Tag Archives: Minnesota Orchestra

Bad News, Good News

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.

I would hope and expect, yes.


The phrase “I would hope and expect, yes” in a pretty font and decorated with my excited yellow Rays of Yay


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

  1. the chances of a second lockout have declined precipitously
  2. we just might be looking at a fair musicians’ contract extending until approximately 2020, and
  3. the Osmo era is likely going to continue.

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?


Oh? What’s this? The 990 form for the Minnesota Orchestral Association covering the time span of September 2012 to August 2013, which features only one non-lockout month?

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…

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale, Heitzeg, Stravinsky, Orff

Time for the last Microreview of the season! *gets weepy*

Catch this fabulous program tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at Orchestra Hall; tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org. SOTL Microreviews will return this fall as we all embark on the Best Season Evar! Feel free to contribute a Microreview of your own, too.

My word count comes from this week’s enjoyable Rob Hubbard Pi-Press review: 429. I think it’s best for everyone if we forget the Strib’s review of weirdness ever existed, so 429 words it is. Here goes!


This week the sacred and the sexual mix unabashedly in a program of Stravinsky, Orff, and Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg.

I’m not so familiar with Heitzeg, although I love his soundtrack for Death of the Dream, the TPT documentary about abandoned Midwestern farmsteads. It was sparse and devastatingly effective. So it was interesting to hear his voice in this new context. “Now We Start The Great Round” has the flavor of movie music written for a Copland biopic, and it serves as a sweeping curtain raiser. But it finished before it started, especially when the stage change took half as long as the piece itself.

After the Stage Change of Interminability came Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Way too late I realized: maybe it’s irresponsible to write about a performance of this piece, especially when

  1. I’ve never heard it before,
  2. I don’t know anything about choirs, and
  3. my two instruments have left the stage (violins! violas! come back!).

So I put the critiquing ears away and just soaked in the ambiance. From that perspective, the Symphony was all melancholy angularity, lit by the glow of the sound of the Chorale. It sounded like candlelight flickering in an Escher cathedral. Lush, sacred…and very odd. Last night I didn’t grasp the narrative. It was all very lovely, but meh. Then again, I don’t find much Stravinsky seductive, so…

Oh, you're the bad boy of music alright.

Oh, you’re the bad boy of music alright

The narrative for Carmina Burana, on the other hand, hit like an anvil to the head. From the first notes it felt like straight-line winds were blowing over the radio. O FOR-TUN-A, indeed. I think the Minnesota Chorale put every single emotion of being locked out of Orchestra Hall for sixteen months into that opening phrase. The bitter sneer of those consonants! My takeaway? Do not get on the wrong side of the Minnesota Chorale. Damn.

It was immediately clear that members of the Chorale could not only sing Carmina in their sleep, but under general anesthetic. That familiarity could easily lead to a bored performance, but of course they’re above that. Their effervescent joy at being back on that stage was contagious, and so deeply satisfying to hear. The Orchestra supported them all the way, but – dare I say it? – it was the Chorale’s show last night. And deservedly so.

As for the baritone in Ego Sum Abbas, I wish I sang that well drunk.

To sum up the 2014 season:

Away with sadness!
summer returns,
and now departs
cruel winter…

wretched is the person
who neither lives,
nor lusts
under summer’s spell.


Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.


Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

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

Best Season EVAR

Today the Minnesota Orchestra’s BEST SEASON EVAR was announced.

Since I don’t live in Minneapolis (…or, um, Minnesota…), every concert I attend, I deal with a two hour drive to and a two hour drive fro, and that is not nothing, especially during our eleven-month Siberian winters. So to help me decide which programs I should select, I’m going to muse out loud in a blog entry. To be clear, these are my personal picks: there are actually a lot more concerts beyond what I’m mentioning here, and you really need to check out the full schedule for yourself.

Renee Fleming Gala (September 5). This should be the hottest ticket in town, and I reluctantly admit the MOA would be STUPID to not jack up the prices way beyond what I can afford. But if you have the money, go go go. GOOOOO. Because how often do you get to hear an orchestra play great arias live? With Renee Fleming? That’s right: it happens NEVER.

Lake Harriet Free Concert (September 14). On the highlight list because it’s…well, free! And the repertoire is very fun: Borodin, Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss. Great music for outdoor dancing, or dramatic slo-mo running to the love theme from the Romeo and Juliet overture. Seven thousand people attended the last Lake Harriet concert, so join the fun! (And get there early!)

Barber / Mahler (September 26, 27, 28). Alisa Weilerstein’s passion is going to serve the Barber cello concerto fabulously well. And then the Minnesota Chorale in the Mahler “Resurrection”?


Don Quixote (October 9, 10, 11). Cervantes’ Don Quixote is the most beautifully deranged protagonist imaginable, and Strauss’s cello-concerto-ish tribute to his story is totally lovable. Our resident cello powerhouse Tony Ross solos. Plus, the principal viola part represents Sancho Panza. Tom Turner stars as Sancho Panza. That alone is worth the price of admission for a viola section fangirl. And then the sweeping luxury of the suite from Der Rosenkavalier… This is the way you celebrate a great composer’s birthday, wowza.

