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Minnesota music director begs for a return to talks

It has become mandatory for music directors in the US to stay silent while boards lock out their musicians and reduce their orchestra to silence.

At last, one music director has stepped out of line. Osmo Vänskäa, the Finn who heads the locked out Minnesota Orchestra, has written to board members, manager and musicians, appealing to them to return to the negotiating table. The management had previously refused further talks.

Vänskäa said he was ‘desperately anxious’ about the orchestra’s survival. ‘Please, do what it takes, find a way, talk together, listen to each other and come to a resolution of this dreadful situation,’ he wrote.

Read more here.

 

photo: HarrisonParrott

Here’s Osmo’s letter:

 

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Comments

  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Bravo, Osmo!

  2. Bravo, Osmo. Excellent letter and it does make a refreshing change to see a conductor speaking up about his orchestra at such a difficult time.

  3. I hope that, at the end of this saga, MO board will rid itself corporate hacks like Jon Campbell, those who gives a pittance of money to an organization to get themselves an “elite social status” while actively running the organization with their stupid corporate ideas. They have no love for music and both audiences and artists alike don’t need these type of dangerous donors.

    • Management worked quickly to spin Osmo’s letter to their cause…blogger Emily Hogstad at Song of the Lark has a scathing take on their efforts.
      http://songofthelark.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/response-to-managements-response-to-osmos-letter/

    • Terry Carlson says:

      Yes, poor Jon Campbell does seem to be out of his depth in the classical music world. He is Executive Vice President, Government & Community Relations, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A, which is a good joke for a comedy writer out there. “Community Relations”? Could he be doing any worse at that job right now? But maybe he’s been put in place to help keep the Minnesota Orchestral Association from joining lawsuits like this one:

      http://www.startribune.com/printarticle/?id=147855125

      “Four Minnesota nonprofits have won a key victory in their quest to collect more than $41 million in court damages from Wells Fargo & Co. over its mishandling of their investments.”

      and this one goes to trial in January:

      http://www.startribune.com/printarticle/?id=148198005

      “For the second time this week, a court has handed Wells Fargo and Co. a major legal defeat over its allegedly fraudulent handling of stock-related investments for institutional clients.”

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        May I ask an impertinent question? Who manages the MOA endowment? US Bank Corp? Or someone else? Is Wells Fargo involved directly or indirectly in MOA funds? Just curious..

        • Hello Robert,

          I personally have not been able to find out who managed the MOA endowment before 2010. In 2010, Cambridge Associates was hired to manage the endowment portfolio. (Look at the document contained within this article.)

          http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/10/23/finance/minnesota-orchestra-endowment/

          The Musicians claim on their website that in September “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.”

          http://www.minnesotaorchestramusicians.org/?page_id=585

          We have heard no confirmation or denial of this from management. Indeed, they say on their website that it is a “misrepresentation” that the endowment has been mismanaged. “On the contrary, the MOA Endowment has exceeded investment return benchmarks over the last five years.” Of course that could mean any number of things. To the best of my knowledge, that is all we have heard from them.

          http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/about/contract-talks/misrepresentation-vs-reality

          For more discussion of the subject of the Orchestra’s finances, please visit this entry, where a Minneapolis non-profit professional delves into various tax returns and audited financial statements…

          http://songofthelark.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/what-we-know-about-minnesota-orchestras-finances-and-what-we-dont-part-i/

          I do not know what connection, if any, that Wells Fargo or US Bancorp, or the employers of other board members, may or may not have had to the MOA endowment.

          Many patrons have repeatedly called upon the MOA to answer the questions about how they handled the Orchestra’s finances in the early days of the Great Recession, especially since orchestra management has repeatedly refused to submit an independent financial analysis. Our calls have gone unheeded. Of course, it is up to individual readers to decide if our concerns are legitimate or not, and whether we patrons are due a more detailed explanation of what exactly has happened over the last five years.

          Let me be clear: I am not accusing anyone of anything. I merely would like to get a clearer picture of what exactly happened, if for no other reason than those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

          Please keep in mind that I write from the perspective of a desperately concerned patron who, in the absence of word from management, has had to cobble together links found on the Internet.. My first loyalty is not to management or musicians, but rather to transparency. I’ve never claimed omniscience, and I encourage everyone to read up on the story themselves. Any corrections to my reporting here are welcome. A clarification directly from the MOA would be the most welcome thing of all.

          Emily E Hogstad
          Song of the Lark blog

        • No idea. This year, or in years past? It stands to reason that both banks would be involved, since the current MOA chairman (Campbell, Wells Fargo) and former MOA chairman and now its chief negotiator for management (Davis, US Bank) are/were on the board. But, good luck getting any information. If anybody can figure it out, perhaps Mary can:

          http://songofthelark.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/what-we-know-about-minnesota-orchestras-finances-and-what-we-dont-part-i/

    • Is this a fatal flaw in the nonprofit board structure? Board members are expected to give a lot of money, so that obviously rules out a lot of possible members – yet there ends up being a surfeit of bankers and lawyers (that is most certainly true of the executive committees of both orchestras in the Twin Cities). How can we fix this?

      • You pointed to the very truth of this reality that many lawyers and executives become donors giving money, say 5,000 to 10,000 a year, because they want the elite social status. The annual money they pay is similar to what a business association, golf club, sports team luxury seat, or country club charges a member. Some of these types of donors don’t care about the music itself at all, but enjoy getting involved in running such an organization. Could Jon Campbell be one of these type? Who knows. One thing we know is that MO would rather spend 52 million dollars getting a better lobby, assuming with newer toilets, than maintaining the artistic quality of the institution. The solution is difficult. But, it seems instill passion for music in donors is a must. The question is how effectively this can be accomplished.

  4. Ah, yes, those “dangerous donors”!

    Aren’t they always the problem?

    (By the way: without those “dangerous donors”, salaries of the Minnesota Orchestra would be 18% of current levels and salaries of the SPCO would be 17% of current levels. Do you want the donors to go away? If the musicians of both orchestras do not get their acts together, you are closer to getting your wish than you have any idea.)

    • @Drew: I think that the so called “dangerous donors” are meant for those who donate a small portion of their income solely for the purpose to be part of and running a “country club”, not based on their love for music itself. It fails the logic for you to lump all the donors into this group.

      • So, er, you think the orchestra – which badly needs cash – should refuse donations if it doesn’t believe the donor has a “true interest” in classical music? And by whose standards? Someone very interested in music might happen not to like the current music director – does that disqualify their money from being given?
        And would any f the players agree to such a ludicrous scheme, given that these are the very donations which pay their wages?

        (In the same vein, would you insist that everybody who pays membership to an ‘exclusive’ golf club actually goes and plays there and demonstrates a love for the game?)

        • Anon,
          you might not know this, many US orchestras constantly turn down money from potential donors. The non profit charity model often are misused as a tax payer subsidized country club, which exclusivity is a norm.

          If I were a musician, I would not refuse any donations, but I would not want some one like Jon Campbell, who gives very little financially, to be to run and turn my orchestra into a cuntry club with a band.

          • I didn’t know that, and I find it rather surprising (unless those are gifts with strings attached)

            I don’t quite understand the assertion of misusing an orchestra as a tax-payer funded country club; if anything, isn’t that what you could accuse “high-society wannabees” who *don’t* donate of doing? You can’t really accuse those you fork out for it of their own volition of this!

            I guess if you were a golf pro you would want your posh golf club to be run for golf. But it isn’t. Golf is the incidental, the aside, the entertainment. Golf-lovers adore St. Andrew’s, for example but many members are just as content to relax and enjoy themselves, with the occasional round. Many sailors enjoy going to their yacht club, and sometimes having a little sail – there’s no expectation that they will be constantly researching watching, listening, to find better sails, to know more about the ins and outs of the sailing world, learning routes and courses…
            So why do we demand the same of a music audience? Shouldn’t we just appreciate it when people do get that involved, rather than saying it has to be a minimum bar? Shouldn’t people be allowed to come to a concert for fun, for a nice night out, for entertainment; without being expected to know and understand the music?

            If you exclude donors for giving for the ‘wrong’ reasons, would you also exclude those small donors, the ticket buyers, unless they come to be firmly musically involved?

    • In other words, the musicians should totally roll over and let the orchestras be trashed? Actually, a lot of donors are going away, and they’re going towards the musicans.

      • Then that’s a good thing, no? Most commenters here seem to argue that it’s always the management who are incompetent, not sufficiently skilled, rife with problems and time-servers, overpaid, not up to the job etc etc… so shouldn’t we welcome the money going to the musicians direct? Better in this case to roll over, let the orchestra “be trashed”, then let the musicians re-form with all this money that’s headed their way.

        Or is it the case that this is suggestion and speculation, not fact, which is why they haven’t done so? Or are the players simply not sufficiently confident that they would be able to enjoy the salaries they desire if this were to be the case?

        • Anon, the problem in this case is not about if an orchestra should accept money from people who give for whatever reason. It is about those who ascended to the top of the board who actually gave very little should be allowed to stir an organization in a direction that could potentially violate the vision for which many prior donors gave a lot money. It is a public knowledge that many people like Jon Campbell on MO board gave quite small amount of money, comparing to their income, and yet, they are in charge and can destroy an organization’s vision many people who donated far large amount money for previously.

          • Nick, I was addressing your point in the previous set of comments.
            Are you now suggesting that the orchestra should accept money from whomever, but there’s a limit below which influence is not permitted, and above which influence is permitted?
            Presumably you accept that someone with little to give financially could have a huge talent which could help the orchestra develop; are they to be excluded from doing so because they didn’t give enough? if that same person had a lot of money to give in addition, would they be excluded because they gave too much?
            Should the amount given be measured in terms of actual £.s.d., or relative to someone’s income, or relative to their assets; and why?

            Clearly it is nonsense. The amount given or not given is not of significance – whether they can do the job is the crucial factor. So why confuse things with this side-show over what donations should or shouldn’t be accepted from whom in return for what level of influence?

    • Dangerous is the correct word for those who refuse to acknowledge that “the profit is art” as Peter Gelb at the Metropolitan Opera has said. (“This is not a business. It is not a business because it does not generate profits. The profit is art.”) We keep hearing that “if they aren’t profitable, then cuts must be made” but the profits are spectacular, year in and year out — great music performed by a world-class group of musicians, and led by a genius conductor.

      • Terry, would you just keep posting this, like, all over the internet?
        I’m sick to death of the specious, synthetic, hollow reasoning that touts the Sacred Bottom Line Of Business…as though the bottom line is what we must stand for. Not Art, for heavens sake, be reasonable darling…

        • Amy, what level of loss do you regard as acceptable? Since we must pay musicians in actual numbers rather than concepts, practicality demands that we have a figure of subsidy which is required to run – say – an orchestra. How much per year should taxpayers be forced to pay to subsidise these activities, say, per ticket sold, or per ticket available?

