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Aspen chief in all-out attack on Minnesota Orchestra

The nervous silence maintained by the US music industry over the 10-month lockout of musicians at the Minnesota Orchestra has finally been broken.

Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Festival, has used his convocation address to describe the lockout as unacceptable:

What happened, and is still happening, has no place in our art form. A strike is a very unhappy thing, but a lockout is unworthy of us all and unworthy of our beautiful profession.



He went on to say that musicians are not interchangeable:

Let’s start with one of the most wrongheaded ideas: that, since there are so many good musicians out there, the particular composition of any given orchestra doesn’t matter….. An orchestra management looking for drastic concessions that says, “Let them go, and hire musicians who will!” is making a terrible mistake.

And he lashes out at the mediocrity of certain orchestra administrations:

It is clear that some managements have made catastrophic mistakes, and some boards have supported these mistakes, instead of helping correct them. There’s no excuse for this.

You can read the speech in its entirety on NPR, here.

It may take a day or two for the significance of these comments to sink in. But now that one thoughtful US chief has spoken out, let’s hear from more. And let’s push for an end to the outrage that has occurred in Minnesota.

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  1. AMEN! Beautiful speech that goes right to your heart! Bravo!

  2. Thoughtful, perceptive, balanced and moving. Evidently written by someone who has passion, but who has taken the time to learn and appreciate every aspect and every role in our “beautiful profession”. If only more people would take time before taking (or accepting to take) power.

  3. The hall is an asset – the orchestra a liability. That’s how they think.

    • David Teitelbaum says:

      Indeed. But the Twin Cities is a huge metro area, full of great–if makeshift–places to play. A small, determined, group of music lovers ought to get together, summon the musicians from the orchestra willing to play (word has it that many musicians have left the city to other jobs in the industry; others have taken up jobs in the industry within the city and yet others have moved on to other careers,) and conglomerate them under a new name. There’s enough support out there to at least get going. Eventually, the ‘Minnesota Orchestra’ will be left ONLY with a building–no orchestra, no power, no purpose.

  4. José Bergher says:

    This is an advertisement that appeared in the program of a concert given in June 1956 by my orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica Venezuela (a self-governing orchestra founded by musicians in 1930). This orchestra is now 83 years old.

    “Business is not an end in itself. It is the effort to attain solid and material basis on which people can build a broad life of unlimited spiritual horizons.”

  5. Lamperti says:

    He throws these assertions out like axioms, with no support or justification for them.

    In fact, good musicians in an orchestra *are* largely interchangeable. That is one of the aims of standardized musical education. And there *are* plenty of unemployed musicians who can step in. (Though logic suggests that if you replace an orchestra of employed musicians with one of unemployed musicians, that quality will certainly suffer.)

    Administrators are tasked with making it work, on the budgets they can secure. If they can’t, they can’t. Demonizing them doesn’t change the basic predicates of the scenario. We live in a society that is largely unappreciative of our art. We are museum pieces, relics of a bygone age. We have no right to throw tantrums because others can’t secure for us a livable wage in the midst of an environment hostile to our hopes and dreams.

    • I don’t think you’ve been following Minnesota…?

    • harold braun says:

      Sorry,Mr.Lamberti,but your comment is nonsense.If the musicians of great orchestras were interchangeable,each orchestra would sound the same and none would have a specific sound.Anyone who claims to have a basic understanding of classical music should know this fact.

    • Kypros Markou says:

      I wonder when was the last time Mr. Lamberti attended a live concert by a professional orchestra, even a regional orchestra. We are definitely NOT “museum pieces, relics of a bygone age.” This is nonsense that has already been said in the past by certain types of people who must be incapable of hearing and appreciating live concerts.
      Part of the responsibility of administrators is to secure and provide reasonable financial support that enables orchestras and other artistic organizations to function properly. Would Mr. Lamberti accept a concert where musicians don’t quite play all the notes in tune and beautifully with deep understanding and committed delivery that communicates the essence of the music to the audience? Would it be OK for him if certain musicians said ” well I played as many notes as I could, as well as i could and in any case you (the audience) don’t understand anyway, and maybe you don’t really care” I hope not; we all go to concerts to be moved, inspired, stimulated; to have our lives enriched. My suggestion to Mr. Lamberti is to attend as many live concerts as he can and to listen with open ears, an open mind, and above all an open and welcoming heart.
      I am sure some of the other points will be taken by fellow music lovers. In any case I found Mr. Fletchers presentation to be extremely perceptive, well articulated and above all extremely constructive.

