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Hear it live: State legislators accuse orchestra president of ‘destroying the arts’

We have received a recording of Michael Henson’s stumbling appearance before the state legislature in Minnesota. Henson is president of the Minnesota Orchestral Association, whose musicians he has locked out since October. He makes a brief statement, and is then battered by Alice Hausman, chair of the Capital Committee, which is looking into claims that the MOA concealed certain facts to obtain $14 million of state money for the refurbishment of its building.

The recording has been edited by Emily E Hogstad, who provides a transcript of the session on her website, Song of the Lark. Listen here:


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  1. James Brinton says:

    Terrific, and very important post, Norman!

  2. Andy Finch says:

    Just to be clear, that’s the state legislature, not the U.S. Congress.

  3. Thanks for posting this, Norman!

    NB: The word “Congressmen” only refers to members of the federal House of Representatives in Washington, DC, so the headline makes it look like Michael Henson was summoned to the US Capitol rather than the State House in St. Paul. “Lawmakers” would probably work better

    - MWnyc, back on pedantic copy-editor duty

  4. Clyde McConnell says:


    No! “State congressmen” doesn’t work either. Check by state for the right terminology.

    Clyde McConnell

    • They are referred to as ‘US Congressman, Minnesota’.

      • Benjamin Loeb says:

        No, still not quite right. That’s the title for representatives from Minnesota who serve in the US (Federal) Congress. I think in Minnesota, they are called Representatives or State Representatives.

      • Norman, I’m afraid that Clyde and Banjamin are correct. “State Congressmen” means the delegation from Minnesota to the US House of Representatives in Washington. The term “Congressman/woman/men” refers only members of the federal House of Representatives; none of the 50 states use that term for members of the lower house of their legislatures.

        (Different states use different terms – Representatives, Deputies, Delegates, and so on – for the legislators in the lower house. Confusingly for our friends overseas, all the states that have bicameral legislatures call the upper house the Senate and its members Senators, just like at the federal level; to avoid confusion, we usually refer to them as State Senators.)

        You’d need to say “State Representatives” in the headline for it not to be misleading. To my eyes and ears, at least, that’s too polysyllabic to make for a compelling headline; that’s why I suggested “lawmakers”, a generic term in very common use over here, especially in journalism.

        After all that, Norman, aren’t you glad you only have to deal with MPs and local councilmen/women over there?

        • you bet! I’ve changed it to legislators (hides under bed).

          • Don’t hide under the bed! Come out and play! We’re gonna have a grand old time piling on Michael Henson!

          • PS – Nice little bit of Minnesotan you slipped in there. (“You bet.”)

          • Poor Norman!
            Thank you for publicizing this story. This guy has to go.

          • And they are either Representatives or Senators, depending on whether they sit in the House or the Senate, respectively. You can come out now!

          • Nope. Not coming out. Just to say that any UK official who gave so weak and evasive an account of himself before a parliamentary committee would not last a week longer in his post.

          • Norman, I think that, at this point, if the Minnesota state legislature had it within its power to sack Michael Henson, they’d happily do so.

          • Terry Carlson says:

            For a good time, listen to Mr. Henson LIVE tomorrow (FRIDAY) at 11 AM Central Time (5PM London Time) on Minnesota Public Radio public affairs station (not the classical music station):

            “Minnesota Orchestra Principal Cellist and Negotiating Committee member, Tony Ross, and CEO Michael Henson will be guests on MPR’s The Daily Circuit tomorrow, Friday the 15th, at 11AM to discuss the lockout with host Tom Weber. Please tune in and call in with your questions!”

            Listen on iTunes/Radio/News/Minnesota Public Radio News

          • Terry Carlson says:

            Minn Orch discussion now scheduled for 11:20 AM Central Time (5:20 PM London Time) today.


          • Thanks!

          • Norman, this is a brilliant site and I love it – this comment is not exactly germane to the argument, but I must take issue with your statement that in the UK a person giving such a weak and evasive account of himself wouldn’t last a week in his post….what about that cabinet minister (not sure if I’m allowed to mention names..) who gave a w and e account of his actions when defending the takeover of Sky – most of us expected his resignation but he not only kept his job but in the reshuffle landed up with one of the cabinet top jobs….so over here? yes, just the same as everywhere else – Kathron

          • Oh, Kathron, you’re so right. The minister in question has the prime minister’s confidence, not to mention Rupert Murdoch’s – if it’s the unpronounceable Hunt we’re talking about.

