Tag Archives: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

What Do the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO Mean To You?

I have a simple question for y’all.

What do the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO mean to you?

How have they inspired you, moved you, transported you? When did you first see them? When did you last see them? What makes you love them? What makes them special, and worth preserving in their current forms? Write down your thoughts and then post them in the comments section here (or if you want to communicate through email, leave a comment saying so, and I’ll get in touch with you privately as soon as possible). Write a few sentences, or write an essay. I’ll then re-post them as actual entries that you can then spread and share with your friends and family. I want to hear funny anecdotes, profound experiences, intellectual epiphanies: anything. Let’s take a minute to remember what we’re fighting for. I’ll post them all under the tag What Orchestras Mean. I think in the middle of the fight it’s vitally important to occasionally step back and remember all the amazing music we’ve been blessed with.

By the way, Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO managements are more than welcome to participate in this! :D Even if you don’t want to answer my questions, feel free to take part in this activity! (*shrug* Hey, it’s worth a shot…)


Filed under Not My Writing

Orchestral Apocalypse Index

Here is a comprehensive list of articles pertaining to Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012. Both pro- and anti-management viewpoints are represented. Please keep in mind that certain statements within these articles are of questionable veracity, so take everything here with a grain of salt. You can read about my personal questions about what’s been said on other pages of my blog.

I’ll update as new information is published or made available. If you have an article you want to have added to the list, the comment section is open to you.


SPCO Musicians Blog

SPCO Musicians Facebook page

Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Blog

Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Facebook page

SPCO Management (they’ve updated this relatively frequently with new documents)

Minnesota Orchestra Management (the only thing they’ve ever updated so far is “Industry News” and their “final offer” contract, so don’t go here expecting much news; also, patrons have had questions about the claims presented within this site)


MPR News Primer: Orchestra contract negotiations, MPR, 18 August

Fearing for ‘our orchestra, as we know it’, by Evelina Chao, Pioneer Press, 25 August

Do the Twin Cities need 2 orchestras?, MPR, 27 August

SPCO musicians take their case to the Fair, MPR, 28 August

MinnPost article, MinnPost, 30 August

Minnesota 2020 Journal: Sour Notes, Minnesota 2020, 31 August

Solutions today to ensure a vibrant SPCO tomorrow, by Dobson West, Pioneer Press, 1 September

Orchestra musicians plan free concert, Star Tribune, 4 September

Minn. Orchestra seeks big cut in musician salaries, MPR, 5 September

MN Orchestra opens up about contract negotiations, MPR, 5 September

SPCO faces deficit of “up to $1 million” for fiscal year, Star Tribune, 5 September

Minn. Orchestra, SPCO go public with calls for major cost cuts, Star Tribune, 6 September

Orchestra contract talks a matter of money vs. artistry, MPR, 6 September

Musicians seek audit of Minnesota Orchestra, Star Tribune, 6 September

MinnPost article, MinnPost, 7 September

SPCO proposes new contract for musicians, MPR, 7 September

SPCO makes new salary offer, MPR, 7 September

SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra in tough contract talks, Pioneer Press, 7 September

When Should A Conductor Speak Up?, Colin Eatock, 10 September

On governance, by Robert Levine, Polyphonic

Twin Cities orchestras make public appeal amid contract negotiations, MPR, 21 September

Labor talks at SPCO apparently fruitless, MPR, 22 September

Orchestra headed toward lockout?, Star Tribune, 24 September

Minn. Orchestra Musicians Say Strike Is Possibility, WCCO, 24 September

Could Twin Cities Orchestras Go Silent?, KARE, 24 September

The latest on SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra labor talks, MPR, 24 September

Minn. Orchestra, SPCO contract negotiations still without agreement. MPR. 24 September

SPCO rejects musicians’ contract counterproposal. MPR. 24 September.

SPCO contract talks stall; management wants 28 players, down from 34, Pioneer Press, 24 September

SPCO musicians make counteroffer; Minnesota Orchestra talks appear stalled, Pioneer Press, 25 September

Minnesota Orchestra’s final offer, Star Tribune, 25 September

As deadlines near, developments in contract struggles at MnOrch and SPCO, MPR, 26 September

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra managers reject union contract offer, Pioneer Press, 26 September

Contract negotiations continue at orchestras; final offer, counter-proposal, MPR, 27 September

Without contract, Minn. Orchestra lockout possible, MPR, 27 September

Minn. Orchestra musicians face lockout if no deal, Star Tribune, 27 September

10,000 lakes, one fish, and no settlements, by Robert Levine, Polyphonic, 28 September

Keep Your Eye on the Details in Minnesota, by Drew McManus, 28 September

Mn Orch musicians reject management proposal as SPCO bosses reject contract extension, MPR, 29 September

Minn. Orchestra Musicians Reject Contract, CBS Minnesota, 29 September

Musicians vote down contract proposal, Star Tribune, 29 September

Musicians veto deal in Mpls. as SPCO rejects contract extension, KARE, 30 September

Minn. Orchestra musicians seek arbitration, MPR, 30 September

Minn. Orchestra, musicians fail to agree; lockout expected, Star Tribune, 30 September

Minnesota Orchestra musicians headed for lockout, WQOW, 30 September

Lockout set to take effect for Minn. Orchestra, MPR, 30 September

SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra: Contract talks stall, Pioneer Press, 30 September

Minnesota Orchestra concerts canceled, no talks scheduled, Star Tribune, 1 October

Minnesota Orchestra locks out musicians, cancels concerts, MPR, 1 October

MN Orchestra cancels fall concerts, musicians rally, MPR, 1 October

SPCO talks to resume in 10 days, but MnOrch at impasse, Pioneer Press, 1 October

Locked-out Minn Orch musicians take cause to streets, MPR, 1 October

Good Question: Why Does The Orchestra Get Paid So Much?, CBS Minnesota, 1 October

Arts reporter explains Minnesota Orchestra lockout impact, My Fox 9, 1 October

Locked-out musicians regret concert cancellations, seek more talks, Workday Minnesota, 2 October

Minnesota Orchestra cancels concerts in the wake of lockout, Los Angeles Times, 2 October

MN Orchestra musicians locked out as SPCO’s ‘talk and play’, MinnPost, 2 October

Ground Zero for the Payless model, Robert Levine, Polyphonic, 2 October

Open Season, Frank Almond, 2 October

Locked out Mn Orch musicians plan season opening concert, MPR, 2 October

Minnesota Orchestra On Day 2 Of Lockout: We Want To Play, CBS Minnesota, 2 October

Labor Standoffs Silence Orchestras in Minnesota and Indiana, Associated Press, 3 October

Minn. Orchestra musicians plan to go solo, Star Tribune, 3 October

Management, board, also want quality, Star Tribune, 3 October

Walkouts and Lockouts in U.S. Symphonies: What Do They Portend?, NonProfit Quarterly, 4 October

Calculated, Callous, Corrosive Tactics from MN Orchestra, MNuet.com, 4 October

Leaders must solve orchestra dispute, Don Heinzman, 4 October

Blogosphere sides with musicians, MPR, 5 October

Former conductor will lead lockout concert, MPR, 5 October

Classical Musicians to the Barricades (Again), Reason.com, 5 October [very hard for me to resist editorializing on this one, but I’ll resist…for now]

In the middle of a musical labor dispute, MPR, 5 October

Orchestra lockout prompts the question: What are experts worth?, MinnPost, 5 October

Labor strife is playing out at orchestras all across the country, Star Tribune, 6 October

Skrowaczewski to lead Minnesota Orchestra musicians in opening night concert, MinnPost, 7 October

Preserving a great art, Minnesota Daily, 8 October

Locked out musicians get gigs elsewhere, MPR, 9 October

During Lockout Season, Orchestra Musicians Grapple With Their Future, NPR, 10 October

A tempest strikes American orchestras, MPR, 1o October

MN Orch musicians to perform, will not honor tickets for cancelled concert, MPR, 10 October

Minn. Orchestra makes a stand, Star Tribune, 11 October

Can’t they just be happy with that lobby?, Star Tribune, 11 October

Board should not be opposed to arbitrator, Star Tribune, 15 October

Minnesota Orchestra to put on concert Thursday, KARE, 16 October

Amid Minnesota Orchestra’s strife, the show still goes on, Pioneer Press, 19 October

Minnesota Orchestra musicians hold their own sold-out opening night, MinnPost, 19 October

Music in midst of contract dispute, Star Tribune, 19 October

Musicians, at least, have got it together, Star Tribune, 22 October

Orchestral musicians fight to maintain ‘artistic excellence’, CNN, 22 October

SPCO Is 2nd Locked-Out Twin Cities Orchestra, Twin Cities Business, 22 October

Why not spend Minnesota Orchestra’s $140M endowment?, MPR, 23 October

Orchestras Face a Season of Lockouts, by Bruce Ridge, Labor Notes, 24 October

Orchestra salary cuts continue unfortunate trend, Manitou Messenger, 25 October

Employers get control by turning to lockouts, Star Tribune, 28 October

Matt Peiken at MNuet is now aggregating links to news stories, so for links to stories published after November 1, click here.

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Filed under Lists

Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO 2012 Negotiations, Week (Gulp) -1

This week is when the crap really starts hitting the fan in regards to the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra negotiations. Or, as it’s known around these parts: Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012. Here’s a comprehensive discussion of what all happened in Week -4, Week -3, and Week -2. Warning: this situation has become so complicated, so political, so bizarre, that if you’re just starting to pay attention now, you’d be well-served by reading the entirety of my Tumblr, which includes the discussions of what happened in the various weeks, as well as all the editorials I’ve written. Yes, I understand that’s a lot of reading, but to be fair, a lot of crap has happened lately.

25 September 2012 (published a day late; sorry)

A lot of information has come out lately. Here are some articles you can read at your leisure…

Orchestra headed toward lockout? Star Tribune. 24 September, 11:11AM

Minn. Orchestra Musicians Say Strike Is Possibility. WCCO. 24 September, 5:55PM

Could Twin Cities Orchestras Go Silent? KARE. 24 September, 6:05PM

The latest on SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra labor talks. MPR. 24 September, 9:20PM

Minn. Orchestra, SPCO contract negotiations still without agreement. MPR. 24 September.

SPCO rejects musicians’ contract counterproposal. MPR. 24 September.

SPCO contract talks stall; management wants 28 players, down from 34. Pioneer Press. 24 September.

Just some miscellaneous thoughts…

I’m disappointed that the media isn’t talking more about working conditions and managements’ visions for the future. These are not just squabbles over money, although you’d never guess it from the majority of press reports.

I’m not sure why Minnesota management refused to allow their musicians to address the board, especially since there were already plans for management to convene that evening…? I’d like to hear from them about that. Why wouldn’t you at least make the show of meeting with them? You wouldn’t have to actually listen to them, if you didn’t want to. You could play with your new iPhone and tune them out. But then at least afterward you could say you met with them when they offered to reach out to you. This just seems like an easily avoidable PR failure. (One of many, unfortunately…)

After this latest barrage of press reports, I feel like I’m understanding better why there has been no counter-proposal from the Minnesota musicians: they want more answers about the organization’s finances before they can decide what would be a reasonable proposal. I think that’s a totally fair request. Having just dug into some old articles, and found some pretty serious discrepancies in management’s attitudes (and numbers) between 2008 and 2010 and 2012, I believe the musicians are more than justified in asking for an independent financial analysis. In fact, I feel that donors should be clamoring for an independent financial analysis. (If I was Julia Dayton, I’d be making some very angry calls to Orchestra Hall administration after what management has all said over the past few weeks…) Once again, management, you’re free to step forward and clarify, either here directly or through the press or through your website. But until you do, I have to deal with the facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground say that the musicians have good reason to feel confused…and betrayed.

26 September

Remember how on the 24th SPCO management rejected the musicians’ proposal (details above)? That consisted of “a first-year guaranteed pay of $73,000 for the first two years, with an increase to $77,000 in the third year. They also asked for no change in the size of the orchestra, increased pension contributions in the third year and increased seniority pay throughout the contract,” according to the Pioneer Press. Well, the musicians have tried again…

According to the Pioneer Press:

The musicians agreed to further salary cuts that would bring the minimum annual salaries down to $70,000 for the first two years of the contract and $75,000 for the third…

In order to avoid reducing the orchestra’s size from 34 players down to 28, the musicians have asked management to take the money set aside for buyouts and apply it toward the operating budget.

“They’ve told us 16 musicians are eligible for a buyout,” said Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee. “That money should (be used) to preserve the orchestra rather than dismember it and start all over again.”

In addition, the musicians have offered to perform up to eight free concerts specifically for fundraising events.

I’m guessing the musicians feel fairly confident about this offer, as they’ve posted the entirety of their contract up on their blog, which they’ve never done before. Waiting on management’s response now… (One wonders where the money that management wanted to use for buyouts came from. Has anyone explained that? Right now, judging by press reports, it seems it just magically appeared. Abracadabra!)

I’ve been feeling for a few weeks as if the situation in St. Paul is slightly less bleak than the one in Minneapolis, and hopefully this proves it.

Speaking of the bleak situation in Minneapolis…

The situation in Minneapolis is bleak.

Yesterday Minnesota management offered their ominously titled Final Proposal, which makes a generous effort to compromise by…not really compromising much at all. Management is still claiming they want a $89,000 average salary. (Really, guys? You couldn’t even come up to, say, $90,500 to at least give a vague impression of compromise? A $1500 raise in the proposed average salary would only cost you roughly $135,000 more a year. [The exact number would vary depending on how many musicians would be in the group.] Michael Henson alone could cover the vast majority of that if he agreed to a 30% pay cut.) But I guess they did offer some clarifications and some changes in working conditions, and that’s…something. I guess. Not sure what those exact changes are yet. Musicians are still reviewing the document. Hopefully we’ll hear from them soon. I’m not optimistic about their response.

Richard Davis said:

“Nearly six months have passed and we have yet to receive from our players a counterproposal or even any indication of their priorities,” he said.

*politely raises hand* Um, Mr. Davis, I’m not sure where you’ve been over the last few months, but since you’re clearly just joining us, allow me to be the one to inform you that the musicians’ first priority is an independent financial analysis because the things you have said about the state of the orchestra’s finances contradict themselves. We have Google now, people! You can’t expect us to forget what you said in 2010! How are the musicians possibly supposed to know what their priorities are if they don’t even know how much money the orchestra may (or may not) be sitting on? It’s like someone saying, “Well, I’m not sure what my income currently is, or what it will be in future, but I do know with absolute certainty how much I can afford to spend on food, clothing, shelter, insurance, transportation, and everything else!” That’s the talk of a deranged mind. And a banker of all people should know that. Hell, maybe if you agreed to run an independent financial analysis, and the numbers came back that you’re saying will come back, who knows what could happen? Maybe the musicians would agree that your proposal is reasonable, and the only possible way to save the organization, like you’ve been telling us all along. Then maybe we could all move the crap on.

We also heard why management does not want an independent financial analysis:

unnecessary delay and duplication of efforts

One word for this: lame. On second thought, three words: lame, lame, and lame. Management doesn’t cite the cost (the thing my naive self assumed would be the stumbling block); they cite “delay” and “duplication of efforts.” Well maybe if you’d agreed to an analysis a few weeks ago, we’d be that much closer to getting the results! And maybe if you’d agree to an analysis, the musicians might temporarily accept your terms while the calculations are going on! And maybe if you’d agreed to an analysis, you could silence devoted patrons who are going so far as to wonder out loud if you’re engaging in fraud (comment section)! What would the down-side to such an analysis be, besides the inconvenience of “delay” and “duplication of effort”? It would make your musicians happy, as it would presumably answer the questions they have which they say you’re not answering. It would make negotiations less tense because everyone would be on the same page. It would be a net gain for management, as it would make the musicians look incredibly petty for being so obsessed with independent financial reviews lately. If nothing else, management could at least answer some questions about why you guys said you were doing so swimmingly in 2010, when now you say you were actually drowning in 2010.

Until further notice, I’m assuming there’s something fishy going on. Given the publicly available facts, what else am I supposed to think?

From Henson:

“If they want more conversation this week, we are here to find a resolution,” he said.

You guys didn’t seem to be interested in conversation the other day when you rejected a request for the musicians to give a presentation to the board…

Well, in the meantime…if you’re lonely and need someone to talk to about finding solutions to your orchestra’s countless intractable problems…you’ve always always got me and my Hundred Questions… Just saying. :) <3 xx

Here are the articles that came out today, so you can read all the details and try judging for yourself what’s happening…

Minnesota Orchestra’s final offer.  Star Tribune. 25 September.

SPCO musicians make counteroffer; Minnesota Orchestra talks appear stalled. Pioneer Press. 25 September.

As deadlines near, developments in contract struggles at MnOrch and SPCO. MPR. 26 September.

Also interesting: yesterday’s Minnesota musicians’ blog entry discussing their last negotiating session.

Some highlights (lowlights?):

 Board Chair Jon Campbell expressed regret at the Board and Management’s handling of the endowment funds over the past ten years, noting that they had been unhappy with the advice they had acted upon and had to change investment advisers. Campbell also admitted that the Board and Management had been wrong in 2007 regarding their investment predictions.

After lunch, Musicians asked questions related to the most recent endowment charts, with the main question being: Where does the $97 Million that the Board has raised thus far (in the Building for the Future Fund) fit into the total endowment structure? The Board and Management did not answer [editor’s note: lol], but said they would provide that information later…

Finally, Musicians requested to speak to the entire Board of Directors at that evening’s meeting, and be given an opportunity to offer their morning presentation. The Board and Management rejected that request.

Stay classy, Minnesota Orchestra management. Stay classy. *thumbs up*

27 September

Well, this is not a day of events I’m looking forward to summarizing. And it probably will only get worse from here on out. I knew it was bad when I realized I was in the mood to listen to a lonely mournful lumberjack singing sad incomprehensible lyrics…in falsetto.

