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.

“With renewed financial sustainability, the Minnesota Orchestral Association will:

Heighten artistry through excellent concerts at Orchestra Hall…”






Yes, you read that right. Management says they plan not just to sustain, but to heighten artistry.

Before I read that sentence, I’d thought they were merely, maybe disingenuously but still technically honestly, aiming for a “symphony orchestra of the highest caliber.” There’s some wiggle room there; you could decrease the quality of the Minnesota Orchestra somewhat and still have a pretty damn high caliber orchestra.

But, no. That is not the future they say they envision. We have it in writing that they want to heighten artistry.

So, if heightening artistry truly is a primary goal…what would that entail on behalf of management? Especially when they’ve been entrusted with safeguarding one of the greatest orchestras in the world, whose level of artistry is already sky-high?

Well, first of all, if your professional background wasn’t in the arts, you would listen, hard, to what the artists themselves have to say about heightening artistry. Especially when said artists are some of the greatest in the world. You would humble yourself and learn from them. You would go to dozens and dozens of concerts before offering any advice or opinion or direction at all, and continue going to dozens and dozens of concerts as you worked with the orchestra (I’d love to know how frequently various board members actually attend shows; is this information public? I want it). You would treat your musicians like royalty. You would cultivate relationships with them…get to know them as people…find new ways to let them know they are appreciated, admired, loved. You’d be terrified if you had a 10% vacancy rate. You’d be kept up awake at night if you knew there was a possibility that rate would climb – even temporarily – to over 30%. You’d move heaven and earth to find the cash to pay for what your artists say they need to stay in town, so they can focus like a laser on their job of achieving the goal you set for them. You would apologize profusely to them if, despite your very best efforts, your organization couldn’t afford internationally competitive salaries and benefits. If push came to shove, you would be honest with your public and say: “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.”

There are many things you might do, but here are some things you wouldn’t: you would not say very very very publicly that your goal is to heighten artistry, and then when asked about potential turnover shrug, “those who can leave, will,” or “the number of highly trained musicians that this country is producing every year is really quite remarkable…[so] there may be some changes.” You would not launch an entire website devoted to insinuating that your musicians are greedy unaware self-centered bastards. You would not shut down the blog of an orchestra member who has written informative eloquent posts since 2007, and if you did, you’d give him days, if not weeks, of warning, and at least let him write a good-bye post. You would not go behind your musicians’ backs and release a contract to the public that you’re still negotiating. You would not belittle a request for an independent audit of your organization’s finances, if for some reason your musicians wanted one. You would not send out an email to patrons saying that the musicians have known about the budget problems for years, implying it’s largely or solely their fault, when you have known about the problems for just as long. You would not offer a less than world class salary, benefits, and working conditions, and if you couldn’t offer that to them, you’d apologize. You would not propose a 28% salary cut and 200+ changes in a contract with a straight face.

After thinking it all over, I can come to no other logical conclusion: the Minnesota Orchestra management doesn’t really want to heighten artistry. And therefore, management is lying to us.

And they’re not sweet bumbling well-meaning incompetents who have the organization’s best interest in heart but just don’t understand how the orchestral world works, bless their hearts, they mean the best. No. Because if that was the case, they’d humble themselves and listen to what the experts on heightened artistry say that heightened artistry requires, and then apologize to them if they can’t, for whatever reason, fulfill those demands. And then they’d take the phrase “heightened artistry” out of their literature and settle for a less glamorous but much more honest “high standards.” They might be arrogant oblivious incompetents, but they’re not sweet bumbling well-meaning ones.


Jon Campbell, board chair, is, if I’m interpreting my Google search results correctly, Executive Vice President of Wells Fargo. Money is his world. Artistic excellence is my world. So let’s turn the tables for a minute. Pretend I’ve been elected to a Wells Fargo board. I’m going to have an integral say both in running Wells Fargo and negotiating Campbell’s new contract. (Bizarre thought, right? But is hiring an artist to make major financial decisions really all that different from hiring financial experts to make major artistic decisions?) I meet with Mr. Campbell and I say enthusiastically, “My primary goal for us is to heighten Wells Fargo profits. I haven’t spent much time in the financial sector – I only dabble in it, really, to give back to my community – but luckily I know what to do to make this organization successful.” He then protests and tells me I don’t understand how the financial world works. I pretend to be concerned but thankfully don’t need to worry because I know I’m right. After all, I’ve done a pretty good job in the artistic world; my first short story was published in a major international magazine when I was twelve; people from all over the world have read this blog since it began; my work has received praise from Grammy winners; I’m sure those professional skills translate to the world of finance! I glance over some papers and see that executives are being paid a lot of money. “Great,” I say, “I’m seeing savings already. How about we reduce the salaries of the executives and then hire newer ones for cheaper? There are a lot of young people out of work nowadays, and the number of highly trained financiers that this country is producing every year is really quite remarkable. If you just take the top echelon of business schools in the U.S. – ” He interrupts: “But – it’s not that simple. We’ll have massive turnover! You can’t just hire anyone for these jobs! It’ll be a huge headache for you to hire all those people that quickly!” I shrug. “Besides,” he says, “you just said you wanted to heighten profits; we won’t be able to do that long-term with an inexperienced workforce, even if we do temporarily save money on salaries.” I then break it to him that he’s behind the times and needs to adapt to the new business model. I then shuffle through some more papers and say, “Hmm, Mr. Campbell. I see you’re earning a lot of money. Wells Fargo would be in a much better financial state if I reduced your salary by 28%. Also I want to change many of the working conditions that your predecessors have bargained for over the last forty years. That way I’ll have more flexibility in our goal of achieving heightened profits.” “But – I could go elsewhere and earn a lot more, and have better working conditions!” he says. “Well, not to dismiss the fact that we don’t want to lose you,” I say, “you’re a wonderful executive vice president, but there may be some changes. Those who can leave, will. It’s going to be a personal decision where you want to have your career. Why are you crying?”

