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Spring is cancelled in Minnesota

The Minnesota Orchestra Association has called off all classical concerts until April in furtherance of its dispute with the musicians, who have been locked out since October.

The MOA will, however, continue with non-classical concerts – and with its $52 million building refurbishment, $14m of which is contributed by the taxpayer.

It is too late to ask what the MOA think it is doing. We have a fairly clear idea where its priorities lie. The orchestra seems irrelevant to its future.

The League of American Orchestras should consider expelling this rogue organisation.


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  1. What makes you think that League of AO does not support how MO management treats its musicians? May be they actually support it whole heartily.

    • I highly doubt it, given the fact that the League promotes the so-called “new model,” or “new normal” — which is a mere euphemism for the insidious erosion of orchestral musicians’ rights and livelihoods everywhere — as has now been seen, rather clearly, everywhere around the world: Detroit, Malaysian Phil, Philadelphia, Atlanta, SWR, Louisville, Indy, and now Minnesota — and the need for new exciting avenues and perspectives for the “21st century musician” (again, a sordid euphemism for the loss of any job security and for the blatant admission that pretty much any musician, anywhere, can be replaced by a younger, perhaps better, player that won’t have a problem performing at a much lower cost).

      • sorry nick, I think I misread you… yes, indeed they probably DO, sadly, support the way MO is treating its musicians. It’s all part of the lovely “new normal.”

      • @d1966 said,”any musician, anywhere, can be replaced by a younger, perhaps better, player that won’t have a problem performing at a much lower cost”

        If this is the case, will they next be bringing in players with green cards as they do in the IT industry and making them indentured servants for two or three years?

        Oh wait, the union would forbid that. That is, if the union manages to survive as well.

        • @Pamela: I don’t condone this in any way, but am just sharing my belief that, unfortunately, this is the ideology classical music is now faced with. The arts, which by definition should be protected from this type of purely instrumental thinking (no pun intended), are now being dictated by people whose first priority is strictly confined to economics — business people who rarely have a true artistic vision.

          • I didn’t intend to imply at all that you did condone what is happening. You may be right that it is more a matter of making adjustments to what appears, at least at present, to be inevitable.

        • The “union” has been allowing it for years, as long as you win the audition, doesn’t matter where you’re from. For an interesting perspective on the ever-corrup AFM, watch the documentary on Lew Wasserman, it will open your eyes!

          • But is “the union” going to tie anyone with a green card to a measly salary? I don’t think so. Well, I would hope not anyway…

          • Robert Levine says:

            And why do you think “the union” has any power to stop it? Last time I looked, discrimination based on national origin was illegal. The AFM cannot stop the US government from issuing visas. As regards the “ever-corrupt AFM,” prove it. The AFM is both one of the cleanest and one of the most democratic unions in the US.

        • As was pointed out to the management of other orchestras, they can hire younger and cheaper players, but they will become a farm team. Revolving door.

    • Robert Levine says:

      “What makes you think that League of AO does not support how MO management treats its musicians? May be they actually support it whole heartily.”

      The League does not take positions on labor disputes between managements and musicians, nor would managers pay attention to such positions unless those positions were ones the managers held anyway. The American orchestra field is not run from the top down, either by the League or by the American Federation of Musicians. Anyone who wishes it was should be very careful of what they wish for; the result would not be pretty.

      If the League really supported the erosion of musicians’ compensation and working conditions, why would the managers of two of the best-paid orchestras in the world have been chosen to run the League’s management training program?

      In the interests of full dislosure, I should mention that I’m on the League board.

      • Then we know that either you are full of crap, or clueless as to what really goes on. Do you think that when manager-types gather together, they do not engage in groupthink? It might be more realistic to blame the influence of corporate funders and corporate-influenced foundations, but then the League is to blame for not resisting their erosion of artistic principles.

        • Robert Levine says:

          No doubt managers do think somewhat differently than musicians about orchestras, although the extent of their agreement about how to handle the problems that orchestras have is greatly overstated by musicians. But, if you have any real evidence of the League supporting what’s going on in the Twin Cities, I’m all ears.

      • And guess who is the current Board Chair, and what orchestra he is a past chair of? Puh-leeze.