    • Steve Foster says:

      @Lamperti Couldn’t agree more.

      The part I have yet to hear a decent argument on is the issue of different musicians. Fletcher just saying that musicians aren’t interchangeable doesn’t make it true. In fact, the contrary is not only possible, it’s happening, and it’s necessary for the life of *any* musician. Consider clarinettist Bert Hara who went to LA’s Philharmonic, or Gina DiBello (vn.) who went to Chicago. Thomas Turner (vl.) went to San Diego, Matthew Young (vl.) went to San Francisco, Sarah Kwak (vn.) went to Oregon, and Peter McGuire (1st vn.) went to Switzerland. None of these moves would’ve been possible if musicians weren’t interchangeable.
      Stop being silly.

      • I would say that Burt Hara is a clear case of musician NOT being entirely interchangeable. He was the “special sauce” of the woodwind section….I know that orchestra intimately….dude….I’m sure the next clarinet player will be good, but losing burt is not a minor thing, it is a MAJOR loss.

      • Marc Shulgold says:

        The concept of interchangeable musicians is a new one to me — and I was a music journalist for 30+ years. Musicians, like the rest of us, are human beings, each with individual traits and personalities. Similarly, professional athletes, actors, dancers, writers, etc., all bring uniqueness to their work. Are all oboe players the same? How about shortstops for the Yankees? There’s only one Derek Jeter — thank God! If you believe that musicians are mindless robots who indifferently play notes off a page, you don’t understand what being an artist is about. There is such a thing as greatness and such a thing as mediocrity. If we ever accept the latter over the former, then art has no meaning.

    • Mr. Lamberti, you are so very wrong. What kind of expertise do you have that you would make a statement like that? Each orchestra has worked toward creating their own sound, their own “instrument” as it were. It’s their own and it is absolutely not interchangeable. This happens when that group or a large majority remains constant and works under their artistic director (conductor) for a long period of time and it’s not replaceable. Furthermore, consigning orchestral music to the relic bin is a rather hyperbolic statement. Like any other group or any other art form, it will of course evolve as time goes on but the orchestra is nowhere near extinct.

    • Kathy P. says:

      Yes, many people in many positions in our society are “largely interchangeable.” In fact, I think if Mr. Lamberti were to assess his own employment status, he might find himself to be “largely interchangeable” as well, or if he is retired, remember his position when he was working as one in which he was “largely interchangeable.” Most workplaces can easily replace employees, and one more independently owned business more or less hardly makes that much difference. I could care less about who is a vice president in the company that makes my TV, or even who is on the assembly line making it. When I go to an orchestra concert, though, I go to hear the players in that group who are specific to that group. I choose my concerts by who is working in that organization, much more than I do any other product I buy. I also think demonizing people who are unnecessarily destroying a fine product through mismanagement of the assets is perfectly OK. I’d be unhappy with a world in which people who do horrible things are not help accountable for them.

    • It strikes me that the truth is not either polarised view – that musicians are, or are not, interchangeable – but rather in the grey area in-between.
      It is clear from any orchestra that musicians, individually, ARE interchangeable. Most orchestras performing this week around the world will have someone playing who isn’t a full-time member, either a position where a series of people are in and out on trial, or stepping in for a day or a week as an extra. Since these people come and go, and the orchestra remains “the orchestra”, clearly they are interchangeable. Further, many orchestras also have double principals in various sections; whilst that orchestra remains that orchestra, clearly they also have interchangeable players. This much is irrefutable.
      However, you equally clearly cannot replace an ENTIRE orchestra in a stroke and expect it to sound the same. It is likely to sound worse, I agree, but we shouldn’t discount the possibility of it sounding better, too, bringing a new raw energy and greater concentration that a group well-used to playing together, with their own individual well-worn personal internal agendas. You could choose to replace an entire orchestra and hope that over the course of time the new band will evolve it’s own style an homogenous, group sound (and so on). I’m not recommending it – it would seem a daft thing to do. But on both counts, then, there is truth. You can interchange musicians, but you can’t so readily ‘interchange’ a whole orchestra.

