Monthly Archives: October 2012

Endowment Draw Rates and Other Numbery Things

As y’all can imagine, when I was in Minneapolis, I fell behind with updating the Orchestral Apocalypse Index. Well I’m finally catching up with it this evening. (I know, I know; I’m slow. To be fair, I’m not getting paid to do any of this, so…) In the process of catching up with the latest news, I came across some numbers in this October 23 MPR article: Why not spend Minnesota Orchestra’s $140M endowment?

Yes, you heard me right:


Yeah, apparently on the 23rd we got some more concrete numbers from management about 2007-12 endowment draw rates, and in the rush of news, I missed it. So let’s have a belated party, y’all, and comb through these babies! *uncorks champagne* (You know you’re a nerd when…)

OK, so. Here’s a chart with numbers from the article. Just to be clear, this chart is for the Minnesota Orchestral Association Endowment (other funds from the Oakleaf Trust and St. Paul Foundation, etc., are not included in this chart, and are discussed earlier in the presentation within the article). And I’m not sure where funds raised for Building for the Future campaign fit into all this.

Remember back here when I tried to take a stab at the endowment draw rate from 2009-2011? I’ll copy those numbers here. Bold numbers are ones that (I thought) I knew for certain, based on statements in Strib articles. Italic numbers are the percentages that I needed to add in to gel with Henson’s statement that “the orchestra has withdrawn an average of 10 percent annually over the last decade.” (Actually, if you look on their website, they claim the average rate draw has been more like 9.4% over the last decade. And as best I can calculate, that’s closer to the truth. But 10% does sound more dramatic than 9.4%, and I guess that leads to the question, what’s .6% among friends?)

OK, so…

2002 – 7% or less

2003 – 7% or less

2004 – 7% or less

2005 – 7% or less

2006 – 7% or less

2007 – 6%

2008 – 6%

2009 – about 17%

2010 – about 17%

2011 – about 17%

I didn’t think management would have included 2012, since we aren’t done with 2012 yet. But apparently they are including it in their “last ten years” calculations. So their numbers look like this…(And FYI I’m stealing the 2003-2006 numbers from the list above, because those aren’t included on management’s chart. If these numbers are ever officially released, let me know.)

2003 – 7% or less

2004 – 7% or less

2005 – 7% or less

2006 – 7% or less

2007 – 6.4%

2008 – 7.5%

2009 – 10.7%

2010 – 11.4%

2011 – 13.6%

2012 – 17.7%

So now let’s look at the differences between the two sets of numbers…

2007 is…close enough. I’ll let a .4% difference slide, since Michael Henson lets a .6% difference slide…

2008 is…confusing. On their chart, management says there was a 7.5% draw. In the Strib in December 2008, they said they’d employed a 6% draw. Don’t really know how to reconcile those two figures. Maybe their fiscal years are separate from their calendar years, and there was a discrepancy? Or maybe they were talking different percentages from different funds? Maybe they were flat-out lying to the Strib? Maybe there’s another explanation? I don’t know. I don’t have enough information to tell.

Beyond that, though, the rest of the difference between the two sets of numbers can be attributed, I think, to management shaving off a “7% or less” year and adding in another heavy draw year (2012) that I hadn’t included. That skewed my calculations a few points higher for 2009-2011.

I think it’s interesting to note that the marked increase in the draw rate only occurred once the Great Recession hit. In the Wikipedia article on the 2008-2012 global recession, the Great Recession is defined as “a marked global economic decline that began in December 2007 and took a particularly sharp downward turn in September 2008” (my bold).

And you can definitely see evidence of that in management’s chart. It seems as if things were on a fairly even keel draw-wise in 2007 and before. According to the Star Tribune in December 2008, “The board is allowed to draw up to 7 percent, but spokeswoman Gwen Pappas said the organization has been very firm about avoiding that method.”

So here are some facts, drawing both from that statement of Ms. Pappas’s, and the chart given to MPR:

1) From 2003-2012, the draw rate averaged 9.5% (at most).

2) From 2003-2007, the draw rate averaged 6.9% (at most). From 2008-2012, however, the draw rate nearly doubled, to an average of 12.2%.

So anyway, keep that in mind when you hear the “ten percent over the last ten years” line. Something around 9.4% is technically true, based on the numbers we have now, but I think it would be more helpful to think of it in terms of “twelve percent since the recession began” (or “twelve percent since the musicians’ latest contract was signed” , or “twelve percent since Michael Henson was hired”; take your pick, depending on who you’re rooting for).