  5. Thanks SO much for posting this! One last correction. The link you provided above is for member of the US Congress from the state of Minnesota. This hearing was in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and they are State Representatives.

  6. No, Mr. Lebrecht, each state has U.S. Congressional representatives who serve in the U.S. Congress, which is divided into the House of Representatives (title: Congressman or Representative, either is correct) and the Senate (title: Senator). But each individual state has a state-level legislative body, with elected legislators who are members of that body. Not every state has a bicameral legislature, but in most states with a bicameral legislature, the divisions are a State House of Representatives (title: Representative) and a State Senate (title: Senator). A U.S. Congressional Representative from the state of Minnesota would refer to one of the national representatives elected to the United States House of Representatives: a national legislator would have zero legislative power (nor interest in any hearings) concerning the Minnesota Orchestra. The people involved here are the Minnesota state representatives: that is, representatives elected to the State House of Representatives.

  7. Notwithstanding WHICH politicians Michael Henson testified so WINNINGLY in front of, this is quite a bump in the road for management. Drew McManus made the observation: “In case you missed it, Henson never actually answered the question and rest assured it isn’t due to ignorance. Instead, providing a figure would give the locked out employees an advantage by knowing roughly how long the organization can hold out before the revenue falloff becomes serious enough that the MOA would have to consider liquidating.”

  8. Henson did NOT want to be there, and he was surprised to be called back for questions. But at least he showed up. SPCO sent no one, although the Board President/Chair/CEO and the PR person were in the audience.

    • Sarah, was anyone at the SPCO summoned to testify?

      Are there any significant state funds involved in the situation at SPCO? The reason they’re involved in the Minnesota Orchestra fiasco is because they committed a nice chunk of state money to the orchestra after having been lied to, or at least misled, by MO management.

      As far as I know, the state government doesn’t have any justification for compelling anyone at SPCO to testify at a hearing.

      Nevertheless, I’m happy to hear about SPCO management in the audience at the Henson hearing looking uncomfortable.

      • There wasn’t any “official” summons, I believe (at least not from the email I received). The SPCO has also received significant Legacy $$ for “operating funds” during a period of, um, change.

        I couldn’t see Dobby’s face from where I was sitting so don’t know how he was reacting.

  9. Very nice, but the Legislature needs to get their auditors in to go through the books and the narrative with a fine tooth comb. Specifically, they might be looking at:

    1) the costs related to the $52m facility for cost overruns (and on a project like this and of this scale they can be rife if the contracts have been poorly drafted and poorly administered, or if there has been some conflict of interest and insider dealing in the contract procurement).

    2) the operations of the orchestra management during the strike to keep the business solvent. (I can only imagine that the orchestra has been hemorrhaging since the lockout began in October, 2012);

    3) the orchestra’s 3 or 5-year plan and how what they are doing to generate revenues and control costs apart from orchestra salaries and benefits- e.g., audit the administrative salaries, including Henson’s. One would be advised, for example, to examine how creative and up to date the administration has been in broadening and increasing the orchestra’s various profit centers to ensure the organization’s sustainability.

    It’s good the State is getting involved, but it must get its State Auditor and Controller to examine this operation like any major and minor department in the State, whether it is highways, public works, etc.

    • Good idea. Any Minnesotans here know what legal hurdles there might be – say, the need to get a subpoena or a judge’s order – to the State Auditor of Comptroller getting his/her hands on the MO’s books?

      • Stephen Carpenter says:

        Not a Minnesotan but each state has its own statutes regarding what comes under the oversight of the State Auditor/Comptroller. The common stuff is municipal entities like local governments and perhaps municipal services like schools, police, fire. Beyond that, the answer could be yeas or no.
        If no, then the entity is left to self-regulate, even with public funds being a part of the budget. Additionally, there are accounting standards that are determined and updated periodically and those are to be respected by everyone.
        I hope Minnesota gave broad statutory oversight to its State Comptroller because this is the only way to see the paper trail. Any audit at this point will probably have to be aggressive because of the lack of reliable information forthcoming.
        (And I hope all of the shredders in the offices of the MOA were confiscated long ago so the job of the auditors is easier.)

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