Monthly Archives: September 2013

2013 Symphony Ball

Well, before the story moves on and my memories become completely irrelevant, here are my thoughts on the 2013 Symphony Ball – or, to be more precise, the rally that Save Our Symphony Minnesota planned and executed during the 2013 Symphony Ball.

To my intense irritation, the media played up our gathering like they were expecting a second Haymarket Riot. The New York Times sported the headline MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA PLANS GALA; DISSONANCE IS EXPECTED. One local television station warned of an upcoming “tense protest.” WCCO called it “a situation.” People on Facebook said that things could “get ugly.” A politician even Tweeted that he was excited to mock us. It was ridiculous, especially since I’d sat in on conference calls with my fellow SOSMN volunteers, and I’d heard firsthand how they’d spent untold hours planning the event and mapping out messaging. They could not have made it any clearer in their media advisories and press releases that this was meant to be a peaceful celebratory rally led by audience advocates. Of course, this angle was the focus of approximately none of the mainstream media’s coverage.

Jon Stewart once said in an interview:

The bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict, and laziness.

There may be something to that.

I chose to wear evening dress (albeit with leg warmers, two layers of socks, and long underwear). After I got dressed, a friend brought me to the hall, and my mom and I walked around the block, taking in the scene. A large crowd had already gathered around Peavey Plaza, which looked like a combination circus, prison, and ShopKo garden center. There were tents, guards, and shrubberies. A tented sidewalk extended out from the hall’s main entrance, made a sharp turn to the left, and drained down to the empty Peavey Plaza fountain, which now was the location of a Symphony Ball tent, in which exciting activities would no doubt take place (dinner? dancing? dozing?). The tents didn’t have any windows, but there was a plastic French door on the Twelfth Street side that bravely attempted to add elegance to the proceedings. Generators buzzed near the sidewalks with massive cords leading into the great white tent. What were they for? Lighting (a blue hue eventually began glowing from the ceiling)? Heaters? A DJ booth? Endless possibilities! Parked next to the generators were trucks full of wine bottles. Caterers were unloading them. They were dressed like stewards on the Titanic.

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Speech on Peavey Plaza

Lots of people have asked me for the text of the speech that I gave at the Save Our Symphony rally on Peavey Plaza outside the Symphony Ball on September 20. So here it is.

Thanks to all who came and all who listened. It was a strange night, but a good night. I hope to write an entry describing the event in more detail soon.

***

As I’m standing next to Orchestra Hall, I have to remember the first time I came here. It was ten summers ago. I was just about to turn fourteen. My violin idol James Ehnes was playing the Beethoven violin concerto with the Orchestra. The staff at Orchestra Hall was so kind and so accommodating, and after James’s performance, they let me go backstage to get his autograph. After that experience, I went back to my room on the twelfth floor of the Hyatt over there, and I threw myself on the bed, and I sobbed like I had never sobbed before. I sobbed because I did not know that such beauty was possible.

My reason for being here tonight is simple: I want other thirteen-year-olds to be able to experience the same beauty of world-class symphonic music that I did.

The fact that I’m talking to you today is proof positive that ANY music lover can make a difference. It does not matter if you are young. It does not matter if you are poor. It does not matter if you don’t have a degree from Juilliard. ANYONE can make their voices heard in this struggle. If you can’t contribute money, you can contribute ideas. Because God only knows we need some more of those.

I hope the men and women attending the ball tonight – who have given so generously over the decades – recognize that we the broader community are willing to give generously as well, in whatever way we can. We will not be ignored. The Minnesota Orchestra will not thrive again until all voices are listened to. We are here to help. Let us help you. Talk with us.

We may have legitimate differences of opinion as to what this institution ought to be. But one thing is not up for debate: we deserve to have the debate. Honestly, respectfully, and face-to-face. You will notice there are several influential men from Orchestra leadership who are conspicuously absent here tonight. This must change. This is a public institution, and we are the public. The public is the entity the Minneapolis Symphony was founded for in 1903. In the words of historian John K. Sherman in 1957: ‘Minneapolis at last wanted something that no one man or organization could afford. It wanted something that could no more pay for itself or show a profit than could a public library or an art museum. So the device of the guaranty fund, a citizens’ subsidy, was adopted, amounting in essence to a self-imposed tax by people who were public-spirited and also wealthy enough to pay the assessment. Minneapolis would maintain its proudest cultural institution through deficit financing, but to the canny it constituted a civic advertisement well worth the cost.’

Despite this last year, I have faith in the future of orchestral music in Minneapolis. Our commitment to excellence runs deep. In fact, I believe it is our birthright. Will that commitment take hard work to sustain? Yes, it will. Are we up for it? You tell me. But as long as there is music, there is hope. I speak from experience when I say the impossible is possible. I mean, I’m on a speaker list with Tony Ross, the cello god. How much more impossible can you get?

The musicians have committed to presenting a fall season of their own, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for taking that leap of faith. I do not know where we will end up, but I do know that we will end up there together. I predict that our love of orchestral music will not die; in fact, I predict it will flourish. Love tested in battle is the strongest love of all. If we work together – all of us – we can keep the doors of some hall somewhere open, with some kind of great orchestra within. We have done so for 110 years, and with hard work, we will do so for another 110 more. Together, we will serve the next young teenager who comes to the hall to discover the beauty that only a great orchestra can provide.

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Save Our Symphony Rally

I was invited to speak at Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s rally “Ending the Lockout Will Be A Ball.” Details here. I mean it when I say it’s a tremendous honor to have been asked. I also mean it when I say it’s incredibly awkward to be asked to speak, when Michael Henson is going to be a few hundred feet away, not listening to any of us, and attempting to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a non-existent orchestra, and maybe coming up with a condescending soundbite to give to the press about us.

