Happy Fun Exciting Hall Operations Analysis…Part 3/3

Here’s part 1 and part 2.


MOA has prepared budgets for the fiscal years 2014 through 2017, which assume settlement of the labor dispute and the return to regular performance season consistent with its strategic business plan

Assumes settlement WHEN? Because your revenue and your contributions are going to be drastically different if the dispute is settled in 2014 as opposed to 2017… Don’t you think you need to maybe, I don’t know, like, account for that? Otherwise the numbers are meaningless.

And consistent “with its strategic business plan”? Your strategic plan is no more. It’s dead. The last year killed it. Literally about half the things in there, if not more, are now impossible to achieve. So draw up a new plan. And do it right this time.



The conclusion to the letter is just blah blah blah blah blah. Nothing new, so I’ll skate past it.

So! Now let us look at the long-awaited 2013-2014 season…

It is a season so terrible that I’m actually relieved the players were locked out and prevented from performing it.

There are so many horrific highlights. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Endless Christmas celebrations. Jim Brickman: Be My Valentine….on Valentine’s Day. A program called: “Midtown Men or Meghan Hilty or Alan Cumming or Bond & Beyond with the Minnesota Orchestra.”

The poster for this event

The poster for this event

Osmo becomes increasingly irrelevant. No wonder the MOA was fine with letting him go; why pay over a million dollars a year to a world-renowned conductor if he’s only doing a handful of shows a year? Seriously, what’s the point? You can quibble with my classification of various shows, but by my count, the number of classical concerts sits at a pathetic 49, the same as it was when the MOA had to pay to rent out the Convention Center for each concert. (In contrast, Cleveland – a less vibrant, less educated town! – boasts 67. Ten years ago in Minneapolis, there were 85. Even five years ago, there were 69. This is definitely a Henson-era development.) By my count, the number of non-holiday pops concerts is at 34, and the holiday pops clock in at 17. Meaning: the Minnesota Orchestra will spend half its time onstage playing pops or Christmas concerts. Look, I’m not against pops concerts – really, I’m not – I’m actually listening to terrible pop music as I write this, and I’m enjoying it – but the Minnesota Orchestra isn’t the right group to use for that, to that extent. It’s like having Einstein teach basic addition. I mean, it’s great that basic addition is taught. Basic addition is important! But Einstein can handle teaching more complicated stuff. And they can’t even use the argument that Henson’s decreasing classical concerts and increasing pops concerts has helped earned revenue over the past four years… (And no, the problem isn’t the recession, especially not over the last two years. Look at what earned revenue has been doing at other orchestras.)

Courtesy of Save Our Symphony Minnesota's "The MOA Debacle" presentation

Love that roller coaster down!! Weeeeee!!! Chart courtesy of Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s “The MOA Debacle” presentation

Unanswered in this letter: is anyone in talks to conduct Osmo’s concerts?

Please help this be an excuse for Richard Davis to conduct these concerts please help this be an excuse for Richard Davis to conduct these concerts

Then… There are the Budget Projections.

They were, I think, taken from a Ouija board. (Perhaps the same one they used to book Duke Ellington…) No adjustments have been made for the fact that the MOA’s 2013-2014 season isn’t going to happen. Here are some exciting insights from the Budget Projections of Unicorns and Rainbows:

  • Income from ticket sales is slated to be $7.2 million in FY2014. May I remind you, there isn’t going to be a season.
  • Income from ticket sales is going to fall in FY2015 (no reason given), but then it will rebound in FY2016. What’s this little blip about? Did curious gawkers see the hall, then not return next year?
  • Other concert revenue is going to go up. Meaning: booze sales! As a community, we are set to be increasingly drunk at intermission.
  • Marketing is set to creep upward…gradually. Thumbs up, guys. You’ll need every penny of it.
  • The MOA claims to know how much it’s going to be paying for its music director, even though it has no music director, and hasn’t had any conversations about who will be the new music director, or how much money they want to spend to pay for the new music director.
  • If the MOA was serious about a musician contract to end at the end of FY2015, there will be no major cuts in musician pay, unless they’re anticipating a major uptick in conductor pay. However, since the rest of this budget is total cow pie, and surely the MOA knows it, this is clearly the column they’ll go after once the rest of their math is exposed as faulty. That’s a plot twist you can see from miles away.
  • I do not need to write any more to throw the credibility of the rest of the budget in doubt.

In short, their projections assume the lockout never happened. They’ve had fifteen months to come to terms with the idea – and they haven’t. Which lends credence to the idea that they were not prepared for a fight of this duration, and, alarmingly, had no Plan B, and can’t even begin to fathom a Plan B.

