Category Archives: Labor Disputes

Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses

I haven’t spent much time digging into the Atlanta Symphony cluster**** yet because this weekend I was in the Twin Cities celebrating. Thanks to two solid years of hard work by many hundreds of people, combined with copious amounts of luck and an extensive housecleaning at the top of the organization, the Minnesota Orchestra is finally turning a corner. It’s an unqualified miracle. On Saturday I was in the midst of a midnight conversation over ice cream with some dear lockout friends, sitting outdoors under the sparkling moon and laughing, feeling profoundly profoundly grateful for everything, when one of my fellow activist audience members pulled out her phone, checked Facebook, and read the Atlanta Musicians’ press release. We’d all known it was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier. Our smiles faded, and expletives were uttered, loudly. It was the only asterisk of unpleasantness in an otherwise magical weekend of celebration.

So I read what I could between parties, and have been trying to get up to speed today. Because I’m invested in this thing – and if you love orchestras, you should be, too. The Atlanta musicians’ fight is our fight, just transplanted to a different city, like some kind of dangerous airborne mold spore, or maybe an STD. As it was in Minnesota, Facebook is turning out to be an invaluable clearinghouse of information that is often more detailed and more valuable than the “he said, she said” summary of events in traditional print media. My friend and Save Our Symphony Minnesota volunteer Elizabeth Erickson advised in a comment to a post on the Atlanta musicians’ Facebook page, “Yes, start digging for financial dirt… Get pro bono lawyers and accountants on board to review 990 tax info; be vocal about what you find…” Yup. And under the Atlanta musicians’ Facebook page, under a link to Kevin Case’s recent excellent article, Kathy Shaw Amos wrote a comment about bonuses.

My eyebrows immediately raised. Bonuses to a CEO of a financially troubled orchestra right before a brutal musician lockout? This movie played for a while in Minnesota. And if I’m remembering correctly, it didn’t end well…for the CEO.

So I took the, y’know, two minutes it takes to fire up, download some Woodruff Arts Center documents, and check to see if Kathy Shaw Amos was right. Two minutes I’m assuming the non-blogging media should have, which they apparently don’t. Did nobody learn from Minnesota that the first step is always the 990s? The first step is always the 990s. Check the first one out here, and scroll down to page 40.

At the top of the form, you can see that the Woodruff Arts Center fiscal years start on June 1st and end on May 31st. The most recent form available dates from the year extending from 1 June 2011 to 31 May 2012. The Atlanta musicians’ lockout occurred in the autumn of 2012, when ours did. So this is all pre-lockout.



Click to enlarge.

What this says is that Dr. Stanley Romanstein, the Atlanta Symphony President, took home $335,344 in base compensation, with a $45,000 “bonus and incentive” compensation, plus $26,403 in untaxable benefits, bringing his compensation that year to $406,747. That begs the question: bonus and incentive compensation for what? It would be one thing to hand out bonuses to executives who are leading orchestras in good shape, but not ones so fiscally and morally dysfunctional they’re about to lock out the creators of their product.

For those of you who are just joining us, I asked similar questions back in October 2013, when I found that former Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson took home $619,313 in compensation, including two separate $100k bonuses meant for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. This scandal turned into what we in the Minnesota scene ended up calling “Bonusgate.” The Minnesota Orchestral Association tried, but ultimately failed, to suppress community outcry. It was one of the major developments that eroded donors’ trust in Henson so severely that a mere six months later he…..”resigned.” By the end of his tenure, he was unable to attend a Minnesota Orchestra concert without hearing pissed-off patrons yelling before performances, “Fire Henson!” It got to the point where I heard rebellious Minnesota audiences joking about whether or not it was legal to “yell fire Henson in a crowded auditorium.” (Heh.) Is this the kind of impotence that Stanley Romanstein aspires to? Or is he just hoping that Georgian audiences are dumber than Minnesotans?

So back to Atlanta. Other management members took home bonuses that year, too. Clayton Schell, currently the Vice President of ASO Presents according to the Atlanta Symphony website, took home a $20,000 bonus that year. Michael Shapiro, the Director of the High Museum of Art, took home a $30,000 bonus, pushing his total compensation to the low $700,000s. (The High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Symphony are connected via the Woodruff Arts Center.)

Will these bonuses mean the difference between a deficit and a surplus, between fiscal strength and weakness? Well, no. Do I begrudge these folks their bonuses? Well, not…automatically. But as we saw in Minnesota, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Bonuses being tossed out so liberally by a non-profit as its orchestra is running massive deficits and contemplating locking out its employees certainly suggests that Hey, Y’Know, There Might Be More To This Story! And troublingly, that “more” might not show up in the 990s. Bonuses in times of financial trouble also bring up legitimate questions about the wisdom of the Woodruff’s and the ASO’s expenditures. Are bonuses for an orchestra CEO really the most responsible use for that particular $45,000? Is giving the CEO bonuses and incentive pay really the best way to advance the mission of the organization? My trust in this leadership team is eroding rapidly. And as we in Minnesota know, when the public can no longer trust a non-profit to wisely carry out its mission, said non-profit is doomed, until its course changes. New business model, old business model, “contemporary operating model”: Minnesota proved that no model can be successful without trust and transparency between all stakeholders.

