Monthly Archives: May 2013

MinnPost Editorial

I have a commentary in MinnPost today. Check it out. It raises questions we have about the Minnesota Orchestra’s past and future fiscal performance. Thanks to MinnPost for printing it.

An excerpt:

The management and board of directors of the crippled Minnesota Orchestra have repeatedly stated that their financial plans are sound. Unfortunately, many outside observers are not so sure…

Edited: MinnPost has recently begun accepting “original letters from readers on current topics of general interest” that are 300 words or less. Would you like to submit one?

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Blast from the Past

I started this blog on May 13, 2011, so…happy second birthday, blog.

Back in a time when I was lucky to get five views a day, I wrote an essay that I hoped would be a sort of thesis statement for everything that would follow. Since many of you are interested in hearing a bit about why or how I was drawn to blogging, I thought I’d share the link. Given everything that’s transpired since, it’s a bit disorienting – in a good way, I think – maybe – to read again.

Indulgent Claptrap: or, how this blog came to be

I wish I could tell my self of two years ago how many lovely, lovely people I’d meet over the course of this project. Then again, I know I wouldn’t believe it.

I hope to spend many more years in y’all’s company. Thank you for being so generous with your attention and your love. If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.

xx

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The Minnesota Orchestra Thinks You’re All Idiots

The leaders of the Minnesota Orchestra think that you’re the stupidest audience in the United States. Maybe even in the world. Maybe even in the known universe. There’s no other way to explain what’s on the front of their webpage right now.

Is it true you are asking musicians to accept 1983-level salaries?

That is not the case. In 1983, Minnesota Orchestra musicians earned $33,000 a year, and health care and pension costs were more modest, manageable expenses.

Today, we are offering an average annual salary of $89,000 per musician in addition to a benefit package that is far more generous than that of the average professional, totaling $30,000.

I don’t comb the Minnesota Orchestra website every day anymore, so I’m not positive when this was put up, but I’m guessing it came about after violist Sam Bergman’s impassioned speech at the Bruckner/Mozart concert, and the musicians’ full-page ad last weekend in the Strib.

The bankers (may I repeat, the BANKERS) (the ~FINANCIERS~, if you will) in charge at the Minnesota Orchestra might be interested to know that there’s a thing called “inflation.” It even has a Wikipedia page, so you know it’s real.

INFRACKINGFLATION

Inflation. Turns out, it checks out.

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Huh?

So this is just…weird.

You are now entering a dimension not of sight or of sound but of mind. Seriously, there's no sound. The concerts are canceled.

You are now entering a dimension not of sight or of sound but of mind. (Seriously, there’s no sound. The concerts are canceled.)

First off, the MOA canceled the rest of the season today. (No surprise there; we were all expecting it.) Here’s the truly bizarre press release making the announcement.

Second, the MOA has offered dates to talk with musicians in late May. Absent the introduction of a new variable into the equation, I’m not sure what there is to talk about…but whatever.

Third, they’ve scheduled three new concerts that apparently aren’t Summerfest, but are in the summer. These new concerts have no title (go, marketing team!), so I will quote the MOA’s press release and call it “The Summer Lineup.” In a totally classy move, tickets are $45 apiece, general admission, thereby alienating poor students like me even further. Hip hip hooray; good on you, MOA. (At their concerts, musicians have always made sure there’s a $20 price-point, which is greatly appreciated.)

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Email Writing Time

Email writing time, guys. The musicians want us to email and/or call Jon Campbell and Richard Davis. Click here for details. So…you should probably do that.

For the record, here’s the email I sent:

Hello Mr. Davis – Mr. Campbell –

If you’ve been following media coverage of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, you know exactly who I am. My writing on the lockout is read internationally, and has been cited by MPR, the Pioneer Press, and the most widely read blog in the classical music business, Slipped Disc. I unfortunately have not heard back from you, despite repeated requests to talk to you, so I contact you again. It certainly does not speak well for Wells Fargo or US Bancorp that their leaders are so unresponsive to impassioned community outcry.

Alex Ross, the critic at the New Yorker, whose words you used to trumpet on old season brochures, wrote about you the other day… http://www.therestisnoise.com/2013/05/amplification.html He is the most influential music writer in the business, and he does not lightly write something like what he writes below.

“The Minnesota Orchestra, whose musicians have been locked out since the beginning of the season, is veering toward catastrophe. A number of players have departed for other ensembles; the orchestra’s use of state funds has raised serious questions and is under review; powerful board members have created a fearful atmosphere; and, as Graydon Royce reports, Osmo Vänskä, Minnesota’s brilliant music director, is threatening to resign if the situation is not resolved soon. In his latest piece, Royce alludes to a column I wrote in 2010, in which I said, “For the duration of the evening of March 1st, the Minnesota Orchestra sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world.” The idea was not to issue a hard-and-fast superlative but to undercut the entire business of ranking orchestras. Still, I stand by the statement, at least as far as the musicians themselves are concerned. As for the board and the management, I am tempted to apply a superlative of a quite different kind. I’ll simply say this: do the board and management actually wish to destroy the Minnesota Orchestra? So far, their actions seem to be moving steadily toward that end.”

Until you demonstrate a renewed commitment to dialogue with both musicians and patrons, I will continue to share Mr. Ross’s views. As you are no doubt aware, not a single person in the music business supports your position. A counter-proposal is not and never has been necessary for negotiations; indeed, in November, independent industry expert Drew McManus called your insistence upon a counterproposal a “trap.” Other orchestras with more dire financial problems have agreed to submit to binding arbitration. I’d hope you’d never make a major investment, as you are asking the musicians to do, without knowing how the board and staff of the companies you invest in performs in comparison to other boards and staff (especially if said board and staff were simultaneously and independently being investigated by the state legislature for potential mis-use of funds). And despite what you have heard, the musicians are not going to cave any time soon. And even if they eventually do, by that time, there will be so many vacancies, it will take literally years to hire replacements…and good luck hiring any subs with the pay you’ve proposed. The orchestra will be comatose and paralyzed, if not liquidated altogether. This is not the teachers’ union, and you are not Scott Walker. Today you face two options: stepping away and letting others try for even a little while, or driving the orchestra – Minnesota’s orchestra – over a cliff. There are no alternatives.

If you destroy the Minnesota Orchestra, I can promise you, as a historian, that it will be a legacy that will long outlast any donations you made to the lobby. This community – in fact, this country – will never forget your names, or what happened on your watch. There would be absolutely no harm in stepping aside…or at the very very least, soliciting ideas from others about how to proceed. I urge you to consider doing so.

Emily E Hogstad

Well, that was therapeutic.

So. Write Richard Davis and Jon Campbell. They won’t reply to you, but it will feel good. Share your emails in the comment section as an inspiration to others. And if you call Davis or Campbell, do let me know who you hear from, and what you said, and what their secretaries said to you in return. Remember, be firm, but be polite. We don’t want to stoop down to other people’s level…no matter how angry we are. Best wishes in your activism…

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