We have indeed entered The Twilight Zone.

This will be the weirdest Symphony Ball in human history. There will be no symphony. Michael Henson, Jon Campbell, and Richard Davis will be ensconced inside (obviously). There will be security personnel milling about to protect vulnerable donors from The Union. The tents have already sprung up in Peavey Plaza. Some of the wilder rumors circulating include suggestions that windows are being darkened and shrubbery is being rented to shield the people who are fundraising for the orchestra…from the orchestra. As I always say, what’s the use of a $50 million glass lobby if you can’t obscure it with shrubbery and dark window cling? Yeah, that’s right: there is no point.

Anyway, SOSMN is having a rally to show support for the…I don’t even know what to call it at this point. I want to say “the orchestra”, but there’s this idea circulating that the musicians aren’t the orchestra, so… We’re there supporting the people who play great orchestral music in Minneapolis; let’s say that. There will be musicians there, friends there, families there. Some people will be dressed in gowns and tuxes. Others will be in sweaters and sweatshirts. It’s not going to be that structured…just a fun time milling about in downtown Minneapolis with some really fabulous first-rate music in all sorts of genres. We’re not out to vilify anybody. Just want to have a great time, chatting, dancing, singing, and listening. If our presence makes the board uncomfortable, then that’s not our problem, frankly. It’s about time they remember there’s an audience out there, because they sure haven’t listened to us so far!

Here’s an approximate visual representation of how I’m thinking this party will go down.

  • Arrhythmic dancing
  • A band
  • A guy in a suit
  • A guy in a sweatshirt
  • More dancing
  • Singalongs
  • Random hugs

I can’t guarantee there will be scantily clad dancers, pyro, or an abominable snowman with Shake Weights, but other than that, I think it’ll be very similar!

“Partyin’ partyin’! YEAH! Partyin’ partyin’ YEAH! FUN FUN FUN FUN!!!”

Well, I’ve slipped in my token Colbert reference for the week. Hope to see you Friday night in Minneapolis.

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Prairie Fires

I find myself thinking of prairie fires today.

Fire has always been a partner with healthy prairies. In dry conditions early in the spring or late in summer and early fall, lightning could strike and set a prairie ablaze…

During each burn, non-native plants are removed, allowing prairie plants more nutrients and room to grow. Prairie plants can survive fires since they have deep roots and grow from a point underground. A prescribed burn is a crucial component in prairie restoration.

I don’t need to waste breath elucidating how this metaphor ties into the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

If…sigh…when the lightening strikes, and the fire burns, this will be a horrible thing. There will be a lot of heat and a lot of sparks and a lot of smoke. Anything and anyone without deep roots is going to crumble to ashes. After it’s over, the prairie will be unrecognizable.

And yet, just beneath the soil, the roots will remain…

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Idearaising

On Friday, representatives of Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN), along with a few dozen of their closest friends, came together on very short notice to rally outside Minneapolis’s Hall.

A portion of the crowd

That evening, as the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians entered its twelfth month, the Minnesota Orchestral Association hosted an exclusive “Private Patron Party” in the brand new $50 million lobby. (You can see the white table and chairs set up above the “Orchestra Hall” sign.) If you paid $750 or more for a ticket to September 20th’s Symphony Ball, you also gained entrance to the Private Patron Party. On Friday night, the Private Patrons came via glass climate-controlled skyways, looked down on the plebian “malcontents” (as one party-goer called the crowd in the Minneapolis Star Tribune comment section), and continued onto their exclusive soiree.

The SOSMN event was not meant to disturb the party. (Trust me, SOSMN would have planned things very differently if disturbing the party had been the goal.) Rather, the event was meant to raise awareness of the situation, give supporters a way to network and make their voices heard, and inform the board that the community cares about this orchestra, desperately, and that we are ready and willing to have a substantive two-way conversation about what the audience can do to help, and what we think the board needs to do differently. Over the past eleven months, zero meaningful interaction has occurred between the community and board. The vast majority of the public’s emails, phone calls, and letters have gone unanswered. Therefore, many reasonable, level-headed patrons have come together, talked, and agreed that an energetic physical presence outside the hall is the next logical step to take in an attempt to engage with MOA leadership.

Well, Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson had something to say about this most recent development.

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Unveiling The Minnesota Orchestra’s Full Strategic Plan

I’ve just had the most fabulous conversation with the MOA on Facebook!

True, in order to get it started, the MOA needed a little nudging from David Assemany, from Save Our Symphony Detroit, because the MOA still has some trouble acknowledging I exist. But: a conversation nonetheless. Here’s a link to the full thing. (Until it’s taken down, of course.)

conversation1

(By the way, this independent financial review is completely bogus. Robert Levine explains why.)

Of course I, sensing an opening to be annoying, asked…

conversation2

When that wasn’t answered, I poked them a little more…but then thankfully David backed me up.

conversation3

Then… (Cue the trumpet fanfare.)

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On “Patron Advocates”

In the latest Minnesota Orchestral Association email blast, there was a sentence that could not have irritated me more if it had been specifically designed to do so (which, knowing the MOA, it probably was).

“It is the Board’s privilege and duty to serve as responsible fiduciaries for the Minnesota Orchestra. In many ways, we serve as advocates for Orchestra patrons [my bold] and our goal is to ensure that these patrons—you—have a sustainable orchestra for many years to come.”

As Dr. John Watson would say:

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Want to know why this was especially galling? I had to rely on a friend to forward this email to me, because the MOA hasn’t written or called my family in about a year, despite the fact all our contact information is complete and up-to-date. Many of my most vocal readers have met the same fate (while, ridiculously, musicians and their families are routinely hit up for money).

So. That being said, I have some stories to tell you.

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