I’m curious why management is even bringing the 2003-2007 numbers into this…? Can you think of a reason? The 2003-2007 numbers were actually pretty good, at least according to the Strib statement. Not perfect, maybe, but not especially catastrophic, either. So why bother dragging those in at all? To make it look as if they’ve had a draw rate problem for longer than they actually have? To make it seem as if the problems were more systemic than situational? To keep Michael Henson from looking bad (take a guess at what year he came aboard)? To deflect attention away from what must have been some seriously abysmal investments that were made during the recession? I don’t know. I don’t know what to think.

Seeing the dates when the draw rate ticked upward also makes me wonder where the Strategic Plan fits into all this… The Minnesota Orchestra Strategic Plan was released in November 2011. It says that at the time of publication, they’d been writing the Plan for eighteen months, or since the spring of 2010. Insinuation: management began to see major deep-seated problems that required a major organizational overhaul…I don’t know, in the spring of 2008? At the earliest? Latest? Maybe? How long would you need to see deep-seated problems before you realize they’re deep-seated problems, and that you need to take incredibly drastic action to solve them? I don’t know, and sadly, we haven’t heard from the board about the exact timeline, or the process of or reasoning behind their Strategic Planning, so I can only guess. So I wonder, what specifically were the deep-seated fiscal problems that needed to be addressed? In the spring of 2008, the recession hadn’t really started yet. The endowment draw rates hadn’t climbed yet. The stock market hadn’t totally tanked yet. Were the deep-seated fiscal problems due solely to the musicians’ 2007-2012 contract? (Then why did management ever agree to it? And why was Michael Henson so proud of how things were going financially in 2010?) Was there a major decrease in attendance or ticket sales? (But even if there were, ticket sales consist of a relatively small percentage of revenue, right?) I don’t know. Were donations down? Argh. My brain hurts. I’m so tired of having to dig around and read between lines. It would be really nice if those in power could answer these kinds of questions in detail. I mean, they’ve got a huge website with which to do so. This isn’t the private sector. Those in the orchestra should answer their public’s questions. IMHO.

Another wrinkle: who knows what other numbers have been bandied around? The musicians say they’ve been given conflicting, misleading financial information. Maybe this chart is among that misleading stuff. After all, the chart management provided to MPR doesn’t seem to jive with

And I’m sure there are other similar remarks, too, that I just haven’t found yet. (Give me time…)

So…yeah. Numbers. I don’t know. *shrug* If there are any math geeks out there, feel free to chime in. Or management! Management, you can feel free to jump in, too, if you want. Let’s get a dialogue going. I’ve got an audience, as you know. Endowments (um, and math) aren’t, as Randy Jackson would say, my wheelhouse, so I’d appreciate any input…


Filed under My Writing

A Layman’s Guide to the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout

Someone asked me the other day – “So what’s this whole Minnesota Orchestra lockout thing about?”



“How long do you have?” I wanted to ask.

So I’m giving myself a challenge: to summarize the lockout from my perspective in 2000 words. I’ll give myself bonus points if I can stay under 1500.


The Minnesota Orchestra musicians’ 2007-2012 contract expired on September 30. Rumors had abounded for months that the orchestra was facing serious financial trouble, and that management would be seeking sharp concessions from their musicians (despite the fact that, within the last five years, the orchestra has cemented its reputation as one of the greatest in the world). Within the last year, a large number of players have either retired or left the orchestra outright, suggesting internal strife. In the spring of 2012, sixteen non-musician employees were laid off. Nationally renowned arts consultant Drew McManus feared that these employees were being used as pawns in the negotiating game. On August 27 the orchestra’s blog, written by conductor Sarah Hicks and violist Sam Bergman, was suddenly shut down; neither author was given the chance to write a good-bye post. Management said it was because their website was being redesigned. Fans knew better. So even from the outside, it was obvious that negotiations were tense.

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Filed under My Writing

Matt Peiken’s SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra Podcast

Hey peeps; listen up. I’ve got 50 minutes of juicy arts journalism for you. Matt Peiken from MNuet has produced a podcast you must listen to. I don’t care what you’re doing; drop it, and listen. Here’s a summary:

In this revealing and provocative conversation, Ellen Dinwiddie Smith of the Minnesota Orchestra and Carole Mason Smith of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra talk with MNuet’s Matt Peiken about the labor stalemates happening with their respective orchestras, their perspectives about what led to the musicians’ predicaments and steps they see going forward. Among other charges, the musicians make the case that the management of each orchestra is looking to transition from an orchestral focus to one of presenting a wide array of events. MNuet has asked to conduct a similar interview and devote an episode of “Whole Note” to representatives of each orchestra’s management.

Thank you thank you thank you, Mr. Peiken. I’m so thrilled we have an independent journalist in our midst.

