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Minnesota: Vänskä will quit unless lockout ends by September

“I must make it clear, that in the case Carnegie Hall chooses to cancel the Minnesota Orchestra’s concerts this November, i.e. if they lose confidence in our ability to perform those concerts as a result of the extended lockout, then I will be forced to resign my position,” Vänskä told the board.

Will that change their minds? Unlikely, they’re in too deep to climb out.

More here.

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  1. They are in mighty deeeeeeply for sure….but Carnegie Hall canceling plus Vanska resigning would be a deeeeeeply embarr ass ing moment for the suits and dresses on the board which may force them to move out from their lush mindsets.

  2. This opens up the philosophically interesting, albeit practically depressing, question of:

    Who does the board have in mind to serve as a replacement conductor?

    Maybe Michael Henson could become Maestro Michael…since he wants total artistic control anyway.

    • Does a conductor in a locked-out orchestra continue to be paid, or are they tossed out into the street, so to speak, as well?

      • MacroV says:

        Music directors typically receive, as I understand it, a salary for their work as music director, and then fees for their performances (and conductors who are also soloists – say Daniel Barenboim – would usually receive soloist fees on top of that). So my guess is that if Osmo Vanska is still MD in good standing, he would still be receiving his base pay, but not any conducting fees. Fortunately for him, he’s probably been able to cushion that lost income with some replacement gigs.

        • So then, for the most part, Maestro Vanska is suffering along with the players, financially, as well as emotionally. True, that he probably has no lack of substitute gigs though…I have no doubt orchestras are beating their way to his door, including the NYPhil, for whom he substituted in China/Taiwan…

  3. Paul Sullivan, Boston. says:

    It seems to me things are coming to a head quickly in
    Minn., and not in a good way. The ship’s going down fast and it’s time to jump or go down with it, as many players have done already. I’ve followed this debacle ever since it started here on SD.
    Never imagined it would come to this! I think no matter what happens now, the orchestra is broken. The gulf between management and players, not to mention animosity on the musicians part against them, means that things will NEVER be the same.

    • It does seem that with the latest blows, this may be the case. Just the same, I can assure you that the moment this lockout ends the MO publicity machine will be filling the airways with buzz about just how wonderful the ‘new and improved’ MO is, assuring us that everything is ‘fust fine’, and perhaps even hoping the public will be listening with their heads instead of their ears. :-0

  4. They should play Mahler’s 8th Symphony, that’ll put bums on seats

    • Great idea. Since they hadn’t even programmed any Mahler this season, maybe they should just play Mahler at every concert once they come back to life. What a great way to attract an audience and help everyone heal…

  5. This is the saddest and most frightening scenario imaginable. My question, however: is a statement like this made by Mr. Vanska unprecedented? Has any other music director/conductor ever taken such a stance, let alone publicly?

    • Drew McManus of Adaptistration reports that Osmo had been warned after the last time he spoke out that if he did so again, MinnOrch management would consider it grounds for sacking him.

      Now Osmo has done it. Will they terminate his contract? If so, will he sue? Osmo seemed to be careful in his wording not to give direct blame or criticism (or at least to maintain plausible deniability), so I’d guess he’d have a fair chance of winning if a lawsuit went before a jury.

  6. James Brinton says:

    Time to stop digging.

  7. Michael B. says:

    Yes, it is just horrible what is happening in Minnesota and it is very sad to think that the orchestra may cease to exist. I can understand Maestro Vänskä’s position. I also must say that there is considerable blame to be attached to management, who has grossly mishandled the situation, not to mention the $50 million reportedly spent on lobby renovations.

    Having said that, in view of the increasingly fragile state of many American orchestras (not just in Minneapolis), the musicians’ union will have to go. They are increasingly part of the problem, not part of the solution. They are excessively greedy, pig-headed, and inflexible. Their work rules, requiring that rehearsals must be timed rigidly as though the musicians were working in a shirt factory, have just about destroyed the possibility of recording (whether through physical CDs, downloads, or another medium). They absolutely rebel at the idea of broadening the repertoire or performing any kind of educational or outreach work. They love the status quo–high salaries and no requirements to learn new repertoire. Basically, most American orchestras exist to provide safe, ultra-comfy programming to an aging and increasingly small slice of a metropolitan area’s social and economic elite–Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák (maybe Mozart or Haydn if those composers have not been completely taken over by the period-instrument crowd), rinse, and repeat. All this will have to change and soon if the orchestras are to survive.

