Monthly Archives: December 2012

What Can One Person Do?

Seeing the Locked Out Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra in Beethoven 9 was a hugely emotional experience, and I really need some time to process it before I write a single word on the subject. Needless to say, the musicians were fabulous…and so was the audience, if I may say so myself!

Sooooooooo, while I’m busy processing… Here’s an utterly fabulous piece to prove that last point. Here’s SOTL reader Rolf Erdahl, discussing both his protest at the Minneapolis Club at the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s annual meeting on December 6, and, even more importantly, what you can do. Don’t feel helpless. You have a part to play. I promise!


You know those cartoons about the crazy guy dressed is sackcloth and ashes carrying the sign “The End is Near”?

On Thursday, Dec. 6, I was that guy standing outside the Minneapolis Club where the Minnesota Orchestra Board was holding their annual meeting.


The crazy guy

The only difference was I was wearing white tie and tails, and my sign was a posterboard with the shape of a cello cut out from the top, and a message that read, “SOMETHING’S MISSING!!! BRING BACK OUR MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA”

I’ll now describe the reasons behind my actions and tell you how the day went. If you want to save time, skip to the important part of this message at the bottom for some suggested answers to the question “What can one person do?”

Continue reading


Filed under Blog Stuff, Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

What We Know About Minnesota Orchestra’s Finances – And What We Don’t, Part III

Once again, I’m turning the floor over to Mary Schaefle, our resident non-profit number cruncher…


If you’ve been following the financial posts, you know the previous posts focused on income – endowment and investments in Part I, and ticket sales and fundraising in Part II. It’s time to take a look at Minnesota Orchestra’s spending habits, or expenses. We’ll be able to review detail in some areas but will more often be looking at expenses grouped into categories.

The Big Picture – What Got Cut?

The nonprofit tax forms (990, available via categorize costs, allowing us to see what increased or decreased between 2009 and 2011. The single largest drop, $966,802, was in travel (Part IX, p10). 36% of costs cut by Orchestra management were the result of the calendar and lack of an international tour.

The second largest decrease is “other fees for service” at $742,701. Fees for service are payments to any organization or individual providing a service to the Orchestra, for example legal or audit fees. The “other” subset includes payments to a guest artist, to a soloists’ management company, and to the architect and project management company for the Hall renovation.

We can look at “other fees for service” in a different section of the 990 where the highest paid contractors (Part VII, p8) are listed. The types of organizations shifted from 2009 with more than half of the contracts paying guest artists to 2011 when 4 of 5 were related to Hall renovation and capital campaign contracts. From my point of view, what’s important about this shift is the decrease in guest artist fees. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing Orchestra musicians as soloists, but I don’t know if or how the star power factor – or lack thereof – impacts ticket sales.

Going back to line items with the largest cuts, advertising and marketing came in third with a decrease of $579,655. We know management cut the number of concerts (see Part II), but I’m not sure that would have a proportional impact on advertising. You still have to print a season brochure, advertise concerts and so on. It could be a shift to online promotions versus paper. It could also be more obvious – a decrease in the volume of advertising.

The second and third cuts – guest artist fees and marketing – are troublesome to me. When you combine these with the decrease in number of concerts, it looks like a recipe for decreased income for the Orchestra. There may be other reasons for those changes. My previous posts suggested an outside expert review of the Strategic Business Plan, and this is one more reason for the review.

Who Gets Paid How Much?

Musician base salary is eighth among symphony orchestras (2011 data). My comparison shows Mr. Henson’s pay eighth among US symphony executives (2011 990 data), while Osmo Vänskä is seventh among music directors (McManus, 2010 data). Viewed through this lens, pay seems comparable between groups.

In response to the recession, musicians agreed to a one-year pay freeze contributing $4.5 million in savings to the Orchestra. In exchange, Mr. Henson and Maestro Vänskä agreed to 7% and 10% decreases in pay respectively. Their actual decreases were 3.5% and 4%. Executive contracts often include scheduled annual increases (just like the musicians’ contract) which would explain the difference. Two additional paid staff are included on the 990. COO Neu took a slightly larger decrease of 7.5%, while CFO Ebensteiner saw a substantial increase of 25.5%. Compensation of the most highly paid musicians is also listed. When viewed as a group, salaries and total compensation were flat. I chose to look at them as a group since pay fluctuates with solo appearances. This only includes five musicians, so can’t be considered definitive.

Neither the financial statements nor the tax forms split musician and administration costs, but we do know that 74% of the Orchestra’s costs are salary and benefits. Management has pointed to rising musician costs as a critical issue in their financial challenges. A Star-Tribune business columnist jumped on board writing “Orchestra’s Disease is Economic”. If you want to learn more about the argument that orchestras aren’t or can’t be efficient, I highly encourage you to read Drew McManus’ recent blog post on the topic – including the comments section. As someone who has worked in nonprofit service organizations for decades, I can tell you that employee costs are always a significant portion of the budget, and the conversations about how to control those costs never seem to go away.

So – Is There a Conclusion?

Frankly, the reason it has taken me so long to write Part III is my attempt to define a conclusion. I’ve stared at the numbers over and over, waiting for something to pop out. I’ve charted, analyzed, sliced and diced. Is it income? Is it expenses? Is there something else we could or should change? Is it a tweak or are dramatic changes needed?

I decided the answer is in the title. My guest posts were intended to shine some light on the facts of the financials, and I hope I’ve done that. In labor disputes – or really any dispute – figures and percentages are thrown around to prove and disprove points of view. They can be taken out of context. Financials are facts to me, and should be verified.

Although they are fact, the financials do represent something I believe is more important. They represent how an organization chooses to do its work. I ended the last post saying we needed to get the Minnesota Orchestra playing and keep them playing. After working through their financials, I’m convinced that is possible, and also convinced that an objective, outside view will help us get there.


Amen, Mary.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts as much as I have. They’ve been a fantastic little peep into how the Minnesota Orchestra operates behind-the-scenes. A round of applause and a brava for Mary is in order.

Please feel free to join Mary in the comment section. I’ll be there, too, once I digest the information in this post.

And MOA…we’re looking at you. Let’s get a dialogue going. We’re adults. We can handle it!



Filed under Not My Writing

A Brief Word From On High

From Alex Ross, the god of music criticism

A special citation for Quickest Plunge from a Great Height goes to the management and governing board of the Minnesota Orchestra.

My dear dear dear Mr. Ross, on the off-chance you’re keeping an eye on this blog….

*waves vigorously*

I wouldn’t have entertained the idea of even dabbling in music journalism if I hadn’t read The Rest is Noise. You showed me what was possible. Thank you.

Any readers of mine who haven’t yet read it, pick – up – a – copy. It will entertain and inspire you throughout the lockout. Promise.


Filed under Uncategorized

Some Historical Perspective

A reader passed along this lovely vintage piece from the Minnesota Historical Society archives… It’s an excerpt from John K Sherman’s “Music and Maestros: The Story of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra,” which was published in November of 1952. Highly recommended reading! I was so entertained that I live-blogged my reactions to it on Facebook this morning. I want you to read the whole thing yourself, so I won’t spoil anything for you, but here are a few of my initial observations:

  • We’ve been discussing the fiscal sustainability of the Minnesota Orchestra since before the Minnesota Orchestra was even formed.
  • Minneapolis has been an orchestral leader since 1900. We have a long proud history of excellence to guard and preserve.
  • The violist story in this article is one of the most entertaining performance mishaps that I’ve ever read about. Way to reinforce violist stereotypes, dear Joseph Frank!