If I behaved like that, anyone in their right mind would call me a menace to Wells Fargo. They would see I was in miles over my head and be screaming for me to get my hands off the company. And rightly so.


So why would it be any different if the roles were reversed?

The more I read, the more I think, the more I feel management is playing a game with us. They’re betting on us. And they’re hoping we don’t notice. They’re hoping we assume they have the Minnesota Orchestra’s best interests in mind. They’re hoping we assume they’re experts on the orchestral world and artistic excellence and what it entails. They’re hoping we assume that just because they’re powerful, they’re competent. If I’m right, management is playing us like Erin Keefe plays her fiddle.

Do you think I’m totally nuts? If you do, write in the comments. Convince me I’m wrong: refute me, paragraph by paragraph. I’d love to be wrong. I’d love to be utterly humiliated by the thesis of this blog post. I’d love to trust management, and feel confident they know what they’re doing and know the consequences of what they’re proposing. The idea that the future of the Minnesota Orchestra is in the hands of people who either don’t care about it or are too arrogant to realize they know nothing about the organization’s very reason for being…that thought is so painful it literally takes my breath away. But right now… Given management’s stated goal of “heightening artistry” … Given the disrespect they’ve shown in the press this past week to the musicians, the only people who are able to maintain (much less raise) the orchestra’s artistry… Given management’s refusal (so far) to acknowledge that you can’t heighten artistry while simultaneously alienating your musicians…

What other conclusion am I supposed to come to besides “they are lying to us about where they want to take this orchestra“?

Well, whether they’re lying, or merely being dangerously oblivious, I feel compelled to repeat what I’ve said on this blog before. Minnesota Orchestra management: either fully commit yourself to heightening artistry, with all the cost and effort such an endeavor involves, or strike that phrase from your literature, and be honest with us about your real goals. Your public deserves to know what you really want to do.


Filed under My Writing

46 responses to “Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?

  1. You’re absolutely right. I’ve said it before: I want to be open to both sides, I don’t want to be stubborn and close minded. BUT, how can management be so stupid?

    I’ll leave it at that, but well said

    • Thanks very much for these words! Yes, I desperately want to be open to both sides, too. I’m so afraid I’m being close-minded here. But I can’t come to different conclusions. I hope if what management wants to have happen really is the best way forward, that they do a better job of reaching out to, reassuring, and convincing those who are sympathetic to musicians. They just haven’t done a good job at that. The website that’s supposed to make their case is a total joke…so many unanswered questions there, and such condescension. Thanks for commenting. I’m glad to have someone to talk to here in the comments. :)

  2. Anon.

    First, I would like to thank you for having the courage to post, research, and share your analysis of this situation. I have been following various postings about the TC negotiations and other writings about the state of Symphony Orchestras in this country very closely over the last week.

    I would really like to have a conversation with those who have proposed changes and try to understand why the specific changes have been proposed and how those changes are supposed to “improve” the orchestras. *Parts* of the proposed MN orch contract *seem* reasonable enough. However, and this is a big however, there is not a copy of the expiring contract to compare it to (if you are aware of where it is posted, I would love to see it).

    Given that there are supposed to be 200+ changes in this proposal, I’d be really curious to see where they fall – how many of the changes have to do with pay/insurance/retirement and how many of the changes would impact injury prevention – length of rehearsal, number of services per week, frequency/length of intermissions, timeline of receiving new music and announcement of rehearsal order, number of concerts in a day/week. What changes were there to instrument acquisition? I believe in my heart that there is MUCH more at stake than money.

    I also read through the vision statement and slideshow for the first time yestserday. I was equally shocked/frustrated at how disjunct the vision is in relation to the poential impact of this contract negotiation process. Thank you for validating my reaction.

    In general, I fear for future of both Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO, the future of performing arts in the Twin Cities “a cause de” the potential result of these negotiations, the impact on music education, and the state of Symphonic Orchestras in this country.

    My hope is that all members engaged in the bargaining units work together to prioritize its organization’s needs in order to preserve and protect the quality and unique characteristics of each orchestra that have been created and cultivated over time.

