Response to Management’s Response to Osmo’s Letter

I’m no expert in orchestral management, but… If you’re the CEO of a world-renowned orchestra, and your conductor sends you this letter…wouldn’t you maybe want to change tack?

November 12, 2012

Dear Members of the Minnesota Orchestra Board and the Musicians of the Orchestra:

In the last few years, the Minnesota Orchestra has truly established itself as a world-class orchestra. Critics and audiences around the world praise what we have achieved together. The national and international attention we have attracted through our Beethoven and Sibelius recordings, our Carnegie Hall and BBC Proms engagements, as well as our crucial work at home is the result of the invested talent, energy and commitment of an exceptional group of artists, not merely competent professionals.

The Board is justifiably proud of the results which the Minnesota Orchestra has achieved; many other Boards would be delighted if their own orchestras achieved anything like the level of the Minnesota Orchestra. This is all the more gratifying when you compare our costs with our peers in Chicago, New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

The Twin Cities area is such a special place. No metropolitan area our size can boast the award-winning cultural offerings that we do. We are the home of several Fortune 500 companies as well as many other innovative businesses. Our downtown is thriving, our unemployment low. Smart, creative people choose to live here because of all the Twin Cities has to offer. No other market our size has an orchestra such as ours, playing at the same level as the greatest orchestras in the world. A metropolitan leader as cultured as this must protect, preserve and cultivate such an asset.

But now I fear we may be on a path to diminishing greatly, if not destroying, the Minnesota Orchestra as an artistic and cultural leader. While there is no progress in the contract negotiations; while players are unable to rehearse and perform together; while some are obliged to seek jobs elsewhere – I am desperately anxious about the risk posed to the quality and spirit of the orchestra for the future. I become deeply emotional when I listen to our latest Sibelius recording edit of the 1st and 4th Symphonies, first because the music is so moving and superbly played in the hands of our musicians, and second because I fear that to preserve our reputations I may need to consider letting go of the remaining recording projects we have planned. I will also be in a position to think seriously about the viability of bringing a diminished or compromised orchestra to Carnegie Hall for our four concerts in the 2013-14 season, plus international touring thereafter, including a re-invitation to the BBC Proms.

It is difficult to imagine that the current negotiation process will sustain the orchestra’s future. Rather, the process may rob us of the chance of having a world class ensemble for years to come. When the lockout is over, the Twin Cities may have a “professional orchestra” but inevitably not the same one, nor a highly regarded one. Will anyone – either the Board or the Musicians – be able to reflect back with pride at what was accomplished during this season? The Association and the Musicians must come together to mitigate any more damage.

It is clear that the orchestra’s finances are deeply troubled and finding a solution must balance business and art. I urge the Board and the players of the MO, from the bottom of my heart, to seek new and creative ways – without insulting or demeaning – to pursue these negotiations, to re-establish a common vision, to identify a path forward, in partnership, to a financially and artistically sustainable future. There must be some way to re-establish trust and bring both parties to negotiate once again.

The Twin Cities is a unique and great place to live. The 109-year-old Minnesota Orchestra is a great orchestra. We are all proud of what we have achieved here. The world-class Orchestra Hall this orchestra needs and deserves is only months from completion. Once again, many other orchestras envy our significant accomplishments.

Nine years ago, you brought me here and entrusted me to lead a world-class orchestra, which I have enthusiastically and faithfully done. It is my responsibility as Music Director, and one that I take extremely seriously, to maintain and develop the artistic level of this great orchestra. If the orchestra does not play, its quality will most definitely diminish. Please, do what it takes, find a way, talk together, listen to each other and come to a resolution of this dreadful situation.


Osmo Vänskä

That letter speaks for itself. I have nothing to add to it.

For some reason, I don’t get emails from the Minnesota Orchestra management any more. (I stopped receiving them after I started being critical of them on this blog. I logged in tonight to make sure that all my contact information is current and up-to-date, and it is. Sigh. Whatever.)

But! Lucky for me, a brave friend rode to the rescue and forwarded me management’s official response, so that I wouldn’t have to toss and turn tonight wondering what Mr. Henson and Mr. Campbell are thinking of this terrible blow to their cause.

Dear Patron,

We want to make you aware that we recently received a letter from Music Director Osmo Vänskä expressing his hope that the Board and musicians will come together to resolve our negotiations. He wrote, “It is clear that the orchestra’s finances are deeply troubled and finding a solution must balance business and art. I urge the Board and the players of the Minnesota Orchestra…to pursue these negotiations, in partnership, to a financially and artistically sustainable future.”