          If we are to argue that orchestras deserve this level of subsidy on the basis of “Art”, should we also question why we don’t subsidies starry pop acts, big bands, and other forms of music? If part of the subsidy of orchestral music is designed to improve access to live music for those who can’t afford it, what about those who can’t afford to see Lady Gaga or Sir Paul McCartney in action? They often have ticket prices 10x that of a symphonic concert.

          Or do you judge that for some reason that the pop-music of many years ago is somehow more worthy than more contemporary pop music? If Diana Krall tickets don’t deserve subsidy, who should make that decision? It’s art, surely, and we want people to have access to it, so… ?

          • “What level of loss do you regard as acceptable?” — I believe that figure has traditionally been “as little as possible, but as much as necessary.”

            As for taxpayer subsidies, well, since you asked: How about $100,000 per person per year? Is that a reasonable place to begin the negotiations? (Hey, I learned that tactic from the MO board; they are so clever! Just pick a random number out of thin air and go with it.)

            Also a big “yes” to subsidizing as many other types of music as you or anyone else can come up with. I’m all for it, and let’s just plan on pop-music or big bands that have stood the test of time (say, a few decades) being first in line for funding, how about that? We’ll call them “national treasures” or whatever title works.

            While we’re at it, let’s look into how the new el sistema is going in Scotland, and make plans to get musical instruments into as many young American hands as possible. Whew, you’ve opened my eyes to the possibilities! This taxpayer subsidy thingie is a great idea! Thank you for mentioning it.

          • Well, Anon, I think your opening question is specious…I don’t think loss is inevitable or automatic. Asking me for a precise orchestral subsidy amount is disingenuous, so I don’t think I’ll bite. And, while subsidies do improve access to live music, they also serve the noble purpose of cultural preservation.

            I guess that sounds preachy. :-)
            If you think contemporary music deserves the same recognition, start your engines and begin campaigning. And yes, I do judge, for some reason, that the pop-music of many years ago is somehow more worthy than contemporary pop music. I stand by that judgement. Feeling very judgy.

          • @ Amy – clearly, since virtually every ‘core classical’ orchestra I can think of makes a loss without subsidy, a loss in this situation is indeed inevitable. So if you are to say that you don’t care about the loss, you just want the music – which is what I understand your position to be – then at some point you need to be able to say that you think an orchestra running at an annual loss of $1m is OK (and so public subsidy should make up the difference), but one requiring $100m subsidy isn’t acceptable for a standard concert season. Where would you draw the line?

            I’ve no problem with the idea of cultural preservation, nor community engagement, education, and all the other buzzwords that appear on orchestra’s pleas for yet more money. My problem, however, is that all the arguments in favour of subsidy are either:
            (a) special pleading – just a bunch of folks asking for more handouts to support their niche special interest
            or (b) solid, sound arguments for general cultural subsidy because of the ways in which it can enhance all our lives.
            (b) is all well and good, but then you realise that so many other parts of just music are ill-subsidised, let alone other art forms. So for the argument to hold true you must accept either that orchestral subsidy in general be cut, to allow for a more even distribution of the available monies across music and other art forms; or believe in relieving your neighbours of yet more of their hard-earned cash to support the arts. And then sport should get a good look-in as well, because even though the top end makes a mint, the lower end doesn’t, and is surely just as deserving of subsidy for the same team-work, engagement, etc. reasoning as music was earlier… and so we’re into an impossible nightmare of taxation to fund all this guff…

          • Well, Anon and Amy, since the present conversation is about an orchestra in the United States, the question of public subsidy is more or less moot. Until (a) the economy and the consequent tax revenues pick up considerably and (b) the attitudes toward high culture of the general voting population change considerably, there will almost certainly be no additional public subsidy for the Minnesota Orchestra.

          • MWnyc – quite. So given there’s no magic money tree from the taxpayer, the orchestra must clearly live within its means. Raiding the endowment, as proposed by the players, is ludicrous (unless they only care about themselves in the short term, and not about music and the orchestra in the long-term, of course, but I’m sure that’s not the case). So if income is less than expenditure, then expenditure must fall. The largest expenditure items being player salaries, these are surely first in line for a re-evaluation.
            What else do you, Amy, or anyone else propose be done to make sure that expenditure is equal to or less than income? Because if that isn’t done, at some point the bank is going to close in and refuse any more credit, and bang goes the orchestra. (At which point, inevitably, the same commenters will emerge to sagely tell us that management should have reined in costs much earlier and it’s all their fault; whereas now when they are trying to rein in costs its also apparently all their fault…)

          • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

            I propose as an example: that ALL MOA employees earning more than $200K per year take an immediate 20% cut including the President (Michael Henson) and the MD (Osmo Vanska); that all those earning more than $100K accept a reduction of 10% and that all other employees under $100K per year take a 5% haircut. All this for what’s left of the 2012-13 season and then freeze all salaries at those levels for 2013-14 with a COLA increase in the following 3 years equal to the US Gov calculations for Social Security and/or US gov salaries. The base salary should also be reduced by 10% and the size of the orchestra reduced by 10% through attrition over the course of the next 3 seasons. Substitute musicians should be paid pro rata (per service or per week) based on the minimum full time salary. This is only an example of a possibille proposal; not one that I necessarily endorse.

            The above is off the top of my head and it took me 2 minutes to think about it. Why can’t those involved make concrete proposals to get the orchestra playing again? Negotiation and compromise on both sides are required here. Got to it boys & girls. Play and negotiate, negotiate and play.

    • Drew wrote: “If the musicians of both orchestras do not get their acts together, you are closer to getting your wish than you have any idea?”

      Seems to me, they have gotten their act together quite well.

      Their job is to perform at the highest standards. By all accounts they have always done so.

      They have asked for clarification regarding serious discrepancies in financial issues described by management, and that clarification has been denied. That clarification is necessary for the musicians to be able to negotiate.

      Management expects musicians and donors alike to accept management’s extreme lack of transparency in a confusing and troubling situation, and you want the MUSICIANS to “get their act together?”

      Please tell us exactly what you would like the musicians to do that would constitute “getting their act together.”

      • If the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO had their acts together, they would, by definition, not be in the untenable positions in which they now find themselves.

        • @Drew, don’t be so sure that musicians are in an untenable position. Your lawyerly analysis might turn out to be completely wrong.

        • Could you please give us a direct response to my request, rather than using circular definitions?

          Please tell us exactly what you would like the musicians to do that would constitute “getting their act together.”

        • What exactly does that mean? That they should always have at their fingertips the latest financial information? That they should anticipate that they will be sandbagged? That they should expect that a statemate could occur and have a Plan B already in place? That they should have realized that because of the dramatic changes taking place in the entertainment industry that any negotiations will be a whole new ballgame?

        • Jason, it is the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO that are going without pay and health insurance, not me. It is the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra that must bear the brunt of hundreds of nasty—but undeniably funny—reader comments on the Star-Tribune website, not me.

          Alison, if I were advising the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, I would advise them IMMEDIATELY to counteroffer with the current Pittsburgh Symphony deal, down to the dollar. Pittsburgh, where everything proceeded smoothly according to those involved, should have been the Minnesota musicians’ template from day one.

          With respect to the SPCO musicians, I suspect they are a lost cause, assuming news sources reported accurately the events of Thursday of last week.

          • On behalf of the “lost cause” and the MO –

            “Undeniably funny” is maybe one of the nastier things said about those nasty anti-musician comments. That’s quite revealing, and I’m sorry you were encouraged to go this far and say that.

          • Drew,
            The musicians are indeed loosing money and health benefits, for the cause that they want to maintain a first class orchestra and oppose the awful vision and unfair bargaining by those corporate hacks on the board. I am hoping when the hall has finished its renovation and musicians still have not caved in to the Jon Cambpell’s dumbness, large donors will assert their demand and the house cleaning of those mentioned previously will take place.

          • Jason, I want you to go to your nearest library and read the old news articles covering the Minnesota Orchestra’s 1994 strike. You will see that vilifying the Minnesota Orchestra Board and David Hyslop, at the time President of the Minnesota Orchestra, was the musicians’ chief strategy in 1994. Nothing has changed, has it?

            In a white-collar labor dispute, blue-collar tactics are ill-advised. Vilifying a board is a profoundly unsophisticated and unintelligent strategy—and it always proves unsuccessful. It simply means that those proceeding with the vilification campaign have no better arguments to advance—and that they are directing their campaign to the wrong audience: an audience of very, very unsophisticated persons.

            I want you to review the membership of the Minnesota Orchestra Board, which is on the orchestra’s website. It may be the best orchestra board in America. The members come from the broadest range of backgrounds and work in the broadest range of fields. They are, without exception, highly-educated, highly-sophisticated, highly-successful, highly-accomplished persons—and all of them have highly-developed people skills or they would not be where they are today.

            Further, members of the Minnesota Orchestra Board know how to spell proper names, they know the difference between the words “lose” and “loose”, and they don’t throw out loaded terms and loaded phrases such as “corporate hacks”, “unfair bargaining” and “dumbness”—all of which is more than one can say of you.

            The large donors have already spoken. The major contributors that underwrite the orchestra—trusts, foundations, corporations, individuals—have told the orchestra to gets its financial affairs in order, or checkbooks would be closed in future. No one directs funds to organizations bleeding red ink year after year.

          • Translation (paragraph by paragraph, my translation in parentheses):

            Drew says:
            November 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm
            Jason, I want you to go to your nearest library and read the old news articles covering the Minnesota Orchestra’s 1994 strike. You will see that vilifying the Minnesota Orchestra Board and David Hyslop, at the time President of the Minnesota Orchestra, was the musicians’ chief strategy in 1994. Nothing has changed, has it?
            (Translation: in 1994, the musicians had serious concerns about the Orchestra Board and President.)

            In a white-collar labor dispute, blue-collar tactics are ill-advised. Vilifying a board is a profoundly unsophisticated and unintelligent strategy—and it always proves unsuccessful. It simply means that those proceeding with the vilification campaign have no better arguments to advance—and that they are directing their campaign to the wrong audience: an audience of very, very unsophisticated persons.
            (Translation: it doesn’t matter what mistakes the board makes, nor how serious those mistakes are. Don’t you dare criticize them!)

            I want you to review the membership of the Minnesota Orchestra Board, which is on the orchestra’s website. It may be the best orchestra board in America. The members come from the broadest range of backgrounds and work in the broadest range of fields. They are, without exception, highly-educated, highly-sophisticated, highly-successful, highly-accomplished persons—and all of them have highly-developed people skills or they would not be where they are today.
            (Translation: knowledge and understanding of classical music, classical musicians, audiences, marketing, education, outreach, and fund-raising are not among the highly-developed skills of the hoard members.)