The thing I really wanted to share with you, though, is this very cool mention of soprano Olive Fremstad:

The first performance of the new orchestra needed a big and costly name, preferably a singer’s name, as an ace-in-the-hole guarantee of its success and as lure for that sizable portion of the populace that might be more name-conscious than symphony-hungry. The orchestra’s backers were willing to spend five hundred dollars for such a name. Minneapolis’ own Olive Fremstad, who in the last three years had become the darling of European opera-goers, would have filled all specifications. But she was not available for the opening night and could only be engaged for a later appearance…

The sixth and final concert of the first season, on March 23, 1904, reverted to the International Auditorium. Olive Fremstad, absent from her home city for ten years and now laureled with success, was the soloist.

Olive Fremstad was an amazing woman, with an amazing life story. In fact, she had such an amazing life story that Willa Cather used it as the basis of a novel:

The Song of the Lark.

Is your mind blown?

I chose this name for the blog way back in May of 2011 because of the connotations with Cather (a well-respected music writer), the story of the novel itself (a small-town Midwestern girl of Scandinavian descent fulfilling her artistic ambitions), and Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending (one of the most famous pieces ever dedicated to a female violinist). But it turns out there’s a pretty remarkable Minnesota Orchestra connection in there, too! I am a nerd, and I think this is very cool.

On a related upbeat note, our Ode to Joy concerts are rapidly approaching! I’m coming to the Sunday show. If you see me, please say hello. Forgive me if I don’t recognize you, because I’m absolutely terrible with faces. I’d love to thank you in-person for coming along on this crazy journey.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Musicians’ Letter from Japan

If you missed it, and especially if you’re disheartened, you really need to check this story out… Eriko Matsukawa from Japan is a huge Minnesota Orchestra fan, and she uses their work to battle the difficulties presented by her blindness and the trauma of the 2011 earthquake. She speaks for me when she writes:

So, that is why I am sending what little I could send. I know that this is not much, and regretfully, it does not help much. It is painfully frustrating to me this is all I can do. This amount does not translate my opinion on how much worth you are to me or respect and admiration I have toward you. It is just that, as an English teacher for adult students, translator and interpreter (English/Japanese), I do not make much, and please know that I know you are priceless.

Also, I do not consider this donation; this is a long-awaiting payment that I should have made, always wanted to make and you ought to receive. You are entitled to every penny.

You are asking for our help; it is amazing some fans do not realize that it is not us helping you, but it is you busting your back to help us and save us. You are so nice, so you don’t really say it that way.

The “little amount” she sent was $5000.

Perhaps this letter could be sent to every single member of the board. I would be beyond interested to hear their responses.

Today I give thanks that I live in a world moved so profoundly by music.

1 Comment

Filed under Not My Writing

Analyzing the Almanac Interview

On today’s docket: analyzing Doug Kelley and Tony Ross’s November 30 appearance on Almanac. Please watch it or read the transcript before continuing.

I believe this is the longest live interview that a Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) representative has given. Over the months, the musicians have been much more interested in speaking to the public than the MOA has been. Musicians spoke with us individually after their convention center concert. In late October, Ellen Dinwiddie Smith gave an in-depth interview with Matt Peiken. (This proved to be one of the more clarifying media events of the lockout so far.) The musicians also have provided an email address on their website that you can use to get in contact with them, and their Facebook page is thriving. Contrast that with the MOA’s relative silence. We’re still waiting on Mr. Henson to accept Mr. Peiken’s request for an interview, and for Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis to accept Drew McManus’. The only reciprocal contact we have with management is via its Facebook page…and that’s marginally reciprocal, at best; the responses there consist of little more than regurgitated talking points. (Go ahead and check it out for yourself.) Also, the MOA’s recent annual meeting was closed to the public, and no announcements of any kind of open meeting have been made. So I’m going to assume that this Almanac segment is about as lengthy and in-depth a live discussion as the MOA is willing to risk. What else am I supposed to think?

As you can imagine, this frustrates me to no end. Rightly or wrongly, it makes me feel as though the MOA is hiding things and is afraid, contrary to what they keep asserting. If they don’t have anything to hide, and if they aren’t afraid of anything, then why aren’t they answering as many questions as possible? Why aren’t they giving more live interviews? Anyone can write an editorial or say a few sentences to the Pioneer Press without making a fool of themselves. Those are not difficult things to do, and I can say that with authority, because I’ve done both. The tricky part is engaging with another person in front of an audience – thinking on your feet – being able to defend and articulate your vision in a fair, respectful, factually accurate manner. It becomes increasingly obvious that Mr. Henson, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Davis don’t feel up to the task of defending their position. Prove me wrong, gentlemen. Please.

Anyway. Here’s my point: the longest interview they’ve given has only lasted ten minutes, and that’s with both sides involved, so it’s probably actually closer to five, and that’s really sad and ridiculous, and it pisses me off. Consequently I’m going to hold Mr. Kelley to a very very very high standard of truth tonight. If this is the longest live interview the MOA is willing to give, then they’d better make it as accurate as possible.


Erik Eskola: Well, Mr. Ross, let me start with you. The independent audit that has been sort of at the center of this is due out next week. Will that get things off the dime here, or – ?

Tony Ross: No, we’re really looking for an independent financial analysis, not an audit that is produced by their side. There’s so many fuzzy numbers, numbers we don’t understand, that we need an independent joint analysis to be able to go further at all. And an audit just simply doesn’t do it. It looks backward. The analysis looks forward, looks at all kinds of things, as far as you know, management’s – the atmosphere of management, the workplace, the mission statement, the future of the band.

The interview began with Tony Ross articulating what musicians want to see in addition to an independent audit. There are more details about what they want on the musicians’ website:

Audits do not cover an institution’s viability, stability, business plan, strategic plan, the quality of its management, comparative performance, or present and future prospects. A joint, independent financial analysis would review all of these things, and would assess current and future trends, opportunities and risks.

Before the musicians even revealed that they were seeking such things, resident guest-blogger Mary Schaefle was thinking along similar lines in her two entries here on SOTL:

Do management and the Board have a new set of projections for future years? A review by an investment analyst, which is typically not part of an audit, is needed…

As I pointed out in the comments section of Emily’s earlier post on the endowment, the draw amounts released by Minnesota Orchestra do not match their tax forms. That means percentages are off as well. Yes, we once again need that accountant…

You may remember my suggestion in the last article for an independent financial analysis. The questions I’m raising here wouldn’t be answered by that kind of oversight. A respected leader in performing arts management, preferably orchestra management, would be the best person to review the strategic plan to ensure it is sound…

Of course I don’t know if the musicians are seeking exactly what Mary is suggesting or would suggest. But we do seem to be coalescing around the same general idea: we want a team of outside specialists to come in to provide additional perspective on many subjects, such as the feasibility of the strategic plan, future investment projections, comparisons of the Orchestra with other similar organizations, etc., etc., etc. And I wonder what we should be calling this…review? inspection? examination? scrutiny? study? I don’t know what word to use, and for a writer like me, that’s frustrating! The phrase “joint independent financial analysis” may cover part of what we want to see happen, but I’m not sure that it covers all of it. For instance, I don’t think that someone just tuning in would necessarily understand from the phrase “joint independent financial analysis” that we’re also discussing things like having someone review the strategic plan, or quality of management, etc. On the other hand, I have no idea what to actually call what we want. Hmm.

Sorry; that was a bit of a tangent. But it was a thought I wanted to throw out there before I forgot.

Back to the interview.

