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Recording cancelled in Minnesota because ‘orchestra is unfit’

Plans to record two Sibelius symphonies in Minnesota next month have been called off after the independent Swedish record label, Bis, decided the orchestra was ‘not in good enough shape’ to play, according to NPR reporter Euan Kerr. That’s unsurprising after 11 months of lockout.

There are additional factors. Osmo Vänskä may no longer be music director by the planned recording date. He has announced he will quit unless the musicians are back to work by Sept 9. And, even if the lockout is ended, it’s unlikely the atmosphere in Minnesota will unfreeze sufficiently to yield a good recording. Too many good players have left town to guarantee instant cohesion.

The cost of this confrontation just keeps on rising. By losing its record profile, Minnesota will fade off the cultural map.



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  1. Richard Barker says:

    That’s the way, pay them next to nothing, treat them like rubbish, and then be surprised when the quality goes down.
    Some managers are such idiots.

    • That’ll be Michael Henson then.

      • Richard Barker says:

        I wouldn’t know names to name, but if the cap fits anyone they can wear it.

        • Jack Becker says:

          1) If you think an $80,000 salary is “next to nothing” then you must be loaded.
          2) There are no instances of them being treated poorly. This dispute is about money, not working conditions.
          3) The quality isn’t going down. The orchestra is being called (the rather poorly chosen title of) ‘unfit’ because there wouldn’t be enough time to rehearse properly to ensure a decent recording session for BIS. This is something even the musicians would agree with. No self-respecting group of musicians want to show up unprepared.

          • $80,000 when you were previously making about $120,000 is a big pay cut. It’s not poverty wages, but it’s a major change of employment terms, and if you done such things as buy a house based on the higher income and the mortgage payments it would support, it’s not something anyone will swallow easily. I wouldn’t.

            And while money is surely the key factor, there are several hundred proposed changes in work rules – some reasonable, I’d guess, some less so – that might both make the job harder (more travel, less rest, etc.) and worsen the conditions under which this self-respecting group of musicians makes music.

          • re: Mr. Becker’s points-
            1- salaries and money is scalable. The impact of a 1/3 cut is devastating to anyone at any level. I’m nowhere near that bottom number but I appreciate what losing 1/3 means. Start down this road as we have in the context of the arts to its logical extension and what you would have is “art for free”. Please don’t keep on.
            2- being treated poorly? I’d say 11 months locked out and kept from honing collaborative skills, is pretty poor. Watching your colleagues vacate the premises, slowly dissolving a great ensemble for reasons that are yet to surface that make any rational sense seems to me, a pretty poor condition all the way round.
            3-”The quality isn’t going down” is an assertion. Was it Horowitz or Rubenstein who said, “If I don’t practice for a day, I notice. If I don’t practice for two days, my loved ones notice. If I don’t practice for three days, the audience notices.” Are you saying that rehearsing doesn’t matter? I’ve attended rehearrsals. This is about attaining perfection and honoring the craft of the music- composer, sound, colleagues, audience with all the skills one can muster. No musician, no audience member should wish to settle for a C- performance and it is the nth degree of something really heinous, that art management would contrive to make that C- standard operable and impose it.

  2. I agree with you but if there is no money to be found, as is the case with two of our own orchestras in England on the brink of collapsing and more musicians unemployed, what does one do? Here they have appealed for donations but music always ends up as a ‘optional extra’ in life when other things, like putting food on the table, takes precendence. Even if the managers were to take pay cuts themselves, it would hardly be enough to pay the orchestra. It’s a very hard situation, but perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye, plus the musical director may have already gone too. If the orchestra collapses, then the managers will also be out of a job.

    • No, there is not “more to this than meets the eye”. There is PLENTY of money to be found; mgmt just doesn’t want to ask for it because it will destroy their carefully-constructed house of cards.

    • First, it’s just a formality to announce cancellation of a recording; an orchestra that hasn’t played in a year and has lost a dozen or more players can’t just reassemble and do a recording already. Well, they could, but what’s the point?

      As for “no money,” I don’t think, first of all, it makes sense to equate Minnesota with a couple obscure provincial British Orchestras; compare Minnesota to the LSO, not the Brighton Philharmonic.

      An “no money” is a problem of the board’s/management’s making. Instead of trying to stick it to the musicians from the outset – and it’s hard to see their action as anything different. A responsible leadership – comprised of board members whose very purpose is to procure the resources for the organization to carry out its mission – would have gone to the community and said, in effect, that the Minnesota is a great resource for the community – raises the city’s profile, educates the children, heals the sick, etc.. – but that it costs money. So please help. Now they have created such ill will and mistrust that even those who wish most fervently for the Minnesota Orchestra to prosper will not contribute money to the organization – certainly not without a new leadership in place and a restoration of good relations with the musicians.

  3. The Bis recording agreement is really more with Osmo than with the Minnesota Orchestra itself. If he goes, the recording plans go with him.

  4. Nick Reaburn says:


    Surely this whole Minnesota orchestra fight is about the Fleischmann ideology being attempted to be imposed on the orchestra by management rather than a simple matter of money?

  5. This is a very important point. The Fleischmann system is destructive to orchestras. An high quality orchestra cannot be treated like a flexible pool of musicians who work in countless smaller ensemble formations in constantly varying types of venues. To maintain quality, a symphony orchestra needs to work full time as a symphony orchestra. The Detroit Symphony struck for about 7 months. They accepted a ca. 25% pay cut, but not the Fleischmann inspired work rule changes. The musicians know better.

    What we are seeing is a crisis in orchestra management. A new ethos has evolved in which administrators are attempting to formulate the artistic visions of their institutions. That should be left to artists who have far more experience, insights, and expertise. Or at the very least, changes in the artistic visions of organizations should only be done in very close collaboration with the artists who have a deeper understanding in that area and will realize the new program.

    It is truly astounding that an administration would attempt to impose a Fleischman concept on an orchestra that had the quality and momentum of the Minnesota Orchestra. The pay cut is one thing, but the imposition of a Fleischman concept was a naive and catastrophic error of administrative judgement.

  6. Jaakko Kuusisto says:

    To say that the musicians haven’t been treated badly is laughable. They have been locked out of their jobs for 11 months because they refused a 30% pay cut, among other things. I’d say that qualifies as bad treatment.

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