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If the orchestra’s locked out, why pay the manager?

This may be a naive proposition, but I cannot get my head around what’s going on in Minnesota.

The musicians have been locked out for refusing to take a deep pay cut while the board lavishes $50 million on a new lobby.

So far, so business as usual.

But what is an orchestra without musicians? It is, in the words of Monty Python, a dead parrot.

That being the case, why bother to pay the manager, Michael Henson, to sit in a gilded cage and wait for the parrot to come back to life? What is his job when the musicians are locked out? Does he go around the building checking that the washrooms have been cleaned and the garbage put out? What does he do with the rest of his day? Why is he still drawing a salary?

Put another way, if the dispute has been called to save payroll money, why pass up an opportunity to save a whole lot more?

Just asking. Meantime, here’s a really angry rant from one of the customers, objecting to a letter Henson sent out at the start of the lockout.

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  1. Presumably one expects the management to concentrate on finding a resolution, where they can: be that further negotiation with the musicians, searching and applying for additional funding, clarifying their position, re-working accounting models to try and find another way through the deadlock… [none of which I would expect them to do publicly, so just because we don't hear about it doesn't mean it's not going on]

    One might also expect them, in anticipation of a satisfactory resolution, to quietly carry on the business of preparing the following year’s touring, working on repertoire plans over the next seasons, and so forth.

    It’s only the non-senior levels of ‘management’ who benefit – the stage managers, fixers, orchestral managers, who no longer have a task to do immediately when without players; and clearly it would be a little unfair to penalise them for something they have had very little to do with.

    • above your last sentence read, “clearly it would be a little unfair to penalise them for something they have had very little to do with.”

      Don’t you also think it’s “a little unfair” the MUSICIANS are being penalized for something they absolutely had nothing to do with?

      • If the stage staff were demanding salaries that could not be met in the circumstances the orchestra find themselves in, then it would be different.
        As far as I can see, the musicians are asking for a compensation package for their work which is higher than the incoming funding to the orchestra allows for. They have everything to do with it.

  2. Bravo, Mr. Lebrecht. Maybe, with your eminent good sense you will save the orchestra some desperately needed monies that could go to paying the musicians when they return, or in otherwise making the symphony solvent. Absent that, like the Scotsman and the blanc mange in another Monty Python episode, the manager could end up playing himself on the tennis court (i.e., orchestra stage). Seriously, they must sit down together and work out a fair deal- lockouts are not an answer.

  3. The musicians should ALWAYS be earning more than the management of an orchestra.

    • I’m guessing you have neither played professionally in and orchestra nor been a manager. I have, both.

      I can’t disagree with you more and many of my musical colleagues agree with me.

      On the other hand, it is unconscionable that managers remain ‘on the job’ while musicians stay at home earning strike pay. That is simply wrong. The orchestra does not raise money to pay the managers. The orchestra does not raise money to merely pay musicians either. It raises money to organize the best orchestra and put on the best concerts, and that cannot be done without well payed musicians AND managers.

  4. In 2010-2011, Mr. Henson’s total compensation amounted to $389,861. The year before it was $404,049. Assuming his 2012-2013 compensation is somewhere around $400,000, that’s roughly $1100 a day. Today we are on Day 50 of the lockout. That’s $55,000. The very earliest that concerts will be resumed is January 11, 2013. That will be Day 104. By then Mr. Henson will be up to $114,400. Unfortunately, I know of no one who believes this conflict will be resolved before January 11, and I anticipate an announcement of more canceled concerts in late December.


    • Thanks, Emily. Once again, a clear assessment by you. I follow Mpls/SP with horror and sadness. These are great artists and they are suffering needlessly.

  5. William Safford says:

    Maybe Michael Henson’s nickname should now be “Norwegian Blue.”

  6. Part of what they’re doing is trying to sell tickets (to what concerts?) Several of my friends have had the call center contact them in an attempt to sell ticket subscriptions. They had the good sense to tell them to call back when there are concerts to sell tickets to.

    • I have as well and gave the same reply. Today in the mail I received a solicitation for the Guaranty Fund – seriously??

  7. Performing Artist52 says:

    I believe it is the other way around Emily. Mr. Henson received a $15,000 raise fro this years salary to be $404,094.00.
    While I can appreciate the talents of good management Doug, Mr. Henson’s salary if based on the total budget of the orchestra is way out of proportion and should be closer to $200,000. Perhaps if Mr. Henson would agree to a 50% pay cut this would bring him more in line with the percentage based on the total budget. And the musicians are not receiving money from the “strike fund” as you label it. There is no strike. The musicians were locked out. No salary, no benefits and no warning. The musicians have been scrambling to find other performance gigs or simply coming up with their own. By the way, when the musicians produced their own season gala performance on October 18th, the stage hands etc were summoned to the administrative offices to sit there until midnight so they would no help the musicians at the convention center. The reason why the stage hands are still being paid is that their contract did not run out at the same time as the musicians. What a shame. The MOA could have saved even more money producing nothing.

    • The figures I quote come from my guest blogger who has gone through the 990s while researching a series of posts on the state of the orchestra’s finances. The years go from September of one year to August of the next. According to her, this has been Mr. Henson’s total compensation.