Tom and Tony

Tom and Tony. I’m assuming they’ll be dressed like this for the performance

Tchaikovsky 5, and Bassoons (November 21, 22, 23). Kinda looking forward to this one because I’m studying the viola part of Tchaik 5 for a Young Musicians of Minnesota performance in August. Plus, bassoons are on the program. Bassoons. So if you’re into either Tchaikovsky or bassoons, this would be a great program. And also: Gabrieli. Gabrieli, guys. When was the last time you heard Gabrieli at Orchestra Hall? None of us have enough Gabrieli in our lives. Seriously.

Messiah (December 12, 13). If Christopher Warren-Green’s Messiah is half as good as his recent Mozart interpretations, this will be a must-hear performance.

New Year’s Eve Gershwin (December 31). Party with Osmo and the musicians at Orchestra Hall? With Gershwin? Great New Year’s Eve, or the Greatest New Year’s Eve??? Holy crap. You know what? Let’s have a black and white party like An American In Paris. I want to see all my readers in their best dice and harlequin attire.

I will be disappointed if the lobby doesn’t look like this come New Year’s Eve. Can someone resurrect Oscar Levant? I’d kiss him.

Future Classics (January 16). This is an important show to catch. There’s nothing else like seeing brand new music, seriously. Even if new music is not your thing, think about attending this one anyway. The joy of discovery will be palpable, and it will be a showcase for the orchestra to boot.

Walton! (January 22, 23, 24). I don’t know a lot of Walton, but I’m crazy over what I do know. His first symphony is amazing, and his violin concerto is probably my favorite underrated work for that instrument. (And there are a lot of underrated violin concertos.) So I’d love to catch Henry V. And then…….

Bruckner 4.

Haha. Wow.

So. We meet again, Herr Bruckner.

Shakespeare Stuff (January 30, 31). A series of Romeo and Juliet themed blockbusters.

And then!

AUGUSTIN FRICKING HADELICH (February 5, 6) comes to town toting what will no doubt be a completely kickass Tchaikovsky concerto. Fun Factoid: I’ve never seen the Tchaikovsky concerto, the piece that inspired me to take the violin seriously, live. (…) If I can’t see Ehnes play the Tchaik, I’m not exaggerating when I say my next choice would be Hadelich. He’s a god, as I observed last time he came to the Twin Cities. Plus!: the New World Symphony. This is overplayed repertoire, maybe, but Who Cares. Sometimes even the most devoted music fans haven’t seen some of these pieces live (cough). And the Minnesota Orchestra excels at bringing new revelations out of overplayed repertoire.

GIL FRICKING SHAHAM (February 12, 13, 14) in the Korngold. Shaham’s sound and style are perfectly suited for Korngold. If I could hear him play one piece, it would be either Korngold or Elgar concerto, no joke. (And yeah, I do often sit around, musing which artists I’d like to hear in what concertos…) And then!: in the same program!: the teenage Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture. And the Faure Pelleas et Melisande suite. (Faure, the composer I love the best by far.) And then the second Daphnis et Chloe suite. DAPHNIS ET CHLOE.


Did the musicians steal my dreams, Inception-style?

I dunno, something like this happened during the season planning, I think

Next big highlight: Erin Keefe Starring In The Piece She Was Born to Play (April 2, 3, 4). Yup, you read it here first: Erin Keefe was born to play Lark Ascending. Every time my mom and I have heard a performance by Keefe we look at each other afterward and sigh, “Oh, wouldn’t she be amazing in Lark Ascending?” I love this piece. And I love Erin. And I have a thing about larks.

sotl heading

In case you hadn’t noticed

There is some other cool repertoire on the program too. And then afterward in the lobby: Quartet for the End of Time, with Osmo on clarinet. And candlelight. Might want to pack some Kleenex in the handbag. Wow.

***Acadia!*** (April 30, May 1, 2). The perfect way to greet spring: a performance of Judd Greenstein’s Acadia, which I wrote about on the blog a lifetime ago (AKA March of 2012). My heart is melded to this piece, now more than ever. My mom – who isn’t even an orchestra musician! – frequently says to me that the premiere of Acadia was the most moving concert she’d ever been to, and we’ve been to some pretty moving concerts over the years. So you all need to come. To see it live is a fabulous journey that will be made all the richer for what we’ve all endured. Look for me: I’ll be the sobbing mess somewhere on the main floor! Yay!! You can listen to the piece here to see what I’m talking about. Need more convincing? Burt Hara is returning for Copland clarinet concerto. Plus, Steve Heitzig and Bernstein.