Cathy Wurzer: You’re still dealing with a structural budget problem, no matter how you slice it, correct? According to information from the Star Tribune, minutes of board meetings and that kind of thing, you’ve had the structural budget problem for a while. And from 2009 to 2011, there was no public mention of any trouble. So I’m wondering here. You opened the door to accusations that you misled the public, your donors, and lawmakers during that time.

Doug Kelley: Well, I’m glad you asked, because I’d like to put that to rest.

As you’re reading the rest of Mr. Kelley’s response, look for where he puts it to rest.

We, like every other organization, we have income, and we have expenses. And they are certified by an outside accounting firm every year. And those numbers are given to the musicians. We file a tax return. Everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return. And that’s given to the musicians every year. I think the dispute this week is about the budget and how that works. Let’s say we budget $8 million to come from the endowment, and at the end of the year the expenses are greater and we draw $10 million from the endowment. That number – every penny – is accounted for. It goes down, put on all the income tax return and everything else. It’s as transparent as you can be, and we have done that every year, and those numbers are public. The musicians have them. If they want to do a forward-thinking analysis, the first place they’d go would be to a certified financial statement or tax returns. Those are sort of the gold standard documents in financial analysis. And I think that the musicians should really kind of back off the accusation that we misled the legislature. We gave them every number and were totally transparent with them.

Did you catch the part where he explains why the MOA didn’t mislead the public? Where he explains why there were no mentions of trouble from 2009 to 2011? If so, you’re seeing something I’m not. I didn’t realize how blatantly he avoided the question until I worked up the transcript. I shouldn’t have been, but frankly I was shocked. And at this point I have a pretty high shock threshold.

Since I’m an obsessive detail-oriented freak, let’s break his words down even further.

We file a tax return. Everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return.

Yes, apparently Doug Kelley believes it’s impossible to lie on your tax return…? (Not that I’m saying the MOA has. But to give as proof that they haven’t the sentence “everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return”? That’s weak.)

 I think the dispute this week is about the budget and how that works

The dispute “this week”? Wow, way to treat us like teenagers whining because we can’t get the latest iPhone. This kind of dismissive attitude will work well to regain our trust. *thumbs up*

If they want to do a forward-thinking analysis, the first place they’d go would be to a certified financial statement or tax returns.

Notice he says “the first place”…insinuating that it wouldn’t be “the only place.” Is Doug Kelley making our argument for us?

And I think that the musicians should really kind of back off the accusation that we misled the legislature.

Welllllll, unfortunately for management, lots of other people are going to keep beating on that drum, even if the musicians would for whatever reason stop. I for one am not backing off my personal belief that Michael Henson straight-out lied to the legislature. I know that many of you agree with me. The Minnesota AFL-CIO is promising to “urge Legislators to look into the situation in January.” At least one legislator is feeling betrayed, and going so far as to urge her colleagues to “think critically before voting on any legislation that would further direct public dollars into the Minnesota Orchestra (or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra).” In future I think Mr. Kelley would do well to acknowledge that the MOA has, rightly or wrongly, lost the trust of a large segment of the public, as well as musicians.

Okay, onto the next chunk…

CW: However, Mr. Henson in January 2010, talking about bonding money in front of the committee said, “On the financial front, we have announced balanced budgets over the last three consecutive years. We are facing the current economic downturn with stability.” But that wasn’t the case.

DK: The orchestra’s 110 years old. It’ll be on for a long time after this dispute is over.

Around in here I almost start feeling pity for Doug Kelley, and for the impossible argument he’s being asked to sell. Because in order to make his case semi-convincingly, he’s forced to resort to the following logic: if something is 110 years old…it is immortal.

This is a 110-year-old woman named Mary Brown. She attributes her cenetenarian status to “having an inquiring mind, not driving and sprinkling all of food with plenty of salt.” She is also, if I’m following Doug Kelley’s logic correctly, immortal.

Here’s a question for Mr. Kelley. It sounds stupid, but bear with me. What is the Minnesota Orchestra? Is it any old group of orchestral musicians with the label “the Minnesota Orchestra” slapped onto it? Or is the Minnesota Orchestra these specific musicians – this specific ensemble? If we use the former definition, then yes, the Minnesota Orchestra will likely continue to exist after this dispute is over. However, I believe that most of us would prefer to employ the latter definition. And we know that it’s very possible – if not probable – that this Minnesota Orchestra will not exist after the lockout ends. There are too many fabulous players taking too many attractive auditions. Trust me.

But. So when you take that $10 million out of the endowment and you cover your expenses, you match income with expenses. That’s a balanced budget by anybody’s definition.

Oh, for…crap’s sake.

Does this mean that if I get a cash advance from my credit card, and buy a wicked expensive viola, and therefore match my income with expenses for the month, that I’m facing my fiscal future with stability? Really?

Look, I’ll be extremely generous and grant Mr. Henson the “we have announced balanced budgets” bit, on the technicality of the verb. But the “facing the current economic downturn with stability” part…? I mean. Come. On. Cathy Wurzer is absolutely right: that was not the case.

And the other thing I think that’s a little exasperating is the musicians knew we were trying to figure out how to put the best face on it. We talked to the musicians about that. We shared those numbers with them as early as 2010.

…Maybe you did, but why didn’t you share them with us? And remember, not only was the MOA not sharing those numbers with the public, they were actively misleading the public about those numbers. But of course nobody from management ever mentions that. Talk about exasperating.

DK: Yeah, let me just say, what happened in between the time before and now in how we report these numbers is the recession. The musicians have been shielded from the recession.

Yes, musicians apparently…have no realization that a recession has occurred. Those self-absorbed dunderheads! So busy playing…and making the Orchestra the greatest in the world…they didn’t notice the global fiscal apocalypse. For shame, musicians. Get out from under your rock once in a while. Geez.

You had a 25% increase from 2007 to 2012.

Now this I found interesting, because the MOA website says, “The musicians still received a 19.2 percent increase over the five years of the contract.” (If you want to verify that figure, it’s under Have musicians offered concessions in response to the Orchestra’s financial challenges?“) As Tony Ross said in the interview: these are “fuzzy numbers.” Is anyone else amused by the irony that Doug Kelley refutes claims of fuzzy numbers…by citing fuzzy numbers?

And you remember that first big meeting – I think you were just referring to it – Richard Davis and Michael Henson came in front of you and told you exactly what they were doing. They said, you know, we have reported that we have balanced the budget and we have announced that publicly. And we’re also telling you that we’re about a million five short and we’ve done that because of donors. And you guys knew every bit about that, and that’s why I think it’s so disingenuous to go to the legislature.


In the words of Bill O’ Reilly:

Honestly, Doug Kelley might as well be speaking Greek here. He lost me completely, totally, utterly. After I transcribed it, I sat on that paragraph for a while, waiting for an epiphany as to what it meant, but it never came. So a few days ago I went to Drew McManus in the hopes that he could translate the management-ese.

Here’s what I wrote in the comment section of Drew’s blog:

Is Mr. Kelley admitting that they announced the balanced budget only for the donors, thereby reinforcing the idea that the donors were manipulated, even though Mr. Kelley heavily implied earlier in the interview this was not the case? Is this admission as big a deal as I think it is? Aside from the MOA being better positioned to get what they wanted from the state legislature in January 2010, and from the musicians’ union in 2012, what would be the strategic advantage of announcing balanced budgets if you’re going to reveal in a couple years that the financial position wasn’t as rosy as you once said it was? Wouldn’t that be – in Mr. Kelley’s parlance – kicking the can down the road? Or have I totally misinterpreted this? I’m also curious what he meant by “that’s why I think it’s so disingenuous to go to the legislature.” I couldn’t understand if he was talking from the musicians’ POV, or if he was missing a word or two, or what was going on. Am I just being dense here? Does it make any sense to you?