            Further, members of the Minnesota Orchestra Board know how to spell proper names, they know the difference between the words “lose” and “loose”, and they don’t throw out loaded terms and loaded phrases such as “corporate hacks”, “unfair bargaining” and “dumbness”—all of which is more than one can say of you.
            (Translation: I think I’ll throw in some personal insults here.”

            The large donors have already spoken. The major contributors that underwrite the orchestra—trusts, foundations, corporations, individuals—have told the orchestra to gets its financial affairs in order, or checkbooks would be closed in future. No one directs funds to organizations bleeding red ink year after year.
            (Translation: keep repeating that the orchestra needs to get its financial affairs in order. Ignore all requests for such financial affairs to be made public.)

          • Alison, please specifiy what the Board has done wrong, and what the Board should do in future.

          • Drew, for a start, the Board should accept an independent audit of the Orchestra’s finances.

            After all, if an audit should find that the Orchestra’s finances are as the Board claims they are, the musicians’ negotiating position would probably collapse.

          • An independent audit has been conducted annually, for decades, and the results are always forwarded to the musicians.

          • Well then, Drew, one would think that the MinnOrch management and board wouldn’t need to object to another independent audit.

            If a new audit backs up their claims about the organization’s finances – thus demonstrating that the organization can’t afford to pay the musicians any more than management has already offered – then the musicians’ negotiating position becomes untenable. That’s an outcome one would expect the board to welcome.

            As things stand now, with the board and management having locked out the musicians and refusing either to make public the MinnOrch’s finances or to allow an independent third-party audit, there’s at the very least an appearance of ill will and bad faith.

          • A new audit is due to be released very soon.

          • Drew,
            I am not a native English speaker and did not speak it until age of 19. So, sometimes typos do happen. Although, I don’t give much a thought about the fact that you implied that I would not be qualified to be on a board like MO.

            It is obvious now to everyone on this thread that you are associated with MO in someways. So it is really waste of time for you to argue with us, the bystanders from afar. Since you are a lawyer, your “free” work here has faild so far to convince those like me, who are unbiased strangers to MO, and merely a passionate music lover. You unsolicited advice, even through free, has no value to me. Thanks, but, no thanks.

            From my perspective, in a remote land, the current bosses on MO have decided that they want to blow up the current team, and what a great opportunity the hall renovation has presented itself to do it. All the management needed to do is bargaining in bad faith, locking out the musician and pretending to be sincere and reasonable, the kind game lawyers and corporate “hacks” love to play every minute of their lives and can’t live without.

            I just sincerely hope that the so called large donors (trust, foundations) in that community will eventually figure it out that this is not good for the community.

          • Sorry, Jason, but I am not associated with the Minnesota Orchestra in any way other than as a patron. I go perhaps eight times a year, and always buy single tickets, not a subscription. (I would go more often if the orchestra were better, and the programs more interesting, and if the organization had funds to hire A-list guest conductors, which has not been the case for many, many years.) My parents are subscribers, and have been subscribers for almost forty years (in fact, my parents met at a Minnesota Orchestra concert). My parents have the full Friday night subscription, and use it perhaps half the time.

            And that’s it. I have no other connection with the Minnesota Orchestra. I know no one who works for the Minnesota Orchestra. My firm does not perform legal work for the Minnesota Orchestra. I have no contacts, personal or professional, with outside counsel for the Minnesota Orchestra.

            I have met one member of the Minnesota Orchestra Board three or four times at various social functions, none sponsored by the Minnesota Orchestra: Joan Mondale. Mrs. Mondale and I are not close, and I am not familiar with Mrs. Mondale’s views—on any subject.

            If you were knowledgeable about the labor history of the Minnesota Orchestra, you would withdraw your comments. Your third paragraph, in particular, sheerest rodomontade, would make an informed person wince.

          • Drew writes: ” I go perhaps eight times a year, and always buy single tickets, not a subscription. (I would go more often if the orchestra were better…)”

            I find myself wondering what your personal agenda could possibly be in posting the one-sided, harshly critical (but of only one side) posts you’ve made here.

            You would go to hear the Minnesota Orchestra more often “if the orchestra were better?”

            Better than WHAT?

            According to the NY TImes: “The exacting and exuberant Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska arrived as the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003, determined to lift this respected ensemble to world-class status. However such things are measured, there is no denying that Mr. Vanska has had enormous success. The orchestra sounded terrific on Monday night at Carnegie Hall.” (Anthony Tommasini, March, 2011) “Mr. Vanska has the Minnesota Orchestra sounding like one of America’s finest.” (James Oestreich, October, 2011)

            The Minnesota Orchestra is, by all accounts, one of the finest in the world.

            Seems to me that you are trying to smack them down at every possible opportunity (“they need to get their act together,” “I’d go more often if they were better,” etc.), leaving us to wonder what on earth your motive could possibly be.

          • Drew’s comments do not strike me as harshly critical, nor one-sided. They are plain common-sense. While the rest all jabber on about wanting the musicians back in jobs, Drew is the only person to ask how. There is no magic money-tree, folks, it has to come from somewhere. If there’s not enough to pay the salaries demanded by the musicians, then something has to give. Simple as.
            It’s all very well to write on about the value they add to the community and to music, how dedicated they are and what-have-you: but the bottom line is the bottom line. Either there is enough funding to pay their demands, or there isn’t. And it rather looks as though there isn’t.

          • Alison, Minnesota is so inferior to Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Cleveland, Dresden, Leipzig, Philadelphia and Vienna that the Minnesota Orchestra is practically in a different line of work.

            Even in the U.S. alone, Boston, New York and Pittsburgh are superior, and Atlanta, Dallas and Saint Louis are of comparable quality.

            Of course, the musicians in Minnesota are PAID more than all but Boston, Chicago, Cleveland (where the difference in pay between Cleveland and Minnesota is minute) and New York.

            As my boss is wont to say: “I wish they played half so well as they are paid.”

          • Drew, please tell us how you came to the conclusion that ” Minnesota is so inferior to Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Cleveland, Dresden, Leipzig, Philadelphia and Vienna that the Minnesota Orchestra is practically in a different line of work,” and “Even in the U.S. alone, Boston, New York and Pittsburgh are superior, and Atlanta, Dallas and Saint Louis are of comparable quality.”

            I have never heard such a comparison from ANYONE, including professional musicians, professional music critics, and audience members.

            What exactly are your own qualifications in making such a judgement?

          • Alison, below is an excerpt from a weblog post I wrote on June 8, 2011, comparing the Boston Symphony with the Minnesota Orchestra. I believe this will answer your queries.

            It is interesting to compare the Minnesota Orchestra, which I had not heard since Thanksgiving 2008, with the Boston Symphony, the orchestra I have heard most often the last three years.

            Both orchestras are fine orchestras, but neither orchestra arises to the exalted standard of the ensembles in Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Cleveland, Dresden, Leipzig, Philadelphia and Vienna. I would categorize the Minnesota Orchestra and the Boston Symphony as upper-tier regional orchestras, the former orchestra on a short-term upward trajectory and the latter on a long-term downward spiral.

            The Boston Symphony’s sound is superior to that of the Minnesota Orchestra. The sound of the Boston Symphony has more body and color and depth, as well as more light and shade, than the sound of the Minnesota Orchestra.

            The Boston sound is also much richer, which is not necessarily a good thing—the richness of the Boston sound is largely artificial and inflated, imposed upon the musicians by James Levine. To my ears, the current Boston sound is not pleasing; it is an unsuccessful attempt on the part of Levine to replicate the sound of the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert Von Karajan. However, whereas Karajan drew thousands of shades and textures from his Berlin musicians, most often with astonishing transparency throughout the entire dynamic range, Levine obtains primarily volume and mass from the current Boston players. The result: an unpleasant and unsophisticated thickness and heaviness and inflexibility of sound, the very antithesis of Karajan’s objective in Berlin.

            In its current state, the Boston Symphony sounds better under skilled guest conductors than when conducted by its recent Music Director. During the last three seasons, Boston sounded at its best under Christoph Dohnanyi and Bernard Haitink, both of whom toned down the Levine beefiness and both of whom obtained much greater transparency (and much better orchestral balance) than Levine ever was able to muster from the musicians.

            The current Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vanska, favors a much leaner sound than the sound Levine attempted to create in Boston. Vanska treasures clarity above richness; he seeks a sound with a cutting edge, not the kind of luxuriant, upholstered deep sound Levine tried—without success—to create in Boston.

            I have no objection to a lean sound, but the sound of today’s Minnesota Orchestra is characterized by a plainness that would be never be tolerated among world-class ensembles. There is a one-dimensional, generic sameness about the Minnesota Orchestra’s sound—in music of all periods—that quickly becomes tiresome.

            On the other hand, the level of ensemble is now higher in Minneapolis than in Boston. Even though there is an unmistakable, heavily-drilled “bandmaster” quality to the playing of the Minneapolis musicians, the Minnesota Orchestra is much more unanimous in its attacks and releases than the Boston Symphony. The playing in Minnesota is more accurate, more alert and livelier than what I had become accustomed to in Boston.

            The brass section is the finest section of the current Minnesota Orchestra. The Minnesota brass section puts the brass section of the Boston Symphony to shame (although I grant that the brass section has long been the weak link in Boston).

            Neither orchestra has a distinguished array of winds. The winds in Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia are in an entirely different class than the winds in Minneapolis or Boston.

            What ultimately tips the balance slightly in favor of Boston is that the Boston Symphony displays a higher level of collective music-making than the Minnesota Orchestra. Remnants of the old Boston magic may still be heard on occasion; I heard isolated moments in Boston performances under Dohnanyi, Haitink, Colin Davis and Charles Dutoit in which the musicians suddenly took off like a flight of birds, as if the ghost of Charles Munch had appeared in Symphony Hall.

            In Minnesota, the musicians do Vanska’s bidding, and they do it very well—but Vanska appears to generate the entire performance himself, with little real input from the souls of the players. In great orchestras, players give as much as they receive—and the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are still very much in the receiving stage. A better roster of guest conductors might contribute toward righting the equation.

          • Drew’s long-winded “analysis” of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Boston Symphony was long on empty phrases and short on any actual technical knowledge. I am unsure whether he has ever touched an instrument in his life, so I suppose we should take his comments with a mountain of salt.

            I did find his Blog online, and it is certainly the crudest combination of uninformed posturing and vitriol I’ve come across. Every artist he speaks of is 2nd rate or worse, and he wonders how anyone maintains a career. However, when he speaks of Hans Graf as the greatest living Mozart conductor, I laughed heartily, as my own experience performing Don Giovanni, Magic Flute, and the 40th Symphony with Mr Graf over the years begs otherwise.

