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Minnesota Orchestra is dwindling away, musician by musician

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. 

sam bergman

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.

 

skrowacewski

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Comments

  1. I never thought I would see such a breakdown of our artistic and legal institutions as I have seen in the past ten years, though it’s been in process for several decades. We’ve been in the pot in a slow boil for so long without even knowing it that we now are beginning to see the skin fall easily from the bone.

    All of this cries out for rigorous accountability, and in the case of this orchestra, of every Board member and every member of management- and some measure of regulatory control- and, one should not forget that there is still the right of eminent domain. Why doesn’t the State of Minnesota seriously consider taking over ownership of its orchestra, even if only as a measure of last resort?

  2. ” What is unsustainable is the idea that building for the future is accomplished by demolishing the present.”

    Sam, this remark is exactly what in my opinion they are doing and to a large degree have done over in Saint Paul with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Your whole speech which I just read is eloquent and to the point but the sentence I quoted above for me represents the essence of what is happening in the twin cities and around the nation.

    Thank you!

  3. Last night’s concert of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra was a reminder of what a great treasure they are. Like the New Yorker said in a recent review, one of the best orchestras playing in the world today. Not only is the current lockout a terrible hardship to the musicians and the integrity of the orchestra, but a crime against the larger community deprived from hearing the great music they give us. May we continue to have their back. All my best to these fine musicians!

  4. Thank you for posting this – I was there last night and wanted Sam’s remarks in print. This is beyond awful. It’s a throwback to Haydn – no, it’s a throwback to corporate feudalism. And then there is a deliberately-timed “commentary” from (who else) two Board members at http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2013/04/only-path-settlement-orchestra-musicians-board-members-must-negotiate.

  5. Eric Edwards says:

    Don’t these governing boards realize who they are working for?

    Do they really think the musicians are there for THEM??!?!?! It’s the other way around Morons!!
    The Corporate managers are there to support the MUSICIANS!!!!!

    Unfortunately, typican American business mentality!!

    Very sad state of affairs!

    I wish the Musicians all the Best!

    • Anna Rathbun says:

      Of course, the management is there to support the talent – the orchestra would not exist if it weren’t for the world-class musicians. But I have to make a point about the “typical” American business mentality. If a saavy corporation were running this orchestra, they would not treat the musicians this way. The American business executives and owners are constantly taking inventory of what adds value and what does not. A real business person would recognize where the talent is, and support it. The survival of the organization depends on it! If the board and the management are actually running this institution like corporations, this would never happen. I believe that this situation is just an example of stubbornness, a show of ego at the expense of the health of the organization. Their approach is archaic and really embarrassing. I really hope that they get real business talent in there to reorganize the management.

    • The board works for the musicians? No. The board works for the future of the organization. Financial sustainability is just as important as artistic sustainability.

      • Amy Adams says:

        I take issue with that, Steve. Financial sustainability supports the greater mission, which is Art.
        And “artistic sustainability”…well, that makes no sense at all. (But you have managed to create a phrase which the members of the board will adore.)

  6. Sandi Sherman says:

    I work supporting cancer research at the U of M. I have watched in growing alarm as government funding for research decreases year after year, and as promising young people choose other careers because their mentors are struggling to get funding. Now I see the same thing happening in the arts. How is the young violin student at MacPhail supposed to be motivated to achieve excellence in a craft that is not going to be supported by society? Many schools no longer even offer courses in the arts! Friends are asking me why the musicians don’t just break away and form a new orchestra and seek the financial support from their audience to do so. Would that it would be so easy to do that. The profit system is what is intervening in this struggle, just as it is for working people around the globe. This is what is no longer sustainable if we want to continue to advance our society culturally.

    • I was thinking last night if it could be possible for the musicians to break away and form a new orchestra, seeking the financial support of their audiences and past funding sources. It’s easier said than done, of course. Once upon a time we had the Minneapolis Symphony before they changed their name. Maybe it’s time to create it anew.

      • Bill Slobotski says:

        Michael, I have been thinking and posting the exact thoughts you just stated. I have written to Phyllis Kahn asking her if it is possible to withdraw $14 support for the lobby and using that money as seed for the orchestra under a new name. I sense the answer will be “No” but it is worth a shot.

        • Bill, I’m glad you have written to Phyllis Kahn about this. I think funders and legislators should hear from us about how the Board has lost faith with the community at large. I wonder if there is any legal way to dissolve the Board. Maybe it will take loss of funding to finally see some positive change.