He wrote back:

In the excerpt you quoted, I believe Kelly’s phrasing is such that there’s no way to definitively determine what he is saying here without added clarity.

So um, apparently nobody has any idea what Doug Kelley was actually trying to say. So, hey! Doug Kelley! Feel free to clarify. Comment section’s open. I have absolutely no idea what you were trying to get at. I’d be delighted to listen to a fuller explanation. (If you as a reader think you’ve cracked the code and know what he’s saying, let me know.)

CW: The musicians say, Doug Kelly, that they do not have confidence in Mr. Henson. Has the board voted – has the board discussed Mr. Henson? Do you have full confidence in him?

DK: Yes, we do. Absolutely. And we just – we had a committee meeting to discuss Mr. Henson. Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board.

I know I wasn’t the only one whose ears pricked up at this. Doug Kelley saying “Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board” is something very different from the entire board holding a unanimous vote of confidence in Mr. Henson…or even the entire board discussing Mr. Henson.

I brought this up with Drew McManus, since he’s blogged about the subject:

I know you had mentioned in a previous entry about how we’re not sure what is going on with the Board re: their opinion on Mr. Henson. When asked if the board had full confidence in Mr. Henson, Mr. Kelley said, “Yes, we do. Absolutely. And we just – we had a committee meeting to discuss Mr. Henson. Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board.” Do you think that that’s any indication that a full vote has occurred? Is it likely? Or is it impossible to know based on those words?

Here’s what he had to say in response:

Regarding the board confidence point, I noticed Kelly’s phrasing here too in that he said the committee met to discuss Henson. Although it would be worth confirming, I believe Kelly was referring to the executive committee. If that’s accurate then no, that is not the same thing as a full board vote and/or discussion on the topic.

I’m guessing it was this appearance on Almanac, combined with Jon Campbell’s 11/27 quote, “Michael Henson is a perfect leader at this challenging time and has the full confidence of our board”, that led some bystanders to believe that a full vote had taken place. In fact, MPR actually ran an article that included the phrase “With the board’s recent unanimous vote in support of Henson“, but I (and probably others) contacted them to check if this was actually the case. It turns out it wasn’t. It is official: there has not been a vote of confidence in Mr. Henson, much less a unanimous one. Accordingly, MPR later edited the article.

So. Suddenly, any trust I may have once had in Doug Kelley has vanished. Completely. I feel extremely uncomfortable that he deigned to speak for everyone on the board, without having an actual vote or discussion to back his words up. Is it possible that every single one of the eighty-odd members of the MOA board have total confidence in Michael Henson? Absolutely! But do we have any objective evidence to back that assertion up, like we do with the musicians’ vote of no-confidence? No, we do not.

As Drew McManus wrote, “Although this point may seem heavy on semantics, it is perhaps useful to remember that as tensions rise, words carry greater meaning; even if they are, at times, delivered through the filter of intense emotion.”

I think the reason the musicians have been unhappy with Mr. Henson is because when he first came, he said you have this structural deficit, it is here, you need to address it, and he started to address it, and that makes everybody nervous when you start doing that, and to put it on a sustainable basis, is going to take some real changes.

Question: If the main problem with Michael Henson is his courageous leadership, then why are so many well-informed patrons also angry with him? Is there any chance that we have anger for the same reasons the musicians do? Look, I’ve devoted the last three months of my life to trying to understand Michael Henson and what he’s done with the Minnesota Orchestra. I’ve read literally hundreds of articles and blog entries and press releases about this situation, from both sides. I’ve written over two dozen in-depth articles. I’d be delighted to debate Michael Henson, live and on-the-record, in front of the entire music world. I’m confident I know as much as anyone in the public knows about this situation. And I can guarantee you, my problem with Michael Henson is not his addressing a structural deficit.

EE: How’s this going to get settled?

DK: You know what? I hope that instead of going off on these frolic and detours, we just come back to the table and help us settle and solve this problem.

TR: We made counters, and if you want us to make a more detailed counter, we need that financial analysis. And I’d like to ask you, Doug: what are you afraid of?

DK: We’re not afraid of anything –

TR: Well, let’s have it!

I don’t really have anything to say about this exchange besides it was dramatic and riveting and popcorn GIF worthy. So:

TR: For once in the minutes it says, and there’s very few times they speak of this, there’s a gift of half a million dollars. And the board says, what should we do with it? It was given to the orchestra. Well, ten percent of it goes to operations. And ninety percent of it goes to the building fund – the lobby part of the building fund.

Weary sigh. I’d love to hear more details about this. Honestly, I’d love to hear any details about anything having to do with the MOA’s finances. I wish we had more, but I’m so glad that we have Mary aboard to help us try make sense of the numbers we do have. *waves to Mary* (By the way, she’s working on part three of her Minnesota Orchestra Financials Series! No rush, Mary, darling, but we can’t wait to read it!)

So. With that, I come unceremoniously to the end of the longest live interview a representative from MOA management has yet given. And it wasn’t even that long: ten minutes and six seconds, according to the Almanac website. And about half of that was Tony Ross speaking. And within the space of those five minutes, I had to sort through Doug Kelley’s misrepresentations, weak excuses, non-answers, logical fallacies, a paragraph of complete gibberish…and I was even forced to email MPR to fact-check one of Mr. Kelley’s statements. That’s…not good.

If Doug Kelley is the most eloquent and persuasive communicator the MOA can field, then clearly the MOA is having trouble fielding eloquent and persuasive communicators.

Either that, or not even a lawyer can defend the MOA’s position.


Filed under My Writing

More Misrepresentation, More Realities…..More Misrepresentations of Reality

Today is the Minnesota Orchestra’s annual meeting – a “sober, closed-door affair“, according to Graydon Royce: “the most downbeat meeting in the orchestra’s 110-year history.” Part-y! I’ve been wondering for a while if they’re going to discuss canceling concerts through February or March (or heck, maybe even June, while they’re at it). You know, since they’ve got the whole gang in one place. Here’s some evidence to back that depressing idea up: there are some new Misrepresentations vs. Realities on the MOA’s website. (You’ll remember that the “Misrepresentations vs. Realities” chart initially appeared on the Orchestra website right before they announced the last batch of cancellations.) And bizarrely, new Misrepresentations and Realities are sprinkled among the old Misrepresentations and Realities. Not sure why they didn’t just add them to the end of the chart, or the beginning, but…whatever.

If you’re just joining us, I debunked the old “Realities” here a month ago. So let’s take a peek at the new ones!

Misrepresentation: The Board has presented its final offer and refuses to negotiate further.

Reality: While the Board has been clear that it seeks savings of $5 million annually, the approach we use to achieve these savings can be adjusted through the course of good faith negotiations. We need our musicians to participate for this to happen.

I have a story to share with you…

Pretend you’re in a car. An MD is driving, and recklessly. You get into a terrible car accident. You’re thrown from the vehicle, and are badly injured. The MD – whose specialty is obviously not surgery – investigates your wounds and determines that in order to save your life, he must remove a limb with a chainsaw he keeps in the trunk.

“Which one?” you moan.

“I’m open to negotiation,” he says.

“What? How about a second opinion?” you gasp.

“Not necessary,” he says, revving the chainsaw.

“An outside analysis?”

“Why don’t you trust me? I’m an excellent MD, not to mention driver.”

A surgeon rushes up to the scene. (Let’s say his name is, oh, I don’t know, Dr. McManus.) He says that the cure has “a high degree of probability of killing” you.