I’d like to stop there, but unfortunately, the craziness continues. Jump back another year to find even more bonus insanity. This comes from the fiscal year lasting from 1 June 2010 and ending 31 May 2011. (Check out page 31.) There are bonuses sprinkled throughout, but notice Dr. Romanstein’s special accomplishment:


Yes, he was apparently sooo amazing at running an orchestra in crisis that he earned $75,000 in bonus or incentive pay!

Go, Stanley!

And then, as the info-mercials say: but wait, there’s more!

Yes, back in the pre-Romanstein days, in the fiscal year lasting from 1 June 2009 to 31 May 2010, former Atlanta CEO Allison Vulgamore took home $169,101…in incentive and bonus compensation alone. Her total compensation that year totaled nearly $600,000. Check out page 28. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact her tenure was ending, but…I don’t really care. It’s still a bonus. Paid to a CEO. Leading an orchestra. That was in such dire straits. That a few years later. It purportedly had no other choice. But to lock out its players.


(I guess we should be grateful the direction of the bonuses are gradually trending downward…?)

Hey, Woodruff, ASO management. As Jon Stewart would say, meet me at camera three.

Here’s my question:



What the HELL, guys? Are you running a non-profit or a shell corporation with an in-house orchestra? What are these bonuses for? Why were they given? How could Stanley Romanstein accept them in good conscience, knowing it was possible – if not likely – that he would be locking out his players in a few months’ time? Does your entire board know about them? Do your audiences know about them? Do your donors know about them? How did these bonuses advance the mission of your organization? What kinds of bonuses are you paying Stanley Romanstein nowadays? As you were preparing for your second lockout in as many years, did you happen to glance to the north and see that these kinds of tactics got the organization nowhere? Are you consciously modeling your strategy after the one that failed so miserably in Minnesota (if so, WHY?), or are you just so dangerously oblivious you haven’t noticed the similarities?

If Stanley Romanstein and the leaders of the ASO and the Woodruff can’t answer these questions, they are not worthy of leading one of this country’s great orchestras. But judging by what they’re saying to the press now, it will likely take the determined long-term hammering of a lot of music lovers before they get the message.

Check out the Atlanta Symphony Musicians website, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Share the news with your friends and family. Just as our fight was theirs, theirs is ours.

And as always, follow the money.



Filed under Labor Disputes

Lockout Tips for Met Stakeholders

Edit: Literally just as I published this, the Met and various unions announced that they have extended negotiations for 72 hours and at least temporarily averted a lockout. Keep an eye on developments via Google News and on Twitter. Here’s hoping this entry becomes irrelevant, and soon.

Click here to read the Met’s statement (which is, at this early juncture, the best I have right now, since no news outlets have had time to write up the development, and I need to go to bed).

– E


It looks like we’re rapidly hurtling toward a Met lockout, and so to…er, celebrate isn’t quite the right word…to commemorateto observe the occasion…I thought I’d jot down a few informal tips for various stakeholders. Your mileage may vary with these; they are just some preliminary thoughts from the perspective of one music-loving audience member who was present for the length of the knock-down drag-out hell-fight that was the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. I encourage my wise readers to add their their own survival tips in the comment section.


  1. Recognize how devastating a shuttered or diminished Met would be, not only to you personally, but to your city and even to your country.
  2. Connect with other organizations who have been through similar implosions and who have helped to drive constructive resolution. I’m thinking about Save Our Symphony Minnesota and Save Our Symphony Detroit, especially. They are nice people; they care about art; they can help you.
  3. Remember that in this day and age all it takes is a Facebook page to create an effective gathering place for concerned patrons (see: Save the San Diego Opera). Social media is especially effective in the music world, where everyone is only a degree or two of separation away from each other.
  4. If you’re a writer, and you’re clever, and you play your cards right, you could make a career out of this. Camp on the story, cancel your plans for the next few months (I’m only half joking about that part; *speaks from experience*), and write. There is a massive audience hungry for information about what is going on, and that audience will only grow. Writers will need to be on this thing full-time to interpret all the spin and rapid-fire developments.
  5. Try to absorb all the information you can – from all sides. Be skeptical of everything.
  6. I know this isn’t a very polite question to ask, but – who is the most important stakeholder in this dispute? I mean, obviously everyone in an arts organization is important, but if, gun to your head, you had to choose The Single Most Important Stakeholder, who would it be? It’s not Peter Gelb. It’s not the board. It’s not the musicians. It’s not the union leaders. It’s you. Without an audience, there’s no reason to have grand opera or indeed the Met. You are the most important stakeholder. Act like it.

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Filed under Labor Disputes

Some Friendly Advice To Peter Gelb

H/t Drew McManus, a great Peter Gelb quote:

“Once the dust settles,” he added, the musicians “don’t have to love me to play well.”


No, but


The public has to love you.

