Votes of Confidence

Today was the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s annual meeting—a time when the 80-some members of the Orchestra’s board of directors gather to elect officers for the upcoming year, announce the financials from the previous fiscal year, and generally discuss organizational business.

This is the second annual meeting since the MOA locked out its musicians, and many wondered what new news would be announced.  Over the last few weeks the MOA has had a string of bad press, with many raising serious questions about the board’s management of the group’s finances, its conduct toward the musicians, and its overall capacity to run the organization.  How would the board react?  Would there be a transition in leadership?  Would there be a course correction?  What would the financial announcement entail?

Sadly, there was no noteworthy news of any kind.

I had wondered, with all the bad publicity and increasing pressure to do something, if the board might announce the resignation of President and CEO Michael Henson.  In a way it would seem an easy step to do—it would show a recognition of the mounting problems the board faces, and would feel bold and dramatic.  It might even buy good will from the musicians, who would be forced to respond to this gesture with one of their own.  Best of all from the board’s perspective, this gesture would feel dramatic without leading to dramatic changes… the board has, after all, the final vote on any settlement with the musicians and would still hold all the trump cards.

Instead, the board doubled down.  It voted to stay the course, and announced that all the leadership positions would continue to be held by the same people.  Jon Campbell would remain board chair for the foreseeable future, Richard Davis would continue on as the Immediate Past Chair and head of the negotiation committee, and Henson would continue as President and CEO.

The board looked out over the all that has happened in the last 14 months, and gave themselves a vote of confidence.

I hate to say it, but from my perspective this vividly illustrates just how oblivious the board actually is.

I fully believe that there are individual board members who do not support this decision or their colleagues’ position.  Away from the public eye, I’m sure there were those who voiced concerns and warnings of what this would mean for the organization as a whole. I have to believe they are horrified about the optics of all this happening right now—less than one day after state lawmakers called for the resignation of all three men for “public deception and the financial mismanagement of the organization.”

With public anger at the board’s actions distinctly on the rise, one would have assumed the board members would have taken some kind of action to show they realized the gravity of their situation. This is Public Relations 101.

Instead, they collectively gave themselves a vote of confidence.


What about everyone else?  How would they vote, if they had a chance?

Interestingly, we don’t have to look very far for answers.  I’m struck by the number of people who aren’t taking a meaningless procedural vote in a closed boardroom, but are instead staking out very public positions in very concrete terms.

For example, let me point out that the “new business model” the MOA is promoting depends on splitting the season 50-50 between classical music and pops concerts.  But astonishingly, the staff member in charge of pops presentations has just resigned.  Instead of embracing a powerful role in a new era of prosperity, she has fled.  Is that a vote of confidence?

As I alluded to, yesterday 10 state legislators called for the resignation of Henson, Campbell and Davis for violating the public trust and catastrophically mismanaging the Orchestra’s finances.  Think about that.  This wasn’t an anodyne call for “increased dialog,” this was a declaration of war against two of the most powerful men in the state, who are executives at two of the largest banks in the country—Wells Fargo and US Bank, respectively.  And the lawmakers attacked these men on their supposed strength, financial leadership.  These legislators have all but insured massive retaliation in the next election.  But they are so outraged,  so convinced the MOA’s actions are absolutely contemptible that they’ve called the MOA leaders out anyway.  Is that a vote of confidence?

Other arts leaders from around the country have publically upbraided the MOA for its business model and the actions it’s taken to implement it.  Alan Fletcher, Michael Kaiser, Deborah Rutter and Deborah Borda are among them.  Is that a vote of confidence?

Guest artists from around the world have defied the MOA leadership—possibly opening themselves up to retaliation—to perform with the locked out musicians as a show of solidarity.  Manny Ax was here in November, the Minnesota Chorale joins them in January, and Joshua Bell is lined up as well.  More will be announced soon.  Is that a vote of confidence?

Each of the Minnesota Orchestra’s music directors who is still alive has spoken out against the lockout and the MOA’s new business model— Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Edo de Waart, Neville Marriner, Eiji Oue… and now (sadly) Osmo Vänskä.  All but Marriner have come back to conduct the locked out musicians in defiance of the MOA’s wishes.  Is that a vote of confidence?

More than 70 orchestras around the world have stood up to pressure from the MOA and hired the locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra as temporary players and subs.  The Chicago Symphony Orchestra alone has hired roughly half of the locked out musicians.  Is that a vote of confidence?

Judy Dayton, the matriarch of a family that not only built Orchestra Hall, but has almost single-handedly built the Minnesota Orchestra into the group it is today has not only hosted the locked out musicians in a concert to celebrate the Orchestra’s last Grammy award, but has been an ardent, public supporter of the locked out musicians.  Is that a vote of confidence?

With all this going on, you’ll forgive me for feeling that today’s vote at the board meeting was an empty exercise in defiance and self-congratulation.  I’m disappointed to say that this vote makes the MOA look completely out of touch, inflexible and untrustworthy as a negotiation partner.

The MOA leaders may have won their vote inside the boardroom, but I think it’s fair to say they’ve lost the confidence of the community.




9 thoughts on “Votes of Confidence

  1. Thanks for jumping into the fray so quickly, Scott. Reading your blogs helps me maintain some sanity, and prevents me from pulling my hair out. I am very disappointed in today’s vote, even though I was expecting it. I have not had any confidence in MOA leadership since this lockout began. At least I can look forward to the orchestra musicians playing this weekend. I hope they have an encore prepared.


    • I thought it would be fairly obvious… I do. Which is why I’ve been writing on the topic on a personal blog. The more interesting question is why someone whose IP address is based outside of Wichita would care enough to chime in. All are welcome to, of course, but at face value it seems a bit odd.


    • Several billionaire philanthropists, former conductors, thousands of fans, and at least a few legislators seem to.. That’s a lot more people than care what you have to say on the matter, Bert.


  2. The outcome of the board meeting is not surprising given the governance structure of the organization. Sadly, it means that this will be a very long, protracted standoff and a continued uphill battle; the MOA’s PR machine, while manipulative and deceptive, is unfortunately effective at convincing those who are not well informed.

    If a vision of excellence in classical music outreach and performance is to be maintained, it will take an increased effort from those of us who share this vision. That means giving as generously as we can to the musicians and also finding innovative ways to inspire people to support a vision of excellence. As this situation drags on, there is a considerable risk that there will be fatigue on the part of many patrons, which is obviously part of the MOA’s strategy.


  3. Pingback: What That Deficit Really Means | Mask of the Flower Prince

  4. Pingback: Thinking about the Orchestra Dispute from a Business Management Perspective | Mask of the Flower Prince

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