    I try to remind myself that there is still time between now and September 30th. It may not be much time, but I truly hope it is enough.

    • Dearest Anon,

      “However, and this is a big however, there is not a copy of the expiring contract to compare it to (if you are aware of where it is posted, I would love to see it).”

      Bing-f*cking-o. (Sorry, I get profane when I’m passionate about a subject. lol) I’ve thought about this very fact A LOT lately. I’ll try to dig around for a copy of the expiring contract. I have friends in the Minnesota Orchestra, I may ask them if it’s public, or if they’d be willing to release a copy at some point, so interested parties can analyze the differences in the two documents and work to put management’s proposals into some kind of context. (However, doing so may be verging on useless, since according to the musicians’ blog, they’re still negotiating, and what management has posted is not necessarily what they’re discussing in private. So who the heck knows what’s going on???) However, I’m guessing that if management really felt confident that the public really thought their public would have thought their proposed contract reasonable, that they would have included copies of both the proposed contract and the expiring one. What would management have to lose by posting both…or at least the changes in both? Just another incident that makes me incredibly leery of their leadership.

      I know it’s ridiculously difficult, but keep as much hope as you can, and don’t lose your passion, not an ounce of it. We have no idea what’s going on; we can only guess. There is time yet, as you say. And there are lots of orchestra lovers in town. We’ll organize and fight to preserve as much as possible the organizations we love so dearly. Weird unexpected things can happen, and sometimes for the best…so no use throwing that towel in yet!!! :)

      All the best, Emily

  3. I’d like to share that today, after I attended a SPCO concert yesterday, I received an email survey. I gladly filled it out. It was your typical “what did/didn’t you like?” “what could we do better blah blah blah” survey.

    However, I (a little passive aggressively, I might add) included two additional comments.

    First, I was asked if I like the program. I said yes! I loved the Beethoven and I had never heard the 2 Stravinsky pieces before. I loved the program. At the end of this comment I felt it necessary to say that Tim Paradise (solo clarinet on the Octet for Winds) was outstanding. I preceded to say “It’s really a shame he’s leaving”. I’m sorry, but I gotta hand it to myself, that’s pretty sassy!

    Then, there was an “additional comments” section. I went on to say (this time very politely) that I’d appreciate if they’d hurry up the negotiations, that the SPCO is too important to lose, that I realize there is a financial crisis that needs to be solved from both sides, and that they (management) should treat the musicians better.

    I don’t think these comments will mean a whole lot, unless of course they sent out A LOT of these surveys to people who are also vocal about this issue. But I just really hope it comes as a little slap in the face to the lone desk worker who then tells their supervisor, who is beside him/herself with shock and dismay, who tells Dobby, … I mean, this probably won’t even happen, but just say it does. Oh I hope they love those snarky little comments.

    Existential Heros! Hurray!

  4. speller

    Lots of good stuff in this post, as usual. You’ve come to pretty much the same conclusions I have. Admittedly, because of my musical training I’m very sympathetic to the musicians, and I don’t trust management at all here. Maybe I’m giving the musicians too much credit and being too cynical about management. But here’s what I think is going on: management doesn’t believe most of the audience and donors will notice or care if and when artistic quality decreases. They are counting on their audiences not really knowing what they’re hearing and not really understanding the product, or understanding it just enough to believe whatever marketing hype is thrown at them. By releasing information and contract offer details the way they have, management is also very deliberately cultivating public resentment over musician salaries, leaving it up to the media to contextualize those numbers (through comparisons to peer orchestras and explanation of exactly how accomplished the musicians have to be to have gotten their jobs in the first place) — and the media is not, for the most part, providing that context.

    Recent statements by MN Orchestra management also seem to me to reveal a conception of the orchestra as a giant machine in which individual musicians are merely easily-replaced cogs. There has been no acknowledgment that it takes a lot more to make an orchestra great than merely assembling a few dozen virtuoso players and setting a conductor down in front of them. Could individual musicians be replaced by others with stunning technical skill and consummate musicality? Oh yes. No one disputes that. But management’s continued insistence that that kind of mass exodus/hiring wouldn’t negatively affect artistic quality is so disingenuous. An orchestra is more than the sum of its parts, and a great orchestra is MUCH more than the sum of its parts. That management keeps pretending otherwise is actively offensive.

  5. Tamara

    You’re so totally not crazy. They are lying to you, and hoping you won’t notice, and hoping no one will notice, and planning on doing whatever the hell the want even if someone does notice. I’m a member of the remains of the Louisville Orchestra. You should have heard the hypocrisy at our opening concert last weekend, after 15 months without concerts. It’s a vicious culture. I’m so sorry this is happening to you.

  6. Been There

    I’m surprised it took you so long to come to this conclusion. It’s usually considered a huge plus if a job seeker can find a job (not limited to the arts world, I’m talking about any job) in which management doesn’t lie to them because those jobs are in the acute minority.