            I, for one, wait anxiously to have Drew post his résumé for us to see, so we can see how much more he has accomplished than us mere artists with minor careers!

          • @Anonymous says, “I, for one, wait anxiously to have Drew post his résumé for us to see, so we can see how much more he has accomplished than us mere artists with minor careers!”

            A-hem…are you really anticipating an enthusiastic response to your statements when you don’t even have enough confidence in them to post using your own name? :-0

          • @ Alison:

            “In every major orchestra in this country and in the world, every single member of the violin section, down to the last-chair player, could stand in front of the orchestra and perform the Sibelius or Tchaikovsky violin concerto, and play it fabulously well.”

            Sorry – but that statement is utter codswallop. Indeed, I would say quite the opposite. Not only will there be players in most orchestras who couldn’t stand in front of their band and play any old concerto well, there are hardly any who could play it fabulously well. Are you basically suggesting that the average violinist in the average violin section plays or can play every bit as well as, say Kavakos / Ehnes / Jansen / Batiashvili / Capucon / Vengerov / Mullova et al.? I think not.

            As for citing it as an audition requirement – well, playing some of a concerto might be, but when was the last time every member of the section auditioned? How many years since they played any concerto or solo, let alone an actual concerto with an actual orchestra (for some this will be never) ?

          • @Anon, I can only cite my own experience. In the orchestras I’ve played in, the vast majority of the violinists played concertos, recitals, chamber music at every possible opportunity. Those orchestras, very wisely, provide many opportunities for the section players to get up as individuals and play the Sibelius concerto, or Prokofiev, or Barber, etc. My understanding is that most of the major orchestras have a sign-up sheet every year for those interested in solo opportunities, and most members sign up. (I have no idea what the Minnesota Orchestra does in this regard.)

            Without naming names, a couple of those other big-name soloists, when I’ve heard them, did not sound as good as those I’d heard in final rounds for a section position. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that I heard them on a bad day.

            I do think people–all of us,really– form very strong opinions based on what they’re expected to believe by tradition combined with media hype.

            Last year, in my orchestra, someone got up from the back of the second violin section and played the most beautiful Sibelius violin concerto I’ve ever heard. And I was surprised–should I have been? I mean, isn’t that an example of my own narrow-mindedness, that I was suprised?

            I know of an orchestral second violinst who made it past the first round of the Nielsen competition. To my knowledge, she’s never auditioned for the first violin section; she’s happy where she is. Should that be a surprise? It was to me–but again, I think that’s because of my own narrow-mindedness. It SHOULDN’T be a surprise.

            It brings us back to the mistaken assumption that, if someone is so darn good at their instrument, they should be out there selling out solo concerts.

          • @ Anon:

            “As for citing it as an audition requirement – well, playing some of a concerto might be, but when was the last time every member of the section auditioned?”
            I’ve seen excellent players dismissed from the semi-final round of an audition for not having prepared the entire concerto. And, yes, I’ve heard many players from the section sound as good as most of the violinists you mention, save for Kavokos, whose playing, when I’ve heard him, struck me as vastly superior to the others.

            When was the last time every member auditioned? Well, that depends on how long each member has either been a member, or when the last time they auditioned for a titled chair within the section. But if it’s the Minnesota Orchestra we’re talking about, I’m sure most of them are busy today, preparing concertos for auditions.

          • CORRECTION: In my previous reply to Anon, I said, “I’ve seen excellent players dismissed from the semi-final round of an audition for not having prepared the entire concerto.” My bad–I hould have written, “dismissed for not having prepared the entire movement, including cadenza, of the concerto, or for not having prepared more than one movement of a concerto when at least two were listed on the required repertoire list.” These were excellent players, too–they , like Anon, just thought that it was enough to prepare the part that’s most commonly asked for at auditions.

            It wasn’t.

          • Based on the points of discussion so far, we have as a worse-case-scenario, orchestra players who have convinced themselves that they are equal to nearly all the soloists (who earn much more than the players), Do they also believe they ‘don’t really need a conductor’ (who earns more than they) either? They may also dismiss management, who happen to be the ones going out and getting their hands dirty raising funds and doing advertising, as being callous and worldly.

            So how can this mindset be used to negotiate in the current MO situation?

            Why is the concept of the Emperor’s New Clothes starting to come to my mind? :-0

          • @Pamela:

            “Based on the points of discussion so far, we have as a worse-case-scenario, orchestra players who have convinced themselves that they are equal to nearly all the soloists (who earn much more than the players), Do they also believe they ‘don’t really need a conductor’ (who earns more than they) either? They may also dismiss management, who happen to be the ones going out and getting their hands dirty raising funds and doing advertising, as being callous and worldly.

            So how can this mindset be used to negotiate in the current MO situation?

            Why is the concept of the Emperor’s New Clothes starting to come to my mind? :-0″

            I’m shocked at how you’ve made assumption after assumption of how all musicians play (not to mention think) based entirely on the specific jobs that they hold.

            Perhaps you also think that second violinists don’t play as well as first violinists and should be paid on a different scale? Or maybe you think that the runner-up for any given job (or major competition) must be a loser compared to the person who won? Maybe you even think that the best player ALWAYS wins the competition.

            If your assumptions were correct, I could see where you get the Emperor’s New Clothes analogy. But your assumptions are just…wrong. And narrow-minded. I’ve tried to show you how they are incorrect, but your sole response is to accuse musicians of kidding themselves as to how well they play.

            What are your qualifications to judge comparisons of orchestral players vs big-name soloists? When was the last time you bothered to go listen to an orchestral section player playing a concerto or solo recital?

            Or do you only bother to make the effort to hear a soloist when you have to shell out big bucks for a ticket to hear a heavily-marketed, big-name artist?

            Doesn’t that say more about the way the industry markets the product than the actual quality of the individual artist?

            Tell me, how does failing to recognize the high quality of today’s orchestral musicians help the MO situation? how does passively accusing them of thinking they don’t need a conductor (WHERE did you get that one?) help?

            You say, “they may dismiss management…as being callous and worldly.” Last I heard, that was not the main criticism of management, from either musicians or audience members. So why bring it up? And is it really a valid argument to say, “management is the ones going out and getting their hands dirty raising funds and doing advertising?” Isn’t the whole point of contention that they weren’t doing that job as effectively as they’ve been claiming to?

            It sounds like you are saying that, even when management ISN’T doing the best job possible raising funds and doing advertising, the musicians have no right to criticize that effort.

            In other words, the musicians have no right to point out that the emporor’s clothes are…not what they seem.

            Hmm, maybe you’re right about that analogy. It just doesn’t fit where you think.

          • @Allison said, “I’m shocked at how you’ve made assumption after assumption of how all musicians play (not to mention think) based entirely on the specific jobs that they hold.”

            You are shocked that I make a distinction between a conductor, a player and a soloist? Am I not entitled to my opinion that these are different genres? Oh wait — I don’t have the right ‘resume’?

            I have heard many players and Principals performing solo pieces. I attended every performance where my teacher performed. For the most part, it is not easy for those not trained as soloists to toss the solo pieces off. Sometimes the piece and the player do not seem to be a good match.

            Please don’t misunderstand me; I am always delighted to be mistaken. Just recently I heard Manny Laureano perform the Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto with the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra. It was a beautiful performance.

            I so much appreciate your taking the time to articulate your positions on these issues, and I acknowledge that we see things very differently. I have no desire to argue — I hope we can simply agree-to-disagree and move on.

          • Pamela, I can either give my name or I can give my honest assessments of conductors, but I can’t do both! Given that I’ve already shared my thoughts on Hans Graf (nice enough as he might be) I’ll have to remain anonymous for now. I am a titled string player in a major orchestra, but as I’m still relatively young and “climbing the ladder” I will keep my name off this board.

          • @Anonymous said, “Pamela, I can either give my name or I can give my honest assessments of conductors, but I can’t do both! Given that I’ve already shared my thoughts on Hans Graf (nice enough as he might be) I’ll have to remain anonymous for now. I am a titled string player in a major orchestra, but as I’m still relatively young and “climbing the ladder” I will keep my name off this board.”

            I do understand.

            I simply intended to point out the irony of one choosing to remain anonymous and criticizing v one who chooses to post their name and criticize. Nobody should be risking anything to post our opinions. Hmmm…maybe I should go anonymous too! :-0

          • Drew, as this MO stalemate drags on, I am beginning to understand your insight that the players should model their response on that of Pittsburgh. They need a model that will work. The connection you seem to be making is not artistic, but financial.

            Tony Ross, in his PBS interview, said that he preferred the MO to be compared to Cleveland rather than Detroit. That, imo, was an artistic comparison, when the issue is to find a comparable financial situation.

        • @Drew…This statement of yours (“If the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO had their acts together…”) has the flavor of dinner-table discussions with family. Are you related to anyone on the board, and if so, whom? The reason I ask…passionate defense of a point of view often stems from an argument hitting close to home. Often literally.
          My disclosure? I’m close friends with several MO musicians, and an admirer of all of them, and their maestro. I aspire to have one of my kids or grandkids play there someday.

          • With all due respect, trying to instruct anybody in what to think about the MO based on the statements of ‘critics’ is called an ‘appeal to authority.’ That is a fallacy of logic.

            In addition, such statements beg the question that the MO PR does have a tendency to try to tell people what to think about the orchestra. It is almost as though they want everyone to listen with their heads rather than with their ears.

          • What ‘qualifications’ does any of us need to determine what orchestras we consider great? Some may simply prefer European orchestras over American, those who perform works of a composer they like with eloquence v those who do not.

            Do any of us ‘dare’ to not like an orchestra even when at times critics have given them good reviews?

            If you have been through the angst of listening to the sam orchestra over the years with different conductors, do you not have preferences of one concert over another?

          • @Pamela, it’s one thing to prefer one orchestra over another, but quite another to say that one is so significantly WORSE, that it is “practically in a different line of work,” particularly whenthat orchestra garners rave reviews from the NY TImes.

            Seems to me, if Drew is going to make such derisive comments, he ought to provide some proof.

            Otherwise, it just sounds like sour grapes, and particularly nasty ones at that.

          • @Allison, surely it is implied that preference happens for a reason? One could also use the term ‘unsatisfying’, ‘lame’, ‘bland’, ‘superficial’, ‘unbalanced’, to indicate why one orchestra would be preferred to another, or one recording of the same piece to another.

            The MO press machine has taken favorable comments from very good performances and attempted to use them as blanket statements to cover all performances. That is imo the equivalent of trying to put lipstick on a pig. The MO can be great, it can also be awful. I am still trying to find its voice.

