What Michael Henson Doesn’t Want You To Read

Awareness of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout grows daily. However, if you’re just tuning in, I imagine it’s tough to know where to start. So to make things easier, I tagged some entries “merge lane.” These are entries that don’t require any background knowledge about what’s been going on. Pick a few merge lane entries to read, and soon you’ll be up to speed!


Welcome to the Minnesota Orchestra lockout information highway!

However, if you prefer to tackle things chronologically, I do keep an extensive “table of contents” here. And you can always explore topics using the tags in the right-hand column of the blog.

For this particular “merge lane” entry, I gathered 25 quotes that contradict the narrative Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson has been selling the last couple of years…in other words,”What Michael Henson Doesn’t Want You To Read.” Enjoy!


An orchestra does not recover easily, from such drastic cuts, if ever. – former Minnesota Orchestra music directors Edo de Waart, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Neville Marriner, Star Tribune editorial, 6 October 2012

All in all, this proposal fully deserves the “draconian” label even without considering the proposed work rule changes, which are considerable. It’s hard to imagine that the orchestra’s finances really justify such cuts, especially with the success the management has had raising money for the renovation of the hall. Perhaps it was intended as an opening gambit, but it’s hard to see how the musicians could have engaged with it without conceding the entire range of outcomes to the management end of the pool. – Robert Levine, principal viola, Milwaukee Symphony, board member of League of American Orchestras, Polyphonic blog, 17 October 2012

[Henson’s] wrong if he thinks that Minnesota Orchestra will “always have great appeal as a place to have an orchestral career”… I think the Minnesota Orchestra’s reputation has been wrecked for years amongst musicians by recent events, especially amongst the musicians who they would most want to recruit – those at the top of their game. – Robert Levine, principal viola, Milwaukee Symphony, board member of League of American Orchestras, Polyphonic blog, 9 November 2012

In this day and age, the greatest threat to the business is the rise of intense and vitriolic labor unrest. – Drew McManus, arts consultant, Adaptistration blog, 26 November 2012

For those not familiar with the collective bargaining process as it exists in the field of professional orchestras, it is worth pointing out that it is not unusual, although not the dominant method, for an entire negotiation to unfold without the employees ever submitting a formal, written proposal or counterproposal. – Drew McManus, arts consultant, Adaptistration blog, 29 November 2012

But as we learned in yesterday’s post, a formal counterproposal isn’t a firm requirement to make genuine negotiation headway. – Drew McManus, arts consultant, Adaptistration blog, 30 November 2012

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? – Robert Levine, principal viola, Milwaukee Symphony, board member of League of American Orchestras, Polyphonic blog, 5 December 2012

A special citation for Quickest Plunge from a Great Height is handily won by the management and governing board of the Minnesota Orchestra. – Alex Ross, critic at the New Yorker, The Rest Is Noise blog, 7 December 2012

So far this season, student attendance is up 55 percent and totals more than 18,000 young people. On an average subscription evening at Severance Hall this year, 16 percent of listeners are students. – “Cleveland Orchestra attendance surging thanks to programs aimed at children, students,” Columbus Dispatch, 19 January 2013

It’s turning into a banner season for the Cleveland Orchestra. The orchestra says it’s on track to set a season record for ticket revenue for its Severance Hall performances. Sales are up 24 percent over last year and are on pace to set a season record of $7.6 million. – “Cleveland orchestra may break ticket-revenue mark,” Columbus Dispatch, 28 January 2013 (In FY2011, Minnesota only earned $5.2 million in orchestra ticket sales and $1.3 million in non-orchestra ticket sales.)

If everybody goes in the same direction you can make huge progress, but if you’re constantly at odds with each other – in any organization, not just in a symphony orchestra – you don’t go anywhere. So the first challenge is going to be to establish the trust. And the trust works both ways, it’s not just with management and the musicians and board, it works the other way too, with having the trust of the public. – David Hyslop, former Minnesota Orchestra CEO, upon being named the Interim CEO of the Louisville Symphony, WFPL, 29 January 2013

The Minnesota Orchestra is playing so well — that is the thing I am missing. I would like to see everybody from the orchestra family there tonight. – Osmo Vänskä on the neutral Grammy celebration concert put on by Mayor Rybak and Judy Dayton, Star Tribune, 1 February 2013

The management and board in Minnesota need to think long and hard about what they are doing. – Alex Ross, critic at the New Yorker, The Rest Is Noise blog, 3 February 2013

I just received a call–like five minutes ago–from a very chipper voiced woman from the Minnesota Orchestra, informing me, something to the effect, that the lobby renovation was complete, and now, unless further money is contributed, the orchestra will cease to be in six months. – Tom Foley, Song of the Lark comment, 7 February 2013

Unfortunately for the MOA, brinksmanship isn’t a zero-sum game and the more they drag out the tactics of attrition warfare, the closer they move toward midnight on their very own doomsday clock. In this instance, doomsday is marked by organizational collapse and subsequent liquidation bankruptcy. – Drew McManus, arts consultant, Adaptistration blog, 26 November 2012

Peter absolutely would not have taken the Tonhalle Orchestra – Zurich Audition had management and the Board submitted a respectful offer in April 2012. – Kimberly McGuire writing about her husband Peter McGuire, former Minnesota Orchestra violinist, comment section of Song of the Lark blog, 9 February 2013