    • Heh, yes. Well, to be fair, I’m only 23 and am self-employed, so I have a lot to learn. In this world, I’m a wide-eyed innocent, really! Thanks for the thoughts.

      • Been There

        OK, well, hopefully lesson learned! :)

        The other thing I would suggest you keep in mind is that the people who effectively get what they want out of negotiations aren’t the ones who focus on wrong and right or contracts or he said/she said but rather the people who focus on getting what they want and figure out how to get that. Remember, very few people are swayed by facts.

  7. Mike Bielski

    Nice article. I’d like you to tackle some nagging questions I cannot make sense of.

    1. Isn’t the long-term mantra of management everywhere that orchestras are becoming irrelevant coupled with huge deficits run by management evidence that the current crop of managers does not understand their job and are failing at it?

    2. It is the job of the musicians to perform. They do not have any say in how the orchestra is run. Why are management issues blamed on the musicians? If the development department can’t raise enough money with their current tactics, why aren’t they out on the street corner or in the lobby selling candy bars? Let’s learn from success-it works with my sister’s middle school band.

    3. Lastly- what’s the point? This is happening everywhere, while some orchestras are having phenomenal success. Is this simply union busting? Public employees, teachers, and musicians are the remaining unions with any clout- and they’re all under attack.

    3. Lastly- isn’t this even more proof that musicians need to take control of their organizations and be the run as a cooperative where the musicians have the power to hire and fire management? Our current system is definitely broken- but this is not the fault of the musicians. They continue to perform beautifully. Maybe it’s time musicians bring their proven success to management.

    • You know what, I would love to answer those questions, but I just don’t feel like I have the expertise to really do them justice. Unlike some people (coughCampbellcough) I acknowledge my limitations. I’m only 23, I live in a small town, I’m self-employed. Not a great background to come from when trying to answer questions about these kinds of very complicated issues.

      However, I think they’re great questions! I’d love to hear people from both sides of the problem discuss them! If I could sit down with the board members and the CEO, I would ask them. Unfortunately I can’t do that, and nobody in the Twin Cities news world with access to the board appears to be very interested in basic journalism, so I guess unless some blogger gets an audience with Campbell and his colleagues, or the tone of the coverage in the mainstream media changes drastically, we’re SOL.

      That being said, if I ever get a knowledgeable guest blogger on board (something I would LOVE to do if the time and person was right), I’ll direct him/her to your questions straightaway.

      If anyone who is reading this wants to take a stab at these questions, please do.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • James

      I believe that you are absolutely right with #3. Part of the problem is that musicians have entrusted the management of the orchestra to people who know nothing about the art. The musicians ought to be in an advisory capacity, at the very least, with management, for the former are the real brain trust of the organization.

  8. James

    To Song of the Lark: This is a brilliant post!

  9. Jeanne Ellen

    I am told by a reliable source that the biggest roadblock to the orchestra’s success is the CEO. He nixed the annual concert at Lake Harriet because he wanted to ask for donors to sponsor a different event even though the Lake Harriet concert was a much loved tradition. So, the musicians are playing at Lake Harriet, directed by one of their own. The musicians are paid to work in September, but concerts weren’t scheduled. So the musicians scheduled their own concerts. The marketing department is also a joke. Probably run by recent graduates with bachelor degrees.

  10. oboemabo

    Hi there! As a current Arts Administrator, and former musician, I feel I need to point out just a few things you mentioned. Admittedly, and sadly, I am not up to date on the specifics of this orchestra’s issues; I find there are too many issues in the arts to stay on top of particulars for every organization. I’ll be brief…
    1. Your analogy with the Board Chair/Wells Fargo VP was not apt. That would only work if this VP were coming in to make artistic decisions, like phrasing or dynamics or any range of things that a businessperson doesn’t have any true experience with. VP is not- they are making business decisions with years of business experience. It is unfortunate but true, in order to pay ANYONE (including the hard working administrative teams) in the arts a proper salary, benefits, etc., we must treat art as a business, and make tough (and sometimes disappointing) business decisions.
    2. I must admit, this statement irked me…
    “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
    I just have to point out- I think we forget, as musicians who are constantly surrounded by other musicians and music fans, that most people in today’s society do not enjoy classical programming. Even you, an avid arts fan, will not make the trek for certain programming. Can we not connect the dots that this is the problem? Can’t sell tickets, can’t find donors, can’t make money, can’t pay anybody. I’ll simply add- the phrase “find the cash” that you used makes every Development professional wince. We don’t keep secret stashes of donors underneath rocks to pull out when there’s a problem.
    I felt the need to defend my people! Yes, poor business decisions are made, and I’m not defending them. I went into this administrative business hoping to bridge the gap between the musician and the businessman. Like you, I welcome criticism.

    • Helloooooooooooooo am I ever glad to see you here. Pull up a chair. Let’s get a conversation going! Woohoo! (This is an irrationally exciting post for me to be making!)

