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… http://www.wqxr.org/#!/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 change.org 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

20 responses to “Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO 2012 Negotiations: Week -2

  1. In an earlier post, you suggested that a reporter ask orchestra management whether they are worried about musicians leaving. I don’t know if you read the Star Tribune story on Sept. 9. It concluded with this question being posed and a quote from Richard Davis:

    “…….the question of excellence and retaining top-tier talent strikes directly at the Minnesota talks.

    “These are real people with real lives, and they have to protect their own financial circumstances and artistic integrity,” Davis said, referring to the musicians. “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.”

    In another story, I reported a statement from the Orchestra regarding opening their financial records to audit. The gist of it was “we’ve answered this.” You wondered where was the rest of the statement? That was the statement in its entirety. These are public positions staked out by each side in a collective bargaining atmosphere.

    I just wanted to clarify those points, given that you seem to question the Star Tribune’s reporting on these issues. I would point out that I wrote the first story on the Minnesota negotiations on April 12. I wrote on the SPCO offer on June 12. Both of those were well ahead of any other reporting on the issues. Just stating the facts.

    Thank you for your time. 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.


    • Thanks much for your words.

      I did hear that Davis quote, and I appreciate very much that you were able to get it. I talked a lot about it in earlier entries, especially on 8 and 9 September. It’s probably easiest to find it all here… http://orchestra-negotiations.tumblr.com/

      I know you’ll agree, the last few weeks have been a hard and disorienting time for all those trying to understand what the hell is going on. Tempers and frustrations have run high, and will run high, and it’s easy to criticize those do not necessarily deserve criticism. I ask for forgiveness for any unwarranted impatience or confusion about what has all transpired. Like I write above in my first paragraph, upon reflection, it is not you I mean to criticize, or even the Star Tribune. Rather it is the infrastructure of journalism itself, in which stories that deserve thousands of words of analysis, debate, and discussion are *of necessity* shrunk down to short, relatively infrequent columns. I don’t know for sure, but I’m *guessing* you don’t have the time or space or money you wish you could have to cover and analyze this story – bloggers like me don’t have the access or expertise (or money) – and I think that’s sad, and frustrating. It’s not your fault. I don’t know whose it is, but it’s not yours, and it’s not the Star Tribune’s, and it was a big mistake on my part to ever insinuate it was. So once again, I extend an apology for my lack of clarification. Lack of perspective and risk of entrenchment are two disadvantages of daily blogging, especially when things are moving so quickly.

      And I hope you’ll permit me to salute the statements you have gotten from both sides. It’s more than anyone else has been able to get, and every little word is appreciated, and I’ll try to do a better job of acknowledging that in future. So keep digging. Keep digging keep digging, please. So much about this story rests on your shoulders. I hope after all this is over, all interested parties can contribute facts, thoughts, and opinions, and figure out what exactly led up to these dual catastrophes. Every concerned citizen will need to work together to make sure this isn’t forgotten or repeated.

      Thanks for your patience with me. I’m learning and making mistakes (embarrassingly publicly!) as I go along.

      Thanks for the McManus link. I was going to discuss it on the blog but haven’t yet had time to listen & analyze. But I did know about it, so that’s good.

      Take care.


    • PS – Comment back so I know you got this. Otherwise I’ll be emailing you in the next couple of days. I want to make sure everything’s good between us.

  2. Great new post! Over the past few days/weeks it has been getting harder and harder for me to sympathize with the management. I realize that they **seem** to be trying their to keep their organization alive. They **seem** to have their organization’s best interests at heart. But again and again they are proving that they really don’t care. I don’t see anything to the contrary.

    They are literally destroying their organization. SOTL, you keep pointing out that these head managers have all this other stuff going on (and there’s a lot of sketch $$$ stuff going on with them). I hate to generalize and stereotype, but these people are rich, heartless and selfish KWJEBFIUEW’s who **seem** to be out to destroy the musicians and the orchestras they perform for.

    I’m sick of management. I can’t trust them. I shouldn’t believe everything I hear (even from the musicians) but I just can’t imagine the musicians are making trouble. They are good people who love their job, and I’m sure they love the Twin Cities (although the Twin Cities won’t keep them if salaries are slashed, contrary to the nincompoop minnesota orchestra management).

