Monthly Archives: August 2013

Seven Reasons Why I’m Leery Of The MOA’s “New Proposal”

The management of the Minnesota Orchestra went public with an offer to musicians yesterday. I hesitate to call it new. It was presented outside of the auspices of the mediator management had chosen (aka Senator George Mitchell, aka The Man Who Brought Peace To Ireland).

I’ll get right to the heart of the matter. Here are seven major concerns I as a patron have about this proposal. Until these concerns are addressed to my satisfaction, I just can’t support it.

So. In countdown-style reverse-number order:

7) Will this proposal fulfill the Minnesota Orchestra’s mission statement of fostering “a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence”? I’d say no. The proposal does very little to repair the MOA’s reputation in the eyes of new musicians the MOA needs to court if they want to sustain world-class quality.

On the other hand, I might have said yes…

  • if this proposal had been issued back in September 2012
  • if the crappy ridiculous work rule changes that didn’t have much, if anything, to do with money were removed
  • and if the management had allowed full access to analysis of its books and business plans, and demonstrated competency and transparency

But as it is, the MOA has demonstrated its love of disingenuous double-speak for a full year now, and the MOA has consistently used fuzzy math over that time, and a lot of people (not just musicians) doubt the need for cuts of this size, so… They need to do more to attract new world-class players.

6) Why ignore the proposal of the mediator the MOA itself picked? I mean, what’s the point of this, unless the MOA was trying to make the statement that they’re too good for George Mitchell, but they’re too scared to say that out loud because they know it’ll make them look like d-bags?

5) The management hasn’t yet addressed details about the proposal. What’s happening with sub pay? They better have great sub pay in order to get qualified players to fill all those empty seats while auditions are ongoing. How many seats does Michael Henson want to see the orchestra have? What will be the schedule for filling empty seats? What about the clause that allows wealthy people to hire musicians for their birthday parties and bar mitvahs? Who has the final authority to hire new musicians? What about injury leave? What’s the role of the CEO in the “new business model”? I mean, the details go on and on and on. The fact that the MOA did not present these – after initially sharing all of them in September – lead me to believe the majority of their “new” proposals are actually more of the same. This is troubling. These non-salary changes will affect the quality of the orchestra way more than the pay cuts will.

4) In a mere two years, the musicians and union will be weakened financially, emotionally, and spiritually, and will have great great difficulty mounting a battle if Henson and the board want to come back and “finish the job.” And the Minnesota audience will – understandably – have a limited appetite for a third orchestral lockout in three years. (And who knows where the SPCO will be at the end of their contract…oy…)

3) If you look at this from a three-year contract perspective, you could argue the cuts are 50% over the life of the contract (if you use one of several possible equations). The MOA gave the musicians a 100% cut in the 2012-2013 season, then would give a 25% cut in 2013-2014 and a 25% cut in 2014-2015. That’s a lot. Is this really so much a sweetened deal as it is drawing from money saved by not paying musicians for a year? I don’t have the answer to that question, but it would be interesting to know.

2) No pathways for communication have been set up between board and public. This is a huge concern. Okay, I know audience members aren’t part of the actual negotiations, and it would be thorny if they were. But the unprecedented outcry and anger toward the board hasn’t been acknowledged once. In fact, I hear rumors of really rude responses being sent by board members to people who took time to email their concerns. Plus, no one has offered a sensible explanation of Domaingate (“protecting the Orchestra’s name”? really?). No one has been held accountable for anything when it comes to the mistreatment and abuse of customers. In order that the MOA can start rebuilding trust within the broader community, any new contract proposal needs to come along with a new attitude from those at the top. And I’m not seeing that attitude. At all.

1) The expiration of the proposed contract coincides with Osmo’s departure in the spring of 2015. This is the most important point of all, and I haven’t heard anyone else mention it. I think any outside observer can see that board leadership is not fond of Osmo Vanska, and I doubt Osmo Vanska is at this point particularly fond of them. Plus, he’s the highest-paid employee at the MOA. I can just imagine how the board is salivating to cut that bit out of the budget. If he somehow survives the autumn in Minnesota, it’s pretty likely he’ll be taking his final bows at Orchestra Hall in the summer of 2015. So: guess where that leaves us. That’s right: in an even worse position than we are today. Yes, we’d buy two years of performances, but at what price?

What will the musicians do? I don’t know. What should they do? I don’t know. Hopefully we as patrons wait to make final judgments until we know more details. Plus, let’s keep in mind that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes we simply don’t know about.

But. That being said, knowing the limited amount I know, if I was a musician, I’d vote no. (Not sure what, if any, counterproposal I’d present; I’d listen to my well-respected lawyer’s advice about what to do there.) I’d then work my butt off to try to present a series of concerts in the fall of 2013, perhaps with the support of a fired-up patron advocacy group. And maybe for some of those concerts I’d investigate the feasibility of hiring a well-respected conductor…who might find certain weeks in his fall calendar suddenly empty.


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra


I was interviewed for the WQXR Conducting Business podcast yesterday! Take a listen here.

The incident is the latest example of political-style web advocacy that’s moved into the realm of classical music and the arts. In this podcast, we get three views on the trend, including that of Hogstad, who writes the blog Song of the Lark.

