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…

People are referring to today as The End. Many people clearly believe that once Osmo leaves, all great symphonic music in Minnesota will cease forever (even though every indication is that Osmo will be leaving in two years anyway). I understand the sentiment, trust me. Osmo’s departure will be a body blow. And yet…I can’t help but think: well, okay. The Armageddon of Osmo’s Departure happens. But – we’re not going to die. We’re all still going to be here. So…what happens next? Will all the musicians – and their supporters – suddenly close up shop, after all the blood, sweat, and tears of the last year? I find that hard to imagine. At least from where I’m sitting, pro-musician fervor is growing, and it’s growing exponentially. The facade of Minnesota Nice has dropped. Look at where we were four weeks ago. Look at where we are now.

As long as musicians still live in Minneapolis, the music will continue. It might not be at the technical level we’ve grown accustomed to, and it probably won’t be in Orchestra Hall, and the number of people who play it will dwindle as more seats open in other orchestras…but there will be great music, somehow, and there will be a emotional, intellectual, and spiritual sacredness to it that I am positive will make up for any technical weaknesses. If our musicians have proven anything this past year, it is that they are music embodied. Music radiates from their souls. Music is who they are and as long as they walk among us, they can’t help but emit it.

This is a catastrophe unique in American orchestral history. That being said, there’s also an opportunity here unique in American orchestral history. No other group of musicians is as beloved by its devoted audience than this one. Are we clever and committed enough to leverage that? If so, how?

As long as the board sees it fit to continue its dumb and brutal lockout of musicians and community, we have the opportunity to build a remarkable organization (even if it’s just a temporary one) the way we want it. We’ve complained for a full year now how completely incapable Michael Henson is of making the orchestra relevant to a broader community. We’ve spent a year pissing and moaning about all the awesome things we’d be doing differently, if we only had a fraction of the resources the MOA has. Well. Now’s our chance to show the entire world how it’s done…to shift gears from deconstructing to constructing. Look at what the musicians did last year by themselves: the list of what they accomplished on their own is hugely impressive. That should be hugely heartening. Think of what might happen this year, with an established network of thousands and thousands of musician supporters mobilized and ready to contribute time, energy, or money. Will it take a lot of hard work? Hell, yeah. Are we up to it? No clue. Should we try? Well, we don’t really have a choice, do we?

If we believe deep in our souls that Minnesota really does want a world-class orchestra, and that it is our birthright, then maybe we need to trust that Minnesota will work toward supporting one, even in the face of unprecedented obstacles.

Some people have mentioned they have burnout about the Minnesota story. On one hand, I understand. It’s been brutal. But on the other hand, I have to say…come on! This is the most interesting moment of all. This is what everything has been leading up to! This is the Twilight Zone come to life! This is a cultural laboratory experiment in the flesh! This is the Titanic making its final plunge! From here, all sorts of wild possibilities open up. How can you possibly be bored with what’s happening???

  • Osmo. Will he stay or will he go? Where will he go to? Will the musicians hire him as an independent contractor this fall? How would the board react to that? How will they maneuver to pin his departure on the musicians? (Because you know that particular PR stunt is coming.) If he goes, will Osmo show his true colors and unleash a verbal tirade against the people who destroyed his last decade of work, or will he return to Europe in poignant silence?
  • New conductor. Who is he – or she? Who does Henson, Campbell, and Davis have in mind to take the job? What conductor wants this job at the moment? Will Michael Henson appoint himself as interim music director? I can imagine stranger outcomes.
  • Davis and Campbell. Their terms will eventually expire. Will they want to hang around for longer than that? Will the Wells Fargo and US Bancorp PR teams quietly demand they seek out other recreational activities besides destroying orchestras? Has the entire experience soured them on supporting this organization?
  • Henson. Eventually he’ll leave. Don’t know when – it could be a very long time – but eventually it will happen. Will other super-conservative orchestra boards see his unyielding anti-union strategies as desirable, or will he be a professional pariah? Will he become an American citizen?
  • The board. Eventually I imagine they’re going to get tired of funding a silent orchestra, especially if the musicians continue to give concerts on their own, and the SPCO is back to playing and delivering a product, and public opinion continues to calcify ever harder against them. I also would not be surprised to see the board devolve into dysfunctional factions as they try to come together to chart a new course forward in an attempt to find a new music director and/or CEO. Fellow blogger and SOTL reader Scott Chamberlain explains why here.
  • Other orchestras. How will other orchestra negotiations go down?
  • Other non-management MOA employees. We can only imagine the hell most of them are going through right now. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine that a wave of layoffs might be coming soon. Will any be able to go public about what it has been like to work under the Henson regime?
  • The endowment. What does it look like after the past year?
  • Musicians. Who will win auditions at big orchestras? How many will leave music altogether? How many will stay in Minneapolis, if even temporarily, as they wait for other seats at other orchestra to open up?
  • Orchestra-less Hall. Will it sit empty? Will it be picketed? Will people besides board members want to hold events there? How much money will “the burgeoning wedding business” as Bob Neu recently called it bring to the Minnesota Orchestral Association?
  • The Strategic Plan. When will the powers-that-be come to terms with the lockout has made the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan null and void?
  • Politicians. Sooner or later, they’re going to start making more fuss. More and more have been applying pressure on the MOA to accept the Mitchell proposal. If Osmo leaves, I imagine many will be very, very angry.
  • Mitchell. Will we ever hear from him? Will he withdraw from this job? Does he wish he was back peacemaking in Ireland?
  • Bankruptcy (or liquidation). It will take more convincing for me to think the board is serious about pursuing this any time soon, but if they are, be sure to pop some popcorn. Will the hall be sold? To who? US Bancorp? Who will be held legally and financially responsible? Who are the people set to benefit in the event this becomes a reality? How long will this take? Would the state attorney general or the governor step in?
  • Patron advocacy groups. Will they fizzle…or sparkle all the more brightly?
  • Me. Will I go completely crazy, or will I be the only blogger whose obsessive nature forbids her from succumbing to burnout?