          • I wrote to Phillyis Kahn recently about another issue involving Orchestra Hall as a public venue, and as yet have not received a response, so she may have a lot on her plate right now…

      • I thought the same, but they would be without a performance space for at least a time, while the management can simply rent the existing space to whomever and whatever to make money. I suppose the key would be the donors, but they most certainly have not been pro-active up until now, watching from the outside. I am amazed at their silence – even the state legislature, which funds the orchestra.

  7. It’s time for them to start their own orchestra. How can they possibly go back to work for this management, and feel like a conquered people in their own land? With leaders as eloquent and visionary as Sam, the funding community should feel confident to jump ship from the Association and get behind the players.

    • Were they to do that, they would have to choose a business model to follow, and involve themselves in the restructuring of the organization to prevent an all-out war, such as what has happened at the MO. Ironically, they might be better off using a model similar to the Berlin Phil prior to its becoming the Reichorchester, when it was run by the mambers. This was not very profitable, however; but it may well be that the sympathy given to the manner in which the players of the MO have been treated could result in tearing away some of the primary donors of the MO to a new organization, thus giving them enough stability to develop a significant endowment. At any rate, they would be wise to think outside of the box and try something new, imo….

      • R. James Tobin says:

        It seem clear that the board could never get any kind of “vote of confidence” from the players these days.

        • True. My suggestions were made in the context of the locked out MO players starting over by creating a new orchestra for themselves.

          Come to think of it, were they to do that, they might do well to leave “Minnesota” out of the name of the new organization…maybe that would bring better luck…

  8. Symphony orchestras have always been unsustainable in the “corporate” sense. Like Opera, ballet, art and other museums, they were born needing the subsidies of the nobility, the wealthy, and the state. The only things that have changed in recent times are the lack of “Noblesse Oblige” that kept great music and art going and growing, and this insedious and greedy corporatist attitude of “If it doesn’t make a profit, we shut it down and sell off the assets.” Union-busting and devaluing the worth of every worker below the board of directors is slowly rendering us into a 21st century of surfdom where an ever increasingly small portion of the population takes ever more power, comtrol, and profit while feeding the masses just enough “bread and circuses” to keep them placated. The “greatest generation” gave us so much, then the “me generation” and “generation X” have squandered so much of it away. Society is a giant puzzle with many pieces that can fit together to make a wonderful and varied society. The corporate managers of today have forgotten that because they had too much handed to them without any moral, ethical, or societal caveats attached. “Greed is good” is an oxymoron, and a destructive one at that.

  9. Amy Adams says:

    Beautifully and righteously put, Sam.

  10. Sandi Sherman says:

    I agree Sam. But I also think that we will fight this fight over and over again until we rid the world of the dictatorship of capital and we create a new society run by working people and based on human need.

    • John Connelly says:

      That really worked out well last time, didn’t it?

      • Jeff Blanks says:

        You can always try again!

        • Forgive me for paraphrasing a very wise man who said something to the effect that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. One might add – and/or of stupidity as well.

          • Jeff Blanks says:

            Who said anything about “doing the same thing”? Learn from others’ mistakes and, well, do things differently next time. If the goal is worthy, it’s worth trying for. Who says you have to be the Soviet Union about it?

          • Well, Mark, that quote is usually attributed to Einstein, and he was not only a wise man but also a good communist. Just sayin.

        • Well, that’s a relief – a “different” kind of communism, the kind even Einstein would have approved. Is that the one “with human face”, by any chance? Good luck!

          • Jeff Blanks says:

            Who said anything about “Soviet-style communism”? The phrase was “a new society run by working people and based on human need”. You can infer what you want, but how about reading what Sandi Sherman actually wrote instead? If she didn’t say “Soviet-style communism”, it’s reasonable to assume that’s not what she meant. If your view is that she MUST mean “Soviet-style communism” when she speaks of “a new society run by working people and based on human need”, then how can she say what she really means in a way that you’re willing to hear? Otherwise, you’re concluding that there are ideas that can somehow be conceived but which it’s somehow impossible to hold, which is just nonsense.

          • The comment made by “Sandi Sherman” on April 26 describes – practically verbatim – the communist ideas on which some of the most criminal murderous regimes ever created by human beings were based. The goals were certainly lofty but the results turned out to be not quite so attractive. And so far, i don’t see anyone here showing how you are going to make your “new (and improved?) society” – based on precisely the same ideas – any different from those that existed during that profoundly tragic last century. Since we are not very good at predicting the future, we should at the very least study our past, including that which is relatively recent, and try to learn from it.