God I’m depressed. *takes swig of alcohol*

Yesterday SPCO management rejected their musicians’ proposal. Here’s the article from the Pioneer Press, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra managers reject union contract offer.

In a statement late Wednesday, Sept. 26, SPCO president Dobson West called the proposal a “very small step forward” that does not provide any material savings and places the financial burden on the orchestra’s audience and donors.

Did he really need to qualify “a step forward” with the condescending “very small”? At this point, it seems as though any small step should be considered a giant leap. Because if you’re making any kind of progress at all after nine months, frankly, that’s a miracle. This new contract is taking as much time to gestate as a human baby.

What the SPCO musicians’ contract would look like by now if it was human

While I’m on the subject of the SPCO (which I haven’t been on very often lately) I wanted to throw in my two cents about memberships: they’re ridiculously, criminally cheap. How about offering something like two months of free concerts, to see if you’d even be interested in attending, and then after that, increasing the price of a membership to $10 or $12 a month? I’m living way below the poverty line, and I’d be happy to pay $7.50 (the musicians’ offer) or $10 or $12 a month for access to world-class concerts. Honestly, I’d pay $20, but music is obviously the most important thing in my life, so I’m a skewed sample. But surely people who are really interested and invested in the orchestra, who are told that an increase in the cost of membership will go directly to keeping that orchestra intact during difficult financial times…surely those people would be willing to pony up an extra $2.50 a month? If they don’t feel invested enough in the orchestra to pay that little bit more a month…would they really then bother coming to the shows? I have a very hard time believing they would. And isn’t that the whole point of the membership program…to cultivate new audiences? Not people who come once or twice and then stop… People who come and then keep coming. People who feel invested in the quality of what’s happening onstage. People who will support the other people (also known as the “orchestra”) onstage.

I don’t feel comfortable running all the calculations on how much this proposed contract will save the SPCO because I don’t have the expertise (or time) to wade through all the numbers, but I’d be interested in seeing management’s math on that one. There’s a letter on their website about the 24 September negotiations, saying that the union’s second proposal only saved $100,000 over the three-year life of the contract, but none has been posted about the musicians’ most recent proposal. Maybe that will come later. Or maybe they’re waiting until after this weekend to unveil the numbers. I don’t know.

Also, why has Mr. West not explained the $1.6 – $3.2 million – not sure of the exact number – which has been made available for the 16 musician buyouts? Once again, I’m so curious to hear where that number came from, when, how, why, etc. I don’t think he’s mentioned the background on that…has he? Have you heard anything about it? Let me know if you have.

Here’s an excerpt from West’s September 7 letter:

This proposal represents a significant stretch for the Society and our donors. Our donors have spoken loud and clear: there is no additional funding available to support the status quo and in fact, current funding levels will not be sustained for the status quo. Significant additional funds will be available, however, for real transformation – an orchestra of exceptional artistic quality with our fixed expenses in line with our sustainable revenues, with the flexibility to meet a rapidly changing environment and with fair and respectful compensation for our Musicians, at rates we can afford.

I wish we could hear from these donors. I haven’t heard from them in the press, and I would very much like to. I would like to hear them explain in their own words why they feel the status quo is unsustainable, and if they feel the artistic quality of the orchestra will decrease as a result of these specific cuts, and also their qualifications for making such assessments. I wonder if there are any large donors who are expressing concern about a possible sharp decrease in quality and cohesion…? You’d think there would be. Many small donors have.

Also, a respectful base salary for a new musician in an ensemble that aspires to be one of the greatest chamber orchestras in the world is not $50,000 a year. Especially not in a state where the median income is about $57,000. Sorry. That’s not much more than the musicians would earn if they were teaching privately full-time. Actually, with their training, they could probably make more money teaching full-time, especially if they supplemented with other performance opportunities. According to this website, $50,000 is about what a subway operator, sales representative, or librarian makes a year. And no offense to those good folks, but they didn’t invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into their education and career starting at the age of five. I don’t see how you could realistically aspire to be a super-selective elite world-class musical organization while offering a salary that is not much different to one a teacher could make. What would keep those whip-smart musicians from opting to teach…or heck, becoming very musically talented subway operators, sales representatives, or librarians?

My last hope: management in St. Paul is actually secretly willing to agree to the majority of items in this proposed contract, but they’re waiting for the next set of talks to see how much they can squeeze out before the contract deadline. And then the conflict will end and rainbows will shine and unicorns will fly. Naive? Probably. But I want good news. I’m to the point where I’m getting pissed at other people’s good news, and that’s never a good sign. Chicago Symphony ends their strike? My first grumpy thought: why can’t our strikes last a day? Referee lockout over? Minnesota management would never compromise… Teachers’ strike over? How’d they come to an agreement? What’s their secret? Lucky bastards!

Last night I read about the Atlanta Symphony musicians agreeing to the deep cuts management had proposed…and it devastated me. Especially when I went to the Atlanta Symphony’s Facebook page, and saw their breezy, wildly wildly inappropriate status update: “Let the music begin! A new contract has been ratified and the 2012-13 season will open on October 4. See you soon!” Hey, you know what, Atlanta Symphony? F*** you! It made me wonder what the end-game in Minnesota will look like (ugly, probably), and when it will come. It’s clear that management doesn’t respect their musicians, or even understand what the word “respect” means. How can we as a community show that as passionate music lovers we do? How can we pressure all those who have treated others so rudely to go away? How can we encourage incompetent people to step down, and competent ones to step up? How can we patrons help to rebuild whatever long-term damage may result from the toxic environment that managements have so unnecessarily fostered? How do we make sure we don’t become so entrenched on the musicians’ side that we can’t recognize healthy compromise when we see it? I want to know what I can do to help. I want to keep as many of these people in the Twin Cities as I can, and I want them to have careers that are as satisfying to them as those careers are to me.

For a laugh, here’s the most useless discussion I’ve read yet about this entire fiasco. (And trust me, I’ve been in the Strib comment section, so I’ve read some useless discussion.) I mention it here solely for entertainment’s sake. It starts with the assertion that (I’m paraphrasing) “hey musicians, you’re spoiled, coddled, childish brats – but no disrespect intended!”…and it goes on from there. We hear that “when the rich have money, they give it away. When they lose money, they don’t.” This makes total sense, since according to the New York Times, in the United States, “The bottom 99% received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.” Yes, that certainly does explain why orchestras have been doing so well post-2010! And then we also hear that Minnesota has “canceled opening concerts due to lack of funding or, due to unresolved contract negotiations, enforced a musicians’ lockout.” Fascinating. Someone has clearly opened a portal to the future! Can I hop through to see how this all ends?? There may be some worthy points hidden deep in the essay…somewhere…but in the face of such monumentally lazy writing, I’m not keen on making the effort to dig them up. Dear commentators: if you are going to write stuff like this, or post stuff like this, please make sure the text you’re about to post is free of fundamentally basic errors. Otherwise, you lose your audience before you begin, even if you do have some good points to offer. Surely Mr. Lebrecht knows that Minnesota isn’t actually locked out (yet). If he doesn’t, that’s unsettling, because even I know what’s happening at all the major orchestras, and I don’t comment on orchestras for a living.

In an attempt to get away from all this frustrating news, I watched a couple Daily Show episodes, and watched this interview with Bill Clinton. And I was surprised to find that what he said applies, in a certain way, to this whole orchestral apocalypse. Bolds mine, obviously.

I think… Just forget about politics. Just think about any time in your life, [when] you’ve been confused or angry or frightened or resentful or anything and you didn’t know what was going on. In those moments, explanation is way more important than eloquence, and rhetoric falls on deaf ears. So the only chance I had to get anybody to really listen was to say, “Here, look, this is what I think happened – boom boom boom boom – and one of my favorite responses came from a guy, he said, I’m a conservative Republican, and I never voted for Clinton. I never even thought he was eloquent. But he treated me like a grown-up, and I appreciated that. I felt like we could sit down and have a conversation. People need to be told… The American people are plenty smart enough to figure all this out…

I think the American people take this election seriously. They know they have to make choices that will affect their lives, and it’s not very helpful if you take up their time and you don’t explain what those choices are…

So I wanted to try to explain that in simple terms. No one else would do that. No one…unless you were being driven by ideology instead of by evidence… This is a practical country. We have ideals – we have philosophies – but the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mole the evidence to get the answer you’ve already decided you’ve got to have. It doesn’t work that way. Building an economy, rebuilding an economy, is hard, practical, nuts and bolt work. You have to look at what the competition is doing; you have to look at what the factors resisting growth are; you have to look at the strengths of the country. This country has enormous assets that most of our competitors don’t have

This economics is not ideology. It’s hard work. And it’s seeing what the competition’s doing, it’s analyzing the alternatives… [Jon Stewart: Results-oriented. Merit-oriented.] Yes. That’s what America needs. We need to get the show on the road here and stop all this kind of mindless and fact-free fighting.

Yes, management, I’d be so appreciative if someone could treat musicians and concerned patrons like intelligent adults for once. If someone could answer our questions, and trust us enough to engage in a dialogue, and not leave out inconvenient facts, and not act like our concerns are baseless or naive or irresponsible, and not be condescending or adversarial. That would be so d*** lovely. Thanks.


Some late breaking news:

Contract negotiations continue at orchestras; final offer, counter-proposal, from MPR, 27 September.

Without contract, Minn. Orchestra lockout possible, from MPR, 27 September.

And Minn. Orchestra musicians face lockout if no deal from the Star Tribune, 27 September.

Management at Minnesota has also posted their most recent contract.

Sooooooooooooo, looks like the Minnesota Orchestra is headed toward a lockout. They meet on Saturday on whether to accept the contract (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the vote will be NO), and are requesting to meet with management on Sunday. After that…let the silence begin!

And so we’ve come full-circle. I offer you some melancholy music:

*drinks more alcohol*

Head on down to the comment section if you want to engage in some group therapy.

28 September

Not too much news yet this morning, besides this excellent blog from Drew McManus called “Keep Your Eye on the Details in Minnesota.” He notes that management’s transparency concerning their new contract is actually not very transparent at all, since there’s no old contract to compare it to. Amen. Personally I find it insulting that management thinks anything on their website clarifies anything, besides maybe the fact that they think we’re dumbs***s with the reasoning capabilities of five-year-olds. (Idle question: do you think Mr. McManus’s blog will appear under “Industry News“? Or is his blog not as reputable as the anonymous writer’s from the Huffington Post?) (Also: notice that under “Industry News”, management still has a link to an article, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians on strike”…days after Chicago came to an agreement. Apparently in Minnesota Orchestra management’s world, that strike is still bitter and ongoing. If that isn’t a blatant example of “mol[ing] the evidence to get the answer you’ve already decided you’ve got to have”, I don’t know what is.)

While I was over at his blog, I hopped over to Mr. McManus’s entry on Atlanta’s concessions, and read this about the St. Louis unrest of 2005…

For example, in St. Louis, the executive overseeing their bitter labor dispute in 2005 left shortly thereafter and following that departure labor relations, along with the organization’s overall health and vitality, began to increase.

I thought this was relevant to the Minnesota situation because a few days ago there was an article in the Star Tribune that drew parallels to the St. Louis dispute, saying that things are better now, and implying they might improve quickly in Minneapolis, too. Well, no wonder the situation is better in St. Louis; it wasn’t made clear in the Strib article that their executive departed. I’d think that before you really start healing the wound, you’d have to kill all the bacteria causing inflammation…right? (And yet Detroit didn’t change leadership after their whole fiasco. So who knows. Might be too early to tell what would be the best course of action. And obviously the situations are different at each orchestra, depending on the power structure, politics, available resources, community, etc., etc.)

Soooooooooo….once again we come around to the question: how can we hold those who are accountable for this toxic atmosphere responsible?

I wanted to share a little anecdote from my personal life… I was speaking the other day to my grandparents about what’s happening with the Minnesota Orchestra. I summarized the situation as neutrally and briefly as possible, explaining that management wanted to cut base salaries by $40,000; that management raised $100 million over the last few years for a fundraising campaign; that what they’ve said over the last couple of years about the orchestra’s financial status contradicts itself; that they are not making an effort to answer questions about those contradictions; and that they have repeatedly refused requests from their musicians for a second opinion on their financial status.

“Well, if I win the Powerball, we’ll give them money,” my grandpa said.

My grandmother’s eyes flashed. “Oh, no, we won’t! Not if they’re mismanaging their funds like that!”

If my grandparents put together the pieces in thirty seconds…might the broader public do the same thing, too…whether there’s any truth to the assumption or not?

30 September (2AM)

I just got home from performing a concert and having a post-concert dinner out and I don’t have time to write much, but I thought I’d leave this here for any morning viewers. (Because I am sleeping in tomorrow! woohoo!)

Mn Orch musicians reject management proposal as SPCO bosses reject contract extension – 29 September, MPR

Minn. Orchestra Musicians Reject Contract – 29 September, CBS Minnesota

Musicians vote down contract proposal – 29 September, Star Tribune

Also, I see someone found this blog today looking for “minnesota orchestra musicians.org 100 questions”. Was it management? Helloooooooooo! Management! We’ve got tea brewing for you! Come back!

The eve of the apocalypse seems as good a time for ever for me to repeat something I haven’t said for a while, and that’s I’m pre-emptively sorry. I’m sorry to anyone I’ve hurt, offended, mis-characterized, misjudged, misunderstood, during the course of the whole fiasco. Unlike certain members of management (cough), I don’t view myself as an infallible human being (since, you know, I’m not). I’m viewing this whole mess from the sidelines via Internet reports, and I obviously don’t have the whole story (stories?). (To be fair, I’ve acknowledged that from the very beginning.) I’m also very upset right now. I’m in music because of the example these people have set for me. I haven’t met most of them, and yet they’re some of the most influential people in my life. And of course anyone who sees their heroes being threatened immediately gets testy and defensive, sometimes unreasonably so. (I’m sure even Michael Henson, Dobson West, Jon Campbell, and Richard Davis would!) A certain lack of perspective in such a situation is sadly inevitable. I also tend to lash out with sarcasm when I’m pissed, and then come to regret it later. Soooo, if you ever think I’m flying off the handle, please be clear and say so, and pull me aside and tell me that I need to take a step back for a bit. I’d appreciate that. I’d appreciate it even more if you could do it politely, because my nerves are rather frayed right now. Thank you kindly, darlings. I’ll try my best to keep my temper under control and to stay open to all respectful, reasonable positions.

I also want to remind people that as this conflict gets more and more and more (and more) technical over the coming weeks (months?), I’m going to be less and less and less (and less) qualified to understand what’s really going on. (Only someone with the qualifications of, say, Drew McManus will be able to read the tea leaves with any authority, and that will likely be difficult even for him, since he’s just as much of an outsider to this situation as I am.) So remember to take everything I say with not just a grain of salt, but with a salt mine, as I said in an earlier entry. I started this blogging project a month ago knowing absolutely nothing about how orchestra contracts are negotiated. Although I’ve been dropped into an intense crash course on orchestral politics, and I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time, I still don’t know a tremendous amount about how the whole labyrinthine system works, and so I’m learning as I go along. (Embarrassingly publicly, as it turns out…) But I hope you’ll be patient and come along with me, anyway. Experts out there, feel free to weigh in. The comment section is always open. As these situations get more and more complicated and emotional, I’d like for this blog to be less me blabbing and offering my snarky profane non-expert opinion, and more of a place for concerned patrons to gather and discuss and ponder in a reasonable intelligent way…since management has sadly refused to provide such a place for us. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra website can’t really be much of a clearinghouse, either, for obvious reasons.

(Which isn’t to say I won’t resist sharing my opinions entirely. Surely y’all know by now I’m incapable of not sharing opinions! ;) )

More of those non-expert opinions thoughts tomorrow. Hope you had sweet dreams last night. It’s 2AM here, so probably time for me to head to bed. I’m hoping for dreams of a happy resolution, where we discover that the Twin Cities can somehow love and support two world-class orchestras.

30 September 2012

Well, last night’s early-morning entry is looking a bit prophetic on my part, as the Minnesota Orchestra musicians have just announced their intention to seek binding arbitration to settle their contract dispute, and this is the first step in this entire drama that I feel wholly unqualified to speak a single word on. I think I last heard the phrase “binding arbitration” in my ninth grade civics class, and that was nearly ten years ago, so for those of us who need a little refresher course

Binding Arbitration: The submission of a dispute to an unbiased third person designated by the parties to the controversy, who agree in advance to comply with the award—a decision to be issued after a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.

Arbitration is a well-established and widely used means to end disputes. It is one of several kinds of Alternative Dispute Resolution, which provide parties to a controversy with a choice other than litigation. Unlike litigation, arbitration takes place out of court: the two sides select an impartial third party, known as an arbitrator; agree in advance to comply with the arbitrator’s award; and then participate in a hearing at which both sides can present evidence and testimony. The arbitrator’s decision is usually final, and courts rarely reexamine it.

Lots of people have strong opinions about unions and binding arbitration. When you Google “binding arbitration union”, there’s lots of stuff about binding arbitration and public sector unions. (A lot of people who don’t like public sector unions don’t like binding arbitration; many claim the decisions that come out of arbitration are too favorable to them.) So I tried “binding arbitration union -public.” Here’s an article discussing how American Airlines unions sought binding arbitration earlier this year; it claims that unions usually don’t like binding arbitration. (But in this particular instance, American was nearing bankruptcy, which, as I understand it, could have led to the possibility of the airline being able to reject the union contracts entirely, so in this case, binding arbitration was better than nothing.)

