The Orchestra’s Report to the City of Minneapolis

Wow.  I’ve been following the ongoing labor dispute with the Minnesota Orchestra and its musicians closely for some time now.  I thought I’d seen it all, but a new development today has sent me through the roof with frustration and rage.

Let me explain.

In 2010, the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) applied for state bonding money to renovate Orchestra Hall.  The bonding was approved, but the money could not be given directly to the Orchestra.  So as part of the final agreement, the money was given to the city of Minneapolis, which re-granted it to the MOA.  In return, the MOA turned over ownership of Orchestra Hall to the city of Minneapolis.  The city is leasing the building back to the MOA for 50 years rent-free, but retains ownership.

This is the key element of this complicated deal—the city of Minneapolis owns Orchestra Hall.  It “leases” it back to the MOA for free, with the stipulation that it functions primarily as a performing arts venue for the greater good of the community.  Among the key elements of the agreement:

  • Orchestra Hall will primarily present performing arts, with emphasis on music.
  • Multiple performing arts groups will perform at Orchestra Halll.
  • Half of the earned revenue will be generated by music and performance programs.

The bonding money was duly paid out, the MOA completed the planned renovations and Orchestra Hall was made ready to once again present great music.

Sadly, that hasn’t yet happened.  The MOA locked out the musicians in 2012, and Orchestra Hall has sat empty and silent ever since.

Irritated with the lockout, and responding to the complaints of downtown businesses and angry constituents, the city of Minneapolis formally demanded that the MOA report on how it was fulfilling its obligations under the lease—essentially demanding that it prove it was living up to its agreement and presenting music.  On December 1, the MOA complied and sent in a report, which became public today. (Please read them on SOS Minnesota’s website.  Here’s the report, and here’s the accompanying legal opinion.)

These documents left me speechless.

This is how you justify yourself?  This is how you attempt to assuage increasingly hostile government officers (and the public at large)?  This is how much effort you can put into a report for the agency that holds your lease and is considering revoking it?

The report, along with an accompanying legal justification for the MOA’s actions, is beyond astonishing.  It is beyond galling, and is beyond…

…well like I said, I don’t know if I have the words to do it justice.

Let me try.

“For the long term viability MOA to perform the Governmental Program we must operate in a fiscally sound fashion that does not require unsustainable draws from our endowment to achieve budgetary balance.”

I’ve lost all patience for this.  Please drop your self-serving, one-sided justifications for locking out the musicians.  Yes, we all know the organization has to be financially viable—that is the case for every organization everywhere, for-profit or non-profit.   Repeating statements like this again and again doesn’t make them true… nor does it mean they are actually backed up by your own institutional documents.  Many have commented on your questionable bookkeeping—which is the principal reason the city is forcing you to complete this report in the first place.

“We are, of course, deeply saddened by the lengthy labor dispute, have expressed multiple times our willingness to negotiate and have offered numerous contract proposals and compromises in an effort to achieve a resolution.”

Really?  In your last fundraising letter, sent to all your donors, you explicitly stated that you were not going to compromise.

“However, without two parties willing to negotiate and compromise, the timing of the resolution of the current labor dispute is outside the MOA’s control.”

Several things here.  First, I remind you again that you have publicly stated you have no intention of compromising.  Plus, you have made clear that you are not willing to negotiate your final positions, particularly the $5 million you plan to cut from musicians’ salaries.  Instead, you have stated you are only willing to negotiate how these cuts are implemented.  As I’ve said before, a clerk asking if you want to pay for your purchases with cash, check or credit card does not mean you are negotiating over an item’s price.

And may I point out again, the 11 proposals the musicians have made to try and resolve the dispute.  I’m sorry, but if there aren’t “two parties willing to negotiate,” that’s not the fault of the musicians.

But the most shocking part of this statement is that you say you have no control over the results.  Of course you do—you have unilaterally imposed a lockout on the musicians.  You are actively barring them from work.  And by doing so, you and you alone have kept Orchestra Hall from functioning as a performing arts center.  This is something you can control.  Stop trying to paint yourselves as the victim.

 “…MOA has begun to create a new series of concerts designed to keep music alive in Orchestra Hall.”

Great.  What have you actually presented?  Is there any business or organization that is judged on what it intends to do rather than what it has done?

“…Symphony Ball, and its companion event, Crash the Ball…”

I am astonished at this… on so many levels.  First, you skip over the name of the group that performed, but simply point out that the ensemble featured people who have performed with arts such as Prince, Bette Midler, Johnny Lang, and “others.”  How so, as back up players when these great musicians toured?  As subs? Local musicians contracted out?

But let’s go back.  Why no mention of the name?  Isn’t the entire purpose of this report to prove that you did actually have music groups on stage?  Is that to stop us from looking them up on the web and verifying they actually performed?  (The group, for the curious, was Belladiva.)

Plus, are you seriously going to list this one and only event as proof that you presented music to the public?  The Symphony Ball isn’t exactly a public event, and this performance hardly constitutes as a performance—or all intents and purposes, they were the hired house band of a private party.  Moreover, Symphony Ball is a fundraiser.  For you.  This wasn’t for the public good, and there was no public service given.

This is a major point—in the development world, no one gives you a grant for you to fundraise for yourself… that’s almost always an instant disqualification for funding.   The city doesn’t give money to the Humane Society to host a silent auction for itself, nor would it give the MS Society funds so it could host a gala dinner.  Why would the Symphony Ball be any different?

And… do I understand correctly that you’re counting the hyper-inflated ticket prices to attend a gala fundraiser (which includes dinner) as part of earned income?  As your ticket revenue?  Does the IRS know about this?  This gets murky fast… the IRS has specific rules regarding ticket prices for gala fundraising events.  If you spend $200 for a Symphony Ball ticket, you aren’t really buying a $200 ticket—you subtract out the fair market value for the food and the cost of seeing the show, and the remainder is considered a tax deductible donation.  Is that how you’ve accounted for this money?  Is that how the attendees accounted for this money?

