New Tumblr For Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO Negotiations

As y’all know, I’m writing a series of mini-articles about the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s ongoing negotiations. As y’all also know, the rest of my blog is mainly geared toward leisurely essays on music history. Those are two very different animals with two very different audiences. So I decided to start another blog (or more accurately, a Tumblr) focusing solely on negotiation news. That is now live at I’ll still be posting everything here, too, under oft-updated weekly entries tagged Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012. However, if you want updates without having to constantly refresh and scroll here, the Orchestra Negotiations Tumblr, and its associated RSS feed, will probably be your best bet.

Thanks for the support and interest, all. Sending best wishes to both the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO.


Filed under My Writing

19 responses to “New Tumblr For Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO Negotiations

  1. SPCO management has started “fighting back” ( ). They also sent out a mass email to their patrons getting people excited about the season opener, explaining how the new $5/month membership is hugely successful (if it counts for anything, they hooked me into it), and how they are working through the financial woes. Obviously, they are trying to calm the public and come off as concerned and reasonable, not stubborn and insensitive.

    Like you said in your last post, either someone is blatantly lying, or someone is just plain stupid. We will find out soon, I just hope it’s not too late…

    • Oh ho ho ho, now THIS is interesting. Thanks SO MUCH for mentioning this, because I probably would have missed it, since it’s not prominently featured on the SPCO website (IT SHOULD BE), and it doesn’t come up when you search for the SPCO on Google News or Blogsearch. How did you find this? There’s obviously a lot to go through there, and I will dig through it tomorrow and try to figure out more about what’s going on. Do you know when this was posted?

      I’m just about ready to go to bed so I can’t delve into the page now, but glancing over it, once sentence really strikes me: “We hope to work collaboratively with our musicians.” “Collaboratively” is just about the last adjective I’d ascribe to management’s actions so far, since (if the musicians are telling the truth) management ignored the musicians’ initial proposal back in December 2011 and only responded to that proposal in ***April*** (this was discussed in the radio interviews Carole Mason-Smith did a few days ago). Also if the musicians are to be believed, management has not compromised once in the course of negotiations. So assuming the musicians are telling the truth….that’s disgusting behavior on the part of management. It’s one thing for management to say “we can’t sustain the orchestra at its current artistic level; we just don’t see a way to support it; we’ve done everything we possibly can to fundraise but it just didn’t work; we have come to the conclusion that our community cannot offer any more support, so musicians, take this drastically reduced salary or leave it, and we will have to let the chips fall where they may; and yes, it’s a tragedy that we probably will not be able to retain many of our most talented members, and that we will lose a vital part of Twin Cities culture, but that’s what happens during tough economic times”….it’s another thing entirely to say “we love the orchestra; it’s not our intention to harm it; we’re not going to reduce the number of concerts; our musicians are lying and/or stupid and sharing faulty numbers; but if they sacrifice enough, we can still have a world-class orchestra!” I’d feel so much more comfortable if management had come out with the first attitude. That one would make me sad, yes, but not nearly as angry as the second one makes me feel.

      Yes, the more I think about it, the more and more convinced I am that people are either lying or stupid. Hopefully the details about this situation come out eventually. And hopefully music lovers *demand* accountability for those lies and stupidity, whether they came from the SPCO musicians or SPCO management.

  2. I was on the email list for the SPCO. I will paste the whole email I received at the bottom. On the email was a link to telling patrons to check it out, presumably to clear up all the “BS” the musicians are coming out with and to save the managements butt.

    here’s the whole email:

    September 4, 2012

    Dear SPCO Patron,

    I want to take this opportunity to welcome you to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s 2012-13 season.

    Our season kicks off with a free concert at 7pm this Thursday night in Saint Paul’s beautiful Mears Park as part of the Concrete and Grass Music Festival. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Artistic Partner Edo de Waart joins us for a program featuring Stravinsky’s Concerto for Strings and Octet for Winds alongside Beethoven’s grand Eroica Symphony. The following weekend we welcome two Artistic Partners to the stage when Edo de Waart and Christian Zacharias join the orchestra for Brahms’ magnificent Second Piano Concerto alongside two of Strauss’s finest works, the Opus 7 Serenade for Winds and Metamorphosen. We hope you have the opportunity to join us for these great season-opening programs.