Beethoven 7 (May 21, 22, 23). Yup, they definitely stole my dreams. Get out of my dreams, musicians!! My dreams should be PERSONAL SPACE, thanks. But if I could have programmed one piece this season, it would be Beethoven 7, for reasons explored here. It’s my favorite Beethoven…maybe even my favorite orchestra music, period. And then the gripping first piano concerto of Brahms, the piece in which he explored his feelings for Clara Schumann… (Those two independent, unconventional spirits are definitely my favorite couple in music history. Go, Team Johannes!) A program simply doesn’t get much better than this. And dear Stan, leading a weekend of Brahms and Beethoven at the age of 92!

Sibelius Cycle Wrap Up Part 1! (May 28, 29, 30) and Sibelius Cycle Wrap Up Part 2!! (June 5, 6). I can only assume Osmo’s thought process went something like this: “You know, defying all odds by finishing a historic Sibelius recording cycle that most people gave up for dead is simply not going to be enough. I think we need to add on a Mahler symphony, and also – why not – Andre Watts in Brahms 2.” And God bless them, the musicians said, “Sure!” Quick etiquette question: do we start writing the 2017 Grammy acceptance speech now, or would it be good manners to wait until the performance is actually put down on disc?

So, um. I wanted to write this to clarify which set of five or so shows I want to go to, but turns out I JUST MADE MY DECISIONS EVEN MORE DIFFICULT ARGH. How am I going to choose? Seriously. How – am – I – going – to – choose? I DON’T KNOW. I should just set up a heated tent in Peavey Plaza over the winter or something. Or figure out the whole teleportation thing.

Or...a wormhole...hm

Maybe a wormhole…

Anyway. It will be a yearlong musical masterclass like you’ve never seen before, and I urge everyone visiting the blog to take a look at the schedule and budget for as many shows as you can. Sold out houses will help ensure that the 15-16 season will be just as incredible.

If you have any ideas about how SOTL can make your 14-15 season special, let me know. I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from YOU what you want to see on the blog…and maybe before or after certain concerts. So to that end, let me know which concerts you’re most excited about, and why!

Before I sign off, one quick question: have you stopped to realize what a miracle this season is? Like, a dictionary-definition miracle? As in “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency”? Okay. That’s good. I’m so happy you remember.



Filed under Minnesota Orchestra

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

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Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

What We Know About Minnesota Orchestra’s Finances – And What We Don’t, Part III

Once again, I’m turning the floor over to Mary Schaefle, our resident non-profit number cruncher…


If you’ve been following the financial posts, you know the previous posts focused on income – endowment and investments in Part I, and ticket sales and fundraising in Part II. It’s time to take a look at Minnesota Orchestra’s spending habits, or expenses. We’ll be able to review detail in some areas but will more often be looking at expenses grouped into categories.

The Big Picture – What Got Cut?

The nonprofit tax forms (990, available via Guidestar.org) categorize costs, allowing us to see what increased or decreased between 2009 and 2011. The single largest drop, $966,802, was in travel (Part IX, p10). 36% of costs cut by Orchestra management were the result of the calendar and lack of an international tour.

The second largest decrease is “other fees for service” at $742,701. Fees for service are payments to any organization or individual providing a service to the Orchestra, for example legal or audit fees. The “other” subset includes payments to a guest artist, to a soloists’ management company, and to the architect and project management company for the Hall renovation.

We can look at “other fees for service” in a different section of the 990 where the highest paid contractors (Part VII, p8) are listed. The types of organizations shifted from 2009 with more than half of the contracts paying guest artists to 2011 when 4 of 5 were related to Hall renovation and capital campaign contracts. From my point of view, what’s important about this shift is the decrease in guest artist fees. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing Orchestra musicians as soloists, but I don’t know if or how the star power factor – or lack thereof – impacts ticket sales.

Going back to line items with the largest cuts, advertising and marketing came in third with a decrease of $579,655. We know management cut the number of concerts (see Part II), but I’m not sure that would have a proportional impact on advertising. You still have to print a season brochure, advertise concerts and so on. It could be a shift to online promotions versus paper. It could also be more obvious – a decrease in the volume of advertising.

The second and third cuts – guest artist fees and marketing – are troublesome to me. When you combine these with the decrease in number of concerts, it looks like a recipe for decreased income for the Orchestra. There may be other reasons for those changes. My previous posts suggested an outside expert review of the Strategic Business Plan, and this is one more reason for the review.

Who Gets Paid How Much?

Musician base salary is eighth among symphony orchestras (2011 data). My comparison shows Mr. Henson’s pay eighth among US symphony executives (2011 990 data), while Osmo Vänskä is seventh among music directors (McManus, 2010 data). Viewed through this lens, pay seems comparable between groups.