In a typical year, the MN Orchestra reaches over 50,000 students. Many of these events have already been cancelled, and the public funding spent planning them wasted. – Orchestrate Excellence testimony before the Minnesota House of Representatives Commerce Committee, 23 January 2013

I’m really disappointed in the legacy you’re leaving for Minnesota and going forward, and I really challenge you to settle. I just think it’s…it’s really unfortunate, and it will certainly be an impact – impact my decisions as I vote on Capital Investment and Legacy in the future. – Rep. Leon Lillie, 12 February 2013

I do find this whole process dispiriting, and I would like to see it resolved, and it will influence how I vote on this committee. – Rep. Mike Freiberg, 12 February 2013

And what I hear in the community and maybe what we represent, is this growing sense of urgency and loss and despair… But there is this sense of disbelief growing in the community as time passes by and nothing changes. – Rep. Alice Hausman, 12 February 2013

Forest Lake students expressing their love of the orchestra on Twitter, 20 February 2013

Total lost revenue to Minneapolis (dining, parking, Minneapolis Convention Center fees) is approximately $1.9 million (through April 7)… […] If the Orchestra’s entire 2013 season were to be suspended, this suggests the loss in earned revenue to the Orchestra would be approximately $6 million. – Meet Minneapolis, Potential economic loss due to suspension of Minnesota Orchestra season to-date, 28 February 2013

If the industry adapts the MOA’s equation of “the number of dollars in your endowment / 2500 = your base salary”, it would be justification for Chicago to lower its base to $96,000; Los Angeles to $72,000; San Francisco to $104,000; New York to $72,000; Cleveland to $52,000; Philadelphia to $52,000; Pittsburgh to $44,000; Cincinnati to $24,000; Dallas to $40,000; Houston to $24,000; Indianapolis to $36,000; and Detroit…(wait for it)…to $12,000. In other words, if the industry adapts the MOA’s endowment-to-base-salary ratio, there would only be a handful of full-time symphony orchestras in this country. And semi-pro groups? Forget about them. – Emily Hogstad, Song of the Lark blog, “Some Dorky Musings on Endowment Size and Base Salaries,” 26 February 2013

If the orchestra were running up deficits, it wouldn’t be investing big money in refurbishing its home hall — in fact, nearly all of the money for the project, $38 million, has already been raised. – “Riding high, Minnesota Orchestra thinks big, embraces elegance,” MinnPost, 13 April 2010

The former Bournemouth Symphony head is strategising his way through the recession – and winning. “There’s no single strategy to beating the downturn,” Michael Henson asserts. “There has to be a whole series of strategies to maintain a focused approach. The priority is continuing the excellence in the artistic work.” With orchestras across the US hard hit by the recession – and management strategies the number-one talking point at the League of American Orchestras’ conference in June – the Minnesota Orchestra stands out as a beacon institution among the bad news… – “Aiming High,” Gig Magazine, 2 July 2010. (After I blogged about this article in October, this article was discreetly removed from the Minnesota Orchestra website. They haven’t said why.)


We already know where to find the pro-management side of the story: on their website. However, if you’d like to delve deeper into the neutral (or even pro-musician) end of the pool, then bookmark these websites:

  • Drew McManus, Adaptistration. Drew McManus has years of experience in the field, a knack for getting straight to the point, and a fair evenhanded no-drama approach. Want to know why he thinks the musicians haven’t made a counterproposal? Or what he thinks Jon Campbell and Richard Davis should be doing differently? Or why the musicians are so upset with the proposed changes in working conditions? Go back to September 2012 and read all of his entries having to do with Minnesota. Adaptistration should be required reading for anyone involved in this dispute. A bonus: McManus reads and responds to comments and questions.
  • Robert Levine, Polyphonic. Robert Levine is principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony and a board member of the League of American Orchestras. He has been very critical of the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s handling of the lockout, and goes into depth why here.
  • Norman Lebrecht, Slipped Disc. He collects the juiciest stories from the music world and gathers them into one place: his blog. Slipped Disc is one of the most popular classical music blogs sin the world (it had 5.2 million readers last year). If you’re ever criticized by Lebrecht (especially repeatedly, as Michael Henson has been), you’ll want to know about it.
  • Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra Facebook page. Updated by the musicians a few times a week. The best part of this site? It has 6500 fans, and so you can read comments from hundreds of patrons. MOA employees and the board of directors would do well to keep tabs on this page. It will help them brainstorm ways to talk to customers.
  • This blog, Song of the Lark. In case you’re visiting for the first time, I’m a 23-year-old semi-pro string player who has devoted my life since August to understanding this complicated topic. The blog has been mentioned on MPR and the Pioneer Press, and in Adaptistration, Slipped Disc, and Alex Ross’s blog. I come down pretty firmly on the pro-musician side of the fence. But even if you’re pro-management, you should keep tabs on me so you can strengthen your own argument. My comment section is always open; I welcome all corrections and clarifications! If you ever want to message me privately, do so via my Facebook page or by leaving a comment here (even under a pseudonym) saying you’d like to get in touch with me privately. I’ll message you back as soon as possible.

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

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