Here are some teaser questions from the podcast: What are the missions of the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra boards? How were certain individuals laid off at the Minnesota Orchestra in spring? Who gave back what when? Is there a kind of collusion happening among administrators at the highest echelons of American orchestras? Are musician-led ensembles in the Twin Cities’ future? Where are our local politicians in all this? And what about the children? Juicy stuff, huh? See, I told you you’d want to drop everything and listen.

If the managements at both orchestras refuse to take up Mr. Peiken’s generous offer to conduct in-depth interviews with them (and I’m guessing they will refuse), then I suggest that he post an mp3 of an hour of total silence. Or an hour of him asking questions to dead air. If those in charge can’t handle the heat, and won’t step up to answer their public’s questions, then let’s hammer home the void of leadership and vision and accountability as mercilessly as we know how. No offense to the good reporters who have been working on these stories over the last six weeks, but I’m so tired of the sound bites in 700-word articles in the mainstream press. This is the kind of in-depth conversation we need to be having. These are the questions we need to be asking, again and again and again, until those in power can’t bear to hear the sound of our voices anymore. Management, if you’re not going to answer the questions I’ve raised, or even acknowledge my existence, then at least sit down with someone like Mr. Peiken. If you don’t, we’ll assume you’re hiding something (what else are we supposed to do?). And we will act accordingly…


Filed under My Writing

The Key and the Lockout: The Minnesota Orchestra Musicians In Concert, Oct 18

As many of my readers know, I was diagnosed with several incurable chronic illnesses when I was a child. In my teens, I went through a physical, emotional, and spiritual agony as I desperately tried to come to terms with what these diagnoses meant. I faced a future not just of constant pain and exhaustion, but perpetual poverty, societal scorn, and a black, ever-simmering self-loathing. In short, I faced an acute narrowing of possibility: a future spent in a dark and lonely limited cell.

My story is not unique. Every single human being wrestles with something akin to this at some time in their life, whether they’re dealing with death or divorce or discrimination, or something equally devastating. The unlucky ones stumble in the darkness until they finally collapse, and a kind of light within them goes out. But the lucky ones find a key – and escape.

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Filed under My Writing

Orch-upy Minneapolis Event 10/18

This is a tad on the late-ish side, but…

Hey, would you like to meet up with some crazy idealistic impractical artistic folks who believe that the Twin Cities community ought to do everything possible to preserve the Minnesota Orchestra? Then you’ll want to come to this Orch-upy Minneapolis event tomorrow. Details here. Here’s the Facebook event description by organizer Sarah Jackson:

*******LOCATION: KING & I THAI, 1346 LaSalle Ave MPLS***

Friends, with the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra’s exciting announcement of their Gala Concert at 7:30 on Thursday, October 18th, it made perfect sense to CHANGE OUR EVENT TO A HAPPY HOUR, immediately preceding the concert!

So, we’ll meet for happy hour, discussion, and a bit of letter-writing on THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18TH @ 5:00 PM!

PS – As I believe the evening’s concert is something to celebrate, I will be dressing up for the evening! Please feel free to join me!

I don’t date, so naturally, I won’t be bringing a date. Therefore, I’d like to extend a warm invitation to Michael Henson to be my companion for the evening! What an amazing, unique, unprecedented chance for him to show his willingness to engage in an open public dialogue with those who disagree with him. Only a strong, bold, confident leader with unshakable faith in his noble plans would be able to go into the lion’s den like that. What an amazing opportunity to publicly humiliate his opposition and prove them wrong in a very very very public place. Hope to see him there! (What? It’s worth a shot.)

I’d also like to invite Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis. We’re actually not going to be that far away from your workplaces, gentlemen!

This is a lovely little walk, Mr. Davis! You’ll enjoy yourself!


Voila. I promise we won’t bite. I’m sarcastic, often to a fault, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome an open, honest debate. I honestly have full faith that if you truly do have the best artistic and financial interests of the Minnesota Orchestra at heart, you will trounce me in an honest debate. And oh how I’d love to be trounced. No snark there.

Anyway. Hope to see some of my readers there, or at the least at the Convention Center. You know what I look like. I’ll be dressed in black and white. Till tomorrow. xx

If you haven’t gotten your tickets for the lockout concert yet, get them now.


Filed under My Writing

The Mysterious Disappearing Michael Henson Article!

Today I found out I’ll need to do a lot of re-formatting on this blog, because the link to the oft-cited “Aiming High: Michael Henson Profile” from the July 2010 Gig Magazine has officially broken.

But unfortunately for both Michael Henson and Kim Kardashian, once something is published on the Internet, it never really goes away.