In response to the recession, musicians agreed to a one-year pay freeze contributing $4.5 million in savings to the Orchestra. In exchange, Mr. Henson and Maestro Vänskä agreed to 7% and 10% decreases in pay respectively. Their actual decreases were 3.5% and 4%. Executive contracts often include scheduled annual increases (just like the musicians’ contract) which would explain the difference. Two additional paid staff are included on the 990. COO Neu took a slightly larger decrease of 7.5%, while CFO Ebensteiner saw a substantial increase of 25.5%. Compensation of the most highly paid musicians is also listed. When viewed as a group, salaries and total compensation were flat. I chose to look at them as a group since pay fluctuates with solo appearances. This only includes five musicians, so can’t be considered definitive.

Neither the financial statements nor the tax forms split musician and administration costs, but we do know that 74% of the Orchestra’s costs are salary and benefits. Management has pointed to rising musician costs as a critical issue in their financial challenges. A Star-Tribune business columnist jumped on board writing “Orchestra’s Disease is Economic”. If you want to learn more about the argument that orchestras aren’t or can’t be efficient, I highly encourage you to read Drew McManus’ recent blog post on the topic – including the comments section. As someone who has worked in nonprofit service organizations for decades, I can tell you that employee costs are always a significant portion of the budget, and the conversations about how to control those costs never seem to go away.

So – Is There a Conclusion?

Frankly, the reason it has taken me so long to write Part III is my attempt to define a conclusion. I’ve stared at the numbers over and over, waiting for something to pop out. I’ve charted, analyzed, sliced and diced. Is it income? Is it expenses? Is there something else we could or should change? Is it a tweak or are dramatic changes needed?

I decided the answer is in the title. My guest posts were intended to shine some light on the facts of the financials, and I hope I’ve done that. In labor disputes – or really any dispute – figures and percentages are thrown around to prove and disprove points of view. They can be taken out of context. Financials are facts to me, and should be verified.

Although they are fact, the financials do represent something I believe is more important. They represent how an organization chooses to do its work. I ended the last post saying we needed to get the Minnesota Orchestra playing and keep them playing. After working through their financials, I’m convinced that is possible, and also convinced that an objective, outside view will help us get there.


Amen, Mary.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts as much as I have. They’ve been a fantastic little peep into how the Minnesota Orchestra operates behind-the-scenes. A round of applause and a brava for Mary is in order.

Please feel free to join Mary in the comment section. I’ll be there, too, once I digest the information in this post.

And MOA…we’re looking at you. Let’s get a dialogue going. We’re adults. We can handle it!



Filed under Not My Writing

A Brief Word From On High

From Alex Ross, the god of music criticism

A special citation for Quickest Plunge from a Great Height goes to the management and governing board of the Minnesota Orchestra.

My dear dear dear Mr. Ross, on the off-chance you’re keeping an eye on this blog….

*waves vigorously*

I wouldn’t have entertained the idea of even dabbling in music journalism if I hadn’t read The Rest is Noise. You showed me what was possible. Thank you.

Any readers of mine who haven’t yet read it, pick – up – a – copy. It will entertain and inspire you throughout the lockout. Promise.


Filed under Uncategorized

Some Historical Perspective

A reader passed along this lovely vintage piece from the Minnesota Historical Society archives… It’s an excerpt from John K Sherman’s “Music and Maestros: The Story of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra,” which was published in November of 1952. Highly recommended reading! I was so entertained that I live-blogged my reactions to it on Facebook this morning. I want you to read the whole thing yourself, so I won’t spoil anything for you, but here are a few of my initial observations:

  • We’ve been discussing the fiscal sustainability of the Minnesota Orchestra since before the Minnesota Orchestra was even formed.
  • Minneapolis has been an orchestral leader since 1900. We have a long proud history of excellence to guard and preserve.
  • The violist story in this article is one of the most entertaining performance mishaps that I’ve ever read about. Way to reinforce violist stereotypes, dear Joseph Frank!

The thing I really wanted to share with you, though, is this very cool mention of soprano Olive Fremstad:

The first performance of the new orchestra needed a big and costly name, preferably a singer’s name, as an ace-in-the-hole guarantee of its success and as lure for that sizable portion of the populace that might be more name-conscious than symphony-hungry. The orchestra’s backers were willing to spend five hundred dollars for such a name. Minneapolis’ own Olive Fremstad, who in the last three years had become the darling of European opera-goers, would have filled all specifications. But she was not available for the opening night and could only be engaged for a later appearance…

The sixth and final concert of the first season, on March 23, 1904, reverted to the International Auditorium. Olive Fremstad, absent from her home city for ten years and now laureled with success, was the soloist.

Olive Fremstad was an amazing woman, with an amazing life story. In fact, she had such an amazing life story that Willa Cather used it as the basis of a novel:

The Song of the Lark.

Is your mind blown?

I chose this name for the blog way back in May of 2011 because of the connotations with Cather (a well-respected music writer), the story of the novel itself (a small-town Midwestern girl of Scandinavian descent fulfilling her artistic ambitions), and Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending (one of the most famous pieces ever dedicated to a female violinist). But it turns out there’s a pretty remarkable Minnesota Orchestra connection in there, too! I am a nerd, and I think this is very cool.