So. At 5pm on September 15, 2013, as the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra take the stage for their now-annual free concert at Lake Harriet, literally anything seems possible. Maybe I’m certifiably insane, but I’m seeing silver linings in the darkest of apocalypses. I am strangely placid. Weirdly, my confidence in the musicians, the broader Minnesota public, and the international music community to support whatever emerges from the ashes in Minneapolis has never been stronger.

When the Minnesota prairie burns, the strongest roots still run deep.


Edited to add at 7:15PM: The musicians have just announced they’re putting on a fall season of their own. The opening night concert features none other than Emanuel Ax. Buy tickets and please, please, please donate to the cause here. On the night I thought my heart would be heaviest, it overflows with joy and gratitude.


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Prairie Fires

  1. PDX Bassoon

    Why don’t we—I include myself even though I haven’t lived near the Twin Cities in years—try to organize and raise enough money to send the Musicians of the Orchestra AND Osmo Vanska to Carnegie Hall to keep those concert dates in Carnegie Hall? We’d have to do amazing and amazingly fast fundraising. If the people who love classical music and the Minnesota Orchestra could pull this off, it might strike fear in the hearts of the board, or in the hearts of those on the board who actually have hearts!

  2. JKM

    Just after reading this blog, I opened the Minnesota Musicians website and discovered that they are planning a fall season of concerts. The first two will be at the Mann Theater on the University of Minnesota campus. They will be on Friday and Saturday, August 4 & 5 at 8:00 pm. The featured soloist in Emmanuel Ax playing Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto. Details on the program may be found on the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra Website. Tickets go on sale tomorrow, Sept. 16, at noon. A matching fund has been established to match any donations made. I trust that the monies pledged to Lee Henderson and Save Our Orchestra Minnesota, can be made to this cause.

  3. Emily, I woke this morning to news that management had given the mediator a revised proposal for the musicians to review. Could it be? Was I dreaming? They actually used the mediator? Of course, Facebook had the answers, and it is indeed true. About time, eh? And btw, Osmo’s deadline is 9/30, not 9/15 which was management’s deadline. There’s still 14 days…. Cinda

    • Yeah, but I wouldn’t hold my breath about this new proposal. My guess is it’s a PR ploy. For them, having Osmo leave now and not having to pay for the Carnegie tour are features, not bugs…

      It’s a step, though, that it’s offered through the mediator, and that they didn’t emblazon it in a $30k Strib ad. I guess. But forgive me for not being enthusiastic yet.

  4. Rivka

    I’ve thought someone should start a kickstarter campaign for the orchestra musicians to go off on their own with Osmo, enough to get some deep pockets to go along with them into the future.

  5. Alan Nilsson

    “If they play at Carnegie Hall, I am going to buy tickets!” If these concerts do take place. the time to buy tickets is now. The usual suspects (hint: The most expensive tickets are sold) bought their tickets when the concerts were first scheduled. If it is the LOMOMO who present the concert, there will be some returns.

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