There’s less when you look up “binding arbitration union orchestra.” The first story that comes up is the great Louisville Symphony Debacle (LSD). There, however, it was management who suggested binding arbitration, and then only after many months of contentious negotiations. Detroit musicians offered binding arbitration only after five difficult months of striking, and only reluctantly. In March the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony signed a contract that allows for musicians and management to enter binding arbitration if they disagree on salary in 2014. Other than that, I can’t find record of a group of professional orchestra musicians who have offered binding arbitration before the work stoppage actually started. Let me know if there was one at some point, because I’m not finding it.

Feel free to take a moment to giggle at my lack of knowledge. At least I admit my limitations. And can Google.

I don’t know if this is the case or not, but it feels as if the musicians knew this was coming…doesn’t it? It feels as though they – or their PR team, or both – have studied other orchestras’ meltdowns and are making their decisions with their missteps in mind. The one time during this whole fiasco that I felt they were thrown maybe a little bit off their game was back when management released their contract without telling them. By being the ones to first mention the possibility of playing and talking, and the first to suggest binding arbitration before the lockout even began (an option the Louisville and Detroit managements would have loved), that really makes the musicians look ready for reasonable compromise, and demonstrates an affection and concern for their audience…an affection and concern we haven’t heard much of from management. I’ve also been very happy over the last few days to see the musicians really clarifying why they haven’t offered a counter-proposal (because they lack the necessary information to make an informed one). That explanation has been in nearly every article lately, and it’s good to hear; for a long while there, I think it just seemed to casual readers as if the musicians were unwilling to engage, rather than merely waiting on a request for financial information.

And before we’d barely had time to swallow this, much less digest it, we hear that management has rejected both the orchestra musicians’ offers to “play and talk” and to go through binding arbitration. Waiting to hear a response from management now… I can’t wait to hear Michael Henson come up with new and exciting ways to demonize the men and women whose talents he relies on for his exorbitant paychecks! Bless their hearts, but Davis and Campbell aren’t quite as entertaining on the hypocrisy scale.

Popcorn, anyone?

I wonder: if Minnesota board wanted to come across as the most incompetent, most oblivious, most tone-deaf entity imaginable, what would they do differently? Maybe hire outside musicians a la the LSD situation, but otherwise… Not much. (And you know, at this point, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see them trying to hire outside musicians. The effort would fail miserably, but I can see management trying it in some capacity anyway, since they don’t really seem particularly concerned about the quality of the orchestra. I pray to God this doesn’t actually happen, but if it does, I urge all qualified players to show up for the job and then launch into your best impersonation of the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Then maybe, if we’re very lucky, we could get Anna Karkowska to solo with the Minnesota Replacement Orchestra! And then we could force management to sit through two hours of it! On second thought, let’s make it ten! While we’re employing non-union musicians, we might as well make the most of them! Hey, let’s do the Ring Cycle for kicks, with no breaks in between, and see how low our artistic quality can get! It’s the Orchestral Quality Limbo Stick Game! Catchphrase: how low can you go while you’re locking out the very best? Fun for the whole community! Woohoo!)

I feel badly about this, but I’m starting to feel the SPCO story slipping away from me. I’ll still keep posting links to articles about the situation, but things have flown back and forth so quickly lately there that I’m forgetting what offer was made when and what was said and who wants $77,000 here and who wants $50,000 there and was that base or including overscale or proposal number two or rejected proposal number three, etc., etc., etc. My brain can’t keep up with the limited amount of time I have to blog. That doesn’t mean I support the musicians or the organization or an equitable solution to that crisis any less; I just feel I have less to say about it, because I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable when I’m not. Maybe if the SPCO comes to an impasse, I’ll get time to breathe and study the details of what has all been going on there lately. However, for now I think I’m going to have to focus primarily on Minnesota situation; I’ve just spent more time with it lately, and it’s easier for me to keep up with. Of course if you want to discuss the SPCO meltdown in the comments, you’re welcome to, and I’ll try to engage with you as best I can!

News stories/blogs that have surfaced lately:

Musicians veto deal in Mpls. as SPCO rejects contract extension – KARE, 4:20PM, 30 September (strangely, this article is actually from MPR, though)

Minn. Orchestra musicians seek arbitration – MPR, 30 September

 10,000 lakes, one fish, and no settlements – Robert Levine, Polyphonic

I’m going to start a new page called “Orchestral Apocalypse Index.” It will consist of links to all the pro- and anti-management articles and blog entries I’ve found. That way you can have the tools you need to begin making decisions about who and what to support, and you won’t need to wade through my wordy profane blather. If the article is halfway intelligent, and not just some anonymous dude on his blog going “zomg lyke musicians suckkk and r wayyyy 2 overpAID”, I’ll include a link to it. Additional submissions of links to blogs or articles I may have missed will be welcome in the comment section. So keep an eye out for that.


Filed under My Writing

Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO 2012 Negotiations: Week -2

Hullo, y’all. New week, new blog entry. Here’s my coverage of week -4 and here’s my coverage of week -3.


16 September 2012

Not much has happened on the Orchestral Apocalypse front since I wrote last. I thought maybe there’d be stuff in the Sunday newspapers about this week’s developments, but…no dice. I’ve recently been reminded – politely – that the local reporters I’ve been snarking at lately are good people who are doing their best in a very difficult confusing situation. Sigh. This is no doubt true. So if any reporters are reading this, I’m sorry if I’ve come across as insensitive over the last couple of weeks. I’m not frustrated at you: I’m frustrated at the infrastructure. I’m pissed that no one has the time or resources to give this story the attention it deserves. Newspapers can’t afford in-depth coverage; news broadcasts don’t have time; bloggers aren’t experts and don’t have access to important people; and then the public gets screwed. We live in a media-rich world in which no media source is rich enough to be able to cover all the stories that deserve to be covered. And that just sucks. Boo.

This morning I published a very long blog entry called “A Hundred-ish Questions for Minnesota Orchestra Management.” In it, I (you guessed it!) ask management a hundred questions, give or take a few, about the direction they want to take the orchestra, from the point of view of a dedicated patron and orchestra lover. I’m planning on sending multiple physical copies out in a week or so. And I’m also planning on asking someone from the musician’s negotiating committee to pass a copy along, if they feel it would be appropriate to do so. (Obviously it will be up to them if they actually deliver it.) (Edit 9/18: I’ve heard from a reliable source that it will be most likely to get to those in charge via mail, so that’s what I’m going to do. Soooooooo, dear management, keep checking your mail, guys! Because I will keep badgering you about this! xoxo) So if you’ve got a question you want to ask management, comment away. This may be your best chance to catch their ear.

Although there may not have been many developments lately, there has been some interesting analysis going on…

Writer and composer Colin Eatock wrote a blog the other day called “When Should a Conductor Speak Up“? It discusses the question: where’s Osmo? At the end of his article Eatock concludes: “But if the management of the Minnesota Orchestra ‘wins’ this dispute, and forces a harsh contract on the players, and Vänskä seems content to go along with it all, then the artistic damage done will be on his head.” Them’s fighting words, Mr. Eatock! I’m not sure if the situation is that simple. Osmo is going to have to choose the least worst option from a bunch of very bad options, and his decision of how to handle the situation is going to be a deeply personal one. I don’t think we should be judging him quite yet. IMHO. *shrug* Still, an interesting article.

(But while we’re on the Osmo topic… This will be a bit of a flight of fancy, so hang on tight. In September 2009, Vänskä renewed his contract until 2015. To refresh your memory, the stock market crashed in the fall of 2008. [Remember the suspension of the McCain campaign? Ahh, yes. Those were…interesting times.] In September 2009, the Dow Jones was at about 9500, down from a high of roughly 13,000 in May of 2008. Not that the Dow is the be-all, end-all of economic data; I’m just using it to back up my own personal recollection, which is that, in September 2009, even the anemic recovery we’re currently experiencing seemed a ridiculously optimistic proposition. Ridiculously optimistic. I’m guessing that Minnesota Orchestra management was quaking in their boots: if they see financial disaster coming now, surely it seemed even more alarming and imminent back then? Right? Anyway, here’s where I’m going with this: one of the things Vänskä must have thought about before renewing his contract for such a length of time was whether or not the orchestra seemed likely to be financially stable through 2015, and whether or not his musicians seemed likely to be relatively happy with the musicians’ contract everyone knew was going to be re-negotiated in 2012. I’ve only met the man once in a CD signing line so I can only surmise; but I wonder: if he had known this was coming, would he really have wanted to stay? What numbers did he see when he was deciding whether or not to sign his new contract? Who did he discuss financial issues with? Did he look at statements and projections himself? Did he trust what the CEO and/or board of directors told him? What kind of picture was painted to him about the organization’s fiscal future, back in the dark uncertain days of 2009, that nonetheless reassured him enough to sign a contract past 2012, when everyone knew the musicians’ contract expired? Did some financial catastrophe hit the Minnesota Orchestra between then and now that was unforeseeable in September 2009? Or was Vänskä just not paying any attention to money? That idea seems hard to swallow; we all know the dude’s a notorious perfectionist. Would a man who brings a metronome to a Minnesota Orchestra rehearsal really not spend hours poring over his orchestra’s financial statements and projections while making a decision whether or not to stay until 2015? Is this perhaps a point in favor of the musicians’ claim that different people have been shown different numbers at different times? What do you mean, the tinfoil hat isn’t attractive on me? I think it’s a lovely look! … I don’t know. It’s just a thought I’ve been having, and it won’t go away. Feel free to tear it apart in the comments.)

Here’s another interesting article from violist Robert Levine, called “On governance.” Excerpt: “We also assume that most board members know what they’re doing. I’ve come to realize that’s not really true in most places. There’s very little formal training or support for board members, so new board members often model their behavior on what they see around them – which is to say that boards tend to perpetuate how they work and how well they function.” Read the whole thing; it’s thought-provoking.

TPT Almanac ran a segment about the SPCO negotiations on 14 September. Newsflash: Carole Mason Smith and Dobson West are in the same room and on camera together and not killing each other! I’m so impressed, guys!! Eye contact is…negligible to non-existent. But still! I can’t imagine Minnesota Orchestra management doing something like this (psst: Minnesota Orchestra management: that’s your cue to prove me wrong). Anyway, Carole and Dobby, let me hug you both. Yes, even you, Mr. Dobby. It will be a very very very brief hug because to be frank I don’t trust you farther than I can spit, but still. A hug. Congratulations, guys. Let’s do more of this in the future!

(I feel like a marriage counselor.)


Here’s some late breaking news I found just as I was wrapping this post up…

Looks like the Minnesota Orchestra had a great concert this afternoon at Lake Harriet. Look at this crowd… Holy frigging crap. That doesn’t look like the Minnesota Orchestra at Lake Harriet; that looks like the New York Philharmonic in Central Park. And when you remember that this concert was only scheduled twelve days ago, and that it wasn’t advertised on the Minnesota Orchestra website…well, um, wow. Congratulations, you guys. If any of my readers made it to the show, talk to me! The comment section is, as always, open to everyone.

The Minnesota Orchestra musicians have also announced a second concert: Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra raise money for Community Emergency Service. This concert will be in Edina on 23 September 2012 at 4pm. I’m working that day, too, so I won’t be able to make it. Anyone else able to go? I’m not sure how many of the musicians will be there, but I’m sure you’ll be in for a treat regardless of how many make it.

18 September 2012

The big news of the day comes from this video of the Minnesota Orchestra Lake Harriet concert.

It’s definitely worth a watch, but if you can’t or don’t have time, here’s the meat of the message transcribed:

When we hear that $14 million in taxpayer money is being plowed into building a new lobby for Orchestra Hall, but that the budget for filling the hall and paying the salaries of those who fill it with great music has to be slashed by thirty to fifty percent…that’s upsetting. And we know it’s upsetting to a lot of you as well. I actually had no problem paying my share of the tax that built Target Field. But if we had built that ballpark – if we had built that little jewel in the Warehouse District and then the owners of the Twins had turned around and told us they could only afford to have the St. Paul Saints play there – that would have made me pretty upset. That would have made me feel like I had been duped into paying for a building rather than paying for the continued existence of major league baseball in the state of Minnesota, which is what I thought I was paying for. Minnesotans know the difference between major and minor league sports teams, and we know that you know the difference between major and minor league arts. You have always supported the best, and it has made this one of the greatest places not just in this country, but in the world to be an artist or a musician.

Those words come from violist and certified badass Sam Bergman. Who knew violists could orate?

This video made me realize that musicians have one key advantage that management will never, ever, ever have: passion for this orchestra. Let’s face facts. Jon Campbell and Richard Davis (and maybe Henson, too, to a certain extent, but I’ll leave him out of the analysis for the moment) aren’t particularly invested in what happens here. Hardly anything is at stake for them. No matter how it ends, Campbell will still be employed at Wells Fargo, collecting money and enjoying health insurance coverage. There he’ll go back to meeting (or not) with the unwashed, unsatisfied rabble. He’ll go back to dealing with allegations that Wells Fargo has been dodging taxes. He’ll go back to dealing with the headaches of being on the board of a non-profit health care organization that was associated with a debt collection agency that used “aggressive and possibly illegal attempt[s] to collect payments [from patients]…even as the patients were seeking emergency treatment and other health care services.” (Google Accretive for the whole awful story. I don’t know exactly what Campbell had to do with all this, if anything, but it is an unavoidable fact that, being on the Fairview board of directors, he’s been battling fallout from scandal this summer.) According to this website, he’ll go back to being the director of Peregrine Capital Management (“a boutique equity firm“) – the chairman of Fairview Health Services – a trustee at the Minneapolis Foundation – the Chairman of the Board at the Greater Twin Cities United Way – the Director at Abbot Downing (which “provides comprehensive services to ultra-high-net-worth clients“). God only knows what else he’s got on his plate besides that. Same goes for Richard Davis. No matter what happens to the Minnesota Orchestra this fall, he will go back to US Bancorp, and back to enjoying the $25 million Forbes says he has earned there in the last five years. He’ll go back to being praised as the new “golden boy” of Wall Street by the New York Post. At least according to this website, he’ll go back to being a member of the Board of Governors at the American Red Cross – a member of the board of directors at The Clearing House – Chairman of Financial Services Roundtable – Director of BITS Financial Services Roundtable (which “represents 100 of the largest integrated financial services companies providing banking, insurance, and investment products and services to the American consumer”). In other words, Campbell and Davis both have so many responsibilities and commitments that the Minnesota Orchestra is probably roughly priority #3,955 for them…and understandably so.

Soooo…remind me again why they’re on the orchestra’s board of directors? Why do they have a hand in making such consequential far-reaching decisions? Is it because of their money? Their power? Their influence? Is it too much to ask that the minimum qualifications for a seat on the board of directors of “the greatest orchestra in the world” be money, power, and influence plus “basic knowledge of how a major orchestra works” plus “enthusiastic passion for first-rate symphonic music” plus “deep-seated respect for all of the organization’s employees”? Really? Is the bar for management really set that low when the bar for musicians is set so high? Question: how are we expecting Campbell and Davis to make informed decisions on behalf of the orchestra when they’re off doing a billion other things, and busy making a billion other dollars doing them? Yes, they’re rich – obscenely so – but no matter how much you idealize and idolize the wealthy, you’ve got to admit that the ability to amass money doesn’t turn a person into an omniscient all-knowing superman who is able to magically keep track of all the specialized s*** that must go down at all of these companies, charities, and organizations. Especially when the IRS and state attorney general enter into your professional life.

Guys, it’s okay to admit you can’t do everything. None of us is God. Sometimes as fallible human beings, we bite off more than we can chew, and that’s okay. But you’ve already bitten so much off that you’re not going to be able to swallow, much less digest, without having to deal with some serious stomach problems and/or clogged toilets.

I think I’m going to add that to my Hundred-ish Questions: how on earth are you able to keep up with the needs of all the organizations you either work at or serve? It just strikes me as being patently impossible. Jack of all trades, master of none.

So anyway. The point of that ramble is this: the passion advantage currently stands at 1,000,000 to 1. The musicians are winning. And according to this metric? They will always win. Why? Because money alone can’t buy passion. No matter how many millions you have in the bank.

In other news, this article called “The Commoditization of Symphony Orchestra Musicians” has been making the rounds, and is worth a read.

Also, here’s a short video from progressive group Minnesota 2020 about keeping the best musicians in Minnesota. Not much, if anything, new in there, but it’s a video, so…have at it.

21 September

This week has been relatively quiet, hasn’t it? We’ll probably start hearing more within the next few days, though. The SPCO meets with management today. There’s been no word yet if management has approved the formal language of the proposed contract, or if the musicians are still expected to give feedback on it without having the language in place. Minnesota Orchestra musicians and management meet on Monday. This may well be the calm before another storm the likes of what we saw on September 4 and September 5. If the SPCO releases the formal language of their proposed contract within a day of Minnesota management releasing something big…I will be forced to wonder if some kind of coordination is happening in an attempt to influence media coverage. Because bad news is always more powerful when it’s given all at once, as opposed to released on a drip.

Okay, okay. I’m taking off the hat now.

There are a few miscellaneous things I wanted to pass along…

(1) I haven’t actually had time to listen to this yet, but Star Tribune writer Graydon Royce was kind enough to stop by the blog the other day, and he passed along this link… “I would also refer you to a forum in which I participated last week with blogger Drew McManus and Orchestra League president Jesse Rosen on WQXR, New York… http://www.wqxr.org/#!/articles/conducting-business/2012/sep/14/how-troubled-orchestras-can-bounce-back-and-flourish/ ” Like I said, I haven’t had time to listen yet, but maybe you do! Tell me what you think. You can stop by the comment section below to read all Royce’s feedback.

(2) I forgot to mention that a statement by Osmo was read at the Lake Harriet concert. It’s a thing of beauty:

“When I arrived in Minneapolis in 2003, I set many lofty goals for the Minnesota Orchestra. I knew that with hard work and dedication to our art, we would be able to achieve them and take our place among the greatest orchestras in the world. Our musicians have met every challenge I set out for them, and I could not be prouder of what we have achieved. And I also believe that, if we stay focused on our mission of bringing great music and great musicians to Minnesota and the world, we can have even greater days ahead of us.”