        • Robert Levine says:

          A lovely conspiracy theory; much easier than actually thinking, of course. The contracts that the board of the SPCO signed with the musicians when Lowell Noteboom was chair of the SPCO board were quite different than what’s being proposed now. And, as a member of the League board, I have seen exactly zero evidence that Lowell has an agenda regarding labor relations. What’s your evidence, and what’s its source?

          • It’s not “labor relations” – that just happens to be part of the “new model”.

          • It’s not just salaries here, either. The Board wants 1) two-tier salary 2) significant salary decrease (their first offer was $25K a YEAR) 3) decrease from 34 to 28 – or 27 – or 26 . . . permanent orchestra members 4) absolutely no musician artistic input. And more.

            Add to that a management structure which raises several huge red flags and there you have it. I can’t give you my sources; they are confidential right now. Of COURSE Lowell wouldn’t be revealing this stuff at your Board mtgs.

            So don’t give me the “conspiracy theory” crap – I AM actually thinking, and investigating, instead of drinking the corporate kool-aid and being totally snookered.

          • Robert Levine says:

            “It’s not just salaries here, either. The Board wants 1) two-tier salary 2) significant salary decrease (their first offer was $25K a YEAR) 3) decrease from 34 to 28 – or 27 – or 26 . . . permanent orchestra members 4) absolutely no musician artistic input. And more.

            Add to that a management structure which raises several huge red flags and there you have it. I can’t give you my sources; they are confidential right now. Of COURSE Lowell wouldn’t be revealing this stuff at your Board mtgs.

            So don’t give me the “conspiracy theory” crap – I AM actually thinking, and investigating, instead of drinking the corporate kool-aid and being totally snookered.”

            I’m well aware of what the initial offer was. It sucked, as have the subsequent offers. The reason Noteboom wouldn’t be revealing this stuff at League board meetings is that it’s irrelevant to his job as League board chair – which was my point all along.

            I worked 8 years in the SPCO; I’ve got pretty good sources as well. Nothing I’ve heard from them changes my conclusions about the League’s involvement in the SPCO situation, which is that there is no involvement at all.

        • Another board member, RC, has long-time connections to the MO.

          • Robert Levine says:

            And do you really think the man who built the Minnesota Orchestra into the powerhouse that Henson is now trashing and that could attracted such musicians Vanska and de Waart would approve of what’s going on there now? Cisek is very close to Skrowaczewski, by the way – and we know who conducted the first strike concert MO musicians put on.

          • Prior to the current events, I might have seconded your statements without even considering them. Now I am just asking questions. I sincerely hope that you are right.

            But let’s not beg the question of if the MO was built into a powerhouse that is now being destroyed, wasn’t the model used to do this flawed to begin with? If so, what can be done about that?

  2. State representatives are not pleased with the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA). It was announced today that a hearing will be held on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the organization’s use of state funds. Musicians, Mr. Henson, and citizens advocacy group Orchestrate Excellence have all been invited to speak. Needless to say, the audience will not be a friendly one. The fury and desperation on the ground is universal. Mr. Henson, empowered by MOA board chair and Wells Fargo Vice President Jon Campbell…who doesn’t even attend concerts!!!…is coolly stealing our beloved orchestra from us, which we as a community have funded and supported and sacrificed for 110 years. If you know anyone in Minnesota, please encourage them to come; we must demand accountability. Details here…

    Emily E Hogstad

  3. Terry Carlson says:

    The Minnesota State Legislature is still interested in what the heck the MOA thinks it’s doing, especially with taxpayer money. Michael Henson (CEO of MN Orch) has been asked to appear, along with others, before another legislative committee (this one chaired by Rep. Phyllis Kahn) on Tuesday, Feb. 12th, at 2:15 PM Central Time at the State Capitol in St. Paul, MN.

    Let’s see if Rep. Kahn can get some answers out of him.

  4. As Nick notes, the League of American Orchestras is pretty much a rubber stamp for its member orchestras unfortunately. They maintain neutrality in management-labor issues but I’ve never seen them come down publicly against one of their constituents. Will be interesting to see who blinks first as this continues to drag on.

