought about how you want to attract the next music director?

Why specifically is touring important to you?

Why specifically is recording important to you?

What kinds of educational and outreach programs would you like to see the orchestra adopt?

How specifically would you like to use new technology in relation to the orchestra?


How much money will the changes in working conditions in your proposed contract save the orchestra?

Do you have any idea why the musicians aren’t satisfied with previous audits of the orchestra’s endowment?

Why not have another one if it satisfies your musicians? Is it a matter of cost, or are you resisting for another reason?

Do you believe Minnesota can afford to support two world-class orchestras with internationally competitive benefits and salaries?

Do you feel the Minnesota Orchestra would have been able to meet more of the musicians’ demands if the recession had not hit, and if so, how many more? Some more? A lot more?

Was it more or less difficult than you thought it would be to raise the capital for the Building for the Future campaign?

Do you feel you personally contributed in any way to the orchestra’s current financial catastrophe, or do you feel it was inevitable and largely, if not completely, out of your control?

Do you believe the fiscal health of the orchestra will improve after the recession? If so, how and by how much? If not, why not?

If turnover is high and artistic standards decline, do you believe this will affect your ability to fundraise? Or do you believe the quality of a major orchestra is relatively irrelevant when it comes to fundraising?

Have you been in contact with anyone at SPCO management about their situation? Have they been in contact with you about yours?

How do you feel overseeing a non-profit organization is similar to overseeing a for-profit one?

How do you feel overseeing a non-profit organization is different to overseeing a for-profit one?

Treatment of Employees

How well do you feel the various staff members of the Minnesota Orchestra have communicated with one another in the run-up to this crisis?

Why did you insinuate in the press that it will be relatively easy to replace your musicians? (E.g.: “So couple what’s happening in the marketplace with a large supply – not to dismiss the fact that we don’t want to lose any of our wonderful musicians – but there may be some changes” and “there’s a risk that they find their way to another place.”) Talking that way obviously doesn’t affect the budget at all, and I know that many people (including me) were puzzled and disappointed by this attitude. Would you care to elaborate why you said what you did? Why not take an attitude more along the lines of “We can’t afford these wonderful people, and we’re terrified and devastated we’re going to lose them. They have done us proud. We’re so sad to see them go”?

Do you feel it will be relatively easy to replace any musicians who may leave?

Do you feel your musicians are unwilling to compromise?

Do you feel your musicians are more interested in their own personal finances than in the long-term health of the orchestra, or do you feel they are selfish and/or clueless about what it will take to chart a sustainable course forward?

Do you believe your musicians regard salary as being more than, less than, or equally important as working conditions?

How many musicians do you think will leave within the next, say, three years if your proposed contract is adopted as-is?

What number of musicians would have to leave before you’d start feeling alarmed about turnover?

Who made the decision to shut down the Inside the Classics blog?

Do you know what the rationale was behind that?

Did anyone consult with Sam or Sarah beforehand?

Why weren’t they given a chance to write a good-bye / hiatus post of their own?

Why did the author of the good-bye / hiatus post insinuate that Sam and Sarah were unable to both blog and plan for the upcoming season, when they’ve done both for years? Why not just leave the blog blank?

Did you ask the musicians’ permission to post your proposed contract online before you did so? If so, what did they say?

If you didn’t ask the musicians’ permission, why not?

Is it true that what you’re negotiating in private is different than what you’re proposing in public, or are your musicians lying?

How did you feel that releasing the contract would help negotiations?

If negotiations persist past 1 October, would you be open to posting the expired contract alongside your proposed one, so it is easier for reporters and the general public to put your proposed changes into context?

Do you believe musicians should have a greater input in how the business side of the orchestra is run?

If so, what role do you envision for them?

One of my blog readers commented that he knows of someone who worked for the Minnesota Orchestra who was recently informed of her termination via email. Is this true, and if so, what do you know about that situation? Is this standard procedure?

Do you know who was in charge of making the decision to inform her in that way?

If you haven’t already, would you be willing to apologize to her and whoever else may have been fired in that way?