    • Do you want musicians to be treated like those in China and Eastern Europe, who are not unionized? You think that would be good for the artistic standard? You ignore the very simple fact that the best orchestras in US are those with most benefits that obtained by union. If you really want to propose intelligent and thoughtful ideas, rather than this type statement one sees often from the dumb tea party members in US, you should be asking union flexibility rather than total elimination of unionized orchestras.

    • MacroV says:

      This is wrong on so many levels. First of all, yes, orchestral services have fixed lengths; generally 2.5 hours, with a 20-minute break, or 3 hours with a 25-minute break. Overtime if you go past that. Sounds ridiculously inflexible, but it also means that conductors and management have to be respectful of the musicians’ time. It means a conductor has to be prepared, and know what to do with the available rehearsal time. That’s just good management. And a conductor who can’t do it will have trouble in this business – anywhere in the world. Orchestral musicians are no different from any other professionals: they don’t like to have their time wasted. Exceed an hour with your lawyer, and you’ll start getting billed in 6-minute increments. Even as an audience member I can tell you it has benefits: Several times in Russia I had to sit through hour-long intermissions in Wagner operas because Valery Gergiev was taking his sweet time getting back to the pit; you can’t do that in America, thankfully.

      As for repertoire, this is one area where musicians have virtually no influence. It’s the music director and management that decides what the orchestra plays; if they’re smart they will involve the musicians, but that’s a big IF. And if orchestral programming is hidebound and unimaginative, I blame audiences as much as anyone.

      There have definitely been work rules that have increased costs with little benefit to the organization, and those are fair game to negotiate. But those are usually done in an evolutionary manner, as opposed to the wholesale transformation the Minnesota management is apparently trying to pull of.

  8. Wing-chi Chan says:

    The critical dispute is: When the Board and management insist for 32% cut for musician’s wages, how much has been raised for the management staff, especially for CEO Hensen? If everybody, both musicians and staff, got 10-15% cut equally, it would have no lock out in history!! The fundamental cause is rooted on the dis-respected mentality on the dignity and quality of musicians as a life being–They are not nut and bolt for technical production that can be easily replaceable. This Board is moving to dismantle the whole orchestra and assume they can recruit another team of “workers”. It is time for foundations, corporates and government grantors to audit the Board’s books and ask for money back. If the Board spent off money on operations and management expenses but have locked out the orchestra with no concert performance for 9 months, each Board member should be liable for anything from there……Let volunteer attorneys give their voices!!

  9. itrinkkeinwein says:

    Sounds like he’s more interested in New York than Minneapolis.

    • Terry Carlson says:

      That is unfair to say and most certainly untrue. Maestro Vänskä lives in Minneapolis and has done great things for the orchestra and our community, including taking the ensemble to Carnegie Hall, the BBC Proms, and European tours. The BIS recording contract has been icing on the cake. He is in demand everywhere, so if he’s also concerned about his own career, that is understandable.

    • Osmo’s speaking a little bit in code here. The suits on the board, who have the power to stop this, are actually the ones who are more concerned with New York. They care way more about a Carnegie Hall concert than presenting concerts in Minneapolis…(obviously). Seven months of silence in Minneapolis? Hasn’t moved them. Two canceled concerts in New York? A 5% chance of moving them.

  10. Oleg Sherstiucoff says:

    How could you Norman even hint at the existence of something else than the one and only way chosen by such brilliant minds as of Mr. Michael Henson who has LOADS of business prowess – they are just outsourcing the Minnesota to … you name it…while keeping the brand….why not?
    A true American product made in some s***-hole….Am I right or I AM right

  11. Oleg Sherstiucoff says:

    My mistake. I mean the true American sound produced in some s***-hole

  12. With all the players they’ve lost, is it still possible for them to be ready to play Carnegie, even on Vanska’s proposed timetable?

