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Slipped Disc editorial: Minnesota is trapped in a bubble of virtual unreality

A determined young blogger, Emily Hogstad, has uncovered evidence of advance planning by the  Minnesota Orchestra to silence public protest at their intended long lockout of the musicians.

Apparently, Michael Henson (pictured), the president, took a prior trip to Detroit, where online uproar had been instrumental in forcing both sides to a settlement. On his return, he bought up all domains with ‘save’ and ‘orchestra’ in their title. He then told a closed meeting: ‘Blogs are senseless and must be ignored.’ Emily has blown the whistle on his furtiveness and duplicity.

henson_michael_2

 

Michael Henson is British. Before crossing the pond to a sixfold salary increase, he was the moderately unsuccessful manager of two perpetually troubled UK orchestras, Ulster and Bournemouth. His predecessor in Minnesota, Tony Woodcock, also British, was more spectacularly unsuccessful at Liverpool and Bournemouth, leaving a trail of deficits. The Minnesota Orchestra  must have failed to conduct due diligence. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is – and has been for some while – an organisation which has lost touch with temporal reality.

The problem at Minnesota is not musicians’ wages, which were freely negotiated, signed off by Woodcock and well known to Henson when he took the job. Nor is the issue the cost of refurbishing the hall, which must be met by private donations in a separate budget. It’s a case of half-blind managements leading a tone-deaf board into a dead end from which, as far as any realist can see, there is no escape without more pain and loss.

 

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Comments

  1. I’m not at all sure what this post means even after reading the slightly hysteric blogger’s comments. The orchestra musician’s own website, in an August 6 post, make the point that negotiations are ongoing and they promised not to comment. There is no indication that they have made any concessions about annual salaries which place them among the highest paid in America and double or more what top orchestras in Europe are paid. Several other American orchestras have negotiated reduced salary structures in order to stay afloat in these continuing troubled times for American arts organizations.
    The orchestra members website makes the point that, according to “three previous conductors,” an orchestra cannot be disassembled and replaced by young talents because this would cause chaos and trash the quality of the product. It would appear that they are living in a different world that me. The Verbier Festival Orchestra hires top young players from around the world to meet there every year for only some weeks in the summer. They only use players 26 and younger. Their concerts are available on the internet and on Medici TV and those interested can judge for themselves how top talent, even just playing together for weeks, can rise to the occasion.
    My suggestions is that musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra assess what other orchestra musicians have done in other cities to keep their seasons afloat and talk seriously among themselves about those possibilities.

    • You don’t know the details of what the orchestra members have been asked to concede, nor what they are willing to concede. You have limited information about what European Orchestras get paid, and don’t have the experience to know the difference between the energy of a summer festival and the communication of a seasoned orchestra. And in the end the musicians of the Minnesota orchestra have done nothing but “talk seriously among themselves”

      • You only sound like a pompous idiot when you know nothing about me or what I do. It is a shocking reality that the central issue, unsustainable orchestra salaries, has been hijacked by thugs who would like to blame anyone but the people who can save the orchestra – the musician’s union.
        Thugs posting here should read this link written by the director of the New England Conservatory.
        http://necmusic.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/american-orchestras-yes-it’s-a-crisis/
        How bad is it? When the Minnesota Orchestra gets paid in the same range as the Berlin Philharmonic you can begin to see that the issue is real.

        • In the interest of disclosure, the director of the NEC is Tony Woodcock the former president of the Minnesota Orchestra. He seems to be enjoying a good run in New England.

        • Um no. The central issue is that mgmt proposed 250 changes to working conditions and planned for years to screw the musicians, all the while manipulating financial statements and giving NO indication to audience members and donors that this was going on while shilling for a new Edifice that is now their version of a Stadium.

          And if you are going to bring up the Berlin Philharmonic – let’s translate once we factor in all of the social benefits available to European citizens, Apples to apples.

          I wouldn’t go throwing stones here, Frank.

        • Frank, despite your liberties in calling Kazi a pompous idiot, we still know nothing about you except that you believe Tony Woodcock, a failed administrator from across the pond (I see similarities with Mr. Henson). Mr. Woodcock’s article contains unsupported assertions we are supposed to accept as fact because he said so. We are not allowed to consider that European orchestras receive substantial government support whereas American orchestras receive very little… Mr. Woodcock said so. We are to accept that an argument is specious because, without saying why, Mr. Woodcock said so.

          The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra received a very substantial raise several years ago. They were told of a commitment to becoming an orchestra on a par with any in the world. One necessary step to achieving this is to put your money where your mouth is, and they did… for a while.

          As the MOA prepared to pitch funding for its hall renovation, it took steps to ensure it showed balanced budgets. It took increased endowment draws for two years to achieve this, in order to qualify for grants and donations.

          Once funding was in place and it was time to consider contract talks with the musicians, the balanced budgets disappeared. Endowment draws were suddenly deemed irresponsible and unsustainable, conveniently giving them a leg to stand on when they asked the musicians for cuts. The budgetary shenanigans were planned to a) raise funds for the hall, and then, b) present a dire visage at contract time. MOA board minutes reflect that this actually was discussed. The domain name fiasco was merely adding insult to injury.

          Whether or not you accept the MOA’s position that they need huge cuts in compensation and scores of work-rules changes to continue to function, there’s an obvious disconnect between the message of excellence sent several years ago, and the message of austerity and reduction which has been sent for the past year-plus.

          Mr. Woodcock’s beliefs to the contrary, better-paid orchestras tend to perform better. The MOA has done a knee-buckling and apparently long considered about-face regarding commitment to its musicians. No wonder, then, that many of the musicians have already left.