Frankly this was a way more pro-musician statement than I was expecting at this stage of the game. Consider for a moment… I don’t think anyone was expecting him to say anything at this event (were you?) This was a pretty anti-management event. It was put on without management’s permission or support, and included a fiery speech attacking management’s proposals. And by submitting a statement to be read at it, Osmo gave the event his subtle, tacit approval. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but from where I’m sitting, this statement struck all the right notes. Bravo. This isn’t the first standing ovation I’ve given Osmo Vänskä, and it certainly won’t be the last.

(3) MPR has a new article out today called “Twin Cities orchestras make public appeal amid contract negotiations.” I personally found  it pretty slapdash for an MPR report, but maybe I’m just having a bad day. Let me know what you think. I was concerned about the omission of two things in particular: (A) the fact that SPCO musicians haven’t yet seen the formal language of management’s contract, and (B) the fact that working conditions remain a vitally important focus of the negotiations at both orchestras (commentators and journalists really, really need to highlight the importance of these, since 99% of the population doesn’t understand what working conditions mean to professional orchestral musicians). I’m still interested in / puzzled by Minnesota management’s claim that the musicians have offered no counter-proposal. I know there’s more to the story than that. Management has been demonstrably disingenuous on their website, so why would they start telling the truth now? I know these musicians; they’re some of the smartest people you could imagine. And let’s be honest: the long-term fiscal health of the orchestra is a h*** of a lot more important to them than it is to anyone on the board of directors, including Michael Henson (we all know he’ll find another high-paying job elsewhere after this is all over, no matter how it ends). Maybe for whatever reason the musicians can’t or don’t want to speak about this, and that’s understandable, but at some point when we’re doing the autopsy of these negotiations, it would be interesting to hear more about the whole “lack of counter-proposal” thing.

Michael Henson also said something hilarious in the MPR report:

Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson said management is incredibly respectful of the musicians and their talent. But he too says transparency is now what is needed, particularly as the contract deadline is now less than two weeks away.

Bold mine. Hahahahahaha. What a dry sense of humor. Oh, those Brits!

However, this statement from Henson comes as a great relief to me. Because if Michael Henson believes that transparency is vitally necessary, then clearly there’s no excuse for him not to be working on my Hundred Questions, right? If transparency is key, he should not only take two minutes to acknowledge he received my questions, but he should be answering them, too. Soooo….cool beans! I can’t wait to hear from him. Let’s put the kettle on; I’m sure he’ll be here any minute… *dusts off the sticky at the top of the page, which, you may notice, now includes a link to the hundred questions, a PDF version of the hundred questions, a doc version of the hundred questions, and an offer to convert the hundred questions into whatever format anyone on the board desires*

Okay, the snark of those last two paragraphs is too much for even me to handle. Paging Michael Henson. Reality called, and they want you back. Come join us, Mr. Henson. The waters of reality are warm, refreshing, and inviting.

Let’s end on a high note. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have begun a petition to “keep world-class musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra.” I’ve heard that over 1000 signatures were gathered at the Lake Harriet show (!), and right now, less than 36 hours after releasing that petition, the musicians are looking at an additional 950+ names. (If you haven’t already, please take a moment to sign yourself!) So, if those Lake Harriet numbers are indeed correct, within the span of a couple of days, the musicians have gotten approximately two thousand signatures supporting them, without the money, PR advantage, and web presence that management has. Also remember, the people who share things on Facebook and read orchestra blogs and sign change.org petitions are a tech-savvy demographic that skews young (and probably liberal). And as consultants are fond of reminding us, the young aren’t the core audience at Orchestra Hall. Think of what those numbers might climb to if we’re able to reach the coffee concerts crowd.

In that MPR article, a PR consultant named Jon Austin said, “The number of people whose hearts and minds they are competing for, frankly, is pretty small. Probably could fill the Minnesota Orchestra Main Hall and maybe overflow into the lobby a little bit. But it’s a pretty small number.” LOL. Sorry, I just can’t let this stand. This statement may have been well-meaning, I don’t know, but it’s just so factually inaccurate, it’s just…wow. I have no idea what the reasoning behind this “pretty small” assumption was, or why MPR decided it was a judgment worth printing. The Minnesota Orchestra alone has 9100+ Facebook likes, and you know the vast majority of the Minnesota Orchestra’s fans are not on Facebook. Judging by the number of people who attended the Lake Harriet concert on such short notice; the reaction my blog has gotten; and now the number of signatories the musicians’ petition is attracting…I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to tell Mr. Austin that his assumption is flat-out wrong. Huzzah! The number of people who are concerned about the future of the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO could clearly fill Orchestra Hall several times over…at the very, very least. Mr. Austin is totally underestimating how many people have opinions about this conflict, either pro- or anti-management, and if performances are affected in the coming weeks (as I’m guessing they will be), that number will climb dramatically, quickly. And that’s not just the wishful thinking of an orchestra lover: we have the data and the attendance and the signatures to back it up. So please, let’s not fall back on the old tired stereotype that only a handful of people cares about orchestral music, because as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, that’s just not true…at least not in the Twin Cities. There is more than enough bulls*** floating around out there right now; we don’t need any more. Let’s have a little reality check here: one of the very few things we know for certain about this conflict is that, no matter what happens, thousands and thousands of people care. Period.

Speaking of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Facebook page… (I went there for the first time in a long time to get that 9100 likes figure.) And while I was there I noticed something that y’all may find interesting…

Whenever anyone expresses frustration or dismay over management’s proposals, the Orchestra writes a little note along these lines…

And so on and so forth. Interestingly, there are only two posts they haven’t acknowledged…



As the Internet meme goes…

I did have the thought that it might be worth eventually posting a link to the Hundred Questions on Facebook if I don’t hear an acknowledgment of its receipt relatively soon. I don’t want to annoy anybody, but… Dude, I spent a long time on those questions. It would be really nice to get some acknowledgment, even if it’s something along the lines of “YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT TO ASK ALL THESE THINGS, FOR SHAME.” I really don’t think an acknowledgment is too much to ask for.

Am I the only one who feels bad for whoever is running the Minnesota Orchestra Facebook page? You know s/he has no input into any of this, and yet s/he must toe the line as politely as possible, with the threat of being fired by email hovering over his/her head (if this reference doesn’t make sense to you, click this link and look at the questions right above “Website Stuff”). Anyway, tough gig, that. I’m guessing I’d get the termination email sooner rather than later.

I do want to take a moment to praise the Orchestra’s new stock response to patrons’ concerns. It has changed from “look at our pro-management website” to “we will share your concerns with management.” This is an improvement, and a move toward dialogue. I recently had this conversation…

So, um, yeah. I think that kind of speaks for itself. It might be worthwhile to keep checking on that, as I believe this is the first we’ve heard that management is claiming it will eventually update its website “as new questions arise.” Of course new questions have arisen in the last week, and as best as I can tell, nothing has changed on the website except for the section called “Industry News” which is where management gets some kind of weird kinky thrill linking to articles about orchestras in distress. (Fun factoid: positive industry news, or at least non-negative industry news, like what we’ve heard lately out of the National SymphonyChicago Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony, has never been posted in “Industry News.” I’m not sure what to take away from those omissions besides the fact that management doesn’t really want to provide a comprehensive “view of the current landscape,” and that they must think we patrons are stupid idiotic simpletons who can’t understand the need for sharp concessions unless we only see articles that support management’s thesis.) (Another fun factoid: management officially considers the Huffington Post to be a “reputable news source.” That’s an…interesting perspective. Apparently a blog entry written by an anonymous author on a gossipy website famous for such Pulitzer-eligible journalism as “Kathy Griffin Without Makeup Is Barely Recognizable“, “Ohio Woman Finds Out Husband Was Her Father“, and “Miley Cyrus Flashes Side-Boob, Talks Sex Scenes, and Losing Her Virginity“…apparently that website is a more reputable, more serious news source than this one. Come on, management. I haven’t even talked about side-boob here once. What do I have to do to be reputable? Turn anonymous, steal others’ work, and start salivating over the Amanda Bynes trainwreck?

I can only assume though if they’ve seen that Huffington Post blog, they’ve seen this one. Don’t pretend you haven’t. Come out, come out wherever you are! I won’t bite; I promise. I may poke at you, and poke hard at times, but I do it out of love, and out of a pure desire to see this orchestra be the best it can be. My first loyalty is not to you; it is not to the musicians; it is to the orchestra as an institution. I swear. Plus, did you see the video I posted of myself? I’m a 5’5″ 90-pound shrimp. You could snap my arms like toothpicks. For God’s sake.

22 September 2012

Not much analysis on my part today, but here’s some news…

From MPR: “Does SPCO, Minn. Orchestra musicians’ skill justify their pay?” FYI, the short answer is “yes.” And the long answer is “yesssssssssssssssssss.” I can certainly think of some people who don’t deserve their salaries, but happily the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra musicians are not among them.

From MPR again: “Labor talks at SPCO apparently fruitless.” That headline seems just a tad disingenuous; judging by the article, there may have been some fruit, just not enough fruit to end in a final agreement. Heck, that article doesn’t even say if musicians got the final language of the proposed contract that they were waiting for. According to the previous MPR article, talks were scheduled for both yesterday and today, and it doesn’t appear that they were cut short, as I believe they were at a certain point in the negotiations not too long ago. So I’m going to believe there was progress, if only because I want to.

Also, in an exciting twist, the Chicago Symphony is now on strike. Hullo! Atlanta, YOU get a labor dispute; Indianapolis, YOU get a labor dispute; Minneapolis, YOU get a labor dispute; St. Paul, YOU get a labor dispute; Chicago, YOU get a labor dispute! EVERYBODY GETS A LABOR DISPUTE!!!! WOOOOOOOOOO


Filed under My Writing

A Hundred-ish Questions for Minnesota Orchestra Management

Are you a patron who is confused by what’s happening right now with the Minnesota Orchestra? Do you have a question you want to send to management? If so, I want your input! This is an open letter I’d like to send to the board of directors, and I’d love for you to add to it.


Dear Minnesota Orchestra management,

Well, this is awkward.

A few days ago I wrote a blog entry titled “Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?” In it I called you dangerously oblivious incompetents “who are too arrogant to realize they know nothing about the organization’s very reason for being.” Despite the bravado, those were tough words for me to write. I’m a peacemaker who gets anxiety attacks when criticizing anyone about anything. So let’s “reset” our relationship: I’d like to give you a chance to convince me (and my thousands of readers) that I’m a raving partisan lunatic.

How? I’ve come up with a list of approximately a hundred questions that I’d like anyone on the board of directors to answer publicly, but especially Jon Campbell, Richard Davis, and Michael Henson. Ideally I’d bring my voice recorder and come visit y’all myself, but I’m guessing it will be difficult for us all to find mutually convenient times in which to ask and answer all these questions aloud. So I’m thinking it might be best if you answered them in writing. Take 10, 15 minutes out a day for a few days. Answer a few a day over the next couple of weeks. If certain questions are too sensitive given the current negotiations, say so and move on. When you’re done, save as a PDF and send it to me (try contacting me through Facebook, or if that doesn’t work, ask the musicians to get it to me), and I’ll publish it here unedited. Surely despite the no doubt extraordinary demands on your time, you could find a spare quarter hour every day for a week or two to explain yourselves and your plans more fully…since they will, after all, affect the future of one of the great orchestras of the world. Pretty important topic, that! Plus, I know you agree: transparency is key.

These aren’t meant to be judgmental gotcha questions. I’ve done my best to phrase them fairly and neutrally. I don’t mean to vilify. My only purpose in asking them is to try to get inside your heads, since I’ve had such difficulty doing so over the last couple of weeks. Ultimately, all I want is to understand the future you’re envisioning for the orchestra that means so much to me. I promise.

Clearly you have utmost confidence in the direction you want to take the Minnesota Orchestra. So what would you have to lose by explaining that direction more fully, and inspiring confidence in others? If you answer me, you could reach an audience of literally thousands (“Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?” got thousands of hits in the last few days, and those are just the views I can see; I know there are many more I can’t). You could cultivate goodwill among your musicians, your patrons, your public…reassure those who are afraid you’re in over your head…force me to eat my own bitter words. Agreeing to give a hugely in-depth interview to a blogger (especially one who has been highly critical of you!) would be a daring move that would prove you’re serious about bold leadership and a robust dialogue…and as a bonus, it would be a “forward-looking digital…initiative to reach broad audiences & raise visibility.”

You have everything to gain in such an open and honest exchange of ideas, and absolutely nothing – nothing – to lose.

So let’s have at it. Would you mind answering all – or heck, even some – of these questions for us? And if you have time for nothing else, can you at least clarify some questions I had about your website?

And if not, why not?

I’ve given the Minnesota Orchestra a lot of free publicity over the last two years. I’ve spent hours upon hours writing about the Inside the Classics series – the Greenstein Microcommissionthe Sibelius Midori showyour shows in Winonayour January 2012 Brahmspalooza. I don’t get paid for doing this. I do it out of love and enthusiasm for this orchestra. These posts have been read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people all over the world, largely by a well-educated young tech-savvy demographic that I’m guessing you’re rather desperate to reach. I’ve done you guys a favor. So would you mind doing me one? I guarantee you, you won’t be able to read my past blog entries about the Minnesota Orchestra and say I don’t share your stated goal of supporting “an artistically excellent, fiscally responsible, world-class orchestra that benefits our audiences, supporters, community and musicians for years to come.” I’m here; you’re here. Let’s talk.

Here goes.

Personal Questions

How many Minnesota Orchestra concerts have you attended over the last year?

What were your favorite five, and why?

Do you feel your attendance (or lack thereof; I don’t know) at concerts is relevant to your ability to oversee the orchestra?

Would you like to be more involved with your patrons? If so, how?

What did you think of Judd Greenstein’s Acadia?

Who are three of your favorite musicians in the orchestra to watch, and why?

When and where did you study music?

How would you describe your relationship to music in general, and orchestral music in particular?

Who is your favorite composer, and what do you like most about his work?

What kinds of music do you listen to the most?

What do you bring to your job that uniquely qualifies you to safeguard and support the Minnesota Orchestra?

What do you feel you can learn from your musicians?

What do you feel they could learn from you?

What role do you envision a musicians’ union as playing in today’s world?

Do you believe classical music is dying?

If you do, why? What moves you to devote so much time and energy to trying to keep it alive?

If you don’t, why? What do you believe is keeping it alive, vital, and relevant?

What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made during your tenure?

Why do you think you made those mistakes?

What steps have you taken to avoid those mistakes in the future?

What have been your biggest successes?

Why do you think you achieved those successes?

In your opinion, what mistakes have the musicians made in the last five to ten years?

Why, in your opinion, did they make those mistakes?

What, in your opinion, have been their biggest successes?

Why do you think they achieved those successes?

How have you felt about the press’s coverage of the labor dispute thus far?

Artistic Vision

Would you classify the upcoming season in the convention center as more similar or dissimilar than what you have envisioned for future seasons in the new Orchestra Hall?

If you personally had total control over programming, and didn’t have to answer to anybody, what percentage of shows would be pops and what would be classical? And why?

What does the phrase “heightened artistry” from your Strategic Business Plan Summary mean to you?

Do you believe that artistic quality can be heightened if a relatively large percentage of musicians are actively seeking employment elsewhere?

How big of a concern is turnover to you?

What steps are you planning on taking to minimize turnover after the new contract takes effect?

Do you feel confident you have an understanding of the way in which turnover may or may not affect artistic quality? Please elaborate.

Do you have a plan in place to meet the challenges of heightening artistic quality while also dealing with potential turnover and demoralization?

When are you planning to hold auditions for seats that are now empty?

Have you thought about what to do if many of your principals leave in a short period of time, since they are the ones most likely to find work elsewhere the fastest?

As a purely hypothetical question, if Vänskä told you that your proposals ran a high risk of severely impacting the artistic quality of your orchestra, would you consider altering them in any way?

Have you thought about what you want to see in your next music director?

Have you thought about how you want to attract the next music director?

Why specifically is touring important to you?

Why specifically is recording important to you?

What kinds of educational and outreach programs would you like to see the orchestra adopt?

How specifically would you like to use new technology in relation to the orchestra?


How much money will the changes in working conditions in your proposed contract save the orchestra?

Do you have any idea why the musicians aren’t satisfied with previous audits of the orchestra’s endowment?

Why not have another one if it satisfies your musicians? Is it a matter of cost, or are you resisting for another reason?

Do you believe Minnesota can afford to support two world-class orchestras with internationally competitive benefits and salaries?

Do you feel the Minnesota Orchestra would have been able to meet more of the musicians’ demands if the recession had not hit, and if so, how many more? Some more? A lot more?

Was it more or less difficult than you thought it would be to raise the capital for the Building for the Future campaign?

Do you feel you personally contributed in any way to the orchestra’s current financial catastrophe, or do you feel it was inevitable and largely, if not completely, out of your control?

Do you believe the fiscal health of the orchestra will improve after the recession? If so, how and by how much? If not, why not?

If turnover is high and artistic standards decline, do you believe this will affect your ability to fundraise? Or do you believe the quality of a major orchestra is relatively irrelevant when it comes to fundraising?

Have you been in contact with anyone at SPCO management about their situation? Have they been in contact with you about yours?

How do you feel overseeing a non-profit organization is similar to overseeing a for-profit one?

How do you feel overseeing a non-profit organization is different to overseeing a for-profit one?

Treatment of Employees

How well do you feel the various staff members of the Minnesota Orchestra have communicated with one another in the run-up to this crisis?

