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Minnesota madness: it’s the audience that’s locked out, too

Two longterm supporters of the Minnesota Orchestra have launched a Thanksgiving battery of questions today at its aggressive president, Michael Henson.

Read their rockets here.

The DeCosses would like some answers. From what we hear, Henson has none.

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  1. According to his bio, Mr. Henson has been a CEO of orchestras since age 30, starting with the Ulster Symphony in 1992 for five years. and then from 1999 to 2007, the Bournemouth Symphony, so in the past he was probably used to butting heads (how could it be otherwise in Northern Ireland?) and working with musicians who were underpaid by U.S. standards and accepting of it. According to the AFM symphony salary list, the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra players earn a beginning scale of $90,000+ as compared to the San Francisco Symphony scale of $114,000, a differential of $24,000- and likely much more than the Bournemouth or Ulster players. (What is different is that the SF Symphony has endowed many of its 1st chairs and even chairs of its other section players, so there is some self-funding, while I suspect that the Minnesota Symphony is much less richly endowed and, like the Philadelphia Orchestra and some other majors, may be struggling in this economy- not to speak of Bournemouth which has been subjected to major public funding cuts.) Moreover, the Minnesota Symphony has a huge capital project now under construction which also may be gasping for breath, even though construction costs right now should be low. (After all, ask Donald Trump about how to renegotiate construction contracts- but don’t include a question about Obama’s birth certificate or grades at the Harvard Law School, either of which could embarrass the Donald as much as his bird’s nest bouffant hairdo.)

    With the recording industry tanking, one also wonders how creative the Symphony has been in bringing in new recording and other contracts, and performing and partnering in many different venues, all of which could provide additional revenue to the players. This requires real creativity on the part of both management and the players. And, it requires everyone sucking it in sometimes until the revenue is there.

    Without knowledge of the particulars of the dispute, these may be some of the seeds of the controversy, but like the words of the Frank Sinatra song, ‘you’ve got to give a little to get a little’, and maybe the Board members who are also practical businessmen will help Mr. Henson along with some more moola and some sage advice- though you never know, there’s always the chance these Board members could also be playing a Mutt and Jeff game with the players.

  2. Jerry Pritchard says:

    In the U.S. we have a version of saying that goes back to our experience in the covered wagon days of westward migration: “When orchestra’s get in trouble, get the wagons in a circle–and fire inward!”

  3. An explosive article in the Minneapolis StarTribune has unleashed a slew of responses and reports. Here’s a list of some of them:

    And the original StarTribune article is here:

  4. Things are moving quickly now. Musicians vote “no confidence” in Minnesota Orchestra president Michael Henson:

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