          I hope the Minnesota Orchestra will have a bright future, and be able to regain its stature in the orchestral world. I have no optimism that this will come soon, and the sound it has been striving for with Osmo Vanska will probably never happen.

          • Michael,
            Disagree. Budgetary “shenanigans” were surely to (a) raise funds for the hall (I agree with you) and (b) to represent an accurate picture at contract time (we disagree in view).

            They need to raise funds for the hall, and so they play the game to make that happen. Then they need to negotiate a contract with the players that is actually sustainable, so they revert to a proper statement of income and expenditure. You can’t possibly expect that when looking at a multi-year contract on outgoings, whether hall, players or anything else, they should assume they can continue to draw from the endowment, surely? That’s not what it is there for! To have done so would have been extremely irresponsible, but we wouldn’t have been criticising it for a few more years until we found out.
            In other words, if management were truly awful and hideous as claimed, this is exactly what they would have done. Instead, they seem to have taken a rather more courageous approach (with which there’s not too much wrong in principle. Balancing the budgets having secured funding for their hall, their home, doesn’t seem too bad).
            All you are really castigating them for is fiddling figures in order to gain support for the hall, a positive outcome even if naught, and poor handling of the facts of the real financial position. Unless you are suggesting the board should approve drawing down the endowment in order to pay substantial player salaries for a decade or so until the endowment is gone and that’s the end of the orchestra?

          • Anon, the demand of a 30-50% pay cut is draconian. The endowment draws were unsustainable, and exacerbated the problem when they returned to what you deem an honest representation of reality. I am certain the players would accept some pay decrease if the MOA were to drop its demands for well over 200 changes in work rules, all making the conditions of employment more difficult.

            My point is that the MO musicians were sold a bill of goods in the same way the Minnesota legislature was. If the board is really interested in saving the MO, why do they refuse to alter their stance in any way? The musicians are trying to save the orchestra they had. It is likely too late.

            Honesty has been in short supply in Minnesota. First they wanted a top-flight destination orchestra to go with their shiny remodeled hall, then they pulled the rug out from under the musicians who had bought in. It would be easier to believe the MOA was interested in the future of the MO if they would at least consider altering their stance in any way.

        • It really irks me that people complain publicly about artist salaries without taking a serious look at executive salaries. It wasn’t long ago that it was a scandal for the top of an arts organization to make more than half a million a year, and now many are making at least that, and some double that. And yet its the musicians that are asked to sacrifice. Why?

          • Annette McMullen says:

            Added to the hyper-inflated salaries of administrators is the fact that they seem to be rewarded for failure. Besides the last two MOA administrators, the former CEO of Atlanta departed, after sinking that orchestra, to an even more lucrative job at Philadelphia, which promptly went into bankruptcy. Arts administration in this country seems to trying to give Wall Street bankers a run for their money.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I can’t imagine that an experienced listener to orchestral music could mistake a professional ensemble on the level of the Minnesota Orchestra for a youth orchestra that rehearses for a few weeks and gives a several concerts at a summer festival.

      The Verbier Festival Orchestra is a training orchestra for young professionals, many of whom have just graduated from conservatories from around the world. They are not hired; they audition and are invited to attend with a significant turnover each year (about 33%, I think). They receive free room and board and a modest stipend during the time in Verbier. Occasionally extra professional musicians are hired when they do very large works such as Mahler 3. I have heard the Verbier telecasts and find them enthusiastically executed but extremely uneven in all musical areas.

      Have you ever heard the Juilliard or Curtis Orchestras; they are marvelous with an individual virtuosity that outstrips almost any major professional orchestra world-wide. But they lack the ensemble skills and the musical maturity to consistently perform at the level of a Minnesota Orchestra.

      But, let’s get back to the real issue here: MOA management has a plan which has obviously been in place for several years and the final pages of this sinister plot are about to be revealed. Discerning listeners will not be fooled (nor will Osmo Vanska) by a strategy to bring the equivalent of a summer festival youth orchestra to the stages of Minneapolis. If the musicians are guilty of anything, it’s of a certain naïveté and slowness in comprehending the diabolical business strategy of their governance.

      • So how many sufficiently “experienced listener[s]” are there in Minneapolis? How much more are they willing to pay, on a per-seat, per-performance basis, for those “ensemble skills and … musical maturity” than for a merely Curtis or Juilliard class ensemble? Excellence costs money, to be sure. But do the people who claim to care, care enough to close the budget gap?

        • They might well care enough. But they certainly aren’t going to donate that money to an organization whose current managers have

          (a) consistently refused to allow an independent audit (as requested by the players) so that everyone can see how big the budget gap really is;

          (b) demonstrably lied to the Minnesota legislature about the state of the organization’s finances in previous years;

          (c) flat-out rejected the play-and-negotiate proposal made by the mediator they (the managers) themselves chose; and

          (d) as indicated by the evidence in Emily Hogstad’s new blog post, planned to lock out the musicians at least four months before negotiations supposedly “broke down”.

          • MWnyc, to be fair, (d) does not demonstrate a plan to lock out, merely an awareness of the possibility of a campaign.

          • Anon, your parsing of words here does not do the facts justice. Negotiations in the AFL-CIO arts and entertainment sector make up just 4% of all AFL-CIO negotiations. However, 46% of all lockouts have occurred in this same sector (International Musician, May 2013). Orchestra managements are colluding on destructive labor strategies to cover their incompetence. It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a full blown conspiracy.