However, despite this dire warning, the MD not only ignores Dr. McManus, but pretends he does not exist. “The approach we use to decide which limb to cut off can be adjusted through the course of good faith negotiations,” he says. “But you need to tell me which limb.”

You then bleed out onto the pavement, get a Grammy nomination, and die. The end.

I humbly submit: this is not negotiation. It’s insanity. (Or a deleted scene from Misery. Either/or.)

Misrepresentation: The Board has “cooked the books” to mislead musicians and the public.

Reality: Absolutely not. The Board has appropriately fulfilled its fiduciary responsibility to the Orchestra during extraordinary times.

Hear that? They are absolutely not cooking the books! At all! Ever! Such an accusation is shocking and uncouth and uncalled for! Robert Levine? I think someone’s taking a jab at you… (Mr. Levine, of course, posted a blog entry not too long ago about the Minnesota Orchestra expressly titled “Cooking the books.”)

In fact, the MOA went so far in its effort to not mislead the public that in mid-October 2012 they removed a misleading article from 2010 that had been on their website, which celebrated the Minnesota Orchestra’s sound fiscal health, even though they knew at the time that they were in desperate trouble. They reached backward in time to set the record straight. That’s how committed to the truth they are. Pretty impressive stuff.

The Board signed a contract with musicians in 2007 that called for a 25 percent pay increase.

The Board’s decision to rely on the MOA endowment to help cover these costs through the recession was appropriate and responsible.

At the same time, Board and management were creating a strategic plan that would eliminate the organization’s structural deficit once and for all.

We began talking publicly about our structural deficit as soon as the board had ratified that plan.

Our financial position has always been clearly outlined in public documents that include our annual audited financial statements and our 990 tax returns.

“We began talking publicly about our structural deficit as soon as the board had ratified that plan.” Well, gee whiz, thanks for including patrons in the planning process, guys!

Seriously, though. This aspect of the story never fails to amaze me, and no matter what perspective I come to this question with, I just can’t conceive of an explanation for it. Why would you not include the community in your Strategic Planning? Businesses don’t go radically altering established product lines without going out to speak to actual customers. This is akin to Coca-Cola taking Coke off the shelves and replacing it with a drastically different brand new drink, without ever once talking to a single actual consumer about what they actually want in a soft drink. It just strikes me as being ridiculously reckless and irresponsible. If the MOA would like to explain their strategy, go ahead. Comment section’s open.

Also, note how neatly they sidestep the fact that they knew there was a problem back in 2009 and 2010, when they were saying things were so great and were seeking state money (and your money). FYI, you don’t need to formulate a formal plan to address a problem before you talk about it. (Same way you don’t need to formulate an entire counterproposal before you talk about it. But I digress…) If people had to come up with solutions to problems before we even discuss our problems, then we’d be as dysfunctional as the Senate. It would not be pretty.

Misrepresentation: Musicians had no idea what the true financial picture of the Orchestra was or how steep the current fiscal cliff would be.

Reality: Dating back to 2009, the Board has very thoroughly shared the full financial picture of the Orchestra with our musicians in a series of comprehensive meetings.

In 2010, the Board asked musicians for a 22 percent wage reduction—a clear indication of how steep our challenges were. We said those reductions alone wouldn’t solve our problems but it would make the financial cliff we face in 2012 less steep.

The players chose not to take that reduction, as was their legal right, and so instead we are now grappling with these compounded problems.

First of all, I addressed this point in my last major blog entry, basically deciding that we didn’t have enough information to be able to assess the truth of these statements.

Second… Why is every single person from the MOA saying the exact same thing? It’s creepy. Here’s an example. I bolded the repeating phrases.

Campbell and Davis’s editorial

Mr. Zavadil, and all his colleagues in the orchestra, participated in three meetings — on May 28, 2010, March 18, 2011 and Nov. 21, 2011 — in which we plainly articulated a $5 million gap that would only grow each year. In 2010, we asked our musicians to help alleviate growing deficits by taking a 22 percent wage reduction. We told them that even this sizable reduction would not resolve our financial problems. It would, however, make the cliff less steep in 2012. The musicians chose not to participate in those reductions. That was their legal right, and so we must grapple with even bigger financial issues today.

Mr. Eisele’s MinnPost editorial

The best we can do is request that our players consider midterm contract modifications, and this is exactly what we did in both 2009 and 2010. The musicians agreed to a one-year wage freeze in 2009, but they turned down our request for a 22 percent salary reduction in 2010. It was the musicians’ legal right to do so, but it has made the cliff we face today all the steeper.

And then now again in this chart…

In 2010, the Board asked musicians for a 22 percent wage reduction—a clear indication of how steep our challenges were. We said those reductions alone wouldn’t solve our problems but it would make the financial cliff we face in 2012 less steep.

The players chose not to take that reduction, as was their legal right, and so instead we are now grappling with these compounded problems.

We – are – all – robots. We – are – all – saying – the – exact – same – thing – in -exactly – the – same – way. We – are – apparently – incapable – of – expressing – original – thought.

Greet – ings – Minn – e – ap – o – lis – mus – ic – lov – ers.

Okay, yes, I’m a politics and media geek; I’ll admit it any day. I know what talking points are; I know their purpose; and I know that they are specifically designed to be repeated ad nauseum, ad infinitum. And the musicians certainly have their talking points, too. But the extent to which the MOA is repeating itself (and this “cliff” metaphor is only one example of this) is seriously unnerving. Their repeating the same soulless phrases over and over and over again – simplistic phrases that never seriously grapple with our complicated questions – only plays to the stereotype: that they are all inflexible, robotic, disconnected big businessmen, more concerned about the bottom line than the experience and concerns of their patrons, unsure if their ideas can withstand public scrutiny if they vary one syllable from the pre-written focus-grouped script. The MOA has even coordinated words about how they feel: the meme de jour is “heavy hearts” and “perplexion.” (Seriously. Keep an eye out for those two phrases in MOA literature. You’ll find them. Frequently.) These guys need to put the talking points in the shredder, come down from the tower, and engage with the patrons one-on-one, or in multiple in-depth interviews. They need to talk to us from their hearts.

Misrepresentation: The musicians simply do not have enough information to have a clear picture of the Orchestra’s finances.

Reality: Our Board negotiating committee trusted musicians with exhaustive amounts of information in the current negotiations in order to be transparent. This information includes our most recent independently audited financials; three years of monthly Finance Committee, Board and Executive Committee minutes; detailed reports on all our fundraising activity; quarterly investment reports dating back three years; our investment policies and objectives; and a comprehensive actuarial report on our defined benefit plan.

Aww, come on, MOA. Make this at least a little difficult for me. Here’s all I need to say to debunk this: they never actually answer the misrepresentation here.

Misrepresentation: An independent third party analysis is required to assure musicians that the Board has properly managed its finances.

Reality: The Minnesota Orchestra board is comprised of top business and philanthropic leaders in the Twin Cities, who volunteer their time and money to support the Orchestra. Why would the Board want to do anything but protect the Minnesota Orchestra for the long-term?

Question: do the top business and philanthropic leaders in the Twin Cities commonly put the future of their businesses and philanthropic organizations into the hands of volunteers who know little about how those organizations work? Are you willing to go on record saying that these volunteers, no matter how golden-hearted or well-intentioned, know better about orchestras than Drew McManus, Robert Levine, the past music directors of the Minnesota Orchestra, and others? I’d love to know.