Not just major donors. The great unwashed public. Y’know, the people you need to fill that gargantuan 3800-seat cavern week in and week out. The paying customers you’re now so eager to lock out, disrespect, and condescend to.

2014 has shown that bad things can happen to hated music CEOs, and we’re not even seven months through! Things like screams of “fire Henson!” emanating from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, or the crowd heckling San Diego Opera head Ian Campbell after he announced he was shutting that company down. The actions and attitudes of both of these men led to widespread public anger and decreased support of their respective institutions. (Until their departures, of course.)

So some friendly advice:

You’re thinking of your labor dispute as a two-way tug of war. Surprise!: it’s a three way. The third team is the public. They’re just coming on the field now. If you keep screwing up your PR, two of those teams will be pulling against you.



Filed under Labor Disputes

Peter Gelb’s Series of Unfortunate Events

Another summer, another lockout looming!

This time it’s the Met’s. If you’ve been following my Twitter account, you know my thoughts. (There I’ve posted such in-depth analyses as Who looks at the Minnesota Orchestra negotiations and says, “I want THAT for my non-profit”? and I don’t think Peter Gelb got the memo about the power of audience advocate groups. Anyone want to deliver that memo? It’s kinda important.)

But as the deadline grows nearer, it’s time to dig deeper into the story. Let’s turn to the New York Times‘s July 23rd article, “Met Opera Prepares to Lock Out Workers.” Met General Manager Peter Gelb, here’s your chance to convince me you’re not Michael Henson 2.0. As you speak, keep in mind Song of the Lark Lockout Tip Number One:

When you’re preparing to initiate a lockout, don’t come across as a dick.

So. The floor is yours.


In letters to the company’s unionized workers, Mr. Gelb, who is seeking to cut pay and benefits, wrote that “if we are not able to reach agreements by July 31 that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis, please plan for the likelihood of a work stoppage beginning Aug. 1.” He added, “I sincerely hope to avoid such an unfortunate event.”


An unfortunate event? An “unfortunate event” is having to take a detour during construction season. An “unfortunate event” is getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. An “unfortunate event” is going into a bakery craving cherry doughnuts and finding out the guy in front of you just bought the last cherry doughnut.

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Filed under Labor Disputes

Doug Kelley: Still Problematic

(Warning for language.)


I’m so excited about the new season and our bright future. And I seriously cannot wait to work with people at the MOA who I was unable to work with during the lockout.

But. Fault lines from a multi-year conflict remain. (No, duh.) And if anyone ever cites false or misleading claims about the negotiations, well, then I have no compunction about setting the record straight. And I’ll use a sharp tongue if necessary, kum-ba-yah-ing be damned.

Board member Doug Kelley came forward today in MinnPost to reminisce about the Petters case and…the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. (Because those two things go together…I guess…) Remember Doug Kelley? He originated the catchphrase “frolic and detour” (frolicking detour?) and was the management go-to spokesman when Michael Henson was so inexplicably unavailable. (Which was most of the time.) Kelley’s stances on the lockout have been viewed as problematic by many observers, as even MinnPost acknowledges. Scott Chamberlain has also had issues with Kelley’s claims in the past, so it’s not just me who finds Kelley so…problematic. So with that in mind…

From MinnPost:

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Lockout Stuff

Hey, friends!

Say, did you hear that the 2014-2015 Minnesota Orchestra season has just been announced? The lockout era of 2012-2014 is now over, and it’s time to move on. In the recent words of Osmo Vänskä: “I think that there was a time to whine, but, it’s time to cry and then it’s time to stop crying and start to work again. And I think sometimes working is the best therapy for the mind, and I think that is right now happening.”

He’s right. In that spirit, I’m finishing and then archiving this “Lockout Stuff” directory. A link to this page will always remain under the Reference Posts page, and of course the articles themselves will always stay up, but the link to “Lockout Stuff” is coming off the main SOTL header. It doesn’t mean that the past will be forgotten, but it does mean that our energies should be focused on the future. New and better things await us all! So if you want, take a moment to breeze through this, relive old times, and then set your GPS for The Future!

Thanks for journeying along with me for the past two years. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together.

In solidarity, Emily

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Filed under Blog Stuff, Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

We Finnished It

The last time I was in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis was in March 2012 to see the premiere of Judd Greenstein’s Acadia. This is a work for full and fabulous symphony orchestra, and it explores a narrative of change, loss, and redemption.

I left the hall that night happy – and completely oblivious to the fact that I’d be living those themes for the next two years.

Eight weeks after that concert, the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) quietly fired the first shot in its aggressive PR battle, months before the work stoppage they were planning for even began. This shot at audiences and donors was completely unprovoked and completely indefensible. Presumably assuming that the wider world would never discover their dirty underhanded trick, somebody at the MOA authorized the purchase of a variety of domain names based on variations of the phrase Why? During the Detroit Symphony strike, audience advocates there had created headaches for the board and management by creating an organization named Save Our Symphony to protest the direction the DSO was going. And consequently, the power players at the MOA wanted to make it harder for any Minnesota-based upstarts to start a similar group. This paranoid purchase proves that they were afraid that Minnesota audiences might try to derail the plans they had to choke the organization and remake it in their own image.