            Anyone who chooses to endure the angst needed to listen with their ears instead of their heads can determine for themselves which works and which performances of those works are of value and which are not.

          • @Pamela, the top 15 or 20 orchestras in the US pretty much have the same level of extremely high talent in their ranks. The same small group of superb players travels from audition to audition in search of a job. One who didn’t play his best in the Chicago audition might hit his stride in Detroit, or vice versa. We take the first job we’re offered, as there are usually college loans and instrument loans to pay off.

            Once we get into an orchestra, we become team players, and must learn to adjust our playing styles to fit with the established style and sound; it’s not easy, and takes time, sensitivity–and experience.

            Having played in several orchestras myself, including some of the ones mentioned by Drew (but not including any in Minnesota), I can say with some authority that every orchestra has days when they sound great, and days when they sound awful.

            EVERY ORCHESTRA.

            There are so many factors that go into a performance.

            Sure, we are all aware of variables like musician talent, rehearsal time, and technical/musical ability of the conductor.

            But there are many other factors that can transcend the obvious ones.

            I’ve seen excellent conductors who had poor chemistry with a particular orchestra, resulting in poor performances, not because the orchestra didn’t want to play well, but because chemistry has that power. There have been excellent performances achieved in spite of poor conductor technique, because of a combination of easy music and good chemistry.

            My current orchestra happens to have on-stage acoustical issues, resulting in difficulty playing with precision even with a clear beat, because in certain parts of the stage, all you hear is a blur, and in other parts, if you play with what you hear, you are wrong. Yeah, that affects musicality, too!

            But put us in a hall with great acoustics, where we can actually hear each other, and oh, my heavens, suddenly it’s EASY.

            The first concert on a European tour always feels a little rough, as we battle jet lag and adjust to unfamiliar acoustics. The next couple of weeks are usually exhilarating as we draw on the amazing enthusiasm of European audiences and the usually terrific acoustics. But despite our best efforts, we start to lose it in the third week, as travel fatigue sets in, particularly with a grueling schedule. I’ve been on tours where we played fabulous performances of difficult pieces when we were well-rested, and lousy performances of Beethoven 5, simply because we were so tired, we literally couldn’t see straight, and played wrong notes in places we’d thought we could play in our sleep.

            These issues arise at home as well. Often, in the middle of the week, we will play a “run-out” concert a couple of hours from home, arriving home at midnight or later. Of course, the players with children still have to feed babies in the middle of the night, or get up at 6 am to get their child breakfast and get them on the 6:30 am bus to school. Add a morning rehearsal and an afternoon school visit or master class or other individual orchestra-related outreach, and by the evening concert, no, you’re not likely to play your best, even with fabulous acoustics.

            Emotional issues factor in as well. After the death of a beloved colleague, we pretty much went through the motions for some spirited (well, they were supposed to be spirited, but they weren’t) Hungarian dances, but played our hearts out for Mozart’s Requiem, dedicated to our departed colleague.

            So when someone says that one of the country’s very best orchestra plays so much worse than another that they seem to be in a different line of work, and gives as reason for such judgement such subjective issues as the color and richness of sound, I think it says much much more about the speaker than the orchestra.

            It’s easy to spew such criticism with authority, but that doesn’t make it accurate. But it’s the relish with which he does so that I find most disturbing.

          • @Allison — you make a number of good points for discussion; let me take them one at a time. First, you said:
            “@Pamela, the top 15 or 20 orchestras in the US pretty much have the same level of extremely high talent in their ranks. The same small group of superb players travels from audition to audition in search of a job. One who didn’t play his best in the Chicago audition might hit his stride in Detroit, or vice versa. We take the first job we’re offered, as there are usually college loans and instrument loans to pay off.”

            With all due respect, orchestral players are extremely good readers, able to correctly perform music from any period in the history of music. Their value, just the same, lies in terms of their working well in an ensemble. Some of them do rise to the level of artists, performing as soloists from time to time, but that’s usually not what they are paid for, is it?

            In different orchestras, the players come under the baton of different conductors. If the players were equal to the conductors, would they not be able to command the same salary? If players were equal to the world-class soloists, would they not be able to hire a hall and fill it individually? So, finding a mindset for the players that is not hindered by misconceptions can be a difficult thing. In addition, these good music schools are churning out new ‘superb’ graduates every year, are they not, also eager for work and with tons of youthful energy?

          • @Pamela, you ask very good questions! I don’t agree with a lot of your assumptions, though, even though they are very logical ones.

            “With all due respect, orchestral players are extremely good readers, able to correctly perform music from any period in the history of music. Their value, just the same, lies in terms of their working well in an ensemble. Some of them do rise to the level of artists, performing as soloists from time to time, but that’s usually not what they are paid for, is it?”

            Yes, our value as an orchestra lies in part in our ability to work together, but also in our extremely high technical and musical artistry. In every major orchestra in this country and in the world, every single member of the violin section, down to the last-chair player, could stand in front of the orchestra and perform the Sibelius or Tchaikovsky violin concerto, and play it fabulously well. That’s part of the audition requirement.

            I’lll go out on a limb here, and say that most orchestral players can play as well as most –not all, but most–of the soloists who solo with the orchestra. Many of us don’t want the lifestyle of a soloist. It’s no fun to live out of a suitcase 40 weeks a year. Soloists don’t have tenure, pension, or job-given health insurance. And if you want to have children, you would pretty much be paying someone else to raise them.

            Some do want that solo career, and simply don’t make it. It still doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not as fabulous a player as many of the players who ARE out there soloing. There’s an extra element required for being a soloist that has nothing to do with technical and musical ability. it’s basically theatrical skill, both on AND off the stage. Many musicians feel that somehow, that is a compromise to the way they wish to present themselves; it’s a game they don’t wish to play. Some hit their technical stride only in their 20′s, which is nearly always too late to break into the solo field. And some don’t become soloists in spite of massive talent because they don’t make connections well, or play politics well (and that is something that is sadly true in EVERY career, I’m afraid).

            And some simply don’t have the financial means to do nothing but practice and enter competitions. They need a paycheck. Earning a paycheck is not conducive to the kind of practicing it takes to win a competition, just like it’s not conducive to winning a spot on the Olympic gymnastics team.

            In any case, I think it’s a misconception to believe that if orchestral played at a soloist’s level of artistry, they’d BE soloists, filling the hall.

            There are some soloists out there that I do feel play head and shoulders above the rest of us. In every case that I can think of, they played head and shoulders above us very early on.

            And yes, the music schools are churning out eager young players, and the level of technical artistry is, in my opinion, higher in every succesive generation. It would be a logical assumption to think that they could easily take the place of any orchestral musician, but that’s where experience comes into play. Hardly any of them have significant ensemble experience. You’d be surprised how many eager young players show up at an orchestral audition and play Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture, Schumann Symphony #3, and Brahms violin concerto with the same style.

            Conductors aren’t always paid more than the orchestral musicians; I think it’s pretty much only the big names that are. Even then, I don’t assume that it is because they are more skilled than the musicians, because I don’t think that they are. In many cases, I’d say that they are less skilled, in some cases more skilled, and and some, the skill level is roughly comparable.

            I don’t think that orchestral managers are MORE skilled than the musicians, either (it’s a different set of skills, obviously), but they’re paid far more than orhestral section players are, too.

            Does a football coach earn a higher salary than the players?

            Anyway, I hope that clarifies things. Happy Thanksgiving, if you’re in the US!

          • @Allison said:”So when someone says that one of the country’s very best orchestra plays so much worse than another that they seem to be in a different line of work, and gives as reason for such judgement such subjective issues as the color and richness of sound, I think it says much much more about the speaker than the orchestra.”

            It is your opinion that the MO is one of the best in the US and you are entitled. However, apparently not all of us are persuaded of that. I count myself as one. I grew up on the sounds of the NYPhil and have no choice but to compare everything else I hear to them. The NYP has a voice, a consistency, a tradition. It can play great Mahler.

            The MO, to me, has no discernible voice yet. If it does, it is a strangled one. They play the music alright, but only on a rare occasion have I been persuaded by their interpretation. Nevertheless, I always hope to be mistaken, for I have a stake in the MO. I studied with its Principal Flute, have experienced countless performances and a number of rehearsals and have practiced on its stage.

          • @Pamela
            “They play the music alright, but only on a rare occasion have I been persuaded by their interpretation.”

            You do realize that the interpretation is totally controlled by the conductor, not by the orchestra musicians?

          • @Allison says,”You do realize that the interpretation is totally controlled by the conductor, not by the orchestra musicians?”

            The job of the players is to be excellent readers.

            But what if the conductor can’t get through to them?

          • @Pamela: It probably seems like I’m arguing every little point with you, but I swear, I’m not trying to be argumentative! But I’m afraid I disagree with many of your assumptions. So please bear with me while I try to explain my perspective, ok?

            “The job of the players is to be excellent readers.”

            NO. For a symphony orchestra, no that’s not the job of the players. That’s the job of those in the recording/jingle/freelance industry.

            In a symphony orchestra, we’re not sightreading, not in concerts, not even in rehearsals. We’re expected to show up at the first rehearsal of any given week already knowing our part. That means practicing it. Nobody cares when we practice it, nor how may hours it takes us to learn it, as long as we show up knowing it. I’ve spent as little as a couple of hours on a Mozart symphony I already knew to 2 weeks of 6 hours a day for a Penderecki symphony that I had to memorize in order to play it infallibly.

            Yes, we do need good sight-reading skills, and that’s part of the audition process as well. In the final round, we’re usually asked to play a piece with about 30 seconds notice.

            But it’s not typical that we are actually asked to sightread. On rare occasions, there might be a last-minute program change. But usually, we’re given the music at least 2 weeks in advance of the first rehearsal. We do need to be flexible with phrasing and technique, as the conductor or concertmaster usually changes bowings and phrasings from whatever the previous interpretation was.

            Many difficult or complicated sections need to be memorized. Sometimes it’s just not possible to keep a close eye on the conductor for a complicated rhythmic section and look down at the music at the same time; in newer music, if you look up at the conductor in a complicated spot, you can never find your place in the music again. The solution: memorize it.

            “But what if the conductor can’t get through to them?”

            Good question.

            It depends on what isn’t being communicated.

            If the beat is unclear, we watch the concertmaster. We can’t afford to have what we call a train wreck (everyone playing where they think the beat is, and not matching, and then falling apart). We listen, too, but depending on the acoustics, that can be misleading, so we can’t trust what we hear.

            If it’s the musicality, well, we’re kind of stuck. We do what we’re trained to do–we follow what the conductor is asking us to do via baton/body language. If the conductor is physically tightened up, with his upper arms rigidly held to his body, we stiffen up, too (not on purpose, it’s just impossible not to), and so does our playing. If the conductor forgets to breathe in the upbeat he gives us (and that happens more than you’d expect), boy, does that affect us, because we breathe with the conductor.

