Response to Ken Cutler’s 11/11 Strib Editorial


The musicians must make a counteroffer

I have been a season-ticket holder for the Minnesota Wild since their first game and a Minnesota Orchestra subscriber since 1975, and I serve on the orchestra board. I am frustrated that my two favorite winter activities are in the midst of lockouts. But at least in hockey I can take heart that the sides are talking about contract terms and that each side has presented proposals and counterproposals. In the case of the orchestra, however, two proposals have been presented to the musicians, as long ago as April, yet no counterproposal has been made.

The hockey players never demanded an independent financial analysis before making a counterproposal. They did their own work after examining the league’s finances, yet had even less insight than do the musicians, who have audited financials and 1,200 pages of documents. Unless the musicians offer a counterproposal, no progress can be made. And they must recognize that the orchestra cannot survive if concert revenues only cover 22 percent of operating expenses, a significant portion of which is musician salaries.

I truly love the orchestra and its fine musicians, but if this continues I will think seriously about canceling my season tickets, ending my annual contributions and eliminating the bequest to the orchestra in my will.


Well then feel free to resign, I guess

I know dozens of people from all around the world who would be delighted to take the awful inconvenience of being on the Minnesota Orchestra board off your hands. Contact me ASAP and we can discuss options.

If you do resign or withdraw your contributions, take solace in the fact that if the current proposed contract is ratified, many more people will cancel their season tickets, end their annual contributions, and eliminate their bequests. So we may lose you, but we will retain many others who we otherwise would not have. So it will probably be, as the Star Tribune said about the Minnesota Orchestra’s holiday season, a “net” “wash.”

Also, I hope that as a corporate lawyer you don’t endorse the business practices you seem to be recommending here. I highly doubt that when you represented AmCom Software, Inc., in its sale to US Mobility, Inc., for $163,000,000 that you would have willingly overseen a transaction that included such egregiously misleading and confusing numbers, no matter how many thousands of pages of information you had in your possession. And since over the months nobody in management has addressed the musicians’ allegation that there are conflicting numbers at play, and since we’ve caught Mr. Henson blatantly lying about the fiscal health of the orchestra at least once before, and since Mr. Davis has been cheerfully deceptive about numbers in the past, and since the draw amounts released by the Orchestra do not match those listed on their tax forms, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for assuming that there are misleading numbers at play within those 1200 pages. You’d agree, it would be naive to assume otherwise.

While I have you here, you mind answering some of these hundred questions? Also: do you know why the orchestra was trumpeting its financial health so loudly in 2010? I’ve been asking for weeks now and nobody from the Orchestra has addressed the discrepancy. Hey, maybe we could set up an in-depth interview to discuss the conflict from your perspective. I’ve got a whole group of well-informed people who would love to talk to you. We could have a conference call. A Google Hangout! You can record those and upload them onto Youtube for the whole world to see. It could be awesome. Contact me! Seriously!

Sorry about your favorite winter activities being canceled. That sucks. Not as bad as, say, losing your job and health insurance over Christmas. But it still sucks.


Edit, later – Oh, and by the way, take a look at the differences between the two proposals. They’re basically identical. It’s completely disingenuous – nay, irresponsible – to insinuate there are any substantive differences between them.


Filed under My Writing

12 responses to “Response to Ken Cutler’s 11/11 Strib Editorial

  1. Terry

    This labor dispute will be discussed for years, but only as the way NOT to go about negotiating with musicians and the audiences who love, admire and respect them and the music they make. It’s no wonder this guy is so upset. The national reputation of this board and these managers is currently in the toilet! I wonder if some of the board members’ firms and companies are beginning to suffer from the bad national publicity. In these situations, questions will begin to be asked, such as: “If they can’t manage a non-profit symphony orchestra appropriately and decently, why should we hire their firm or work with their business, unless we absolutely have to? Other choices are available to us.”