      “That would only work if this VP were coming in to make artistic decisions, like phrasing or dynamics or any range of things that a businessperson doesn’t have any true experience with…” BUT in this particular instance, the board IS making artistic decisions, because their current proposals, as is, would cause many players to leave, and that would impact the quality of the orchestra, very possibly severely. (I’ve been writing a bit more about this in past blogs, if you’re interested in reading more.) If you think I’m exaggerating, or that the musicians are bluffing about leaving, you can look at the roster and see how many people have left or retired within the last few months, *before the new contract was even proposed.* I can’t imagine that’s a coincidence. Management has even said in interviews with newspapers that they’re anticipating a certain amount of turnover. So therefore the artistic product is unquestionably being affected by management’s decision. So I still stand by that analogy. Is it perfect? No. But I still think it addresses a certain point, that sometimes – oftentimes? – people with no professional artistic experience come into a situation and either choose to make / are forced to make decisions that dramatically affect artistic standards. And patrons need to be aware of that. Before this all happened, I hadn’t really been paying attention to that fact. And if I wasn’t, a lot of other people weren’t, either. It’s something we need to acknowledge.

      And the opening conversation with my mother was not meant to reflect my opinions about programming; it was just a real-life example of one family of patrons discussing what’s happening. Of course every family will have a different conversation. And of course nobody can please everybody, and I understand that. I’d be orgasmic over an all-Ravel program, and actually pay to not have to go to a Bruckner, and yet lots of people love Bruckner and can’t stand Ravel. So I understand this idea. It was just meant to chronicle one particular family’s discussion.

      “most people in today’s society do not enjoy classical programming”… Well, yes, but most people in today’s society do not enjoy [insert thing here]…right? It strikes me that we’re increasingly a niche society. 99% of the world doesn’t enjoy, say, Bon Iver, and yet Justin Vernon sells out halls wherever he goes. There are so many people in the world that even if 99% of people are uninterested in a certain subject, there’s still a huge 1% that is. I live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (Bon Iver’s hometown, actually), which is two hours from Minneapolis. The classical musicians here are nowhere near as technically or musically accomplished as the ones in Minneapolis/St. Paul (no offense meant to my local music friends, but – y’all have to admit, we can’t hold a candle to Minnesota!). Our classical scene gets zero press, zero promotion. Well, maybe once a year there will be an article in the paper about one of them by a journalist who’s not an expert on classical music, but that’s it. And yet Eau Claire supports…counting university ensembles…something like five orchestras, I think? Maybe more; I’m not sure. Two of which are able to pay a certain amount to their members, the vast majority of whom are actually not even professional musicians, but rather amateurs! Despite hardly any promotion, despite a pretty low-key classical scene, despite the lack of world-class classical music ed, despite a real lack of education and outreach, despite the fact we have no major corporate sponsors, we still sell those concerts out, or at least sell a big percentage of our tickets (I don’t have access to the actual percentages, but I know they’re pretty high). In fact, as I understand it, those orchestras are a big part of the reason Eau Claire is building a huge new performing arts center sometime in the next five years. So I don’t know. If **Eau Claire**, Classical Music Capital of Nowhere, can consistently sell out or have high-capacity classical concerts…shouldn’t it be at least technically *possible* for Minneapolis, the metro area with the highest arts spending per capita outside of NYC, to do so, **given the right circumstances**? The demographics can’t be terribly different. Maybe I’m naive, and biased in favor of musicians, but nobody has been able to convince me the audience *isn’t* there. I don’t know if I want to get deeper into that discussion here and now because EVERYONE has a different opinion on that one, and frankly I don’t have the experience to carry on an intelligent conversation about it. But…yeah.

      As a side-point…I’m wondering…is it really depressing for you as an arts administrator to be working on a field which you feel is close to widespread irrelevancy (if it hasn’t gotten there already)? I don’t mean that sarcastically; I’m genuinely curious. Because most musicians I know feel that the audience is out there, it’s just a matter of connecting with them in some way. Hardly any of the musicians I know would go so far as to say “most people don’t [insinuation, can’t??] enjoy classical music.” If they thought that, I don’t think they’d stay in music for very long. And yet I read that line, or a variation on that line, a lot from administrators and managements and such. It would be hard enough work raising money and administrating if you were confident you had a huge appreciative audience. I’d think it would be soul-crushing if you knew that audience was terminally ill and near death’s door. It would be akin to working for Newt Gingrich when Romney started kicking his butt in the primaries, or Hillary when it became increasingly obvious to everyone that Obama was going to sew up the nomination in ’08. It would just be a Bataan Death March like slog. But your situation wouldn’t just last for weeks/months like a political campaign; it would last for years upon years upon years. I can’t imagine the bleakness. Am I right? Do you feel there’s any hope for classical music? Any possibility of change? What will it take? What makes you go to work each day? Why would you want to work in a dying field? Wouldn’t it be best to jump ship now? Would you like to? (Sorry, those are a lot of questions. But you get the drift, I’m sure!)