I can confirm that their fears were well-founded.


But there was no time to reflect on any of that as I stepped for the very first time into the Rorschach test of a new lobby. (Do you see a brand new $50 million boondoggle symptomatic of a dysfunctional organizational culture that values bricks and mortar over world-class orchestral music-making, or a badly needed remodel that will strengthen the Orchestral Association in a myriad of ways and foster community engagement and goodwill? Your answer will remain confidential between you and your therapist!) I immediately was in the arms of a musician friend, tearing up on a tux shoulder. Screw reflection; we’ve been to hell and back and we survived, so let’s celebrate. His words came out in a rushed tumble. We’re playing well, he said. Each week we’re sounding better. We need him back.

Of course, “him” is Osmo Vänskä: the beloved Finnish music director who brought the already great Minnesota Orchestra to even greater heights during his ten year tenure. He’d resigned during the sixteen-month-long lockout, and it is obvious he won’t bother to return unless and until the MOA board of directors demonstrates a renewed commitment to world-class orchestral music-making…a goal they, to be blunt, didn’t show any commitment to in 2012 or 2013. (Thankfully, 2014 is going a little better. So far.) What exactly that commitment might consist of, and what their terms might be, I don’t know, and of course it’s none of my business to know. But now that the lockout is over, there are at least some board members who want Osmo back. They’ve taken the first step to getting him back by overseeing the…completely voluntary resignation of the orchestra’s controversial CEO, Michael Henson. Osmo and the Orchestral Association are now in negotiations to see if they share enough of the same goals to make his return worthwhile. If the stars align, part two of our beloved Osmo’s tenure could be on its way. Plus, so many audience members are relieved to see the architect of the lockout packing his bags. Hence the electric buzz in the lobby.

Speaking of the audience…

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

Henson Out

Michael Henson will be leaving the Minnesota Orchestral Association at the end of this fiscal year. Here’s the MinnPost story.

Perhaps surprisingly, I find I don’t have much to say.

In some ways, our relationship, such as it was, felt like a weird chess game. (Albeit one Mr. Henson never acknowledged he was playing. Or believed he was playing.) Nonetheless, moves were made…and a lot of people ended up watching. He’d testify in front of the legislature; I’d write a blog entry dissecting his testimony. He’d quote talking points in an outrageously misleading press release; I’d send him a sparkly homemade Advent calendar (as you do). And later, once Save Our Symphony and other groups and other writers got in on the game, the chessboard, along with the number of pieces, expanded exponentially. Action, reaction, etc., for eighteen long hard-fought months.

As the game begins to wind down, I survey the chessboard. In an appropriately bizarre ending to an equally bizarre game, I find I have approximately zero interest in complaining about Michael Henson today. At this point, his record speaks for itself. Quite loudly. And heck, truth is, I owe a lot to this man. More than he’ll ever know, certainly.  I owe my attendance at a lot of great lockout concerts to him. I owe a lot of new firsthand knowledge about how government and non-profit processes work to him. Without Michael Henson, Alex Ross would not know I exist (please note: I am still extremely pumped about the fact that Alex Ross knows I exist). But most importantly of all, I owe readers – and therefore friendships – to him. I’m so lucky to have you, my readers, as my friends. You are irreplaceable, and to be honest, I don’t remember what life was like without you. Without him, I wouldn’t have you. Michael Henson may be leaving Minnesota via golden parachute, but I walk away from the game the richer woman. By far. So thanks. Seriously. Bon voyage, Mr. Henson. I’ll be watching your career with ~great interest.~

So. Where do we go from here?

Mr. Henson’s departure is a big step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work left to be done. I feel an odd kinship to the poor besieged Concorde in Airport: 79. We’ve evaded drones, dodged F-15s, and the landing strip is now in sight. On the other hand, there are gaping holes in the plane that have caused explosive decompression. But! This week’s news, and the potential change of organizational direction it could possibly theoretically maybe? signify, means that despite everything we’ve been through, we still might be able to land this thing. That’s not nothing. I’ll continue my volunteer work behind the scenes. I hope you continue to do what you can, too, whether that means writing comments online, sharing information with friends and family, buying tickets, etc. Even just staying informed is an important thing to do.

I think the moral of the saga is: Minnesota Orchestra leaders, listen to your audience and to the community both. Listen closely. Because we’re watching you, every little thing you do, and if you try taking any step that we feel goes against this organization’s best interests, forgive us when we trip you up. And if you do the right thing? We will help you. With everything we’ve got, 100%. A community of passionate people is a lot easier to work with than against.

So. Onward to the Grammy celebration concerts! What celebrations they’ll be, too! (Remember to wear blue and white, as per the instructions of Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s Finnish It Campaign!) Of course nothing is guaranteed, but my fingers are crossed that another big announcement might come soon. It would be quite the surreal ending to an extraordinary chapter of American music history…


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

The Osmo Question

I’ve been hesitant to write much lately. First of all, I’m tired. Physically, spiritually, emotionally tired. But secondly, I haven’t wanted to write much. If I write anything positive, I fear it will come across as oh yay we’re all one big happy family now, when in reality we absolutely aren’t. (Yet.) On the other hand, if I write anything negative, it would be as icky as an absurdly critical Sean Hannity cuing up “the music from The Omen” a hundred days into Obama’s presidency (this is a Daily Show reference; see this clip beginning at 2:55; beware of coarse language). Clearly, public silence suited my purposes better.