Website Stuff

In your opinion, is the general tone of your website respectful and kind to your musicians?

What are you envisioning when you say “new concert formats and content”? Could you elaborate on that phrase?

Why did you insinuate that musicians are reluctant to participate in outreach efforts or play chamber music in community locations?

“Musicians in other major orchestras have agreed to concessions.” Why did you not mention here that the Minnesota musicians also agreed to concessions in 2009? I understand that you would like to (or need to) see further concessions, but it seems misleading to not mention what they’ve already given. It implies that audiences are unable to see the gravity of the situation unless only certain facts are set before them, and I personally feel a little condescended to because of that.

“What will happen if the Orchestra’s contract proposal fails to gain approval from the musicians?” Your answer doesn’t actually answer that question, instead addressing ticket prices. Could you please clarify?

Why aren’t Mr. Campbell’s words about “there may be some changes” in the Minnesota Orchestra management FAQ under “Will pay cuts cause the best talent to leave the orchestra”? Could you add his words there? If not, why not?

Do you truly believe the musicians share your desire for a “contemporary, world-class, flexible, artistically excellent community resource that can operate within its means regardless of external economic factors”?

In your strategic plan, you mention that “classical music event attendance decreased from 13% of all adults in 1982 to 9% in 2008,” according to the NEA’s “2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.” Happily, that report is online, and I have it right here. I’m assuming you got your percentages from page 18…

Percent of adults attending classical music events

1982 – 13%

1992 – 12.5%

2002 – 11.6%

2008 – (during recession)  9.3%

But of course the United States population has grown over the years, so let’s move over a column and look at the numbers in millions…

Millions of adults attending classical music events

1982 – 21.3

1992 – 23.2

2002 – 23.8

2008 (during recession) – 20.9

I don’t think it’s unrealistic to posit that if the Great Recession hadn’t occurred, there would probably have be more people attending classical music events now than there were in 1982…according to the report you cited. Am I wrong? If I am wrong, how? If I’m right, what was the rationale behind including the more alarming percentages as opposed to the more reassuring numbers? Why not include both to paint a more accurate, nuanced picture of the fiscally challenging future? Do you not trust your audience to interpret more nuanced numbers?

You cited the 2010 Giving USA report for 2008 and 2009’s “national arts funding is declining” figure. Would you be averse to updating that to include 2010 and (if available) 2011’s figures? (I know this strategic plan was published in November 2011, so those may not have been available upon publication, but surely an addendum could be easily added?) Unfortunately, I can’t see the 2010 Giving USA report; one has to pay for more than a summary of it, and, as I’m sure you’d agree, summaries rarely paint the whole complicated picture…

Since you did not include both sets of numbers from the NEA report, and the Giving USA report is (to the best of my knowledge) unavailable for free to the public, would you understand if patrons would be hesitant to take the other numbers in your report at face value, especially since many of them come from reports that are not cited, much less available to the public or to reporters?


What’s your favorite color?

Chocolate or vanilla?

Puppies or kittens?

Well, I think that wraps it up on my end. Looking forward to your response, or at the very least, response about why you don’t want to respond!

Wishing everyone the best for a speedy satisfactory resolution, with as little acrimony as possible.


Emily E Hogstad


So. Those are the questions I came up with. What would you guys ask Minnesota Orchestra management if you had the chance? I’ll gladly add your questions to the list under a separate category called “Reader Questions.” Remember, this is your orchestra, and if you’re confused about anything about this situation, you deserve to ask questions about it. In fact, it’s your duty to ask questions about it!

Please include your full name and hometown in your comment so that management knows I’m not “stuffing the ballot box”, so to speak. If you don’t want your full name posted here, I’ll contact you privately and ask for it.

PS: Musicians? Don’t think I’ve let you off the hook…


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Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO Negotiations: Summary of Week -3

On 30 September the contracts of the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and Minnesota Orchestra expire, and tense negotiations are ongoing. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words (literally) on the subject, and if you want, you can find those here. If you just want a summary of what happened last week, click here.