  13. The saddest thing in all of this is that the community does not seem to care.

    I have just watched a marvelous discussion on youtube, taped at the Aspen Institute with Renee Fleming. Ms. Fleming devoted part of her discussion to the question of how to make classical music and musicians relevant in local communities. It is truly impressive what Chicago’s music and theatre institutions seem to be doing to reintroduce music into the schools (although sadly we have now missed a generation) and to bring the music out of the “temples,” as she called opera houses.

    I recommend watching the discussion. I must admit that, after all of these stories about orchestras failing and audiences shrinking, it was nice to see someone with knowledge, ability and not a little power trying to find ways to make a practical difference. I found myself slightly more hopeful after watching this. Parts of the discussion are a bit slow and I am sorry to admit that I do not know the gentleman in the discussion. I found from 20 minutes onward most interesting.

    • Janey, what exactly makes you think that the community around the Minnesota Orchestra does not care?

      To judge from media coverage and from comments on this blog and others by Minnesotans, many people in the community care a great deal.

      The problem is that shame doesn’t seem to work on the current MinnOrch management, and there seem to be few if any ways to force them to be more reasonable and flexible

      • True, of course. People do care. Of course they do. I was remiss in not being more clear. It is just that not enough people care. If there was a true groundswell against the management or the loss of the orchestra, I believe this would end. Instead, the board and the politicians with some involvement allow the situation to continue. I believe this is the impression given to those outside of Minnesota, I should say.

        • To be completely clear, if a community cares enough, it will rise up and fight for an organization. They do this for sports teams. They do it for some local media sources. They do it for some community theaters, churches and schools. They pressure politicians to become involved and they pressure their community representatives. They are sometimes successful and sometimes not. Perhaps I am jumping to conclusions because I am not there, but this lockout seems to be happening in virtually a vacuum, despite some media coverage.

          • Terry Carlson says:

            We have done all of the above, practically begging our elected officials (local, state, national) to become involved. Some of them are working on this. However, the extremely powerful men (banking CEO, banking Exec VP, endless numbers of lawyers) on the orchestra executive committee are “the smartest guys in the room” as everyone knows (not!), so their new vision for the orchestra (weddings, receptions, farming players out to who-knows-what kind of event) is holding sway. The audience will not follow them, that seems clear. Orchestra Hall will sit empty, one can only hope.

          • @Terry Carlson -

            ” Orchestra Hall will sit empty, one can only hope.”

            I truly hope so. If only the orchestra could get one very heavy political hitter on its side. Watching the video above, I was amazed at the support given Chicago music institutions by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

            I wonder if this was one of the reasons that the orchestra’s labor difficulties ended so quickly, or was it the community engagement discussed. I can’t imagine what’s been done in Minnesota would be allowed by anyone in Chicago.

          • The Chicago Symphony situation wasn’t at all comparable to what’s been going on at the Minnesota Orchestra.

            The Chicago musicians weren’t locked out; they went on strike. Management had not proposed any pay cuts; the musicians wanted bigger raises each year than management believed were affordable, and the musicians made a point of complaining that management’s offer would mean the CSO musicians would lose their position as the best-paid orchestral musicians in the US (and the entire Western Hemisphere, most likely) to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

            And the musicians objected to the fact that management wanted them to pay 12% of the cost of their health insurance rather than 5% as under the previous contract. (For those of you outside the US, that’s a much better deal than many, and maybe most, employees get here.)

            The musicians’ position did not get a lot of support from the general public. The strike lasted for a weekend.

            A very different situation from the Minnesota Orchestra, where management has locked out musicians unless they accept a roughly 40% pay cut and a contract that would let management send out small groups of them to play weddings and corporate events and would give ultimate artistic and programming authority to the CEO.

          • Terry Carlson says:

            @ Janey

            “If only the orchestra could get one very heavy political hitter on its side.”

            Among the many, many sad aspects of this debacle is the fact that one of the orchestra’s biggest donors (make that *the* biggest donor) is the aunt of our current Governor of Minnesota. I can only assume that the governor does not share his aunt’s love for classical music, because he has done diddly-squat to save the orchestra. It has been painful to watch, and he will be remembered as the governor who let the orchestra die.