Somewhere there’s a real budget, for FY2014 at least. Don’t know where it is. In Michael Henson’s safe? But they’ve got to have a real one, somewhere. They simply cannot be working off this.

The “Legal Opinion” accompanying Henson’s letter is a bunch of fancy whining. They first complain that they’re being asked to report, period; it’s the legal version of a teenage temper tantrum. Buck up, boys, and grow some ovaries. They then try to make the words “strike” and “lockout” synonymous, and say they are completely helpless to do anything. “We’re in the driver’s seat but we can’t use the steering wheel!” Not sure if that holds up legally. It probably does. Ethically, however – no. Sorry. But isn’t that the MOA’s specialty, though? Making legally permissible moves that simultaneously reveal them to be the scum of the earth?

I have a fondness for this paragraph. It has a special glory:

Finally, other actions by musicians and other third parties


have also interfered with MOA’s efforts to present arts programming in the Hall, further reflecting the existence of “similar labor troubles” and other events beyond MOA’s control. Picketing, adverse publicity, and other labor dispute tactics have resulted in multiple cancellations and delays in performance by music organizations scheduled to perform in Orchestra Hall.


Also, question: If

resolution of this labor dispute is beyond the control of MOA

Then did the MOA just deem itself irrelevant to the Minnesota Orchestra?

Mind blown

Mind blown

So. *deep breath* Where does that leave us?

I see six big takeaways here. Add more if you want in the comments.

1) I’m not sure where this leaves us legally; it’ll take a lawyer to say. Ethically, though, I think it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt the depravity of the folks at the wheel. That depravity, however, is not news, at least for those of us who have been following the story. But there may well be people – City Councilpeople, for instance – who are tuning in for the first time who might look upon these documents with raised eyebrows. I can’t imagine Mayor Elect Betsy Hodges, a pro-musician candidate, being convinced to side with the MOA over these documents. My guess is, she’ll be disgusted. Question is, what will she – what can she – do about it? No doubt that will be one of the many things she’ll be investigating in the coming weeks.

2) This report is proof the Minnesota Orchestral Association wants a pops orchestra with classical performances treated as the bastard stepchild. That we finally have proof of this is a major development. We’ve complained for ages that the MOA cares more about its pops acts than its classical acts. But we didn’t always have hard numbers to back that assertion up, because there was always the argument “well, they’ll probably increase the number of classical concerts once they get back into the hall and don’t need to pay for the Convention Center.” Haha. Nope! Now we can say, why are half of your performances pops and holiday concerts? How do you intend to keep the orchestra in technical shape when it’s not playing great orchestral music as frequently as other major orchestras? Are you driving away concertgoers who are interested in the meatier programs? Are you bringing in sufficient numbers of new patrons to replace them? Why are you justified in doing this when this strategy so far has resulted in an alarming drop in earned revenue? Are the pops concerts more expensive to mount and present? What does that do to your bottom line? And…I could go on, but I’ll stop.

3) The report is proof that even if an agreeable settlement was made tomorrow, the institution will still flounder, because vital stakeholders simply do not have a shared vision. A shared vision is a prerequisite for any kind of success. And the board really ought to be able to recognize that basic principle, whether or not they agree with the musicians’ vision. Surely the board doesn’t want to argue that shared visions are unimportant or trivial.

4) It is proof the MOA’s financial team works in a truly alternate reality.

5) It is proof the musicians had no choice but to do their own thing if they wanted to have a chance at sustaining an orchestra whose specialty was not pops, and by extension, a world-class orchestra. Their huge gamble of mounting a season on their own turns out to have been completely justified. Kudos, guys. Rock it next spring. We’ll do everything we can to help. I just hope it’s enough.

6) It is proof that the MOA is exasperated with everybody: city, legislators, patrons, “third parties”, musicians…basically the whole damn world. Which I personally believe means the lockout is getting under their skin, even if privately. How long can you last being picked on by everybody before your resolve starts to crack? Or are there limitless pools of self-delusion in which to bathe?

All in all, these documents were hugely enlightening reads. They set the stage very nicely for the musicians to present their own alternate artistic vision on Monday…and adds another layer of complexity to the board’s annual meeting in a week. Bring on the popcorn. Let’s see if, with their comparatively limited resources, the musicians can muster a better season than Kenny G and the Midtown Men.

Something tells me they will.



Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

31 responses to “Happy Fun Exciting Hall Operations Analysis…Part 3/3

  1. Mariellen

    Loved this series. Thanks, Emily!

