Maestro Leonard Slatkin of the Detroit Symphony has just come out with a new book called Leading Tones, and bizarrely, a chapter of it is devoted to the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.
Pop some corn, kids. This is a long entry and you’ll need a snack.
As we all know, Hillary Clinton was recently diagnosed with pneumonia and, judging from the news coverage, has passed away.
The media is salivating: how long will it take for Tim Kaine to read all the white papers? which Democrats will choose Clinton’s replacement? will the Sanders camp make their move once the funeral director closes her eyes? I mean, technically Hillary walked out under her own power to greet reporters after an episode of exhaustion on 9/11, but that doesn’t really count because… Because. Her pneumonia is clearly terminal, if only because that’s interesting. Plus, her illness, temporary incapacitation, and ultimate death play into pre-established narratives about her reputation, her personality, and her campaign…plus, a presidential candidate dying this close to the election is fascinating (maybe even fun?) to think about…plus, it’s clickbait, promising the numbers of clicks that until now we thought could only come from coverage of the reality TV star candidate. As Alex Ross tweeted today…
The media is grappling with another death, too. The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra has just gone on strike, and like Hillary, it too has died. Most people would think of an orchestral strike as a bad thing, or a sad thing, but ultimately an eminently solvable thing.
However, the Fort Worth Star Telegram Editorial Board apparently knows better. They’ve already written the orchestra’s obituary less than a week after the musicians called a strike.
Today is a big day in the Connecticut arts scene. Absent major musician concessions, tomorrow the Hartford Symphony will begin the process of “clos[ing] its doors – for good.” Today’s firm deadline has been repeated in the press again and again and again.
Less clear, however: what management means by shutting down. Not giving concerts? (A lockout?) Bankruptcy? (What kind?) Dissolving? Or destroying the old organization to create a new one in its wake? No one in the mainstream media has asked.
Here are some more questions that have been bugging me:
Twelve hours ago, the Facebook page Save Our Symphony Hartford posted an FAQ that is hosted on the Hartford Symphony’s website. This FAQ is available to the public, but it’s not linked to on the Hartford Symphony’s main pages, so it’s unclear at this point how widely it was meant to be distributed.
But the cat is out of the bag now, and so here is a screenshot of the first two paragraphs.
If cell memory from a previous life is tingling… Here’s why.
Yesterday I got a call from Minnesota Orchestra bass player Kathryn Nettleman. (Well, Kate Nettleman. It feels weird to call our Kate “Kathryn.”) She wanted to make sure I heard about the big news.
The Minnesota Orchestra has had a lot of big news lately. In January 2014, the sixteen-month lockout of musicians ended. The CEO and board chair departed. Former music director Osmo Vänskä, who had resigned during the lockout, was re-hired. He married concertmaster Erin Keefe, who had been a leading candidate for the New York Philharmonic concertmaster seat. She decided to stay in Minnesota. The organization hired a new temporary CEO, Kevin Smith, who quickly became a long-term CEO. Recording sessions started up again. The third disc in the Grammy-winning Sibelius cycle was finished, and we’re waiting on the release date now. There was a trip to Cuba, planned and executed in record time. Then within a few days of the orchestra’s return to America, it was announced that musician contracts had been negotiated two years ahead of schedule (with modest raises), and that Osmo himself had signed on until at least 2019. Major multi-million dollar gifts were announced. The organization just posted its first surplus in a while (using a prudent endowment draw rate, no less).
If you take a step back, you realize what a veritable barrage of good news there has been here lately. Apparently we’re living in an era of sparkly unicorn rainbows. Thanks to a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect, the Minnesota Orchestra is proving that it is an organization on the move.
But Kate was calling me with even more big news to share. I didn’t know what to expect. Some kind of series devoted to the history of women in music? The construction of the Kevin Smith Room within Orchestra Hall, from which Kevin is never allowed to leave? (He would be fed well.) The first orchestra tour to the moon? After the past two years, nothing seems impossible.
As she spoke, I realized that one vestige of the lockout still remains: the musicians’ independent 501c3. This was the organization that the musicians used to self-produce concerts during the lockout.
“We’re dissolving it,” Kate said.
“What ever happened to Michael Henson?”
I’ve been asked this question countless times. I’ve been asked this question loudly, quietly, surreptitiously, obviously, outside of concert halls, inside of concert halls, in moving cars, in non-moving cars, and, most recently, in the lobby of the Madison Concourse Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, during a personal vacation that was not Minnesota Orchestra related whatsoever.
I’ve always been vague because I didn’t know the answer ( “um, consulting work…I guess”). (And the Pulitzer for best investigative blogging goes to…) But as long as I’m happy with the direction in which the Minnesota Orchestra is going, and I am, I don’t really care what its former leader is up to. Yes, the question of his whereabouts is interesting to think about in the abstract, but any answer you might uncover has little practical use. If bread is square, why is sandwich meat round? That’s an interesting question, too. But it only does you so much good to think about it.
That said, some new intelligence recently landed in my lap in the form of Michael Henson’s LinkedIn profile.
It strikes me I should just automate my autumn blog entries using a contract dispute MadLib.