          • Sandi Sherman says:

            I was going to just leave the conversation where I left it. I do thank Jeff for his remarks, but I must say to Mark that I completely agree it is important to learn from history. But in order to do that, one really must study the roots of Stalinism and study the real history of working class movements. That is not an easy task given the biases that we all have and the lens through which most history is written. What happened in the Soviet Union was not an inevitable result of marxism in practice but rather the usurping of workers power by a privileged bureaucracy. The working class was exhausted from years of civil war and encirclement by U.S. and European powers dedicated to turning back the revolution, and this bureaucracy, which was opposed by leaders of the Russian Revolution, was able to triumph because of that. While there is no “garden of eden” example of socialism in practice, I believe that the Cuban revolution most closely resembles the type of popular power that I think is needed. Yes it’s a poor country and it is certainly isolated on a world scale, which causes pressures to bear down and many contradictions in their society. The U.S. economic blockade plays no small part in that but so does the crisis in the world capitalist economy, which the Cubans must deal in. Regardless, decisions are made first and foremost to benefit society, which is why their health care system is second to none in this hemisphere. I strongly believe that if working people place their stamp on the struggle and maintain their leadership and vigilance, we can build the kind of society I think is needed on a world scale. This isn’t working anymore Mark. It is destroying the lives of millions of working people, it is destroying our educational system, our research, the environment, the arts and more. Be cynical if you want to. I remain convinced that we can fight for something better. At one time I thought I would see it in my lifetime. I don’t know that I will, but there are big battles coming, and we will either move forward out of this and into a new economic system which is not ruled by profits for the few, or we will experience a kind of barbarism few of us can imagine. This may seem far afield from the lockout of a group of musicians, but it really is not. It is important at times like these to look at the broader picture of what is taking place in the world in order to understand how this could possibly be happening to a “world class orchestra.”

          • I take Sandi Sherman’s comments seriously.

            ….”we will either move forward out of this and into a new economic system which is not ruled by profits for the few, or we will experience a kind of barbarism few of us can imagine. This may seem far afield from the lockout of a group of musicians, but it really is not. It is important at times like these to look at the broader picture of what is taking place in the world in order to understand how this could possibly be happening to a “world class orchestra.”

            It is difficult for me to grasp the largeness of what is happening, though I witness it each day. If world class orchestras are controlled in large part by greed, it becomes easier to understand what Sandi is talking about.

          • If “what happened in the Soviet Union was not inevitable”, then why “there is no “garden of eden” example of socialism in practice”? Precisely because it was indeed inevitable. As for the rosy description of Cuban paradise, it does sound touching, but unfortunately it has very little in common with the miserable reality which i observed with my own eyes when i spent a couple of weeks there – pretty much a disaster in many ways. Not surprisingly, in spite of all the difficulties and considerable risks involved, real Cubans keep defecting from the island to various countries (almost invariably to those that are ruled by the evil capital) for many decades, even as recently as just last month. In any case, the point is – Cuba is really a very bad example. And besides, one should not start talking about creating something new by rehashing the same old stale slogans that have been decisively condemned and proven bankrupt by history.

    • Patricia the Terse says:

      Ah., yes. A “New Heaven and a New Earth.” Brilliant.

  11. The changes we are seeing in US orchestral culture are a manifestation of neo-liberal economic policies that were initiated in the late 70s and that have now become a norm in the United States. Neoliberalism is a political philosophy whose advocates support free trade and open markets, privatization, deregulation, and decreasing the size of the public sector while increasing the role of the private sector in modern society. It is termed “liberalism” in the sense that government regulation is reduced or eliminated. The best known manifestation of neoliberalism is the American rust belt. American manufacturing was decimated by neo-liberal free trade policies and labor unions thus massively weakened.

    The goal of neo-liberalism in the arts is to remove them from systems of public funding, and to a considerable degree even private donations, and instead situate them in the marketplace. The political philosophy is thus also an aesthetic philosophy. Programming is to be oriented toward ticket sales, and concert halls are to be reoriented toward maximum rental profits. Unprofitable resident institutions like symphony orchestras are to be replaced with for-profit traveling programs which rent the city’s concert halls. As with other industries in the US, this entails greatly weakening organized labor – in this case the musicians union.