      ““find the cash” that you used makes every Development professional wince….” Yes, I imagine it does. I was hesitant about that phrase when I wrote it but I ended up leaving it in because I couldn’t think of a pithier alternative. I know it’s ridiculously difficult; I can’t imagine how ridiculously difficult it must be. But if management has tried their best and can’t find the resources within the community to convince musicians to stay in town, then couldn’t they apologize for the situation, or at the very least not be careful not to upset their musicians? (Once again, past blogs will discuss this. Keep an eye out especially for what Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis have said.) What is the point of their speaking that way? Even if the money wasn’t available in the community for whatever reason, why couldn’t they still be respectful of the musicians (who are not slackers or moochers by any means, and who are some of the very best in the world)? Respect and appreciation doesn’t need to cost a cent…does it? I’d be curious if you’d have a professional opinion on what Campbell and Davis have said, because it’s been a move on their part I haven’t understood at all, and I keep wondering if there’s a professional reason for what they’re saying, or if they’re just being brutally insensitive.

      I do think it’s very important not to demonize each other. I don’t hate arts administrators, really truly. Like I said in the blog, I’d love for someone to convince me paragraph by paragraph that I’m way off-base about this Minnesota situation…because I don’t want to hate just for the sake of hating; if you knew me, you’d know I’m not that kind of person, at all! (I’m a peacemaking INFP Cancer!! lol ;) ) Also please keep in mind I’m very very emotional about this issue because this is my orchestra. I **love** these people. These are the people who helped me realize I love music, who gave me an identity in the world as a human being: a priceless, priceless gift. And it’s not a theoretical discussion to me: if musicians leave, I lose friends, colleagues, heroes. So of course if I feel they’re being threatened in any way, I will get extremely emotional about the subject, and maybe not always think logically or clearly. So please when you read what I write keep that in mind.

      Anyway! Thanks SO MUCH for commenting, you really have no idea how much I appreciate hearing from someone on the other side of the question. It’s been thought-provoking to write this comment out. Great intellectual exercise for me. Take care. xx

  11. Shasty

    In your words: what is the purpose or function of an orchestra of such high caliber? What is the goal of the musician performing?

  12. Kuang-Sheng Cheng

    The music quality of MN Orchestra has been deteriorating in recent years, especially under the baton of Osmo. Most concerts I went were “professionally” done, meaning that the music playing is no longer a communication of musicians’ feeling to the audience but a job that is done as a profession. To me, they are like a bunch of robots under the control of Osmo. If the music itself can not inspire the musicians, how can it inspire the audience. As a result, I no longer go to MN Orchestra concerts. And I think this is the source of their problem and am waiting for a new leadership to change this.

    • speller

      Interesting. I’ll just say that as someone who attends about 10 MN Orchestra concerts a season, my experience has been exactly the opposite over the past few years. To each his own, I guess?

      • Yeah, same here. Osmo’s one of my musical heroes. I’ll be very sad to see him go when that time comes. I didn’t know what an orchestra could do until I heard him conduct Minnesota in Beethoven. And the Minnesota musicians I know really love him and his leadership, and feel more inspired and confident under him than they have in a very long time (maybe ever?). So…yeah. To each his own. Who was the conductor you thought gave better performances? Oue?

        So anyway, I totally disagree with you, Kuang-Sheng Cheng, but thanks for the comment! :)

  13. Excellent and cogent, every single point here.

    As a recently retired area music educator, I can tell you that the parallels to arts-education downsizing are frightening; a chicken-or-egg concern, by the way, in terms of which system generates which for local artistic excellence (realizing that many of our talented orchestral professionals come from all over the globe).

    To the added frustration (and eventual great aesthetic) infrastructural cost of many affected, this problem is not only one focused on the performers, friends. One of my long-past students from St. Paul Schools was recently in the staffing cutbacks for MSO, and received notification in an e-mail. This is plastic, heartless (and, apparently, equal opportunity in terms of departments — with the likely exception of the board….) slash-and-burn which this management team in their closeted rooms think to be theoretically survivable.

    As with the educational community situation which I’ve had the insurmountable opportunity acroos the past years to witness far too up-close-and-personal: It’s about the money, and, sadly, no longer about the quality.

    The “heightened artistry” rhetoric — a generous term for administrative shell-games otherwise dealt with using a sharp shovel, to mix a metaphor — is a dodge, a detour.

    Our professionals can hardly be blamed for wanting to audition for and place themselves into artistic environs which show appropriate appreciation for their long-developed gifts and performance skills. Once this synthetic re-prioritization at all levels involed manifests itself in blatantly Wal-Marted concert programs of Carpenters rather than Charpentier, Ellington (fine in the right context) rather than Elgar, Van Halen rather than von Beethoven — and incur the inevitable blistering reviews certain to follow — how long wil it be before those board positions are up for grabs and those bankers sent scurrying back to their office desk jobs rather than being part of the depletion of the critical orchestral desks on-stage?

    Enjoying this blog; wishing all well in these developments….

    • Thanks for abiding my typos….

    • “received notification in an e-mail”….