So we still have this cached version… (Edit 10/29: The cache has vanished. So here are the screenshots…)

But we still have this screenshot JPG version (and a PNG version and a GIF version). And also an HTML version. And also a text version. And an RTF version, and a PDF version. And multiple other versions in multiple other formats. Which I won’t share here because that would be overkill and a possible infringement of copyright. But I have them, and I have them all. Stored in multiple places. On multiple computers. And on a flash drive, which I keep tucked in secret pocket in my purse. And all those copies say the exact same thing they said a couple days ago, a couple weeks ago, a couple months ago, and a couple years ago:

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

There’s no single strategy to beating the downturn,’ Michael Henson asserts. ‘There has to be a whole series of strategies to maintain a focused approach. The priority is continuing the excellence in the artistic work.’ With orchestras across the US hard hit by the recession – and management strategies the number-one talking point at the League of American Orchestras’ conference in June – the Minnesota Orchestra stands out as a beacon institution among the bad news…

It’s quite a remarkable article.


Look at how this one article – and nothing else – was excised so neatly, so carefully, so fastidiously, from the main Tour Press page.

It’s almost as if Michael Henson never said those contradictory things……….. Almost.

There were 43 articles featured on the Orchestra’s 2010 tour website. As of today, 42 remain. The only one that’s been removed? The Michael Henson one. Do you think that’s coincidence? If the entire tour website had been taken down – or multiple articles had been removed – then maybe it could have been coincidence. Maybe. But just that single article? The one article that has come under very public scrutiny over the last couple of weeks? The one article that so obviously risks undermining the credibility of management’s entire message? Hmm.

Taking down this article does nothing, and whoever thought it would should not be in charge of a major orchestra’s website. Anything online is permanent. Period. Even though I may well be making a fool of myself, I’ll never try deleting any of my words here…because I’m tech-savvy enough to know that such a thing is pretty much darn near impossible…especially if someone has good reason to try to use my words against me in future. That’s simultaneously one of the prime glories of the Internet, and one of the prime dangers: despite its seemingly ephemeral nature, it is ridiculously permanent.

The sudden excision becomes even lamer when you look at the comments here. One of my readers actually said on October 3:

I suggest you get ahold of that article on the mnorch website about Michael Henson and post the text directly onto your blog. and keep another record of it somewhere. If this whole fiasco is as conspiracy-esque as we think it could be, management might start hiding more things before real info comes out. It might just be a good idea to have that article handy in case…


Yes. Yes, it was a good idea.


I honestly didn’t think it would come to that, but… I’m glad I followed this paranoid bit of advice, that really wasn’t so paranoid after all.

This is feeling more and more like a John Le Carré novel, and it’s kind of ridiculous. We’re in the middle of an orchestra lockout, for Pete’s sake; not the frigging Cold War.

“You’ll have to assume they’re watching you… Things aren’t always what they seem!”

All this deletion does is remind the public that Michael Henson has not explained the discrepancies between his 2010 words and his 2012 words. It also gives some very potent ammunition to those who believe that management is totally, wildly, veering-on-hilariously inept…and is secretly (very very very secretly) humiliated by it. If management didn’t think Michael Henson’s words could be used to successfully undermine their arguments…then why bother deleting them now?

(Or should I say, trying to delete them?)

It makes a person wonder:

Is someone starting to feel the heat?


There are few things more satisfying than shoehorning a dramatic, totally irrelevant picture of Benedict Cumberbatch into your music blog.


Filed under My Writing

Violinist Jill Olson Moser Writes About Minnesota Orchestra Subs

About a week ago, I was contacted by Jill Olson Moser, who’s a substitute violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra. She passed along a piece she’d written, sharing her concerns about the current conflict from her perspective as a sub. I haven’t heard anyone discuss what she discusses here, despite the vital importance of the topic. It was a hugely thought-provoking read for me, and I think it will be for you, too. So (for once) I’m going to shut up, and let a reader take center stage. I thank her for giving me permission to post her words here.


9:10 Tuesday Morning

A handful of weeks out of the year I have a week of work with the Minnesota Orchestra on my calendar weeks in advance. Sometimes I get a call 2-4 days before the first rehearsal. I leisurely go to the hall and check out the music. I enjoy listening to multiple recordings of the upcoming repertoire and I begin a thorough process of practice and mental preparation. But not at all unusual is the 9:10 call on Tuesday morning, just as I’m sitting down with a cup of coffee. This call starts with, “Hi, wondering if you can play this week,” quickly followed by, “Rehearsal starts at 10:00.”