    An interesting example of an orchestra that suffered from these policies is the Florida Philharmonic. It served the Miami area which has a population of 5.5 million, but was closed in 2003 and replaced with a formalized series of regular guest performances by the Cleveland Symphony (which in effect became a scab orchestra.) We thus see that our major orchestras have played a role in strengthening social forces that are now leading to their own demise.

    It is unlikely that orchestras will be able to reverse these trends since they are part of much larger neoliberal social, political and economic policies in the United States. One interesting aspect of these developments is the unspoken culture war taking place between American attempts to situate the arts in the marketplace and Europe’s on-going policy of publically funding them. It is not possible to efficiently maintain a global economic system if major blocks have fundamentally different systems such as the contrast between America’s unmitigated capitalism and Europe’s social democracies. It will be interesting to see which side wins. By almost any measure, Europe’s public funding systems provide much more generous support for the arts.

    It is unfortunate that the American and European arts communities still do not understand the larger picture of what is happening.

    • ‘Neo-liberalism’ is not the word you are groping for. I can’t decide between ‘selfishness’ and ‘greed’, so I’ll pick ‘suicidal’.

    • William Osborne confuses liberalism and conservatism. Genuine (i.e., classical) liberals, advocates of a small state, have no doctrinal opposition to subsidies to the arts as long as they are freely given. The objection is to regressive taxation that forcibly takes money from one group to subsidise the interests of another. But if you want to put your own money where your mouth is, go ahead; there’s no objection to that in free-market economics.

      BTW, falling back on Wikipedia to defend an intellectual position is hardly the mark of a coherent argument. Any one of us could intervene to redefine neoliberalism as a three-legged zebra.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Considering that Europe’s Second Habsburg Empire has led to demographic collapse, technological backwardness, entrepreneurial torpor and economic catastrophe, I’d say the US has the lead at the three-quarter pole, the current administration notwithstanding.

    • Nota Bene: It’s the Cleveland ORCHESTRA, not the Cleveland Symphony.

  12. Wing-chi Chan says:

    Musicians have the right to find out and release to the public that how much Hensen, its CEO, has been raised for his wage by the Board over the past 3 years, along the cut of wage for musicians under the forced-to-signed contract initiated by the same Board!!

  13. Performing Artist52 says:

    I can’t understand how the board can raise money for the Hall but not for operating expenses such as the musicans salaries. Isn’t that the boards’ responsibility, to raise money?

    The renovation of the Hall will not result in being a new improved venue for a world class orchestra but a venue for various entertainment acts. For these world class musicians now being required to provide background music for weddings and conferences is demeaning anfddemoralizing. The image that comes to mind regarding Mr. Henson’s relationship with the musicans is an organ grinder and the monkey with the littel red cup. How sad………

    Thank you Sam for being the passionate musician and person you are!

  14. harold braun says:

    Actually Mr.Henson should not only be sacked but also sued.Nr.Henson is a disgrace for this instution,and his profession.

  15. Terry Carlson says:

    Maestro Stanislaw Skrowaczewski continues to amaze all of us at age 89! We are so fortunate to have him with us in Minnesota. This lovely e-book was published by the Minnesota State Arts Board in 2004 when he was the Distinguished Artist of the Year:

    http://www.mcknight.org/system/asset/document/87/adobe-acrobat-format-1-3-mb.pdf

  16. Mark T. Lundholm says:

    I married and left the Twin Cities in August 1982. When I left the area both MSO and SPCO were thriving and respected organizations that, as far as I could tell, were world class. I find it hard to believe what has happened and in Minnesota of all places! The whole state should be up in arms about this, it is a blot on the culture and status of Minnesota. It is my recommendation that the management and boards of both organizations should be fired at least and fined if possible for malfeasance and gross dishonesty. Perhaps they should even be prosecuted for fraud against the public trust. A pox on their houses!

  17. Alexander Hall says:

    It is very sad when the professional lives of musicians are threatened in this way. However, what is not widely known is how well-paid most American orchestral musicians are. Certainly, in comparison with the independent London orchestras, who are home to equally fine musicians, they are rolling in luxury. For them to have a reality check and take a significant reduction in their earnings, just as so many airline pilots and cabin staff in the USA had to do when their airlines were facing the risk of bankruptcy, is in these difficult economic times only sensible. For years in the past, when we had a range of recording organisations like Decca, Philips, EMI and DG, and global markets were not yet saturated, the attitude of trade unions in the States – insisting for instance that all 120 salaried musicians be paid, for instance, even when a Mozart symphony was to be recorded – effectively put paid to American orchestras appearing on disc. Cutting off your nose to spite your face is not the best way to protect your interests and Minnesota musicians should be prepared to compromise.