          • @Allison said: “I’lll go out on a limb here, and say that most orchestral players can play as well as most –not all, but most–of the soloists who solo with the orchestra.”

            There is a bit more to being a soloist that simply playing the notes correctly, or even with artistry, don’t you think? To have any value, should not the soloist have a voice that is inimitably their own? For the most part, isn’t that why people flock to return to hear them, not just the technical mastery? How about Heifetz, for example? Who else has the same mixture of calm clarity and gypsy heart?

          • @Pamela:

            Again, you make a lot of very logical assumptions, but I disagree with, well, all of them.

            “There is a bit more to being a soloist that simply playing the notes correctly, or even with artistry, don’t you think?”
            Yes, of course there is, but you are making the mistaken assumption that the same is not required of orchestra players. That’s why musicians autditioning for an orchestra are required to play solo works as well as orchestra works on their audition. The solo works are heard first, and if they are not up to the highest standard, the candidate can be dismissed without even playing the orchestra works.

            ” To have any value, should not the soloist have a voice that is inimitably their own? ”
            I think you’re assuming that there are musicians out there whose voices are not inimitably their own. In all my years of performing and teaching, I’ve never heard one. I’ m honestly not trying to be snarky here. I just don’t understand why you would assume that only great soloists–or soloists perceived as great–have voices inimitably their own. Go to a Suzuki book 1 violin class, and you’ll find a dozen little violinists, who are NOT necessarily going on in musical careers, who all play Twinkle with voices inimitably their own, even while coached to play it in perfect unison. (And yes, that’s just like any orchestral violin section.)

            “For the most part, isn’t that why people flock to return to hear them, not just the technical mastery?”
            Actually, no, I don’t think it is.

            They flock to return for a variety of reasons. I think the most common one is that the performance had a profound effect on them. Maybe it was the composition itself; Tchaikovsky violin concerto generally draws a standing ovation no matter who plays it. Maybe it’s the attractiveness of the soloist (we see this in the pop and rock worlds all the time). A piano soloist who is fantastic with Mozart is not necessarily going to be able to pull off Rachmaninov, and vice versa.

            More importantly, marketing is often the driving force behind ticket sales. Never undersestimate the power of marketing. (If you don’t believe me, take a trip to your local grocery store, and stare at the 7 shelves of cold medications, none of which cure the common cold, or even make you feel any better, but cold medication is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry, thanks to the power of marketing.) The agent markets the soloist to the orchestra; the orchestra markets the soloist to the public.

            “How about Heifetz, for example? Who else has the same mixture of calm clarity and gypsy heart?” Well, that’s a great example. Personally, I really enjoy listening to Heifetz’s recordings, but many of my colleagues feel that his playing was cold, mechanical, heartless, unmusical, etc. Which kinda proves my original point: it’s not valid to rank musicians (or orchestras or any other artists) based on subjective criteria.

            But that’s what happens at the highest levels. There are all kinds of factors that go into the process of becoming a successful soloist. Great playing is assumed, but it doesn’t always happen. It’s not always the deciding factor, especially when there are so many great players.

            Look at the movie industry. Yes, there are some obvious phenomenal talents, like Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Johnny Depp, etc. But there are others who never got their “big break,” who may have been just as talented, but there wasn’t room for them. And there have been plenty who were significantly less talented–or so it appeared on screen–but who had the right look, or the right agent, or was in the right place at the right time, etc. And we haven’t even gotten into the sleazier side of politics within an industry.

            It’s the same in music. And gymnastics. And figure skating.

            I think we’re still operating under assumptions from 75 years ago, where there were very few really phenomenal performers. Maybe back then, the best of the best became soloists, and the rest settled for dance bands, orchestras, or teaching in the public schools. But not any more.

            When I went to Juilliard, every pianist and every violinist there thought that they were going to take the world by storm, and become successful soloists. (Somehow, it didn’t seem to enter their heads that other conservatories were turning out similar numbers of hotshots, and they didn’t seem to even think about whether or not the market could support such high numbers of soloists.)

            They were all extremely good–but there were only about 5 violinists and, oh, maybe 10 pianists that I would have paid to hear. But even that number is far more than the market would support.

            Are you familiar with Jon Nakamatsu? He won the Van Cliburn competition in 1997, having previously turned down in a screening round, and having lost every other competition he’d entered, mostly in the preliminary rounds In fact, he didn’t even major in music in college; he majored in German and secondary education, and at the time he won the Cliburn, he was working as a high school German teacher.

            If you haven’t seen this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5smz7gycqQ, he says it all far better than I do. Be sure to watch all the way to the end!

          • @Allison said,”Well, that’s a great example. Personally, I really enjoy listening to Heifetz’s recordings, but many of my colleagues feel that his playing was cold, mechanical, heartless, unmusical, etc. Which kinda proves my original point: it’s not valid to rank musicians (or orchestras or any other artists) based on subjective criteria.”

            Finally something on which we seem to agree –namely, that whether people ‘get’ Heifetz or not, they do acknowledge that he has a distinct sound and quality to his playing. I rarely listen to other string players. His interpretations work for me; there is almost no schmaltz or grandstanding, for example.

            Why not agree-to-disagree on the point that it is the particular sound, or voice, of a performer that keeps the public coming back, rather than just their expertise. Let’s leave marketing out of it.

          • @Pamela Brown, who said, “Finally something on which we seem to agree –namely, that whether people ‘get’ Heifetz or not, they do acknowledge that he has a distinct sound and quality to his playing. I rarely listen to other string players. His interpretations work for me; there is almost no schmaltz or grandstanding, for example.

            Why not agree-to-disagree on the point that it is the particular sound, or voice, of a performer that keeps the public coming back, rather than just their expertise. Let’s leave marketing out of it.”

            You insist on jumping to conclusions. You must really enjoy this jumping game!

            I don’t think everyone agrees that Heifetz has a distinct sound and quality to his playing. You and I might think so, but most people in the US can’t tell Heifetz on the radio from any other violinist on the radio. I’m glad you enjoy his playing, but I think it may be to your detriment if you rarely listen to other string players. How sad to miss other great artists, and what a narrow viewpoint that must be.

            As far as what keeps the public coming back, perhaps you should poll the public and find out? Perhaps it varies from city to city. It certainly varies from country to country.

            In my orchestra, we’ve found that even top-name soloists rarely sell out the hall when they are playing modern music, whereas new, unknown artists can sell quite well if they are performing a “warhorse.” And our management has found that marketing makes a tremendous difference in ticket sales, no matter who is performing, so I’m afraid the reality is, we CAN’T leave marketing out if it. Marketing is in it; pretending and/or wishing otherwise cannot change that fact.

            Perhaps it might help you to compare the situation to the sale of cold medications. None of them cure the common cold. Overall, they don’t even make you feel better. They might dry up your nasal passages, but cause tremendous thirst, or the might make you groggy, so you don’t feel nearly as miserable, but you can’t function properly either. Several of them have the interesting side effect of making one’s head feel like it’s several feet away from the rest of one’s body.

            So why would the public keep coming back and BUYING these products?

            Effective marketing drives the majority of ticket sales.

            It would be very interesting if we could get both orchestral management and marketing specialists (orchestral or non-orchestral) to weigh in on this one.

          • @Allison said, “I’m glad you enjoy his playing, but I think it may be to your detriment if you rarely listen to other string players. How sad to miss other great artists, and what a narrow viewpoint that must be.”

            I exhausted myself at one time listening to string soloists and realized that the lack of clarity of line and classical balance just left me cold, so I stopped and focused on Heifetz. If I don’t feel his interpretation of a piece is less-than-satisfying I will look to others.

            It’s just my choice of how to best use my time.

          • @Allison aaid,”I don’t think everyone agrees that Heifetz has a distinct sound and quality to his playing. You and I might think so, but most people in the US can’t tell Heifetz on the radio from any other violinist on the radio.”

            You are making a really good point.

            There are so many soloists who seem to play beautifully, but who could be almost interchangeable. Others do, to me, have a distinct voice and style, but they make me uncomfortable. Nadja S/S, for example, is a dynamic player, but she has too much angst for me to watch or listen to regularly. I find myself worrying about her, and forgetting about the music. It is, at times, simply a matter of personal taste in the time one has available.

          • @Allison said, “I think you’re assuming that there are musicians out there whose voices are not inimitably their own. In all my years of performing and teaching, I’ve never heard one. I’ m honestly not trying to be snarky here. I just don’t understand why you would assume that only great soloists–or soloists perceived as great–have voices inimitably their own. Go to a Suzuki book 1 violin class, and you’ll find a dozen little violinists, who are NOT necessarily going on in musical careers, who all play Twinkle with voices inimitably their own, even while coached to play it in perfect unison. (And yes, that’s just like any orchestral violin section.)”

            With that kind of nebulous mindset, with all due respect, how does one tell the difference between a mechanical nightingale and a live one? :-0

          • @Pamela Brown, who wrote, “With that kind of nebulous mindset, with all due respect, how does one tell the difference between a mechanical nightingale and a live one? :-0″

            I’m not sure how to answer that; it sounds like you are accusing some musicians of being mechanical.

            And that’ s VERY interesting, coming from someone who claims to prefer Jascha Heifetz’s playing over all others.

            Perhaps you were not aware that many of his listenings complained that his playing was cold and mechanical?

          • @Allison said, “My understanding is that most of the major orchestras have a sign-up sheet every year for those interested in solo opportunities, and most members sign up. (I have no idea what the Minnesota Orchestra does in this regard.”

            When I was studying with the MO Principal Flute it seemed that he was ‘tasked’ with performing as a soloist from time to time. I don’t know who chose the pieces. This was something he did not seem to relish. And there was an occasion when, to my distress, he vehemently objected to having to perform a duet with Rampal. Hopefully, it is better now.

          • @Pamela Brown, who said, “When I was studying with the MO Principal Flute it seemed that he was ‘tasked’ with performing as a soloist from time to time. I don’t know who chose the pieces. This was something he did not seem to relish. And there was an occasion when, to my distress, he vehemently objected to having to perform a duet with Rampal. Hopefully, it is better now.”

            It may certainly work differently in different orchestras, but in mine, often the opportunity for a tutti player to perform as soloist comes with very little notice–maybe only a couple of weeks. Soloists who are either principal players or imported from outside, on the other hand, usually know which concerto they are playing and where at least a year in advance–and those soloists are not rehearsing and performing orchestral repertoire the week before their concerto appearance. They are able to spend all their playing time on the solo.