That leaves 20 minutes to arrange a babysitter for as many of the hours between 9:20 and 4:00 as possible, get dressed, pack up the fiddle and fly out the door. The ten minute drive downtown is for canceling anything that was on my schedule during the rehearsal hours, and starting to leave messages for babysitters to tag team with whoever could bolt over for my hasty departure. Fingers crossed, traffic flows smoothly and there is an open parking meter right outside the stage door, or I will start to panic. Remaining, after racing downstairs, unpacking, checking the seating assignment and sitting in my chair, are about 30 seconds to glance at what I will be sight reading over the next two rehearsals. The rehearsal breaks on Tuesday are dedicated to rearranging my schedule for the rest of the week and lining up child care. If that goes smoothly, I hopefully have time to woodshed a few tricky passages. Believe me, these weeks fly by, as a Thursday morning Coffee Concert is just breaths away. Before I know it, I’m repeating the third performance on Saturday night of music that may have been foreign just days before.

Crazy, right? It is a funny thing, because I love it. Those crazy weeks are the mainstay of my career. You might ask, “Why don’t you make sure you’re at least dressed by 9:00 on Tuesday mornings? Well the thing is, there were years in which I always was. But budgets get cut, contracts require musicians to play with smaller sections, Young Peoples Concerts and Pops concerts that were once played by a full orchestra are now cut down to a few stands in a section. And what I can hardly believe enough to put in writing, orchestras get locked out. So now, I don’t plan on that call.

But let me back up a bit more. Because we subs could be secret agents for all of the notice we garner. You probably recognize us, we are a loyal bunch, and are so well treated that we stick around. In fact, we make a choice to build our careers around a job that doesn’t name us, and clearly doesn’t come with any job security or guarantees. Some of us have won other auditions for full time, decent paying symphony jobs and turned them down. Some of us have been offered stable University teaching jobs, but turned them down. Some of us could have been the tenured stand partners we play with from week to week, had the wind blown the other way in an audition. In part, the reason we keep subbing is because the sub work allows us to play with one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Because to quit subbing with the Minnesota Orchestra in order to play in a lesser orchestra isn’t so appealing. But lets be real here, it is also because we can make a decent living while doing so. Given the cost of living in the Twin Cities, the sub pay makes for a higher quality of life than many other “real” music jobs.

This takes me to the gamble. I could be talking about the fact that, at least in the violin section, we audition annually. From year to year I risk my place on the sub list. I could go from making $50K one year to making $12K the next if my Don Juan sucks at the audition. It is not easy re-auditioning, without a screen, in front of your colleagues. Let me say, every one of us agrees. It sucks. But actually, this isn’t the gamble I’m talking about. I’m talking about how a sub balances their work, because after all, we are freelancers.

In 2001 when I first won a spot on the sub list, I picked up and moved to Minneapolis. Shortly thereafter I won a sub spot with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Times were good. My weeks would fill with work from one orchestra or the other, and weeks that I wasn’t hired were a nice break. Time to get ahead with practicing other stuff. Those times are long gone. SPCO has had deep budget cuts and additionally, for years has been importing many of their violin subs from elsewhere. As I said before, in recent years Minnesota Orchestra has played with reduced sections, even for subscription weeks. So, the balance becomes more complicated.

Nothing in town compares to the pay of subbing with the Minnesota Orchestra for a freelancer. Depending on how much less something else pays, taking other work can really backfire. Also well paying is the Minnesota Opera, but even then it isn’t a clear decision. For instance, to play with Minnesota Opera, from just a financial perspective, it must not in its three weeks of rehearsal and performances conflict with even one week of Minnesota Orchestra, or you are losing money. If you sign a contract with the Opera for one production and then Minnesota Orchestra calls for all three of those weeks, you are out a couple thousand dollars. The subs are divided on whether that is a good gamble. Work with the Opera however, is guaranteed up to a year in advance, and some subs opt for that certainty. As you can imagine, our brains are always doing these calculations. But the reason I even go into this is because, it is in the best interest of the Minnesota Orchestra to have their best subs available when the orchestra calls at 9:10 on Tuesday morning. After all, these subs are not only expected to contribute and blend with the sound of the incredible sections they play in, they are expected to do it while sight reading.

