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Slipped Disc editorial: Minnesota find yourself another country to be part of

In the thick of the civil rights struggle, the protest singer Phil Ochs wrote an ode to a southern, racist state. The refrain went:

Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of
Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of.

In the smaller world of symphonic music, those lines now apply to the Minnesota Orchestra. Over the past year, its board and executives have locked out their musicians, driven many of them out of the state and forced the music director to resign.

Most people we talk to in the US concert world want nothing more to do with Minnesota. The Orchestral Association has covered itself in disgrace, spending millions of dollars on a new lobby while reducing the hall and the city to silence. Throughout this dispute, the board has seemed to occupy a bubble of unreality, plugging fingers in their ears and going la-la-la at the storm they provoked.

There is no way back for these outcasts after today’s resignation of the music director. The only honorable course now is for the board and chief executive to resign.

minnesotaorchestraghost

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Comments

  1. Tracey Z. says:

    If they had any honor, none of this would have happened.

    • Bankers are not honorable folks; never were, never will be.

      • George Smith says:

        neither are musicians as well. People need to look at both sides of the the situation. We can hold musicians as this noble entity either. Both have to be accountable and work together. There seems to be no mention of what either want for a future for the orchestra, except to be paid way to much, on both sides.

        • I don’t think the musicians are asking for a lot. They’re a world class orchestra and I honestly believe they deserve to be paid what they’re asking for. They spend their lives dedicating themselves to being perfect musicians and work harder than most people realize.

          • lots of people don’t get what they want in life, and settle. Lots of *musicians*, even. If the Minnesota players had negotiated in good faith and cut the nasty PR way earlier in the game, they might be playing today. The musicians blew it, big time… At least, their union did. I feel sorriest for the players who would have played ball but were forced not to by the threat of being treated as scabs and traitors.

          • George Smith says:

            Meerkat, you got it right on the ball.

          • Brandon, they’re asking for more than what’s available. That’s why they’re in this mess. We have xxx.xx in the bank, and the musicians are asking for xxxx.xx.

          • Maybe the key thing the musicians had been asking for was an independent audit (that is, one where the auditors were not paid by Minnesota Orchestra management) showing how much money there really was and how much could be expected.

            MinnOrch management had demonstrably lied about the state of the orchestra’s finances in the recent past and had shown bad faith in numerous small ways over the course of last season. The musicians had signaled that they’d be willing to accept cuts necessary to make the finances work – as long as they could be sure that the numbers were true.

            Management would not agree to such an audit. That should tell you a lot right there.

  2. We used to say we didn’t want to be a “cold Omaha”. Well, this isn’t happening in Omaha. Perhaps a cold Mississippi – we’re all sharecroppers and the overlords want to scorch the earth. This is a very sad day indeed.

    • George London says:

      Wow comparing part time fiddle players that make $150k a year and who are throwing a tantrum , to the civil rights movement, clearly proves that the union, the musicians and is supporters clearly have no clue about what is at hand and insulting to those that struggled during that era.
      At least we now know who has a sense of propriety.

      • George Smith says:

        exactly geroge!

      • @George London: Which hours of a full-time symphony violinist’s week do you consider to be “part time?” The 3-4 concerts (or more!) per week or the 4-5 rehearsals? Or were you referring to the 20+ hours per week of preparing the music at home before arriving at the first rehearsal already knowing the music?

        • Allie – 20+ hours preparing the music before turning up? I don’t think so. Musicians have a habit of saying they do that, and many even intend to do that. But most, and particularly those who have been in orchestras for some time and have a guaranteed job, do not. (unless the attitude in the USA is very different from Europe, but I would find it hard to believe). There will be some dedicated players who do put in extra time, but the same is true in all walks of life, and in my experience, these are the exception, not the rule.

          I would agree with you, though, that George’s comment about ‘part time’ is hardly helpful. I would regard most orchestral positions of this nature as full time, even if many players in these jobs do manage to hold down other positions in addition outside.

          • Musician here! Any musician worth anything is working 60-80+ hours a week, easily. If you aren’t playing the show, you’re rehearsing. If you aren’t rehearsing, you’re practicing. If you aren’t practicing, you’re cleaning, repairing, and maintaining your equipment. If you aren’t doing that, you are hustling for more work, on your own. Musicians in the world we live in are all small business owners who are expected to be able to do everything, from playing classical music to doing commercial work, play in countless styles, sight read, improvise, and much more. The amateur musician getting a break on Youtube or The Voice is what many of us think of when we think of a musician, but to play in a symphony, to play in studios, to play out in the real world, you have to be a permanent student, a relentless manager, a historian, etc etc. These people are professionals and dedicate their lives to bringing you this music. For every hour spent by the principle trumpeter not practicing his part for Friday’s performance, he already put in thousands of hours to make it sound good and be consistent – for those hours not practicing his part for Friday’s performance, he’s preparing for the next job, and it could be anything.

          • Anon —

            Actually, yes. US orchestra players, especially the ones at the level of the Minnesota Orchestra, are expected to arrive at the first rehearsal with all elements of the music fully prepared.

            If you need confirmation, read some memoirs of European conductors that have come to work in the states. Solti, Leinsdorf and many others have remarked on this difference in pre-rehearsal preparation between US and most other orchestras.

            Although many players will have additional teaching and performance opportunities, membership such orchestras is considered a full-time job and the required level of preparation and execution is extraordinarily high from the first rehearsal to the final performance. This is one of the reasons they are paid so handsomely.