On a related upbeat note, our Ode to Joy concerts are rapidly approaching! I’m coming to the Sunday show. If you see me, please say hello. Forgive me if I don’t recognize you, because I’m absolutely terrible with faces. I’d love to thank you in-person for coming along on this crazy journey.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Musicians’ Letter from Japan

If you missed it, and especially if you’re disheartened, you really need to check this story out… Eriko Matsukawa from Japan is a huge Minnesota Orchestra fan, and she uses their work to battle the difficulties presented by her blindness and the trauma of the 2011 earthquake. She speaks for me when she writes:

So, that is why I am sending what little I could send. I know that this is not much, and regretfully, it does not help much. It is painfully frustrating to me this is all I can do. This amount does not translate my opinion on how much worth you are to me or respect and admiration I have toward you. It is just that, as an English teacher for adult students, translator and interpreter (English/Japanese), I do not make much, and please know that I know you are priceless.

Also, I do not consider this donation; this is a long-awaiting payment that I should have made, always wanted to make and you ought to receive. You are entitled to every penny.

You are asking for our help; it is amazing some fans do not realize that it is not us helping you, but it is you busting your back to help us and save us. You are so nice, so you don’t really say it that way.

The “little amount” she sent was $5000.

Perhaps this letter could be sent to every single member of the board. I would be beyond interested to hear their responses.

Today I give thanks that I live in a world moved so profoundly by music.

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Filed under Not My Writing

Analyzing the Almanac Interview

On today’s docket: analyzing Doug Kelley and Tony Ross’s November 30 appearance on Almanac. Please watch it or read the transcript before continuing.

I believe this is the longest live interview that a Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) representative has given. Over the months, the musicians have been much more interested in speaking to the public than the MOA has been. Musicians spoke with us individually after their convention center concert. In late October, Ellen Dinwiddie Smith gave an in-depth interview with Matt Peiken. (This proved to be one of the more clarifying media events of the lockout so far.) The musicians also have provided an email address on their website that you can use to get in contact with them, and their Facebook page is thriving. Contrast that with the MOA’s relative silence. We’re still waiting on Mr. Henson to accept Mr. Peiken’s request for an interview, and for Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis to accept Drew McManus’. The only reciprocal contact we have with management is via its Facebook page…and that’s marginally reciprocal, at best; the responses there consist of little more than regurgitated talking points. (Go ahead and check it out for yourself.) Also, the MOA’s recent annual meeting was closed to the public, and no announcements of any kind of open meeting have been made. So I’m going to assume that this Almanac segment is about as lengthy and in-depth a live discussion as the MOA is willing to risk. What else am I supposed to think?

As you can imagine, this frustrates me to no end. Rightly or wrongly, it makes me feel as though the MOA is hiding things and is afraid, contrary to what they keep asserting. If they don’t have anything to hide, and if they aren’t afraid of anything, then why aren’t they answering as many questions as possible? Why aren’t they giving more live interviews? Anyone can write an editorial or say a few sentences to the Pioneer Press without making a fool of themselves. Those are not difficult things to do, and I can say that with authority, because I’ve done both. The tricky part is engaging with another person in front of an audience – thinking on your feet – being able to defend and articulate your vision in a fair, respectful, factually accurate manner. It becomes increasingly obvious that Mr. Henson, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Davis don’t feel up to the task of defending their position. Prove me wrong, gentlemen. Please.

Anyway. Here’s my point: the longest interview they’ve given has only lasted ten minutes, and that’s with both sides involved, so it’s probably actually closer to five, and that’s really sad and ridiculous, and it pisses me off. Consequently I’m going to hold Mr. Kelley to a very very very high standard of truth tonight. If this is the longest live interview the MOA is willing to give, then they’d better make it as accurate as possible.


Erik Eskola: Well, Mr. Ross, let me start with you. The independent audit that has been sort of at the center of this is due out next week. Will that get things off the dime here, or – ?

Tony Ross: No, we’re really looking for an independent financial analysis, not an audit that is produced by their side. There’s so many fuzzy numbers, numbers we don’t understand, that we need an independent joint analysis to be able to go further at all. And an audit just simply doesn’t do it. It looks backward. The analysis looks forward, looks at all kinds of things, as far as you know, management’s – the atmosphere of management, the workplace, the mission statement, the future of the band.

The interview began with Tony Ross articulating what musicians want to see in addition to an independent audit. There are more details about what they want on the musicians’ website:

Audits do not cover an institution’s viability, stability, business plan, strategic plan, the quality of its management, comparative performance, or present and future prospects. A joint, independent financial analysis would review all of these things, and would assess current and future trends, opportunities and risks.

Before the musicians even revealed that they were seeking such things, resident guest-blogger Mary Schaefle was thinking along similar lines in her two entries here on SOTL:

Do management and the Board have a new set of projections for future years? A review by an investment analyst, which is typically not part of an audit, is needed…

As I pointed out in the comments section of Emily’s earlier post on the endowment, the draw amounts released by Minnesota Orchestra do not match their tax forms. That means percentages are off as well. Yes, we once again need that accountant…

You may remember my suggestion in the last article for an independent financial analysis. The questions I’m raising here wouldn’t be answered by that kind of oversight. A respected leader in performing arts management, preferably orchestra management, would be the best person to review the strategic plan to ensure it is sound…

Of course I don’t know if the musicians are seeking exactly what Mary is suggesting or would suggest. But we do seem to be coalescing around the same general idea: we want a team of outside specialists to come in to provide additional perspective on many subjects, such as the feasibility of the strategic plan, future investment projections, comparisons of the Orchestra with other similar organizations, etc., etc., etc. And I wonder what we should be calling this…review? inspection? examination? scrutiny? study? I don’t know what word to use, and for a writer like me, that’s frustrating! The phrase “joint independent financial analysis” may cover part of what we want to see happen, but I’m not sure that it covers all of it. For instance, I don’t think that someone just tuning in would necessarily understand from the phrase “joint independent financial analysis” that we’re also discussing things like having someone review the strategic plan, or quality of management, etc. On the other hand, I have no idea what to actually call what we want. Hmm.

Sorry; that was a bit of a tangent. But it was a thought I wanted to throw out there before I forgot.

Back to the interview.

Cathy Wurzer: You’re still dealing with a structural budget problem, no matter how you slice it, correct? According to information from the Star Tribune, minutes of board meetings and that kind of thing, you’ve had the structural budget problem for a while. And from 2009 to 2011, there was no public mention of any trouble. So I’m wondering here. You opened the door to accusations that you misled the public, your donors, and lawmakers during that time.

Doug Kelley: Well, I’m glad you asked, because I’d like to put that to rest.

As you’re reading the rest of Mr. Kelley’s response, look for where he puts it to rest.

We, like every other organization, we have income, and we have expenses. And they are certified by an outside accounting firm every year. And those numbers are given to the musicians. We file a tax return. Everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return. And that’s given to the musicians every year. I think the dispute this week is about the budget and how that works. Let’s say we budget $8 million to come from the endowment, and at the end of the year the expenses are greater and we draw $10 million from the endowment. That number – every penny – is accounted for. It goes down, put on all the income tax return and everything else. It’s as transparent as you can be, and we have done that every year, and those numbers are public. The musicians have them. If they want to do a forward-thinking analysis, the first place they’d go would be to a certified financial statement or tax returns. Those are sort of the gold standard documents in financial analysis. And I think that the musicians should really kind of back off the accusation that we misled the legislature. We gave them every number and were totally transparent with them.

Did you catch the part where he explains why the MOA didn’t mislead the public? Where he explains why there were no mentions of trouble from 2009 to 2011? If so, you’re seeing something I’m not. I didn’t realize how blatantly he avoided the question until I worked up the transcript. I shouldn’t have been, but frankly I was shocked. And at this point I have a pretty high shock threshold.

Since I’m an obsessive detail-oriented freak, let’s break his words down even further.

We file a tax return. Everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return.

Yes, apparently Doug Kelley believes it’s impossible to lie on your tax return…? (Not that I’m saying the MOA has. But to give as proof that they haven’t the sentence “everybody knows you don’t lie on your tax return”? That’s weak.)

 I think the dispute this week is about the budget and how that works

The dispute “this week”? Wow, way to treat us like teenagers whining because we can’t get the latest iPhone. This kind of dismissive attitude will work well to regain our trust. *thumbs up*

If they want to do a forward-thinking analysis, the first place they’d go would be to a certified financial statement or tax returns.

Notice he says “the first place”…insinuating that it wouldn’t be “the only place.” Is Doug Kelley making our argument for us?

And I think that the musicians should really kind of back off the accusation that we misled the legislature.

Welllllll, unfortunately for management, lots of other people are going to keep beating on that drum, even if the musicians would for whatever reason stop. I for one am not backing off my personal belief that Michael Henson straight-out lied to the legislature. I know that many of you agree with me. The Minnesota AFL-CIO is promising to “urge Legislators to look into the situation in January.” At least one legislator is feeling betrayed, and going so far as to urge her colleagues to “think critically before voting on any legislation that would further direct public dollars into the Minnesota Orchestra (or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra).” In future I think Mr. Kelley would do well to acknowledge that the MOA has, rightly or wrongly, lost the trust of a large segment of the public, as well as musicians.

Okay, onto the next chunk…

CW: However, Mr. Henson in January 2010, talking about bonding money in front of the committee said, “On the financial front, we have announced balanced budgets over the last three consecutive years. We are facing the current economic downturn with stability.” But that wasn’t the case.

DK: The orchestra’s 110 years old. It’ll be on for a long time after this dispute is over.

Around in here I almost start feeling pity for Doug Kelley, and for the impossible argument he’s being asked to sell. Because in order to make his case semi-convincingly, he’s forced to resort to the following logic: if something is 110 years old…it is immortal.