There was an interesting Sommerfest concert this summer in which the cellos were featured in the Overture to William Tell. Five solo celli taking front and center. The Principal cello was out of town. In fact, due to injuries, illness and vacation days, the only orchestra members playing in the cello section for that concert were sitting on the front stand. The rest of the section was subs, including three of the solo parts. It sounded incredible! This was a concert in which Andrew Litton spoke in support of the musicians. He talked about how the measure of a truly great orchestra is in its depth. That it isn’t just superstar principal players that make a great orchestra, but having for instance, a full section of cellists worthy of featuring. I would add that another measure of a great orchestra is to have depth in its sub pool, which doesn’t happen accidentally. It happens because the musicians of the orchestra have fought for years to defend fair compensation for their subs. They understand that the quality of their orchestra depends on the support of this community of freelancers. Because on occasion you will end up featuring a cello section full of subs, and they have to sound great.

I do not write seeking a pat on the back; as subs we recognize that our names will not be listed in the program. But now as musicians have been locked out by management, I think about the future of this remarkable orchestra, and I can’t help but reflect on the important role subs play in this great ensemble. We tour the world alongside our tenured colleagues and sit side by side in intense and amazing recording sessions. There is no room for anything but the best, from any of us. We have all been pushed to grow and to improve under the baton of Osmo Vanska, and we too have done what has been asked of us. Our role could become even more vital, to step up as orchestra musicians seek other opportunities. But while musician pay is on the chopping block, I have a hunch that an easier cut by far will be slashing sub pay. A move which initially will leave us scrambling to scoop up whatever other work we can, and for many of us will be the moment when it no longer makes sense to have a career as a sub. We will follow the logical path toward reliable work; a smaller orchestra job, a teaching position, or subbing in another town. Even if we stay in town, when that 9:10 call comes on Tuesday morning, it just might not be worth it.


Filed under Not My Writing

Musings on the Campbell/Davis Minnesota Orchestra Editorial

Here’s a Strib editorial from Jon Campbell and Richard Davis entitled “Minn. Orchestra makes a stand.” It’s… Just go read it. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know what I think of it.

There’s not much new in it, but one new thing is a big new thing: Campbell and Davis have finally confirmed the 17% endowment draw in print. Despite my sadly limited mathematical abilities, I anticipated this number on September 25. I’m not exactly sure what the thought process was behind this small but meaningful tweak in PR strategy, but make no mistake; it is a marked departure from what has been said in the past. This is a risky, double-edged sword of a figure to publicize. Yes, it demonstrates the gravity of the situation quite neatly, but it also begs the inevitable (unanswered) question: when donors for the Building for the Future campaign were being courted in 2010, and 2011, and 2012…were they told that the orchestra’s finances were being managed so poorly that the organization was being forced to draw from the endowment at an annual rate of 17% to meet their obligations? (Because make no mistake: given the figures they’ve cited, if they were drawing at a rate of 17% in 2011, then they were also drawing at a 17% or 18% or 19% rate in 2010, too. Even I can figure that out, and trust me, John Saxon and I were never very close.) (Edit 10/29: We now have more concrete information about rate draws from 2007-2012. They aren’t quite as extreme as 17%, but they were pretty darn high.) I really wonder if donors were told, because in December 2010, Richard Davis proudly proclaimed, “This was a season characterized by disciplined budget management [bold mine] and significant expense cuts, which kept our operations stable in an unpredictable environment.” But we now have conclusive proof from Richard Davis himself that this was, to put it politely, total cow crap. (Because let’s get real: a draw rate over 10% isn’t “disciplined budget management” ……is it???) If they lied to the paper, why wouldn’t they lie to their patrons and donors? (Or to their musicians, for that matter?)

Bottom line: how many people would have donated to the lobby renovation if they’d known the Orchestral Apocalypse was coming? I’ve read comments online again and again and again from people who said they would never have donated to the hall construction effort if they’d known that a 30-50% pay cut for musicians was in the works. I haven’t heard a single donor say, “Well, if I had to choose between keeping all of our musicians in town, or building an amazing new lobby, I’d definitely take the amazing new lobby!” I mean…I’m sure there were people and companies who wanted their money to go to the hall rather than the musicians, but…I know there were lots of people who felt otherwise, too. And their concerns should be acknowledged.

Here’s an FAQ from management’s website:

Why not “re-allocate” the $47 million raised to reduce deficits instead?

The donors who have contributed to the Orchestra Hall renovation would not have contributed these funds if there weren’t a building project to support and we need to respect their intent. For example, the State of Minnesota provided $14 million (funds that we need to match) to support the renovation and these funds cannot be used for a different purpose. Similarly, many foundations and corporations have specific guidelines around capital support that our project fulfilled; this support cannot be re-allocated.