In early September the SPCO musicians were claiming that management was proposing a contract that included 57%-67% salary cuts. (Interim CEO Dobson West later denied this.) In advance of meetings between musicians and management on Monday and Tuesday, management proposed a new contract. This one included salary cuts of 15%, a reduction in the size of the orchestra from 34 to 28 players, retirement packages for players over 55, and a new two-tiered salary in which current players would be guaranteed $62,500 a year, while new incoming players would only be guaranteed $50,000. In this Star Tribune article, West refers to the new contract as a “significant stretch for the Society and its donors.” Although the outline of the contract was released on 7 September, it is unclear when management originally drafted and approved the ideas contained within it. I’m also not clear why it took this long to get to this point, as negotiations have been ongoing since December of last year…?

Happily, the musicians didn’t reject the terms of the proposed contract outright, and in fact they almost seemed vaguely hopeful about them. “The musicians of the SPCO are encouraged, and we think our supporters should be, too, to learn the SPCO management has found money to spend. However, we are puzzled by how they intend to invest these funds. We hope to learn more in our upcoming negotiations scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday.”

After these meetings occurred, MPR reported that management never showed the musicians the formal language of the contract. In fact, according to the musicians, management will not be able to draft the language in the contract and share it with musicians until “next week at the earliest.” Nevertheless, management would like “a response” from the musicians by the next negotiating session on 21 September, which would only give the musicians a few days – at the most – to look over the document.

Since then, nothing more has come out, and so I can only assume that the musicians are still waiting on management to draft and share that contract. In the meantime, time is ticking, and their current contract expires in sixteen days. So, um, no pressure or anything…feel free to take your time, guys…it’s not like you’ve been negotiating for the last ten months or anything…

Minnesota Orchestra

Developments in Minneapolis were a lot more depressing this week.

If you’ll remember from last week, after management released their proposed contract without the musicians’ say or knowledge via website, the musicians fought back by requesting an independent audit of the orchestra’s finances, alleging that different people have been given different numbers at different times. Management responded thus: “Every year the Minnesota Orchestra performs a thorough, independent audit process by one of the nation’s top accounting firms. We have shared all of our recent audited results with the Union and answered these questions many times in our negotiation sessions over the last five months.” This doesn’t address the musicians’ allegation, so feel free to speculate. (I’ve used the phrase “feel free to speculate” so often on my blog lately I feel inclined to trademark it…)

Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly clear that management’s proposals will cause many musicians to retire or seek work elsewhere (if they aren’t already, and many clearly are). In an interview with the Pioneer Press that made musicians around the nation cringe, board chair and Wells Fargo executive vice president Jon Campbell said of potential turnover:

“The number of highly trained musicians that this country is producing every year is really quite remarkable. If you just take the top echelon of music schools in the U.S., they produce almost 3,000 performing artists a year. So couple what’s happening in the marketplace with a large supply – not to dismiss the fact that we don’t want to lose any of our wonderful musicians – but there may be some changes.”

Campbell did not elaborate on whether he would like to implement an accelerated schedule of auditions to replace the departing players; if he is envisioning an orchestra with a large percentage of substitute players; or if he feels the musicians won’t be able to get work elsewhere and are therefore in effect trapped in Minnesota. Unfortunately, nobody followed up on that question.

Campbell’s colleague Richard Davis, head of the management negotiating team, commented in another interview:

“These are real people with real lives, and they have to protect their own financial circumstances and artistic integrity. There’s a risk that they find their way to another place, and those who can leave will. It’s going to be a personal decision where they want to perform.”

As you can imagine, these comments were not particularly well received by those who view the morale of musicians as being even a halfway important part of an orchestra’s artistic and fiscal success.

I stayed up late a couple nights last week writing a few essays about those two quotes. You can dig them out of my blog if you want. They made the rounds nationally. Mainly they consist of me pressuring management to admit publicly that it will be very difficult to heighten artistry if Minnesota faces a high turnover rate in the next few years. (As of right now, they’re still claiming they’ll be able to raise artistry while simultaneously struggling with high turnover and demoralization. Have fun with that, management!) I get the feeling I might be screaming at a brick wall, but hey. I tried. It’s the best I can do.