    We’re proud to announce that more than 2,500 people have now joined our SPCO Membership program. SPCO Members can attend unlimited SPCO concerts for only $5 per month. We’re especially pleased to see that a significant number of brand new audience members have joined us through this program. In addition to our affordable new Membership program, our regular ticket prices are also affordable at only $10, $25 or $40 each. Low prices are part of our commitment to being accessible to the broadest possible audience. As a result of our accessibility efforts, our annual attendance has increased by over 20,000 over the last decade. What’s more, we’ve been able to significantly reduce our marketing expenses, so that we are now generating more net revenue than we were with higher ticket prices. We’re delighted that what makes good sense for our mission has also proven to be a financial success.

    In the midst of the excitement surrounding the start of our new season, you may also have heard that the SPCO and its musicians’ union are in the process of negotiating a new contract, as the current contract expires on September 30. The SPCO, like many orchestras across the country, faces a challenging financial situation due to long-term changes in the arts funding landscape, exacerbated by the economic downturn. We’ve done much to avoid deficits in recent years through aggressive expense reduction on the administrative side of the budget, having eliminated over $1.5 million in annual expenses since 2008, including reducing the size of the staff by 17%. However, the work we’ve done to date has not been sufficient to solve our financial challenge, and we will have a deficit of up to $1 million for the fiscal year that ended in June. If nothing changes, we will face even larger deficits in the years to come.

    Our future health and vitality is dependent on aligning our expenses with our predictable, sustainable revenues. Musicians’ salaries and benefits comprise the single largest expense item in the SPCO budget and we are now looking for the contract to be a part of the solution. It is our sincere hope to work as collaborators with our musicians in solving this challenge. We value our musicians’ considerable talents, training and dedication, and we are confident that by working together we can develop a solution that ensures the SPCO is both financially sustainable and artistically vibrant.

    There have been some rumors circulating about what the SPCO Board and Management intend to accomplish through these negotiations, so I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. The SPCO does not intend to reduce the number of orchestra concerts we offer to this community. We do not intend to cut musician compensation in half, create a part-time orchestra or move to a freelance model. We are committed to having a chamber orchestra of the highest caliber in this community for years to come, but we will only be able to accomplish this if we have a contract that we can afford.

    As the season begins, it’s likely that our contract negotiations will become a more prominent part of the public discussion. If at any point you have questions about what you are hearing, we invite you to contact us directly. We will continue to provide you with updates as there is news to share, and you may also visit our negotiations updates webpage at

    Meanwhile, enjoy the start of the 2012-13 season! And if you’d like to enjoy even more SPCO music in the comfort of your own home (or on your iPhone or iPad), we invite you to visit our Listening Library at, where you’ll find more than 250 full-length SPCO recordings available for free listening.

    Thank you for supporting the SPCO. Now more than ever, we’re extremely grateful for the support from our audience members and generous contributors. We look forward to seeing you this season.


    Dobson West

  3. Well, I have been reading through some of the pdfs on website and I’ve noticed two things:

    (disclaimer: I’m a young, college, music student. I have very little money/management/economic training. I also haven’t read everything on the website. PLEASE correct my statements if they are faulty or misleading. They are my own opinion)

    1) There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of progress

    Of what I read, a lot of the stuff seems to be statistics/graphs, especially about the money money money. I compared some of the financial info to the spco musicians website and nothing caught my eye as incorrect or deceiving (so at least they SEEM to be being truthful and honest). I like hard data. As long as we can trust the honor of the spco management, I guess I see no reason why we can’t take all these graphs/stats as true (but CAN we trust the management???). However, while this data is good to have, it doesn’t really show how they are going to move forward, just the predicament, which we are already well aware of, thank you vey much.