            I’m sure you can understand that it can be quite stressful to prepare a concerto with very little notice at the same time that one is rehearsing and performing orchestral repertoire. If having to do this is spelled out in the musician’s contract, then they don’t have the power to say, “no, I’d rather not play that piece,” under which circumstances, they might quite reasonably feel “tasked” by the assignment.

            Did your teacher ever specify why he or she did not want to perform a duet with JPR?

          • @Allison said, “Did your teacher ever specify why he or she did not want to perform a duet with JPR?”

            He seemed to think Rampal was just a grandstanding circus showman. That was in part true, of course, but there was so much more. He appeared to have little respect for Rampal and seemed to be almost spitting nails at the duet (arias from The Magic Flute). It didn’t make sense to me at the time that someone who had such a wonderful sound and technique (unfortunately, health issues were intervening that compromised that) would not appreciate Rampal.

            They both played Louis Lots too, which tend to have a unique sound quality. But he considered the orchestral players to be the true musicians — he would regularly say or imply that anyone can be a soloist.

            Hmm…where have I heard that before? ;-)

          • Drew said, “On the other hand, the level of ensemble is now higher in Minneapolis than in Boston. Even though there is an unmistakable, heavily-drilled “bandmaster” quality to the playing of the Minneapolis musicians, the Minnesota Orchestra is much more unanimous in its attacks and releases than the Boston Symphony. The playing in Minnesota is more accurate, more alert and livelier than what I had become accustomed to in Boston.”

            After spending the better part of a week with the MO/Vanska Sibelius 2+5, I am pleased to agree with your assessment of the MO attacks and releases, accuracy and alertness. I have struggled with angst throughout the earlier years of the MO with what sounded to me like tired and pedantic playing, especially of the war horses. But to hear such energy and coordination in the MO under Vanska is, to me, a delight.

            I do have to wonder if the players have any idea of the experience of the listeners, much less of those who actually compare readings of different orchestras and conductors on the same pieces. It is almost as though one is not supposed to hear what one actually hears, but instead, what one is told to hear.

    • @Drew…glancing through your blog I got a bit of insight into your writing (not so subtly associating the locked-out musicians with the 1934 Trucker’s strike, and leaving out the bits where the strikers were shot at). Linking to your partner’s blog was just as revealing. He posted a picture of musician Peter McGuire and then flung verbal feces at him.

      • My worse-case-scenario, which perhaps I should have specified as containing a reductio ad absurdum, caused a ruckus. Well, of course it did. The point one was intended to draw from it was that there are qualities that seem to be missing from the equation which, if added, might give clout to the players position. One cannot negotiate from a position of arrogance, or entitlement, but one can definitely do so from a position of appreciation and even humility. How does that translate to a best-case-scenario? Here’s how:

        Suppose everyone begins with the attitude that all parties involved are doing their best (even though one of them may be doing a terrible job). They anticipate that of course, everyone wants the best for them and the organization (even when facts may seem to dictate the opposite). The primary objective is to find a way to a common vocabulary; to include rather than exclude.

        Is this unrealistic? I hope not. Is it professional? I hope so.

      • @Allison has expressed distress at my use of the term ‘reader’ when applied to an orchestra player (even though that is what they do imo). She has even apparently jumped to the conclusion that I invented the term. Wish I could take credit for it, but that is not the case. In fact, now that I think about it, the first time I recall hearing it was from Michael Anthony, a local TC critic.

        To make matters worse, I have little doubt, I also use the term when applied to different readings by the same conductor of the same piece with different orchestras, or different cd’s or performances of the same piece. I have even used it when referencing a soloist’s reading/interpretation of a part as opposed to another.

        Well, here is an example of someone else using the term, in an article on the other locked-out orchestra, the SPCO (I include the full paragraph so as to put it into context):

        “The Symphony No. 41 in C major is Mozart’s last and, arguably, his greatest symphony. Zukerman led a dramatic, even heroic, reading. In the opening Allegro vivace, the musicians played with an intensity that made the climax sound like a Romantic composition, all the while maintaining the clean string sound representative of a Classical one. The color and warmth of the winds was also exceptionally effective.”

        http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/music/181768331.html

        The reference here is to the conductor’s reading of the piece.

        Perhaps @Allison should take a moment or two away from playing her orchestral parts and read a review or two. :-0

        • @Pamela Brown, who said, “@Allison has expressed distress at my use of the term ‘reader’ when applied to an orchestra player (even though that is what they do imo). She has even apparently jumped to the conclusion that I invented the term. Wish I could take credit for it, but that is not the case. In fact, now that I think about it, the first time I recall hearing it was from Michael Anthony, a local TC critic.

          To make matters worse, I have little doubt, I also use the term when applied to different readings by the same conductor of the same piece with different orchestras, or different cd’s or performances of the same piece. I have even used it when referencing a soloist’s reading/interpretation of a part as opposed to another.

          Well, here is an example of someone else using the term, in an article on the other locked-out orchestra, the SPCO (I include the full paragraph so as to put it into context):

          “The Symphony No. 41 in C major is Mozart’s last and, arguably, his greatest symphony. Zukerman led a dramatic, even heroic, reading. In the opening Allegro vivace, the musicians played with an intensity that made the climax sound like a Romantic composition, all the while maintaining the clean string sound representative of a Classical one. The color and warmth of the winds was also exceptionally effective.”

          http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/music/181768331.html

          The reference here is to the conductor’s reading of the piece.

          Perhaps @Allison should take a moment or two away from playing her orchestral parts and read a review or two. :-0″

          I must correct you: I am not distressed. I am pointing out your misuse of a term to describe my profession.

          Both your own usage in this last post, and the example you give from the Star Tribune, talk of the conductor’s reading. Not the orchestra’s reading. The CONDUCTOR’S reading. Remember our earlier conversation? The interpretation of the music is the responsibility of the CONDUCTOR.

          In every example you gave, the word “reading” means “interpretation.” From Merriam-Webster: reading “b : a particular performance of something (as a musical work)” From thefreedictionary.com: “reading b. The distinctive interpretation of a work of performing art given by the person or persons performing it.”

          But you didn’t talk about the “orchestral players’ reading.” You called them “readers.”

          Honestly, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh, wow, I heard the XYZ Philharmonic last night, and they are WONDERFUL readers!” (Or the worst, for that matter.) Nor have I ever heard, “Dude, ya gotta hear these readers, man, they are SMOKIN!”

          So I went back to the several dictionaries available on-line.

          From the American Heritage Dictionary:
          read·er (rdr)
          n.
          1. One that reads.
          2. One who publicly recites literary works.
          3.
          a. A person employed by a publisher to read and evaluate manuscripts.
          b. One who corrects printers’ proofs; a proofreader.
          4. A teaching assistant who reads and grades examination papers.
          5. Chiefly British A university teacher, especially one ranking next below a professor.
          6.
          a. A textbook of reading exercises.
          b. An anthology, especially a literary anthology.
          7. A layperson or minor cleric who recites lessons or prayers in church services.

          Nowhere could I find “reader” defined as someone performing music, and there’s a very good reason why. It’s simply not an accepted use of the word. In fact, to use that word to describe orchestral musicians really makes it sound like you are disparaging them–is that something you are doing consciously? It does seem to be a recurring theme with you.

          Honestly, if you think that the word “reader” aptly describes what an orchestral player does, then I don’t think you fully understand orchestral playing, no matter how many reviews you’ve read.

    • Donors are not usually dangerous. We all of course need them. But when the few get actively involved in artistic matters or for instance profess to know what is best for the artistic future of their organization, it can be really dangerous, perhaps ruinous. That is happening now in the Twin Cities of Minnesota to varying degrees.

  5. I hope Maestro Vanska is not just throwing himself on the pyre.

    • I don’t think we need to worry too much about Osmo, Pamela. He himself doesn’t have all that much to lose.

      He turned the Minnesota Orchestra from a good band that most classical music fans beyond the Twin Cities had forgotten about into one of the most exciting orchestras around. (Reviews of the Osmo/Minnesota combo that I’ve read in the London and New York press are some of the most rapturous I’ve ever seen. I think Alex Ross’s head may still be spinning from the Sibelius Kullervo they did at Carnegie the season before last.)

      Osmo obviously cares deeply about the Minnesota Orchestra, and it would hurt him no end to see the work they’ve done together go down the drain. But he won’t be on any pyre; there are plenty of orchestras who would dearly love to obtain his services.

      • I am sure you are correct.

        Nevertheless, it has been interesting to be able to have his perspective on the underlying and possibly long-term effects of this situation. He is confronting the possibility of this vision for this orchestra going up in smoke.

  6. Here is my take on this whole mess and a prediction of what the outcome will be:

    It is obvious that MOA board and management have been planning this lockout for some time. The musicians received letters early in the year telling them that all personal contracts would be re-negotiated. When negotiations started, the musicians negotiating committee was presented with the Draconian “red line” contract proposal which in itself gave notice that the management had no intention to bargain in good faith. The musicians asked for the independent financial analysis which was denied by management and therefore cannot make a counter proposal as the main issue here is money. Yes, the musicians could have bargained on issues such as schedule, tour conditions, etc. but why bother when you don’t have a true assessment of the organization’s current state of financial affairs and no details of the purported losses of investment values in the endowment. The best way for a for-profit corporation to reorganize is to declare bankruptcy then sell out to new owners or reorganize with cheaper labor with a smaller model. The Philadelphia Orchestra filed a successful bankruptcy to change its pension obligations to its musicians. In effect, the MOA declared de facto bankruptcy and clearly stated its new reorganized model in its mission statement and its contract offer to the musicians. The lockout proceeds as planned, the MOA saves a fortune by cancelling concerts while the new lobby is completed and causes untold grief to the musicians, the audience, the donors and the community in general. Also, it is obvious they don’t care if many musicians leave.

    So here’s my prediction of the future. The MOA will keep cancelling concerts over the winter and into the spring. Negotiations will not resume and at some point they will announce that the entire season is cancelled and publish a schedule of concerts to take place when the hall is available next fall. They will then announce the formation of an entirely new group of musical employees, ergo “musicians,” who will be non-union. I think they may even go on the model of the New World Symphony in Florida and they certainly have the endowment to set up a student program and attract talent recently graduated from music schools to apply. Perhaps they can even keep Vanska on board to direct this or perhaps he’ll be thrown under the bus just like the musicians. There are plenty of up and coming conductors and several established ones who would jump at this, I think.