  2. James

    Hansen has to GO! He is destroying the Orchestra, and pocking money
    for the players. He is EVIL!

  3. NYMike

    Sardonnica deluxe! Many thanks!

  4. Dr. Steven Thompson

    Emily, this is so on target. Everything they wrote in that document (with the possible exception that there is legal precedent for considering “strike” and “lockout” as the same) is ridiculous and clearly was thrown together to somehow convince themselves that they are still in the right. After all, counting Belladiva performing at a fundraiser as a performance for the good of the community is so laughable that I can’t even begin to see how the Mayor and the Council can take this seriously. Keep up the fight!

  5. Great series, Emily! I love the mix of cogent analysis and laugh-out-loud phrases. Keep using your considerable gifts in writing and speaking the truth. You have garnered a well-deserved fan base in your ongoing coverage of the “MOA Debacle”.

  6. JKM

    I like the schedule for Duke Ellington. Haven’t heard him live in performance for some time. Maybe he will be able to play in the ghostly environment of an empty Orchestra Hall. While they’re at it, why not Miles Davis, or Vladimir Horowitz, or Nathan Milstein, all oldies but goodies who would please their “greying” audiences.

    • Arthur Horowitz

      But how can you leave out Artur Rubinstein? Don’t you remember when Wendell Anderson made him an honorary citizen of the state at an Orchestra Hall Friday night concert? And please bring back Aaron Copland to conduct again. But on a more realistic note, lets hope Mr. Davis, Mr Campbell and Mr. Henson disappear sometime soon, so we might have a chance to get our orchestra back. (Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting they be made into ghosts- I think they should just go away.)
      And from what I have heard, though not substantiated by reliable sources other than certain musicians, and my own observations in the Green Room at intermission, Mr. Davis had already almost disappeared at least at a part of Orchestra Hall (where music was performed), having been seen about twice in the last year before the lockout at a classical concert. (He was no doubt busy those other Friday nights preparing for his myriad board meetings for different organizations!)

      • JKM

        I must have missed the concert where Artur Rubinstein became an honorary citizen, but I do remember Governor Anderson on the cover of Time Magazine holding up a fish with the caption of Minnesota the State that Works. Maybe an update is in order with Governor Dayton standing beside Orchestra Hall with the caption (pace Alex Ross) of Minnesota, the State that Cannot Manage an Orchestra.

  7. Hilarious!

    Here’s one nuance I’ve been considering: a central argument fallaciously put forward to support the financial situation of the orchestra is either in the form that audiences for classical music are dwindling or that the orchestra must develop new younger audiences. Now, obviously, an increased emphasis on “pops” programming seems to be part of the road map to that solution. The problem is that MOA’s proposed 2014 schedule is as geriatric as ever. These pops programs could have been – and I believe some were – part of the summer pops in the early 1980s. There’s not a seed of a reasonable plan to improve audience outreach. Leonard Slatkin and Dennis Russell Davies did MUCH more decades ago to create innovative programs and successfully develop new and young audiences – and they did it with appropriate orchestral programming.

    Unfortunately, programming is mushy and somewhat subjective, so I don’t know how effective an argument it creates with the City of Minneapolis, but had I an active voice in the final decision with respect to the MOA lease, the current MOA would be done.

    • Richard Lee

      Wally – I have a slightly different take on this programming reset. I don’t think it has anything to do with building a new audience; instead it simply reflects the aesthetics of Davis, Campbell et al. and the (perceived) tastes of their most important business partners & clients. If they thought they’d get more business done inviting other suitably important types to the local premiere of the newest symphony by (insert name here…) that’s what we’d get week in and week out.

      • I think that’s spot on and what I was driving at. The pops slant as developed is self-serving and self-defeating at the same time with only the thinnest attempted veneer of somehow addressing any sort of audience development. As many of us can tell, the Minnesota Orchestra – or more importantly, it’s funding – has been hijacked, perhaps even stolen.

  8. I haven’t done a thorough review of the whole season, but my glance was horrifying. One thing that bears a look: Wasn’t the Minnesota Orchestra committed to new music? Wasn’t there a Composer’s Institute? And I’m guessing there is no new art music on the season, or composer residencies? Unless Megan Hilty has written a showtune?

  9. Dorion (dori) Macek

    Love your writing. Thanks. So good to know that we, the audience, are tracking what has been happening. Dori

  10. They have proved once again, that these elites of our fair city are a rather stupid and not from a well educated class. How much longer will the leadership of Minneapolis and State allow these clowns to embarrass us before the world? It’s long past the time for some serious shoulder tapping!