A Minnesota Orchestra spokesperson told NPR Music‘s Anastasia Tsioulcas that the organization reserved the URLs to protect the orchestra’s name, knowing well that the labor talks would be contentious. Such purchases are a standard business practice, although they’re usually masked by a third-party buyer so that it’s not quite so obvious what’s taking place. Even so, the revelation drew a wave of negative commentary and the orchestra had to acknowledge Hogstad’s blog, which she said it had previously ignored.

This is the start of a really important conversation that everyone in the arts world is going to need to have sooner or later (and preferably sooner). It was a fascinating discussion, and I was honored to be a part of it. I’m heartened and humbled by the immense power of blogs and social media.


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Urgent Letter-Writing Action

News came from the Minnesota musicians today that there is a Minnesota Orchestral Association board meeting tomorrow, August 28. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first board meeting post-Orchestrate Excellence Forum, post-Domaingate, and post-formation of Save Our Symphony Minnesota.

The musicians released a list of board members’ email addresses for you. They are here.

Copy/paste the addresses in that link. Email the board with your respectful outrage. Write from your heart. Tell them to accept mediation and George Mitchell’s proposal. Put “Agree to Mediation” in the subject line so even if they delete your emails, they know what you’re saying.

In addition, please copy and onto the email, as well as, if you would like SOSMN to use the email in a future “Letter of the Day” feature.

Also, if you have time, head over to the governor’s website to ask him to pressure the board to accept the proposal.

Please share this post widely!

I think you need a bit of hopeful news to sustain you. So here ’tis:

Today the MOA changed its mission statement to…wait for it…include mention of an orchestra. Yeah. And it’s on their website now and everything.


Mission Statement

Our mission is to enrich, inspire and serve 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;

  • Delivering this within a financially sustainable structure.

What I felt like after getting the call from an SOSMN member that the mission statement had been restored to include the words “symphony orchestra”

Okay, I know it’s not ending the lockout, but…it’s something, right? It’s been two years that they’ve been ignoring very public calls to change the mission statement. (If you’re just joining us, from 2011-now, it was “The Minnesota Orchestral Association inspires, educates and serves our community through internationally recognized performances of exceptional music delivered within a sustainable financial structure.”) This new new mission statement is much better. So you know what? I’ll take it. Thanks, MOA.

Now end the lockout unconditionally and we’ll really be talking.

I’m off to write the board. Catch you later.


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Domaingate Reax


My next entry was going to be about the extraordinary Tuesday night we had at Orchestrate Excellence’s forum with Dr. Alan Fletcher. And there’s still a part of me that wants to cover that.

But, um. Something happened on Wednesday. Namely, I posted an entry about the MOA cyber-squatting, and then went to a doctor appointment.

Here’s a reaction GIF of what it felt like to get back home:



Stats! Going through the roof!

Facebook likes – by the thousands!

Press requests!



Lame jokes about The Fifth Estate!

Coverage on NPR and MPR!

Plus: Alex Ross!

The failure to mark these purchases as private seems indicative of the general level of competence in the current management.

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

How Was Named

[Editor’s Note, 24 May 2014: The domain names expired today and the Minnesota Orchestral Association no longer owns them. So as a memento of days gone by, a reader snapped one up for me. now links back to this entry.)


At this point, few things trigger my rage at the Minnesota Orchestral Association. Lying about fiscal stability in front of the state legislature? Sure, whatever. Old news. Shrugging at the potential loss of all their principal players and world-renowned conductor? Yup. That happens. Completely ignoring important patrons and donors? Par. For. The. Expletive-Deleted. Course. I mean, of course the lockout upsets me – hence the year’s worth of obsessive writing – but it no longer makes me want to start throwing suitcases around in a fit of incoherent rage like the American Tourister gorilla.


But I swear, my suitcases were in serious danger the other night.

It was right before bed. It was late. I was doing a favor for some friends and looking up a domain name for an organization they were thinking of launching. But it turns out, the name they were curious about wasn’t available. Someone else had bought it. And it was a really absurdly specific one, too:

Out of curiosity, I checked the owners. And my mouth dropped open.

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

The MOA And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Fundraising Email

We’re nearing mid-August, and you know what that means:

The Minnesota Orchestral Association’s fiscal year is close to ending!

According to CEO Michael Henson, the MOA spent roughly $13.7 million this fiscal year (in that, in early July, he estimated that a $960,000 grant would consist of seven percent of the organization’s operating budget). Who knew it was such an expensive proposition not putting on concerts?

So. The Minnesota Orchestra needs money.

Obviously it’s not ideal to have to ask for money during a year-long lockout that shows literally zero signs of stopping, but if you have to, here are a few semi-reasonable ways to do it.

  • A) Acknowledge the pain of the last year.
  • B) Introduce innovative fundraising methods.
  • C) Reassure donors that everyone is working as hard as possible to move forward.

Or you could go in a more, shall we say, batsh*t crazy direction and

  • D) Pretend the lockout never actually happened.

The MOA decided on option D.

As Stephen Colbert says when absurdity becomes too much to bear: “I cannot emphasize this strongly enough.” This is an actual email that was sent to actual people.

And even worse, I know of at least one locked out musician who got it.

Dear Patron,

For more than 100 years, the Minnesota Orchestra has been a cultural cornerstone of the Twin Cities.

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra