Tag Archives: Minnesota Orchestra

Interview with Scott Chamberlain: Part 2

In the second part of my interview with fellow blogger Scott Chamberlain, we talked about his upcoming Cuba trip. Catch up on the first part here.

***

Scott's logo

The famous mask…

EH: So. I’ve ignored the elephant in the room long enough. The whole reason I even thought of connecting with you in interview format is that you’re going with the Minnesota Orchestra to cover their historic Cuba tour. They’ll be the first American orchestra in the Obama era to visit. And you’ll be writing about it, even though you aren’t a professional arts writer. And I want to take a minute to talk about that.

I’ve never heard of an arts writer – amateur or professional – trying to crowdfund accompanying an orchestra on a tour. And not only trying, but succeeding. As I’m writing this entry, you’re at 55% of your goal, and it’s only been a few days. (Readers, please, if anyone has done anything like this before, let me know in the comments.) I know this project didn’t come about as some grand plan or anything like that, but obviously as I’m watching the total tick up and up, and getting excited about having a writer friend on the ground in Cuba to share his thoughts… I’m wondering about whether you think this is a strategy that arts writers will use in future to get more and better coverage of our beloved arts. I have mixed feelings about whether it could work besides for a few very charismatic people, but I’m curious what you think. Do you think your support is just a one-off thing because you developed relationships with your readers in the depths of a historic lockout, or do you think other arts writers in other times and places could do it, too? Many times I find myself wondering, “are the cool things that are happening here a direct result of the lockout, or could these cool things happen everywhere?” Do you know what I mean?

SC: I do think it’s unusual—in fact, the co-founder Musicovation.com, a website devoted to covering news and industry trends from across the musical world, contacted me to ask these very questions.

And I have to say I’m learning as I go. Given the complexities of this tour, it is fairly expensive… even for those of us who are getting the press discount. As an independent writer, coming up with the cost of the trip seemed daunting, but a number of supporters suggested that this was a perfect fit for a GoFundMe campaign… and off I went.

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Interview with Scott Chamberlain: Part 1

Many times over the past two years I found myself messaging Scott Chamberlain:

You want to cover this one, or should I?

Scott Chamberlain, the author of the widely linked Mask of the Flower Prince blog, and I share a lot: mediums, outlooks, communities, topics, inspirations, and a passion for our Minnesota Orchestra, as well as the performing arts in general. In other words, I’m not sure why I haven’t interviewed him on the blog before. So yesterday I emailed him a list of discussion topics about the role of blogs in the orchestra world, why the [expletive] we kept writing about the Minnesota Orchestra meltdown for as long as we did, and oh, yeah, a little bit about his historic trip to Cuba. (Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview for that.) And he was good enough to email back. So without further ado –

***

This is Scott's blog. It's a good blog.

This is Scott’s blog. It’s a good blog.

EH: It’s surreal to me we haven’t had a public chat yet. We’ve each linked to each other a million times, but we’ve never actually sat down for a conversation, so I feel like this entry is way overdue.

First I want to hop in a time machine back to June 2013, which was the month your blog started. It was the exact middle of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. You were crazy prolific during that time. Why did you feel compelled to spend months documenting this disaster? For me, it was because this orchestra meant so much to me, and it was cathartic to dissect the news. And gradually it became more rewarding than anything I’d ever done, even when the news was really bad. (And it was almost always really bad.) But I was curious why you kept at it. Looking back, don’t you think rational people should have given up after Osmo resigned?

SC: The funny thing is, in many ways I fell into blogging as an afterthought. As many people know, I used to work for the Orchestra and had several friends among the musicians and the staff. So when the negotiations fell apart in fall 2012, it really felt personal. I think like many people out there, I started off thinking that this was a standard-issue labor dispute. For me that changed on November 28, 2012, when the Star Tribune published an op-ed piece by the board chairs of the Minnesota Orchestra detailing their views of the lockout. There were so many things in that op-ed that were disrespectful, and flat out wrong. I was irritated enough that the next day I posted an extensive deconstruction of it on my Facebook page.

I had no idea anyone would ever read it… I mostly wrote it just for my own peace of mind. Plus, such a lengthy rebuttal was way, way too long for Facebook. I fully expected that any attention it received would fade quickly, just like everything else on social media. But oddly enough, this post didn’t die away quietly. I watched in disbelief as my rant took on a life of its own, shared by hundreds of people I didn’t know and had never met. Within a week my number of Facebook friends had nearly doubled. (I ultimately re-posted that piece here on my blog, if you’d care to read it.)

I followed up this commentary with many others, but given their size and scope they weren’t particularly suited for Facebook. I was a fan of “Song of the Lark,” and wondered if a blog might be a better way to get my ideas out into the real world. With a great deal of prodding from my wife and other friends, I made it happen.

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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.

I-Would-Hope-And-Expect

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.

Unless…

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…

990s

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?

990s

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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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.

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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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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”?

original

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.

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.

***

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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.

IT'S DEAD. IT FAILED. DAMN. GET OVER IT.

IT’S DEAD. IT FAILED. DAMN. GET OVER IT.

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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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!

 

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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.

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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.

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