    I watched the video you posted. DID YOU see THE AUDIENCE!? It was huge and they just ATE THE ORCHESTRA UP! And it looked like the musicians were having so much fun.

    The situation **seems** to be getting dire. A decision from the SPCO is almost due. I don’t know what to expect from them, but I don’t think I’m going to be seeing my october 6th concert. However, MNO has about a MONTH before they even play a regular season concert. And the musicians **seem** dang serious (as they should be) about what management is proposing. The possibility that the situation in Minneapolis is going to get a lot worse before it might, or might not, get better is becoming more and more likely. I’m getting very nervous about what will come out of both orchestras.

    I hope the musicians rally. Either that they can successfully negotiate a reasonable contract, or that they all quit in 1 stroke and form a new, musician-lead, no management-allowed, orchestra. That seems farfetched, but the alternative of no orchestra(s) is much worse.

    SOTL, please send those questions into MNO ASAP! It is excruciating waiting for news with more questions than answers. Maybe management will actually answer some questions. Maybe they will be BS vague answers.

    Is it possible to “fire” board members/executives?

    Sam Bergman is a badass. holler

    • It’s probably a good thing you didn’t go to Lake Harriet, it probably would have been difficult to get into the audience!

      I do now have the address to send the questions to management (1111 Nicollet Mall; apparently it’s still good during construction) but of course there is no guarantee it will get to the people it needs to get to. I’ll probably do it certified mail, just in case I bring it up later and they protest it was never delivered or something. I’ll take pictures and maybe movies of the send-off and show it on the blog. But honestly? I don’t think they give a flying fuck about my or anybody else’s questions. If management actually answers them, even with total bull, I’ll do something insanely obscenely embarrassing online. Someone help me think of something I could do. I have absolutely no confidence in them.

      I had a fantasy the other day: that the Minnesota Orchestra musicians agree to everything management has proposed. Everything. For a period of maybe a year or two. ON ONE CONDITION: current management is fired and a new capable team is put into place with more input from….I don’t know who from, but *better more experienced people,* of which there MUST be thousands. If Campbell, Davis, and Henson in particular really cared about this orchestra more than their egos, they’d step aside and let some actual experts in orchestral music step up to the plate. I doubt this would work in the real world, but it would be awesome to watch.

  3. Another fine post. I LOVE Osmo! He is so fantastic! When he extended his contract to 2015 I was ecstatic! He is definitely an idol of mine, and the fact that he so outwardly supported the musicians is really good to hear. Regardless of what happens, it gives me hope. Osmo is a great leader (I guess I’ve heard otherwise before, but I love him so much, he seems simply perfect) and will do his best to hold it together. I don’t think it is just professionalism or reputation either. He obviously likes working with the MNO (Which HE raised to international status and extended his contract) and I hope he’d like living in the Twin Cities, which is, in fact, a great place to live. I don’t think he’s about to zone out for 3 more years. He’s too good for that (but it’s going to be incredibly sad 3 years from now when he probably does leave us :(

    Another point was the Jon Austin quote from MPR. I also enjoyed a chuckle. That statement about the people who care about the Minnesota Orchestra was COMPLETELY ABSURD. Absolutely ridiculous. That man should be fired immediately. unBElievable. There’s really not much else to say here except that it’s possibly the biggest understatement of the whole fiasco.

    I also concur about the Facebook page. It’s so sad to know that there are many many employees who work for MNO who probably are sick to their stomachs about what’s happening right now too. In all honesty, their jobs are on the line too, and they most certainly wouldn’t be working for MNO if they didn’t love it. I’m sure those people could get better paying jobs elsewhere. Add that on top of the musicians and it’s just incredibly sad to see so few people fucking with the REAL LIVES of so many. I don’t know who Henson and Campbell and Davis think they are, and I don’t know why they do the things they do. Can’t they see they are bringing about the destruction of a 100 year old organization that is a cultural icon for the Twin Cities and the whole world?! It’s so upsetting. I’d love to get inside their head and figure out what their thinking. Why they do the things they do. Do they have joy from ruining immensely important arts organizations? Like, what the fuck?

