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Minnesota to musicians: we’re taking $40,000 off your pay

The Minnesota Orchestra is the latest to join the Gadarene rush to industrial confrontation. It wants a pay cut from average $135,000 to $89,000.

The deadline is September 30. After that, the players face a potential lockout, just like Atlanta. Nearby, St Paul has been demanding a 67 percent pay cut.

The musicians’ wages were, as elsewhere, freely and fairly negotiated in more prosperous times. In most cases, the musicians have offered to accept pay reductions, but the onus for resolving the financial crises is on the board and management of these orchestras, which sat idly by while deficits mounted.

They have no moral right to bludgeon and threaten musicians while ignoring their personal and collective responsibility.


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  1. Jan Kershaw says:

    I think this is digusting. If professional sports players can make millions in 1 year, Professional musicians should be able to keep their measely $135,000 per year. Shame on you, MInnesota. Be a leader, not a follower.

    • Brian Wilson says:

      Unfortunately, professional musicians don’t generate anywhere near the kind of revenue that sports franchises do. Also, unlike a sports franchise, management of most orchestras is so poorly run to the point of being absolutely laughable.

    • Market sets the price. Also, I hope you realize that you spelled “measly” wrong and also just said “MEASLY $135,000,” which is an oxymoron.

  2. Daniel Farber says:

    Given that Vanska, the music director of Minnesota, is one of the three or four great conductors on the world stage, this news is supremely disheartening. The orchestra’s Beethoven set and the first issues of its Sibelius set have been outstanding. As usual, management’s concern with the dollar, with “product,” drives art to destruction.

    • “three or four great conductors on the world stage”? That has to be a joke. Who wants to start the list?

      • Jansons, Chailly, Bychkov, Rattle, Thielemann, Salonen, V. Jurowski, Nelsons, Haitink, C. Davis …

        • Daniel Farber says:

          Three, four, ten: who cares? My point was not to “rate” the world’s conductors but rather to point out that the problems in Minnesota are magnified because of the eminence of its music director and what he has accomplished in transforming the orchestra and in deepening its place in the community. For the business end of things to lose or diminish what he has accomplished would be egregiously wasteful. That management is also being unjust to working musicians goes without saying.

          • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

            I agree that Osmo Vanska is excellent and this might be the trigger to scare him away from Minnesota. Boston, for all its artistic tribulations, is sound financially. Osmo to Boston? Now that would be interesting. Spano is also a good pianist. Perhaps Spano and Vanska could go on the road performing the clarinet/piano repertoire. Urbanski (Indianapolis) just got a nice review in LA. The talented conductors won’t hang around when their orchestras get burned while the Boards fiddle.

          • “Perhaps Spano and Vanska could go on the road performing the clarinet/piano repertoire.”

            A group of Finnish conductors actually have performed as a band several times at a chamber music festival at Ruovesi, Finland, organized by Okko Kamu. The 2011 line-up was Ralf Gothóni (piano), Leif Segerstam (piano), Osmo Vänskä (clarinet), John Storgårds (violin), Pietari Inkinen (violin), Jukka-Pekka Saraste (violin), Okko Kamu (violin), Sakari Oramo (viola), Jan Söderblom (viola), Susanna Mälkki (cello), Hannu Lintu (cello) and Samuli Kokko (cello). I believe Esa-Pekka Salonen (horn) agreed to join at least once, but never made it due to other commitments.

          • Indeed who cares. But if orchestras in dire straits are to get a reality check, and deal properly with their difficulties, hyperbole should be struck from the discussions.

  3. Emil Archambault says:

    The American model functions on highly-paid musicians and highly-priced tickets. This needs to end (and is doing so). Of course, everyone must take a pay cut (especially the management), but musicians cannot go on being paid over 100 000$ a year if no one is ready to pay 80$ for a ticket.