    There is also a lot of pleasantries (more like FORCED pleasantries) in all the copies of letters and emails sent to the musicians. Obviously, there’s also a lot of “we CARE about this organization”, “We need a sustainable model to move forward with”, and my personal favorite “We need to work together”. People, let’s be honest. Management is pissed at the musicians and vice versa. Cut the crap and negotiate. Stop the pleasantries. They aren’t helping. They aren’t getting stuff done.

    2) I did find HARD data that half-confirms the musicians fear of a “part-time orchestra” and pay cuts (see “summary of april 9 meeting by dobson west” and “Presentation by the society”). I think the musicians might have blown this idea out of proportion in the recent weeks, claiming management wants to create a part time orchestra and destroy everything the spco is, blah blah blah, in order to get more publicity and support.

    I say musicians made too big of a deal of it because the proposal isn’t really suggesting a part time orchestra, it was just changing how musicians were paid (yes, wages would have gone down, but to survive this, musicians are probably going to have to cut their wages anyway…). In my naive and innocent opinion, it seems to me that the management was suggesting a possibility that could solve the financial problem. When I first read the proposal it definitely wasn’t the ideal solution, but I don’t think it looked as bad as the musicians made it out to sound. (Just so you know, the proposal looked good until the end when there seemed to be more austere cuts than necessary, in which case, the musicians had perfect reason to be upset). And, in the managements defense, at least they came up with/are coming up with reasonable (or at least plausible ideas). Through this whole time the only thing I’m getting out of the musicians is “don’t cut our wages or benefits” and “raise ticket prices, raise revenue” (newsflash: I’m your target audience, don’t raise my ticket prices if you want me to pay money to hear you).

    So in the end there are two sides to each story, as seen by the musicians and the management.

    I hope to hear more thoughts from SOTL and other readers! I’m not cut out for the whole analysis of this info, just a concerned twin cities classical music fan!

    • Thanks very much for your thoughts; I’m happy to hear them. I haven’t looked through nearly as much information as you have, so I don’t see anything to correct. I’m just about ready to post my new entry about all the news we got today, both from Minneapolis and St. Paul, so keep an eye out for that either on the “Week -4” post or the new Tumblr. There’s not much analysis in that one, but it does compile the crapton of news we got today into one place…

  4. Ken

    This is worse than following the election coverage. The BS from both sides is too much. I really don’t care what they do anymore. They risk losing even more audience through all this nonsense, as if they can afford that

    • I understand what you’re saying Ken, but if you want one great orchestra in town, much less two, you need to stay engaged and informed. We have to hold the organizations we love accountable: both musicians and management. We can’t just run at the first sign of trouble. Think of all the great moving moments we’ve had in the past thanks to these ensembles: the moments that help define what it means to be human, and alive. Will you deny the generation after you those same experiences, just because it was disheartening at times to follow the news?

      Will we fail in our quest to bring great orchestral music to those who come after us? Maybe. But should we stop trying yet? Hell, no.

  5. Ken, you are absolutely right. I feel very strongly about writing 1 letter and sending it to all 4 parties (spco and mno, musicians and administration). No taking sides, just letting them ALL know they are being ridiculous and need to get their sh!t together. I don’t know if anyone else would be interested in doing this, but maybe it could be a big deal. Send it into newspapers too… I don’t know, maybe it could do something big… we’re in blood stepped so far that, should we wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.

    • I’d be interested in reading what you write. I’m more musician-friendly than you are at this point, so I don’t know if I could send such a letter in good conscience, but depending on what it said, I might consider it.

      • I hope I’m not sounding too pro-management. Not at all! As a (hopefully) future performer, I would want my rights protected too! I definitely feel more pro-musician, I’m just trying to keep an open mind and play devils advocate a little bit. I also don’t want to stick myself so completely on one side that I can’t work with the other (that is the problem with politics today).

        I just love the mno and spco so much, and the musicians in them. They are SO GOOD! They are my inspiration and I love watching/hearing them perform. I just don’t want to see these great organizations torn apart because BOTH sides can’t make an agreement. The hardest part is that we don’t know where the truth is. I am more inclined to believe the musicians: the workers, the non-corprate, non-greedy artists who want to make the world a better place, rather then the people who want the money, but the stereotypes aren’t necessarily the truth.