Why did you insinuate in the press that it will be relatively easy to replace your musicians? (E.g.: “So couple what’s happening in the marketplace with a large supply – not to dismiss the fact that we don’t want to lose any of our wonderful musicians – but there may be some changes” and “there’s a risk that they find their way to another place.”) Talking that way obviously doesn’t affect the budget at all, and I know that many people (including me) were puzzled and disappointed by this attitude. Would you care to elaborate why you said what you did? Why not take an attitude more along the lines of “We can’t afford these wonderful people, and we’re terrified and devastated we’re going to lose them. They have done us proud. We’re so sad to see them go”?

Do you feel it will be relatively easy to replace any musicians who may leave?

Do you feel your musicians are unwilling to compromise?

Do you feel your musicians are more interested in their own personal finances than in the long-term health of the orchestra, or do you feel they are selfish and/or clueless about what it will take to chart a sustainable course forward?

Do you believe your musicians regard salary as being more than, less than, or equally important as working conditions?

How many musicians do you think will leave within the next, say, three years if your proposed contract is adopted as-is?

What number of musicians would have to leave before you’d start feeling alarmed about turnover?

Who made the decision to shut down the Inside the Classics blog?

Do you know what the rationale was behind that?

Did anyone consult with Sam or Sarah beforehand?

Why weren’t they given a chance to write a good-bye / hiatus post of their own?

Why did the author of the good-bye / hiatus post insinuate that Sam and Sarah were unable to both blog and plan for the upcoming season, when they’ve done both for years? Why not just leave the blog blank?

Did you ask the musicians’ permission to post your proposed contract online before you did so? If so, what did they say?

If you didn’t ask the musicians’ permission, why not?

Is it true that what you’re negotiating in private is different than what you’re proposing in public, or are your musicians lying?

How did you feel that releasing the contract would help negotiations?

If negotiations persist past 1 October, would you be open to posting the expired contract alongside your proposed one, so it is easier for reporters and the general public to put your proposed changes into context?

Do you believe musicians should have a greater input in how the business side of the orchestra is run?

If so, what role do you envision for them?

One of my blog readers commented that he knows of someone who worked for the Minnesota Orchestra who was recently informed of her termination via email. Is this true, and if so, what do you know about that situation? Is this standard procedure?

Do you know who was in charge of making the decision to inform her in that way?

If you haven’t already, would you be willing to apologize to her and whoever else may have been fired in that way?

Website Stuff

In your opinion, is the general tone of your website respectful and kind to your musicians?

What are you envisioning when you say “new concert formats and content”? Could you elaborate on that phrase?

Why did you insinuate that musicians are reluctant to participate in outreach efforts or play chamber music in community locations?

“Musicians in other major orchestras have agreed to concessions.” Why did you not mention here that the Minnesota musicians also agreed to concessions in 2009? I understand that you would like to (or need to) see further concessions, but it seems misleading to not mention what they’ve already given. It implies that audiences are unable to see the gravity of the situation unless only certain facts are set before them, and I personally feel a little condescended to because of that.

“What will happen if the Orchestra’s contract proposal fails to gain approval from the musicians?” Your answer doesn’t actually answer that question, instead addressing ticket prices. Could you please clarify?

Why aren’t Mr. Campbell’s words about “there may be some changes” in the Minnesota Orchestra management FAQ under “Will pay cuts cause the best talent to leave the orchestra”? Could you add his words there? If not, why not?

Do you truly believe the musicians share your desire for a “contemporary, world-class, flexible, artistically excellent community resource that can operate within its means regardless of external economic factors”?

In your strategic plan, you mention that “classical music event attendance decreased from 13% of all adults in 1982 to 9% in 2008,” according to the NEA’s “2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.” Happily, that report is online, and I have it right here. I’m assuming you got your percentages from page 18…

Percent of adults attending classical music events

1982 – 13%

1992 – 12.5%

2002 – 11.6%

2008 – (during recession)  9.3%

But of course the United States population has grown over the years, so let’s move over a column and look at the numbers in millions…

Millions of adults attending classical music events

1982 – 21.3

1992 – 23.2

2002 – 23.8

2008 (during recession) – 20.9

I don’t think it’s unrealistic to posit that if the Great Recession hadn’t occurred, there would probably have be more people attending classical music events now than there were in 1982…according to the report you cited. Am I wrong? If I am wrong, how? If I’m right, what was the rationale behind including the more alarming percentages as opposed to the more reassuring numbers? Why not include both to paint a more accurate, nuanced picture of the fiscally challenging future? Do you not trust your audience to interpret more nuanced numbers?

You cited the 2010 Giving USA report for 2008 and 2009’s “national arts funding is declining” figure. Would you be averse to updating that to include 2010 and (if available) 2011’s figures? (I know this strategic plan was published in November 2011, so those may not have been available upon publication, but surely an addendum could be easily added?) Unfortunately, I can’t see the 2010 Giving USA report; one has to pay for more than a summary of it, and, as I’m sure you’d agree, summaries rarely paint the whole complicated picture…

Since you did not include both sets of numbers from the NEA report, and the Giving USA report is (to the best of my knowledge) unavailable for free to the public, would you understand if patrons would be hesitant to take the other numbers in your report at face value, especially since many of them come from reports that are not cited, much less available to the public or to reporters?


What’s your favorite color?

Chocolate or vanilla?

Puppies or kittens?

Well, I think that wraps it up on my end. Looking forward to your response, or at the very least, response about why you don’t want to respond!

Wishing everyone the best for a speedy satisfactory resolution, with as little acrimony as possible.


Emily E Hogstad


So. Those are the questions I came up with. What would you guys ask Minnesota Orchestra management if you had the chance? I’ll gladly add your questions to the list under a separate category called “Reader Questions.” Remember, this is your orchestra, and if you’re confused about anything about this situation, you deserve to ask questions about it. In fact, it’s your duty to ask questions about it!

Please include your full name and hometown in your comment so that management knows I’m not “stuffing the ballot box”, so to speak. If you don’t want your full name posted here, I’ll contact you privately and ask for it.

PS: Musicians? Don’t think I’ve let you off the hook…


Filed under My Writing

Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO Negotiations: Summary of Week -3

On 30 September the contracts of the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and Minnesota Orchestra expire, and tense negotiations are ongoing. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words (literally) on the subject, and if you want, you can find those here. If you just want a summary of what happened last week, click here.


In early September the SPCO musicians were claiming that management was proposing a contract that included 57%-67% salary cuts. (Interim CEO Dobson West later denied this.) In advance of meetings between musicians and management on Monday and Tuesday, management proposed a new contract. This one included salary cuts of 15%, a reduction in the size of the orchestra from 34 to 28 players, retirement packages for players over 55, and a new two-tiered salary in which current players would be guaranteed $62,500 a year, while new incoming players would only be guaranteed $50,000. In this Star Tribune article, West refers to the new contract as a “significant stretch for the Society and its donors.” Although the outline of the contract was released on 7 September, it is unclear when management originally drafted and approved the ideas contained within it. I’m also not clear why it took this long to get to this point, as negotiations have been ongoing since December of last year…?

Happily, the musicians didn’t reject the terms of the proposed contract outright, and in fact they almost seemed vaguely hopeful about them. “The musicians of the SPCO are encouraged, and we think our supporters should be, too, to learn the SPCO management has found money to spend. However, we are puzzled by how they intend to invest these funds. We hope to learn more in our upcoming negotiations scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday.”

After these meetings occurred, MPR reported that management never showed the musicians the formal language of the contract. In fact, according to the musicians, management will not be able to draft the language in the contract and share it with musicians until “next week at the earliest.” Nevertheless, management would like “a response” from the musicians by the next negotiating session on 21 September, which would only give the musicians a few days – at the most – to look over the document.

Since then, nothing more has come out, and so I can only assume that the musicians are still waiting on management to draft and share that contract. In the meantime, time is ticking, and their current contract expires in sixteen days. So, um, no pressure or anything…feel free to take your time, guys…it’s not like you’ve been negotiating for the last ten months or anything…

Minnesota Orchestra

Developments in Minneapolis were a lot more depressing this week.

If you’ll remember from last week, after management released their proposed contract without the musicians’ say or knowledge via website, the musicians fought back by requesting an independent audit of the orchestra’s finances, alleging that different people have been given different numbers at different times. Management responded thus: “Every year the Minnesota Orchestra performs a thorough, independent audit process by one of the nation’s top accounting firms. We have shared all of our recent audited results with the Union and answered these questions many times in our negotiation sessions over the last five months.” This doesn’t address the musicians’ allegation, so feel free to speculate. (I’ve used the phrase “feel free to speculate” so often on my blog lately I feel inclined to trademark it…)

Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly clear that management’s proposals will cause many musicians to retire or seek work elsewhere (if they aren’t already, and many clearly are). In an interview with the Pioneer Press that made musicians around the nation cringe, board chair and Wells Fargo executive vice president Jon Campbell said of potential turnover:

“The number of highly trained musicians that this country is producing every year is really quite remarkable. If you just take the top echelon of music schools in the U.S., they produce almost 3,000 performing artists a year. So couple what’s happening in the marketplace with a large supply – not to dismiss the fact that we don’t want to lose any of our wonderful musicians – but there may be some changes.”

Campbell did not elaborate on whether he would like to implement an accelerated schedule of auditions to replace the departing players; if he is envisioning an orchestra with a large percentage of substitute players; or if he feels the musicians won’t be able to get work elsewhere and are therefore in effect trapped in Minnesota. Unfortunately, nobody followed up on that question.

Campbell’s colleague Richard Davis, head of the management negotiating team, commented in another interview:

“These are real people with real lives, and they have to protect their own financial circumstances and artistic integrity. There’s a risk that they find their way to another place, and those who can leave will. It’s going to be a personal decision where they want to perform.”

As you can imagine, these comments were not particularly well received by those who view the morale of musicians as being even a halfway important part of an orchestra’s artistic and fiscal success.

I stayed up late a couple nights last week writing a few essays about those two quotes. You can dig them out of my blog if you want. They made the rounds nationally. Mainly they consist of me pressuring management to admit publicly that it will be very difficult to heighten artistry if Minnesota faces a high turnover rate in the next few years. (As of right now, they’re still claiming they’ll be able to raise artistry while simultaneously struggling with high turnover and demoralization. Have fun with that, management!) I get the feeling I might be screaming at a brick wall, but hey. I tried. It’s the best I can do.


The musicians of both orchestras are organizing free concerts in the next few weeks, ostensibly to thank the public for their support, but I imagine also to court goodwill. On 16 September at 4pm the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will be playing at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis. Orchestra violist Sam Bergman will host. Details available here. On 2 October at 7:30pm the musicians of the SPCO will be giving a free concert at Macalester College. Minnesota institution Garrison Keillor will be hosting this show. Details here.

I know this will sound totally ridiculous, but despite the geyser of bad news this week, I’m feeling bizarrely hopeful. Maybe it’s a bad case of Gingrichian delusion; I don’t know. But I’m getting the sense that more and more people are asking vitally important questions we’ve left unasked and unanswered for far too long. Who is really in charge of our orchestras? What credentials should decision-makers have? Who should have what powers? How should the world of business and philanthropy intersect with the world of artistic excellence? When budgets are tight and salaries need to be cut, what inexpensive efforts can management and musicians take to respect one another? Yes, this is a time of flux and change and very possibly grave danger for many orchestras. Yes, many many tears have been shed and no doubt will be shed. Many sleepless nights will be had. And the situation in the Twin Cities will certainly get much worse before it gets better. But these questions, and others like them, needed to be asked. Badly. And I’m beginning to think we needed a few crises to shake us up and make more people ask them.

Either that, or I’ve gone totally completely insane from blogging so much lately. That could very well be, too.

Keep those prayers and positive thoughts coming. We need every single one.

More next weekend.

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Filed under My Writing

Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO 2012 Negotiations: Week -3

New week, new blog entry: here’s Week -3 of Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012! In case you’re just joining me, here’s a link to the entirety of my coverage of Week -4, or if you just want a summary of week 4, here you go.

I have a feeling I’m going to be writing many, many paragraphs today. So please be patient with my rambling. Let’s get started…


Yesterday news broke that the SPCO management has offered a new contract to its musicians in advance of meetings on Monday and Tuesday (10 and 11 September). Here’s an MPR article: “SPCO proposes new contract for musicians.” According to the Star Tribune, “The offer boosts minimum salaries from the previous proposal, reduces the size of the permanent orchestra and creates a special retirement program for musicians 55 and older.” Go and read both articles yourself; there’s a lot of relevant stuff there I don’t need to repeat verbatim. A part of me celebrates that there appears to be some kind of movement; the other part worries this was all planned from the beginning. [I actually said in the comment section of my Tumblr blog post a couple days ago: “Does management *really* want to get a 28% (or 50%, or 67%) cut? Or are they lowballing so they can eventually come up to, say, 15%, get what they secretly wanted in the beginning, and have the advantage of looking like they’re compromising? Same goes musicians…” And when a 23-year-old with no training in arts administration guesses the exact percentage a couple of days before it’s revealed… I don’t know. That just strikes me as weird.]

The musicians at first had no comment, since they needed to read the contract through with their attorney. However, they did express a hesitant, very faint hope: “The musicians of the SPCO are encouraged, and we think our supporters should be, too, to learn the SPCO management has found money to spend. However, we are puzzled by how they intend to invest these funds. We hope to learn more in our upcoming negotiations scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday.” Later they wrote on Facebook: “Just to clarify, how is this proposal investing in the preservation of artistic excellence by buying off experienced, seasoned musicians to bring in new players at a lower rate? New players, of which there would be plenty if many of the over 55 musicians took the retirement package, would only receive $50,000, which is more like a 30% cut from the current base salary.”

I don’t know what to think. I see reason for faint hope here, and also reason for dejection. So I guess take away what you want. For now I’ll go with hope, simply because that’s been in such short supply lately.

The SPCO also started off their 2012-13 season yesterday in a performance of Beethoven and Stravinsky. The Pioneer Press raved about the performance, while the Strib shrugged. Apparently leaflets describing the situation from both management and the musicians’ POVs were handed out both in and outside of the Ordway. That must have been an awkward dynamic for audiences…

***Minnesota Orchestra***

In the MPR article linked above, Minnesota management had more words about the audit the musicians are proposing: “Every year the Minnesota Orchestra performs a thorough, independent audit process by one of the nation’s top accounting firms. We have shared all of our recent audited results with the Union and answered these questions many times in our negotiation sessions over the last five months.” This obviously doesn’t address the musicians’ allegation that different numbers are being given to different people in different situations, so…as I’ve been forced to say so many times on this blog before, “feel free to speculate.” (I’m so sick of saying that.) We also found out in this article that the next negotiating session isn’t scheduled until September 24.

We also finally heard from the folks at the Pioneer Press, so we can confirm they’re not dead, as I feared yesterday. Actually, I should put the snark away for a bit: they were busy collecting information for an enlightening article called “SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra in tough contract talks.” Highly recommended reading. I’d still like the musicians and management to be asked more pointed questions, but hey, this is much better than no coverage at all. And space was clearly limited. So I’ll take what I can get.

There was a paragraph in that article that I think warrants some very deep analysis. (In fact, such deep analysis that I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning writing about it…)

Board chair [Jon] Campbell accepts there could be some turnover.

“The number of highly trained musicians that this country is producing every year is really quite remarkable,” he said Wednesday. “If you just take the top echelon of music schools in the U.S., they produce almost 3,000 performing artists a year. So couple what’s happening in the marketplace with a large supply — not to dismiss the fact that we don’t want to lose any of our wonderful musicians — but there may be some changes.”

So, wow. Massive essay incoming.

I’d like to play devil’s (and musicians’) advocate with Mr. Campbell for a moment. Yes, there are a lot of great graduates from top music schools, many of whom would be delighted to get any job in the field they trained for. Nobody disagrees with that. (Psst: just for future reference, it’s kind of insulting to imply we don’t understand there are lots of great musicians out there without jobs. Musicians aren’t stupid; we are more than aware of our obscenely accomplished colleagues and their professional struggles. But alas, you don’t play in an orchestra for a living, and you clearly don’t understand our weird insular culture, so I’ll be kind and cut you some slack. Just remember for next time. Okay?) And you know what? Many of those great graduates would likely fit in very well with the orchestra…that is, if they were hired one or two or three at a time, over a period of years. But that would not happen here. Your proposed contract encourages a scenario in which ten, twenty, thirty musicians – maybe more! – could quit, all within one or (if we’re lucky) two or three seasons. That means (unless you want to be beholden to subs long-term) you’d need to recruit ten, twenty, thirty newcomers over the course of a couple years. And no matter how great those newcomers would be, they simply would not have the cohesion and vision and experience the current players have. Period. No matter how fantastically gifted they are, it will take months and very possibly years for them to learn the Minnesota way of doing things…especially if only, say, 80% or 70% or 60% of the “original” musicians are left. (Remember, at least according to the musicians, 10% of the seats are already vacant. So even today, way before the new contract takes effect, we’re only at 90% “original” musicians.) I really cannot overstate what a huge learning curve these new musicians will have to navigate. Think of how complicated things would get if multiple principal seats open at once…which, of course, seems likely, since principals are the ones most likely to get good jobs quickly elsewhere. (Exhibit A: Timothy Paradise.) Remember the concertmaster hunt? Remember the years of searching that took? Think of the hassle of that. Then multiply it tenfold.

Amidst all this, let’s spare a moment’s thought for poor Osmo Vänskä. If a mass exodus does materialize, his job will be made immeasurably more difficult. Immeasurably so. Remember, he’s committed to recording a Sibelius cycle that people all over the world have their eyes and ears on. He is staking a big part of his hard-fought reputation on the assumption this orchestra stays world-class. If this new contract results in a high turnover and consequent artistic decline, I imagine he’ll be so frustrated – and probably humiliated – that he’ll accept a position elsewhere as soon as he’s free to do so. (Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wants a change of scenery regardless of how this contract pans out. He’s been here since 2003, after all…) Who would blame him for leaving? You can’t expect an internationally renowned conductor to stay in Minneapolis out of the goodness of his heart, no matter how good said heart is. If the chattering classes ascribe Vänskä’s departure to turnover, it would leave Minnesota with a soiled reputation, scrambling to find an inspiring dynamic new music director on top of trying to replace a huge number of musicians and dealing with the demoralization of the rest. What a headache for management! Are they prepared and willing to take all that on? I want to hear them say they are.