  4. Phil Lostra says:

    MK’s wish list. This is awesome. All orchestra managers and Arts Boards, PLEASE TAKE NOTE!!! 1. Board members of arts organization who remember their missions. While most arts organizations have missions that relate to bringing arts and arts education to their communities, many board members really believe that the missions of their organizations are to break even. They believe that cutting budgets and doing less is satisfactory as long as the budget is balanced. We need to remember that doing less and doing less important work does not achieve the mission. And, in fact, it works against the possibility of achieving a balanced budget.

    2. Arts leaders who focus on training the next generation of arts leaders. We are nearing a dangerous point when an entire generation of arts leaders will retire. This is a very difficult time for the arts because of a challenging economy, an increasing number of electronic substitutes putting pressure on our prices, and a generation of young people with no arts background. We need trained, sophisticated arts managers to see the arts world through the next 20 years. The only people who can provide this training are those in the current generation of arts leaders but we have been so busy running our organizations that we have ignored the needs of our field.

    3. Political leaders to remember that almost 6 million Americans are employed in the arts, that we are a main motivator of tourism and that we generate billions of dollars of economic activity. We are not just an effete interest group serving the elite. We are a potent sector of the economy in virtually every community, providing service to all Americans. Arts organizations can help build greater appreciation for our field by doing a better job of institutional marketing. If the work we did in our communities was more visible, it would be harder for political leaders to dismiss it.

    4. Superintendants of schools, school board members and principals who remember that we live in an economy far different from the one when they were in school. The majority of economic activity is no longer tied to manufacturing. We need our children to be creative problem solvers if they are to be successful and if our nation is to thrive. The arts are a great and inexpensive way to help children exercise their creative muscles. We in the arts need to collaborate with the leaders of our school systems so a meaningful arts education program can be available for every student.

    5. Arts organizations that are willing to work together on projects of great impact that surprise and enchant our communities. We are far too competitive with each other. Yet in many communities, we have failed to create broad visibility for our collective work. This hampers our fundraising and ticket selling activities. We will only thrive if we create work that exceeds the capabilities of any one of our organizations. And then we have a far better chance of achieving our missions.

  5. The sad truth is that most “professional musicians” don’t make anywhere near even the lower $89,000. If “professional” is tightly defined as only those musicians that play in top-tier orchestras, then perhaps this seems egregious. But if a professional is anyone who makes their living primarily from music (which is the group I am lumped into), then I know many MANY musicians who would be more than happy to take the $89,000 a year.

    Most orchestras in this country are run under a set of guidelines and ideals that are simply not sustainable. It was barely sustainable to begin with, and now that the financial landscape in the US has changed sharply, those chickens are finally coming home to roost. There is more than enough blame to go around, especially when it comes to how management has decided to run these orchestras, but the long and short of it is that it is time to change the model (unless you just happen to be employed by one of the very few financially solvent orchestras in this country).

  6. Sadly, this all begins and ends with education. Think about this sports analogy – if you are a baseball fan you probably understand something about the game. If you don’t know what the players are doing on the field it’s very boring. (Fill in the blank with a sport that you know, and a sport that you do not.) We keep cutting our music programs and music teachers. Colleges are turning out weaker and weaker music educators. Public schools that have strong music teachers and programs are usually the last to get cut, because the community goes to bat for those programs (doesn’t make all exempt, but it can make a difference in individual situations).

    It’s a vicious cycle that revolves around the dollar being more important than properly educating students of ALL levels. Colleges used to be about educating students, now most are about matriculating students, which comes with a long term cost.

    I have absolutely loved playing in the orchestras that I have played in over the course of my career, but the harsh reality is our schools brain wash students into thinking that orchestral playing is the only viable alternative to make a living in music and don’t teach survival skills, mainly because those teaching at the bigger schools are orchestral musicians and that is all they know. Sort of an inbred training.

    Surviving as a professional musician and throwing all eggs in the proverbial orchestral basket is no longer viable.

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