Any financial examination would begin and end with a rigorous analysis of the Orchestra’s income and expenses—in other words, with an independent audit, which is the highest level of objective assurance regarding the state of the Orchestra’s finances. The MOA opens its books annually to an independent auditor and shares these certified results with musicians. The musicians could conduct their own analysis based on the audited financials, the MOA’s annual tax return, its forward-looking strategic plan and the 1200 additional pages of information the Board has shared in negotiations.

But they’re not asking for just a financial examination; they’re asking for something larger and more comprehensive, something that looks ahead as well as backward…just like what Mary Schaefle suggested before she knew the scope of what the musicians were requesting. We’re talking about two completely different things here. And you’re businessmen, and so you know it. So now you’re just trying to mislead us. Or, in other words, you’re frolicking and detouring. Not cool, guys.

Misrepresentation: President Michael Henson is an “obstacle” to achieving a contract resolution with musicians.

Reality: The obstacle standing between Board/management and musicians in achieving a contract resolution is the musicians’ perplexing refusal to put forward a single contract proposal of any kind in any form. How can negotiations possibly succeed if one side refuses to participate?

Perplexion!!! Told you! I’d suggest that we’d start a drinking game every time the MOA mentions the words “perplexing” or “perplexion”, but we’d all die of alcohol poisoning. (Also, this sentiment is lifted from Campbell/Davis’s editorial, in which they write, poetically: “We are perplexed by this standoff. What purpose can it possibly serve?” Just add in some line breaks and you’ve got yourself a haiku.)

Look, I’ve already extensively documented Michael Henson’s extensive failures of leadership during his time at the MOA, so I’ll just leave this “reality” unrebutted here. Check the apocalypse archives if you want more details about how terrible Michael Henson is at his job.

Misrepresentation: The Minnesota Orchestra is unique among orchestras across the country in the financial issues it is facing.

Reality: The recession severely impacted the orchestral industry, as it did most nonprofits that rely on charitable donations and investment returns. Musicians in many other major orchestras across the nation have helped their Boards to address these issues by making significant contract concessions. These include the major orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Other orchestras, such as Cleveland, have not sought wage concessions but have announced major structural deficits. Every community must find its own solution to the challenges that its orchestra faces, based on what its community can afford.

This brings up a good question… What can our community afford? Robert Levine has that same question in a thought-provoking blog entry… The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a taste.

A close look at recent Minnesota Orchestra contracts begs a different question, which is: how did the orchestra manage to run balanced budgets for so many years?…

Essentially the board is claiming that they’re unable to pay, not only tor the orchestra they have now, but for the orchestra that they had for a long time before the most recent settlement. No wonder the musicians want an independent analysis of the orchestra’s financial situation. How does an orchestra go from running balanced budgets year after year, well into the deepest recession in our industry’s history, and then start running massive deficits – far above any increase in overall orchestra compensation – when the economy is coming out of that recession? And all this while raising major sums for hall renovation?

I don’t know, Mr. Levine. It certainly is…what’s the word for it?…perplexing.

On a closing note, the Industry News page has been updated. And I can’t help but notice the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”: Graydon Royce’s bombshell article of 11/26 is not among the articles cited there. I don’t understand, guys. It’s almost as if the MOA isn’t happy about the revelations contained therein…


Filed under My Writing


Congratulations to the Minnesota Orchestra for their Grammy nomination for their recording of Sibelius 2 and 5.

There is no elephant in the room here. At all. So move along, folks. Nothing to see here.


Filed under Uncategorized

On Cheap Publicity Stunts

Eons ago (as in, a week ago), there were two editorials published in the Strib, one from musicians, one from management. Sorry I haven’t gotten to analyzing management’s yet. Been busy assembling board member addresses and writing for Norman Lebrecht, among other things. And too I have a thing known as a “real life” that I occasionally indulge in.

Anyway, as the saying goes, better late than never. So let’s settle down, pop some corn, and analyze!

On Oct. 11, our commentary on the Minnesota Orchestra’s financial position appeared in the Star Tribune (“Orchestra makes a stand: Even in the arts, we can spend only what we earn”).

We were then six months into contract negotiations. The orchestra’s musicians had not offered a single counterproposal.

NO, THEY HAVEN’T. AND YOU WANT TO KNOW ONE REASON WHY??? BECAUSE. THE NUMBERS. YOU’VE GIVEN. CONTRADICT. THEMSELVES. How many times have I said that here? How many times have the musicians said that? And yet we’ve heard no explanation or clarification…not even a denial that the numbers contradict themselves. It’s like being at a family dinner, and asking your uncle if he could please pass the chicken, and your uncle not only refuses to pass the chicken, but starts talking pointedly about the salad, and you say, yes, I understand that the salad is delicious, but I’d like some chicken now please, but your uncle keeps yammering about how fresh and crisp the lettuce is. Stop – it! We’re not talking about salad! For Pete’s sake! Could you at least acknowledge there’s chicken on the table?

But they never do, so… I advise the Minnesota business community to take note. Either A) Jon Campbell and Richard Davis would happily approve of millions upon millions of dollars of investments even if the numbers within the deals contradict themselves, or B) Jon Campbell and Richard Davis are shameless hypocrites. Until they explain themselves, there’s not much middle ground there. This information may prove useful to you as you’re deciding whether or not you want to do business with them.

The orchestra board had planned for the possibility of a lockout in case the musicians decided to run out the clock on their contract.

Yes, just in case the musicians decided they didn’t want pesky things like salaries, health insurance, or jobs weighing them down…

At midnight on Oct. 1, we were obligated to make the decision to hold musicians accountable for a counterproposal rather than continuing to “pay and play” — an option that would incur losses to the orchestra of at least $500,000 per month.

Or “play and talk”, as it’s known on Earth. (And by the way, technically speaking, the MOA never “played and talked.” That practice is typically – if not always – done after the contract expires. Before September 30, the musicians were contractually obligated to play. We’ve discussed this before, but clearly they need a little reminder.)

Since then, the musicians have been busy with publicity stunts and attempts to discredit their greatest supporters and most generous donors.

So. For those of you keeping track at home…

Holding a vote of no confidence in a CEO after information comes to light that he misled the state legislature about the state of his organization’s finances = publicity stunt.

Releasing the entirety of a draconian proposed contract without letting the musicians know =/= publicity stunt.

Got that?

Also, as a corollary to that equation, if you donate a lot of money to an organization (even if this is a relatively small percentage of your overall income), you are above approach. This is what Campbell and Davis are saying: having a lot of money = automatic competence in all fields of endeavor, always, no exceptions, ever.

Here’s a little news flash for the MOA: the musicians aren’t the only ones who have been…”stunting.” (Or whatever.) What about we devoted patrons who have been following every twist and turn of this crazy saga? Who have been reading and parsing their press releases and editorials? Who have been combing through Strib articles dating back years? Who are at this moment analyzing their 990s from the past decade? Who had to figure out what percentage draw rates they were taking from their endowment because they wouldn’t tell us? Who have been begging the MOA, pleading with the MOA, to engage with us for months? What about us? Are we stunting? If so, why??? What the hell are we getting out of this, besides bad cases of carpal tunnel?

What if I would start a petition asking Michael Henson to resign? What if thousands sign it (as certainly seems possible, judging from the musicians’ Facebook page, which is nearing 6000 fans)? Would that be a publicity stunt? Listen to us! This isn’t just about the musicians. The musicians are secondary now. This is about a much larger group of people: your patrons – and, more importantly, the taxpaying citizens of Minnesota.

You’re having a meeting with your board on Thursday. How about a meeting with us?