Holy…crap. You…think that letter was written in support of you and your methods? What – ? Just – what?


Is this some Rorschach test?

What do you see? Is Osmo Vänskä praising management’s handling of the situation? Or is he desperately begging them to sit down and talk and compromise? Don’t worry; your answer will remain confidential between you and your therapist.

We agree. It has been a great partnership – between musicians, Music Director, Board and community – that has led the Minnesota Orchestra to great artistic heights; no one entity could have done it without the other. Similarly, in the end, the way forward for our contract negotiations will also be through partnership.


*spews water across keyboard*

Quick question. Can you please share with me one aspect of this negotiation that has been done with the word “partnership” in mind? Just one…

It is for this reason that we confused by the musicians’ unwillingness to return to the negotiations with a contract proposal. How can a negotiation take place if one side refuses to participate? It has now been 31 weeks since the Board put forward its proposal and we have yet to receive a counterproposal from the musicians.

In the Star Tribune on November 8, Labor relations expert John Budd, of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, agreed that the musicians’ positions are “structural requests around the parameters of the negotiations and not formal counterproposals.”

Yeah, I actually have that article here, and quoted from it on the blog. Did you take a quick moment to glance at what people – the public you are purportedly serving – in the comment sections said? If you haven’t, here’s a little sample…

Why is management collecting their salary if no concerts are being performed? We certainly don’t blame the musicians (those who actually make the money) for the current situation. Management is supposed to plan and raise money. They are the ones who failed and the ones who need to be replaced.

How much damage is management willing to do to the orchestra? Appparently, quite a bit. It’s disgusting.

There are two lockouts by management and the Board: the musicians and the public. Both are victims of an arrogant disregard for the interests of either.

This is so sad, and reflects utter failure and incompetence at the top. Is there not one courageous board member, or group of prominent donors, who will stand up, and demand another approach ? The Founders are spinning in their graves. Shame on you board, and admin. You are ruining one of the great institutions of the nation, and not one of you speaks out ? Your little social club is disgusting. Replace the board with those capable of leading, with the understanding of negotiating difficult situations, and creating consensus. Someone need to step-up here, and do some reconciliation, and bridge building. This is disgusting in so many ways, and betrays a vastly sick organization, rotten to the core.

I have been reading article after article in a variety of sources – newspapers, MPR, blogs . . . not ONE commenter who self-identifies as an audience member supports management. Not ONE. As a subscriber and donor to one orchestra and a ticket-purchaser to the other, I am furious that we are not being included here. The arrogance of management is astounding.

Yeah. Suddenly the stuff I’ve said on this blog doesn’t seem so bad, does it?? While you’re at it, do you want to hear some input from your Facebook page?

The musicians ARE the orchestra. Pay up.

I LOVE the Arts, please show respect and pay the musicians. This post is truly a shame.

Very disappointed that you have not been able to work out an agreement which is more fair to the musicians.

Shame on management and the Board for getting into this situation and for their unwillingness to go to arbitration.

Management and the Board needs to STOP acting like the victim here, and take responsibility. You are the steward of OUR orchestra, entrusted with ensuring that it maintains its place in the world as a top-tier orchestra. You should be answering to the musicians and the patrons, not some imaginary stockholders! You are holding this community hostage, and we WILL NOT stand for it.

Yeah. That tone actually continues…unanimously…and unambiguously…throughout the entire comment section. I think you might want to check it out, because, if this email is any indication, you haven’t.

We can only reach a resolution if we meet at the table, share proposals and begin earnest conversations, something which we are eager to do.

Oh, yes. You’re so totally eager to come to a settlement that you refuse to submit to an independent financial analysis, even when just about all the numbers you’ve released publicly contradict themselves.

Come on, guys. My sarcasm muscle is getting weak from overuse.

And by the way, since you’re apparently suffering from a major attack of amnesia, the musicians offered to meet at a table less than two weeks ago. And you turned them down.

We have great empathy for our musicians—and our audiences—right now;

BWAHAHAHAHA. You have great empathy for me?


And you have –

Great empathy –

For the people whose salaries and health insurance you cut off?


What the – ?