      Okay, so what the FUCK was the reasoning behind that? It doesn’t surprise me, but what the fuck? How many minutes does it take to call a meeting and sit down and tell the people face-to-face, or heck, even call them? Firing someone via email? What the actual living fuck? No one can convince me that’s a budgetary issue. That’s just not. That’s a respect issue. Basic human decency doesn’t cost a dime.

      Thanks for the comment. I’ll forgive any of your typos if you forgive my profanity. ;)

  14. I agree that this is union-busting, by people who deeply hate collective bargaining. There is another strike going on in Chicago right now. That one is killing working parents every day it goes on. On the bright side, teachers are usually personally known to the parents of their kids, and hopefully can explain themselves, one-to -one. Orchestra players, not so much. It is a good investment for players to get to know their audiences, maybe in house-concerts with dinner, even if it’s kind of a pain. Another conservatory class: polite conversation with people older than you?
    I agree that the structure of non-profit boards needs to change, in the direction of more musician representation. There are experiments in orchestral self-governance going on all over the US now. I was told last year by a London Symphony employee that all of the orchestras in the UK are co-op except the top three. They don’t make enough money, I guess, which brings up some problems with self-governance: 1) fundraising for your own salary above your pay-grade is awkward, 2) people who play gorgeously don’t always have good fiscal judgement 3) if personnel problems need to be solved democratically, in the open, maintaining the dignity of a group is a lot harder. I hope someone has or will invent a way to deal with these. My experience with my local over 39 years has been that they have strongly discouraged any meaningful discussions of contract issues between members of the orchestra and board of directors, making it punishable even. If we all get along, who will they protect us from? How will they justify work dues collected from co-ops? Orchestral work dues are easy to collect and make up a big chunk of the AFM budget. We owe them thanks for the rise of symphony orchestras since 1860, but it may be time to change the collective bargaining model.

  15. Paz

    I am sorry for what you are going through in Minnesota. I have worked in the arts on the admin side for 18 years and I have seen my fair share of contract negotiations. I agree with you that music is a beautiful art but it is also a dying art that is not bringing in the money that is used to. I am sure you have heard the stats on losing subscribers, single ticket patrons etc. While this is all happening the utility bill is still due as well as payroll taxes and 50 other bills that are due that month. So in that respect it does make sense to have business people on your board. As amazing at the are at their art most will agree that artist are horrible business people. Yes, Minnesota is going about things the wrong way but musicians need to start opening their eyes to the fact that classical music is not a popular as it once was and it not accessible to main stream people. So we all need to let go of our ego’s and start having real conversations with each other.

    • Thanks much for your answer! I have a question for you that I asked another arts administrator up above…

      “As a side-point…I’m wondering…is it really depressing for you as an arts administrator to be working on a field which you feel is close to widespread irrelevancy (if it hasn’t gotten there already)? I don’t mean that sarcastically; I’m genuinely curious. Because most musicians I know feel that the audience is out there, it’s just a matter of connecting with them in some way. Hardly any of the musicians I know would go so far as to say “most people don’t [insinuation, can’t??] enjoy classical music.” If they thought that, I don’t think they’d stay in music for very long. And yet I read that line, or a variation on that line, a lot from administrators and managements and such. It would be hard enough work raising money and administrating if you were confident you had a huge appreciative audience. I’d think it would be soul-crushing if you knew that audience was terminally ill and near death’s door. It would be akin to working for Newt Gingrich when Romney started kicking his butt in the primaries, or Hillary when it became increasingly obvious to everyone that Obama was going to sew up the nomination in ’08. It would just be a Bataan Death March like slog. But your situation wouldn’t just last for years like a political campaign; it would last for years upon years upon years. I can’t imagine the bleakness. Am I right? Do you feel there’s any hope for classical music? Any possibility of change? What will it take? What makes you go to work each day? Why would you want to work in a dying field? Wouldn’t it be best to jump ship now? Would you like to? (Sorry, those are a lot of questions. But you get the drift, I’m sure!)”

      Also would be curious to get more thoughts on what the death of classical music means to you personally. Is it no more classical concerts, period? I don’t see that happening any time soon, not even in my little rural corner of Wisconsin. Is it the death of orchestral music outside of major metros? Is it the death of orchestral music in major metros? Is it no more orchestras where members get paid $100,000 a year? Is it no more orchestras where members get paid $50,000 a year? Is it the death of chamber music? Is it the death of big halls? If classical music was dying in Minneapolis St. Paul, how did we raise $100 million plus ***during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression*** for ***two major new hall renovations*** in ***two separate cities*** for our ***two separate orchestras***? Just to have two more auditoriums in town? That makes absolutely no sense; there are multiple great halls in the metro. Clearly a lot of people thought orchestral music and beautiful places to perform orchestral music were worth investing in. You don’t raise $100 million for a losing political candidate. How then did we raise $100 million for a losing, dying art form? I don’t mean to be rude – it just doesn’t make sense to me. Convince me. I’m here. Let’s converse.