Consider the motives of the volunteer members of this board. Why would we link our personal reputations to an institution that we didn’t care for greatly? Why would we seek harm for any member of this iconic organization? Why would we have any goal but to protect the future of this great orchestra?

Why would they link their personal reputations to an institution that they don’t care for greatly? Because it’s good PR! Especially in an era when a large percentage of the population, rightly or wrongly, believes that the ultra-wealthy frequently avoid their moral obligations to society. Exhibit A: Jim Ulland’s editorial, Enough with the big-bank bashing, from November 2011, where he uses Jon Campbell and Richard Davis’s seats on the Minnesota Orchestra board as evidence of their fundamental respectability and decency and goodness, and as a reason to not criticize the business practices of Wells Fargo and US Bancorp.

Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis shouldn’t pretend that being on a board with other wealthy people isn’t a powerful networking tool. There’s absolutely no shame in admitting that. Wealthy individuals and institutions have always used music and musicians as tools to express their power and social status. That’s Music History 101 for you. Am I saying that none of you care for orchestral music? Of course not. Am I saying that there are other reasons besides love of the orchestra that might lead a powerful individual to want to be on the Minnesota Orchestra’s board of directors? Yes. So don’t even try to play such an easily refuted card. Your doing so suggests you have no case, and know it.

Another question… If you don’t seek harm, then why are you not following – or even acknowledging – the dire pronouncements of orchestra experts, who are tossing about the following phrases: “the Minnesota Orchestra’s reputation has been wrecked for years amongst musicians by recent events”, “The cure stands a high degree of probability for killing the patient”, and “An orchestra does not recover easily, from such drastic cuts, if ever”? Are you saying you know more about how orchestras work than Drew McManus, Robert Levine, Edo de Waart, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, and Neville Marriner combined? If you are, then I have one thing to say to you: ha ha ha. It would be better for the Minnesota Orchestra to be dissolved completely than to be led by the likes of you.

Good intentions mean nothing; knowledge, competence, and experience in the field are everything. I could become chair of a major bank, have the best intentions in the world, and still be completely capable of turning the international financial system upside down. (If the bankers in power haven’t done so already…)

Recently, orchestra musicians shared board meeting minutes with the Star Tribune in an effort to criticize financial decisions made by our board — decisions that had been made expressly to protect the Minnesota Orchestra.

Their sharing this knowledge is “an effort to criticize financial decisions”? Uh, I don’t think so. It was more like an attempt to drag some accountability out of Orchestra leadership after they manipulated numbers so they could get a better crack at $14 million in tax dollars.

We shared those board minutes, amid 1,200 pages of documents, with musicians in our negotiations last summer as part of the orchestra’s longstanding commitment to transparency with our players.

Yes, a longstanding commitment to transparency that includes not giving players important documents and analyses they request. That longstanding commitment to transparency also extends to members of the public, who have asked for a longer version of the Strategic Plan, a fuller explanation of where endowment draws are going, answers to literally hundreds of questions, extended interviews with leadership, etc., etc., etc…none of which have ever been acknowledged or granted. Transparent transparent transparent. Totally transparent.


That musicians chose to give these documents to a reporter is not our issue;

Mmm, Dontcha love the smell of passive-aggressive non-accusations in the morning?

rather, it is that they feigned surprise at the revelation of our financial situation. Contrary to a quote from musician Tim Zavadil (“I’m not sure we were ever told how big this cliff was going to be”), the musicians were fully aware that we could no longer manage our deficit with precarious endowment draws. Mr. Zavadil, and all his colleagues in the orchestra, participated in three meetings — on May 28, 2010, March 18, 2011 and Nov. 21, 2011 — in which we plainly articulated a $5 million gap that would only grow each year.

Oh! So you’re climbing aboard the “We Were Facing A Fiscal Apocalypse At The Same Time We Were Asking For $14 Million In State Money And Telling Our Patrons And The Legislature We Were In A Golden Period” train? Sure, hop right on! I’m sure Mr. Henson would be glad to welcome you! The public will wave a fond good-bye to you at the station.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good-bye...

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good-bye…

Question: why would 90 musicians want to deplete the organization’s endowment by 2018? Are you really suggesting that ninety of the best-educated people in the country are too stupid to do basic math? Really?

In 2010, we asked our musicians to help alleviate growing deficits by taking a 22 percent wage reduction. We told them that even this sizable reduction would not resolve our financial problems. It would, however, make the cliff less steep in 2012. The musicians chose not to participate in those reductions. That was their legal right, and so we must grapple with even bigger financial issues today.

Haven’t heard this allegation yet, and consequently, I’m a little suspicious. I imagine there’s more to this story than what fits in a Strib editorial. (Also, there’s the little fact that in the past, just about everything provable that management has said was obfuscation and/or lie.) However, even if a new standard for transparency is being set here, and Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis are being completely honest, as Robert Levine noted in his blog:

Notice what wasn’t mentioned: the contract re-opener of 2009. And yet the minutes demonstrated pretty clearly that the Board was planning on running deficits even in advance of that re-opener. What did they ask for in that negotiation? If they needed “a 22 percent wage reduction” in 2010, why not in 2009? And why not mention that the musicians had already given back  wage increases in 2009? It’s not even clear why a 22% giveback in 2010 would have changed management’s demands this year. If the issue is really “sustainability,” whatever deficits were run in previous years were not going to have a big impact on what sustainable fundraising goals and endowment draws would be going forward.

As I’ve said before, what we need here is more clarification… Which apparently nobody wants to give us! Ever! So we’re forced to assume the worst! Fun! Yay!

The musicians also knew that the rest of the organization had taken salary, benefit and staff cuts and that we had trimmed other expenses as much as we could without destroying this institution.

Question: What are you doing now, exactly? Have you heard what the experts are saying these proposals will do to this orchestra? Go to Google Blog Search. Type in “Minnesota Orchestra.” Press Enter. And read.

They knew of and were thrilled with our plans to secure the Minnesota Orchestra’s future through a capital campaign that began in 2005.

Yeah, I was thrilled, too… Until I heard what terrible shape the Orchestra’s finances were in. And then I wondered if fundraising for the building might be taking money away from donations for operating expenses. And then Mary Schaefle came along and said, “Unrestricted gifts decreased by close to $750,000 in three years, or almost 25%. I wondered whether focusing on the campaign would have a dampening effect on general, or annual, contributions. We can’t say for certain, but it’s tempting to think that the same effort for the Orchestra as a whole would have eased or erased the deficit.” And then I started worrying that something somewhere had gone terribly terribly wrong.

And why not? That $110 million (scaled back by nearly 50 percent postrecession) would provide for a badly needed renovation of Orchestra Hall and would help cover additional musician, touring and recording expenses in the future. The successful completion of that campaign is in sight, thanks to generous donors who believe in the Minnesota Orchestra’s future.

So now Campbell and Davis are claiming that the Building for the Future campaign was originally slated at nearly $220 million. That’s a new exciting number to add to our ever-lengthening list of Contradictory Numbers The MOA Has Provided. I’d heard that the hall renovation was possibly going to go up in cost to $90 million as late as 2010, but nothing about management seeking $110 million for musician, touring, and recording expenses in future, as is implied here. Gentlemen, would you mind pointing me to the news articles where this major campaign was announced? I’d love to read all the details.

We understand that peering into one of this region’s most venerable arts organizations through excerpted meeting minutes might make for scintillating news coverage. That’s often part of the job when leaders must make tough calls. The leaders of the Minnesota Orchestra have nothing to hide.