But whatever the specific case may be, I can’t believe you’re honestly counting $200 tickets to see Belladiva as regular ticket revenue, as if they’re just another Orchestra-sponsored presentation going on.  These are totally different things.

“Three additional performing arts events were also arranged by the MOA…”

I can’t help but notice you didn’t list them.  Why wouldn’t you, in a formal report given not just to the city of Minneapolis, but the entity that holds your lease? Especially when this formal report requires you to prove you are functioning as a performing arts venue?  The lack of any specifics about time, character of the event, the audience, and the type of music performed makes it appear that you simply hosted a dance band for a wedding reception.

“The MOA is in discussions for…”

See my above comment.  Why should you be getting the benefit of the doubt for something you are “discussing” to do, rather than something you are actually doing?  More to the point, you have given no indication that you actually plan to put these acts on.  You haven’t announced them to the public, even provisionally.  You have chosen to cancel everything up through at least January, and have given no indication that you are doing anything to resolve the labor dispute that’s keeping the hall empty.  Board Chair Jon Campbell, for example, remarked to the press that he had no intention of resuming talks anytime soon, so there’s no sense of when the season might possibly resume.  At this point, none of these provisional acts are even… provisional.  They’re in no way linked to reality—you might as well tell us you’ve scheduled a performance by Michael Jackson. Or, as you say in your attached season schedule, “Duke” Ellington.

“MOA has prepared budgets for the fiscal years 2014 through 2017, which assume settlement of the labor dispute and the return to regular performance season consistent with its strategic business plan.”

How can you make any sort of assumptions, when you’ve a lost your music director and a significant number of musicians?  Are these revenue numbers just wild guesses?

And I can’t help but notice you use the word “strategic business plan” in this sentence.  May we assume that these performances are not consistent with any sort of strategic artistic plan?  Since the city requires you to be a performing arts venue—shouldn’t you speak to an artistic plan as well?

“We are proud to have been able to provide construction jobs in Minneapolis…”

You are not a public works project.  Sure, the additional jobs were a nice side benefit, but construction jobs were not the purpose behind the bonding money.  You were given $14 million to be a performing arts venue that would provide great music to the city and the state.  In fact, this very report is being submitted to prove that you have kept up that part of the bargain.

The fact that you can’t even remotely indicate that you have kept up your part of the bargain—in your report’s final conclusions, no less—is a good indication that you have failed to do so.


* * *

Even worse is the astonishing “legal opinion” that accompanies Michael Henson’s letter.   I am not a trained lawyer, so I want to keep my remarks brief, but again I’m astonished that this all the MOA could come up with.

Regarding the “Initial Reporting Period.”  The letter sets out to complain that the MOA has to do a report now, so soon after the refurbishments were completed.  The implication is two months is not enough time, either to complete the report or to generate a critical mass of arts events to satisfy the main points of the agreement.

There might be a kernel of truth here—there hasn’t been a great deal of time since the construction was completed.

But still.

Do you suppose you are the first organization that has been asked to do an interim report?  Good Heavens—this happens all the time.  In fact, the Minnesota State Arts Board requires this all the time, so I can’t believe an orchestra would be so shocked and put out.  The standard operating procedure is for the grantee to simply state what’s been done to date, and the funding agency essentially pro-rates its expectations.  You’ve only been open for a month?  That’s okay, just list the events that happened in that month.  Everything is fine.

I suspect that the reason you’re upset is that you don’t actually have anything to report.  But this is your own fault… because you unilaterally cancelled all the performances.  If you hadn’t cancelled everything, the report would be brimming with exciting concerts and arts events, and there would be nothing to complain about.

Force Majeure Clause.  My last point carries through, here.  You are essentially claiming that the lockout you have implemented and unilaterally imposed on the musicians is somehow akin to an Act of God—something completely outside of your control.  You even throw in legal reasoning to suggest that your unilaterally-imposed lockout is like a strike… something you can’t control.

So to restate: the lockout you have imposed and have defiantly maintained despite considerable pressure to lift… is somehow outside your control.

Aren’t you embarrassed to write this?

Ah, but then you go for your coup de grâce—the reason it’s outside your control is because you can’t force the musicians to engage in meaningful bargaining.

How many times do we have to go over this?  They did.  Many times.  Many surrogates tried to negotiate with you as well, and you rebuffed them all.  Including Senator Mitchell, who, again, brought peace to Northern Ireland.  He worked out a deal that the musicians agreed to, but you rejected it because it would cause you to “lose leverage.”

Please, just stop this nonsense.

One final thing, in both Michael Henson’s letter and the legal brief that accompanies it, there is a theme of hurt feelings.  That of course you’re acting in everyone’s best interest.  Of course all your statements have been clear.  You seem to be asking, with some exasperation:  “Why are you picking on us and making us do these ridiculous reports when everything is fine?”

Let me be brief.  You have no credibility.  You gained the $14 million in bonding money under very questionable circumstances, and provided financial documents and public testimony that was inaccurate at best.  As a result, you were hauled back before the state legislature, and many of its members have said publicly they no longer trust you or your creative accounting.  This is, in part, why the city of Minneapolis is demanding this report from you.

You’ve broken your word.

You have not provided for the public good.

You have behaved in a financially irresponsible manner.

You picked this fight, and you’re fighting to win at all cost, regardless of collateral damage.

Well, we’re tired of being collateral damage.  We’ve had enough.

This report documents your abject failure at fulfilling the obligations you chose to take on when you accepted the state’s bonding money.  Worse, it documents your abysmal failure as leaders of an arts organization.

It is time for you to be removed from power.