  11. Sarah

    “Bunch of fancy whining” – best description of the legal profession I’ve read. And I’m still shaking my head over the appearance of Maestro Vanska on the schedule – do they think he will be flattered to appear, or something?

  12. John Cornell

    And now, ladies and gentlemen, as we descend the stairs in the Salvador Dali sub-basement, we have the Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vanska posthumous Grammy nomination announced today for the Sibelius CD. I’m sorry–where does that even fit into the freaked-out reality of the Henson/Davis/Campbell cluster-clunk?

    And–I’ve been holding this one back–what kind of a flipping (in the current vernacular) WHACK-JOB is Michael Henson?!? He is NOT, my friends, cut from the same cloth as the tap-dancing Banker Brothers: at least according to his MOA bio: “A native of West Sussex, England, Henson studied composition and analysis at the Universities of Sheffield, Leicester and Reading, received a scholarship for further study in Vienna, and has published extensively on the perception of music.” Unless this bio is also copiously layered with doo-doo–THIS IS SOMEBODY WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER! How much of their musical soul can someone sell out to do what this man has done? I joke a lot on these blogs–but–seriously! WTF!?!?!

    • JKM

      Just take a look at what he did to the Ulster and Bournemouth symphony orchestras in UK. He was a disaster, or as someone who is current on the music scene, “an empty suit.”

  13. Christopher Brewster

    Can someone show where to find the MOA’s proposed season? I’ve really tried to find it online. (What I know about it so far confirms my worst fears about what MOA is trying to do.)

  14. Emily, I have just found out that the MOA have blown a million dollars on a new sound system for Orchestra Hall. A symphony orchestra does not need a sound system, but a pops orchestra does. This is further evidence of evil intent.

  15. Old Man and the C

    Anybody wanna bet? Coming out of the meeting of the MOA board– Will we see a new sunrise over Orchestra Hall? An admission of the drastic miscalculation and culturally destructive strategy of current management and board leadership? A summoning call for a new cooperative and exciting artistic and business plan worthy of our State and our fair city?

    Or do you suppose that we will see, perhaps, a unanimous vote affirming the fine ongoing efforts of Henson, Davis and Campbell? And yet another 1984-esque call for those ornery disrespecful union thug musicians to “return to the bargaining table?”

    I’ll tell you where my money, unfortunately, is . . .

    • My guess (completely without inside information) is that Richard Davis moves on to another organization, primarily because of how, despite what he was anticipating, it’s getting him and US Bancorp bad publicity. But he will frame it in such a way that it’s not about the lockout, but rather new philanthropic opportunities he wants to pursue. Campbell has his term as board chair extended or stays on as immediate past chair. Either way, he remains an integral “leader.” If a successor to Campbell is chosen, he or she will be someone aligned very closely with the Trifecta, and will find him or herself with a knotty PR problem to solve. The numbers will be damning and extremely uncomfortable. A lot of the board will be stymied where to go from here. Bitterness and rancor will grow. But in the end they will become paralyzed by all the indecision and criticism and it will take additional activism to push all the troublemakers out.

      Wild guesses. *shrug*

      • I’m hoping that the letter from the legislators will have some effect on the situation – but it may not, since the political leanings of the board members don’t match with the legislators involved. But, then one of the next steps will likely be that Representative Kahn will introduce the legislation creating a community-run organization to host the Minnesota Orchestra. As Yogi said, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

      • George Slade (@rephotographica)

        Oh, we know where Mr. Davis is looking to lavish his talents next.
        I hear he was a painter in his youth, when he wasn’t tap-dancing.

        • John Cornell

          And we should prepare ourselves for the Rembrandt, the Van Gogh and many of the other paintings to be sold and replaced by some nice wildlife art prints and paintings on black velvet of cute little dogs playing poker, which will appeal to a much braoder audience. And as for the remodeling of the obsolete McKim, Mead and White building–WELL, don’t even ask!!!

      • John Cornell

        I win. We lose.

    • John Cornell

      Well, the first new relese is out. Davis and Campbell will remain in power until a settlement is reached with musicians, and then step down. Ain’t that terrific. Oh . . and no word about Henson’s resignation, unless the Strib left that part out . . .

  16. Go to MPR news and listen to more fatuous remarks from Henson. We are in for a very long fight here. Many of the musicians who want to stay here will not be able to make this their day job much longer.
    If only we could find some big donors fast. My soundings told me the board would close ranks. I think any hope of a quick resolution is dashed, and we do need to set about an new organization. This will be a steep climb.

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