The musicians of both orchestras are organizing free concerts in the next few weeks, ostensibly to thank the public for their support, but I imagine also to court goodwill. On 16 September at 4pm the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will be playing at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis. Orchestra violist Sam Bergman will host. Details available here. On 2 October at 7:30pm the musicians of the SPCO will be giving a free concert at Macalester College. Minnesota institution Garrison Keillor will be hosting this show. Details here.

I know this will sound totally ridiculous, but despite the geyser of bad news this week, I’m feeling bizarrely hopeful. Maybe it’s a bad case of Gingrichian delusion; I don’t know. But I’m getting the sense that more and more people are asking vitally important questions we’ve left unasked and unanswered for far too long. Who is really in charge of our orchestras? What credentials should decision-makers have? Who should have what powers? How should the world of business and philanthropy intersect with the world of artistic excellence? When budgets are tight and salaries need to be cut, what inexpensive efforts can management and musicians take to respect one another? Yes, this is a time of flux and change and very possibly grave danger for many orchestras. Yes, many many tears have been shed and no doubt will be shed. Many sleepless nights will be had. And the situation in the Twin Cities will certainly get much worse before it gets better. But these questions, and others like them, needed to be asked. Badly. And I’m beginning to think we needed a few crises to shake us up and make more people ask them.

Either that, or I’ve gone totally completely insane from blogging so much lately. That could very well be, too.

Keep those prayers and positive thoughts coming. We need every single one.

More next weekend.

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Just a quick fyi

Hello dear friends,

First off I want to thank y’all for following this blog. I’ve been blown away by the reception these entries have gotten and I feel so very, very lucky to know I’m a part of a world where people love orchestral music so very, very much.

Second, I wanted to let you know that I got an email this morning from Facebook, extending their condolences that I was having trouble logging into my account. Only thing is, I hadn’t been trying to log into my account… :/ It may have been a total coincidence – or a technical snafu – I’m not accusing anyone of anything – I just wanted you all to be aware that if things would fall silent here without explanation, or if I start sounding not like myself, or saying things wildly opposite of what I have been saying…or if this post disappears…keep in mind I may well have been hacked. I’m taking all the precautions I can, but I want to put this post out there on the .001% chance something unfortunate does happen. Once again, not accusing anyone of anything…I just thought better safe than sorry.

Take care, all.

With gratitude, Emily


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Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?

I’ve ended each day this week by sharing any and all Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012 news with my mother. She wants to be kept up to speed with the situation; she feels just as emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually invested in the Twin Cities orchestral scene as I do.

Last night I was explaining to her about the artistic goals in the Minnesota Orchestra’s Strategic Business Plan Summary. I told her there was a section devoted to “key targets for artistic programming.”

“What are those targets?” she asked.

I opened the document and read them off. “Symphony orchestra of the highest caliber.”

“That doesn’t seem very realistic if management has their way,” she said. “Won’t a lot of musicians leave?”

“Outstanding classical concerts in Orchestra Hall,” I read.

She considered. “They might be outstanding, but they probably won’t be as outstanding as they have been.”

“National & international touring to significant venues…”

“Why would they want to tour if they have so many subs? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing?”

“Live at Orchestra Hall series to feature popular & jazz artists.”

We both shrugged; we don’t care for most popular and jazz artists enough to warrant a two-hour drive to Minneapolis. We can see those here in Eau Claire.

“Exceptional artistic leaders & guest artists…”

“Will they want to work with a demoralized disorganized orchestra?”

“Vital summer & holiday festivals.”

“Meh. Depends what’s on the program, I guess…”

“New concert formats & content.”

“What does that mean?”

“Forward-looking digital and traditional media initiatives to reach broad audiences & raise visibility.”

“Sounds good, but if the quality of the orchestra goes down the crapper, do they really want to be broadcasting that?”

I was going to flip the page forward to read more but I accidentally clicked backward, to this page, and there I found a sentence that I hadn’t read before. And it made me stop dead in my tracks.

Continue reading


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