That being said, there are some things that need to be said in this moment that have not yet been said, and I think I’m in a position to say them. I apologize for any baggage that I have coming into this discussion, but obviously I can’t change any of that now. So if it is at all possible, I ask the decision makers at the Minnesota Orchestral Association to forget who I am, forget what I did, and consider the following argument on its own merits.

The MOA should ask Osmo Vänskä back as Music Director – and do whatever it takes to win him back.

Why? you ask. Let’s talk about it.

Of course the first question: If you don’t ask Osmo back, who will you ask?

Some supporting questions:

What world-class conductor is available to assume a music directorship on such short notice? Music directors plan their careers years in advance. Who is available? Many outstanding candidates won’t be available in the 2014-2015, 2015-2016, and even 2016-2017 seasons. Is the MOA willing to go director-less for that long to secure the appropriate candidate…or does it prefer to rush into a hasty, very possibly ill-advised marriage?

Who among those available is attractive to the board? Who among those available is attractive to musicians? Who among those available is attractive to audiences? The last point is the most important, especially from the standpoint of selling tickets, a subject board members have expressed (completely justifiable) concern over.

Will the candidates’ managers advise their clients to take the job? Robert Levine theorized in this November 2012 entry that Edo de Waart may have consulted with his manager before agreeing to conduct the locked-out musicians in December 2012. Yes, we’re in a post-lockout world now, but even with a fair contract in place, the situation remains messy, and for obvious reasons, managers don’t like to get their clients into messy situations. It reflects well on no one.

And then. If anyone can get through that gauntlet, will any of the survivor candidates want to work for Michael Henson? In this case, it doesn’t matter what I think of him, or what the musicians think of him, or what the audience thinks of him. It matters what the candidates for the music directorship think of him. Remember, Mr. Henson is a man who sought many strange work rule changes to the musicians’ contract. Among other things, he wanted the power to veto the music director’s extension of an “offer of employment” to potential musicians. From the initial proposed contract:


This is a man who sought – and almost achieved! – a 2013-2014 season of half pops concerts. This is a man who will be in charge of the next round of contract negotiations, which, if they turn contentious, could make the 2012-2014 lockout look like a pleasant walk in the park. This is a man who said of his world-class musicians in the New York Times in August:

When we get up and running again, as other orchestras in this position have, we will advertise for the jobs that we need to replace, and I’m sure we will get an astonishing bunch of individuals who will want to perform and live in this great city.

And the disrespect doesn’t stop at the musicians. This is a man whose dislike – maybe even hatred – of the last music director was so thinly veiled toward the end that he actually said to the press in September 2013:

Ultimately, if Osmo decides to go, that is his decision. We want him to stay through to the end of his contract. [Note: Not stay period; stay only until the end of his contract in 2015. It’s obvious Mr. Henson had no intention of pushing for a renewal.]

And it’s not like Osmo is crazy over Mr. Henson, either. In his now famous words from a couple of days ago:

For any healing to begin at the orchestra, Michael Henson must go.

But this isn’t just a Henson/Osmo struggle. I see it as a Henson/Music Director struggle. It doesn’t take a psychic to predict that any future music director will be continually sparring with Mr. Henson over turf, power, and artistic direction. Yes, taking the podium at Orchestra Hall could well be a conductor’s dream come true. There is still a great orchestra there, and a great audience. But that dream could very easily turn into a nightmare. Musicians are somewhat easier to replace. (Not easy to replace; just easier.) Musicians can always keep auditioning elsewhere if they’re not happy, or just quit outright, and the fact won’t trigger a series of shocked gossipy headlines on Slipped Disc. But music directors hitch their wagon very publicly to an organization for a period of years. They’re not going to want to do that if there are any doubts about the way the CEO treated the musicians, or, more importantly, any doubts about the way the CEO treated the last music director. Unfortunately, in dissing Osmo, Michael Henson poisoned a well he himself needed to drink from. Awkward, that.

But let’s say that somehow an amazing candidate emerges. The board loves him or her (okay; him). The musicians love him. Michael Henson loves him. Against impossible odds, everything has turned bright and sunny, and everyone is a big happy family.

But now comes the question: will the audience love him?

Despite the domain name debacle, and the MOA’s apparent desire to stifle the formation and influence of audience advocacy groups, the audience pushed itself into this whole saga in a pretty remarkable way. They wrote about the lockout; they formed groups; they mounted demonstrations and town hall meetings. And these endlessly energetic people are bonded to Osmo. Lawyer Lee Henderson, who has been a staunch Osmo defender over the course of the lockout, gathered 2500 responses in a few days in answer to a February 1 Strib editorial to bring Osmo back. You can read the results here. The love and affection and enthusiasm for our resident Finn is palpable.