Also think of what the sudden high turnover rate would mean for the audition process. According to the musicians’ union, despite the fact that 10% of the seats in the orchestra are vacant (more than ever before), management is resistant to making new hires. (This is understandable; subs are cheaper, and auditions are inconvenient and time-consuming.) But in order to have any remote hope of sustaining artistic quality over the next, say, five years, management would need to put forward a plan – preferably in the next couple of months – describing in great detail how they will replace those ten, twenty, thirty musicians in a very, very short period of time. Even then it would be a stretch, and it would be a logistical nightmare to pull off. They’d need to find ten, twenty, thirty weekends where the hall is available (frankly, probably impossible at this point) – schedule around Vänskä’s already-scheduled out-of-town concerts – form and coordinate the schedules of audition committees – wait for the winners of the jobs to become available (a process that often takes months) – wait for the new members to gain tenure… It would be ridiculously ambitious (dare I say impossible?) to tackle the massive turnover problem while still keeping the orchestra’s world-class edge. Honestly, if I was in management’s shoes, I’d much rather have the challenge of trying to squeeze millions of dollars out of reluctant donors!

So. If anyone from management ever brings up the fact there are lots of talented young players who would kill to have a Minnesota Orchestra job: remember, it’s not that simple, and Campbell’s casually implying so makes me wonder if he understands this. A major orchestral audition is not like a Subway or Walmart interview, and for good reason. Realistically speaking, it will probably take at least five years to hire all the replacements. And in that time, artistic quality will almost certainly deteriorate, likely severely, as the newcomers attempt to get their bearings.

Of course once artistic quality starts deteriorating, attendance will decline. Donors will become less enthusiastic about opening their pocketbooks. And then we run the risk of becoming a disappointment or – shudder – even a laughingstock during the proposed 2014 or 2015 European tour that management is clearly super-excited about. And so the vicious downward spiral will continue. We’ll end up with a gorgeous new hall with a confused mishmash of an orchestra within it. If the building is the most important thing, you might as well disband the Minnesota Orchestra itself and hire a house orchestra of freelancers. At this point, I’m honestly wondering why management just doesn’t propose that. I believe it would mesh more closely with their stated goals. Maybe that will be their next suggestion. God, I hope not. But I don’t know.

Anyway. Management says that one of their goals is to create a “symphony orchestra of the highest artistic quality.” If this is indeed their goal, I’d think that they’d want to avoid such a nightmare mass exodus scenario at all costs. And I’d think they’d really want to avoid it when Orchestra Hall is under construction. As difficult as it would be, desperate fundraising, canceling tours, cutting salaries somewhat while retaining great working conditions, thinking of creative ways to retain and satisfy players, drawing on a shrinking endowment for a few more years – basically, anything else you can think of – would be a much easier, safer bet than attempting a major renovation of the orchestra roster. I’d be so interested in hearing more from management on this topic. Reporters, if you’re reading this, please ask them some of these questions!

On a closing note, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to request that Campbell’s words be put in management’s Q&A under “Will pay cuts cause the best talent to leave the Orchestra?” instead of the condescending non-answer that’s there now. Be up front with us: your current proposals will cause musicians to leave, very possibly en masse. And if musicians leave en masse, artistic quality will suffer. And if artistic quality suffers, you will, by definition, fail at your stated goal to maintain a “symphony orchestra of the highest artistic quality.” Period. If that’s the direction you want to take us, or feel obligated to take us thanks to the terrible economy and Minnesota’s inability to support a world-class symphony orchestra…then say so. Tell us that. Yell it from the roof-tops. But please don’t hide the truth. Don’t sugarcoat it. You are serving the public, and your public deserves to know.

All that being said, it’s fantastic to hear some acknowledgment from management that, yes, it is possible that musicians will leave. That’s progress! It’s better than the Lame Paragraph of Naive Hope on their website. So kudos to Mr. Campbell for that. Hopefully he and his colleagues can go on record answering some more of these difficult questions ASAP.

Before I sign off for the day… Here’s some happy news: “Grantmaking to the arts rebounded significantly in 2010, growing to $129 million, which is 20% above 2009 levels. The rise follows an almost steady decline in arts giving since 2004.”

9 September

Could it be…

Could it possibly be…

A relatively news-free day in Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012?


What am I supposed to do if I’m not blogging about orchestral crises? Practice? Go outside and feel the sunlight on my face? Take a long hot bath while trying not to fixate on how desperately out of touch Jon Campbell is? I’m adrift…

Yes, the only piece of news today is this one from the Star Tribune called “What price orchestral excellence?” (Yes, I too find that prepositions are over-rated.)

I was probably more overjoyed than I should have been to read that someone on the board apparently subscribes to the radical notion that musicians are people (to paraphrase a famous quote). Here’s Richard Davis. head of the management negotiating team:

“These are real people with real lives [as opposed to fake people with fake lives? hmm], and they have to protect their own financial circumstances and artistic integrity. There’s a risk that they find their way to another place, and those who can leave will. It’s going to be a personal decision where they want to perform.”

Okay, so. Slowly but surely we’re inching closer to what I need to hear from management: an acknowledgment that their current proposals will make it impossible for them to achieve their own stated goal of creating a symphony orchestra of the highest possible quality. But if today we hear acknowledgment that musicians are people too, my friend, then maybe by Tuesday we can get to “yes, we probably will lose a lot of musicians”…and then maybe by Thursday “yes, artistic quality will decline because of this.” And then by Friday maybe we could shoot for “yes, we’re really looking forward to fundraising after revealing the fact we want more money to finance a crappier product” and “yes, we’re really really looking forward to the headache of replacing multiple principal players at once” and “yes, we’re really really really looking forward to seeing what the London critics think of our ensemble of 30-50% subs during our planned 2014-15 European tour.” I want to hear management say those things: without them, I just have to assume the members of the board are idiots or, worse, cynical disingenuous liars. Reporters, are you out there? There are a lot of simple questions that will be easy for you to ask and difficult for them to answer. Ask those questions. Get a scoop. This is a story.

(Also? Davis’ words need to go verbatim under the question “Will pay cuts cause the best talent to leave the orchestra?” Stat.)

I do have to say, I’m surprised that Davis and Campbell aren’t coordinating their messages better. One implies in a brutally insensitive manner that seasoned musicians are easily replaceable by fresh-faced college graduates; another speaks semi-reasonably and semi-respectfully about how many will choose to work elsewhere. What is this, some bizarre orchestral board version of good cop, bad cop? Because it’s not working. It just sounds weird – disjointed  and it makes me more worried than ever that they’re in way over their heads. I think I speak for hundreds, if not thousands, of people when I say: you need to get your s*** together. Don’t think we aren’t watching you.

I’m also frustrated with the Star Tribune, since in their article they repeated a claim that we heard from musicians a few days ago: that “the board ‘rejected outright’ an offer two years ago of an additional $1.5 million in reductions.” Nobody has elaborated on that story. What’s up? What reductions were suggested? When exactly, under what circumstances? Why didn’t management take it? Why did the reporter mention it if he’s not going to provide any context? This reminds me of Wolf Blitzer when, after Paul Ryan’s nomination acceptance speech, he said something along the lines of “it will be interesting to see what the fact-checkers have to say about some of these claims…” Holy frick, what? No! You are the fact-checker! H***, what is a reporter if he’s not a fact-checker? Some kind of truth-immune clearinghouse for biased press releases? No! Do your job! Do it better! Unlike me, you actually have access to these people! Use! It!

I’m also confused by the following sentence: “Final contracts at the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO likely will not include the draconian numbers in the initial trial balloons…” What? Who said that, and when? Is this an admission this is all just a sick game? That one or both sides are floating false numbers and percentages just so they won’t need to compromise? Who let that cat out of the bag? That’s not a kind of leadership to aspire toward…and certainly not the kind of leadership a world-class orchestra deserves. No, that’s just frigging lame.

I have low blood pressure, but I’m going to need hypertension medication by the time this is all over. Holy crap.

I wonder what Vänskä is thinking at this point. I can’t imagine he’s happy; he has so much at stake. Could he have any input or influence in the following weeks? Or is management so entrenched that they wouldn’t even listen to their own music director? There’s another question I’d like someone to answer on the record: what would you do if Vänskä said your current proposals would severely impact the quality of the orchestra? Would you agree with him and then work to publicize his statement, or would you contradict the judgment of your own music director? Management, if you absolutely must, choose one or the other: your version of fiscal stability OR sustaining the level of artistic excellence the Orchestra has now. But don’t pretend we can have both. To do so is cowardly, cynical, disingenuous, incompetent…and I could go on, but I’ll stop.

Well, I should probably take a day off when I can. SPCO management and musicians are meeting tomorrow and the next day. Hopefully there won’t be any news out of those until late Tuesday or Wednesday. I am just…at this point I am sick and tired of news. Hopefully what we hear out of St. Paul will be good, or at least faintly hopeful.

Here is a video of some adorable kittens:

12 September

Oooookay, so! Forgive the stretch of silence here over the last few days, but there’s been a flurry of activity in Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012. The other day a crazy raging delusional b-i-t-c-h wrote a provocative blog called “Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?“, and it went just a tad viral, and I’ve been a little distracted keeping up with what the blog’s author has to say in the comment section. Have you read her work? She’s insane.

Let’s get back to some real news.


Musicians and management talked on the 10th and 11th, discussing the new proposal that was originally floated by management back on 7 September (15% salary cuts, smaller orchestra, severance packages, $50,000 guaranteed salaries to new players, and some other stuff). According to MPR, musicians are not being shown the legal wording of the contract, and in fact, will not see it until “next week at the earliest.”

Let me get out my calendar here. Unless I’ve fallen into some bizarre Twilight Zone vortex in which the traditional rules of time no longer apply, “next week at the earliest” would mean “Monday September 17th.” Correct? And that’s at the earliest.

Okay, got it. So when does management want a response?

By the next negotiating session.

Which is – ?

21 September.

Which is Friday.

And, granted MPR is reporting this correctly, and assuming I have not lost my ability to read and comprehend simple sentences, management can’t guarantee the language will be available on Monday. In fact, they can’t even guarantee the language will be available by Friday. Which – in case you missed it when I said it a few sentences ago – is the same day they want a response from musicians.



I personally can think of only three explanations why this is happening. Chime in in the comments if you can think of more.

1) People in management are incompetent. If this proposal was even a remote possibility before it was floated, shouldn’t the basics of it have been drafted back in, say, August? If it wasn’t a remote possibility, did something major change financially within the organization over the last four weeks? If so, what?

2) People in management are trying to intimidate the musicians by throwing a lot of stuff at them right before a strike and hoping the musicians want to avoid a strike or lockout so badly that they won’t fight back.

3) People in management routinely sign long complicated contracts with wide-reaching legal and fiscal consequences without having the exact phrasing of those contracts available to them for more than a few days…or even, conceivably, a few hours…or, even more unbelievably, not at all. Really, management? You really do that? No? I didn’t think so. Then why are you asking your musicians to do so? What am I missing?

For crap’s sake. These discussions have been going on since December 2011. What the h*** is happening? Who dropped the ball and why? Will any of the story – or the Minnesota story – ever come to light? How can we dig this information up? I understand that hardly anybody can talk now. I get that. But once this all passes over, we need to demand accountability. Because we need to know who is incompetent – on either side – and pressure them to leave their jobs to someone a little…more able. As residents of the Upper Midwest, we deserve truth and transparency in our arts organizations. Because this isn’t just their orchestra: it’s ours, too.

***Minnesota Orchestra***

Not much news out there about Minnesota besides the furor over the crazy chick’s blog. The Minnesota Orchestra musicians’ blog mentioned it here. I do have a caveat to what they had to say…I don’t know if I’d call myself totally independent. I do, as I’ve said since the very beginning, have personal and professional connections with members of both orchestras, and no connections to anyone in management. (It’s a lot easier for poor disabled 23-year-old Wisconsinites to come up to the stage to say hi to musicians; members of management tend not to make themselves as available to the public nearly as easily or as often as musicians do. Maybe that’s something they should keep in mind in the future? It’s a lot easier to be disgusted by the actions of people you don’t know, and the tone of this blog would probably be very very different if I knew even a couple of people in management as well as I know a couple of musicians. But anyway, I’m digressing.)

However, despite the fact I do have connections with some of the musicians, I want to make it crystal clear: I haven’t talked about the details of the negotiations with ANYONE. Anyone. Nobody has told me anything about negotiations; nobody has contacted me about negotiations; I actually joked with one friend that he should try communicating with me telepathically. I’ve sent my love and best wishes to a couple musicians, but that is it. All I’ve heard from them is what we’ve already heard in the press: the fact that many musicians are discussing leaving, and that they are deeply distressed over the direction management wants to take them. And that’s not exactly news.

Anyway. Just wanted to remind everybody of that.

13 September

We appear to be in a kind of Orchestral Apocalypse limbo, with the SPCO musicians waiting to hear the formal language in management’s proposed contract, me still wondering how management can in good conscience ask the musicians to give their opinion on the contract without giving them time to consider the actual contract, and the Minnesota musicians not set to meet with management until 24 September. I welcome the lull; I have responsibilities in the real world, and it’s nice to leave my laptop without having the nagging feeling I’m missing out on some major crisis.

In fact, the only piece of worthwhile Apocalypse news today comes from Drew McManus in his blog post “A Bad Idea in Any Economic Environment.” He thinks it’s dangerous for the SPCO to have a two-tiered salary system for musicians. Thought-provoking stuff. Be sure to check out the comment section of his post.

Quick question: is anyone going to the Minnesota Orchestra musicians’ Lake Harriet bandshell concert on September 16 at 4pm? I’d love to go but I’m working. Would anyone be able to go and offer a report? I will give you a big virtual gold star if you do.

This beautiful gold star could be yours if you go to the Lake Harriet concert and write about it!! Act now!

14 September

No news today except for the fact the musicians of the SPCO have announced they’re playing a free concert at Macalester College at 7:30pm on 2 October. Garrison Keillor will be hosting. Details here. Feel free to speculate what this means, if anything, in regard to negotiations…

More news as it develops.


Filed under My Writing

Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO Negotiations: Summary of Week -4

The Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s musicians’ contracts both expire at the end of September, and a lot of things have been happening lately in the discussions. My blog entry chronicling the goings-on this past week is 7000+ words, so if you haven’t been keeping up, here’s a Reader’s Digest version. If you want more perspectives, more links, more questions, and more subtlety, I invite you to visit my orchestra negotiation Tumblr, which I’ve been updating at least once a day this last week. (Keep in mind the Tumblr features some adult language and unhealthy levels of sarcasm. So if that’s not your thing, stay away.)

Here’s a brief overview of where we’re at as of this weekend, at least from my perspective as a patron…


The opening shot was fired on 25 August when assistant principal violist Evelina Chao wrote an editorial in the St. Paul Pioneer Press titled “Fearing for ‘our orchestra as we know it.'” That editorial claimed that management’s proposals would reduce musicians’ wages by 57% and 67%. On 28 August, the musicians of the SPCO released a PDF summary of the negotiations so far, and on 1 September they released a collection of charts discussing numbers. On 31 August, SPCO Interim CEO Dobson West spoke to MinnPost, saying, “We have never proposed and wouldn’t propose salary cuts in the 57 to 67 percent range. That magnitude is way beyond anything we have proposed”…therefore making it clear that at least one side is lying, or at best, being disingenuous. West did not release any numbers to MinnPost. In retrospect, it seems likely that that he was waiting for The Day of the Dump, when managements at both the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO released dozens and dozens of pages of documents, leading me to muse aloud if managements are coordinating in some capacity. The SPCO management made the information public in a link in an email to patrons: http://updates.thespco.org/. The papers released there are very dense and haven’t been fully analyzed yet, but you’re welcome to take a stab at them yourself. After widespread protest from the musicians and the public, SPCO management offered a new contract that they say includes a 15% cut and a reduction in the size of the ensemble, among other things. Musicians are still reviewing the document, but judging by their response on Facebook, they’re not terribly impressed. Yesterday we also had the terribly sad news that principal clarinetist Timothy Paradise, who has been with the orchestra since 1977, is resigning…presumably because of the turmoil. Unfortunately, I’d steel yourself for many more resignations in the weeks to come.

Minnesota Orchestra

In late August the orchestra’s blog Inside the Classics was “temporarily” shut down; its authors were not given much, if any, warning. On 30 and 31 August the Minnesota Orchestra musicians continued their meetings with management. But we heard nothing out of Minneapolis until 5 September, when a big shiny pro-management website was launched on the Minnesota Orchestra’s website. That pro-management website included the contract currently under negotiation, much to the musicians’ annoyance. Things took a turn for the Twilight Zone the next day when musicians dropped the bombshell that they hadn’t been told that management was going public with the contract, and that the terms management had released weren’t necessarily what they were talking about in private. Journalists’ heads then exploded. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that management’s proposals included dropping the musicians’ average base salary from $109,000 to $78,000. I pointed out that despite the headlines, the big story here is not necessarily the salary, but rather the proposed changes in working conditions, which, among many many many other things, include a reduction in paid medical leave from 26 weeks a year to 13; after that, musicians’ pay would be halved. The musicians fired back yesterday with a request for an independent audit of the orchestra’s endowment, saying they’re hearing different numbers from different people. Management claims they’ve done this already, implying the musicians’ request is a PR/stalling tactic.