68 thoughts on “The Orchestra’s Report to the City of Minneapolis

  1. On the plus side, at least they’ve finally released their proposed 2013-14 season schedule as part of this report. And it is every bit as damning as Michael Henson’s letter – only 18 classical subscription programs in the entire season, with many of these weekends cut to only two performances. (And 18 is being generous, since it includes the Messiah weekend, which never used to be counted on the subscription series until Henson began slashing the classical season.) When I joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 2000, we were playing as many as 27 subscription concerts per season, with several additional weeks devoted to classical music in other formats. Our peer orchestras play 30 or more subscription weeks.

    I know of no major orchestra in the world that spends literally more than half of its scheduled rehearsal and concert time playing non-classical pops concerts and rental events. But that’s exactly what this schedule says Michael Henson intends for this orchestra to do. He’s been saying it behind closed doors for years, while denying it in public. Finally, here’s the proof.


  2. Proud to have provided construction jobs…Well, for that matter, Orchestra Hall also serves to block some of the iciest wind from one direction. It is also a nice area for shade during the three or four hottest weeks of the year.


  3. The voting members of the board can do something about this mess within the next couple weeks by removing the morally and artistically dead humanity who are cluelessly running this organization. Or, hell, vote ’em back in, all the easier for us to permanently say “bye bye” and support the musicians in their next phase. I actually prefer the latter at this point.


  4. Here’s the bit in the legal brief that burns me: “Picketing, adverse publicity, and other labor dispute actions have resulted in multiple cancellations and delays in performance by music organizations scheduled to perform in Orchestra Hall.” Would these exist if you had not first locked out the musicians? Take away the legalese, and this hack is basically saying: “We can’t present programming because we locked out our musicians — BUT IT’S THEIR FAULT.” I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here…


  5. Well done, Scott!

    Dear MOA,
    Using the musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra to play more than 50 percent pop concerts is like using Tiger Woods to run the concession stand at the local putt putt course. Didn’t you include “touring and recording” in your big strategic plan? Or was losing the gigs at Carnegie Hall and BIS part of the plan? How on earth would you expect musicians to stay in top form playing this kind of musical drivel half the time? Your ignorance is appalling. Or maybe you just lied and never had any intentions of ever bringing the orchestra into a recording studio or on tour again. Given that you did everything in your power to get Osmo to leave– after all, why would we need a world class conductor if you are bent on creating a pops band— I think things played out just the way you wanted. You are not fit to lead this organization. Personally, I think some of you belong behind bars. Please find a new direction with new leaders before all hell breaks loose.


    • Elizabeth, I like your post. But there’s one reality check we need to keep in mind.

      These days, recordings (even on prestigious labels such as BIS) and tours to Carnegie Hall and beyond aren’t revenue makers. They don’t earn money, they lose money. I’ve seen more than one top orchestra cancel a tour because they couldn’t get sponsorship, or because the sponsor backed out.

      So, IF the sole purpose of one’s strategic plan is to lose less money, one won’t include recording and touring.


      • Yes, you are absolutely right about recordings and tours NOT generating money. But the level of financial mismanagement of the MOA is staggering, especially with a couple of bankers on the executive committee. I’d just comment that if some dumbass hadn’t sold a bunch of securities for a $14 million dollar loss a few years ago, there would be a pretty good pot of gold that could have continued to propel our orchestra forward through recordings and tours.


      • No argument there.

        My point was just that it’s now almost standard for an orchestra to cut recordings and touring when they have to save money, especially on short notice.

        There are still people who think that recordings are money-makers for orchestras, the way they sometimes were in the ’60s and ’70s. It sounded for a moment like you might be one of those people. Sorry!


  6. You’ve missed an important point. The voting members of the board are heavily loaded with “Freedom First,” Tim Pawlenty type Republicans. A simple Google search will tell you just how lopsided and tipped to the right the board truly is. Expecting any results with negotiations with Democrats like Senator Mitchell, The Democratic Minneapolis Mayors, Minnesota Senators, and Governor is unrealistic. This board has chosen the path and that is it. Fine. The only way it will change coarse is if Republican leadership steps in. I know Arnie Carlson stepped up briefly but he is not the kind of Republican that this board will listen too. This is also why replacing the leadership will not happen. Even if it did there would be little effect because so many voting members are of the same ideology. Hey, if I’m wrong please let me know. I’d love to be wrong about this really! I don’t know how it is possible but the only way there will be an orchestra different from the vision of the current board is if the current board really is removed from power. Once again, no matter how strong a case you may have, I just don’t know how that’s possible. Someone please prove me wrong.


  7. Brilliant, Scott! I was laughing aloud while reading. Scott Erickson–I think that MOA has been taking crazy pills for a long time. Bill and Elizabeth, I agree with you both whole-heartedly! Sam Bergman and his excellent colleagues should not have to play with these pop musicians. It is completely beneath them.


  8. Next thing you know, they’ll be claiming they are “too big to fail” and demanding bailouts to continue the same destructive plan. Ooh wait, aren’t there bankers involved?


    • Actually, a state/city bailout might not be a bad idea! However, there should be conditions. FIVE Musicians appointed to the executive committee of the board and the resignation of Misters Henson, Campbell and Davis. (Though US Bank and Wells Fargo financial contributions would still be welcome.) The reinstitution of at least 20 weeks of classical programs at Orchestra Hall but not including The Messiah (an extra Christmas event-as “A Christmass Carol” has always been a holiday event at the Guthrie, not on the season’s subscription), and not including the summer concerts. Presentation of concerts at St. Paul venues, and touring throughout the state and neighboring states, as well as Carnegie Hall if they’ll still have us. Might even advertise the concerts for a change. Maybe even get another Wheaties box?


  9. Is there any way to separate the musicians from this board that is apparently trying to turn it the orchestra into a pop group. I do not understand what the goal(s) of the board are, but it looks like a Mitt Romney sort of thing, where an organization is taken over, sucked dry, and discarded. Or, is it that the board’s cultural level is so low that they want performances to reflect that; classical music being so boring and all. This is what you get when you let bean counters run a cultural organization. It’s amazing, almost everybody seems to be very unhappy with the situation, so why isn’t something being done? Is there a way to get rid of the board entirely and start over? Sounds simplistic I know, but by their own statements, the board is not going to give an inch. So, they are destroying a major American cultural institution. . .