            While these musicians can certainly sight-read at a very high level when necessary, it is not customary for players to do so in US orchestras (at least for non-”Pops” events). In fact, I know of at least one major US orchestra whose contract requires the musicians to have the music for upcoming concerts in the players’ hands no less than two weeks prior to first rehearsal. (I believe this is standard practice in most major US orchestras, but I don’t have current data to cite.)

            And beyond the dollar amounts in dispute, the Minnesota musicians also objected to 200+ changes in contractual work rules, including the right of hiring and firing orchestra members, which was to become a function of the management, and not the music director and orchestra musicians, an absurd situation.

            The Minnesota Orchestra musicians were paid to make music at the highest, international level and they did so, inspiring many listeners over the decades. None of this mattered to a union-busting, ham-fisted management that locked out the players and has, now, dismantled one of America’s finest cultural assets.

  3. George Smith says:

    The musicians should be ashamed as well, 100k salary is more than enough for a person living in the Minnesota area. Im ashamed of them as equally as the BOD. But these musicians need to get a reality check and take cuts and rebuild a new business model for the orchestra. This just proves that there negotiator was feeding them a silver spoon making them feel like they deserve so much more or the same. Wrong! They need to make sacrifices in a changing world. They are not untouched by the way the world is progressing. An orchestra is a source of art and culture but its also a business, that changes for time to time. You have to be willing to change.

    • I’m not sure if you know what the process is for applying to and achieving the status of a major orchestra position, but these people are literally in the major leagues of Classical music in a highly insecure position. They make that kind of money because they’ve earned it. Mismanagement of funds, if you look at the numbers, is much more of an issue than compensation for the people actually doing all of the work.

      • To follow on from “M”‘s post, these musicians have the skill level and finesse that olympians do in their sports. $100,000 salary is what we all dream of as classical musicians, but even then is not enough to cover the costs and effort required to hold one of these positions.

        • George Smith says:

          I’m really quite ill when I hear that classical musicians are at the skill and finesse of Olympians. Would you say that of a visual artist? or other art fields, except for Dance.
          No you wouldn’t, they are practitioners and creators of all shapes and sizes (some are quite polar opposites) for which there are thousands coming out of the conservatories every year. Which they could take those positions from the current roster and the quality would not falter or lessen.It could even be better!

          But Its basic business 101 that the classical world, Colleges and Conservatories have not yet learned in most of the world, when you have something that isn’t of much interest to the public, but your still producing more people to a job that doesn’t exists, the salaries need to be lower, not higher. You’ll simply just lose more jobs and organizations that way. Which is what is happening. Tragic.

          • Bonnie West says:

            haha. GEORGE SMITH indeed. who are you Richard Davis or Jon Campbell posing as the famous or not so famous person George Smith. LIE! haha made up name.!

          • George Smith says:

            Excuse me Miss?

          • George Smith says:

            Am I suppose to take the word of a Broadway Musical?

          • I don’t know if I’d say it about anything else, because we’re not talking about anything else. The fact is that these musicians put in easily 60+ hours a week for decades before they get these orchestra positions. Equating orchestral playing to anything else is really a tragic misunderstanding of what makes an orchestra function. It’s really the ultimate instrumentation for western acoustic music, and each players contributions bring to life the music of geniuses and visionaries. Yes, they are elite. Just because conservatories graduate many more every year doesn’t mean they don’t all work as hard as they can and compete for the top spots. If there was any possible type of visual art form that required dozens of artists to paint in real time taking cues from a master visual composer, I mean I guess we might have something to talk about there. But in the real world we have several centuries of orchestral music and it’s difficult to bring that music to people, so we hire the best of the best.

            These musicians have spent their life preparing for these performances. More than the music itself, they are prepared to be consistent, perfectly perfect on every note, every night. And they sight read, and they improvise, and they can transpose on the spot when the C trumpet player is sick for the night and all the sub has is a Bb trumpet on him (for a non-musician, think of this skill like working on the floor of the stock market for a day while multiplying everything by 3 in your head). These players spend every day preparing for whatever mystery gig is coming around the corner. It’s absolutely beyond a full time job, made more stressful by the fact that these people are basically each running their own small business. So yes, musicians are adjusting to the times, but at the same time, a symphony gig absolutely pays the proper amount to these impeccably world class players.

          • Danny, I call exaggeration.
            Sure, professional musicians are highly skilled, talented, hard-working, and all the rest of it, for the most part. But they certainly don’t fit all the things you suggest.
            Many an orchestra is far from consistent, and the vagaries of live performance dictate that you cannot say they are perfectly on every note every night, it’s simply not true. I don’t blame them, it’s how life works and you can have a top-class musical performance without it, so there’s really no need to exaggerate.
            Many musicians are poor sight-readers, even when they think otherwise (British orchestras have made a virtue of their high levels of sight-reading over the past decades when it comes to recording film scores, for example, which suggests other countries are less good at it. I can attest that many are worse and some quite poor).
            I cannot think of many string players at all who can transpose at sight, and I can think of vast numbers of players who play each day but are not constantly spending all their time preparing for some mystery gig round the corner. And I can think of a sizeable number of players in full-time positions who don’t work as many hours as those in other professions, far less do they work more.

            I agree with your general sentiments: musicians often work very hard, are highly skilled, and it would be appropriate to recognise that where possible. But I don’t think you do your own case any good by exaggerating.

      • M – this doesn’t make sense to me. I understand that by-and-large, those in the upper leagues of a profession will be paid more than those towards the bottom. But that’s generally because there is the money to go around. Whether it’s footballers, pop musicians, or bankers, those at the top add value which is sufficiently appreciated by their consumers to be paid more.
        Whether you think, however, that the Min. players deserve more isn’t really relevant. What’s relevant is how much the people who give them money (donors, sponsors, ticket buyers) think they are worth. And it seems the musicians have a higher opinion of their own worth than those with the funds do, so clearly their expectations are mis-matched.

        • Anon says: “And it seems the musicians have a higher opinion of their own worth than those with the funds do,”

          Except the dispute isn’t about those “with the funds”. It’s about those with control of the Minnesota Orchestra’s assets: the Board and management.

          Other people with the funds – the greater Twin Cities community and local and national foundations – never got a good chance to show what they thought the combination of these musicians and Osmo Vanska were worth.

          Minnesota Orchestra management never mounted any fundraising campaign saying, we need more in donations to be able to keep these musicians on at the same (or even a slightly lower) salary and to keep this conductor who has made this orchestra great; please show us with your contributions if you think this orchestra is worth keeping as it is.

          Instead, management unilaterally cut the musicians’ pay by a third, made some pretty outrageous changes to the work rules and conditions, and told the musicians they’d be locked out if they didn’t accept it all.

          Then they locked the musicians out for an entire season. (Conveniently, it was the season when the regular performance space was unavailable and management would have to pay rent for venues.)

          Why would anyone donate money to an orchestra organization that isn’t letting its musicians perform?

    • Sorry, George, but you are clueless.

      • George Smith says:

        I’m really not Barbara, but I can understand when the truth is right there in your face, you want to deny it.
        I can’t do anything else but say what I think is happening and what I think is the truth.

      • Barbara, would you care to elaborate?
        As far as I can see, George has simply pointed out that if Supply > Demand, prices paid to suppliers generally fall. That is an observable economic truth, so ‘clueless’ seems a little harsh to me.
        It is also observable that the supply of classically trained musicians has increased greatly in past years, and we know that the general public finds it difficult to, or isn’t interested to, tell the difference between a B-rank player and an A-rank player. The equation speaks for itself.

      • 26 of these 81 comments are from “George Smith”…whoever this person is seems to want to bait more than debate.

        • Or finds they are one of the few people willing to propose an alternative argument to the “musicians must be right, because we want them to be” status quo. I haven’t seen much controversial or rude in GS’s postings, and some here seem more concerned with G’s grammar than the points he makes, which is just avoiding the issue.

    • “100k salary is more than enough for a person living in the Minnesota area”.

      The MN Orchestra CEO Michael Henson makes $360k. Why aren’t you calling for him to make 100k? Doesn’t he need to “make sacrifices in a changing world”?

      • George Smith says:

        They all should!

      • I could flip that around on you. Why isn’t the orchestra creating its own business model and telling Henson to shove it ? If Henson is so incompetent and unworthy of making money, why didn’t the orchestra find someone better to do it for less and resign en masse?

        • http://www.minnesotaorchestramusicians.org/fall-concert-series/
          Well… they kind of are. Concerts put on this fall by locked out musicians: 1. Concerts put on this fall by management: 0. I think it’s clear who is more competent.

        • The musicians would probably love to do start their own orchestra. But it’s the Minnesota Orchestra Association (management) that has the sheet music library, the percussion instruments, the pianos, the rehearsal space, and the endowment – the things that a good professional orchestra needs to function.

          You can bet the the MOA management would rather sit on those things themselves than simply hand them over to their former musicians. And replacing those things from scratch is a slow and expensive process.

  4. Performing Artist52 says:

    The musicians would not have had a 100K salary George if the MOA got what they wanted. The musicians were willing to take a pay cut but not to the tune of 25%. The last two proposals were valid in their effort to come to some aggreement. This just proves Henson and the board are no longer interested in a world class orchestra. The MOA spent $13.7 million last year and did not produce ONE concert! They raised over $100 million, built a new hall, but would not use any of it to keep the musicians. The shiny new building will now be the home to alternate music and weddings. How tragic.

    • George Smith says:

      but they couldve taken the cut and negotiated later on in there contract to go back to something closer to there original salary.
      MOA spent that money on keeping up the brand new facilities. Orchestral Musician have no idea on the cost of keeping up a struggling or successful orchestra. This situation proves my point. Not being able to sacrifice and work together in a market that is struggling. The musicians of that orchestra are not looking at the future, but just there pockets. If they had any sense of taking a cut and negotiating later they couldve saved the orchestra to have a fighting chance in being something better and competitive. Taking a business degree or several courses could really open the eyes of many musicians. Its a huge undertaking managing and running an orchestra, more than the musicians themselves at times. It also should take the will and skill of an Olympic athlete to run a orchestra. I think there’s a lack of respect on both sides musicians and administration.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        “…just there pockets”

        I have to admit I don’t understand the complexities of running a symphony orchestra and maintaining its facilities, raising funds and managing the budget, but I suspect someone who doesn’t know the difference between “their” and “there” doesn’t grasp these things either.

        • George Smith says:

          excuse me sir, but if you judge people on grammar and not the Ideas they want to express. The problem may be with you, not me. Tread lightly.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            It’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it. That lends you credibility (or not). It is indeed silly to get hung up on the occasional typo or clumsily worded passage, especially in a casual chitchat environment like an internet forum. We are all guilty of these things. However, your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are so bad that you really don’t leave the impression that you are someone who is educated enough to understand the complex issues you are lecturing others about. This kind of childish “you may have a problem” or “you need to see a doctor” response only reinforces that impression.

          • George Smith says:

            Again if you don’t have anything to say about the issue at hand please don’t go after other people for such inconsistencies and pick at them. Get a life and say something important. If you took the time, I’ve been giving my opinion which is just as valuable as anyone else’s here.
            Please bugger off.

        • Amy Adams says:

          Michael Schaffer, this George Smith is a troll one way or the other. Her or his remarks are design to oppose, bait and hurt – to what end, I have no idea. My advice is to ignore anyone who doesn’t genuinely want to converse, even debate, with courtesy.

      • @George Smith – “but they couldve taken the cut and negotiated later on in there contract to go back to something closer to there original salary.”

        But then, in those later negotiations, the musicians would have had to go on strike. (Management would have loved that, so that the players would look like the bad guys.)

        The musicians didn’t want to strike. They wanted to play; they still want to play. Management wouldn’t let them; the Board and CEO wouldn’t even consider any play-and-negotiate proposals.

        And the players said more than once that they’d be happy to learn about the costs of running this orchestra and to make accommodations to financial reality. They just want to be sure that it’s actual reality they’re accommodating.

        The MOA has already been caught having lied to the Minnesota state government about its financial condition in order to get public money for the Orchestra Hall renovation. So the musicians wanted a thorough look at the orchestra’s books, with an independent auditor (meaning not one who’s being paid by management).

        The Board and CEO refused to consider any such thing. That says a lot right there.

        Most people wouldn’t be willing to make big sacrifices if they couldn’t be sure the people they’re sacrificing for aren’t cheating.

    • Performing Artist52 says: “This just proves Henson and the board are no longer interested in a world class orchestra. The MOA spent $13.7 million last year and did not produce ONE concert! They raised over $100 million, built a new hall, but would not use any of it to keep the musicians. The shiny new building will now be the home to alternate music and weddings. How tragic.”

      Don’t forget: a couple of years ago the Board voted to remove any reference to actually operating an orchestra from the Minnesota Orchestra’s mission statement.

      Seems like they’re getting what they want and want what they’re getting.

  5. Between what is happening in Minnesota and what is happening at the NYC Opera, a sad time for music. Minnesota was really becoming a world class orchestra, with a great established conductor who had to quit because of this mess. So thankful we in Michigan didn’t lose Leonard Slatkin this way two years ago and the DSO is as great as ever.

  6. George London says:

    I hope the musicians feel good about what they have accomplished being pawns of the national union, and thinking that changing times don’t apply to the.

    Blaming the board and management for this problem is like blaming the ocean for a ship sinking that has a whole in it. The business model has a whole in it that the union doesn’t want to patch.

    Yes the board should resign and take the 30% of the annual revenue they contribute and find more grateful artists or unentitled charity cases.

    • George Smith says:

      You took the words right our of me. So true on so many levels.

    • @ George London (“Blaming the board and management for this problem is like blaming the ocean for a ship sinking that has a whole in it.”)

      No, it’s like blaming the captain of the ship for steering into an iceberg, while telling everyone on board that everything is fine, fine, fine, except he can’t pay the sailors. And he then tries to patch the resulting hole with the sailors, and lets them all go down with the ship while he commandeers the only lifeboat.

      The ocean has no responsibility to keep a ship afloat, hole or no hole. The captain is the one with the responsibility.

      • Very well said, Allie!

        I especially like the part about trying to patch the resulting hole with the sailors themselves. That says it.

        The only thing you forgot is that the captain orders the helmsman to steer straight for the iceberg and then orders him to go remodel the dining room, and he doesn’t reveal that he can’t pay the sailors until the ship is 30 meters from impact.

    • Michael Barar says:

      George (both),

      You clearly do not understand how the AFM works. Orchestras in the United States are quite autonomous and do not take orders from a central office. Yes, we communicate, but in nearly every aspect of our contracts the musicians of individual orchestras are responsible for the terms under which they work.
      Feel free to blame who you will, but please know what you’re talking about.

      • George Smith says:

        I can’t speak for both of us, but I do know how those things work, being in a orchestra much like this and not being able to express your own voice but of the mass majority instead. Its a disgrace that not everyone’s voice was heard. Its obvious. There are people within the orchestra that have higher influence to the others. Please don’t tell me how things work at the AFM, its clear that the AFM is oblivious in many ways. But terms are decided upon the musicians, its clear the musicians are split on what they want and not everyone voice are being heard.

        • Do you want to tell us how you know this, since you are not a musician?

        • I’ve been involved in union negotiations. here’s how they work: the passionate firebrand becomes appointed voice for the orchestra either through brute force or via indifference from the other players. This is a person with precisely zero financial, business or law background. He/She takes everything personally and makes every little issue a hill to die on. The other more reasonable musicians have to follow in his/her wake or else be treated like scum. the negotiations fail. Sound familiar? I’m betting it does.

    • “…blaming the ocean for a ship sinking that has a whole in it…”

      When I first started taking music lessons, I always thought that whole notes were called whole notes because they had a (w)hole in them! But the concept of a half note escaped me … it, too, had a hole, didn’t it?

      Oh, well … each to there own… ;)

  7. @ George Smith (“but they couldve taken the cut and negotiated later on in there contract to go back to something closer to there original salary.”) Take a look at other orchestras around the country. That’s not how negotiations work. Orchestras who have taken major cuts have never, ever recovered. Once you “agree” with management that your work is worth only $__, you will never be able to convince them that the same work is really worth $__ + 30%.

    There’s also the issue of trust. The board betrayed the trust of musicians AND patrons with their dishonesty and unethical practice. And you’re asking the musicians to accept the terms of such a dishonest and unethical board, and TRUST that they will offer a more fair contract “later on?”

    Given how many Minnesota Orchestra musicians have already won auditions for other highly paid jobs in the ultra-competitive world of orchestral music, especially in this economy, JUST THIS YEAR, I’d say they’ve proved beyond a doubt that they are worth the salary they requested (which, in most cases, is less than what peer orchestras are earning).

    We cannot ignore the many patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra, who have declared that they would never have donated to the hall renovations had they known that management was planning on claiming that they couldn’t pay the musicians. Many have also expressed intent to support the musicians if they form their own orchestra, separate from the (hopefully former) management.

    Management drew full salaries for the last year. Where did THOSE salaries come from, if there wasn’t money to pay for the musicians?

    At what point do we admit that destroying an orchestra in order to bust a union is just that: destructive?

    • George Smith says:

      DSO seems to be doing just fine. They took cuts and had a very similar situation.
      And we shouldn’t just blame the economy for these problems, but also blame the musicians and administration on not working together to build a more feasible model or entertainment to bring in more people. (“JUST THIS YEAR, I’d say they’ve proved beyond a doubt that they are worth the salary they requested (which, in most cases, is less than what peer orchestras are earning”).
      What did they prove? They haven’t worked at all, why would that prove they would deserve any money at all.
      It just proves that there not in it for the creative craft or looking to the future at all, but just the salary.
      The musicians should start there own orchestra by themselves. I guarantee there salaries would be significantly lower without proper administration managing the orchestra. They say they want to start a orchestra like its something automatic and will take care of everything. My goodness these “supporters” don’t realize that they would need to give most of there money to pay each musician the same wages as before, its completely not possible for a long term without proper management. I’m not saying the MO admin is the “best” or even the “worst” they have a long way to go, but they all have to meet somewhere in the middle, get rid of people on both sides and work towards a better future for the orchestra.
      The Union is just as cold hearted at times, they are blind at the facts that the orchestra buisness model isn’t working anymore, and may never work. So it has to change, with that change has to be new ideas, sometimes those ideas require more funds. So perhaps both the musicians and the admin team need to take cuts. In order to rebuild. But neither side wants to budge. So shame on both of them, and shame on the Union for being so oblivious with the troubled times of the modern orchestra. Get a clue.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        “…should start there own orchestra”

        At the risk of repeating myself, I have to admit I don’t understand the complexities of running a symphony orchestra and maintaining its facilities, raising funds and managing the budget, but I suspect someone who doesn’t know the difference between “their” and “there” doesn’t grasp these things either.
        I think it’s time for you stop watching Fox News in your parents’ basement and “get a clue” yourself.

        • George Smith says:

          [MICHEAL SCHAFFER] Oh my, excuse me moderators but we have a repeat offender. Again I don’t watch fox news sir and never will. What conclusion are you drawing from to get these outlandish comments. Perhaps [redacted: abuse]

      • The basics of grammar elude you, sir. You appear in public unclothed, and it is neither defensible or pretty.

      • George London said: “DSO seems to be doing just fine. They took cuts and had a very similar situation.”

        Except that the Detroit Symphony situation really wasn’t similar at all.

        The Detroit musicians went on strike. Minnesota management locked the musicians out.

        In Detroit, everyone acknowledged that the Detroit Symphony’s finances were dire – partly because of debt left over from a hall renovation undertaken in better times several years earlier, and partly because Detroit itself has been in such terrible shape for so long. And there was no indication that the Detroit Symphony management was being dishonest.

        The Twin Cities, on the other hand, are both prosperous and famously supportive of the arts. Three seasons ago, the Minnesota Orchestra management was telling the public and the Minnesota state legislature that the orchestra was healthy and had plenty of money; as was proven this year, that wasn’t true at the time and the Minnesota Orchestra management knew it. (That is, they lied to the legislature.)

        Then, as the time approached to close Orchestra Hall for construction, suddenly the MOA says that the orchestra is in such terrible financial shape that the musicians must accept a new contract – and under this new contract, they get paid almost 30% less, they get sent out to play chamber music at receptions and weddings, they must perform at Board members’ homes whenever requested, and the CEO and not the Music Director will decide which players get hired and fired. (I’m not making that up.)

        When the Minnesota players say they can’t accept that, but they’d like to play and negotiate, the management locks them out for the whole season. And management won’t let them examine the books to be sure that the finances really are as dire as management (who has already lied about the subject) says they are.

        George, I guess you think most of us are just knee-jerk against management and in favor of the musicians and their greedy union, no matter what reality may dictate. I promise you that we aren’t all like that. (I, for instance, had no sympathy at all for the little hissy-fit strikes the Chicago and San Francisco musicians staged last season at the most painful possible moments.)

        We’re angry specifically at the Minnesota Orchestra management for their appalling behavior in this particular situation.

  8. George London says:

    Nobody talks about the opportunity for a change to how symphonic music can be delivered that this presents. I know the model of old patrons, watching old musicians, and led by old conductors is what we are suppose to accept.

    But time to bring in the youth of the great conservatories that are better performers but thanks to union never gets a chance. Add in a younger conductor and new methods of delivery that the union would never allow and maybe we can start something that will lead a rebirth.

    • George Smith says:

      Again, a revolution must begin like you said with the youth making the changes. A fresh and wonderful Idea!

    • I am in fact one of those “youth of the great conservatories.” No one wants to audition for DSO after what happened there. And no one will audition for MNO–though it’s doubtful whether the orchestra will even hire any new full-time players for years. Just about any gig is better for a young player.

      • George Smith says:

        DSCH I think more orchestras will turn out this way, its a trend that will span another 10 years unless real drastic things change.

      • DSCH, as we used to say in high school, “you must be high”. The young conservatory graduates I know would be all too happy to play for DSO. “Just about any gig is better”? Maybe, if playing for free doesn’t bother you. Such not the case for the young conservatory grads I know; they want to be paid.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          You are probably right. Still, how desperate does one have to be to want to live and work in Detroit, the Chernobyl of America?

          • Michael, you’ve been slinging an awful lot of insults around Slipped Disc for someone who’s supposed to be on the good guys’ side

          • I agree with MWync. It’s easy to throw rocks at Detroit from the peanut gallery and there are plenty of Michiganians who do that incessantly. I have more respect for the many people who are actually trying to make the city a better place despite its many troubles.

            As far as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, a couple years ago we thought the city would suffer one more indignity by losing its cultural crown jewel. That, fortunately, did not happen. The orchestra is having as good a season as ever, with Slatkin conducting among other things a Mahler series over the next couple years. There are many musicians that would *love* to live in Southeast Michigan and work with Maestro Slatkin, and they don’t necessarily have to live in urban Detroit–although there are young professionals that do make that choice.

          • The people of Michigan call themselves Michiganders. But is what’s good for them good for the Michigeese?
            :-P

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Why is that an “insult”? I don’t see how it is. Detroit actually looks like that in many places, a post-apocalyptic wasteland like from a SciFi movie. Plenty of people have pointed that out and made that comparison.

            Can you tell the difference: http://blog.kluiber.net/2012/05/detroit-or-chernobyl.html

            Rather than getting offended by the comparison, the pictures should make you think about why you see what you see in the pictures. Then think about the bigger picture. In which it really doesn’t change all that much about the gigantic problems the city of Detroit has whether Slatkin conducts a few Mahler concerts or not.
            This kind of defensiveness and being-offended-by-people-just-pointing-out-the-obvious-truth is one of the reasons why things are the way they are right now, and only getting worse.

          • Stop the presses!! Detroit has crumbling structures, high crime and lots of poverty!! With pictures!!!

            My god, you’re right–those of us who care about the future of Detroit and its people have never given a thought to why the problems exist and how the city got to its current sad state. We just spend our energy getting offended and now I realize it is WE who are creating the problem. I’ll bring this to my board and we’ll do a new strategic plan and redirect our “whining budget” to more constructive uses. It’s always good to get a lecture from an outsider to remind us that the city is hopeless and that we have a tendency to focus only on problem-solving.

            By the way, the pictures you posted (and many more like them) are widely passed around on the internet and are often referred to as “ruins porn.” How ’bout following up with some hot, sexy photos of neighborhood rehab projects, urban community gardens, job training programs, after-school children’s music programs and a light rail system? (That last one would count as a fantasy pic at this point.)

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Yes, yes, we know, some Detroit neighborhoods are still doing quite well and since those tend to be the white neighborhoods where the wealthier management types from the auto industry that got bailed out by the taxpayers live and who are still doing well, who cares what the really bad neighborhoods look like, especially the ones in which ethnic minorities live, right? Let’s not look at that.
            Let’s not look at the pictures which remind us that where once one of the biggest manufacturing centers in the world was, now there is only a post-industrial desert.
            Let’s call that “ruins porn” to distract from the unpleasant truth.
            Never mind that porn is something that people look at because they like what they see while what we see in these pictures is terrible. Only terrible people would find terrible stuff exciting to look at.
            Oh – I get it: people who point out the problems of Detroit are all perverts. Only perverts would linger on those problems and look at them. “Normal” people just ignore them and continue to live in their whitewashed suburbs and pretend the problems aren’t their problems for as long as they can. Nice normal people like you. I am glad to hear you are still doing well. At least for now. And if things do get worse, you will probably find someone else to blame. Good luck with everything.

          • I can see you care deeply about the people of Detroit. Thank you for your great service to the city and its people today, telling young musicians not to go anywhere near the city and posting the revelatory pictures and correctly deriding efforts to make the city better for low-income minorities as hiding from the truth. If only I had known helping is so easy, I would have never gotten into this work. Your compassion inspires me.

        • Perhaps I’m not being specific enough. One can make a better living, AND have better prospects for the future, by freelancing, subbing, and teaching in a major city. No violinist I know would even bother auditioning for the DSO–and now, the MNO. I’ve talked to them about it. What’s the point? Freelance for a few years, do a good orchestra program like New World (or a couple), play some summer festivals, and in a VERY short time (10 years, max), you’ll have a better gig than DSO. Another plus side? You won’t spend your entire life exclusively as an orchestra musician, which is by no means anybody’s goal. I repeat: young conservatory grads are entering into a stronger job market than you think. They won’t settle for less. They’ll just go elsewhere.

        • Anonymous says:

          [Redacted:abuse]–clearly you don’t know any recent grads. No one will touch DSO, and the audition numbers prove it. Forget tutti vacancies….do you know how many principal positions are open?? People are still leaving. I have many dear friends and colleagues who retired or left during the debacle, and some who are still there. You could not be more wrong.

          • I know lots of recent grads who gig and hate it. The first year or two is fun, but it gets old really fast. What are the audition numbers? do you know them? andn how would you?

    • @ George London – “Nobody talks about the opportunity for a change to how symphonic music can be delivered that this presents. I know the model of old patrons, watching old musicians, and led by old conductors is what we are suppose to accept.”

      George, plenty of people talk and think about that all the time.

      Greg Sandow devotes his entire blog here at ArtsJournal to exactly that subject.

      http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/

  9. Richard Lee says:

    In my thirty years in the classical music industry, I’ve never seen as much drivel written about ‘greedy’ musicians as I have in the last few months. (I’ve worked on both sides of orchestra contract negotiations, and spent far more time as part of management than as part of an ensemble.)

    First of all, will someone please explain to me how one of the top five or ten practitioners of a given craft – a craft that took more study and practice than would be required for a medical license – is being greedy when he asks for a wage that would be laughable for a mid level financial analyst or law firm associate?

    More importantly, noone on the musicians’ side seriously expected to be exempted from the stresses of the current economy. All they have ever asked for is a reasonable assurance that the board was meeting its fiduciary responsibility, and that the essential mission of the organisation was unchanged. The response from MOA on both points has only served to raise more fears. (What could the players possibly think when the word ‘orchestra’ was excised form the MOA mission statement? When it became clear that MOA financial reports were ‘massaged’ to produce different messages at different times?)

    • Richard, there’s no point in comparing wages to other professions. I can happily find you a watch-maker or a french polisher who is highly skilled, and yet paid a bare minimum. The level of skill is not always reflected in the level of compensation, if that skill is not highly valued or desired. People believe financial firms deliver a certain value and will pay for that – the firms hire who they need. The earnings of a lawyer, plumber, taxi driver, doctor, whatever are irrelevant in the simple equation of musicians ask for X, but the corporate body has less than X available. There is no magic money tree, so the musicians may feel entitled to ask for it, but they can hardly expect to get it if it simply isn’t there!

  10. George Smith says:

    Im sorry to disappoint, but I know many musicians who are hard working and in major orchestras or playing around the world with less than 6-10 years of study.
    Also if you want to count years to be a medical practitioner as you are for a musician: general math and science is taught right at grade 1 then progressively year by year until med school. This is just the same for musicians who learn there quarter notes at 4 or 5 years old then progressively move on to more. So please don’t give me such drivel either. A musicians is a valuable occupation in a community but it is not MORE valuable than a doctor. It could be equal, but to say a musician is better or more acute and harder to acquire mastery or a “license” like you said is quite ludicrous. The faults also lie in the musicians, to not notice these faults and be more active with the admin side of the Orchestra shouldve been a priority.

    • Michael Barar says:

      Not that it cannot be done, but my teacher had a great saying, which was that “It takes ten years to get bad”. Playing an instrument well enough to get a job is incredibly difficult. Just what is your definition of a “major orchestra”?

      • George Smith says:

        what is your definition? Plus your teacher, and no offense, doesn’t shouldn’t be saying those types of things if he’s a teacher. It goes against the whole principle of education.

    • @George Smith: (“Im sorry to disappoint, but I know many musicians who are hard working and in major orchestras or playing around the world with less than 6-10 years of study.”)

      Please name ONE.

      And good heavens, if it’s so easy to get into a major orchestra after less than 6 years of study,why aren’t YOU a member of a major orchestra?

      • George Smith says:

        Ervin Monroe former principle flute of DSO for 40 years, got the job out of his 3 year degree at oberlin. He was even offered the CSO job that year as well. So its possible. Considering only 5-10% of new repertoire was added to any of those orchestras since 1970, the music didn’t get harder.

        I did and in under 6 years, took a principle position that was vacant for only one year, then left because of how disgusting both the admins and musicians were treating one another. no team work whatsoever, among other things.

        and no one said it was easy lady. I just said it sometimes also takes a lower amount of years to be able to play well and proficiently as well.

    • George Smith says: “The faults also lie in the musicians, to not notice these faults and be more active with the admin side of the Orchestra shouldve been a priority.”

      George, orchestra musicians can’t be more active with the admin side if management won’t let them. The Minensota Orchestra management won’t let them.

    • Christina H. says:

      Baloney! In order to achieve the skill level demonstrated by musicians performing in top orchestras takes decades. These accomplished professionals begin their training in their youth and must commit tremendous focused time to develop the required skills.

      Your example of the flautist who was offered a principal position right out of Oberlin began his training long before he entered Oberlin.

  11. People keep comparing these musicians to Olympic athletes to justify the intransigence on pay. It’s a ridiculous argument, when one considers how many Olympic athletes draw a salary for athletic prowess their entire adult lives. It is a vanishingly small amount. Obviously.

    What’s “Olympian” is the musicians’ sense of entitlement.

  12. It’s not all about money – hasn’t been, never will be. It’s also about 250+ work changes and a struggle for TOTAL control of everything, including artistic, by the Board.

    • Problem is, Sarah, that just saying “250+ work rule changes” doesn’t win anybody new over to your side. It just makes civilians’ eyes glaze over.

      Tell people what some of the more egregious changes are. Make clear that this Board and management want the right to send musicians out to play private functions like corporate events and weddings for no extra compensation, to have musicians perform at Board members’ homes upon request, to let the CEO and not the Music Director decide which musicians get hired and fired, … That stuff.

      When people see that, they start to get it. I’ve seen it happen right here in Slipped Disc.

      Unfortunately, it may be too late for that kind of rhetoric to do any good.

  13. What is insulting is calling them “part time fiddle players”.

  14. How many athletes – by the thousands – come out of colleges and universities each year? By the way, we are talking about “nonprofits” here. And another thing, both Wells Fargo and US Bank, employers of two of the Board members pulling the strings, just got fined hundreds of millions of dollars for questionable business practices. Please tell me that’s taught in Business 101.

    • George Smith says:

      it is, but so are many other things. Don’t tell me this is the only case, NYPhil and countless others suffer these problems, no doubt.

  15. In terms of what? they are still having immense problems.

  16. Yep time to get rid of the banksters on the MOA Board and replace them with people who actually care about classical music. It will happen.

    • The problem is that the banksters have all the money. if you want to be paid, better play ball with them. It’s not an ideal situation — personally I’m appalled by DC’s bank bailouts — but musicians have to learn to operate in the real world. Like everyone else.

  17. I get the sense that George Smith is posting under a variety of SNs.

  18. Hans Clebsch says:

    Former Principal Horn let his feelings be known today. You may read them here.

    http://is.gd/kendallbetts

    (p.s. It does appear George has a doppelganger.)

  19. George London says:

    The market is speaking, just like with typewriters and travel agents, industries change.

    Now you can stand off to the side blamethose evil people that give 40% of what keeps an operating model going via charity and further acclerate the downfall as those evil execs give up and donate that charity to other causes.

    Or you could instead of waiting 18 months to make a counter offer and a year of prattle towards Henson and company , work together. The union handled this very poorly.

    Art is the most free market activity that exists and thus why if one believes in art one has to believe in the free market.

  20. Bill Boards says:

    Perhaps the real issue is that we allow the market to dictate the value of the arts at all, or that we have a market, period. If we put a price on art, then it is no longer worth anything. Perhaps government subsidy would alleviate some of these issues. The symphony orchestra is still very culturally relevant, but in this “economy” it is understandably having some difficulty.

    Let’s all take comfort in the fact that the market will eventually collapse and all money will cease to be worth anything. Our monetary system is designed that way. When it does, there will be no more boards and no more megalomaniacal business people applying business logic to artistic institutions.

    • Bill – all that would do is change the market, it certainly doesn’t remove it. You just change who the client is. Someone still decides the price, and personally I would far prefer that real people decide what it is worth to them than a clipboard-wielding pen-pusher decides what they think it might be worth to someone else. Spending other people’s money on other people is the least efficient form of spending. But there’s still a market in operation: lots of orchestras competing for the same limited public funds and demanding ever-more support from the teat of the taxpayer.

      • Bill Boards says:

        America is the only place where it is socially acceptable to hoard money and to complain when the government, a body which is presumably in place to do things that we as individuals cannot, spends money on culture or really anything pleasurable. It seems that most of the arguments on this site with regards to the musicians and their exorbitant salaries have to do with the free market and supply and demand, which is an extremely basic way of looking at the world and kind of a stupid one. But if we must, why does the government subsidize oil and corn? No one seems to worry about that even though it is a huge environmental problem and counteracts the “free market” and when it is mentioned that we should consider subsidizing the arts, there is a huge backlash. No, let’s keep burning fossil fuels and fertilizing our surplus of corn with fossil fuel based fertilizers and consuming corn-based additives and burdening our healthcare system as a result. Just don’t ask me to spend a few cents on something that might elevate my existence. Art has the power to help us break free of the bullshit and I think that’s why the bullshitters take art as a personal afront.

        • “But if we must, why does the government subsidize oil and corn? No one seems to worry about that ..”

          Bill, thousands and thousands of people worry about that stuff all the time. Those worries even appear in the media regularly.

          Unfortunately, those of us who worry about those things can’t afford to make the campaign contributions to Senators and Congresspeople that Big Oil and Big Agribusiness do.

          Surely you know all that.

    • Bill Boards says: “Let’s all take comfort in the fact that the market will eventually collapse and all money will cease to be worth anything. Our monetary system is designed that way. When it does, there will be no more boards and no more megalomaniacal business people applying business logic to artistic institutions.”

      When that happens, there will be no more artistic institutions, either, at least for a while.

  21. harold braun says:

    Could someone please tell the two Georges,London and Smith,to shut up!!!!

  22. Performing Artist52 says:

    Perhaps it is time to get members of the board in their twenties instead of all these old business men and women. Some of the board members like Marilyn Nelson actually care about classical music. But most don’t. They don’t attend concerts. They are on the board for prestige and business connections. You can argue until you are blue in the face or the cows come home about the income versus expenses. But the MOA had a marketing department that did not market the product. How do you get butts in the seat without marketing. How do you spend $13.7 million and not produce one concert. How do you raise $100 million and not spend any of it to retain the high quality musicians that were recruited previously? The musicians were ready and willing to take the necessary pay cut if the MOA would provide the financial documents the musicians requested. But the musicians never received what was needed. How is it the Mr. Henson constantly changed his tune on the numbers. Look back at his previous comments in print and radio. He is a mess of contradictions. Campbell wanted to fire Osmo after he conducted a LOMOA concert. The MOA wanted to get rid of Osmo and create a second class orchestra.

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