[NAME], the CEO of the [CITY OR STATE NAME] Orchestra, has recently threatened [ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER] percentage cuts in musician compensation, because of [THE ECONOMY / “THE NEW MODEL” / A LACK OF SUSTAINABILITY]. In his role as CEO, he earns [ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER EXPONENTIALLY HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER] every year, and yet has puzzlingly few symphonic accomplishments to show for it. In the run-up to the dispute, [CEO NAME] has given public indications that he is more interested in the [NAME OF HALL THE ORCHESTRA PLAYS IN or PARENT ORGANIZATION THE ORCHESTRA HAS BEEN ABSORBED INTO] than in the [CITY OR STATE NAME] Orchestra, and also has an undeniable weakness for pops shows. [INSENSITIVE QUOTE DEMONSTRATING A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE ISSUES]
In 2012 (…and 2013…), the star of the MadLib was the Minnesota Orchestra’s Michael Henson. In 2014, we all enjoyed the antics of Atlanta Symphony President Dr. Stanley Romanstein, Ph.D. (Both have since moved on from their respective organizations.) Now American orchestra lovers have a new name to learn: David Fay is the man in charge of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, as well as the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
The Hartford Symphony, however, is a more….recent acquisition.
*ominous thunderclap in distance*
In case you missed the news, the Minnesota Orchestral Association has promoted Kevin Smith from Interim CEO to Actual CEO. He’s staying until the end of the 2017-2018 season (at least), and he will be negotiating both Osmo’s and the musicians’ new contracts. The board voted unanimously to keep him.
I haven’t met Mr. Smith yet, but nearly all of my musical friends have, and I’ve heard nothing but good about him. A few things are abundantly clear. He knows what he’s doing. He knows the Twin Cities. He has years of experience under his belt. And, perhaps most importantly of all, he listens. Stakeholders respect this man. When he has to make the tough decisions that lie ahead, I may not always agree with his choices, but I will respect them, and I will know that he is working for the good of the organization and the art form and the community. You can’t buy that kind of trust.
In fact, if I had to choose what’s the bigger news, Osmo’s rehiring or Kevin’s promotion… I’d probably go with Kevin’s promotion. And you all know how thrilled I was that Osmo was re-hired. So you can guess how excited I am about Kevin.
But wait. As the infomercials say, there’s more. In an interview the other night on Almanac, when asked if Osmo’s contract would be renewed, Smith said:
We are talking about that. I would hope and expect, yes.
I would hope and expect, yes.
It’s a tribute to how far we’ve come that this quote isn’t plastered all over blogs and Twitter and Facebook and Strib articles.
I think most people would agree that
It’s looking like the Minnesota Orchestral Association has entered its own Era of Good Feelings. And I’m on board with that.
So it might be time to bid a fond farewell to the Song of the Lark Outrage Machine. The Outrage Machine ran fast and hard for a very long time, fueled by the spittle from my flail-y freak-outs and the sarcasm of animated GIFs. But between Kevin Smith’s hiring and the Atlanta Symphony lockout ending, it looks like outrage is going out of style. Which is great.
It’s just too bad I can’t take the Outrage Machine out for a final spin to commemorate old times and old scandals.
Somehow… somewhere… some news could break about the Era of Bad Feelings.
But, no. That’s impossible. Michael Henson has been gone from the Minnesota Orchestra for months now. His vision – or maybe that’s “myopia” – has been thoroughly repudiated by all. Surely there’s no new news left about his tenure…
I’m sorry, guidestar.org, the website that “gather[s] and disseminate[s] information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization“…did you say something?
Do you hear that roar in the distance? I think it’s the outrage machine revving up for one last final outing! So jump aboard now, for one last ride, for nostalgia’s sake…
In case you didn’t know it yet, the Minnesota Orchestra lockout and the Atlanta Symphony lockout are following eerily parallel courses.
Some of the Minnesota folks likely aren’t following the ins and outs of the Atlanta story, while some of the Atlanta folks probably don’t know how much of this s*** has been pulled before. So I think it’s time to assess our shared history. The more patrons know, the more powerful we are.
First, a disclaimer. A lot of the terrible things the Minnesota Orchestra did during the lockout, they’re not doing anymore. The more inclusive leadership style of new board chair Gordon Sprenger and interim CEO Kevin Smith has been working wonders. Leadership is key. There is still a long way to go to rebuild trust, and any number of things could derail the (rather miraculous) progress made so far. But at least we’re headed in the right direction. I feel that’s an important disclaimer to make, because I have zero interest in rehashing a painful past for no reason. At the same time, I feel it’s important for people to know what happened.
So in the interest of bringing the Minnesota and Atlanta communities together, and educating those new to modern orchestral labor disputes, here are ten major similarities between the two lockouts. My longtime readers can doubtless add more in the comment section.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the power players in the Atlanta Symphony lockout are the members of the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) board. This impression was solidified once former ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein resigned and it was revealed that the interim CEO would have no role in negotiations. Nowadays it’s all Woodruff, all the time.
During the upheaval of the past few weeks, I’ve been chatting online with disgruntled Atlanta patrons. Lately we’ve been wondering who the Richard Davis / Jon Campbell equivalent is over at the WAC.
Well, good news: We Found Him!