    On an ending note, The SPCO is *supposed* to be coming to st. Olaf at the beginning of october. I say *supposed* because the school books them every year as a free concert for students. The problem is St. Olaf books the SPCO through the organization of the SPCO, not the musicians of the SPCO. And since the contract expires Sept 30…….well, SPCO might not be in Northfield, MN in early October.

    My dream is that a successful and reasonable contract passes and the musicians can come. My other option is that the contract expires, there’s major issues, and the musicians STILL come to perform. Because either way I’m making huge a$$ posters saying “WE SUPPORT MUSICIANS” “THANK YOU” and the like, to show how much people still care. And, I’m currently working with another student to get shirts made. Hopefully it works out.

    Because all I want to do is show the musicians that there are still people who care about them and what they do. And regardless of what happens, we will still be there for them. And that under no circumstances do we want them to quit. I understand them needing to leave for different opportunities, it’s something anyone would do. But I won’t give up on them. I hope they won’t give up on me.

    So yeah, I will be talking with the woman in charge of booking the SPCO and see what’s up with that and let you know any details about what I find. Until then, happy day! and let’s hope there’s good news a’ coming. I am certain we’re gonna get hit HARD within the next few days, for better or for worse…

  4. I’m going to the concert in edina today, I’ll write a post later tonight. My friends and I are making a BIG sign saying “WE <3 Musicians" (obviously not <3, but an image of a heart, less letters, more space ha ha) and something along the lines of "Don't Stop Believing" it should be very exciting!

  5. Hey all,

    So first of all the benefit concert today was great! Minnesota Orchestra was simply stunning!

    so let’s start at the beginning. Not a very crowded event. It was a small church and most (almost all) of the people were over the age of 65. My friend and I were probably the only people in the 18-24 age group. There were some mid-aged adults and 2 children (bless their little hearts). But again, mostly elderly.

    So the concert started and the musicians marched out. It was a pretty small ensemble. Only about 30 strings, and there were only 7 winds on the program (they didn’t play until the last piece). I was delighted to see Erin Keefe there. I mean, first of all she’s amazing. But I guess I didn’t expect such a high profile player at at this event, although I can’t say I wasn’t not expecting her to be there either. All the string principals were there as a matter of fact. It was just a pleasant surprise.

    And as these wonderful musicians marched out I held up the sign I made (We HEART Musicians). I was so excited to see the musicians reactions. A lot of them started giggling a bit and smiling at me. I even got a few thumbs up. I just really wanted them to know that at least someone in that church had their backs and I hope they understood my message.

    Well, they started playing and it was just great. They opened with Tchaikovsky’s serenade for strings (1st mvt). Never heard it before and loved it. It helps when the Minnesota F-ing Orchestra plays it, too. So that was amazing. Then Sam Bergman got up, and announced a viola spacacular! The viola section played his own arrangement of the fanfare for the common man, a fine arrangement and a little silly (in a good way!). Then a viola quartet by a local composer from cottage grove (very cool) and the whole viola section closed with an arrangement of Nimrod. Quite unusual, but again, very good. Very good. HA! What an understatement. It was gorgeous. Sam made a great joke about violas being the instrument that’s made the most fun of, but those 3 works were fantastic.

    Finally all the strings returned, welcoming flute, oboe, bassoon and 4 horns for a Mozart Divertimento to close off the program.

    Throughout this whole concert, all I saw was joy from these musicians. They looked and acted GENUINELY happy to be at this event. They were smiling and winking at each other and were just being so professional but so welcoming. Additionally, When Sam gave his little spiel he articulated how much the orchestra appreciated the opportunity to perform for the audience, and on behalf of the Community Emergency Service (this concert was a fundraiser for the CES). Most admirably, Sam said he wanted to keep the focus on the music and the CES, and that if people wanted to know anything about the musicians or the negotiations there was information in the lobby. Just left it at that and got back to making music.

    It was really just a fine concert and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. It was a very different MnOrch experience than what I’m used to. Orchestra Hall is SO big. This church was tiny. It felt so intimate and I could (and did) make direct eye contact with many of the musicians. It was really special, and I think most audience members knew it too. I spoke with and elderly man afterwards and he said how sad it was that these things were happening to the musicians and that they deserve better treatment.