  6. Perhaps relevant in this context: Reynold Levy made about $7,000 each weekday as president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Meanwhile, the New York City Opera is homeless and has drastically reduced its season. Other high salaries for top arts administrators are reported here:

  7. I don’t think a substantially re-staffed—at regional-orchestra level salaries—Minnesota Orchestra is likely to be an ensemble that a major international maestro is going to want to conduct.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Ormandy, Mitropoulos, Dorati, Skrowaczewski, Marriner, De Waart, Oue and Vanska: a list of conductors worthy of the any great orchestra world-wide. The Minnesota Orchestra was built over the course of the entire 20th century and now decimated in one season by a governing board with an attitude toward music, musicians, and the audience that is worthy of the worst that 21st century business ethics have to offer. Michael Douglas can play the role of the MOA Board Chair in the new Oliver Stone film:” Looney Tunes” (the loon is the official sate bird of Minnesota).

    • If the budget only allowed for lower salaries, I doubt it would extend to financing a major international maestro anyway, so that’s hardly a problem.

  8. Orchestra Friend says:

    Hardly an “all-out attack.” In fact, the entire premise of Mr. Fletcher’s magnificent speech is that to keep reverting to deeply confrontational rhetoric and old-school thinking is as harmful as anything else that is going on. He calls a spade a spade, and good for him. It was one illustration in a completely brilliant analysis of our entire industry, and I hope more people get the point.

  9. Steve Thompson says:

    Thank you Norman for bringing this to our attention. As a Minneapolis arts educator and musician, I can tell you how much we all have suffered over this idiocy. It is time for the outcry to grow.

  10. Spencer Topel says:

    Good on Alan for this thoughtful and well-articulated position, and for using the forum of the Commencement of AMF to communicate this message. In addition to this, there will be another big statement coming out on the matter of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout early next week. I look forward to sharing this with you then.

  11. Steve Foster says:

    I’m incredibly worried about what’s going to happen when this matter is finally settled. I mean, what will all these talking heads winge and moan about then? It has become such a tribal topic that I’d swear the Internet is starting to resemble a 24-hour news channel.

    I’m now realising the inability to see the forest for the trees is actually a disease. If only we had a vaccination…

  12. Steve Carignan says:

    Step 1. Ignore shrinking audiences, donations and grants. (relevance)
    Step 2. Spend down reserves on regular operating costs. (unwillingness to see hard truths)
    Step 3. Run a deficit – sometimes for more than a few years.
    Step 4. Cut the means of production (musicians).
    Step 5. Devolve into political blame games rather than collaborating on problem solving.

    If they are not teaching this in orchestra or arts management schools why are so many orchestra’s on this track.

    PS We are all less special than we think and most problems are the fault of many.

    • Alvarus says:


      You are right on with your comments. Wake up, people…your market is shrinking. Very rapidly. And the generation of donors willing to stroke 5 and 6 figure checks to support classical music is in their 80′s and dying. Younger generations have different priorities and are NOT giving to orchestras.

      In MN, all parties have behaved badly from the start and continue to do so on a daily basis. Rapacious board leaders, tone-deaf manager, pig-headed (and very talented) musicians are all a noxious and toxic mix of attitudes. There is more than enough greed, arrogance, entitlement, self-pity etc. to go around. All parties have blood on their hands, and yet it is these same parties that must meet to find a solution. Shame on all of them. They are on the verge of destroying something truly great.

  13. I agree with Steve Foster. How about a time-out for a thoughtful, yet very funny novel about our crazy arts world? Informed by my years with orchestras in Chicago and Cleveland, some regional theatres and even a major art museum. It’s a romantic satire, and mostly fictional–The Wild Pitch.

  14. Marsha Wall says:

    About Time!!!!!

  15. Alan has done it all. He is a composer, an administrator, a fundraiser, an educator, and a performer. He told a seminar of grad students that he had driven a taxi to support himself when he was in school. Read the speech in its entirety. Minnesota is an example of what happens when things go very, very, wrong. Alan’s speech is about fostering relationships within a community of classical music lovers, not simply an attack on the situation.

  16. D. Tarantino says:

    These quotes from his speech are taken WAY out of context. I was there when he gave the speech and his overall point was quite well-rounded to give credit to all parts of an orchestra. Please click the link and read the entire speech before you make any conclusions about the quotes. The post of the quotes on this blog are another reason why sensationalist media can take us further away from the truth.

    • Amy Adams says:

      All the musicians are mindful of the importance of giving, the hard work done by support staff, and the necessary relationship between music and the business of making music. The MOA board’s feelings may be raw…but that’s because what they’re doing is indefensible.
      Negotiations could truly begin at any time. The ball was always in the MOA’s court. But…all they have to do now is stall a little longer.

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