  5. itrinkkeinwein says:

    Jim Oestreich’s report in the NYT paints a different picture, without taking sides:

    “No one questions the need for money. The orchestra reported deficits of $2.9 million in 2011 and $6 million in 2012. Previous budgets were balanced with large draws from the endowment.The last players’ contract, negotiated by the board in 2007, when there was no executive director, was based on optimistic assumptions that were immediately undercut by the recession. The current endowment, $141 million, falls some $90 million short of the 2007 prediction.That five-year contract was to have given the players a 25 percent raise over its term, though with voluntary givebacks from them, the raises amounted to 19 percent. The current base pay is $113,000 annually, with most players making considerably more, for an average salary of $135,000. The proposed base pay is $78,000, with an average of $89,000.The cuts that Mr. Henson is advocating would reduce the ensemble’s annual budget to $26 million from $32 million. He refuses to consider making further inroads on the endowment, portions of which are restricted from large draws, saying that they would endanger the future of the orchestra.”

  6. Current base pay in Minnesota is $113000, that’s about £71K… for a rank and file player? I’m certainly not begrudging any highly trained musician their salary, but do find myself thinking about equally highly qualified and talented orchestral musician friends over here in the UK who are principals in major orchestras (outside of London) yet earning not even half this amount. Even the new proposed base salary would still be an impressive £49K…

    I’d be interested to know how the cost of living in Minnesota compares to that of Birmingham or Manchester in the UK?

    • This isn’t about money. This is about 200+ changes in forty-plus years of accrued working conditions, a complete nixing of seniority pay, a disgusting disregard for musicians and their talents, a total disinterest in sustaining the quality of orchestra we’ve grown accustomed to, and a corrupt senior management that lies to the state government (and their patrons!) about their financial position to secure taxpayer money for a brand new lobby…among other things. At the beginning of the conflict, the musicians offered to go through binding arbitration. If warranted, huge cuts in pay would have been made, and they would have swallowed them. But the MOA refused to go through arbitration; they said that they wanted to retain control of the process. Wells Fargo VP and MOA board chair Jon Campbell is determined to make this high-profile labor dispute another example of union-busting. Heck, it’s a well-known fact in the Twin Cities music scene that he doesn’t even go to concerts. And yet he’s the one tasked with bringing it back from the abyss. Forgive me if I have no confidence in the man!

      You can read more at my blog. I WISH this was just about the money. It’s not. If it was, this would have been settled months ago.

      Emily E Hogstad, patron

    • Just because the incompetence of the British Musicians’ Union caused musician pay in England to nose dive and remain at ridiculously low levels does not mean it has to happen in Minnesota. It’s an equal playing field, if British musicians are unhappy with their admittedly terrible working conditions, they can always audition and win a job in a better paying orchestra. There are plenty of highly qualified British musicians who have done that already.

      As for your question about cost of living – US cities usually only have one big orchestra, not several high quality orchestras in the capital city, then a few provincial orchestras. An orchestra of Minnesota’s level would not be a provincial orchestra in the UK.

    • It is a completely different picture. We do not have a socialist society with state-funded health care and many other benefits. The cost of living is high in the Twin Cities and musicians are expected to live as though they are upper-middle class.

      • ZBaron says,”musicians are expected to live as though they are upper-middle class.”

        With all due respect, who would demand that their employees live beyond their means?
        Wait…I’m starting to hear a name, and the initials are “M.H”. :-)

    • Straight from yesterday’s hearing – base pay is $119K, of which $30K is benefits – health insurance etc. – so you can’t compare with European salaries.

      • Robert Levine says:

        Incorrect. Base salary was $111, 566 for the 2011-12 season, which did not include health insurance premiums or pension paid by management. Musicians pay anywhere from 0% to somewhat under 20% of the health insurance premiums, depending on which plan is chosen (at least this was the case in 2008). It’s possible that musicians paid a little higher percentage in 2011-12, but the bulk of the cost is borne by management.

  7. Wow! $78k is still pretty damn good, I too wonder how much it costs to live in Wisconsin!

  8. This has become a veritable “Perils of Pauline” where one is now wondering will train run over the orchesta, tied to the tracks as it is, or not. Maybe MSO administration will feed fuel to the engine and declare the building a federal enclave for a Native American mall and gambling casino. That way it would be exempt from the State’s power (Minnesota, that is), and bring in oodles of money to “pay for the rug” and pay Minnesota back its $14 million, the Department of the Interior could let out a permit for fracking from the basement (another profit center), and the Administration could hold pops concerts in the Costco lobby featuring such venerable artists as Kenny G, John Tesh, the U.S. Marine Band (the one based in Afghanistan), the Ulster Constabulary Bagpipe corps led by the right Reverend Ian Paisley, and, during intermissions, the Minnesota Vikings high kicking cheerleader team, of course. The building would become a Symphony administrator’s dream- an all-purpose multi-tasking facility rolling in dough.