    • The goal of the board is to maintain control of the endowment, and that is all. It’s a nice chunk of change to have invested in their banks. Any “music” or “public service” or “art” is just the window dressing to the primary goal of the bankers to keep control of the cash.


      • And each year the MOA pays hundreds of thousands in banking fees to Wells Fargo and US Bank, electrical service fees XCEL Energy, and now legal fees to Faegre & Benson, all represented on the board. Check out Part IV on their recent 990’s.


  10. I have seen a brochure for Vocal Essence and they have two performances scheduled at Orchestra Hall this year. Someone needs to talk to Phillip Brunelle. Anyone with an ounce of integrity would not be performing there. I know the Youth Symphonies are using other venues


    • Hi Susan, you’ll be pleased to know that that has already happened. VocalEssence was scheduled to perform at Orchestra Hall earlier this fall. They kept the date on the calendar as long as they could, but when it was clear that there would be no resolution to the labor dispute, they moved their concert to Central Lutheran near the Minneapolis Convention Center. I suspect they lost their down payment, as the Orchestra was in no mood to give a refund.

      I’d also like to say that Central Lutheran has been a great friend to other groups who found themselves in the same position–including my own group, the Minnesota Chorale.


  11. How anyone can defend these musicians is beyond me. The average salary is 2.5 times the US average. The hours of work in the contract is much less than the 2,000 per year for the American worker. The benefits were very generous. Most importantly, this orchestra rates somewhere below NY Youth Symphony on the national scene.


    • Peter, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m hoping this is an indication that although you hold a different opinion, you’re looking at other view points.

      I’m sure you gather that I don’t share your assessment. I’m curious—do you feel the same way about all people in all professions, if they make more money than a set amount? I’ve noted before that President Henson made $600,000 last year—considerably more than the musicians, and vastly more than the average American worker. His bonuses last year were in fact larger than the average musician salary, which you decry. Are you troubled by his salary as well? Or do you disapprove of, say, Richard Davis’s salary when his annual compensation is larger than the entire budget of the Minnesota Orchestra per year? Do you disapprove of other skilled workers’ salaries, in sports or even skilled tradesmen, for example?

      I toss out this as an example… what would it cost to bring 97 plumbers to your house on a Saturday night for three hours? Would those costs be fair?

      And you don’t raise the question of whether or not they *earn* their salaries. I would argue that they do. The musicians’ salaries reflect that they are tops in their field, and we’re paying for quality. They’ve gone through extensive, specialized training, and in most cases bought instruments (and insure them) for hundreds of thousands of dollars. As we’ve seen with the Twins, sometimes you have to pay for quality if you’re going to play at the big league level.

      As many would tell you, performing at a high level means they are constantly practicing; to be in a major symphony orchestra means they have to spend hours every day honing their craft. They are working with their instruments daily, in much the same way that an athlete needs to work out daily to stay in shape. This is all done above and beyond their group rehearsals.

      And I toss this out for consideration. In 2009 the MOA management, which is led by executives from two of our nation’s largest banks, lost $12 million in bad financial deals. That’s more than twice as much as the $5 million in salary cuts they are demanding of the musicians to “save the organization.” To me this suggests that the management is trying to cover its investment losses and overall mismanagement by cutting the musicians’ pay.

      Your final statement about the group’s artistic standing feels, well, small to me. The group has been hailed by the international press (and specifically the New York press), been nominated for Grammys, and was the first American orchestra to be given a residency at the prestigious BBC Proms in London. I think they’ve proven their worth.

      But I don’t want to just browbeat you… please, by all means look through my blogs. I think I’ve laid out my case. And if you have rebuttals to specific points, by all means bring them forward.


    • Hey, Peter, I doubt you’ re still following our thoughts from fly-over land, but perhaps you can explain from your producer’s chair how two Grammy nominations have emerged from our cultural wasteland that has been home to the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra. You clearly have no credibility, and I hope artists across the country uncover your attitudes toward them.


      • Around here this was thought of as a RIAA sympathy vote, and I do think the musicians deserve some degree of sympathy.
        I only hope it doesn’t further inflate their egos, and they can settle for a workable salary and forgo other perks.


      • Peter, did you know they also received a Grammy nomination in 2007, before they became the subject of so much “sympathy”?


  12. Well, Peter Rosen. why don’t you let me, an alumnus of the NY Youth Symphony, give you a little education to go with the little you think you know. You’ve gotten the impression from somewhere that this is some sort of average job that doesn’t merit the kind of pay we’re asking for. If it’s so easy, i would encourage you to do what I and others did to get here. Bear in mind I don’t have the same responsibility to be deferential in my remarks to you that Scott might. You are insulting and you don’t speak with respect. Therefore, I owe you none. I’ve already traveled the moral high ground for a year and I’m tired of it. So, before you go off on a subject you have no intimate knowledge of, you might consider the following as a project:

    1) Choose a musical instrument to study and purchase one

    2) Find a qualified teacher of that instrument

    3) Practice for a good ten years or so

    4) Audition for Juilliard, Curtis Institute, The Eastman School, New England Conservatory, Indiana University, The Cleveland Institute of Music, The Colburn School. Any of those will do. If you fail to get in I’ll have a longer list for you of other similar places to try to get into.

    5) Study for another 4-6 years at one of those schools if you get in. Once you get in get ready to take out several loans to go there.
    5b) Attend summer festivals so that you can study more and pay more tuition.

    6) Freelance in your city or other locales to get experience playing with professionals in great orchestras. You’ll have to break in based on recommendations and your reputation as a musician and person.

    7)Travel nationally and internationally to take auditions at your own expense which include air/bus/carfare and hotels. Stay healthy. It would suck if you developed a cold the day before you play after all that practicing and expense.

    8 ) Win an audition in a major orchestra. No, not with a community orchestra. I said a major orchestra.

    9)When you do all that you’ll have two years to prove yourself worthy of tenure so that you can stay. If you don’t pass, you get to start auditioning all over again for another orchestra. Yes, the MO has denied a few players tenure because it wasn’t the right fit in the section involved.

    Dang, I forgot something… those weeks of vacation? Nope… you need to continue practicing and playing so that you don’t lose your technique and endurance. Sorry. Out of those ten weeks I take two off in the summer and fortunately have a couple of weeks more to get back in shape for the first rehearsal.

    Finally… I failed to mention that the instrument you started your studies on has been upgraded several times and you’ll probably be needing loans to pay for those if you decided to play a stringed instrument. Non-stringed instruments are generally cheaper but here’s the catch: you will own MANY more non-stringed instruments than string players do stringed instruments, so, it winds up costing about the same.

    My personal collection, you ask? Glad to oblige:

    5 C trumpets
    3 Bb trumpets (used to be 4 but I had to sell one after the lockout began)
    1 D trumpet
    2 Eb trumpets

    That’s a partial list. Those instruments are all made by David Monette. Ask around and find out how much they cost. Go ahead. Get back to me after you pick your jaw off the floor. No, they’re not like the trumpets you borrowed from school or rented to play in marching band.

    So, now you have the ingredients in the order you’ll need to apply them. Let us know how it’s going. Remember: it was YOU who intimated that it was an average job. Get busy.

    My name is Manny Laureano, of the East Harlem Laureanos, and I’ve been a proud member of the brass section of this orchestra for 32 years.


    • Manny, sorry you have gone through all that and ended up at this point. I am fully aware of what a life in music is all about, having worked with many of the world’s greatest artists.
      My only point was that in this particular case, this orchestra is asking for too much, and has an inflated opinion of itself. This not New York, Boston, Chicago, or even LA, but a small out of the way corner of America, where one should settle for a little less. On the international scale of things, think Lake Wobegon.


      • Lake Wobegon? As a proud Scandinavian-American, Lutheran-bred lifelong Minnesotan, I find you condescending and insulting. Keep thinking small-minded thoughts, and that’s just where you’ll stay.


      • And mind you, folks, that is VERY strong language coming from a Scandinavian-American, Lutheran-bred lifelong Minnesotan.


      • Lest I be accused of entering into a dialog with you Peter Rosen, I none the less must say that you appear to be completely without knowledge with regard to orchestral quality, cost of living in major metropolitan areas, what defines a major metropolitan area and even wonder if you have ever attended a Minnesota Orchestra concert. (And by the way do you even live in this area?) When I moved to Minneapolis in 1969, the Minnesota Orchestra was a top ten orchestra, but clearly not a top five orchestra. Los Angeles and San Francisco were not even in the running. Over the years we have seen a wondrous and marvelous upgrade and perhaps realignment in the top ten, to the point where distinctions are often blurred when it comes to deciding which of the top ten is the best on a given night.

        Minneapolis-St Paul “in this small out of the way corner” of the country (according to you), is a pretty prosperous community. In contrast, Cleveland, a rust belt survivor, has hosted a “top five” orchestra since George Szell who started at its helm in 1946 and transformed it from a small understaffed orchestra to what it is today. In 1946, the Cleveland Orchestra was not considered on a par with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra much less in the “top five”. Even as the Cleveland metropolitan area lost population and prosperity over the years, due to competent orchestral management and artistic excellence, the Cleveland Orchestra remains in the “top ten” or five or however these things are measured now days. The Minnesota Orchestra is definitely on an artistic par with the Cleveland Orchestra, why don’t you think our musicians deserve to be compensated just as well as theirs.

        Obviously, the New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony have higher pay scales to compensate for higher housing costs and inconvenience though some might prefer the “action” in these places. On the other hand, the price of a shirt in Brooks Brothers or JC Penney’s is the same in New York as it is here (less sales tax), as is an iPhone, as is a Ford, though admittedly its a lot easier to park in Minneapolis.

        As for the quality of our musicians, just look where those who have left or taken a leave of absence have gone (because even musicians have to eat). Our musicians are now at the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Zurich Tonhalle etc—and I’ll bet they are getting payed pretty well for either living out of a suitcase, or having to relocate their lives.

        We are dealing with a Minnesota Orchestra board which controls the sixth largest orchestral endowment in the country. (Not too long ago, it was the fifth largest). Although the CEO of the country’s fifth largest bank and local CEO for the nation’s fourth largest bank have been in control of the board over the time frame of the orchestra’s artistic ascent, we have also seen catastrophic mismanagement of the orchestra’s endowment, leading to horrific financial losses and incredibly misplaced priorities, favoring bricks and mortar over artistic excellence. And some have suggested, our bankers and their hand picked proxy, Mr. Henson, “cooked the books” in order to get the bricks and mortar from both bonding and contributions.

        And now the board would have the musicians pay for their mismanagement? And you agree?


      • Shame on you for that snotty reply, Peter.
        Until this lockout, I looked to the Twin Cities as a place my children might aspire to work. Fortunately, the individual musicians that have stayed there merit admiration…but not the people those musicians work(ed) for.


      • Peter, at the risk of piling on, I thought that since this is my blog I should reply.

        I’m curious that in your first comment you remarked that the musicians were being paid exorbitant salaries far beyond the US average, while working far fewer hours than the average worker. In your second email, you restate your position to essentially state no one from Minneapolis has any business being paid that much.

        I’d like to point out that wages are based on many things, including industry standards, organizational budget, prestige of the individual, prestige of the institution, size of endowment, and so forth. Geography can be a factor, but they are not determined by physical distance from New York.

        I’m also curious—do you have direct knowledge about wages, rents or cost of living in Minneapolis? Or are you making an assumption?

        In terms of resources, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area is home to a ridiculous number of Fortune 500 companies. I’m sure you’ve heard of Target, Best Buy, 3M, and General Mills, to name a few. Moreover, the cities are home to US Bank and Wells Fargo, and executives of both of these establishments are on the board of the Minnesota Orchestra. Plus, the Orchestra’s endowment is one of the largest in the country. There are plenty of resources here, and that’s been one of the sticking points of the lockout.

        And again, as you read through my previous posts, you’ll see I lay out an argument that the problem is not that wages are simply “too high,” but that the MOA has manufactured a financial crisis as part of a larger program to remake the institution and strike out at the union.

        And as a side note, I point out that the “Lake Wobegon” reference is a stale cliché that is not only untrue, but seems… well, unworthy.


    • Bravo, Manny! I’m happy to see such point-by-point straight shooting from the musicians. Aside from individual effort, it’s taken years to hone this orchestra as an ensemble, and a lot of snarky people out there want to ignore that. Since I worked for the MOA back when you started, I’m happy to bear witness to how much effort has gone into making this ensemble what it was when management chose the lockout route.


      • Peter, it has become entertaining to read all the responses to your rather ignorant and cavalier responses to Scott’s latest blog post. Let me just pile on and simply ask what in the world is your firsthand knowledge of this orchestra? Having grown up in Chicago, lived and worked in both NYC and LA, I can say with great confidence (and I suspect more firsthand knowledge than you) that the MN Orchestra that its current “top management” has chosen to decimate earned their way into the company of top-tier orchestras in the U.S. Too bad you never had the opportunity….


  13. Peter, you are wrong and there seems to be no way to convince you of what everyone else in the business knows. While you personally may have been out of the loop regarding the accomplishments, artistic quality, and fame of this orchestra, our status has been secure for years. Since you say you have have worked with “many of the world’s greatest artists” I invite you to ask Yoyo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Leonard Slatkin, Charles Dutoit, Shlomo Mintz, Sir Neville Marriner, next time you run into them about this orchestra. Maybe you should talk to Alex Ross of the New Yorker or James Oesteriech and Anthony Tommasini from the Times what they think.

    You cannot escape the insult you have thrown to the hard-working musicians with whom I have spent the best years of my life. Please do not presume to be able to judge that which you, for whatever reason, are not wanting to see clearly. It is I, not you, that have stood up with my colleagues to accept the applause of audiences that have been left weeping from being moved by our artistry in Paris, Vienna, London, Edinboro, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Koln, Munich, Basel, Lugano, Luxembourg, Osaka, Tokyo, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Hong Kong, to name a few

    Lake Wobegon, indeed!


  14. Well, Manny clearly does not understand that New York, Boston, and a few other cities are obviously the center of the universe artistically, and it is simply impossible that anything with any cultural value would exist elsewhere in the universe. A brief glance at any of Mr. Rosen’s work will illustrate this, as he has worked with “some of the world’s greatest artists”, unlike, say, the Minnesota Orchestra. Also, he is based in New York, which is “not even LA” with regard to the motion picture industry.

    It’s always nice to be reminded that New York and other major cities are also full of people who confidently demonstrate the foremost levels of ignorance, conceit, and outright stupidity when discussing important cultural issues.


  15. Peter – please check your facts-
    the musicians are asking to be paid what they were paid 2 years ago- already a level far below the top orchestras in this country. If you have worked with with many of the worlds great artists maybe you can get them to back up your assertions…until then I’ll just assume you are a shill for the MOA.


    • Margaret, you should probably be aware that this blog is public, and your comments may be reproduced in various journalistic pieces. The WSJ is researching this story, so I’ll forward your elegant comment.


      • Peter–here’s another elegant comment for you: unless you feel some compelling reason to exercise your finely toned trolling muscles, don’t throw your ignorant, unresearched, irrelevant and insulting balderdash into these discussions. I will look forward to the WSJ article, where I am sure your razor-sharp analysis will feature prominently. In the meantime, please go trolling instead in forums about the New York City Opera, because I’m sure you know all about that topic, too.

        When your busy schedule allows, I encourage you to visit us in Minneapolis, where Manny will be happy to give you a complimentary martial arts lesson. BTW, should you run into Alex Ross, ask him for his brief run-down on the quality of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (his latest superlative for them was “brilliant”.) Or perhaps you’re not familiar with Alex Ross. He’s from New York.


      • OOOoooh – a BLOG is PUBLIC?!?!?!?! O.M.G. – – I’m JUST A RUBE from LAKE WOBEGON!!! i DIDN’T KNOW THAT!!!!!!


      • What a weird little attempt at intimidation. “This blog is public.”
        Right. Thank you.
        And you’re forwarding (!) comments to the Wall Street Journal…what an enterprising and thoughtful thing to do. I bet they have a tough time finding their way around the interwebs.


      • The WSJ? Is that one of those hoity toity big city deals? Newspaper or sumthin? Never did trust those. See, here in the heartland of Real America, we’ve gots us hearty boys fresh off the farm that ride around the town on horseback clangin’ bells to inform the local populace of all the happenin’s – y’know, the barn dances and such. Don’t need none of that newspaper nonsense. Closest thing we got is the Sears Roebuck catalog, comes out every Thanksgivin’. I’m fixin’ to get the missus a new butter churn this season. *chews tobacco* *spits*

        Seriously, though. First, the WSJ has already covered the lockout, to extraordinarily irrelevant effect, and second, any piece in any paper that includes an anonymous “you are talking out of your ass” comment from a niche blog (no offense, Scott; mine’s niche, too) will not be an article worth reading, save for entertainment value. That, and it’ll make good lining for the cat crate.


      • We country bumpkins in Minnesota call it an “ass”. Would it have been less insulting if Margaret had called it a “poopy hole”? Come on Peter, you hop on this blog and insult the living daylights out of the orchestra that I’ve loved for 30 years and quite honestly, don’t know anything about; then you get all bent out of shape because someone throws a bit of it back in your face. You better get right on the phone and call LA, San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, NY and tell them that they have all been duped by the NY youth symphony players posing as Minnesota Orchestra musicians who have been regularly playing in these orchestras for over a year.


      • Great. While you’re at it, you can also notify the WSJ that the Minnesota Orchestra was just nominated for ANOTHER Grammy tonight for Best Orchestral Performance.


  16. Bravo, Mr Rosen, on stirring the pot so effectively just in time for the MOA annual meeting and election, and shedding light on the very thin thread by which current CEO and bankers are holding on to the board.
    Will a well timed piece in the WSJ reassure the consciences of other MOA board members in continuing the lockout, and justify all of the financial manipulation and artistic distruction to date in the service of the 3 leaders’ noble anti- union crusade? Hopefully, there are enough independent minded MOA board members who can evaluate the results of the outgoing leadership for themselves.
    Your work must be fascinating! A tip…Mr Volpe, subject of your Met piece, may have insights to share on the MN situation.


  17. The problem is now getting worse on our doorstep. The Milwaukee problems are now worse than they let on. The Milwaukee Symphony will close for good,, if it does not raise 5 million in 2 months. They are have agreed to cut the orchestra back to about 60 players. There is not any fat to cut. I guess with the problems here, a drastic salary cut in not on the cards. The CEO is the principal trumpeter. Major donors say they are tapped out, and will not contribute to this drive, as they have funded too many bail outs in recent years. So this money will have to be raised from small donors. It seems they would rather close the doors if this fund drive fails, rather than have the spectacle we have here.
    At the start of this, I said the funding model is dead. I’m certain that without new ideas, this rot will spread to every orchestra in the US within a generation if nothing changes.

    I think the choice will be between no permanent musicians, and 100% freelance or using new technology to reach the audience. The third option is a combination of both.

    The real problem here is missed. We all know that concert halls are not big enough to keep the orchestras solvent without unaffordable ticket prices. The big donors are baulking. There is over whelming evidence for the fact that the audience for classical music is larger then it has ever been, but only a very small fraction of that audience ever steps inside a concert hall. What has also changed is that those listeners get to listen to the music free, mostly, or at minimal cost.
    So there needs to be serious discussion about how to get people to pay a reasonable charge. The generation growing up, will want a TV picture, not just audio. So just like in the LP, Stereo, and digital transitions, the whole repertory needs to be recorded again in AV. I don’t think the industry will lead this, the major players are now totally pop geared. That is another problem as modern digital technology is increasingly pop geared. So classical music does need a technical parallel universe. So musical arts organizations need to figure this out, and be in charge of recoding, production and distribution. They will also have to lead in consumer education, as classical musical fans tend to be backward technologically, I have observed.

    I suspect this will require a combination of listeners getting good results in the home and broadcast to satellite venues around the the country and world.

    So, if the Milwaukee Symphony folds, should a reconstituted Minnesota Orchestra, be also the Milwaukee Orchestra?
    The Metropolitan Opera have lead the way on this. Europe is way in front technically and have garnered a lot of help and big funds from the hardware industry. The BPO Digital Concert Hall is a real lesson, in the way forward. Sony have put a lot of money in this. The Vienna State Opera and therefore the Vienna Phil, have just signed a big contract with Samsung.

    Radical change is required, but not the sort the MOA envisage. We need a big conference on all this, here in Minneapolis, and hear from all the players. The players being AV technology companies, AV manufacturers, loudspeakers manufacturers, IT companies, IT system builders, CEDIA and home builders, retailers, the cinema industry, symphony associations, musicians and artists. There are probably many parties I have overlooked. There has to be a huge change of gear world wide about all of this.

    I have been concerned before this crisis in Minnesota blew up, that the real reasons for the problem have not been understood by anybody involved in the dispute, and that is the major reason it has not been solved. This crisis here an everywhere may primarily, in fact, be entirely one of failure to manage and understand technological change.

    In closing I would say, the question will come up: – How many large high quality symphony orchestras does the world need? The answer may well be a lot less than you think, but that is a guess. I do know that only the finest and far sighted orchestras will survive. The MOA have already gone far down the road to making sure intelligent change will not come to Minnesota. That is a pity considering the accomplishments of the Minnesota Orchestra and its history of being on the cutting edge of technological change.


    • I certainly hope that the Milwaukee Symphony does not fold. It is a fine ensemble. But Milwaukee is not Minneapolis-St.Paul, and the Milwaukee Symphony does not have the sixth largest endowment of any American Orchestra. Perhaps Mr. Henson figures he can get the Milwaukee Symphony players to take the bus up to Minneapolis and play at Orchestra Hall—he might even be the conductor, or perhaps Mr Davis or Mr Campbell? The Milwaukee musicians are no doubt union members and need to eat as well, so I don’t know how that scenario might play out. How many symphony orchestra’s does the world need? I don’t know about the rest of the world, though I must admit I have attended other symphony orchestral concerts given by various orchestras in USSR and Russia, Rome, Madrid, Jerusalem, Singapore, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam,London, Paris, Sydney. They were very well attended and in many cases were on a par with our orchestra and in most not. And here we have an example of egregious orchestral mis management well on the way to converting one of the world’s best orchestras into—-? The world?? Minneapolis-St Paul-we need one! (BADLY)


      • I’m going to play the provocateur. Technology is changing. I can tell you that well executed technology can bring the concert hall to the home with devastating accuracy. Not cheaply, or easily, but I can do it.
        The broadcast to cinema will only improve. I have had the chance to evaluate a 3D cinema, equipped with the new Dolby Atmos system. This system has the ability to perfectly locate any sound anywhere in the room, with high sonic fidelity also. It is an incredible system.
        We know all recognize the enormous, training, effort, instrument purchase and maintenance by the musicians. Most will not do that without the prospects of a decent living. Now a large symphony orchestra requires 100 or more of such individuals. This tends to make the symphony orchestra the most expensive arts institution in a community. So without government funds and or large individual and corporate donations, the books don’t balance.
        So if a community can not afford a top class orchestra, then I think down the road people would probably go to hear the BPO or Vienna Phil, at a 3Dtheater, with a super Dolby Atmos sound system. I don’t know but I think that outcome is certainly possible.
        I think we have the elements here in Minnesota to be a crucible of change. First we need a first class orchestra, and that makes the crimes of the MOA board set us up for missed opportunity after missed opportunity. If we go this route, then the MSO needs rebuilding at lightening speed.


      • Well Mark, first it was the 78 RPM then the long play and the CD, the radio, television presentations and now the Metropolitan Opera at a cinema, praised by many, but it ain’t the real thing. None match for attendance at a live well performed concert or opera. The Met has been quite successful with its movie house presentations in our area–as well as in so many other areas, but at the same time, the Minnesota Opera stages 5 grand operas a year and sells 80-85% of the seats. Admittedly the Minnesota Opera is not the Met, but its certainly as good as the Santa Fe Opera. But the Minnesota Orchestra is to other world class orchestras as the Metropolitan Opera is to other world class opera companies.

        This community can support a properly managed world class symphony orchestra, just as it has for the last 110 years. The problem is propper management. We agree—“… we need a first class orchestra, and that makes the crimes of the MOA board (which) set us up for missed opportunity after missed opportunity. If we go this route, then the MSO needs rebuilding at lightening speed.” Unfortunately, this “rebuilding” probably will not happen with the orchestra board’s current leadership. But fortunately, the nucleus of our orchestra is still here, and at this point, “rebuilding” would be fairly easy, but for how long the can the orchestra members hold out. Even musicians have to eat, and they will find employment in other cities with comparable first tier orchestras if this keeps up–many have already.

        As far as technology, the Columbia and later Mercury Recordings then Phillips, Virgin, Reference, and BIS recordings have served to make us want to take in the real thing. I for one don’t wish to go to the movies, either in my own home, or at a theater near me, to hear MY world class orchestra or even the Chicago Symphony with 3-D glasses and an Atmos sound system. And why would I go to the movies when I could hear the best in person with no extra exertion?


    • I agree with much of what you say. The issue was apparent 30 years ago with the growth of cable and home VHS recording. I believe a new model can emerge, but current management thinks the answer is antiquated pops schlock. This is in fact why I left arts admin and pursued a technical production program, hoping for a day when art and technology would come togrther.

      There is another problem in that a certain critical mass of orchestras is indeed required to maintain a pool of musicians. Too few orchestra positions, and no one will be able to start and grow a career. Freelance apprenticeships doing live pit work or studio work have greatly diminished. We also need producers and technical personnel who can realize a vision, and that field is being decimated by a lack of respect for art and training. There is no apparent, obvious solution right now, but that’s not the same as saying one cannot be found.

      And let’s not overlook the decimation of an educated middle class that recognizes quality and actually would spend a higher percentage of its income on culturally meaningful activities. I’d love to think tank new models.


  18. Walfred Swanson,
    At last someone who recognizes the problems!

    I agree that if the number of orchestras are reduced there would be a lack of employment and incentive for musicians. However I was referring to the large ensembles. In their place I think a huge number of smaller specialist ensembles will develop. In fact this trend has been under way for some time.
    I’m not sure that the problem is middle class decline in educational level, but decimation of disposable income. The worker is not just in competition with foreign wages, but also machines. The issue of job replacement by technology is a real problem that I think is about to really pick up speed. The arts I think can and must be a driver of the new economy and replace a lot of these good jobs, already lost with many more to come.

    What is needed is a type of Netflix for the classical musical arts, especially opera.
    This should be a one stop shop for high quality AV productions that can be streamed and or downloaded, from anywhere in the world.

    Educational and interactive links should be a big part of this.
    I would like to see a university affiliations with the set up of Tonmeister programs and video production and editing.
    One of our limitations here will be Orchestra Hall, which I suspect will not look very good on the big screen, at least not compared to the likes of the new hall in Lucerne, which looks spectacular on screen.
    I agree getting parties together to think tank new models is essential. These types of discussions need to start now. Resurrecting the old model will only suffice to get the engine started again, if that.
    I would love to talk to you about this. From you post it seems you have some experience to bring to the table, as do I.


  19. This discussion about the place of live classical symphonic music in today’s society, -while scary to someone who has for many years lived with, and treasured, the current local concert model, -needs to take place. Any art form must evolve or stagnate. The real value in the presentation of any artistic endeavor lies in the communication between presenter and audience. The audience brings their own life experiences and viewpoint to the experience. This point of view is important and if there isn’t some minimum of commonality, then not much happens at an aesthetic level. Society, at the brink of 2014, is much more visually sophisticated and very much used to getting the entertainment they want at the time and place of their choosing. Thus it is tempting to say we ought to throw out the traditional concert model in favor of some new AV technology.

    Hold on a bit. You can not change the essence of the great symphonic literature. It is not opera. It is inherently an aural medium, not a visual one. One of the highest musical moments in my life was listening, with my eyes shut, to the Tokyo String Quartet play the Barber quartet. While it is interesting to watch players play and conductors conduct, the real meaning of the experience is how the sound effects the listener. If the AV presentation of the great musical work is too visually geared, then the mindful interaction with the MUSIC can be lost. This situation, could, in its own way be the counterpart to the pop oriented “artistic” vision proposed by MOA.

    Technology will change in ways we can’t forsee. While trying to implement new ways of reaching their audience, the orchestra can’t lose sight of its basic purpose: to play great music to a live audience. Those great works have stood the test of time because they have stirred audiences, mostly in concert halls, year after year. People still are enriched by that concert experience.

    Further, I would argue that in our media driven world, the HUMANESS of a live concert is one valuable antidote to the emotional shallowness that media overload can produce. By all means look for ways to develop new audiences and new avenues to connect with them. Just don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.


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