    • There are two categories of orchestras in the USA, the ICSOM orchestras which have an average salary of about 65k per year and the ROPA orchestras which average 13k per year. The majority of the orchestras are ROPA orchestras. I’m not sure how that would average out, but I would guess the average salary for an orchestra musician in the States is somewhere around 20 to 25k per year, if even that.

      In our system of funding the arts by the wealthy, funding is concentrated in the large financial centers where the wealthy live and work. This helps explain why we have a few top orchestras that are highly paid while most of the rest of the country’s orchestras remain impoverished.

      • Where are those average numbers coming from? Also keep in mind that most orchestra musicians are making more than whatever their “home” ensemble pays them, because they are probably gigging, teaching, and playing for multiple other ensembles, festivals, and so on. And while they must spend time practicing, they generally have plenty of free time to make those other commitments.

        • I got the salary numbers from Adaptstration. The author publishes the figures each year. It’s true that regional orchestras in densely populated regions use a lot of pick up musicians, which of course severely limits quality. It should be noted that in the Mid West, Southern, and Rocky Mountain states there is often only one regional orchestra in traveling distance.

          There is no good reason why cities like Albuquerque with a metro population of 900,000, or Tulsa with 950,000, or Baton Rouge with 800,000 shouldn’t have 52 week orchestras with salaries that ensure high quality. And this is to say nothing of Miami that has a metro population of 5.5 million but no professional orchestra of its own. There is no reason why the USA should only have 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. The situation is beyond absurd.

          • Greg Hlatky says:

            There’s nothing stopping the cities or residents of Albuquerque, Tulsa, Miami or Baton Rouge from funding 52-week orchestras with salaries that ensure high quality.

          • R. James Tobin says:

            Miami, sure. But Tulsa, Albuquerque and especially Baton Rouge, after the new Orleans Symphony failed? Get real.

          • Among the factors stopping them are a lack of arts education, a lack of exposure to the arts due to inaccessibility, a lack of information about public funding systems, and a dysfunctional political landscape.

    • I hear this comparison often and I think it’s a bit apples-to-oranges. If you compare European orchestras that are of comparable stature to the Minnesota Orchestra, I would suspect that while most probably earn less than their Minnesota colleagues, they are public institutions, their players public employees, who enjoy a higher level of job security, decent pensions, earlier retirement (as discussed in another thread recently), and other benefits that might offset the higher nominal salaries in most U.S. orchestras. London is a bit of an anomaly in the European music scene, and so is Moscow, also home to many terrific orchestras.

    • This is a little misleading. The orchestras you are referring to, where they are willing to go on strike just because their continually increasing 6-figure salaries might have to be frozen for a year, number less than a dozen.

      Most orchestras are made up of members who make what you might call a decent middle class salary – say, $65K – with good benefits. This used to be roughly the compensation most civil servants and low-to-mid-level corporate managers could expect, although these days I know those types of people are not doing even that well.

      Then there are the many orchestras made up of per-service players, who might have standing gigs with three or four or five ensembles and make $10K a year from each of them, and cobble together a living from lessons, private gigs, and the like.

      So, all in all, musicians in the states are not lavishly compensated unless they are lucky enough to play for the right orchestra or score the right gigs.

  18. Chapters I and II of Lebrecht’s 1997 book, “Who Killed Classical Music?”, sadly, unfortunately, but pretty accurately describe the situation the Twin Cities and the Minnesota Orchestra now faces. The “fair” solution everyone now seeks will be difficult for almost all of the reasons Lebrecht outlines in those Chapters.

  19. Does the board actually have any leeway here? Where is the extra money supposed to come from? I haven’t been following, so I really don’t know.

  20. Sally Rowley says:

    This is so sad. I hope this nightmare in the Twin Cities for both orchestras ends soon and with positive results for the musicians.

    • What if there is even more to this situation than what has been said? What if a misconception is being uprooted? Is it possible that there is an elephant in the room?

  21. R. James Tobin says:

    Here are just a few thoughts from the shore of Lake Michigan. Aside from what I have just read about the distressing situation of the Minnesota Orchestra, I know little about its governance or the work rules referred to here. What I do know a fair amount about is the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO), which would seem to be your closest peer in more ways than one. As a subscriber and supporter of the MSO I know some things about that orchestra’s management which, for whatever they might be worth, I can share.

