Before Minnesota Orchestra musicians gave a concert last night with emeritus music director Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, viola player Sam Bergman (below) gave an update on the lockout which has silenced the orchestra for the past half-year.
Challenging the organisation’s version of history, he told the audience that the ensemble is draining away, player by player, and the music director’s authority was being whittled away. Sam has provided Slipped Disc with the text of his searing speech:
It has now been almost seven months since the corporate managers of the Minnesota Orchestral Association decided that the best way to move this orchestra forward into a successful future was to lock out its musicians, set a non-negotiable annual budget that would be dwarfed by all of our peers, and demand an array of cuts the likes of which have never before been seen at any major American orchestra. Under their plan, the base salary of a Minnesota Orchestra musician would plummet, overnight, to a figure that, adjusted for inflation, equates to what our predecessors were making in 1983. Under their plan, untold numbers of public orchestral concerts would be scrapped and replaced with musicians being farmed out to play private corporate rental events at Orchestra Hall. Under their plan, the final authority on the hiring of new musicians for our orchestra would be stripped away from our Music Director, and given instead to the corporate management team.
In the face of these demands, we requested, way back last September, the right to speak to the full board of directors about our concerns. That request – to speak to the very people who hold our lives and careers in their hands – was met with eight months of flat refusals. Finally, two weeks ago, we were offered a 15-minute slot to address the next full board meeting. Better late than never: we’re looking forward to meeting with them tomorrow.
There has been a lot of misinformation flying around over the last few months, and one of the most disturbing things to us has been our management’s continuing allegation that our attempts to reach out to our board and conduct meaningful inquiries into our management’s plans for the future amount to nothing more than delaying tactics.
Let’s be very clear about one thing. This lockout is destroying the Minnesota Orchestra, musician by musician by musician. As I look around this stage, I look into the faces of no fewer than three incredible colleagues who are playing with us for the very last time tonight, and they are only the latest to leave as a direct result of the lockout and the short-sighted business plan that spawned it. The full complement of the Minnesota Orchestra is 98 musicians. After tonight, we will be down to 73. Delay? Why would we want to delay anything that could put an end to this nightmare?
The loss of our best musicians is also not the only consequence we will face if this artistically unsustainable lockout continues much longer. Our ongoing recording projects, which garnered us a Grammy nomination this year, are very much in jeopardy. It is very likely that we will shortly find ourselves officially disinvited from performing the symphonies of Sibelius at Carnegie Hall this coming fall. In a few months, Orchestra Hall will be ready to reopen, but what will it stand for? Will it continue to be the proud home of one of the finest symphony orchestras in the world, and of the hardest-working, most dedicated group of musicians that I haveever been fortunate enough to be a part of? Or will it be just another venue to be rented out to the highest bidder night after night, perhaps with some nice string quartets in the background?
We have been told, time after time, by our management, that great symphonic music, performed by world-class musicians, has now become fiscally unsustainable. And we say to you tonight that it is this lockout that is unsustainable. Great American orchestras are thriving in cities from Cleveland to Chicago to Washington, D.C., and a lot of those cities would kill for the economic advantages we enjoy here at home. Minnesota is at or near the top of every list of positive economic indicators, and we boast a philanthropic and business community that would be the envy of most cities twice our size. What is unsustainable here is the notion that Minnesota no longer deserves the fruits of its decades-long labor. What is unsustainable is the idea that building for the future is accomplished by demolishing the present.
We are your orchestra: you brought us here, you gave us a home, and you showed the world what we could do together. We are looking to the future, and tonight, we need your help more than ever. If you’ve written a letter, or made a phone call, or dashed off an e-mail supporting us over the past seven months, we thank you. But we need another letter, another e-mail, and very soon, if you join our e-mail list and monitor our web site at minnesotaorchestramusicians.org, we’ll be rolling out some new ways you can add your voice to the struggle. Together, we will make our collective voice heard; together, we will reset the priorities of this sadly drifting organization; together, we will ensure that our audience will never again be marginalized and ignored; together, we will do away with the cynicism and ideology that has led us to this precipice; and together, we will move this orchestra forward into a truly artistically sustainable future.
You know, no one has been more outspoken in opposition to this lockout and the destructive plan that accompanies it than the man who got Orchestra Hall built in the first place. It was Stan Skrowaczewski who, way back in the 1960s, when this orchestra was only 60 or so years old, worked with visionary Minnesota leaders to chart a course of growth and expansion for the orchestra he loved. And it is Stan who has been reminding us all of what is at stake all along the way. When we began rehearsals for this concert earlier this week, Stan jumped up on the podium with an energy that, frankly, I didn’t have when I was 20. And the first thing he said to us, just before we began to play, was this: “It is so good to be with you. And I mean that not only musically, but morally.”
It is so good to be with all of you tonight, both musically and morally. Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome back to the podium, Maestro Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.