    (Jesse Ventura, where are you when the orchestra most needs you?)

    • Then, @Ed, perhaps MO management would demand that players find for themselves some sort of endorsement as LL has done with Allianz and tour, not only with MO logo on their bus but that of their sponsor. :-0

      • Unfortunately, you are right, as serious art and serious music have become ever more commercialized; but inspired by Monty Python (and oblivious to spelling and grammatical errors), I was pointing to something more draconian- namely the economic irrelevance of the MSO (at least to its management, which holds the money strings, even if a significant portion of it is from the taxpayers), and this is something that would reduce the musicians’ leverage and bargaining power. (I.e., “we don’t really need you- so, if you don’t like it, you can lump it, and play yer damned instruments in the local movie theater”.)

        As for the salaries, it is a shame, and not fair, that there is such a divergence between the those paid by American and British orchestras. Being on Social Security, I’m of a mixed sense about it all. The cost of music studies (R&D and construction costs?) and of instruments (a musician’s capital equipment?) is very expensive- in fact the cost of college is expensive- (in my day parents might have paid $3,000 a year for an offspring for something they now have to borrow $55k a year- so in my book it’s a racket- and the game is not tennis, it’s extortion). With all of our economic uncertainties and the global power games that are being paid to continue to redistribute wealth to those who least need it, one wonders where it will end.
        But music is a food of life, so it is important that musicians and their work survive, and if they have to organize and fight for it, so be it.

    • Ed! Please!! Don’t give them any ideas!!!

  9. Ed, unfortunately I think you have it exactly right. Tongue in cheek or not, that is exactly the sort of thinking going on all over the arts management world. It’s a mystery how the priorities in our culture have shifted so far so rapidly.

  10. Walter Brewster says:

    We need to remember that these salaries also reflect health care costs which might seriously affect musicians with RSI etc. if UK musicians use the NHS (!) then they don’t have to find this from their salaries

  11. We live in a world obsessed by greed and the dominance of individual interest over collective benefit. Sadly, rather than showing the world a better message, the music world has become infected as badly as everything else. Its a mystery to me that orchestra managers can be paid vastly more than the players they manage and that they can suggest that others should see their living standards drop whilst remaining largely unaffected themselves. Perhaps the MO management have put themselves in line for similarly massive pay cuts but, if so, they certainly failed on the PR front because I am not aware of it in this case or anywhere else we have seen such issues. If not, I see it as a sign of appalling leadership, a total misunderstanding of the responsibility implicit in the position. A friend of mine used to work for a company in which the directors made real hay in the good times – but he said no one was jealous because everyone was there long enough to know that the same directors took the brunt of the pain in the bad times, leaving those below to live in a relatively stable situation. Now, in every sphere of human life, those with any kind of power want to surf on a veritable tsunami of wealth without ever hitting the beach. Its time for change and we should be leading it.

    I don’t know anything about the Minnesota musicians. Possibly they are greedy and grasping and, like so many in so many spheres of life, not bothered about the likelihood of destroying the organisation in the long term because they are too busy ransacking its resources in the short. If so, though, it would be inconsistent with my general dealings with players, which indicate that whilst they are never generally opposed to being paid well, the advanced team dynamics at work and intrinsic love for this profession tend to mean that (a) they have deeper motivations and (b) are really irritated by anything tainted by favouritism, unfairness or injustice. Unless I got it all wrong then its time for this management to go and a new one to make a cogent and convincing argument to the musicians – starting with an offer to cap every organisational salary at the level of the highest paid player.

    • It seems the MO players were just asking for what the market would bear. They earned the right to do that with the improvement in the quality of the orchestra during Maestro Vanska’s tenure. This was all done with the support of the union. They can’t be put at fault in any way. Why wouldn’t they want the best for themselves and their families?

    • Good luck – the Board is loaded with bankers and lawyers. And they are into the Walmart school of arts management. Because what’s good for banks (!) is certainly good for nonprofits, no?

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