    The current President and Executive Director of the MSO , Mark Niehaus, was the first deck trumpeter and musicians’ representative on the Board until last year. He is passionately committed to the idea that classical music is art, not just entertainment. The Music Director is the much esteemed Edo De Waart, for whom the players play their hearts out.

    The MSO honors its exceptionally accomplished first deck players by featuring them as concerto soloists on a regular basis, and presumably saves a considerable amount of money in the process.

    The Milwaukee Symphony is currently in the black, financially, as I understand. In spite of the fact that there are far too many empty seats at concerts, a full season of classical is maintained. Ticket sales do not pay the full cost of the MSO, any more than they do at any orchestra in any country I know of. Hall rental alone is a million dollars a year, I was surprised to learn. The budget is thus balanced with grants and private contributions, including a modest annual amount from yours truly. There is a connection among these last three facts, and one not yet mentioned. The Argosy Foundation, headed by the man who also happens to be the current Milwaukee County Executive, Chris Abele, pledged matching funds up to a million dollars for any new or increased donations. This at a time when the musicians had agreed to accept reduced salaries to keep the orchestra going. There was no strike no lockout (such as the one in 1920 at the Boston Symphony Orchestra which cost my violinist grandfather his job, let me mention.)

    So here are my hopes and recommendations for Minnesota. Both musicians and management should place priority on artistic quality and musicians’ professionalism, as more basic than particular financial matters. There should be no rigid ultimatums from either side–like those which have bedeviled the world over the middle east situation for decades. I hope that both sides are not so intrenched as to make this a vain hope. Also, if it is not possible to replace the current Board there, prominent Minnesota leaders should be persuaded to raise their voices.

    Finally, to come to a point I wished to make from the beginning, it would not hurt if both musicians and management were to make active contact with their counterparts at their neighboring orchestra, the MSO, if only in order to cool off enough to get some perspective and a fresh approach to reasonable accommodations.

    I wish the Minnesota Orchestra renewed life and excellence.

    • I was also going to mention Milwaukee Symphony. However, it should be mentioned that they don’t just do classical. They have hosted Bugs Bunny on Broadway and usually fit in tribute concerts to popular musicians( I recall the music of Queen being featured), to try and reach the widest audience possible. I could not sit through a production of even my favorite longer classical pieces, because I am fidgety, but I do enjoy the more “popular” events.

      Chris Abele is a story for another day, however.

      • R. James Tobin says:

        The Milwaukee Symphony does have a pops series and also special programs for school children. However the Classics Series is purely classical and includes some interesting programs, which you can check out online. For instance, in a month De Waart is performing Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, not exactly a warhorse.

  22. The money is somewhere, but it’s all going into the pockets of the greedy, selfish politicians and lawyers.

  23. W. Osborne’s comments were on target esp neo-liberal history of past 40 years in Amurica’s political economy. As a Canadian I can safely say that a vast majority believe that even worse is to come upon culture and society that governance is owned and operated by the 1% at all levels. We hope the best for the Minnesota musicians.

  24. In this clip, Deanna Durbin (RIP) gets Leopold Stokowski to save an orchestra of unemployed musicians. If only life could imitate art:

  25. Patricia the Terse says:

    This is a too-frequent drama these days: the administration, the Boards of Directors – or some renegade members – run amok, ruin the financial base and announce that they are Shocked! Shocked! to find that the money has run out. Syracuse, Rochester and now Minnesota have suffered from these inept cretins and no one seems to have noticed the prelude to the actual disaster. Has anyone thought to contact the American Symphony Orchestra League, or Henry Fogel, now retired but living in New York City? The League does exist to help orchestras, although they do prefer to be called before the orchestra has fallen apart.Clearly whoever is running the show in Minnesota is a person of vision!

  26. Elizabeth Robertson says:

    I cannot even imagine anyone questioning the value of this (or any OTHER) orchestra’s!! If we cannot support great musicianship – how do we explain to today’s children the need for sustained effort for an orchestra OR even a team ( sports has become more important than anything else!) Let’s support the ‘well-rounded’ individual we have all strived to be. We certainley have the money – let’s spend it wisely!!!!

  27. R. James Tobin says:

    Yesterday morning I was in New Hampshire and WGBH had a short segment on the Minnesota Orchestra, expressing concern over the present situation, reporting the music Director’s announcement that he would resign if that is not resolved in a timely manner and also reporting, if I heard right, that both sides had agreed to mediation. Is this last point correct?

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