But interestingly, their answer says nothing about individual donations. I have the summer 2012 Showcase right here… There are roughly 150 individuals or couples who appear to be non-corporations who gave $10,000 or more, who presumably do not have specific guidelines around capital support, who could theoretically re-allocate their funds. Of course we’re too far along now in the renovation to re-allocate much (if anything), but… Yesterday I did some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations. On the low end, these individuals gave roughly $32 million. On the high end, they gave about $70 million. A certain percentage of that was doubtless used for construction. How many millions of dollars would be re-allocated if their donors could do it all over again? Based on the information we have now, it’s impossible to know.

I wonder… In a perfect world, where cost isn’t an issue, would management be afraid to contact these donors in a short independently conducted survey? Maybe have three questions:

1) When you made your donation, were you aware that the orchestra was drawing from its endowment at an annual rate of 17%?

2) Would that knowledge have encouraged you to donate less, or more?

3) Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time, would you donate to the hall construction effort or request that your gift go toward other operating expenses? Or would you have chosen to withdraw your donation altogether?

I have no idea what the answers to such a survey would be, but they would be so interesting to parse.

I don’t know. Maybe these wealthy individuals knew about the high draw rate. Maybe they were all told of the likelihood of a months-long lockout and orchestra dismemberment, but they still felt the need for a hall was more pressing. Maybe every single one of them wanted their money go to a new lobby. But we haven’t heard from them except through management’s filter, so we just can’t know. However, if these big donors are anything like the small ones, there are some who are feeling awfully betrayed right now.

To sum it all up, I’m impressed that Campbell and Davis finally came clean about the 17% draw. But I’m less impressed that they didn’t answer the inevitable accompanying questions that such a high number raises, like: why didn’t you tell us this was happening two years ago?, and why did you lie to us?

While we’re asking questions about the funding for the hall, I have a couple of quick ones… Would the hall renovation have even been possible without the $14 million from the state of Minnesota? Why did then-Gov. Pawlenty, once opposed to using state funding to remodel the hall, change his mind a few weeks later (without explanation), and decide at the last minute not to veto the Orchestra Hall renovation? Interesting questions. Unfortunately we’ll never get answers to them, because the ex-governor recently left his political career behind him, likely forever, to become the CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable. You may be interested in looking at a list of that organization’s directors; a certain name will be familiar to you. Who knows what all happened there, and what (if anything) it has to do with the hall and the orchestra and the fact Pawlenty changed his mind so quickly. It’s very possible there’s nothing there there. But…oh, wouldn’t it be fascinating to know for sure?

I never donated to the Building for the Future campaign (thank goodness), but I did donate an encouraging blurb to their website, a fact which now humiliates and angers me to no end. I really feel like I was taken advantage of. Would I have taken the time to write what I did if I’d known such flagrant mismanagement and misrepresentation was occurring behind the scenes? Well, holy crap, no! Of course not! So I can only imagine how utterly cheated certain individuals who actually gave money might feel.

Are you a donor? As a donor, were you ever given a different picture of the organization’s finances than members of the Strib-reading public were in December 2010? Were you ever told about the endowment fund draws in the upper teens? Would you consider a 10%+ draw to be “disciplined budget management”? Were you ever given any indication that a months-long lockout was just around the corner? Would you have reconsidered your donation if you’d known this was all going on? Do you think money was mismanaged in any way? Or are you cool with it all? Do you feel like you were lied to? Or do you trust management to do what’s right, and to honor your intentions? No snark or sarcasm here; I’m genuinely curious.

I know that I won’t give to the Orchestra until the current leadership is gone.  I just don’t trust them to paint fair, accurate pictures of their financial status. Do you blame me? I wonder how many other individuals feel the same way I do, and how this will affect the orchestra’s ability to fundraise in future…


PS – Oh, and also? The idea of the “playing and talking” period being over the last few months is just…stupid. Like really, really stupid. It’s not really like the musicians had a choice. They were kinda contractually obligated to play. Management is not going to win any PR points with that, and whoever thought they would is…kind of delusional.

PS 2 – And also also, I find it odd that management has chosen to put up the link to the “A change in key” Strib editorial on its Industry News page, apparently subtly endorsing it, but then refusing to actually do what it recommends. Um


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A Red Letter Day for the Redline Express…

Drew McManus is a wizard, and he has a special potion, and he has offered it to Minnesota Orchestra management, and they have partaken in it. How else to explain this totally unexpected way-out-of-left-field possible geyser gush of transparency?

At the end of last month, I published an article that examined the value of comprehensive perspective when it comes to considering proposed changes in collective bargaining agreements. Since then, I have obtained a copy of the complete redline agreement the Minnesota Orchestra submitted to musicians as their last official offer (which was subsequently voted down on 9/29/12) and concluded it would be educational to begin examining the document here at Adaptistration.

The document has been verified as complete and accurate by official representatives from both the Minnesota Orchestra (MO) and the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians (MOM); my thanks to both groups for their cooperation.