In short, it’s been a week full of ugly, ugly acrimony: a tennis match of spin and sadness. And it will probably only get worse from here. I’m guessing that come October, neither the SPCO nor Minnesota Orchestra are going to be playing. Are we looking at two Detroit-style meltdowns in the same metro area at the same time? I don’t really want to think about that question, much less answer it.

In any case, as I said on my blog, “I don’t even drink and I want to get drunk. Badly.”

If you’re a praying person, some prayers wouldn’t go amiss here. Otherwise, send us all your positive thoughts. We need them.

More updates next weekend. If you want more in the interim, like I said, follow my Tumblr.


Filed under Uncategorized

New Tumblr For Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO Negotiations

As y’all know, I’m writing a series of mini-articles about the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s ongoing negotiations. As y’all also know, the rest of my blog is mainly geared toward leisurely essays on music history. Those are two very different animals with two very different audiences. So I decided to start another blog (or more accurately, a Tumblr) focusing solely on negotiation news. That is now live at http://orchestra-negotiations.tumblr.com/ I’ll still be posting everything here, too, under oft-updated weekly entries tagged Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012. However, if you want updates without having to constantly refresh and scroll here, the Orchestra Negotiations Tumblr, and its associated RSS feed, will probably be your best bet.

Thanks for the support and interest, all. Sending best wishes to both the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO.


Filed under My Writing

Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO 2012 Negotiations: Week -4

The Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s musicians’ contracts both expire on September 30, and a lot hangs in the balance. Despite the nearness of this important date, I haven’t been able to find a decent up-to-date compendium of information about the discussions. I wasn’t going to blog about the situation myself beyond what I already have, for the simple reason I find the subject matter sad. But after the Minnesota Orchestra’s Inside the Classics blog was suspended (or ended, or put on hold, or whatever the crap it was) a few days ago, I got more than sad; I got pissed, and I decided I might as well channel that pissedness into something semi-useful. I had some spare time, and I figured I could at least assemble some links for people so they can read up on the situation without having to compulsively stalk Google News. Everything I write here will be based solely on what has already been said in blog entries, interviews, newspaper articles, etc. There will be no gossip here – no secrets – no “I heard from such and such who said that such and such said such” – no unnamed sources – no scoops: just information that is already publicly available to anyone with an Internet connection. Work by other writers who use any of the above methods of information-gathering will be promptly ignored, because that’s just not my style. You guys can use Google Blogsearch if you really want to read that kind of stuff (although I’m not sure why you’d want to).

Before we begin, keep in mind I’m not a journalist, or a union drone, or an arts administrator. I’m just a blogger, a freelance violinist and violist, and a patron of both the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra. I have an instinctive sympathy for professional musicians. I want both orchestras to continue to perform at the highest possible level, and for the long-term. And as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I have professional and personal connections with people who are in both ensembles. So yes, I will do my best to be fair, but no, I will not be neutral. If you feel this renders what I have to say irrelevant, feel free to stop reading.

I’m planning on doing one entry a week, with each entry being updated as many times as I deem necessary throughout the course of the week. That way I won’t spam you with dozens of short updates. Visit daily if you want to see the most recent stuff. Or, if you patronize violinist.com, as I know some of you do, keep an eye out for updates, as I’m also planning to post them there, too.

Remember, even if you’re not in the Twin Cities, you can help by liking the Musicians of the SPCO and Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra on Facebook. Doing so will keep you up-to-date on what’s happening and give you suggestions for how to help.

Here’s to speedy, satisfactory resolutions for both organizations. Love you guys.


Week -4 (30 August – 8 September)

30 August 2012

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and Minnesota Orchestra are currently in the process of re-negotiating their musicians’ contracts, both of which (coincidentally) expire on September 30. In the next few weeks (and possibly beyond…) there will be a lot of news coming fast and heavy from all four sides. What’s happening in the Twin Cities has the potential to become a national story, and y’all really should keep an eye on us to see what our orchestras and our communities do right…or wrong. I’m keeping a running entry here discussing what is going on from my perspective as both an SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra patron and music blogger. Anyone with additional thoughts or news, please chime in.

To start, Minnesota Public Radio ran a primer on the situation here.


Five days ago, an article called “Fearing for ‘our orchestra as we know it'” written by Evelina Chao, assistant principal viola with the SPCO, was posted on the St. Paul Pioneer Press website. You can read that here. (I recommend doing so.) Chao writes, “Unfortunately, in recent negotiations to sign a new contract (our current agreement expires Sept. 30) the SPCO management and board have proposed wage cuts of 57 percent and 67 percent, as well as reducing drastically the number of concerts involving our full ensemble. These proposals have caused some musicians to sell their homes, audition for jobs elsewhere, and request leave in order to seek work in another field… Corporations reduce costs by outsourcing work. We believe our management envisions reducing costs by making wages untenable for existing musicians, causing them to leave, and by importing people from elsewhere to perform as SPCO musicians on a per-service basis.”

On August 28, MPR ran a story about various SPCO musicians heading to the Minnesota State Fair to share their talents and spread awareness of the situation to the public. In this article, SPCO Interim President Dobson West is quoted as saying, “I don’t know how they arrived at those numbers, but they are not correct numbers. We have never proposed that kind of a magnitude of a cut.” I’ve been unable to find an interview in which Mr. West discusses (what he feels are) the correct numbers. When he does make them public, I’ll post a link to them here.

That same day, the musicians of the SPCO released a PDF summary of the negotiations so far. You can read that here. This document discusses some eyebrow-raising changes to insurance, tenure procedures, seniority pay, sub compensation, etc. Go read it. It’s…pretty depressing. Cue up some happy, triumphant music to listen to afterward; you’ll likely need it.

***Minnesota Orchestra***

We’ve heard comparatively little coming out of Minneapolis this week, but my gut tells me that’s likely to change within the next few days, as musicians and management are meeting today (August 30).

One story that has flown entirely under the radar is that on August 27 the orchestra’s blog was unceremoniously stopped with this truly bizarre post. All it says is, “The Inside the Classics section of our website is currently being redesigned. Sam and Sarah’s blog will be temporarily inactive, as we plan the 2012-13 season at the Minneapolis Convention Center, which begins February 8, 2013. We look forward to sharing the new season with you.”


The Minnesota Orchestra blog is (um, was) written by a violist (Sam) and the principal pops conductor (Sarah); they co-host the Orchestra’s Inside the Classics series. Clearly there was no serious discussion about the cessation of the blog with either of them. There were no good-byes, and no hint of an impending ending or break in previous entries. The author of the Truly Bizarre Post is not Sam or Sarah, but rather a shadowy figure, heretofore unknown, named “admin”. Don’t let the excuse that they’re busy planning the upcoming season fool you: the Inside the Classics series has been going on for years now, and both Sam and Sarah are consummate professionals who are fully capable of updating a blog and planning a concert series at the same time. I can literally think of no credible reason why this happened. (Someone is scared they’ll write a pro-musician entry? Someone doesn’t want the public asking questions about the negotiations in the comments section? An escaped enraged zoo monkey came into the Orchestra’s offices and started slapping on a keyboard and miraculously typed those exact words and then by accident clicked post?) And “admin” is going to blame the blog’s break – or whatever it is – on Sam and Sarah’s implied inability to balance both, when they’ve balanced both for years? Really? … As my best friend says, “LAAAAYAME!” If whoever is behind this entry is going to lie so transparently, he or she could at least do us the favor of lying entertainingly. How about telling us how Sam and Sarah are going on an exciting African safari for the next six months?

As a music blogger myself, this really annoys me. (Clearly.) I can’t think of two better bloggers on orchestral culture, and it just seems the height of stupidity and irresponsibility to kick those articulate voices to the curb, presumably with no warning. Hey, Minnesota Orchestra, if you’re trying to foster good-will with your public, here’s a news flash: you’re failing. Miserably.

1 September 2012

First off, a welcome to my new blog readers. Hello! This article spread like influenza; night before last I laid in bed with my laptop until one in the morning, repeatedly clicking refresh on my stats page, shocked at the numbers I was seeing. (You guys stay up late!) There is clearly a real thirst to know more about what’s happening. Hopefully this interest is a sign of how beloved these two orchestras are. Like I said above, please feel free to comment here and engage in a dialogue. I approve all blog comments that aren’t spam, no matter how violently you disagree with what I’m doing. Look in the comment section for proof of that.

Onto business.

I forgot to mention in my last entry that on August 27 MPR put out an article with the provocative title, “Do the Twin Cities need 2 orchestras?” Upon reading that question, angry defensive heartburn ensued. However, despite the tone of the headline, it actually turned out to be a pretty pro-orchestra article, and draws the conclusion that yeah, two orchestras are cool…and even necessary. Thanks for the coverage, MPR, but please don’t use skeptical headlines like that again, or I might be tempted to fling back the question: “Do the Twin Cities need 2 sports teams?” And that would not be a classy move on my part.

Moving on…


There has been relatively little news out of St. Paul over the last forty-eight hours. However, I was happy to see this article on MinnPost’s website because it included a long-awaited public response from SPCO Interim CEO Dobson West on Evelina Chao’s Pioneer Press article. It’s worth checking out in full, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version: “We have never proposed and wouldn’t propose salary cuts in the 57 to 67 percent range. That magnitude is way beyond anything we have proposed… We are not reducing in any way our commitment to the community in terms of the number of concerts we perform. We perform roughly 120 concerts per year. We will continue to do that… It is not our intention at all to turn this into a per-service orchestra. We understand that it is important to the overall sound to have a constancy among our musicians…  We have a great ensemble. Everybody – the musicians, staff, board, and management – loves this ensemble. We do not want to do anything to damage it. But we cannot ignore the financial realities we face, and that other arts organizations – in particular, orchestras – face. We need to address the largest single cost we have, which is our musicians.” I’m happy to hear from management, but unfortunately these remarks muddy the waters more than anything: they make very clear that one side is either point-blank lying, or else very very stupid. Who is it, and which is it? As best as I can tell, no actual numbers or percentages – or really any details about management’s proposals, period – were discussed in this interview…just refutations of Chao’s article. So feel free to speculate, I guess. As MinnPost rather helplessly notes: “Until journalists are invited to the bargaining table, this is what we know.”

The organization MN2020 put out a pointed editorial called “Sour Notes” drawing parallels between the SPCO’s situation and the exciting national pastime of union-bashing. Regardless of your opinion of the author’s politically progressive viewpoint, I think we can all agree on its closing line: “Mediocrity yields no rewards.” Artistic…or fiscal.

***Minnesota Orchestra***

There’s not much to report from the other side of the river. Today the Minnesota Orchestra musicians posted a blog entry describing the latest talks with management. Here is the entirety of the entry: “On August 30 and 31, the Musicians met with the board and management in two sessions totaling 5 hours. The parties continued to discuss both artistic and financial issues, and agreed to meet again in September.” End entry. This is by far the vaguest report we’ve gotten yet. I was interested to see the talks apparently extended to August 31; last I heard they’d only been scheduled for August 30. Read into that what you will.

2 September 2012


Over the last week, the musicians of the SPCO and the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have taken markedly different approaches to the PR battle. The SPCO has been blogging, posting on Facebook, writing editorials, soliciting testimonials, giving interviews…while the Minnesota musicians have been almost totally silent. The differences in approach are striking, and it will be interesting to watch how they play out in the upcoming weeks.

SPCO bassoonist Carole Mason-Smith gave interviews to progressive radio hosts Nancy Nelson on August 30 and Jack Rice on September 2. You can listen to the interview with Nelson here (Ms. Mason-Smith’s interview begins at 44:30, after Nelson gives an amusingly stereotypical liberal apology for shouting her guest down in a previous segment…it’s like a real-life version of Russ Lieber from The Colbert Report!). The interview with Rice starts here (at 29:00). Personally, although I’m unabashedly liberal and likely agree with the majority of their opinions, I’m not a tremendous fan of either Nelson or Rice’s interviewing styles…although of the two, Rice elicits the more enlightening conversation by far. Keep in mind if you’re politically conservative, or in any way sympathetic to management’s positions, your mileage may vary with these interviews. However, despite any Olbermann-esque tendencies on behalf of the hosts, Carole Mason-Smith was a brilliant, lovely, level-headed surrogate for the SPCO musicians. Kudos to her. She also recently appeared in this lovely little interview with Fox 9. If you watch it, you can see some Telemann!

As an outside observer, I do have to say that the SPCO musicians have really kicked management’s butts in the PR battle over the last couple of weeks. In interview after interview after interview, the conflict has been framed almost exclusively in pro-musician terms, and management has done hardly anything to push back against that narrative…save for Dobson West’s brief (and confusing) interview with MinnPost on Friday. Do they not think they need to win an argument in the court of public opinion? – are they still formulating a strategy of their own to communicate their vision? – do they not have a vision? – are they waiting until we get closer to September 30 to discuss these things? If they are waiting until closer to the deadline to speak, why don’t they say so? At this point your guess is as good as mine. But the silence is deafening. And very weird.

On September 1, conductor and SPCO artistic partner Edo de Waart gave an interview in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, discussing his upcoming concerts with the SPCO. He was asked, “Are you following the contract issues at SPCO?” He responded with a simply lovely sentiment: “If you ask me this question in two weeks, I would say yes. Since I’m only a partner, I do not inject myself into it. My point of view is this: If a country with 350 million people that prides itself as one of the greatest countries that ever was can’t sustain a 35-piece full-time chamber orchestra, the only one in that country, that’s really shameful. I’m not blaming anybody, but there should be a way that can exist. This is a jewel. It’s a beautiful little orchestra. It cannot, in my view, it should not be made smaller and it needs to keep its competitive edge by attracting the best players by paying a decent salary.” This is a simply beautiful summation of what I feel in my heart, and I thank the maestro for verbalizing it.

That same day, the SPCO musicians released a collection of charts discussing their salaries and such, the detail of which would make the graph-obsessed Paul Ryan proud. I am notoriously math-impaired so I’m not going to comment on them, but if you want to delve into the numerical geekery yourself, click here.

***Minnesota Orchestra***

We’ve heard nothing new from Minneapolis besides what I wrote yesterday. In the absence of news, we send the organization our thoughts and best wishes.

4 September 2012

Here’s a switch from Sunday: today there is no news from St. Paul, and a couple of items out of Minneapolis…

***Minnesota Orchestra***

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will put on a free concert at the Lake Harriet Bandshell on September 16 at 4pm. Instead of relying on the Minnesota Orchestra to organize the show, the musicians are doing it all themselves. Courtesy of an unfortunate sentence fragment, it’s unclear who the conductor is, but it seems to be bass player William Schrickel. Banished “Inside the Classics” blogger / orchestra violist Sam Bergman will serve as host. The Minnesota Orchestra Musicians’ website says the Lake Harriet Bandshell concert used to be an annual tradition, but it hasn’t been observed since 2007. So it’s very, very cool they’re bringing it back this year. The program includes work by Beethoven, Dvorak, Williams, and Heitzig, among others. You should go!

In other Minneapolis news, public radio personality Marianne Combs re-posted a link to the “Do the Twin Cities need 2 orchestras?” article from last week. There’s no new information in Combs’s post, but you might want to follow the comments, if only to take the pulse of the public radio crowd.

5 September 2012, 11:30AM

No news from Minneapolis yet today, but geez the SPCO more than made up for that: management has released a mother lode of documents. Late last night my reader “St. Olaf Musicians” left the following link in my comment section:


This is a link that came in a September 4 email to SPCO patrons from the interim CEO Dobson West. I have not found this site in my (literally) hours of reading about this conflict. I am not sure when it went live. It has never appeared on a Google News search or a Google Blogsearch search. It also – as best as I can tell – is not linked from the SPCO website. No media outlet has yet acknowledged its existence. We’ll see if reporters pick up the story today or tomorrow.

There’s enough information here to keep a journalist busy for days. Highlights include a Pioneer Press editorial co-written by Dobson West on September 1 (why did this not appear with a Google News search? why haven’t any other websites or newspapers picked it up?), summaries of negotiations from management’s perspective, and letters between attorneys. And that’s just touching the surface. There is a lot of stuff here.

I won’t be able to offer the context and perspective that this chunk of information deserves. I’m too young and have no experience in arts administration. So, hey, American arts journalists and bloggers and anyone who can translate this stuff into plain English and doesn’t have an ideological ax to grind: Listen the crap up. I’m likely naive in hoping for this, but it is really time for you guys to step up to the plate. This is not a time to imitate the vapidity, commercialism, and false equivalences of a 24-hour news network. This is the time for some serious hard-hitting journalism. A lot is at stake. And these stories are not adding up.

Once I’ve had time to process these very dense documents, and check them against the documents the SPCO musicians have made available, I’ll offer some thoughts and questions from my perspective as a patron.

As a totally off-topic nitpick, am I the only one who is really turned off by the way that West signs his letters to SPCO board and musicians as “Dobby”? Has he never read Harry Potter? This is not a character you want people to think of when they read your name in a business setting. In a conversation as important as this, every word counts, every word makes an impression. Best to come across as professionally as possible with a full name, and not risk associating yourself with an obsequious house-elf with Dark Wizard masters. Yes, this complaint may be illogical. But on the other hand, illogical first impressions very quickly add up to an opinion.

As always, feel free to share what you think here.

Below I’ve reproduced the email that my reader “St. Olaf Musicians” says was sent out to SPCO patrons yesterday.

September 4, 2012

Dear SPCO Patron,

I want to take this opportunity to welcome you to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s 2012-13 season.

Our season kicks off with a free concert at 7pm this Thursday night in Saint Paul’s beautiful Mears Park as part of the Concrete and Grass Music Festival. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Artistic Partner Edo de Waart joins us for a program featuring Stravinsky’s Concerto for Strings and Octet for Winds alongside Beethoven’s grand Eroica Symphony. The following weekend we welcome two Artistic Partners to the stage when Edo de Waart and Christian Zacharias join the orchestra for Brahms’ magnificent Second Piano Concerto alongside two of Strauss’s finest works, the Opus 7 Serenade for Winds and Metamorphosen. We hope you have the opportunity to join us for these great season-opening programs.