        This whole mess is just so upsetting. I couldn’t stand to see either of these ensembles fall apart, and they are on their way to that end right now. If they keep waging war on each other with words, slander and websites, rather than ACTUALLY working TOGETHER, face to face to get stuff done, they will fall apart. THAT is what I will write, if I write anything at all. Simply that these orchestras are too important to people like me, and you, and the community, and the world. The musicians give inspiration, hopes, and goals to budding musicians, and music lovers. And the management is supposed (key word, but obviously that isn’t what’s actually happening) to be looking out for the organization so, in the first place, none of this would ever happen, and in the case that it does, can work out a feasible plan to get back on track (not a plan that cuts HALF of someones salary!). It would be DEVASTATING to see mno or spco go.

        I don’t want to sound like I’m chastising the management and musicians, but they are grown adults who should be able to figure this out. Of course it won’t be easy, but EVERYONE (management and musicians) are going to need to make sacrifices to get out of this thing. Was it easy to win the revolutionary war? WWI or WWII? Women’s suffrage? Civil Rights? I just think to get out of this thing everyone is going to have to give up somethings in order to flourish in the future.

        The bottom line is that these orchestras CANNOT collapse. We can’t afford to lose them, but they aren’t doing a good job fixing any problems right now. The lack of actual negotiating happening right now and the excess of slander across the web is proof of that.

        Sorry, this turned into a bit of a rant. but it’s something I (and countless others) care about a lot.

        • “I also don’t want to stick myself so completely on one side that I can’t work with the other (that is the problem with politics today).”

          That’s a great attitude to hear. :) And no, I don’t think you’re too pro-management, and I probably phrased that wrong. (Sorry, I’m fried; I’ve been writing a lot this week! pffft) It’s just that from what I can tell, musicians *are* ready to sacrifice certain things (although of course I’m not privy to what they may or may not be proposing, and can’t say for sure). But in general I’m getting a vibe from them that they understand they will not get 100% of what they want. The musicians I know are intelligent, reasonable people, who understand that the economy sucks. I trust these sane souls would call out any outrageously unreasonable colleagues. So based on that personal knowledge (which people are free to discount, because hey, I’m just a blogger none of you guys really know), I’m theorizing that management is more entrenched than the musicians…which I think (ironically) makes the musicians dig in deeper. But unfortunately, it’s not compromise if one side gets 100%. Or even 90%. Even 75% is pushing it. I hope management knows that.

          But of course after that realization is made, you wonder: does management *really* want to get a 28% (or 50%, or 67%) cut? Or are they lowballing so they can eventually come up to, say, 15%, get what they secretly wanted in the beginning, and have the advantage of looking like they’re compromising? Same goes musicians. I guess this is where trust comes into play. And clearly whatever trust they may have had has vanished…and it was probably gone many months ago. Only the insiders know what all happened. At this point we can only guess and theorize.

          But, having said all that depressing stuff, your comment in general gives me hope. I think there are a lot of orchestra lovers like you and me out there. We love music. We’re passionate. We just need to connect and organize. And we will. Regardless of what happens, there will still be some kind of audience for orchestral music in the Twin Cities. We can plan on working together to support whatever is here.

          I do have to confess, though…I harbor an absurd fantasy of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO quitting en masse, forming their own orchestra, establishing a new faithful donor base, and leaving management with TWO beautiful new halls…and nobody to play in either! :D An Orchestra Hall minus the orchestra. I imagine this is totally unworkable in the real world, but…it’s a fun fantasy to have. Fantasy is fun when you’re not in control.