    Now, I ask the MOA, why don’t you just get it over with at this time? Do everyone a favor and cut the crap. Your former musicians are suffering enough. Let them get on with their lives finding new employment and performance and teaching opportunities. Be clear to the community in what your concert plans are going to be. You might even turn a profit if you book class acts! Then you wouldn’t need donors and have any obligation to the community. You could call Orchestra Hall “Music ‘R Us” and have a gift shop selling teddy bears holding instruments, tee shirts that read “I (heart) music,” key-chains shaped like treble clefs, snow globes of the hall and all sorts of neat stuff. When you don’t have a live act, you could stay open 24/7 and people could come in for a few bucks and watch DVD’s of all sorts of concerts of different musical genres played on your million dollar “Sound System to End All Sound Systems!” Hey, put a big neon sign of that on the outside wall of the hall to attract the tourists and folks who don’t have the change for a movie. And at some point, your brilliant lawyers will figure out how to turn you into a for-profit company and keep your endowment. But, then again, you might have to make previous donors into shareholders to accomplish that.

    A. Kendall Betts
    Principal Horn, Minnesota Orchestra, 1979-2004

  7. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Has any one seen the actual MOA budget projection document for FY12 which closed on August 31? Comparison of the budgeted income and expenses to the actual income and expenses would be very interesting. There must be a line on the income side for endowment support (the famous 5% draw which seems to have gotten out of hand and risen as high as 17%). The FY12 budget would have been prepared by staff and then submitted to the Board for approval in late Spring or early Summer 2011. The musician salary expenses are fixed and known in advance. What has happened to cause income to drop so drastically and/or for expenses to increase? Yes, we know that Hall rentals are down, that ticket sales are down, and that annual giving is down (probably as a result of the capital campaign for the Lobby and the current financial crunch which all non-profits are feeling). Audited results for FY12 should be available by now.

    I enjoy reading the “Song of the Lark” posts and hope that Emily Hogstad can shed even more light on the above. She has already discussed some of these issues extensively. Has a budget for FY13 been prepared? Were there several versions (one with a lockout, the other without). Was the “red-line” contract a foregone conclusion in FY13 budget preparation? Otherwise, some of us might assume that Kendall Betts’ dire analysis and predictions are valid.

    • A budget for September 2012 to August 2013 has been approved by the board. It has not been shared with musicians or the public. To the best of my knowledge, management has not addressed why they are not sharing it.

      http://www.minnesotaorchestramusicians.org/?page_id=3469

      Over the past few years, the Star Tribune has written an article about the orchestra’s budget in early December, in time for the “organization’s annual meeting.” Here’s an example.

      http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/music/111140309.html?refer=y

      This has happened other years, as well.

      So presumably the audited information from September 2011-August 2012 – or at least management’s public comments on it – will be available within a couple of weeks. So keep an eye out for that. Local non-profit professional and guest blogger Mary Schaefle will be analyzing those documents as soon as they become available.

      Emily

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      PS: And as has been noted in Emily’s blog: overall ticket sales have decreased primarily because the MOA scheduled fewer events starting around 2011.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Thanks, Emily. Honestly, the more I read the more puzzled I am about how MOA wound up in this situation unless it is a specific strategy to break the back of the musicians bargaining unit (aka the union) and redirect the mission of MOA. Please keep the info flowing.

  8. Drew, how exactly do you judge the quality and rank of the Minnesota Orchestra as compared to any one of the orchestras you mentioned?

    It’s like arguing who’s a better cellist, Mstislav Rostropovitch or Yo-Yo Ma. Or which is better, cherry pie or apple pie?

    Are you a professional musician yourself?

  9. @Allison said, “In a symphony orchestra, we’re not sightreading, not in concerts, not even in rehearsals. We’re expected to show up at the first rehearsal of any given week already knowing our part.”

    I didn’t say anything about sight-reading. I said that orchestra players are excellent readers — that is, they are able to correctly interpret the parts they are given, based on the composer and the period in music history in which that composer wrote. How long they practice on a piece is not relevant.

    Players may be able to do more than that, or believe they can, but is this not the job description (dare I use such an artistic word?) that mgt and union are trying to put a price tag on?

    • @Pamela Brown, who wrote, “I didn’t say anything about sight-reading. I said that orchestra players are excellent readers — that is, they are able to correctly interpret the parts they are given, based on the composer and the period in music history in which that composer wrote.”

      Your use of the word “reader” in context of musical performance is perplexing at best. To correctly interpret a piece of music, based on the composer and period, has absolutely nothing to do with “reading,” in any sense of the word.

      To quote the character of Inigo Montoya, in “The Princess Bride:”
      “You keep using that word…I do not think it means what you think it means.”

      But your misuse of the word aside, every 17-year-old accepted into music school at any college in the US (not just the major conservatories) can correctly interpret parts they are given, based on the composer and the period of history in which that composer wrote. So can most kids in the better suburban high school band and orchestra programs, for that matter.

      And then you said, what was it, “Players may be able to do more than that, or BELIEVE they can…” (caps mine)

      I know you posted previously that you studied with the principal flautist of the MO, but that experience doesn’t seem to have given you even the most basic understanding of the performing arts.

      For you to post these kinds of statements really undermines your credibility.

      • @Allison said,”Your use of the word “reader” in context of musical performance is perplexing at best. To correctly interpret a piece of music, based on the composer and period, has absolutely nothing to do with “reading,” in any sense of the word.”

        Really? What term would you use to define the job of the orchestral player as management sees it? (Distinct from a section leader, a conductor, or a soloist).

        • @Pamela, who said, “Really? What term would you use to define the job of the orchestral player as management sees it? (Distinct from a section leader, a conductor, or a soloist).”

          Perhaps you should ask someone in management how they see orchestra players, as it seems that orchestra playing is not something you have much experience with.

          As I understand it, they consider us all musicians, even the lowly section players! Imagine that…

          if you can find someone in management of a high-level orchestra who considers ANY of their musicians to be “readers,” please do let us know who that is, and which orchestra they manage.

          • @Allison said, “if you can find someone in management of a high-level orchestra who considers ANY of their musicians to be “readers,” please do let us know who that is, and which orchestra they manage.”

            Player works fine forIt is m me. As you have so eloquently pointed out, in your estimation, most any of these players could also be a soloist, etc. My use of the term ‘reader’ was intended to clarify the job that has created the impasse a the MO. I also used the term ‘excellent’, in that the level at which they consistently work is something that is an extremely high. Most players, including the Suzuki students you mentioned, would probably not have the stamina to do this.

            I sometimes also prefer the term ‘reading’ to ‘interpretation’ when discussion one performance or recording of a piece when compared to another; that can be in regards to the soloist or even the conductor. It is a term that happens to work for me.

          • @Allison said, “Perhaps you should ask someone in management how they see orchestra players, as it seems that orchestra playing is not something you have much experience with.”

            Mmm…you could say that I was locked-out.

          • @Pamela Brown, who said, “Mmm…you could say that I was locked-out.”

            What do you mean, you were “locked-out?” Locked out from what, and how?

      • @Allison said,”And then you said, what was it, “Players may be able to do more than that, or BELIEVE they can…” (caps mine)”

        I apologize for not being sufficiently clear — I intended to say that it seems to me that someone hired as an orchestral player is hired to fulfill those responsibilities included in their audition, regardless of what else they have demonstrated elsewhere that they can do, or even what they believe they can also accomplish in the future.

        I know of one player, for example, who, right from the start, believed they could become a conductor. Now that has happened.

  10. @Allison said, “I know you posted previously that you studied with the principal flautist of the MO, but that experience doesn’t seem to have given you even the most basic understanding of the performing arts.

    For you to post these kinds of statements really undermines your credibility.”

    Really? My credibility as what?

    With all respect, what sort of ‘credibiity’ do you think is derived from trying to kill the messenger?

  11. @Allison said, “What do you mean, you were “locked-out?” Locked out from what, and how?”

    It’s an allusion. Let’s just leave it at that for now…

  12. @Allison said, “’I’m not sure how to answer that; it sounds like you are accusing some musicians of being mechanical.

    And that’ s VERY interesting, coming from someone who claims to prefer Jascha Heifetz’s playing over all others.

    Perhaps you were not aware that many of his listenings complained that his playing was cold and mechanical?”

    The live/mechanical nightingale was an allusion to the Hans Christian Anderson story; not intended to be literal.
    Yes, I am aware of the criticism of Heifetz’ playing; I just don’t agree with it. I hear a classical style controlling a gypsy-violinist heart. I find that exquisite. But again, that’s just me.

  13. @Allison said, in regard to a statement Drew made about the MO, “So when someone says that one of the country’s very best orchestra plays so much worse than another that they seem to be in a different line of work, and gives as reason for such judgement such subjective issues as the color and richness of sound, I think it says much much more about the speaker than the orchestra.

    It’s easy to spew such criticism with authority, but that doesn’t make it accurate. But it’s the relish with which he does so that I find most disturbing.”

    I do agree that criticism should be constructive, not snide.

    I am tough on the MO mostly out of exhaustion, of having been through so many (though certainly not all) unsatisfying experiences. I appreciate their beloved Conductor Emeritus SS, for example, but when we were getting a weekly dose of him, I sincerely believe even many non-musicians in the audience would have preferred to have the MO players conduct themselves.

    But I will say that from what I am hearing, Maestro Vanska has helped the MO get rid of what I would call bad habits — the bleating flutes, the grandstanding brass, the straggly strings, for example. He seems to be working toward a balence and coherence that allows the music to come through,

    While stuck in the fog early yesterday morning on my way to southern MN (for a dressage clinic out in the boonies, of all things) I listened to the MO/Vanska Sibelius 2 and 5. Just stunning. And I am keeping an open mind…

    • Drew said earlier ‘If the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO had their acts together, they would, by definition, not be in the untenable positions in which they now find themselves.”

      I think Drew should take out the words ‘musicians of the’. Then it would read If the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO had their acts together, they would, by definition, not be in the untenable positions in which they now find themselves. This untenable position belongs to everyone within the organization. Please Drew, I wish you wouldn’t write that this is only about the musicians lack of foresight. There is an amazing amount of that happening on all accounts here.

      • Fair enough, Chris. After the terrible position the players have been put in, one would hope they will always be proactive and take nothing for granted. Nevertheless, they did their job, and it was the job of management to bring in funding and protect the endowment. This is where the failure lies, it seems to me; but nobody is asking that they take pay cuts.

        Obviously, the paradigm has failed. Something that will work in the 21st century with all of its new technologies, markets, changes in the public’s tastes and access to entertainment needs to be developed. The NYPhil, for example, was originally a player-cooperative orchestra. If everyone agrees that the players are the orchestra, or that, surely, without them, there is no orchestra, then I don’t think an evolution of a new ‘business model’ is an impossibility at all.

        In fact, maybe there ultimately is no other choice.

  14. concerning the comment
    “With respect to the SPCO musicians, I suspect they are a lost cause, assuming news sources reported accurately the events of Thursday of last week.”

    I can assure you the musicians of the SPCO are far from a lost cause…you should never assume news sources as accurate and NEVER underestimate the band of musicians from the SPCO from Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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