This is a 110-year-old woman named Mary Brown. She attributes her cenetenarian status to “having an inquiring mind, not driving and sprinkling all of food with plenty of salt.” She is also, if I’m following Doug Kelley’s logic correctly, immortal.

Here’s a question for Mr. Kelley. It sounds stupid, but bear with me. What is the Minnesota Orchestra? Is it any old group of orchestral musicians with the label “the Minnesota Orchestra” slapped onto it? Or is the Minnesota Orchestra these specific musicians – this specific ensemble? If we use the former definition, then yes, the Minnesota Orchestra will likely continue to exist after this dispute is over. However, I believe that most of us would prefer to employ the latter definition. And we know that it’s very possible – if not probable – that this Minnesota Orchestra will not exist after the lockout ends. There are too many fabulous players taking too many attractive auditions. Trust me.

But. So when you take that $10 million out of the endowment and you cover your expenses, you match income with expenses. That’s a balanced budget by anybody’s definition.

Oh, for…crap’s sake.

Does this mean that if I get a cash advance from my credit card, and buy a wicked expensive viola, and therefore match my income with expenses for the month, that I’m facing my fiscal future with stability? Really?

Look, I’ll be extremely generous and grant Mr. Henson the “we have announced balanced budgets” bit, on the technicality of the verb. But the “facing the current economic downturn with stability” part…? I mean. Come. On. Cathy Wurzer is absolutely right: that was not the case.

And the other thing I think that’s a little exasperating is the musicians knew we were trying to figure out how to put the best face on it. We talked to the musicians about that. We shared those numbers with them as early as 2010.

…Maybe you did, but why didn’t you share them with us? And remember, not only was the MOA not sharing those numbers with the public, they were actively misleading the public about those numbers. But of course nobody from management ever mentions that. Talk about exasperating.

DK: Yeah, let me just say, what happened in between the time before and now in how we report these numbers is the recession. The musicians have been shielded from the recession.

Yes, musicians apparently…have no realization that a recession has occurred. Those self-absorbed dunderheads! So busy playing…and making the Orchestra the greatest in the world…they didn’t notice the global fiscal apocalypse. For shame, musicians. Get out from under your rock once in a while. Geez.

You had a 25% increase from 2007 to 2012.

Now this I found interesting, because the MOA website says, “The musicians still received a 19.2 percent increase over the five years of the contract.” (If you want to verify that figure, it’s under Have musicians offered concessions in response to the Orchestra’s financial challenges?“) As Tony Ross said in the interview: these are “fuzzy numbers.” Is anyone else amused by the irony that Doug Kelley refutes claims of fuzzy numbers…by citing fuzzy numbers?

And you remember that first big meeting – I think you were just referring to it – Richard Davis and Michael Henson came in front of you and told you exactly what they were doing. They said, you know, we have reported that we have balanced the budget and we have announced that publicly. And we’re also telling you that we’re about a million five short and we’ve done that because of donors. And you guys knew every bit about that, and that’s why I think it’s so disingenuous to go to the legislature.


In the words of Bill O’ Reilly:

Honestly, Doug Kelley might as well be speaking Greek here. He lost me completely, totally, utterly. After I transcribed it, I sat on that paragraph for a while, waiting for an epiphany as to what it meant, but it never came. So a few days ago I went to Drew McManus in the hopes that he could translate the management-ese.

Here’s what I wrote in the comment section of Drew’s blog:

Is Mr. Kelley admitting that they announced the balanced budget only for the donors, thereby reinforcing the idea that the donors were manipulated, even though Mr. Kelley heavily implied earlier in the interview this was not the case? Is this admission as big a deal as I think it is? Aside from the MOA being better positioned to get what they wanted from the state legislature in January 2010, and from the musicians’ union in 2012, what would be the strategic advantage of announcing balanced budgets if you’re going to reveal in a couple years that the financial position wasn’t as rosy as you once said it was? Wouldn’t that be – in Mr. Kelley’s parlance – kicking the can down the road? Or have I totally misinterpreted this? I’m also curious what he meant by “that’s why I think it’s so disingenuous to go to the legislature.” I couldn’t understand if he was talking from the musicians’ POV, or if he was missing a word or two, or what was going on. Am I just being dense here? Does it make any sense to you?

He wrote back:

In the excerpt you quoted, I believe Kelly’s phrasing is such that there’s no way to definitively determine what he is saying here without added clarity.

So um, apparently nobody has any idea what Doug Kelley was actually trying to say. So, hey! Doug Kelley! Feel free to clarify. Comment section’s open. I have absolutely no idea what you were trying to get at. I’d be delighted to listen to a fuller explanation. (If you as a reader think you’ve cracked the code and know what he’s saying, let me know.)

CW: The musicians say, Doug Kelly, that they do not have confidence in Mr. Henson. Has the board voted – has the board discussed Mr. Henson? Do you have full confidence in him?

