Dear Mr. Henson,
So. About this Grammy concert.
I was going to be good and accept the spirit of a one-night truce. I really was. I was going to say, “Yes, my personal rhetoric has been heated (and to be perfectly honest, I don’t regret that); HOWEVER, I’m going to follow the example of our political and philanthropic leaders and, at least when it comes to discussing this particular show, tone the rhetoric down. I am going to view this concert the way its hosts have said they want me to: as a celebration of the Orchestra’s excellence, not as an opportunity to advance my own deeply felt agenda.”
Your statement in response to the concert announcement was shockingly bad, and you need to learn how to write better ones. (Maybe next time run them past a few actual patrons first. I could assemble a focus group for you at the snap of a finger. Contact me!)
Let’s take a look at everything the mayor said about this concert:
Jan 9 press release – “The difficult labor dispute has taken its toll, but for this one night, we ask everyone to set negotiations aside and come together as a community to celebrate the Orchestra’s extraordinary achievement and listen to their beautiful, Grammy-worthy performance,” Mayor Rybak said.
Jan 10 press release – “Judy Dayton and I are very excited that this public celebration of the Orchestra’s great accomplishment will happen, and that Osmo Vänskä and the musicians will celebrate it with an undoubtedly stellar performance,” Mayor Rybak said.
“Now it’s time for this community to put its money where its mouth is. I’m getting my tickets on Monday, and I encourage everyone who loves Minneapolis music and arts to do the same — and to join me in buying a copy of the recording as well.”
Jan 9, MPR – “On one special night, we ask everybody to take the dispute and go into neutral and come together and have one celebration,” said Rybak…
“We obviously have a very complicated labor issue, but we also have a moment that should not pass in this community, where a great orchestra, with great musicians and great management is nominated for a Grammy. Let’s celebrate that,” Rybak said…
“This isn’t about signs or messages or anything other than saying we love this institution,” the Mayor said. “And I hope also have a call to all of us to say a relatively few people have held up this institution for literally generations, and now if we really care about this, and we do, more people who haven’t been buying the tickets, who haven’t been part of that, have to support this, because we want greatness and we want financial stability, and the only way for us to make sure that happens is for us all to make sure we support this institution.”
Jan 10, Strib – “We thought it was important to create a neutral setting,” Rybak said. “It is being hosted by the mayor and a longtime benefactor who are not on either side of this but want to get the community focused on where we have to be. We ask everyone to put down the dispute for a night and come together to celebrate the accomplishment.”
For reference, here’s your tone-deaf response:
“We share pride in this Grammy nomination and appreciate that the Mayor understands the importance of this cultural institution and the need for it to be financially sustainable in the future. In last week’s negotiations, all parties agreed to a fresh start and we are currently in discussions with the musicians about the parameters of an analysis that will seek to verify the Orchestra’s financial position. Following this review, we are hopeful that the musicians will put forward a counterproposal to help us resolve these challenges.”
And here is your statement’s musical equivalent:
I could say many things, but I’ll stop at two.
So: two things.
First: the MOA has pride in the Grammy nomination? Believe it or not, this is actually news, because the MOA still hasn’t issued a press release about it. Don’t take my word for it. Look at your virtual press room. Yeah, apparently the article “Minnesota Orchestra Board to accept offer to speak at Board meeting after musicians return to table with substantive proposal” is more important to your organization than A GRAMMY NOMINATION. Then again, I never have claimed to understand your PR tactics.
Second, it is never a good idea to shove words into a politician’s mouth (especially when you are under investigation for potential misuse of public funds by other politicians). You are delusional if you think that this concert is proof that the Mayor of Minneapolis believes the first priority of the Minnesota Orchestra is to be financially stable – or that the MOA shares no blame for this mess – or that the reason this concert is happening is because of unreasonable intransigence on the musicians’ part. I understand you had to say something, and were likely blindsided a bit by this announcement, but that’s simply no excuse for such a terrible statement.
Here’s an example of how it’s done. From the musicians:
The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are honored to be invited by Mayor R.T. Rybak and Orchestra benefactor Judy Dayton to perform at a Grammy celebration concert on February 1st, 2013.
The Musicians recognize the significance this Grammy nomination holds for our community and the Orchestra’s reputation, as well as the importance of joining Osmo Vänskä in performing these Sibelius works for our audience.
“This is a tremendous gesture by the Mayor and Ms. Dayton,” Principal Trombonist Doug Wright said. “It will be the Musicians’ distinct honor to accept their invitation and join our Music Director on stage for a performance of these Grammy-nominated works for our community. It should be a concert to remember.”
No talking points. Just gratitude. And even an acknowledgement of the audience, the entire reason the orchestra exists. That in particular is a nice touch!
Mayor Rybak said to put the negotiations aside for one night. One night! One night without talk of counterproposals – financial analyses – fiscal stability. One night. It’s one night where we don’t talk about how we get to the product; it’s one night where we celebrate the actual product. One night for art. Is that really such a difficult concept to grasp?
The following paragraph is not in the spirit of the concert, and I may regret it later, but I feel compelled to write it anyway. Mr. Henson, you should count your lucky stars that Minneapolis even remembers that we have a world-class symphony orchestra. You were the one who refused to “pay and play” back in October. You were the one who refused any in-depth interviews. You were the one who turned down binding arbitration. You were the one who resisted financial analysis (if you’d agreed to it back when it was initially asked for, we’d be four months closer to a resolution – four – whole – months!). Every single step of the way, you have stood in front of getting this orchestra back on the stage, refusing to explain yourself, consistently refusing opportunities to listen to outside opinion or input. That’s not me talking as a partisan; that’s a verifiable fact. You and the MOA are frolicking and detouring all the way to the bank. So be glad that your public has stuck as long and devotedly with this silent orchestra as it has. Another city would have run out of patience and interest long ago.
I’d love to post your response to this, and open a dialogue with you about this, but unfortunately I can’t imagine you will. On the very very very off-chance you want to acknowledge I’m here, feel free. You know how much I’d love to talk to you. Otherwise, whatever. I’m looking forward to the concert. I just really, really, really wish Minneapolis could have relied on the Minnesota Orchestral Association to put it on, instead of Judy Dayton and Mayor Rybak. Since putting on concerts is, of course, the primary justification for the MOA’s existence…not to mention your career.