*goes to find dictionary*

*looks to see if “empathy” means the same thing in 2012 as it did in 1997 when I was in grade school and first learned the definition of the word*

the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

*slams book shut*

*checks calendar to see if it’s Opposites Day*

Hey, Opposites Day is actually November 13th.

Um….did I just decode the entire meaning of this email?

*checks date on email*

Oh, shoot. It’s dated November 14th. I didn’t.

So as best I know, empathy does, in fact, still mean today what it meant in 1997.

I have no idea what they’re talking about.

however, we cannot continue performing on borrowed time. Last year our organization posted a $2.9 million deficit, and we anticipate this year’s shortfall to be $6 million. In order to protect the Minnesota Orchestra for the long term, we must address our financial challenges now, rather than push them down the road and allow them to multiply. We believe it is not only possible to combine great artistry and financial viability; it is absolutely essential.













It is our greatest desire to find a meaningful resolution to this labor impasse quickly so that the music can resume again for our community – and continue for many, many decades. We are grateful for your support.

Hahahaha. Hey, FYI, absolutely nobody supports you. Just a little head’s up there. If you don’t realize this, things might get a little awkward next time you show up to a concert and various patrons recognize you. Judging by the Strib comments, and the furious comments on your orchestra’s Facebook page, I’d advise wearing a mask next time you go to a show.

May I recommend this stylish accessory for your next outing to the symphony?


Where do we go from here?

No clue. Absolutely none at all.

I literally don’t know what could cause management to give a single inch, or submit to the public’s call for transparency, or cause Mr. Henson to say “yes, I made some mistakes along the way, and I’m sorry.” An internationally renowned conductor practically begging the two sides to sit down and talk to one another? (Doesn’t seem to have swayed Henson or Campbell.) Big donors withdrawing their support en masse? (I don’t know; there’s one hugely important one who has been very public in her support of musicians, and I’m assuming words have been exchanged with her behind the scenes. I’m guessing if she’s annoyed, then others are, too. Still hasn’t changed anything, at least publicly.) A counter-proposal from musicians halfway between what management is suggesting and what the musicians had in September? Say, totally theoretically, a 10% pay cut, with benefits and working conditions remaining unchanged? (No, management would reject that, and just start harping on how out-of-touch the musicians are with fiscal realities.) Maybe Mr. Henson could come work for my state’s governor? They’d get along splendidly, I’d think. (No, my governor would never pay anyone $400,000 to work in arts management…) Intervention from Governor Dayton or Mayor Rybak? I have no idea what they could do to help, if anything (?). Members of the board who disagree with Mr. Henson, and Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Davis, and Mr. Cutler, speaking up and going rogue? A civil war within the board? Who knows if even that would help. A criminal investigation? Highly doubt there are any grounds for that…

So… I… don’t know.

I don’t know.

The only comforting thing here? I’m just a patron, and nothing more. I’m not privy to inside information. I don’t know what insiders might be having heated conversations behind closed doors. I don’t know what board members might be tossing and turning tonight and wondering what they might say or do in the coming weeks. I don’t know where the governor or the mayor are, or what power or influence they could wield. I can’t see the whole picture. I’m not omniscient, by any means. And tonight? That’s a blessing. I can go to bed tonight hoping and praying that Osmo’s beautiful letter will have some positive effect on this horrifying situation.

That being said, my heart breaks for all of us tonight.

Because we were all betrayed.

And betrayed mightily.


Filed under My Writing

9 responses to “Response to Management’s Response to Osmo’s Letter

  1. Chris

    May I forward to you information about the SPCO’s concert with Pinchas Zukerman on December 2 with SPCO musicians? Thanks!

    Unlock the doors! The internationally acclaimed violinist Pinchas Zukerman returns to the Twin Cities after more than a decade as Conductor/Soloist with The Musicians of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in an all-Mozart concert to benefit the musicians, who have been locked out without salary and benefits since October 21. The concert includes the Overture to “Marriage of Figaro,” the Concerto in A Major, #5, and Symphony #41 “Jupiter.” One performance only, Sunday, December 2 at 3:00 pm at Wayzata Community Church, 125 Wayzata Boulevard East. Let’s Play! $30/$60/$250 online and at the door (the $250 Patron tickets include a special private wine and hors d’oeuvre reception with maestro Zukerman the evening before the concert). ;

  2. Anon

    Where we go from here…I think you were right when you said that if people who are contributing funds which are paying for management’s salaries, and by extension management’s ability to continue getting paid to do what it is they are doing, knew better what was going on, they might stop or withdrawn those funds and apply them elsewhere at least and until things change. It’s ridiculous to think that they are getting paid to, what amounts to in effect, not do anything.