Yes…there’s nothing that people love more than…scintillating news coverage of…orchestral endowment draw percentages. You remember the autumn tabloids. I think it went something like LiLo stars in Liz and Dick, the fallout from the Robsten cheating scandal, and the Strib coverage of the Minnesota Orchestra’s minutes. Who can resist the sex appeal of a large endowment draw? Yes, Graydon Royce is our Mary Hart; the Strib is the National Enquirer. They do nothing but facilitate the public’s filthy, filthy, filthy habit of finding fault with brave leaders making tough calls. Shame on us for being shocked by that article, and wanting answers, and being taken in by flashy news coverage. For shame, Minnesota. (And entire music world.) For shame.

Now, bringing the sarcasm down a notch or two… Question: Does the MOA honestly believe that if we think they’re hiding something, their telling us they’re not is going to convince us?

Nixon: I have nothing to hide.

Public: OK! Glad that’s settled!

*presidency continues*

Yeah. From what I remember, Watergate didn’t go that way. People who have something to hide don’t tell people they’re hiding something. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called “hiding something.” Do I think the MOA is hiding something? I don’t know. Would they be telling us if they were? No.

Our minutes in their entirety reflect the deliberations of a board that takes its fiduciary responsibility very seriously.

Do you want to know how seriously the MOA takes their fiduciary responsibility? They misled (or lied to; take your pick) the State legislature to get $14 million. You’re taking something awfully seriously if you mislead the state legislature to get it.

They reveal a methodical coming-to-terms with the structural deficits that threaten the stability of orchestras around the country. They show a board wrestling with how to continue to offset a mounting deficit during the recession through expense reductions and precarious endowment draws in order to preserve the 25 percent pay raise contained in the 2007 contract with musicians. They show it carefully considering the impact of the 2008 recession on a fundraising campaign that began three years before the “new normal” of 2008 turned the orchestral world on its ear. And they reflect the board’s absolute commitment to ensure every musician was fully aware of the pending budget problem and the need for contract change in 2012.

And unfortunately, they never ever show a board who is open and accountable to the public about this process.

The musicians’ negotiating team appears to be avoiding at all costs our request to come back to the table with a substantive counterproposal. While we have been clear that we seek savings of $5 million annually, the approach we use to reduce these costs can be adjusted through the course of good-faith negotiations. But we need our musicians to participate for this to happen.

Sorry; I think you got that backward. We need you to participate for this to happen.

Maybe I’m unspeakably stupid, but…what would be the downside to an independent financial analysis? The cost? By your own admission, you’ve just raised $110 million. Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to raise a few thousand more specifically for this purpose. The time it would take to analyze the books? The musicians asked for an analysis back in early September, so the time it would take should be on your dime, not theirs. The fact that you’re hiding something? Surely not; you just said you had nothing to hide, and of course those who are hiding something never lie to the public about it…

So. Once again, behold! Yet another useless major editorial from Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis! (Once again, notice how Michael Henson is…totally, completely, and utterly absent. Let’s hear it for bold, engaged leadership, guys!) No answers to the dozens of questions we patrons have raised. No answers to the experts in the field who are warning about the dire results of the MOA’s proposals. No explanation of why a financial analysis is off-limits (an omission made even more perplexing by the musicians’ Strib editorial which ran the same day). No explanation of why they manipulated the numbers to get the balanced budgets when they thought it would be convenient for them. No explanation of why Mr. Royce’s article isn’t under Industry News. No explanation of the changed mission statement. I’m assuming they have no answers for these questions. I’m assuming they know their case is on life support.

In other words:

Good thing so many members of the Orchestra have perfect pitch. At least some people in this mess aren’t tone-deaf.


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Response to Jon Eisele’s MinnPost Editorial

Here’s a link to Jon Eisele’s piece in MinnPost: “MN Orchestra board member: We seek our musicians’ partnership to build a strong future.”

I’m not going to spend the time nitpicking every little thing in it that’s misleading or unsatisfactory, so I’ll just pick out a few highlights…

Here’s Mr. Eisele’s answer to why the mission statement was changed:

Our mission statement was changed in our new strategic plan to signify a new emphasis around serving our community. This language change is important, not because the “orchestra” isn’t part of it, but because it communicates a pivotal shift in what we see as the role of symphony orchestras in the 21st century. A shift to a more community-minded and responsive organization is a positive and needed repositioning for our orchestra.

For those of you who haven’t memorized the orchestra’s old and new mission statements… It went from

Our mission is to enrich and inspire our community as a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence.

Our mission will be implemented by:

  • Enhancing the traditional core of concerts with innovative approaches to programming and format;
  • Providing the finest educational and outreach programs;
  • Representing and promoting the Minnesota Orchestra and the State of Minnesota to audiences across the state,  across the country and around the world through tours and electronic media;
  • Maintaining an acoustically superior hall with a welcoming environment.


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

Seriously, now. Which mission statement sounds like it’s more interested in serving its community? If community service really was at the heart of the Minnesota Orchestra’s new mission, then why remove references to “the finest educational and outreach programs”, “representing and promoting the Minnesota Orchestra and the State of Minnesota to audiences across the state” and maintaining a hall with “a welcoming environment”? I think this is a fair question.

Also, I’m failing to understand how not addressing a community’s questions about its finances is in any way, shape, or form serving them…

Another point: I was disappointed that Mr. Eisele took words directly from the Minnesota Orchestra’s website and Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis. I would have much preferred to hear from him in his own words.

The website:

These donations would not have been contributed to the Orchestra if there were not a building project to support.

Mr. Eisele:

The vast majority of donations we received for the hall campaign would not have been contributed to the orchestra if there were not a building project to support.

Mr. Campbell, Mr. Davis:

 In 2010, we asked our musicians to help alleviate growing deficits by taking a 22 percent wage reduction. We told them that even this sizable reduction would not resolve our financial problems. It would, however, make the cliff less steep in 2012. The musicians chose not to participate in those reductions. That was their legal right, and so we must grapple with even bigger financial issues today.

Mr. Eisele:

It was the musicians’ legal right to do so, but it has made the cliff we face today all the steeper.

Mr. Campbell and Davis:

Why would we seek harm for any member of this iconic organization?

Mr. Eisele:

Why would we want anything but the best for the organization?

And so on and so forth. It would have been lovely to hear more from Mr. Eisele, and fewer rearranged talking points. We’ve already read the talking points, thanks.

I couldn’t help but note that Mr. Eisele ignored the DeCosse’s question, “Has the community raised almost $47 million to renovate an Orchestra Hall that will not include a first-rate Minnesota Orchestra?” That’s troubling, especially when it’s probably the most pertinent question that the DeCosses raised.

On top of that, there are no answers in Mr. Eisele’s piece to questions like:

  • Why the orchestra trumpeted its financial health from 2008-2010
  • Why Mr. Henson misled the state legislature
  • Why an independent analysis would be harmful
  • Why orchestra experts like Drew McManus, Robert Levine, and Bill Eddins are so off-base in their assessments
  • Why we shouldn’t be listening to all the former music directors who claim these cuts will be catastrophic
  • Why there was a $6 million draw from the endowment in 2011 that did not go to operating expenses
  • How much revenue will come from the newly renovated hall, and how

Etc., etc., etc.

We believe the board and the community that supports the Minnesota Orchestra deserve that level of respect.

I look at it another way. I believe the community that supports the Minnesota Orchestra deserves the respect of the board. They are there to serve us and the musicians. Serving us would include submitting to a full independent financial analysis. This isn’t about the musicians anymore. It’s about the taxpayers who footed the $14 million bill for the Orchestra Hall renovation.

In short, this is a hugely unsatisfying piece. I doubt the DeCosses are satisfied. I know I’m not.

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