We’re proud to announce that more than 2,500 people have now joined our SPCO Membership program. SPCO Members can attend unlimited SPCO concerts for only $5 per month. We’re especially pleased to see that a significant number of brand new audience members have joined us through this program. In addition to our affordable new Membership program, our regular ticket prices are also affordable at only $10, $25 or $40 each. Low prices are part of our commitment to being accessible to the broadest possible audience. As a result of our accessibility efforts, our annual attendance has increased by over 20,000 over the last decade. What’s more, we’ve been able to significantly reduce our marketing expenses, so that we are now generating more net revenue than we were with higher ticket prices. We’re delighted that what makes good sense for our mission has also proven to be a financial success.

In the midst of the excitement surrounding the start of our new season, you may also have heard that the SPCO and its musicians’ union are in the process of negotiating a new contract, as the current contract expires on September 30. The SPCO, like many orchestras across the country, faces a challenging financial situation due to long-term changes in the arts funding landscape, exacerbated by the economic downturn. We’ve done much to avoid deficits in recent years through aggressive expense reduction on the administrative side of the budget, having eliminated over $1.5 million in annual expenses since 2008, including reducing the size of the staff by 17%. However, the work we’ve done to date has not been sufficient to solve our financial challenge, and we will have a deficit of up to $1 million for the fiscal year that ended in June. If nothing changes, we will face even larger deficits in the years to come.

Our future health and vitality is dependent on aligning our expenses with our predictable, sustainable revenues. Musicians’ salaries and benefits comprise the single largest expense item in the SPCO budget and we are now looking for the contract to be a part of the solution. It is our sincere hope to work as collaborators with our musicians in solving this challenge. We value our musicians’ considerable talents, training and dedication, and we are confident that by working together we can develop a solution that ensures the SPCO is both financially sustainable and artistically vibrant.

There have been some rumors circulating about what the SPCO Board and Management intend to accomplish through these negotiations, so I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. The SPCO does not intend to reduce the number of orchestra concerts we offer to this community. We do not intend to cut musician compensation in half, create a part-time orchestra or move to a freelance model. We are committed to having a chamber orchestra of the highest caliber in this community for years to come, but we will only be able to accomplish this if we have a contract that we can afford.

As the season begins, it’s likely that our contract negotiations will become a more prominent part of the public discussion. If at any point you have questions about what you are hearing, we invite you to contact us directly. We will continue to provide you with updates as there is news to share, and you may also visit our negotiations updates webpage at thespco.org/contract.

Meanwhile, enjoy the start of the 2012-13 season! And if you’d like to enjoy even more SPCO music in the comfort of your own home (or on your iPhone or iPad), we invite you to visit our Listening Library at thespco.org/music, where you’ll find more than 250 full-length SPCO recordings available for free listening.

Thank you for supporting the SPCO. Now more than ever, we’re extremely grateful for the support from our audience members and generous contributors. We look forward to seeing you this season.


Dobson West



This isn’t going to end well, is it?

5 September 2012, 3:30PM

***Minnesota Orchestra***

The Minnesota Orchestra management has launched a new website discussing the conflict from management’s POV. You can find that here. It’s loaded with as much information as the SPCO’s new pro-management website is.

The centerpiece of the website is management’s proposal. According to this MPR article, under this proposal, “the average wage of a musician in the orchestra” will drop from $135,000 to $89,000. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says, “The average base salary of a musician would fall to $78,000 from a current level of $109,000.” “Average wage” and “average base salary”: those are important distinctions to keep in mind as you follow this story.

Public radio personality Marianne Combs summarized the information dump in an article titled “MN Orchestra opens up about contract negotiations.” “The orchestra has launched a web page on its site with links to the 2012 contract proposal, the orchestra’s most recent annual report, and supplemental information on the negotiations, the endowment and other financial challenges. For journalists this is great news – it means we have access to a wealth of information that will help us to better analyse the situation, and tell you the complete story. Check back in the coming days as we dig in to the details to sift out the most important facts, and talk to the Minnesota Orchestra musicians to hear their side of the story.”

It’s comforting to hear that MPR is on this. Their coverage of “Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012” has consistently outshone the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune’s. If you only have time to follow the coverage of one media outlet, follow MPR.


The Star Tribune also is on the SPCO story that I posted about earlier today. Not much new information in that article, though.

It’s times like these that one wishes instantaneous cloning was possible. One brain is simply not enough. These kinds of discussions would be confusing enough with just one orchestra, but then when you have two going through basically the same thing at the same time in the same metro area…it becomes mind-bending.

And the cynical part of me wonders if management wanted it this way. Do you think it was coincidence that both orchestras released the exact same kind of data within twenty-four hours of one another, after clearly spending a long time assembling it, and very possibly a long time sitting on it? Are the orchestras’ managements coordinating in any way? If so, how? For that matter, are the orchestras’ musicians coordinating in any way? If so, how? I wonder.

Is anyone else reading through these dozens and dozens of pages? What are you noticing? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Anyone up for a group therapy session? Anyone wanting to get drunk yet? I don’t even drink and I want to get drunk. Badly.

All the analysis I have to offer right now is that this is sad, and I’m sad. I’ve been steeling myself for this conflict for months, but…it’s still sad.

6 September 2012

The bombshell of the morning is that the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are claiming that management went public with its proposal without telling the musicians they were going to do so (if I’m understanding correctly). I don’t really know what to say to that, but here’s the most recent Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra blog entry. And here’s a Star Tribune article about what happened.

Lots and lots and lots of questions here. What kind of warning did management give to musicians before making the contract public? If they didn’t give any warning, why not? Because going public without telling the musicians beforehand seems…unnecessarily dickish. (Kind of like shutting down the Inside the Classics blog without telling its authors. Sorry, but I’m still bitter about that one.) Is it true there were no counter-proposals from musicians? If so, why? The musicians say that two years ago management rejected $1.5 million in concessions from musicians. What’s the story behind that? We desperately need someone to cut through all this spin.

One thing I’m seeing a lot of on various blogs and newspapers is analysis of salary cuts, with only brief mentions here and there of the proposed changes to working conditions. Call me crazy, but I’m not convinced that the salary cut is the most important thing at stake here. Yes, a 25% pay cut makes a big flashy exciting headline. It entices people to click on links and take umbrage. But I’m guessing the musicians consider the myriad of other changes within the contract to be the bigger issue. As trombonist Doug Wright says in the Star Tribune this morning, “…They are trying to erase 40 years of accrued working conditions” (italics mine). Keep an eye on this in the coming weeks; remember this is not just a battle over salary and numbers. The musicians believe they are fighting for not just a world-class salary, but world-class working conditions that will attract – and retain – world-class talent. They claim that many will seek work elsewhere if the proposals are enacted, and unfortunately, it seems they have a legitimate concern: look at the number of musicians who left the orchestra just within the last season alone. And according to the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians’ website, for what that’s worth: “The Minnesota Orchestra has an unprecedented number of unfilled positions at this time – more than 10% of the orchestra. The Musicians are deeply concerned that there are no auditions planned at this time to fill any of the vacancies.” One important question that will help you decide where you stand: do you think the musicians are bluffing when they say that many of them will quit if management’s proposals are enacted? I have the advantage of knowing some of these musicians. The ones I know? They aren’t bluffing.

I haven’t yet had the time – or frankly, the inclination – to wade through the massive information dump the Minnesota Orchestra management put out. (I’m still stuck in the SPCO’s.) But I did glance through it, and one portion of Minnesota’s Q&A really rubbed me the wrong way. It can be found here, under “Will pay cuts cause the best talent to leave the orchestra?”

Salary is one factor that helps people to determine whether they want to remain in a job. [And the award for “Most Obvious Sentence In The History Of Ever” goes to… Minnesota Orchestra Management! Congratulations!] There are many other factors as well, especially in a mission-driven organization like the Minnesota Orchestra. This orchestra has many great advantages for musicians. The Twin Cities are a terrific place to live, with a cost of living lower than in many other cities where top orchestras are located. And the Minnesota Orchestra has a great artistic profile because our board, music director and management are committed to ensuring that our organization continues to tour, make recordings and engage in artistically significant projects. [Yeah, musicians: what have you done lately to raise the orchestra’s artistic profile? Pffff.] This positively impacts the daily lives of Minnesota Orchestra musicians.

So, if I’m reading that right: “well, the Twin Cities are awesome, and we’re still going to let our musicians tour and record and stuff, so despite unpopular wide-reaching changes in their contract, and despite the fact many of them could make more money and have more fulfilling careers elsewhere, we think and hope the musicians will stay”? Hmm, where have I heard phrases about how one should avoid planning for the future based on hope rather than reality lately…(hint: it’s the fourth paragraph down).

I’d be grateful if a reporter could ask someone in Minnesota management what their thoughts are about the very real possibility of a mass exodus. What happens if, say, even ten of the musicians leave? (And unfortunately, I can envision a scenario where many more than ten leave…) Is management prepared for such a scenario? How would they feel if such a thing transpired? Would they feel regret? Sadness? Shock? Do they feel that an orchestra full of substitute players will be able to retain the same high artistic standard as full-time players?

It seems awfully naive to expect to sustain a world-class orchestra by providing less than world-class wages and working conditions. I’d be so much more comfortable if the powers-that-be openly acknowledge that yes, their proposal may well make people leave, and negatively affect the quality of the orchestra…but that’s what tough economic times call for, and that’s a sacrifice Minnesota is willing to make. I don’t like when political parties earnestly claim we can balance the budget without raising taxes or cutting entitlements. And I don’t like it when a similar tactic is used here. Management may be telling musicians that they can’t eat their cake and have it, too…but neither can management when they paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the orchestra’s artistic future.

On a closing note, I want to caution everyone following this story: take nothing, absolutely nothing, at face value. Refuse to trust anyone. (That includes me.) Orchestra contracts are complicated, complicated beasts that are impossible for outsiders to fully understand. If you’re not in the business – and sometimes even when you are in the business – you will not be able to judge the accuracy or implications of what anyone is saying. Period. There will be endless ways to massage numbers, phrases, proposals…especially when negotiations are ongoing, and the terms are (presumably) open to shifting. So take everything that is being said right now with not just a grain of salt, but a f***ing salt mine. And hang tight.

7 September 2012

Hey guys, are you ready for your daily dose of orchestral acrimony? If so, take an aspirin, pop some popcorn, and gather round!

Here’s MPR’s story “Orchestra contract talks a matter of money vs. artistry” and here’s a MinnPost article that briefly discusses the conflict. I love this line in MinnPost: “With current contracts for both the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra set to expire Sept. 30, we’re hearing a lot more than we usually hear from both sides, maybe more than we want.” Take it from someone who has spent hours every day this week attempting to comb through it all: we are hearing more than we want. A lot more.


Not much news from the SPCO today. Hopefully patrons and journalists are still paging through the information dump from a few days ago (I know I am). The biggest piece of news, which I suppose is not really news at all, is that the musicians are pissed. Last night I read this status update on the SPCO musicians’ Facebook page, with a link to the MPR story linked above: “Good news! According to this article, the SPCO musicians’ average salary is $110,000, whereas last week our management was quoted saying our average salary was $90,000, and we are supposed to believe their budgetary forecasts?”

SPCO musicians? As Jon Stewart says…could I see you over at camera three?

Look. You have a point. (Although I’m not sure which article it was where management quoted the $90,000 figure…it would be great if you could include that link, too, because there have been so many articles lately.) However, despite the fact you have a point, this update made me strangely uncomfortable. Such a tone was unnecessary. It may be cathartic, but it will win over no new converts to the cause, and will only serve to further antagonize your opponents. Yes, I know you guys have been through hell this last year. I can only imagine what it must feel like. You have been disrespected and condescended to, and you have every right in the world to be upset. But imagine what someone who hasn’t been following this story day in and day out might think if they hear one side use snark. Status updates and blog entries are forever. You must never write anything in the heat of the moment. And remember: public opinion exists not on a pro-musician or pro-management continuum…public sentiment can very very very very very easily turn anti-musician AND anti-management. So please, please, court goodwill wherever you can. Be sickeningly sweet in public, even if you keep a Dobby dartboard in your basement. And yes, I realize I’m one to talk…in the course of this blog project, I have compared the Minnesota Orchestra management to penises and linked SPCO Interim CEO Dobson West to a house-elf…but I’m not associated with you guys. Be better than me. And everybody else. (At least in public. Privately, feel free to say what you want.)

Okay, unsolicited lecture over. Just…be careful, okay? And work on the assumption that people who are just tuning into this story are going to get tired of both you and management. Quickly.

That being said, Dobson West does come off in interviews and in SPCO documents as annoying, incompetent, and out-of-touch, and often breathtakingly so. In the MPR article, he says, “The world has changed around us and we can’t continue on, using the same old model. Will we get it right the first time? Who knows? But we are intent on finding a long-term solution.”

I think that deserves to be repeated: “Will we get it right the first time? Who knows?”

“Who knows?”

“Who knows?”!?!?!?!?

Yes, I too find that calling for risky controversial change and then expressing a flippant doubt to MPR that the risky controversial change might not actually work always serves to highlight a person’s executive competence and leadership abilities!

Sorry. I’m falling victim to the same bad temper as everyone else. Sigh. But…camera three time again.

Look. Mr. West, the  St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is not some kind of non-profit laboratory. There is no “first time.” There is “a one and only time.” If you blow this chance, if you make any mistakes, the SPCO will suffer, and very possibly suffer very badly. However, we all know you won’t need to worry about that, because by the time the worst is over, you likely won’t be here. Because in a few years, if not earlier, you’ll get another job (that is, if you can get hired if you drive the SPCO into the ground, but face it, you probably will). Then I and my Twin Cities friends will get stuck with the task of rebuilding. And that is not cool. So please please please don’t be so flippant. This was a huge misstep on your part, and it would be lovely if you’d apologize, or at the least explain what the h*** you meant.

***Minnesota Orchestra***

Despite all that, the biggest news of the day comes from the Minnesota musicians, who are requesting “an independent audit of the organization’s finances, including its endowments.” (Star Tribune article here. Question: have the journalists over at the Pioneer Press died? Do we need to send someone over there to check if they’re okay?) The request was made in a letter from chief union negotiator Bruce Simon to Paul Zech, counsel for the orchestra board’s bargaining team. I guess the insinuation is that management is massaging numbers upward to make things look better when they want to fundraise and polish their resumes, and then massaging them downward again when they want sharp concessions from musicians. According to the Star Tribune, management said in a statement, “We’ve answered these questions many times in our negotiations sessions, so we have no specific comment today.” It’s not clear from the article which questions management is referring to, although I’m assuming they concern the state of the endowment. I can’t find the full text of the statement myself, so, um, feel free to speculate as to context. It does strike me as strange that something discussed in negotiation sessions is regarded as something the public doesn’t need to see. I thought we were in a brave new world of transparency in our negotiations? If one side is justified in going public with a proposed contract without telling the other, why would an audit on an endowment be considered unreasonable? Am I missing something very big and very obvious? All I found on management’s website about the endowment was a shiny superficial annual report and strategic plan that says very little, if anything, about what is actually in it. If anyone else knows what, if any, information about the endowment has been made public, let me know. What would the downsides of an independent audit be, besides the expense? It’s not exactly a secret that nobody at the table trusts, respects, or particularly likes each other. So wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring in an independent party to get everyone on the same page? Or am I just hopelessly naive?

There’s also some disheartening news about working conditions (remember that phrase from yesterday?) that no one but MPR is covering. “The orchestra proposes reducing the musicians’ average salary from $135,000 a year to $89,000. It also would reduce the amount of paid medical leave available to them. The players receive up to 26 weeks of fully paid medical leave because of the physical stresses of the job. Under the proposed contract, that pay would be cut in half after 13 weeks of medical leave.”

I need to take a deep breath after that sentence. It hits home more than anything else that has been discussed so far. I’m a freelance violinist and violist. I’m also disabled with a variety of illnesses that leave me in perpetual chronic pain. I’ve had to give up many jobs over the years because of injuries. I understand the physical, mental, emotional agony of a musician unable to play, and I understand it intimately. And so I say with authority: this is not a reduction to be made lightly. If you are not a professional performing musician, you do not understand the potential implications of this reduction. Period. No exceptions. I’d like to know 1) how many people in the orchestra have needed more than 13 weeks of medical leave in, say, the last ten seasons, 2) how many weeks of fully paid medical leave peer orchestras offer, and 3) how much money this measure would save. (Although, on second thought, I don’t trust anyone’s numbers at this point, so maybe point 3 is irrelevant…) If I was in the Minnesota Orchestra, this provision alone very well could be the breaking point that would encourage me to retire or seek more flexible work elsewhere. If it becomes a financial necessity for players to perform through pain and injury, their very careers could be at stake. The consequences of this proposal really cannot be overstated. Something like this makes the salary stuff seem like a side-story.

I got a Minnesota Orchestra season brochure in the mail yesterday. I laughed bitterly when I saw it. Given what has transpired over the last few days, I have the feeling that I might just as well tear out the first few pages of that brochure and put them through the shredder. Maybe I will, if only to experience some kind of weird twisted catharsis.

7 September 2012, 4:30 PM

Remember oh, I don’t know, maybe about 24 hours ago, when I mentioned that there might be a mass exodus of musicians from the Twin Cities? Exhibit A: the principal clarinetist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, who has been with the group since 1977, has submitted his letter of resignation. Dear managements: How many players will have to leave before you admit your plans may be having an adverse effect on retaining and attracting world-class musicians? I’d like two hard numbers, please: the number of musicians you think will leave by the end of the 2012-13 season, and the number you think would indicate we have a problem. That would be awesome. Thanks.


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