  14. Samantha says:

    The man in the video is Damian Woetzel, who used to be former Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet, is now Director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program, and sits on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

  15. Michael B. says:

    Fifty years of the track record in the United States has proven that, in the context of orchestral organization, the term “union flexibility” is one of the biggest oxymorons in the English language, right up there with “military intelligence.” They want and will accept no flexibility at all. When James Levine came in in Boston, they screamed to high heaven because they were being asked to play, heaven forbid, works by Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, and Charles Wuorinen. No matter that the median age of the Boston audience dropped by something like 20 years with Levine’s innovative programming. I don’t want to see things like they are in China or Eastern Europe, and the orchestra members need to earn a decent living, but the choice is either flexibility or extinction. If the unions would accept some changes, I would prefer that but I have seen no evidence of that. By the way, I am hardly reflexively anti-union and my politics, in general, are about as far from the Tea Party as possible.

    • I was not characterizing your politics as being tea party. I was characterizing the lack of deep thoughtfulness and the knowledge of the history of symphonic industry as being tea party member like, making statements without having intellectual and factual support. If you follow the industry closely in US, you have a lot more cases of union compromises on all range of issues to make orchestras relevant and viable. What’s wrong with Minnesota situation is the lack of care and passion by its current board for the artistic prestige of the institution. How can one be the president on a board of a performing arts organization without ever attending its performances?

  16. Rosalind says:

    Maybe a stupid question, but could the musicians of the orchestra break away from the current Board, reform as a different, new organisation and become self-governing?

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Not a stupid question at all, Rosalind. But, there are many obstacles, not the least of which is the fact the MOA owns the name Minnesota Orchestra and probably the previous name (Minneapolis Symphony) but I’m not sure about that. It would be very difficult to recreate a full-time symphony orchestra of 85-100 players with all of the aura surrounding the current (or former?) MO. Greater minds than mine will have to weigh in on this. Perhaps Emily Hogstad has probed this possibility. There are self-managed ensembles in the USA but none are large full-time (52 week) operations. Since there is currently no contract in place, one wonders what the musicians’ long term obligation is to MOA.

      • An even bigger problem than the Minnesota Orchestra name and brand identity (which the current management has been ruining) are the existing tangible assets that a new orchestra would need: the sheet music library, the percussion battery and other instruments, etc. – not to mention the endowment.

      • Bob-

        Why should the State of Minnesota not consider exercising eminent domain and introducing a new governance and new management while retaining in place those who have done the job well? State ownership has gotten a bad rap, but the Minnesota orchestra (including it’s trade name) is in a sense already a quasi-public asset which serves a public function- at least the State of Minnesota seems to have recognized it by granting a very substantial subsidy.

    • Not a stupid question at all, Rosalind. As it happens, the topic came up yesterday in the comments on another of Norman’s posts about the Minnesota Orchestra situation. Start here.

    • stereo says:

      Great idea Rosalind,that would certainly put Henson where he deserves to be, on the scrap heap.

  17. James Forrest says:

    It has amazed me that no orchestra has come after Vanska to this point. If Boston’s Board were not nearly as stupid as Minnesota’s, they would have been talking to Vanska after Levine left. In any case, he will not go hungry . . . nor without work.

    • I’m sure orchestras have been coming after Osmo. The Boston Symphony board may even have been talking to him, but conversations like that are almost never made public.

      But he has been quite vocally loyal to the Minnesota Orchestra (I mean as an institution, not its current management) and has said throughout his time there that his goal is to lead the Minnesota Orchestra into being one of the world’s greatest ensembles (rather, the clear implication being, than using the Minnesota music director post as a stepping-stone to a job with one of the world’s greatest ensembles*).

      • * As seems to be the case with, for instance, the Pittsburgh Symphony – Jansons, Maazel, Previn, Steinberg (who took and then left posts with more prominent orchestras while staying with Pittsburgh). And I expect that Manfred Honeck’s next job will be quite illustrious

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