      I hope you’ll forgive me for saying so but “the death of classical music” just sounds like a sad cliche. The death of what exactly? The discipline of classical music is so huge. It would be like saying “rock music is dead.” What kind of rock music? Jazz rock? Soft rock? Grunge? Indie? Post-punk revival rock? Just because one kind of rock might be having difficulty doesn’t mean every part of rock music is on the verge of extinction…right? And so I believe it is with classical music. It will never die out completely. It will change and evolve, sure, and sometimes not to artists’ tastes, but isn’t “death” too strong and too dramatic of a word, especially when paired with the wide-ranging phrase “classical music”? We’ve been awaiting the death of classical music for Literally Decades. Literally. Sousa thought recording technology would lead to the end of music (or something along these lines; I forget exactly what he said, but Alex Ross wrote about it in…Listen to This, I think, or else The Rest is Noise). Does that mean we don’t have to evolve with our society? Hell, no. But does it mean we write classical music off entirely? I think to do so would be throwing away something very, very precious. (Not to mention, there are such things as self-fulfilling prophecies…) ;) :)

      “So in that respect it does make sense to have business people on your board…”

      I’m not protesting business people, at all. I’m protesting against inept business people. A talent for making vast sums of money should not in and of itself qualify you to make major decisions about a world-renowned orchestra. Surely there are wealthy powerful people out there who can balance fiscal and artistic visions without totally alienating all musicians?

      Thanks for your comment.

  16. @SOTL 12:17p

    Yeah, Ed. dept. Really gave her very best to coordinate those monster invitationals (of area schools) you folks were so kind to do. Huge mailing responsibilities. New baby at home too.

    Damned cold. I mean it.

    Good blog, Lerka. Keep rockin’.

  17. I’ve written about the Minnesota Orchestra at my blog ( and I used to work there in the 1980’s. I was shocked when I heard that the chief financial guy doesn’t know anything about classical music and may not even like it. They need management that understands 1) nonprofit management, 2) classical music, 3) marketing classical music, and 4) truly the history of this particular orchestra. Current management, I fear, will destroy this orchestra and its history and place in the Twin Cities community to cover their asses. I don’t think this management team has done a good job at all, nor do I think the Board has been paying attention. So, I’m watching these negotiations with a lot of trepidation. I agree with your assessment, btw, that they are lying and cannot be trusted. They have certainly been trying to control the flow of information about the negotiations. And the musicians have been trying to take the high road, be transparent and open, and do their best to save the orchestra. I think the biggest example of fiscal irresponsibility on management’s part is proceeding with the Orchestra Hall renovation at this time when the organization is in such dire financial straits. And has management offered to take pay cuts to help out? No. Thanks for posting! Cinda

  18. Pingback: Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO 2012 Negotiations: Week -3 | Song of the Lark

  19. Without opening the books to public scrutiny, no group of privately chosen “worthies” should be allowed to shut down an august civic institution. Let’s see what decisions have lead to this catastrophe. I’m sure people who can do better will emerge, once they see what really happened. The decision-makers should be held accountable for their actions and inactions. Minneapolis should know who gave how much and who didn’t, what their board meeting attendance rates were, and most of all, their names.

    • I too would love to see more information about the messes both in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I wonder if people will start coming forward with stories and documents once the current contract runs out? Or after the new contracts are signed? If they don’t start coming forward, how can we get that information? How can we hold those responsible accountable, whoever they may be – board, CEO, administration, musicians, etc.? How could concerned citizens go about this so those in power don’t repeat the same mistakes?

  20. Vanessa

    It’s not just about bad managers, greedy musicians (relax, tongue in cheek there people) and out of touch boards. It’s about ALL these things combined. You can’t fix the problem by fixing only ONE of those things. ALL constituents must be on the same page. What good is a good, or even GREAT, manager when the musicians AREN’T involved and the board thinks they are experts?

    • Thanks for your comment! Very very true. If what’s happening in Minnesota and Indy and Atlanta is any indication, we need to have a MUCH more open – and much more respectful – dialogue between management and board and musicians (and…dare I say it…concerned patrons?). Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom. Also, I too saw this article about the Milwaukee Symphony, and I’m sure a lot of people will have their eyes and ears out to see how that situation works, and if a musician can overcome the stereotype of “musicians are terrible business-people.”

  21. How depressing that this happens in other places besides Australia! Over here we are largely government-funded, with its own unique blend of problems, but that still includes lying managements at times. However, support from the world-wide community is a great morale booster while we fight the good fight. A book you may want to put into the hands of any caring, influential, (Rich!) but non-musical person who seeks to understand is The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras by Robert J. Flanagan (Yale University Press, 2012). He’s an economist who sums up very well the perennial financial problems of orchestras. Could be a useful tool for you.

  22. Thanks so much for having the courage for posting this. You are so correct. I like to think I am an objective individual who wants to see both sides, but here I can not! How can management be so…Anyone want to finish my sentence… I’m sure you all can. Thanks for your post! Karl

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