  6. Believe me, I’ve entertained that thought too! (Although admittedly unrealistic) it would really stick it to the management. They don’t have jobs without those musicians. It’s like the Patricians and the Plebes in ancient Rome. If the working class didn’t like the treatment they received from the wealthy and powerful class they got up and left. No more wealth and power for the Patricians. In the end problems were resolved between the classes, but it always was a harsh reminder to the powerful (management!) that they only had as much control as the workers (musicians!) gave them. Oh, it would be a wonderful, ironic and insanely humorous ending to such a twisted story if things turned out like this!

  7. Ken

    As with any dispute, the heart of the issue is ALWAYS somewhere in the middle. This contract that is being proposed has some ridiculous cuts in it. I would be pissed off too if my employer were doing this to me. Nevertheless, we’ve all been there. Lots of people have lived high on the hog when the going is good (was the going ever really good, of did someone get a false sense of security?) only to suffer crushing blows when the shit hits the fan. Surely, I’ve been on sinking ships before and it’s not a fun feeling.

    Being on the outside, I could clearly see this crisis coming from a mile away. Years ago even. It was painfully obvious that the budget was stretched to the breaking point. When was the last time this orchestra had an A-list guest conductor? 10-15 years ago? This isn’t the Chicago Symphony – Minneapolis doesn’t have that kind of money or a population even remotely close to that where they can count on X-number of people to support the orchestra. The options are more limited. The previous MN Orchestra contract clearly was out of their league. Easy to say now, yes, but it should have been obvious then too.

    Primarily I blame management for overextending things and also for lack of direction. I’ve complained for years about the boring programming – I’m so sick of seeing Scheherazade on the schedule every couple of years that I could vomit. People don’t talk about the orchestra like they used to in the old days, but why would anyone? Keep scheduling the same old crap year in and year out – see if I show up. I won’t, I can guarantee you.

    They can spend X amount of dollars paying marketing people to do studies or whatever else they do to waste money, when the answers couldn’t be more obvious. Orchestras are stupid. They blow money in stupid ways. It’s just a concert. A bunch of people show and play some music. Simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Complicated = wasted money. This seems to be the way society operates now. Everything has to be so complicated that you need a degree to figure it out.

    No, I’m not happy that the MN Orchestra has been driven into the ground. They haven’t filled vacant positions in years. I hate showing up there and there are interim players filling spots every week. It pisses me off. These problems have been building and building and building for years. If they can’t manage, then they should find someone else who can. The players aren’t gods either. People get greedy. People sign off on things that should not be signed off on, and everyone is responsible in some way when that happens.

    Can you tell I’m not in the mood for the bull? I’m not. I work hard. I have a good job which I’m very fortunate to have. I earn a good salary. I don’t complain about it. My employer is under no obligation to keep me around. Why should an orchestra be any different?

    I support the orchestra because I like good music. If they want to screw around, then that’s their problem. I have my own day-to-day stress to deal. I’m not going to add to it.

  8. Ken, you have some really good insights. I’m assuming you are older than me. I’m a college student and only started getting really interested in the Minnesota Orchestra a few years ago, so it’s hard for me to look at this whole mess from a wide, decades-long perspective. It’s interesting to hear from someone who has much more acquired knowledge and experience on their matter than I.

    And while I’m upset, I share the same frustration. That’s why I’m trying to see it both ways: musician and management. There needs to be sacrifice. $130,00+ is a pretty damn good salary. I’d say $90,000+ isn’t too shabby either. Heck, if I could make that much one day I’d be effing ecstatic! I can understand why musicians don’t like the cut, it’s their livelihood, they worked hard for it, getting into an elite orchestra is effing hard. But if they care about the organization they should bite the bullet and see this thing out (sounds a little harsh but like you said, sinking ships aren’t fun). Likewise, management obviously hasn’t been very helpful throughout this whole ordeal. They need to stop antagonizing the musicians and do their job, which is to ensure the success of the business, which, as you said, they have not been doing well for years. Both sides need to stop complaining and start working together, for better or worse, to finally come up with some kind of agreement that, though may not look pretty, can fix this issue.

    So yes, I’m frustrated and upset. But I’ll stay positive and hope for the best. There’s not much else I can do…

  9. Minnesota orchestra musicians calling for a comprehensive financial audit

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