    I didn’t really hang around afterwards. I didn’t want to be “that kid” who tries to talk to the musicians, and I would have been too embarrassed and in awe of them to talk to them anyway! They came and put on a great concert and I did what I could to show my support for them. I hope I made some kind of impact on them, they need to know there are SO MANY people who care about them.

    I know there’s a meeting with management tomorrow. Let’s hope there’s some progress. I’ll be waiting for your next post!

    • Sounds like it was a lovely classy event. Thanks so much for sharing. I really really appreciate the time and effort you put into those reviews. It’s so hard being two hours away, but your reports make me feel like I’m getting a pretty good vibe of what it feels like “on the ground.” Really, can’t thank you enough.

      Yes, there are talks tomorrow, and SPCO management is releasing their summary of their Friday-Saturday discussions… So we’ll see.

      Big round of applause via proxy for the Minnesota Orchestra, who has CONSISTENTLY outshone and outclassed their leadership during this ENTIRE debacle. *applause*

      And Erin Keefe is a goddess. OMG. All hail Erin Keefe, really, truly. <3 <3 <3

      And FYI, I hear…*rumors* that the musicians appreciate all you're doing. :) (No, I'm just kidding. They aren’t rumors. I know for a fact they do appreciate what you’ve done; I'm passing this review on to some of them.) Thanks again for sharing.

  6. There’s going to be a news story on Kare 11 tonight! Tim Zavadil is speaking on behalf of the musicians. Can’t wait to see it. Hopefully something got done in the talks today, but based on the subtitle “Musicians renewed [a] call for a joint-independent financial analysis of the Minnesota Orchestra finances” that doesn’t seem likely

  7. OM FUCKING G! What IS this shit?! All hell has broken loose. oh my god, I don’t even know what to do. SOTL I hope you have a new post coming soon, analysis and digestion and speculation are GREATLY needed right now. This is ridiculous.

    At least chicago has a tentative plan

    • I wrote a long post today actually, but I actually emailed it to someone to get a second opinion before posting, because the conclusions I came to were SO DAMNING that I feel like I missed something huge somewhere. So I’m waiting on his opinion if what I wrote was warranted. But if what I dug up is true…no sane person would side with management any more. Period. There will be more coming, rest assured.

      Here’s a taste of the basic idea, though… http://etour2010.myminnesotaorchestra.org/2010/07/aiming-high-michael-henson-profile/ Read this article (endorsed by the Minnesota Orchestra, because it was posted on their website!!!) and then read the Strategic Plan and Open Letter on management’s website, and take note of the dates. The Open Letter says management knew there were unsustainable problems since 2008, but Michael Henson went on record in 2010 saying how amazingly they were doing. He also went on record in 2009 and 2008 as saying that he was very comfortable about where they were at financially. There’s more, too.

      Once again, this all is so crazy and conspiracy-theory-feeling that I needed to send it to someone else to get a second opinion. Maybe he’ll talk me down and show me where I went wrong in my logic. I’m not going to post until I’m sure I have an ironclad case. But if I’m right…………….. Management is incompetent and slimy and (dare I say it?) evil beyond our wildest dreams.

      • 0.o oh my god… this is frightening.

        OK reading through the stuff……

        1st thing. Minnesota conveniently changed their mission statement between the years of 2010 and 2012

        2010: The Minnesota Orchestra will enrich and inspire our community as a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence

        2012: The Minnesota Orchestral Association inspires, educates and serves our community through internationally recognized performances of exceptional music delivered within a sustainable financial structure.

        2 things.

        1) I thought the MOA changed to the MO, not the other way around. I guess not. However, why? Why change the name of the organization? To serve the needs of the management? What? I don’t know, I’ll await your new post SOTL, you know more and are more imaginative. You say you’ve got a conspiracy, I’m ready to hear it. What is this shit?

        2) I’m taking an arts management class in school right now. We talk a lot about mission statements in arts orgs and how they help/hinder the org, specific/vague, etc… The former mission statement is PERFECT! concise, ives a great vision and path to succeed. The new one is obviously BS supplied by Mr. Michael Henson.

        And speaking of that lying bastard, what the fuck? I mean, really. What the fuck?

        I’m getting so upset and anxious. Even more so. So much stuff has happened today. MNO SPCO CSO, it’s just an overload!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s