        • They do care enough. They’ve cared enough for years. They’ve donated millions of dollars to the orchestra, and the board has turned around and slapped them in the face.

          • While every donor and every dollar count and money shouldn’t buy absolute power, the people who have “donated millions” are by in large members of the board or certainly run in the same circles. If the are indeed turning around a slapping themselves in the face, video of board meetings should go viral! (Sometimes if you don’t laugh, you cry.)

    • George London says:

      Very good points and questions I would love to hear the musicians and union answer.

      • Why don’t you go to the Musician’s website and see for yourself? Here, I’ll give you the URL:

        http://www.minnesotaorchestramusicians.org/

      • “George”…the musicians ARE the union.

        • All the more reason not to trust them, “Amy.”

        • No, there are lots of highly trained but low-paid union musicians in the twin cities who probably want a larger share of the arts spending pie. How does keeping orchestra members’ pay and benefits sky-high and ultra-competitive benefit them?

          • The orchestra actual has a considerable and beneficial “trickle-down” effect for union musicians. They engage musicians as extras and subs. Many of those people have regular, usually considerably lower paying gigs that then get filled by “the next rung down.” In addition, to that effect being currently absent, orchestra musicians are playing gigs that would normally go to other union musicians. That is not even limited to the Twin Cities. As orchestras around the country generously offer work to MInnesota Orchestra musicians, it cuts into work for those cities’ musicians. So I would think union musicians want to see the MInnesota Orchestra back at work for a variety of reasons.

          • What Anon said. I recently heard from a Minneapolis freelancer who said work has been hellaciously hard to come by since the lockout, as the MO musicians are scrapping along with the freelance pool.

          • In the short view that is true. I myself have suffered very heavily in exactly such a way as a result of the lockout. But the larger context is that there are thousands of musicians who, while they have not been able to compete to win even a mediocre job, are perfectly qualified to make music at the highest levels by the standards of even well-trained ears. The margins are that absurdly narrow. As skilled as the Minnesota Orchestra’s musicians are, their skills are probably not as uncommon as they would like to believe. If musicians of the Minnesota orchestra can prove or convince people that their skills are as extraordinary as their pay woukd suggest, more power to them, for sure. In the long view, I believe the most equitable distribution of resources occurs when supply and demand are in fair equilibrium. Simply put, supply is large and demand is not. Minnesota Orchestra members may be sobered to learn who they would be competing against to earn back a $75,000/year position. I don’t doubt anyone’s vitality and dedication to music, and, win or lose, I would be excited to see it displayed.

    • Anonymous says:

      The Verbier Festival Orchestra is comprised of extremely talented young musicians. However, anyone who can’t tell the difference between the VFO and the Minnesota Orchestra is not to be taken seriously.

    • Dan Furth says:

      Frank,

      Sorry that you have such limited knowledge of what you address. Great orchestras are like a sports team. Something you might have the knowledge to understand. They require a great conductor and years of recruiting to build into a winning season.

      What the MOA, under the ignorant cloud of Tea Party logic, has done will take many years to undo if ever. Like a sports team the best talent leaves first and they are already gone. If Detroit is the model for Minneapolis then they have succeeded. With the acuity of Michelle Bachmann the MOA has destroyed generations of reputation for the city and the Orchestra.

      What skilled experienced and skilled musician wants to leave their job in a lesser orchestra to come to Minneapolis now. You will get the dregs of the old orchestra and a bunch of young kids who are looking for their first job.

      Sounds like the Twin Cities I grew up in as a young classical musician are gone. Detroit has to feel better now that the MOA has been taken over by classless Trolls.

      • Dregs? DREGS!? Wow – it saddens me to think that there are people who would consider some of my dear friends and colleagues – including people with whom I studied in graduate school – “dregs”.

        • Relax, Samuel. Dan didn’t call the current remaining MinnOrch musicians “dregs”. He said that dregs are what the MinnOrch will be left with if the current MinnOrch management gets its way.

          • Performing Artist52 says:

            And that in itself is insulting to those musicians that choose to stay! They will not be the “dregs” of the orchestra as they are highly skilled. They may stay for various reasons only they will know.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Smoking gun. Now we can end this silly debate over whether or not management ever intended to negotiate in good faith. Management has never been bothered by bad press, so I’m not sure what action this will spur on their part.

  3. Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    Emily Hogstad is a treasure. I hope things can turn around in Minneapolis, but at this point am not very optimistic.

  4. Preach it, Norman!

  5. Now this is a different story and a much clearer story from what we’ve been hearing, and it’s just awful. Had no idea they were the same British guys who were running Liverpool, Bournemouth and Ulster orchestras – says it all really. You meet these people in life that wherever they go, they flex their muscles, leave disaster, debt, and a lot of unhappiness.

  6. Time for all parties, Board, musicians and staff to crawl up out of the weeds and put the audience first. There are really only two choices: 1. Reach a deal or 2: Go out of business. Each is certainly viable. Reaching a deal will require the cooperation of ALL parties. Musicians must stop throwing around red herrings and come to the table. The board must show flexibility, stop the carnage and demonstrate through actions it wants to move forward. And management…well, after seeing this slimy crap, no question that Henson needs to go. His heart was clearly in a fight, not a solution. SOMEONE has to show leadership….wonder who it will be.

  7. Mark Francis says:

    The orchestra world is one of those strange places where failure is thought to be a sign of success. It’s also a place where money gets thrown at bad practices covering up just how bad they are. The board in MN doesn’t seem to realize them unbelievable damage they are doing. It’s truly a shame.

    • Mark, I don’t think the board – or at least its leadership – sees it as damage.

      They’ve talked a lot about a “new business model” – they seem to want a fundamentally different kind of organization from the Minnesota Orchestra of the Osmo era. My guess is that they want a musical organization that (they think) can support itself entirely through earned income.

      Are there any symphony orchestras that do that?

      • Mark Francis says:

        I’m not aware of any. Ever.

      • They want an organization based around their new building which will host all sorts of stuff and half a third-rate house band which will play at corporate parties anywhere, anytime.

        • Weddings and bar mitzvahs, too. Can’t forget those.

          That kind of organization would be a disaster artistically, but it might just be able to survive on earned income alone.

          I suspect that’s the only thing the current MinnOrch leadership really cares about.
          (“Stop asking rich people to give you money!”)

          Well, that and being able to brag that they were the ones able to pioneer a new kind of orchestra for the 21st century, able to fend for itself and thrive without handouts.

          (Would that orchestra do any exciting or memorable music-making? That’s not the part they care about.)

        • Sarah, your point about a third rate house band aside, why would you be against Orchestra Hall being constantly in use? I absolutely think that AFTER scheduling the orchestra’s season, they should try to rent the hall every other night of the year. Orchestra hall is the orchestra’s most important TANGIBLE (i.e. not including people) asset. It would be irresponsible not to make as much money from it as possible.

          • Performing Artist52 says:

            Kyle, I think it would be a good idea for Orchestra Hall to be used for other things as long as their is a top rate in house orchestra. The building is still called Orchestra Hall thank goodness. I just hope they don’t turn it into a circus tent and lose its artistic reputation! I don’t believe management is interested in true artistic quality as they don’t know what that is.

  8. The last contract was not signed off on by either Woodcock or Henson. After Woodcock was pushed out, the board undertook the contract negotiations. Some think they brought in Henson to correct what they quickly came to believe was an overly generous contract.

    • To their credit, then, the board chose to honor their agreement with the musicians, rather than reopen the contract as so many other orchestras did. This, during a time of unprecedented economic calamity throughout the world. Doesn’t excuse their heavy-handed and tone deaf behavior since, but give credit where it is due.

      • I don’t know that it was about honoring an agreement with the musicians. That time of unprecedented economic calamity was precisely the time that MinnOrch management was telling the Minnesota state legislature that the organization’s finances were in excellent shape so that the legislature would approve financing for the renovation of the Orchestra Hall lobby and public areas.

      • Actually the MOA reopened the contract once in 2010 when the musicians gave back the final year of the 5 year agreement. They then came back the next year and wanted to reopen again. At that point the musicians offered a wage freeze in exchange for an extension of the contract which would take them through the hall renovation.

        the MOA refused.

        They did not choose to honor their agreement in any way.

        • John, thanks for the clarification. I wasn’t aware of the facts, and retract my comments.

      • Really Norman, you should edit your final paragraph. I have no quibble with your opinion, but your facts are incorrect. The only wages ever negotiated by Henson were a freeze during the last contract. He has never done anything other than reduce wages and never previously negotiated a contract. The last contract Woodcock negotiated was in 2004. Wages at that point were considerably lower. It was not until the board negotiated contract of 2007 that the musicians’ wages increased substantially and musicians began to be compensated like members of a top tier orchestra.

        • Thank you very much for the correction. I believe that what you have written is now, strictly speaking, accurate if misleading. You make it seem like the highest level of pay attained by the musicians was approved by Woodcock and defacto approved by Henson. Woodcock’s 2004 contract was much less expensive and Henson was probably brought in specifically not to approve of the contract suggesting that the board is leading management and not the other way around. None the less, thank you for responding.

  9. Doesn’t strike me as particularly furtive – the names were bought by the orchestra and registered as such. Furtive would have been buying them through a third party. I’m not condoning it, but it does demonstrate a little bit of thinking in advance and taking action, something which has perhaps been lacking from their other activities.

    • It demonstrates a clear intention that is at odds with management’s public statements about wishing to negotiate in good faith. Stark contrast, in fact.

    • It demonstrates that management was thinking in advance that it was going to lock out the orchestra for at least long enough that audience members and/or musicians would want to launch a public save-our-orchestra campaign.

      So management bought up most of the Internet domain names that such a campaign might want. And management didn’t use any of those website names to launch a fundraising campaign; they just sat on the names so nobody else could get them.

  10. George London says:

    The problem is a surplus of product without enough demand and interest from the public, along with charity needed from donors to keep this current operating model going.

    Business models need to change due to changes in market.

    Just like travel agents and milk men…people can get classical music in many different ways and forms, and for the musicians to stomp their feet and say I want pay that isn’t realistic anymore isnt productive…then again the union hasn’t wanted to be productive.

    • You obviously have no experience with nonprofit artistic “business models”. Go read Alan Fletcher’s speech.

      The “business experts” on the Board have put into play practices which would get them fired in their “day jobs”.

      • Of course they’d get fired. Their other businesses don’t work the same way as the orchestra. If more money comes in through fundraising than from services rendered, it’s called a charity.
        And Alan Fletcher’s words at the meeting had no actionable resolution to the matter nor to nonprofit models, which is to his credit.

        • Derek, that’s my whole point in my response to George. They are imposing their for-profit, corporate models on the orchestra, including models which wouldn’t work in the business world (i.e. trashing your product and dissing your consumers).

          • George London says:

            Sorry Sarah physics is physics and math is math no matter if it non profit or for profit.

            An entity be it Walmart or the Minnesota orchestra has to be a going concern, that means healthy from a math standpoint or business standpoint.

            This means revenues(tickets plus donations plus proceeds from endowments) must equal expenses.

            There is no secret non profit world where you can run at a loss an not go under…be it an art museum, opera, or food shelf.

            The reason you want people with business acumen on a board is they understand how the math works.

            Now obviously the union and or the musicians either doesn’t understand math or are acting out

            And obviously the management is evil and stupid for saying on our current path the Minnesota orchestra will be kaput cause they will run out of money.

          • Sorry George, comparing Walmart to a nonprofit arts organization shows a fundamental lack of understanding of either. The Board doesn’t seem to get the math as well, nor have they made any attempts to fundraise for anything other than their Edifice.

            And given the number of banksters on the board, including those who accepted bailout money, they obviously understand that the government will bail them out. LIke Walmart – we all pay for their employees’ healthcare.

          • Sarah, the orchestra’s “Building for the Future” campaign encompasses $50 million for the hall, $30 million for the endowment and $30 million for artistic and education. So they are actually, at least on paper, raising more money for things other than the “Edifice.”

    • Easy there, George. That kind of logical thinking and common sense will get you a verbal lynching in these here parts.

    • All of your comments indicate that you are nothing but an anti-union troll. You know nothing about the AFM, Local 30 or ICSOM (look it up). What is productive about giving back 30-50% of your wages and 30 years of negotiated work rules that keep you from being nothing but a slave to your organization? Perhaps you’d also like to apply your ideas to your local library or art museum as well.

  11. Performing Artist52 says:

    @George, the musicans have never “stomped their feet”. Who is to say that they wouldn’t take a cut in pay? I have not heard one peep from a musican saying they would not consider any pay cut. But 30 – 50% is not realistic either. If the board can come up with that much money to pay for an overly expensive lobby, they could have found ways to raise money for the musicians to not have to take such a horrible cut. Did they really have to spend that much money on the lobby? Why can’t some of the additional $30 million they raised go towards the musicans salary.

    There is no surplus of product here. Says, who? You? Charity from donors? Yikes! I don’t think Ken Dayton thought of the orchestra as a charity case!

    Business models…..blag, blah, blah. The board got themselves into this mess they can get out of it without destroying a world class orchestra and the answer is not cutting the musicians salary so drastically. And get off the union kick. The union is not the driving force in this dispute.

    When Michael Henson, Lilly Schwartz, Bob Neu and Brian Ebensteiner take a 30 – 50% pay cut, then we know they are in financial trouble. Until then………..

    There are plenty of people that want the orchestra back.

  12. Emily will be welcomed with open arms if she ever decides to join the ranks of the JFK assassination researchers, as she is able to take pieces of evidence and weave them cohesively into a persuasive argument in order to draw a conclusion of conspiracy on the part of the MOA. This is great research. If only there were some way to hold the board accountable; but of course that is the issue, isn’t it?

    At the same time, just for a moment, imagine another concept. Suppose there is something else going on here that has not yet been defined, and yet has contributed in some what to this logjam? To think way outside of the box for a moment, suppose there is an even larger issue at hand; and that the board, in its own feeble and clumsy way, is trying to make their way through it? What if they are trying to flush out a conspiracy that has affected the MO that was connected, not to the board, but to a handful, or even just one, of the players?

    • Hmm, Pamela, you seem to be gunning for membership in those ranks. What is the larger issue here, or are you just out making up your own conspiracy theories.

      And yes, there is a need to hold the Board accountable. That’s been the problem all along. Please tell us why this would be a problem.

    • Under the current conditions in the orchestra world where you are told by the board the choices are capitulate to half salary or suffer lockout, Chapter 11 or Chapter 7, what power does a single musician or any musicians have? The only conspiracies are perpetrated by the managements.

      • Apologies for not persuading.

        Perhaps you will allow me to use an analogy? What power did Monostatos have in the temple of Sarastro? (From Mozart’s last major opera).

  13. John M. Russell says:

    Who is George London and why must we be subjected to his idiocy, his ultra right-wing, union hating rhetoric, to say nothing of his absolute void of knowledge about professional musicians, symphony orchestras, and other significant arts institutions? What a blighted person!

  14. If orchestras spent as much time retooling their half-century-old marketing methods as they do trying to renegotiate labor agreements, they wouldn’t need to cut artists’ pay.

    These labor conflicts are just symptoms of a much more serious malady, which is failure to earn revenue. Orchestras blame their problems on diminishing demand, but the truth is they do a lousy job of marketing to new audiences.

    • That’s true, Trevor, and there are several blogs – including Sandow and Audience Wanted right here at ArtsJournal – devoted to that very issue.

      To be fair, though, marketing to new audiences can be tricky for some orchestras, especially large ones, because what new audiences want is sometimes in direct conflict with what existing audiences (and donors) want.

      • How thoughtful of you to point out those blogs. What a surprise.

        You describe a dichotomy that arts pros have been using as an excuse for inaction for decades. Do you have any objective market intelligence to suggest that it is a real impediment to change?

      • Steve Soderberg says:

        Take care whose advice you consider, whether it be “marketing” or contract negotiations. Since you mention his name, here was some really helpful fatherly advice to the Detroit musicians from Mr. Sandow:

        “And [the Detroit Symphony] should get along as well as it can, but not asking for more than is decent, until Detroit is in better shape. And if it does this — if it makes the rebuilding of Detroit its high priority — I can believe that a grateful city, once it’s on its feet again, will remember what the orchestra did, and will rush to support it.”
        ~ Greg Sandow
        “Detroit Priorities”
        February 14, 2011

        When I originally read this it took me an hour to clean up the coffee I spit out onto my laptop keyboard.

  15. Woodcock and Henson in their different ways were disasters in Bournemouth. God knows how these people get such highly paid jobs. My advice to Minnesota would be get rid of Henson before it’s too late.

    • I’ve noticed that failed musicians seem to become administrators and then stick it to more talented musicians. Two cases in Minnesota alone . .

  16. Minnesota Orchestra Lockout: – A Sorry Tale Steeped in Duplicity and Dishonor

    In the beginning I was prepared to give you, the directors of the MOA, the benefit of the doubt. After all, I understand the financial perils of deficit funding. However, you have now worsened the financial base of the Minnesota Orchestra with your duplicity and lack of ethics. You have deprived the musicians of a living and denied them health insurance for almost a year.
    Even at this last Tuesday evenings meeting on the advice of our eminent guest, Alan Fletcher, I was in a mind to grant you some further indulgence. Now it appears you bought thirteen domain names on GoDaddy.com, such a “savetheminnesotaorchestra.com.” These purchases were made May 24 of 2012. These purchases are intended to frustrate the advocacy of citizen groups. They are absolute proof of your lack of integrity and indicate malice aforethought.
    The Minnesota Orchestra did not build its worldwide reputation in recent years. At the dawn of the stereo era in 1958/59 I was 10-11 years old. At that age I was already an avid music and audio enthusiast. In those years in the UK we used to gather at the Grand Old Hotel Russell, on beautiful Russell Square in London, every April for the annual Audio Fair. The fine recordings of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the Mercury Living Presence label recorded by Robert Fine, were at the top of the demonstration discs. Its reputation was worldwide then as it is now. Now you have caused financial loss and problems across the oceans frustrating the BIS recording, and completing the Grammy nominated Sibelius symphony cycle under Osmo Vanska. This coupled with appearances of the Orchestra at the BBC Proms and Carnegie Hall, it should come as no surprise that the eyes of the nation and the world are on you. A mighty chorus is rising up questioning your actions and judgement.
    Worse, at the time you were drawing up your infamous plans, the musicians of our orchestra were involved with A.C.M.E to bring El Sistema to the children of North Minneapolis. In addition to frustrating attempts to replace guns with instruments in North Minneapolis, your actions denied your organization funds from philanthropists looking for a social justice element in their donations. This is now a big consideration in direction of philanthropic donations. Since the chair and vice chair belong to a cadre of individuals whose collective moral turpitude and lack of probity visited untold misery on billions around the world from the events that unfolded in 2008 this comes as no surprise.
    Your only recourse to salvage any personal honor, is for you all to sincerely apologize and resign. If you think there are not competent individuals of probity and integrity to replace you, then you are additionally guilty of monumental conceit.
    Your actions are far more likely than not to end in the destruction of the much beloved Minnesota Orchestra, whom you have a sacred obligation to protect and nurture. In the event of the destruction of this Orchestra, all you names will live in infamy down the ages.

    • Dr. Carter…this great letter you wrote has helped inspire the community of supporters of the locked-out musicians. Thanks so much!

  17. Nick Reaburn says:

    Come on Norman, how about a clear explanation of the Fleischmann ideology which more and more appears to be underpinning management’s actions in this dispute?

    • I have elucidated the Fleischmann idea in various books and essays. Ernest would have been horrified to have his name associated with the actions of Michael Henson & Co.

      • Nick Reaburn says:

        That may well be so, Norman, and I think the more of him to hear that, but isn’t the outcome sought by management what he would have regarded as desirable?

        • Absolutely not. Ernest pursued a self-governed ‘community of musicians’.

          • Nick Reaburn says:

            You think it not to be about domination of artistic policy by management in both cases?

          • George London says:

            And along with ability to self govern you also need a product that self funds, otherwise you will always be governed by those that fund you. Be it donors or patrons.

  18. Wayne A. Benjamin says:

    Ask the geniuses in Minnesota to ask the Minnesota Viking players if they would like to take a 30% pay cut to play. I’m sure the team could find plenty of 300lb. couch potatoe replacements to suit up and play football on sunday afternoons. The result might even be entertaining. Certainly the ticket prices could be reduced. And a new metrodome could be eliminated too !

    • And they could scrimmage at corporate parties . . .

    • I am in no waying saying it justifies anything, but many INDIVIDUAL NFL players take 30% cuts and greater to keep playing. These are usually veterans who got a big second contract and can afford it. And well I truly could not value the skills of musicians more highly, the pool of 300 lb. men worthy of an NFL roster is tiny even compared to the number of really good orchestral musicians. Hence their high draft positions. No doubt someone will feel compelled to decry that statement, but it is absolutely true.

      Of course, the football analogy completely falls apart when you realize that the NFL is $7,00,00,00.00 a year business. And it is all earned income happily dolled out by the public.

  19. Nobody seems to be addressing the issue of Henson”s “crossing the pond for a six-fold increase in salary.” a salary which presumably has continued in full while spending the past year and more destroying the treasured institution he was hired, not just to run, but to perpetuate. In today’s twisted thinking, inconceivable in the days when symphony orchestras were about the music and the musicians, the way to perpetuate an orchestra is to first destroy it.
    These management robots aren’t acting in a vacuum. The world-class Minnesota musicians know, as do all American orchestra musicians, that people aren’t asked to join an orchestra board based upon their knowledge or love for classical music, but for their wealth. Once on the board, they invite their buddies to join the board after they, too, make a sizable tax-deductible donation.
    And what are the social-engineering policies of the wealthy these days? Are board members inspired by the example of Dudamel, or the example of the Koch Brothers?
    Standard operating procedure now is to use wealth to advance political agendas, no matter who or what is in the way. It’s perfectly fine for their puppet, an incompetent executive, to draw a salary several times that of the average musician because, After all, he’s an executive and they are musicians. Okay, too, that he’s drawing said salary while not doing his job, while at the same time fanning the fires against unionized musicians whose hard-won benefits include insuring enough time to practice and to recover from injuries brought on by the “product” mentality of those calling the shots.
    Make no mistake, this is a class issue. And one of the tactics is to whip people into a frenzy with anti-union rhetoric as an excuse for decimating earnings and benefits. Experience and skill mean nothing — they know that a hungry worker will work for anything just for the chance to work, at least until they realize that the current level level of exploitation is directly from the playbook of a hundred years ago.
    Lest anyone imagine these conspiracy theories to be the ravings of a lunatic — I live in Wisconsin. Need I say more?

    • Orchestra Friend says:

      To Powcello: thank you for effectively demeaning the hard work, dedication, faith, and yes, sustaining wallets, of Board members around the county. I don’t know what is happening in Minnesota, but I have been an administrator of several performing arts organizations around the country, and in none of them has class cronyism been a part of the agenda. Such a gross generalization of Board members is no fairer than the generalization that orchestra musicians are lazy, selfish, passionless prima donnas, or the one that says that administrators are greedy, incompetent, classless boors. Bad seeds are everywhere, but the good seeds are far more prevalent. Again, I DO NOT KNOW what is happening behind the scenes at Minnesota, but I resent being called a robot, and I object to your insults aimed at steadfast trustees.

      • Performing Artist52 says:

        So if you don’t live in Minnesota you then do not know the make up of the board here. Yes, there are members of the board who do care about the music but they my be in the minority. One member’s grandfather was on the founding board of the orchestra and I find it hard to believe that she would cave in to these draconion demands of the musicians. The banker bullies are the bottom of this and have been since thay came on “board.”

        The board does not appear to want a world class orchestra for whatever reason. The musicans would perhaps take a smaller paycut or make concessions like they did in 2009 but asking for a 30-50% pay cut is unwarranted.

        • Orchestra Friend says:

          Should have been clearer, was not trying to defend anything that is going on in Minneapolis. I tried to say that by stating that I don’t know anything about that situation or any of the parties involved. I was objecting to the generalizations. I apologize for being clumsy in making it appear I was defending or even knowledgeable about that specific situation, but not for my stance, which is that lobbing bombs generally makes things blow up.

      • Orchestra Friend, who hired Michael Henson? Who has allowed him to continue on this ruinous path? Who negotiated and signed a contract with the musicians “in good faith,” and then said, “0ops, the last guy we hired was wrong, now you all have to make it right by taking a 30% pay cut?” Thirty percent! How many board members have taken that level of pay cut in their work lives? Has Michael Henson? Why haven’t these good people demanded that ALL employees, not just the union workers, share the pain? What policies do they have toward executives vs. “workers” in their own companies?
        If you or anyone else expressing an opinion here doesn’t know what’s happening in Minnesota, you’d best educate yourself. Certainly every orchestra, including Minnesota, has hard-working, dedicated, faithful, and generous board members. What are they doing to resolve this horrendous situation? Why aren’t they demanding a restructuring of the management instead of a restructuring of the musicians’ contracts? Do many of them, in fact, agree with and support the current anti-worker policies sweeping the country all at the same time, as if by magic? And where has this agenda come from, pray tell, if not from a self-appointed group of super-wealthy social engineers who believe money can buy them anything, including elections and self-serving laws?
        Orchestra Friend, perhaps you were an administrator before this philosophy infected the orchestra world. If so, you were lucky enough to be associated with boards who cared more about sustaining a beloved cultural institution instead of running it into the ground, or sitting by while the robot they hired collects a big salary while slashing that of the “workers.” Perhaps class cronyism really wasn’t a part of your stint as an orchestra administrator. Well, times have changed, and at a stunningly rapid pace. If musicians are now to be demonized for being “unrealistic,” then administrators and board members must also share the responsibility (and the pain) for allowing the conditions to develop which have created this perception.
        If they don’t, well, if that isn’t a class issue, what is?

        • Orchestra Friend says:

          Yep, agreed. I have lost faith, over time, in the Minnesota situation. But as an administrator still working, I see the bigger picture, and know extremely well the changing times. I deal with them every single day. And BTW, I’m a worker too. Please don’t forget that.

          • Agreed, Orchestra Friend– you’re also a worker, and like all orchestra administrators, having to do a difficult job under difficult circumstances. I apologize for assuming you’re no longer in the field. When disastrous decisions are made, administrators are also vulnerable to losing their jobs, and on a moment’s notice, meaning a pay cut of 100%. Too often that reality is overlooked.
            The term “workers” was meant to imply union workers – the source of all the country’s woes, the reason states can’t balance their budgets and all the jobs have been shipped to Asia. So let’s shove them further down the ladder, and all those problems will go away, right?
            A white collar job is still a different animal than a blue collar job (read “unionized”) and the mindset that playing in an orchestra isn’t a “real job” is still widely prevalent. “Wait, how many hours do you work? Since when is that considered full-time? So what’s your day job? Really, you get paid all that money for hitting a triangle? Really, you get paid for not working? I don’t get a pension, why should you- I work for a living instead of playing the violin.” All this, and more, on a depressingly regular basis. Even from board members, chorus members, and managers, all of whom are supposed to be more knowledgeable and supportive of what it takes to be a symphony musician these days.
            Unfortunately, the changing times affect everyone who earns a living in the orchestra world. Maybe not Michael Henson right now, but his day will come. Let’s hope he and Scotty will very soon occupy the same cell in well-deserved obscurity.

        • As I have written elsewhere and asked Norman to correct in his article, Henson had nothing whatsoever to do with the 2007 contract. The board negotiated it in the absence of a president. Henson was then brought in, perhaps to fix what the board came to believe was an overly generous contract. The board has remained unanimous in its support of Henson.

          • Performing Artist52 says:

            It has appeared that the board had been unanimous in its support of Henson. But this has been changing as the board members that have not been involved as often are now finding our more and more of what has truly been happening as they were not given the complete picture. The musicians did make concessions twice since the recession hit. The second concession was rejected by the board as the amount the musicians proposed was not enough. So now the musicians are to blame for their “high” salaries?

    • Powcello

      I agree with you. Well said. It is a class issue and it is serious stuff. To destroy and start again with a damaged union and mangement in artistic control. I also think this is national or internatinal issue, impeccably prepared by the lawyers and anti union managements and boards. While not every orchestra management is anti union, the power brokers are instructing these managements to tow their line or else. Again, I believe this is a class issue and not so much about mere money management.

  20. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the State of Minnesota should exercise Eminent Domain over the orchestra and all its assets, including its name, its recording library and the hall, put it into a trusteeship and install new management, keeping the good and getting rid of the bad. The assets have real value, the greatest of which is its operation as a functioning top line orchestra, but the State should be able to pick it up for a song, i.e., at a low valuation, since MOA management is, after all, crying poor and telling everyone that the institution is not sustainable (and, certainly, no one should want to suggest that they might have a second set of books). Face it, if you want to promote the Arts, you’ve got to subsidize them, so use judgment when arguing business model. At the same time the London Philharmonic after WWII during a time of great stress in Britain had creative management that allowed it to sustain itself. There are lessons there still to be learned and applied from their experience and that of its violist manager, Thomas Russell.

    If the orchestra serves the whole of Minnesota- e.g., with concerts statewide, and in-school teaching programs, etc.- then reach out to get broader community for support, assess against the property tax, work with wealthy donors who are not ideological, but who instead just want to promote and sustain the arts because they believe they are necessary for the functioning of a healthy democracy and humanistic society, and get a few socially responsible heavy hitters like Warren Buffett (some may dispute me on that characterization) on your endowment committee, instead of the sharks who would still balk even if they could pay the players minimum wage. They could start by dumping Henson, cutting the Executive DIrector’s salary by a few hundred thou, and dropping it into the endowment fund.

    I am still curious about the new jewel of a hall- how it was funded and who apart from the State funded it, and if US Bancorp or Wells Fargo had a piece of the action, what they are earning from it, and whether the MOA received maximum federal or state mortgage and other guarantees to cut the risks to be able to reduce interest costs and other charges, how the construction contract was structured, whether there was any insider dealing, or kickbacks, etc., what type of cost overruns have been sustained, etc. And are Wells or US Bancorp the bankers for the MOA generally? If so, any sweetheart deals from running payroll though their bank?

    Maybe the Chinese would like to help fund this and other Minnesota State projects instead of holding risky US dollars and low interest bearing Treasury instruments while getting slammed by the neocons and neo-liberals.
    For starters, they could think about setting up Sister Cities to work with the orchestra, and have the orchestra share musicians with the best of the Chinese orchestras, and maybe be able to increase the enrollment of Chinese students in Minnesota colleges and universities. There are all kinds of tradeoffs that can make it worthwhile for both parties- after all Minnesota could help in any number of agricultural and environmental areas, and if any country has a positive perspective on trade and business and can recognize business opportunities, it is China. (Unfortunately, we seem to do well with military technology and smart bombs but have lost the knack with the other.)

  21. A few facts. Minneapolis sits at number 45 in city size in America. Including it with St. Paul and all the surrounding suburbs, it still is only 14 compared with other greater metropolitan areas. In the 50s and 60s it used to be more than a third larger in population. Minneapolis is way better than Cleveland or Detroit, which lost over half of their populations in the last several decades. Population is now slightly growing in the two cities but new populations have a high proportion of Latin and Asians replacing the declining percentage of German-Americas that have always been the backbone of local symphony audiences.
    At the very back of a drawer yesterday I discovered a gift pack for business class at Pan American Airlines. I wondered if it might have any value for collectors. Decades ago, new airlines were breeding like rabbits and hiring pilots working more hours at a dramatic lower salary, the management asked PA pilots to reconsider their two hundred grand salaries. “You wanted the best. You got it. It’s your job to figure out how to afford us.”

  22. By that reasoning, corporate excutives should be experiencing dramatic salary reductions at rates similar to those of highly skilled workers. Despite its relatively modest size, Minneapolis is considered a corporate center of the country, the 15th largest agglomeration in the nation — probably because companies decided to run leaner/meaner operations by slashing executive pay and perks, right?
    And what of all those bunny-rabbit airlines of yore? Are they thriving as a result of stiffing the workers who keep their planes from falling out of the sky, or did they eventually become hasenpfeffer on the table of greed?
    If the concern is that the dwindling number of white Euro-Americans can no longer keep symphonies afloat, the boards who truly care about preserving the institution had better begin courting those who more realistically represent its future: the young and the non-white.

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