  2. The players and management seem to be stuck in a catch-22, in that mgt is demanding a counteroffer and the players are insisting they need more date in order to do that. However, data for 2012 is not yet available. Is there some way to move beyond this stumbling block, if this is the case?

    • A few things…

      The data from “2012” will consist of information from September 2011 to August 2012. I heard from someone…and I can’t remember who now, so take this with a grain of salt…that more information will likely become available publicly within the next few weeks. This has been the case in the past. Here’s an example… That article about the orchestra’s 2009-2010 financial status dates from December 1, 2010. Here’s another article where the 2008-2009 information was released around December 9, 2009. So it would make sense that we would be getting more information within the next few weeks, or at least a summary from management’s perspective, if not the actual papers yet. If we don’t hear anything from them about this by, say, mid-December, I’m going to be concerned. Mary Schaefle will no doubt be taking a look at that new information whenever it is made available. So stay tuned.

      According to the musicians, the board has already approved the September 2012 to August 2013 budget, but they have not shared it with musicians. Management has not said anything about why they are withholding that information, so…feel free to speculate.

      However, that being said… Many concerns pre-date the 2011-12 numbers that will be coming out soon. Mary discussed some of them in her “What We Know About Minnesota Orchestra Finances” piece. Those have not been explained to the public. Plus, we can only guess what inconsistencies might be in those famous 1200 pages the musicians have been issued, since those pages have not been released to patrons. (It would be quite the interesting exercise to release those to the public… Don’t know if that would be legally possible, but it would be fascinating. Crowd-sourcing to find/explain any inconsistencies!)

      I hope that answers your question! Ask me again if I didn’t make myself clear. Best, Emily

  3. WhOOOOAAAAH strong and impressive reply to the Lawyer Guy!
    keep that up, ya hear? :)

  4. Sarah

    The SPCO Board Executive Committee is also stacked with bankers and corporate lawyers so both Boards have this scorched-earth, Walmart, vulture capitalist take-no-prisoners perspective. And now they can’t figure out WHY they are losing the PR battle. Perhaps they need to reflect upon the results of last week’s elections.

    I’ve already got my ticket for the 12/16 concert and will buy one for the SPCO 12/2 one tomorrow.

  5. Excellent reply, Emily! I just wrote about the dispute again at my Gina Hunter blog taking a look at the distrust angle. The Board assumes that the Minnesota Orchestra’s reputation up through summer 2012 will hold true for the next few years, and their own reputation will not hamper the Association’s business. Not true. See the blog post at

    Thanks for keeping up with this. Drew McManus also continues to examine the redline agreement at


    • Trust is indeed a major issue at play – and not just for the musicians, but for donors and ticket-buyers and guarantors. This isn’t just about money or even ideology; it’s about accountability and transparency and honesty. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the only way any normal individual who has been paying attention would trust the MOA again is if Mr. Henson, Mr. Davis, Mr. Campbell, (and Mr. Cutler, too, by the looks of it) resign or are pushed out. Mr. Henson in particular needs to go. ASAP. Even if he would come clean tomorrow, and apologize profusely, there is simply no excuse for his behavior over the last few years. I feel badly that orchestra lovers around the world have to pay the price for this pathetic incompetence.

    • Just found this article. You and Robert Levine seem to be on the same wavelength about this.

      • Sarah

        Are you able to access this article? I’m having issues with the entire site.

      • Terry

        Kind of odd about the website having problems (now resolved). The slipped disc blog at also was inaccessible for awhile yesterday. The LOMoMO site was down briefly on Saturday morning, too. Hmmm … probably due to overwhelming interest in this topic, I’m sure, and nothing nefarious. But something to keep an eye on.

      • @ Terry…MNuet was also down the day before yesterday…. (Not endorsing any theories here. Just mentioning.)

        Edit: I’ve gotten indications that some people think I actually believe the Minnesota Orchestra is hacking into websites. Clarification: I don’t think they are, and there is no reason whatsoever to believe they are.

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