A visual representation of what I felt like after reading Drew McManus this morning

Could it be…that…

Management is starting to care about public opinion?


A little?




Minnesota Orchestra representatives didn’t need to agree to do this. As Mr. McManus notes, “This sort of endeavor has never been tried before mostly because obtaining a copy of a complete redline agreement, even after a contentious dispute settles, is next to unheard of.” Maybe I’m missing something very big and very obvious, but…what would management have to gain by agreeing to do this, besides possibly some public support? (And even that isn’t guaranteed, depending on how they react. If they play their cards poorly, this could end up to be a net PR loss for them.) And no offense to Mr. McManus, but the broader public doesn’t read Adaptistration. If representatives from the orchestra had declined Mr. McManus’s request, I’m guessing that only a handful of largely pro-musician people would have noticed…and at this point the majority of us is so disgusted with management that it wouldn’t have changed our tune at all. So might this mean that management is trying to reach out to the online pro-musicican set? Maybe? If not, who are they trying to reach? Why did they decide to do this? Who are the representatives from the orchestra? Do they have faith in their ability to publicly defend their contract? Is that faith warranted? Did Michael Henson okay this? Is he losing control of his chess pieces? I don’t know. But I really wasn’t expecting this, to say the least.

And then take a gander at this paragraph:

The MO and MOM have indicated a degree of willingness to provide additional insight, justification, and rationale behind why changes have been presented and/or why changes are opposed. This input will be included wherever possible; similarly, spokespersons for both sides have been invited to leave comments at any respective article to offer additional insight and clarification.

Insight, justification, AND rationale?


I mean, yay, obviously, of course, but –


*settles in*

*pops some popcorn*

This could get very, very interesting very, very quickly.

As I mentioned in the comment section of an earlier entry, I find that one of the bizarrest things about this whole bizarre conflict is the fact that an uneducated 23-year-old from Wisconsin ended up being the one who wrote the most words about it. I think that’s fricking insane. And so I can’t express how delighted and relieved I am to hear that other more experienced voices are speaking up. I look forward to their insights with gratitude.

And I’m so very glad that the person spearheading this effort is Drew McManus, who is always so calm and polite and professional. I think of him as the Nate Silver of the orchestral world. If I was planning on writing about arts disputes for a living, I’d want to write like him. We desperately need someone in this conversation who isn’t panicking that her beloved orchestra is slipping away, who isn’t personally and professionally associated with various musicians, who isn’t contemplating moving from Minneapolis if the orchestra’s quality seriously declines. As I’ve said since the beginning, the stakes are too high for me to be clear-headed. So let’s all give a round of applause to Mr. McManus for taking on this project, and let’s (this feels so weird to be saying) give a round of applause to management (wow this feels weird to be saying) for seeming to possibly try to attempt to perhaps take a little tiny step toward transparency, maybe (what did I just say?). Let’s give Mr. McManus lots and lots of views, okay? I challenge you to make this the most popular online phenomenon since Snowqueen Icedragon’s “Master of the Universe.” Maybe if we make it really popular, we could succeed in getting a film adaptation of the contract made. I guarantee you such a thing would be more interesting than the Fifty Shades movie.

Anyway. I’m not sure if this exercise will clarify much. It could clarify a lot; it could clarify relatively little. It might change minds; it might harden them. But at the very least it will be interesting. And will be the closest thing to accessible public dialogue that we’ve seen yet.

And so once again we find ourselves in a roller coaster in uncharted territory. Boy, this story has been weird.

Stay tuned…

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Minnesota Orchestra Lockout Concert Announcement

The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are now selling tickets for their lockout concert at the Minneapolis Convention Center on October 18 at 7:30pm. The program will consist of the Dvorak cello concerto with Tony Ross soloing (……his last time doing so with the orchestra? wouldn’t surprise me) and Shostakovich’s fifth symphony.

You can buy tickets here. They range in price from $15 to $40.

This promises to be one of the most unique shows in the orchestra’s 110-year history. So you should really come. Because we don’t know when we’ll hear the Minnesota Orchestra again. Or how much of the Minnesota Orchestra will still be the Minnesota Orchestra by the time this is all over.

A visual representation of how I’m feeling right now

Anyway. Yesterday I made reservations at a hotel near the convention center. Would any SOTL readers want to think about getting together briefly before the show? I don’t know where yet, or even if it would be feasible, but it would be interesting to get a head count of who would be interested in such a thing. If you want, I can email you at the address you use to comment here and we can try to arrange something. Otherwise we’ll try to say hi at intermission.

Love to my readers.



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