DK: Yes, we do. Absolutely. And we just – we had a committee meeting to discuss Mr. Henson. Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board.

I know I wasn’t the only one whose ears pricked up at this. Doug Kelley saying “Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board” is something very different from the entire board holding a unanimous vote of confidence in Mr. Henson…or even the entire board discussing Mr. Henson.

I brought this up with Drew McManus, since he’s blogged about the subject:

I know you had mentioned in a previous entry about how we’re not sure what is going on with the Board re: their opinion on Mr. Henson. When asked if the board had full confidence in Mr. Henson, Mr. Kelley said, “Yes, we do. Absolutely. And we just – we had a committee meeting to discuss Mr. Henson. Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board.” Do you think that that’s any indication that a full vote has occurred? Is it likely? Or is it impossible to know based on those words?

Here’s what he had to say in response:

Regarding the board confidence point, I noticed Kelly’s phrasing here too in that he said the committee met to discuss Henson. Although it would be worth confirming, I believe Kelly was referring to the executive committee. If that’s accurate then no, that is not the same thing as a full board vote and/or discussion on the topic.

I’m guessing it was this appearance on Almanac, combined with Jon Campbell’s 11/27 quote, “Michael Henson is a perfect leader at this challenging time and has the full confidence of our board”, that led some bystanders to believe that a full vote had taken place. In fact, MPR actually ran an article that included the phrase “With the board’s recent unanimous vote in support of Henson“, but I (and probably others) contacted them to check if this was actually the case. It turns out it wasn’t. It is official: there has not been a vote of confidence in Mr. Henson, much less a unanimous one. Accordingly, MPR later edited the article.

So. Suddenly, any trust I may have once had in Doug Kelley has vanished. Completely. I feel extremely uncomfortable that he deigned to speak for everyone on the board, without having an actual vote or discussion to back his words up. Is it possible that every single one of the eighty-odd members of the MOA board have total confidence in Michael Henson? Absolutely! But do we have any objective evidence to back that assertion up, like we do with the musicians’ vote of no-confidence? No, we do not.

As Drew McManus wrote, “Although this point may seem heavy on semantics, it is perhaps useful to remember that as tensions rise, words carry greater meaning; even if they are, at times, delivered through the filter of intense emotion.”

I think the reason the musicians have been unhappy with Mr. Henson is because when he first came, he said you have this structural deficit, it is here, you need to address it, and he started to address it, and that makes everybody nervous when you start doing that, and to put it on a sustainable basis, is going to take some real changes.

Question: If the main problem with Michael Henson is his courageous leadership, then why are so many well-informed patrons also angry with him? Is there any chance that we have anger for the same reasons the musicians do? Look, I’ve devoted the last three months of my life to trying to understand Michael Henson and what he’s done with the Minnesota Orchestra. I’ve read literally hundreds of articles and blog entries and press releases about this situation, from both sides. I’ve written over two dozen in-depth articles. I’d be delighted to debate Michael Henson, live and on-the-record, in front of the entire music world. I’m confident I know as much as anyone in the public knows about this situation. And I can guarantee you, my problem with Michael Henson is not his addressing a structural deficit.

EE: How’s this going to get settled?

DK: You know what? I hope that instead of going off on these frolic and detours, we just come back to the table and help us settle and solve this problem.

TR: We made counters, and if you want us to make a more detailed counter, we need that financial analysis. And I’d like to ask you, Doug: what are you afraid of?

DK: We’re not afraid of anything –

TR: Well, let’s have it!

I don’t really have anything to say about this exchange besides it was dramatic and riveting and popcorn GIF worthy. So:

TR: For once in the minutes it says, and there’s very few times they speak of this, there’s a gift of half a million dollars. And the board says, what should we do with it? It was given to the orchestra. Well, ten percent of it goes to operations. And ninety percent of it goes to the building fund – the lobby part of the building fund.

Weary sigh. I’d love to hear more details about this. Honestly, I’d love to hear any details about anything having to do with the MOA’s finances. I wish we had more, but I’m so glad that we have Mary aboard to help us try make sense of the numbers we do have. *waves to Mary* (By the way, she’s working on part three of her Minnesota Orchestra Financials Series! No rush, Mary, darling, but we can’t wait to read it!)

So. With that, I come unceremoniously to the end of the longest live interview a representative from MOA management has yet given. And it wasn’t even that long: ten minutes and six seconds, according to the Almanac website. And about half of that was Tony Ross speaking. And within the space of those five minutes, I had to sort through Doug Kelley’s misrepresentations, weak excuses, non-answers, logical fallacies, a paragraph of complete gibberish…and I was even forced to email MPR to fact-check one of Mr. Kelley’s statements. That’s…not good.

If Doug Kelley is the most eloquent and persuasive communicator the MOA can field, then clearly the MOA is having trouble fielding eloquent and persuasive communicators.

Either that, or not even a lawyer can defend the MOA’s position.


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