    There’s some kind of serious disconnect going on. Even in sports where entire seasons can be lost to labor contract disputes, behind the scenes, the two sides are almost constantly in contact with each other.

    Maybe that’s the problem here? That management thinks in terms of sports business and can’t seem to adapt to the potential that it doesn’t necessarily work like that in the arts. That just because high salaries are payed, that people, that musicians and conductors aren’t there necessarily just to chase the money as all too many athletes and business execs are now days. That by framing their position on counterproposed contracts in the manner that they have, they are losing trust and good faith in their abilities to competently do their jobs in eyes of the public and patronage, if made fully aware, alike.


  3. Terry

    If Osmo’s letter has failed to move them, then surely, it will now be obvious to anyone still on the fence that this management and this board have no intention of preserving the Minnesota Orchestra as we have known it.

    We cannot know why they are behaving this way. Is it simply because they can? A big power trip for them? They never wanted to have a 2012-2013 season at all due to the Orchestra Hall renovations? Do they just hate unions that much (maybe they should listen to more Classical MPR and less “hate radio”)? Perhaps the true financial situation is so dire and the mismanagement has been so terrible that, when it becomes widely known (and it will), the public will demand:

    That our elected officials and judges in their official capacities as the leaders of this state, rescind the non-profit status of this organization for dereliction of duty, remove the board and management, and install a new one in its place; one that will preserve, protect and defend this musical treasure on behalf of the People of Minnesota, not to mention the nation and world.

    It might also be a grand idea to restore the words “symphony orchestra” to the Mission Statement. Sorry, board, but removing those words was a dead giveaway as to your true intentions.

  4. Chris

    This is all sounding like a mirror image to the situation in The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. A Zero (airplane) type suicide mission to destroy the very entities that up until recently were providing the twin cities and the world with inspiring musical performances. Now,under the guise of needing drastic economic change, is an national attempt to do away with collective bargaining. This is one of their priorites, not so much the priority of serving the patrons needs. Both managements are clesarly hiding something big from the community……and its board members…..a national agenda that isn’t right for the twin cities.

    • Terry

      You are right, Chris, it’s not the Minnesota way of doing things. But I can’t give the board members a free pass. They cannot escape criticism nor responsibility just by saying, “gee, they never told us that; if only we’d known.” It’s their job to ask questions and get answers from management. If they’re being lied to or kept in the dark, that’s their problem, not mine. They will be held accountable by the ticket-buying public. It happened on their watch.

  5. observer

    The League of American Orchestras is behind this. All the managements are following the same playbook. Operation “Slash and Burn.”

  6. Sarah

    BTW you’ve been linked to on Adaptistration . . .

  7. Sarah

    OK, I wrote one of the comments mentioned above to the previous Strib article. I’ve started to meet with the SPCO audience group and am learning a LOT. The comments just above mention everything I’ve been thinking and realizing, and more. Plus, there is a very disquieting comment on the Strib article regarding Maestro Vanska’s letter and this is my riffing on it – that there is collusion between the two managements in order to 1) trash both orchestras and merge what remains into some sort of “house” model in between hosting all sorts of guest orchestras in two newly-renovated facilities. Pretty nasty, but given the fact that the SPCO czar is an M&A lawyer and the rest of the executive board members for the two orchestras are either lawyers or bankers, there you have it.

    So, what the hell are they thinking? Do they know who won the election last week, or do they just refuse to believe it? Do they think people will have the same sort of allegiance to a “society”? How the heck do they think they will get donations to a corporation? Are they planning on keeping prices “accessible” (the SPCO schtick) or will they jack them up a la Walmart once the competition is gone? And, where does the Schubert Club fit into all of this, seeing that they are moving themselves into a similar umbrella “society” model and the fairly new president is a former SPCO manager? (I don’t know beans about the current Schubert president so don’t take this as gospel, but the way things are going who would blame me for thinking this?)

    If it were all about money – but it’s not, is it? The amount that would help the SPCO this year, and the many things that could be done to ensure financial stability in the future, aren’t even on the radar. They want total CONTROL over everything, including the audience. And we are supposed to line up and open our wallets for the “New Model”.

    Um, I don’t think so. I’d say more but I’d blow up my laptop.

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