      2008-2009 – $390,527
      2009-2010 – $404,049
      2010-2011 – $389,861
      2011-2012 – should be released within the next few weeks
      2012-2013 – will be unknown until December 2013

      Apologies if I’m wrong, but those are the numbers I was given… If anyone wants to double-check those on and correct me, please feel free. 990s are not my strong point. :)


      • Performing Artist52 says:

        I stand corrected Emily! I was looking at the information for wrong year. My bad! (:

  8. Interesting you use British humor from the dead Parrot sketch to illuminate the reprehensible lockout of orchestral musicians in Minnesota. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Mr Henson’s chief qualifications for the job are that he wears nicely tailored pin-stripe power suits and speaks with an English accent. If it wasn’t so criminal what’s happening, I’d also suggest the “Department of Silly Walks” as a description for the actions of the boards and top management in their daily waddles to work to denigrate and destroy the healthy organizations they inherited as a public trust to promote and preserve.

    Inexplicably, American musicians, even those at the top of their profession, have been forced to justify their existence, salaries, and the importance of what classical has to offer to everyone in the community it serves.

    The most amazing thing in this whole debacle is the fact the value of classical music apparently also has to be explained to the Boards and Executive Directors of the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I wonder what’s on those board members’ i-devices for listening? The level of culture among the titans of American business is shockingly low. I recently pointed out the former apartment of Maria Callas in Paris to a an important retired business man from an important mid-west city. He asked me: Please remind me why I should recognize that name. It is true that many who sit on the boards of cultural institutions have little or no knowledge about the core mission of these orchestras, opera and ballet companies, museums, and arts schools. These board seats are often just trophies to facilite the climb up the corporate ladder. If you are a board member of a major orchestra who is reading this blog, please reply and prove me wrong.

      About 15 or 20 years ago, James Wolfensohn supported an international program at the Wharton School of Business (U of Pennsylvania) and one of the components was required cultural indoctrination (music, visual arts, dance, theater) so that these young leaders would know more than just economics and business skills. This MBA program helped prepare the students for their work and for their volunteer efforts on boards around the world.

      • While it would be ideal for board members to have a deep interest and understanding of the arts, is it not te case that any such organisation should have so many people with that knowledge already employed that what is really required of at least half the board is an overall guidance as to how to run their affairs – that means you need successful businesspeople, marketing and promotion folks, those with access to funds, and so on: these are the primary concerns, hopefully along with a musical sympathy. Deep understanding on the level of those whose profession it is is not required. Desirable, sure, but shouldn’t be a requirement.

        • Yes you need all sorts on a board, potentially including some with little practical knowledge of how music or an orchestra works. If they don’t know or care what’s going on, they should defer to those who do. Where you get trouble is when people who don’t understand the complex workings of an orchestra step up and try to “run it like a business.” The current fad for running a business as a cash cow for bullying top management with little regard for the wellbeing of workers, quality of the product, or needs of the consumers is dubious at best in the business world, but counter-productive, disastrous, and becoming all too common in the arts world. Arts organizations exist to uplift people, not to pander to them. Educating and inviting audience and contributors in is the main job of management and the board. Yes, it has to be run in as a cost-effective and efficient way as possible, but without sacrificing the fundamental mission of the orchestra to make the world a better place, not a place that insults audience and performers alike by aiming for the lowest common denominator, and either hitting or exceeding these lowered expectations.

  9. Ghillie Forrest says:

    Civic Orchestras such as Minnesota are multi-layered organisations in which everyone employed there has a role to play (or should, and I expect even in heavily unionised locales there is little dead weight in this day and age). So why has Orchestra after Orchestra singled out their only really public figures — the players — to take pay cuts when belt-tightening is considered necessary?

    Everyone is aware of the economic situation in the US, western Europe and other struggling nations (e.g. South Africa). That an Orchestra should be immune to that would be fantasy. Other industries and endeavours have had to face cutbacks. But it is unfair that the artists — the one sine qua non of THIS operation — are the only part of the equation expected to make sacrifices (though presumably shortened seasons would affect other jobs).

    It’s a tough call whether the Orchestra Manager ought to retire with his locked-out artists or stay in hiso office programming the 15-16 season. A decent one might volunteer a pay cut and perhaps only appear part-time, if only as a gesture of solidarity.

    • The manager is the one who, along with the Board, has locked them out. No need for solidarity.

      But then, a decent manager would make all attempts for things not to reach this point.

    • In many US orchestras, the administrative staff are the first ones to suffer pay cuts when money becomes tight. And those pay cuts hit the junior and mid-level staff (who are usually overworked and underpaid) quite hard.

      Most members of the public don’t hear about those pay cuts because (a) those employees aren’t unionized, and so there’s no legal dispute to make headlines, and (b) the administrative staff aren’t the people the audience comes to hear. When those pay cuts happen, there’s generally one article in the local newspaper and that’s it.

      • In the Minnesota Orchestra’s case, this amounted to 100% cuts (termination) for PT employees and cuts and/or doubling up of duties for remaining staff. We’ve had close dealings with the education, PR, marketing, and finance depts. in both the Minnsota Orchestra and SPCO. They’ve been totally professional, competent, and committed to the music and musicians they support. The staff is not the problem. The majority of the fiscal and vision problems of both orchestras can be laid at the steps of the boards and the top management they chose.

  10. Chris H. Smith says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If musicians have to take a pay cut, then management should at least have to take the same pay cut, if not more.

  11. Emily has just posted about what the musicians have posted – what a cesspool.

  12. This brings me back to the spirited dialogue you hosted months ago about the London Philharmonic.
    I can’t imagine Thomas Russell who was the model manager ever doing what this manager has been doing. Like the good violist he was, he would have been manning the barricades. No, that’s wrong, there would have been NO LOCKOUT since the orchestra was the management, so maybe THAT’S the answer.

  13. MinnPost just published a heartfelt and discerning letter from orchestra patrons Paula and Cy DeCosse.

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