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Minnesota board: Osmo can go

We reported four weeks ago that the board of the Minnesota Orchestra were quite content to see the departure of music director Osmo Vänskä as part of their ongoing, yearlong lockout. Last night Richard Davis, chair of the board’s negotiating team, clarified that position.

‘Osmo may have to leave,’ Davis told the Star Tribune (owned by one of his board members). ‘The board is resolved to know that that is a risk. Carnegie, the opening of the hall. All three may have to fall.’

No-one thought to ask him what the end game might be: an orchestra without musicians, a music director, a season, a reputation.



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  1. Or, come to that, a city without an orchestra worthy of its name, period. Just ask Syracuse.

  2. There can be no doubt that this was the plan all along. With each departure, they rid themselves of an employee who dare dissented.

    Personally, I would like for them to test their theory regarding recent college grads. Surely they can find a cheap 22 year-old fresh out of Juilliard to fill the Music Director position. After all, being a world-class musician doesn’t require any experience, does it?

    • How about a cheap 22 year old fresh out of an arts administration program to be CEO? I’m sure she or he would be FULL of new ideas . . .

      • Or a 26 year old conductor fresh off the plane from Caracas?

        • Radio Woman says:

          That conductor your reference had 11 years of experience at age 26.

          • And by the time Dudamel went to Los Angeles, he was not even close to fresh off the plane from Caracas. He already held one Chief Conductor position in Europe and done a lot of guest-conducting with some of the best orchestras on the continent.

            One can like Dudamel or not. It’s more than legitimate to consider him less than fully mature as an artist. But you cannot truthfully say that he’s inexperienced.

      • Indeed. Michael Henson and the Board may think that orchestra musicians are replaceable. So are executives.

        • And Michael Kaiser’s arts management fellowship program at the Kennedy Center turns out hungry young administrators every year?

          You know, Minnesota Orchestra board members, if you replaced Michael Henson with one of those hungry, ambitious youngsters, she or he would probably work for less than half of Henson’s salary. Think of the money you’d save! And you know they’d do just as good a job!

  3. Once upon a time, a town called Bournemouth had two orchestras, one big one small. A manager closed the small one.
    Once upon a time, the twin cities had two orchestras, one big one small. A manager…

  4. Bored Patron says:

    I wouldn’t say it is the board saying osmo can go, when it appears that musicians for an entire year haven’t wanted to negotite In good faith or be productive.

    The interesting thing about that article is that the independent financial analysis shows the revenue gap and the fact labor costs will need to be contained.

    So the musicians should realize that if they want to be paid more,they should step aside and audition for jobs they dont think are beneath them.

    However like most older talent they don’t realize how replaceable they really are, but when you have the union to protect you from younger musicians that are better and hungrier along with keeping the same prehistoric conditions that actually make symphonic presentations dinosaur like.

    So just what are the musicians going to do when the antics of the union drive all the big dollar donors away?

    • Maybe the CEO shouldn’t be making 4 times the average salary of the musicians…

    • Musicians are not widgets to be replaced on a whim, and younger musicians may be hungry but they are not better. There is a noticeable difference in quality between experienced musicians who have been playing together for decades, and fresh conservatory grads no matter how talented. I listen to auditions for my own orchestra and it is shocking how few qualified players we can find despite a thick stack of resumes full of name brand schools and teachers. As for antics, the union has been willing to negotiate and has been willing to go to mediation. The antics have been entirely on the side of the management and board. If you threaten to burn my house down unless I give you access to my bank and retirement accounts, and I say “no,” I am not the one refusing to negotiate.

      • I listen to auditions for my own orchestra and it is shocking how few qualified players we can find despite a thick stack of resumes full of name brand schools and teachers.”

        Mary, that’s an interesting statement, and I’d love it if you told us a bit more about it. (I hope that doesn’t go too far off-topic for this thread.)

        When you listen to these auditions and find most of the auditioners unqualified despite their name-brand training – what’s missing? What qualities do members of your orchestra need that these players don’t have?

        By the way, love your last sentence!

        • The largest factor creating the shortage of qualified candidates is a lack of experience because the USA has so few orchestras per capita with with substantial budgets and seasons. The best way to learn how to play the excerpts and how to do an audition is to play in a solid orchestra, learn, and then audition for better orchestras.

        • For MWnyc: It’s easy to identify the young, inexperienced candidate from behind a screen. Typically, they play their concertos very well, and then they fall apart in the excerpts. Most commonly, they can’t keep the rhythm absolutely steady. Other frequent flaws/mistakes are playing the wrong tempo, the wrong stroke, not playing traditional rubati–these are all tipoffs to someone who has never actually performed the piece. Intonation is often a problem–these players play well, but they do not play perfectly in tune. If you are a violinist and you can’t play a clean Schumann Scherzo, you aren’t going to get a job except possibly in the smallest of orchestras. And I have actually heard candidates play wrong notes in excerpts from well-known pieces. If the MOA leadership thinks that they can easily replace their top-drawer musicians with recent Juilliard grads, they are way off base.

          • With all due respect, Mr. Vanska has been able to take a group of players who could play at times very well and at others exhibit excruciating musical gaffs and train them to eliminate virtually all their bad habits. Based on the dramatic improvement of quality in the MO during his tenure, it seems there is nothing he can’t accomplish.

            Of course, he would have to still be there to do this…:-0

          • True enough, though I don’t think Mary was suggesting otherwise.

          • Hopefully Mary allows for Mr. Vanska’s talent for building a new ensemble if necessary. Couldn’t tell from her post.

            From another post (can’t find a reply button to it) you said, “Do I take it, then, that part of the problem is conservatories training their students to be soloists rather than orchestral players?

            (If so, I’m guessing that that’s a more common phenomenon for string students than for woodwind and brass.)”

            My teacher, a Principal Flute of the MO, always made a distinction between an orchestral player and a soloist. He said repeatedly that most conservatory grads can toss of multiple concertos, but are unable to play a single orchestral solo correctly.

            An irony seems to be, however, that orchestral playing can tend to make a performer more timid or take fewer risks as a soloist, which was my impression with him.

          • Very interesting. Thanks!

            Do I take it, then, that part of the problem is conservatories training their students to be soloists rather than orchestral players?

            (If so, I’m guessing that that’s a more common phenomenon for string students than for woodwind and brass.)

          • I am well aware of the magic a great conductor can work with a heterogeneous group of musicians, but given the choice, a great conductor is not going to hire musicians who play below a certain level even if they have “Juilliard” on their resumes. That’s assuming that said great conductor sticks around after losing a significant percentage of his best musicians. My point was that the MOA and other union-busting-minded boards and managements who think that they can easily replace expensive veterans with hungry recent grads are completely, destructively wrong, and I point to Louisville and Detroit as unhappy examples of this. I have it on good authority that the DSO sounds nothing like it did before its lengthy labor dispute.

            I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say that conservatories are training soloists–to a certain extent that’s true, but the bigger problem is that many if not most of the teachers at the best schools did not spend much time in professional orchestras themselves (I am speaking now of strings). My conservatory days were thirty-some years ago. I did study excerpts with my teacher, along with concertos and etudes, but I don’t remember being drilled in the perfection of rhythm and intonation that is necessary to advance past the first round. After my master’s, I won an audition for a titled chair in a very small orchestra in an undesirable location, and spent the next several years driving to the city with the closest major orchestra to take lessons from the concertmaster there. That’s what made me employable.

          • Hi Mary -

            Re your first paragraph: I don’t think anyone was disagreeing with you.

            Re your second paragraph: good, illuminating story – many thanks.

    • do you have any conception of what an orchestral tradition is?

    • You might not have noticed that a lot of the musicians have shown very well that they are capable of finding comparable or even better positions in other orchestras. Something that, frankly, has surprised me, since at first I shared some of your assumptions. Though if those lockout goes on much longer, all you will be left with is a core of older players who might be past their prime with nowhere to go.

      And don’t get too confident about those younger players; yes, in many cases a new Juilliard grad will probalby outplay a veteran at an audition. But the way the MO management has treated its musicians has now given it a really bad reputation, and a lot of good musicians – seeing a degraded wage scale, harsher working conditions and the prospect of working with Michael Henson (and this cast of characters at the board) may well think twice about auditioning – never mind working – in Minnesota, at least if they have any other options.

      And even if musicians may have no choice but to audition there, top-rank conductors can generally be a bit more choosy; it will be a long time before another conductor of Osmo’s stature agrees to come to Minnesota. Indeed, I wonder if ANY conductor would come, since any will be seen as selling out both Osmo and the musicians; as a management stooge, really.

    • From what I have read–albeit from a distance (Dubuque, IA)–it has always appeared to me that the MOA has been firmly entrenched from the very beginning, if not before (see domain-name-gate).

      This is an orchestra that the New York Times stated was, for an evening at least, among the best in the world. That includes the fine ensembles in this country, the London orchestras (how many does that city support?), the Berlin Phil, the Vienna Phil, etc. An institution such as the MO is a vital part of the rich cultural tapestry of the Twin Cities; what has taken Mr. Vanska many years to cultivate can be shredded in only a few months.

      I remain surprised that there is not more outcry over the salary that the CEO continues to draw. There has been no “product” in nearly a year. Exactly what work is he overseeing?

    • As with anything, you get what you pay for. Top talent (Vanska and many who have left) will always find a welcoming home that recognizes and is willing to appreciate their worth, both in terms of money and respect. We had a top tier orchestra, for awhile. Now, the board has chosen to embrace mediocrity. Campbell, that other banker and what’s his name, the CEO, will stand forever as the crew that guaranteed the Minnesota Orchestra will occupy the same place in music the Twins occupy in baseball. We had a winning team. They broke it up … and didn’t even get any “players to be named later.”

    • This is an ignorant point of view. The musicians were the ones who negotiated in good faith. They want to work. It’s their life. But they are not whores either. The management are the ones who dismissed the mediator they asked for. The management are the ones who bought web addresses that the musicians would have used before the lockout.
      As for your comment on auditions you have no idea about auditions and how they work or what makes a great orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra did not become great overnight. They became great because they are great musicians who lived and played together for years.
      Save your ignorance. Spend your life working your tail off to perform on an instrument at a world class level. Sacrifice your body from injuries and the high level of stress that it takes to win and MAINTAIN your level then you might have some perspective.

    • It’s the antics of the Board that are driving the donors away.

      As for the new financial analysis – if it was the MOA who was paying the analysts, the analysis was not independent. Consulting firms know not to piss off their clients.

    • Actually, many of the twenty-six musicians who left have already won higher-paying jobs. It appears that the job market isn’t so bad for people with talent. Since we’re taking a “let’s-look-at-the-tough-numbers” approach here, how about these numbers: patrons have donated millions of dollars to the orchestra over the years. The musicians held up their end of the bargain, by playing music at a world-class level. The management failed their end of the bargain, by mismanaging the generously donated money. Then they failed again by shutting down for a year, thus halting ticket revenues and donations. The musicians don’t want to relocate their families and careers, but hey – they’re the best orchestral players on the market right now. They’ll be fine. The bored patrons, on the other hand, won’t be. Many of the musicians recognize their debt of gratitude to the community that has generously given over the years, and so they stick with the struggle. But the board has no concept of gratitude. Their actions fit the definition of insanity: repeat the same action, expect a different result.

    • Please tell us how management’s declaration of their 2012 offer as final and financially non-negotiable qualifies as “good faith bargaining. Ditto their unscrupulous accounting and shameful Domaingate involvement. I fail to see how intending for years to lockout one’s employees is “good faith”.

      The Minnesota Orchestra musicians are some of the best players in the world. Please tell us how you are qualified to judge how replaceable they are. Better yet, please tell us what you do for a living and why you believe you should not be replaced by a younger, cheaper college grad.

    • Another symphony musician from elsewhere says:

      You obviously have no idea of what it takes to be a musician in a world-class symphony orchestra, or what it’s like to go through negotiations with a management that is clearly not negotiating in good faith.

    • There are big dollar donors who are seriously committed to this orchestra who wish the ideologues would go away. Unfortunately, the bums have a lock on the organization.

    • violinista says:

      It is my understanding that no fewer than four proposals have come from the orchestra side. Not only that, the Mgmt agreed to independent review and then backed out before it could be completed. Something they didn’t want unearthed, perhaps? But hey, they’ve got plenty of money to renovate the lobby of that empty hall.

  5. Wow – comparing the loss of of a music director who brought the orchestra into the top ranks with playing at Carnegie Hall (however prestigious that is) and opening the new Edifice. Talk about misplaced priorities! Davis et. al. have thoroughly failed in their responsibilities and need to go NOW.

  6. Look at cities like London, Paris, Vienna, Munich, and Berlin, each with 5 or 6 full time orchestras and a couple full time, year-round opera houses. The problem is America’s lack of comprehensive public funding systems like ALL other developed countries have long had.

    • As much as I enjoy classical music and going to concerts, I don’t like the string attachments that come from public funding for arts. I prefer the American system better, where public money is only a small part of the equation.. Each one is responsible for its own destiny.

      For example, I don’t want my San Francisco Opera to have these horrible productions from some of these European cities you mentioned. Who knows how the guy in Berlin got his job? In the world of public financing, politics rules..

      • America only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year, so you don’t need to worry about Regietheater in the USA. There’s almost no opera at all.

      • Sorry, but its always a question of politics, especially when the Board becomes heavily involved- the question is whose.

      • The price for the American system is, that you have maybe 10% of the cultural offerings that a publicly funded system has.

        • James Brinton says:

          This is true. Over the last sixty years, the US public has almost lost sight of what art and culture are, much less how accessible they actually are to the average person. I saw a headline last week: “The Rednecking of America.” It’s very far advanced, advancing faster, and polluting everything from art to politics.

        • violinista says:

          How many choices do we really need before diminishing returns kicks in? There are only so many hours in a day.

    • violinista says:

      And we see what happens when the governments decide they can’t afford them anymore: screwed, just like that. Complacency kills. I’d gladly keep the atmosphere where there’s a fire under our butts all the time.

      • Name one major European orchestra with the stature of Minneapolis that has faced a year long lock out. Name one with the stature of Philadelphia that went bankrupt? Tell us that the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Phil, the Gewandhaus, and the Concertgebouw don’t have “fire under their butts.” Americans are brain washed about public arts funding.

  7. “He (Stark) said that if no deal is reached by “the end of the year,” there would be permanent damage to the orchestra.” I believe that the MOA has already succeeded in that.

  8. Perhaps there are other reasons the board would not be sorry to see him go?

  9. Bored Patron says:

    Private free market based arts organizations have shown to be far better at providing innovative programming, acessability, and quality.

    Public funds should stay out of sports, arts and other leisure pursuits.

    Art needs to be free but one can’t serve the state and be true at the same time.

    • James Brinton says:

      I doubt that you can supply substantiation for any of those statements.

    • Alan Penner says:

      Although I agree, in order for public funds to be taken out of the equation there would need to be a complete overhaul of perception regarding how things are, instead of how they should be.
      One cannot squeeze blood from a turnip. But it’s clear that there is a sense of entitlement by the musicians/union that will continue to prevent music from being heard in Minneapolis.

      • Sorry, Alan, I don’t believe so. The “sense of entitlement” is pure fiction, trumpeted by union opponents. Maybe you’re thinking a “sense of justice” or “integrity”… Union-busters never know what to make of those ideals.

    • Evidence please…..

    • Bored Patron has a very limited experience with the arts world at large. Where does one even begin…..?

    • Where was it shown that private market based arts organizations better at providing innovative programming, accessibility, and quality?

    • Which “private free market organizations” in the field of classical music are you talking about? Don’t all American orchestras use public funds, whether directly or indirectly through tax deductions?

    • You must really love those pops concerts.

    • Most of the money for the Minnesota Orchestra comes through private donation and investments in their endowment. Government grants made up a paltry 1,202,381 while private contributions made up 16,612,933. So, obviously, talking about how public funds are being misspent is way off. Compared to how much public funds go to building a single stadium is…well..ridiculous (since most stadiums go over 300 million easily, or ya know, 290 years of public funding for the symphony). The amount of public money is relatively low…In fact, for 2011-2012, the last operating year of the Orchestra, donations and grants dropped about 13 million, mainly from private contributions. It seems the free market part is what is failing…probably from the threat of the lockout, the loss of the contract, and horrible PR by the symphony.

      Looking at some interesting facts, like, fundraising events. They actually lost money doing fundraising events. Well, whose fault is that? That’s falls on the shoulders of management more than the players.

      You can go through the reports yourself. You’ll need a guidestar account, but they’re free, and you can get 3 years worth of forms to go through. They’re incredibly thorough, but it looks like, to me at least, the orchestra wasn’t doing that badly. Yes, they had to pull from endowment, but that’s the reason FOR the endowment–in case of lean years, they can pull a little, and keep assets up. Total assets actually increased last year, so pulling from the endowment is a moot point. They could actually do a fairly substantial endowment growing initiative if they wanted.

      And I think that’s the problem. Many people see the point of an orchestra is to grow the endowment, to MAKE money. That is in fact NOT the point of the orchestra. An orchestras goals should be to, hopefully, boast a modest increase every year. And I do mean modest. Technically, a non-profit should cannot be pulling in more than 3x their operating budget every year. If they do, they can actually lose their non-profit status. It means that the organization isn’t using the funds to further their mission, instead using the funds to make money, which means they aren’t a non-profit (see how that works?).

      Now, I’m not saying musicians may not have to take cuts. I’ve actually blogged before that in some places, musicians really are overpaid for what the community can afford…I made this case with Detroit, though I disagreed with the level of cuts Detroit made.

      I also think you’re dead wrong on “private” arts. The fact is, I can’t think of any straight up private arts organizations that operate well. The main reason? Without being a public non-profit, there are essentially no donors. Yes, people give to orchestras because they love orchestras, but a major company doesn’t donate 20m to an orchestra just because they love the orchestra–they need the tax write-off. If they don’t have that incentive, a company will not give those huge lump sums. And those huge sums are what make orchestras. All our $50 donations don’t add up to jack.

      For an example of a private run group that completely failed, check out the Kansas Arts commission history, specifically for 2 years ago and last year. Brownback got rid of the public, government run group for the same reasons you cited. Of course, what happened? The organization ran out of money within 6 months, while cutting grants to basically nothing. Why? No donors. They lost their non-profit status, and it would take at least a year to get it back. In the meantime, arts funding was dramatically reduced, because smaller groups couldn’t work through the larger organization to get it done.

      Now, in Kansas City there is also the Charlotte Street Foundation. You may call this private, since it isn’t run by the government. Of course, neither is the Minnesota Orchestra (nor any orchestras in America…). However, a fairly large amount of their funding comes from state and national grant programs, as well as other endowment groups. And while they have been doing great with supporting a wide range of arts, they also ran into major financial difficulties a couple years ago.

      So, basically, this problem is much larger than your glib, short comments give merit. The Minnesota situation is more complicated than what either side is saying. And, to me, the biggest problem is boards and even outside groups not really looking at the purpose of a symphony. The purpose of a symphony is, first and foremost, to make music. Yes, it should stay solvent, but that doesn’t mean turning a profit every year. And it doesn’t mean slashing the budget after a recession without really working out viable methods of revenue creation. Maybe, just maybe, the board should look to new and creative ways to make money rather than using the same old tactics and saying “well, now we’re broke.”


      Guidestar 2011-2012 financial report:

      Guidestar account for Minnesota Orchestra

      Minnesota Orchestra Annual Report (which has slightly different numbers for some reason)

      One of the worst plans written for a non-profit group, obviously by a group that really doesn’t understand orchestras

      And feel free to go through my own posts about the various strikes, the discrepancies in reports, and all sorts of stuff on my blog. I blog about things other than strikes, but you can find some. Here’s the famous one on why you can’t just slash budgets and make things work

      • John C: Excellent points.
        Bored Patron: baloney.

      • Many thanks for all the work you put into that post, John C!

      • Both history and international comparisons illustrate that America’s unique and isolated system of funding the arts by donations will never work regardless of how much the system is tweaked. It is beyond repair. As one example, the USA only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. Minneapolis ranks 233rd. Bravo! Any European city with the size and wealth of Minneapolis would not only have a well-paid orchestra, but also a full time, year-round opera house (and in fact, probably two or more symphony orchestras.) When will Americans stop fooling themselves.

        • James Brinton says:

          Just as soon as the rednecks run out of roadkill. I don’t think anyone can appreciate just what trouble this country is in–across the board–unless you live here.

    • Baloney.

  10. It is feeling as if this orchestra board is the Tea Party of the orchestra world – resolute, unyielding, narrow & blind.

    • Edward said, “It is feeling as if this orchestra board is the Tea Party of the orchestra world – resolute, unyielding, narrow & blind.”

      How about the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party? That might work too…:-0

  11. I hear they’re seriously considering an ad for Music Director on Craigslist.

  12. The Orchestra made a disastrous decision when it entered the arms race (and it IS an arms race, just like professional sports) to pay a top salary level. Not every orchestra pays such salaries; every orchestra musician in the country is not entitled to $100K a year. Less acclaimed orchestras, who don’t have the best players, are paying an average of $40K or $50K or $72K or whatever they can afford. Some of them even do good work. And they all balance their budgets (or close to it) each year. Minnesota decided at some stage that they could afford upper-level salaries when, in fact, they never could and still can’t today. Please recall that the Orchestra went $10million+ into debt in 2005 simply to balance their previous three years’ operating budgets. That is insane and it proves they could never afford the agreements they entered into.

    The consultant the MOA hired to do this budget analysis suggests that they need to fundraise $6m more per year just to keep up current budgets, and this is impossible. In fact, the MOA should have known this years ago, should have known at every stage of every union negotiation what it could and couldn’t afford to pay. They should have recognized that they didn’t have the resources to pay their way into the top tier of orchestras (which, let’s be frank, is how it works), and they shouldn’t have tried.

    Because now those mistakes are coming back to haunt them. You can’t just blithely roll back those big promises. I guess at some stage Minnesota decided that their ticket sales and fundraising and endowment returns could ONLY go up by some huge percentage every year, and there would never come a point where they had unsustainable budget deficits. Offering those salaries in the first place is the real core of the bad management – not the “mean” way they treat the musicians, not the seeming bad faith negotiations. Not the naive notion that the management is hoarding money for some other purpose and if they could just see the light they would recognize they need to pay high salaries and that’s just that. If the money is not there, this entire discussion is academic and the orchestra will go bankrupt.

    Management has made horrible decisions, but face it: there IS no hidden pool of money that will allow them to continue paying $100K salaries. Unless all those donors come out of the woodwork to contribute $6-10M more per year (which my god, would be wonderful!), Minnesota will have to face reality and become one of those (gasp) second tier orchestras that pay $70-80K per year, like Nashville, like Cincinnati, like Colorado, like whoever. And they will just have to figure out how to be the best orchestra they can be without being able to afford the best players by offering the top tier of salary. They will lose Osmo, they will lose many current players, they will replace them with less good but still good players, and they will still exist as an orchestra.


    • There are many European cities with the same size and wealth as Minneapolis that have several high paid orchestras (not just one) and one or two opera houses. People find the money for what they value.

    • DrewX, that AKA financial review has some serious flaws.

      Robert Levine discusses them here:

      Norman, does Levine’s article perhaps merit its own Slipped Disc post?

      • Is your point in hashing over the financial review to somehow suggest that MOA actually has the money or the fundraising capabilities to sustain its current (i.e. 2011-12 season) expenses? This is exactly what I’m talking about in my comment above. Why does management want to cut the musicians’ salaries if the money is or could be there to pay them? Because management desperately hates its own musicians, or the field of symphonic music? Because they secretly want to jack up all their own salaries to 500K a year?

        I read Levine’s analysis and it’s no analysis at all, but rather contention for the purpose of contention. He offers not a single valid rebuttal to the report, only big philosophical disagreements; he also makes statements that call into question (for me) his basic grasp of budgeting processes (he dismisses “hard” and “soft” income and expenses with a joke and doesn’t acknowledge that it’s an actual thing and a problem, and seems not even to know the definition of “fixed costs.”) His only real valid point is that the report doesn’t fully appreciate the last concession made by the musicians, but that doesn’t change the MOA’s current situation.

        • I think that many stakeholders on the ground in the Twin Cities would tell you that the area does have the fundraising capacity to support the Osmo-era Minnesota Orchestra – and that (except for the campaign to renovate Orchestra Hall’s public areas) the current MOA board and CEO haven’t seriously tried to tap it.

          Certainly during the two seasons when the MOA’s finances began to get dire, the Board and management didn’t try to raise funds to save the ensemble; they told the public – and the Minnesota legislature – that the finances were just fine, thanks, so go ahead and give us money (including public money) to fix the lobby and bathrooms in our concert hall.

          Then, partway through the season before the lockout, the Board finally decided to reveal that the financial situation was very bad indeed.

          And instead of trying to raise money – or even offering the community the choice between contributing more money and downsizing or closing (the way NY City Opera just did), the Board and CEO simply made preparations to lock out the musicians. The Board even went to the trouble of buying up in advance and sitting on the URLs that the MOA or a community group might use for an emergency fundraising campaign.

          In light of that record, I trust very little that the MOA, or the financial consultants in its employ, have to say at all. I think they make the financial numbers look like whatever they think those numbers need to look like to accomplish their goal.

          What is that goal? It looks to me that the MOA Board and CEO Michael Henson want to turn the Minnesota Orchestra into an ensemble that will never ask them for money again. Which is to say, they want – and think they can create – a symphonic orchestra that can survive on its own earned income.

          (That’s why they make noise about how younger, cheaper musicians could replace the ones already in place, and why they want to be rid of an expensive conductor like Osmo Vanska, and why they want so many work rule changes that allow MOA management to do things like pimping sending out orchestra members to play private parties as part of their salaried duties.)

          Has there been a symphony orchestra within living memory that could survive on earned income alone?

        • Yeah, DrewX, I think you said it: although they’d never, ever use the word “hate”…I think there is a real contempt on the part of the big-money players for the orchestra musicians.
          So weird, and so sad. Like being a gardener, yet deciding to pour poison all over your flowers.
          “They have to LEARN, you see…to live within their means and be grateful! Grateful to be earning any money at all as an artist…”

    • violinista says:

      Is your point that you get what you pay for, and there’s no comparison between world-class and “okay”? Because that’s not in dispute.

      • No, my point is that if the patrons of the MOA can’t afford to pay for “world class,” then they don’t get to have “world class.” If they truly can’t raise the money to do it, which should not have come as a surprise, they shouldn’t have tried to buy a world class orchestra.

        • In 2012 the GDP of Minnesota was 295 billion. The Minnesota Orchestra’s yearly budget is 30 million. That’s one hundredth of one percent of the state’s GDP (or about one ten thousandth of it.)

          If you tried to make a pie chart of 1/10,000th of the GDP it would not even be one pixel on your computer screen.

          The six million per year the orchestra needs to balance its budget is 1/50,000th of the state’s GDP.

          Since 2010, the GDP of Minnesota has risen by over 15 billion dollars. See:

          It is interesting how administrators and consultants, such as DrewX, refuse to look outside the box of America’s funding system and say Minnesota can’t afford a world class orchestra. It is unfortunate these professionals are so obtuse. It’s one thing to make the best of a dysfunctional system, and another to maintain its delusions. These administrators and consultants are not the solution, they are the problem.

  13. Ed Cabarga says:

    It’s all about balance. Even the best run orchestras
    In the country require some public funding but nothing
    outrageous. 5-10 percent of the budget is helpful
    and in return orchestras play free education concerts.
    and other public service performances.
    So it’s not all just a handout. Orchestras provide a service
    and the Minnesota Orchestra did it as well as any
    orchestra in the country.

    Having worked with many MO musicians during their lockout I can personally
    attest to the fact that they are NOT easily replaceable.
    There’s something about sitting next to an experienced
    player that is reassuring. They not only nail
    their parts technically, but they can adjust and
    listen and respond to subtle cues from their colleagues
    and the conductor. There are nuances to their
    job that most commenters wouldn’t get and these musicians were hired
    for a reason. As for Osmo, he turned down some great
    orchestras to sign with Minnesota. Trust me when
    I say he is not easily replaceable either.
    And if the Minnesota Orchestra is degraded any more
    it will be impossible.

  14. Seems like the orchestra is dead. How could it possibly recover?

  15. Art is a leisure pursuit, hm? Guess that explains the problem pretty well. Football is the same as Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, et al…

    Bored Patrons must populate the board in Minnesota, that’s for sure…

  16. David Chickering says:

    What fools!

  17. The Board has made its position known for over a year- i.e., it ‘owns’ the orchestra and that’s that. The State of Minnesota must protect this asset, and that means taking it over pure and simple and kicking out the Board. It also means rearranging its relationship with the banks (US Bancorp and Wells Fargo) that the Board members represent. This fight is not only over the orchestra, it is something much deeper. Exercising eminent domain would make a statement and save the orchestra. This is not ‘communism’, this is not ‘state management’, this is just good sense so that new and more socially responsible management can be brought in.
    Right now the dead weight isn’t in the orchestra, it is with the Board and its Executive Director.

    • Is there a legal mechanism by which the state could “take over” the Minnesota Orchestra and remove the current board?

      I doubt it, but perhaps there’s someone here with knowledge of Minnesota non-profit law who could explain …

      • Minnesota does have the right to exercise eminent domain, but may only be used for a public use or public purpose” See: and the laws referenced therein. It is for the lawyers to craft and package, but on its face, it would seem doable. Also, Mr. Osborne’s comments are valuable.
        It’s all certainly worth exploring

        • Has eminent domain ever been used in Minnesota (heck, or any other state) to take over anything other than real estate? I don’t know. But if not, I suspect that using it to acquire an intangible entity (even if that entity owns some tangible assets like an endowment, sheet music and instruments) is a precedent courts would be reluctant to set.

          • Your point is well taken, though, I wouldn’t make assumptions about the Minnesota courts without putting the legal experts on it. As I noted, it is at least worth exploring. As for the presence or absence of real estate, maybe I’m wrong, but I thought the MOA owned Orchestra Hall with its $50 million renovation. My guess is that it’s already been completed except for some touch up.

          • There’s a question whose answer I bet someone on this board knows.

            Does the MOA own Orchestra Hall (and/or the land on which it sits) outright? Or (as in some places) does the MOA simply have a long-term leasehold on real property owned by the city, state, or some other (public or private) entity?

          • Good question about ownership of the land. The MOA financials and footnotes should reveal something. Of course checking the county real estate records would reveal more. I will say that the person I asked at the MOA did not know, which is also revealing.

    • When Temple University was about to close due to bankruptcy, the state of Pennsylvania made it a “state-related” university and gave it the funding to keep operating. This means it is independently operated but funded mostly by the state. Pennsylvania is the only state to use such a hybrid system. (Penn State, Pitt, and Lincoln Univ. have a similar status.)

      I wonder if this model could be applied to our bankrupt orchestras which have been falling like dominoes. We accept that we cannot rely solely on private universities. We must understand the same applies to our arts institutions. For more about this state-related system see:

  18. Mr Osborne might consider the fact that America is not Europe in it’s history, traditions and cultural awareness. Opera is not a part of American history or culture as it is in Europe. Comparisons with Europe are off the mark. American schools and Universities have bands, do musicals and plays which are well supported and attended. That is the way it is!

    • The US produces more high quality opera singers than any other country in the world. When the Met used to do free performances in Central Park 60,000 people showed up. When the San Francisco opera does video broadcasts in one of the city’s baseball fields, 20,000 show up. Opera is in essence a popular art form that Americans would really enjoy if they had affordable access to it.

  19. Josh Stein says:

    its quite obvious that orchestra management thanks that musicians are stupid. Sadly I have to say that management are the biggest idiots in this situation. They are the once that should be fired. Have a clean slate.

  20. violinista says:

    Translated: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Maestro.” Suicidal arrogance.

  21. Robert Barris says:

    You all miss the point entirely. The plan all along was clearly to build a beautiful lobby, then sell tickets to tourists showing off the wonderful scenic beauty to be found in Minneapolis. Naturally, there will be concession stands selling food and drink, as well as tee shirts and hats emblazoned with the Minnesota Orchestra logo so that the tourists can show everyone back home how they enjoyed the high cultural scene in Minneapolis during their visit. Hell, they’ll probably even sell some of those CD’s showing off the world-renowned Minnesota Orchestra. Naturally, the sales people manning the concession stands and selling entrance tickets won’t have to be paid those exorbitant salaries those spoiled musicians were making, so costs will be minimal, and sure enough, the Minnesota Orchestra will become a profitable organization!

  22. Mary,

    Would a solution then be to support the creation of more regional training orchestras so that the players can get that experience without having to travel overseas?

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