Every audience advocacy group wants Osmo to return. There are three main audience organizations that have worked for an end to the lockout: Save Our Symphony Minnesota, Orchestrate Excellence, and Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM). All three feel deeply that Osmo should be asked to return. In fact, teenager and YMM co-founder Emily Green even wrote for MPR in December:

Osmo Vanska’s departure was a shattering day for many young individuals. Several students, upon finding out about his resignation, excused themselves from class to go and sob in the bathroom. I was sitting in a practice room at my school when I found out. I sat, staring at my horn, and thought: “Is this truly what classical music in our state has come to?”

I won’t even get into how the Orchestra Hall audiences behaved on February seventh and eighth …or the fact that reports indicate that Judy Dayton was one of those who screamed, “Bring back Osmo!” to deafening applause of approval during a live international broadcast. Remember:

One reason why this is important. From the 16 December 2013 Strib.

From a 16 December 2013 Strib article

(While we’re on the topic: who’s to say that the shouts of “bring back Osmo” or “Fire Henson!” are going to cease? If the MOA hasn’t extended an offer of a music directorship by the time of Osmo’s Sibelius concert in March, prepare for one wild rebellious international broadcast. Does the MOA really want a mob of music lovers screaming orders at them during broadcasts, week after week after week? Because right now it seems like that could happen.)

What does it say about the board if they ignore this potent community support for Osmo? We are supposedly in a new era of collaboration. New board chair Gordon Sprenger said it himself in the press release announcing his nomination:

“Our collective work is now to restore trusting, respectful relationships within the organization among musicians, board and administration and to build broad bridges of support to our greater community. By focusing on collaboration, and our shared passion for world-class performances of the classical music that gives our organization its mission, I’m confident we will launch a positive new era for the Minnesota Orchestra and its audiences and supporters.” [My bold.]

Will the board ignore the audience’s wishes? – will they attempt to rationalize them away, and try convincing us that given enough time and distance, we’ll love the new guy just as much as we once loved Osmo? – or will they take that brave step toward true community collaboration and ask him back?

Another question: what does it say about the board if they are willing to throw a new conductor into the stormy seas of a post-Osmo Minnesota Orchestra with no life preserver? Can you imagine the pressure? Not only would this person be worrying about artistic power struggles with Michael Henson, and nervously counting down the days until the next negotiation with musicians began, this person would be constantly compared by audience and press to Osmo Vänskä, one of the great musical minds of our generation…and during a time when everyone is still resentful the MOA never tried to hire Osmo back. That’s a lot of pressure even for the best of conductors to handle, and frankly, not the best setting for world-class music-making, to put it mildly.

Here are some additional pluses to asking Osmo back:

More musicians who are considering work elsewhere will likely stay in Minnesota, reducing the amount of time it takes for the Orchestra to recover. Plus, fewer auditions for the MOA to hold. Auditions are hard work, and any chance you get to use the great players you’ve already got ought to be taken advantage of.

Mr. Sprenger’s stated desire for world-class performances of classical music will be made immeasurably easier. This combination of orchestra and conductor has already proven itself to be world-class. No time will need to be wasted getting back to work.

Recordings and tours could resume. Even in the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, which was meant to be a new model of austerity, recordings and tours remained a major part of the organization’s identity. Yes, those plans fell apart promptly once Osmo resigned, but… The Plan is still on the website if you have an old link (there’s no link to it anywhere on the new website). But assuming the MOA hasn’t renounced recordings and tours, bringing Osmo back is their best bet to get them back in a semi-timely manner.

Strained relationships with politicians could be repaired. Rightly or wrongly, many state legislators felt burned by the MOA not telling the State of Minnesota that major deficits were imminent when Mr. Henson requested state money for the Hall renovation. And they felt doubly burned when Osmo resigned because of what they perceived to be board intransigence.

From a 21 January MinnPost article:

Rep. Alice Hausman, a DFLer from St. Paul, recalled Vänskä’s role in winning state bonding money for the rehab of Orchestra Hall.

“When our House committee visited Orchestra Hall for the bonding pitch,” Hausman said, “it was Osmo Vänskä on the stage making the pitch. I think he was alone on that stage. We never would have done this for a board of directors, but we built it for the musicians and the director.”

Hausman is among those who believe that the board must ask Vänskä to return, noting that the music director seems to have made it clear that all the board must do is ask.

“We will look just as foolish as we did during the lockout if we don’t ask him back,” Hausman said.

The City of Minneapolis wasn’t happy about the whole thing, either, as evidenced by their prickly exchange of letters with the MOA regarding the Orchestra Hall lease. Mayor Betsy Hodges has even weighed in on the Osmo question. From January 14:

I am very pleased that at long last, the management and musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have reached an agreement that ends the lockout. Our world-class orchestra is a crucial arts institution in our city, our state and the region. I also hope that going forward there is a resolution to the status of Osmo Vänskä and that he may return to us as the leader of this great cultural institution

There is an opportunity here to mend some severely damaged fences with politicians. Why wouldn’t you want to seize it?

It will be a comeback story like no other. The enthusiasm of the audience will blow the roof off Orchestra Hall…and isn’t audience enthusiasm desperately needed right about now? If anyone took Osmo or the Orchestra for granted before, they sure as heck won’t anymore. Chapter two of his tenure could be completely electrifying for everyone. And everyone loves a good comeback story. With hard work, this could become the king of all comeback stories. One for the history books, for all the right reasons.

All that being said… I can imagine the anti-Osmo arguments. I can imagine board discussion of “face saving” (whatever that means, exactly). I can imagine board discussion of how much Osmo will cost, and how the board will pay for him. I can imagine board discussion of how cruel it would be to dislodge Mr. Henson from his leadership position when his only crime was doing what the board told him to. Personally, I think those arguments are all pretty much poppycock. But even if they weren’t, would any of them make as convincing a case as the one I just laid out above? If anyone on the MOA board of directors has an equally strong case for ignoring Osmo and letting him be snatched up by another orchestra, I respectfully ask for that case to be made thoughtfully, publicly, and in detail. But until then, I join the thousands of voices from all across the musical world who say: bring back Osmo…whatever the cost.

The question is no longer, can we afford Osmo? It’s: can we afford not to have Osmo?



Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Minnesota Orchestra Predictions

I haven’t checked in here for a while, and y’all are probably wondering why.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t been idle. I think I’ve written the equivalent of several novels in private messages with friends…dissecting the settlement, examining tea leaves, and coming to grips with a new era.

Lots of people have been taking a “what have we learned?” approach to the Minnesota meltdown. So I’ll zig when others zag and try out a “where are we going?” premise.

Without further ado, here are my best predictions of what happens next… Feel free to agree or disagree.

Orchestra Hall

Taxpayers will finally get to see the renovation they paid $14 million for. There will be some bitterness about it, given what we’ve lost. Also, people will be very critical of the light fixtures in the lobby (…and if you aren’t, your taste in light fixtures is highly questionable). (wink wink) Others might like the aesthetics of the renovation, but then they’ll start noticing certain things… A bar taken out. Floors that are easily stained. Seats that weren’t reupholstered with the rest. Shoddily constructed signs. (For instance, there was one photo that made the Facebook rounds a while ago in which a letter in the Box Office sign had already fallen down, only a few weeks after renovations had ended.) One wonders if the auditorium escaped unscathed. Questions might start to arise about the quality of the renovations…and that could quickly turn into a Pandora’s Box.

I really hope I’m wrong on this point, but we’ll see.

2014 Season

It will be well attended. The desperate edge to the audience’s energy will slowly diminish over the months, but the motivating drive will remain. We will not soon forget what was taken from us. The energy of Minnesota Orchestra concerts will be totally unique, and visitors will remark upon it. And I think that energy might unnerve Michael Henson.

One thing that made me laugh recently was MOA board member and frolic and detour catchphrase originator Doug Kelley saying he wanted the energy of the musicians’ indie concerts to find its way into Orchestra Hall. Bwahahaha. I wonder, Mr. Kelley, why there was energy at the musicians’ concerts?? Hmm. It can’t have been because the community was furious at what the board was doing, because surely if that had been the case, Mr. Kelley would apologize for that, so… Why were we all so hepped up? Did the musicians slip us drugs???? I don’t remember.

It’s all very puzzling. Why was there such energy? Why?

Anyway. No worries, Mr. Kelley. There will be energy. Maybe not the kind of energy you want, though.

Other Orchestras

I’m guessing that some orchestras that might have tried Minnesota tactics will choose not to based on what happened here. However, I can also imagine other boards and CEOs doubling down on their nefarious plans, betting their musicians won’t be able to hold out for the length of time the Minnesotans did. A lot of this will probably depend on the economy and the performance of various endowments, and the political moods in various places around the country.

That being said…

American Audience Advocates

Are likely here to stay. Save Our Symphony Detroit showed that audience advocates can make a difference, and the folks at Save Our Symphony Minnesota proved it. What orchestra comes next? Will the activists in that city continue the trend?

I’m incredibly proud of what activists did in this situation. So proud.

Minnesota Musicians

They will play better than ever. They’ve been to hell and back – and they survived. Not only that, but they went to hell with their audiences…and their audiences brought them back. This experience will increase the depth of our music-making. I say “our” because this specific audience will be a vital part of the power of every future performance. The audience will have a real ownership in the music, even if we don’t play a single note.

Nonetheless, some people will leave for good. (Happily, at least one or two will come back. Maybe more. I can’t wait to cry with happiness as I welcome each one home – where they belong. Because I am goddamned sick and tired of crying over my losses. Sick and f’ing tired of it.) I’m guessing the musicians who do leave will always feel a little bit of loneliness in their new jobs, because they survived something unique in American music history, and people who didn’t survive the meltdown with them will never understand an important part of what makes them, them…? But they will contribute to their new communities, and we will all wish them well. Of course.

New Musicians

This is probably a controversial opinion, but I believe that thanks to the terms of the final settlement, Minnesota will remain an attractive destination for talented musicians. If prospective musicians have concerns about the organization’s internal culture (and they should; if they don’t have concerns, their naïvety will serve them poorly in their careers), there is also undeniable evidence of a hugely supportive musician family and a massively committed audience, and those two things have got to be appealing on a certain level. I’ll go one step further: depending on what all goes down in the next few months, Minneapolis may become one of the most interesting places in the world to have an orchestral career. Maybe. (At the very least, it might be a pretty nice place to stay while you audition elsewhere…)

The newcomers will probably tire of hearing stories about The Lockout, and be confused when we talk about stuff like frolic and detouring and $200,000 and tap-dancing munchkins. You had to be there.

Next Negotiation Cycle

Oh, God, do we really have to go there? I don’t want to go there. I’m still tired.

But let’s hope for a repeat of what just happened in Detroit: a contract settled eight months early…with wage increases.


Osmo will be back if the board wants him…and is willing to kick out Henson. Question is: will they? It would be a wise business move, but then again, the board has never been very good at recognizing wise business moves.

I do feel like if they’re hoping on attracting any semi-famous music director, they’ll have to get rid of Henson first. (Unless there’s a large pool of conductors out there who would want to work for Michael Henson…) (…)

Regardless of what happens, Osmo’s musical legacy will remain with the Minnesota Orchestra for years to come. It’s become part of the orchestra’s DNA. And that’s a great gift.


He has lost power. It remains to be seen how much…but he has lost power, along with a crap-ton of credibility. My gut instinct is that he’s a lame duck. Or as Robert Levine suggested, toast in a toaster. (Have you noticed that Henson hasn’t really spoken in the press at all on behalf of the MOA? It’s almost like he’s been asked not to talk. What’s up with that? Is the MOA nervous to have their own CEO speak on their behalf, even after a settlement has been reached? If they are…well, that says a lot. If people just aren’t seeking out his opinion, well, that says something, too.) He may still try to pull his old tricks, but…When your orchestra CEO can’t stand up in front of audiences for fear of being booed off the stage, you might have a problem. Hopefully the MOA knows that people like me, Scott Chamberlain, and Save Our Symphony will be on Henson’s case if he tries the kind of stuff he tried eighteen months ago. He simply can’t get away with what he used to without a well-organized and well-publicized backlash. If he doesn’t understand that yet, he will soon enough. Promise.

If he wants to make a fresh start (or is forced to make a fresh start), I believe he’ll be able to massage his resume to make himself attractive to some organization somewhere. He did oversee a $50 million lobby renovation, a recovery in the value of the endowment, and a 15% reduction in musician pay, after all… Let the rewriting of history commence.

Davis, Campbell

They’ll go back to whatever the crap they do whenever they’re not destroying orchestras by cutting them to death. I hear there’s a governor’s race coming up. That might be a fun, rewarding extracurricular activity for them to devote themselves to!

Remaining Board Members

They will have to figure out what exactly the crap just happened. I have to believe board members have a bit of whiplash. How to reconcile what they were seeking with what they ultimately got? I don’t know, and I’m glad I don’t have to be a part of that debate. The cognitive dissonance there would give the Second Viennese School a run for its money.

The person who is nominated for board chair, and the behavior of that person in the coming months, will tell us a lot.

Young Musicians of Minnesota

YMM will continue, and continue to be amazing. Emily Green will go on to do important things…that never could have happened without the lockout and the havoc it wreaked. That will be one of the lasting paradoxes of the lockout: hugely great things have come directly out of the destruction, and will continue to come directly out of the destruction. Even if we’re too close to the situation to see those things now.


SOTL’s views will likely trend downward. Scandals like Domaingate and Bonusgate will be things of the past (…um, I think?). I have a hard time imagining that the hard slog of rebuilding will be as dramatic or compelling as the work of railing against an unjust labor dispute built on the ugly foundation of public deception. I mean, I’ll still be here, obviously; and people will still be reading me; I just don’t think I’ll be read as widely. Soon I’ll go back to reading and writing about the history of women in music, then I’ll remember that nobody actually gives a crap about the history of women in music. I’ll start to miss the feedback, so I’ll try to find a balance (balance? what’s that?), and I’ll either return to fiction after a long absence, or I’ll write a book about the lockout, which will be published by a small regional press. If I ever get to New York City, I’ll get an autograph and a picture with Alex Ross. And then ——- I don’t know.

Lockout Miniseries

Oh, it will happen. You know it will. It’s only a matter of time. *wink* Leave your casting suggestions in the comments!


So there you have it: my completely unscientific predictions on what happens from here. I may be intuitive, but I’m no psychic. So who knows, really. Nobody does. Nobody.

What are your predictions for the future? If they’re positive predictions, what do we have to do to realize your vision? If they’re negative predictions, what do we have to do to avoid those outcomes?

And how will you make a personal commitment to make the positive visions a reality? For some reason…(God only knows exactly why)…we’ve stuck with the orchestra this long. Are you ready to keep working for it? I hope so.



Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra