2014: A Year to Remember

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.


It’s New Year’s Eve—time to bid farewell to 2014 and welcome 2015. Take a cup o’ kindness, ring out the bells, and kiss your sweetheart! And… join me for a Mask of the Flower Prince retrospective.

* * *

I have to say, 2014 was one wild ride… one that the capricious Aztec god Xochipilli for whom my blog is named would fully appreciate.

The biggest news around these parts was, of course, the resolution of the Minnesota Orchestra labor dispute. As the year started, we were still the throes of the management-imposed lockout, with no signs of it ending. In fact, one could say were at the nadir of that dispute—the low point being a spectacularly mendacious report that the Minnesota Orchestra administration sent to the City of Minneapolis (the leaseholder for Orchestra Hall). The report was so catastrophic that the City demanded a new one; and when that new report was no better, Minneapolis began proceedings to take over Orchestra Hall directly.

And just like that, the Orchestra’s leadership backed down.

What happened next was remarkable. There was an explosion of energy as the community, which had played such a prominent role in ending the lockout, shifted gears and moved toward healing the organization.

I still can’t believe how far we’ve come, or how fast we’ve moved.

There is still much work to be done, but there has been a vast sea change with the Minnesota Orchestra. The combative, confrontational past has given way to a collaborative present, with the musicians taking on key roles in marketing and artistic planning, and community groups taking on multiple initiatives to help out wherever needed.

The return to health has been evident in three areas. The administration is doing fantastic work, moving from initiative to initiative and showing their expertise. Thank you to Kevin Smith and everyone on staff! The artistry is as strong as ever, with fantastic concerts and innovative programming. Kiitos to Osmo Vänskä and musicians! But most of all, the Orchestra feels relevant again. People are talking about it, even when they don’t attend concerts. Community members are leading fundraising initiatives, blogging promos about upcoming performances, and organizing pre- and post-concert entertainment in the lobby. Thank you to Orchestrate Excellence, SOSMN, blogger Emily Hogstad at Song of the Lark, and everyone in the community!

But the funny thing is that while the situation improved in Minnesota, it spun out of control over at the Metropolitan Opera and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO). Based on how bad the situation was here—the Minnesota Orchestra was nearly ripped apart—I was stunned that anyone would willingly try similar tactics anywhere else.

And I wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing. As good King Harry memorably said, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!”

And so I suddenly became the unofficial blogger of two more classical music labor disputes. It did make for a few interesting weeks when I was celebrating the return to the stage of my hometown band while ripping apart the interviews given by the Met leadership or the ASO management. And at the same time, I was trying every now and again to post articles on best practices in the world of arts management. I suspect my readers were getting a severe case of whiplash—I know I sure was.

Fortunately, these other disputes also ended, and all three ensembles are back to presenting great music.  Thank Heavens!

Curiously, jumping into the fray of the Met and ASO labor disputes brought my blog far more attention than I would have expected. Most of my readers find their way to my articles via Facebook or Twitter, but now my top five referrers from the last year include: Parterre Box (James Jorden), The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross), and Slipped Disc (Norman Lebrecht). Mask of the Flower Prince is still very much a small, niche blog, but I’m pleased that it appears my name is trickling out into the field at large.

Perhaps the biggest development of the year was the fact that after blogging night and day for the last two years about how arts non-profits should be run, someone finally told me to put my money where my mouth was. And so in November I was elected to become the President of the Board for the Minnesota Chorale, the state’s premiere symphonic chorus. It is an honor and privilege to serve this great organization, and I look forward to the work ahead.

* * *

But enough of this. Let’s take a more lighthearted look back on 2014!

The year’s most popular entry. That’s easy: the blog post about the ASO management trying to blame the musicians for the cancellation of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra auditions… through duplicitous means. That pulled in 12,000 hits, the biggest day in my blog’s history.

The year’s least popular entry. Sadly, it was a post that I actually am rather fond of: a review for a concert by the Philharmonia I attended while in England. The fact that my readership is overwhelmingly American—and presumably had no connection with the concert whatsoever—is probably a key reason. But I was pleased to see that the Philharmonia itself pushed my review on its website and via Twitter.

Most controversial entry.  I completely stand behind my posts.  One post that I hesitated a bit before posting, however, was a lengthy open letter for why Michael Henson should be removed as President and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra.  We had entered into the “we’re all happily working together” phase of the rebuilding, and I hated to be a voice of discontent.  But I believed Mr. Henson should go… and I made a polite, but comprehensive case for why he should go.  Ultimately this post was covered extensively in the press, including my blog’s first mention in the pages of the New York Times.

Entry of which I’m most proud. It’s hard to chose between your children. One I am proud of is my four critical ingredients for a successful arts non-profit, as it was a chance for me to positively state what I stand for. But I like them all—or they wouldn’t get posted.

Most surprising countries where people are reading my blog. This year I had readers in 139 countries. I was thrilled that this year I picked up readers in both mainland China (Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are already well-represented), and Cuba (I hope to visit soon!). This year I did not have any readers in Afghanistan, but I do continue to have a small circle of readers in Iraq.

Countries with most readers. Hands down, the winner is the United States. Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Finland round out the top five.

Best concert of 2014. Well, there are so many options, including those that I actually perform in. I think, however, that as I look back the one that has really stood out for me was the Grammy Concert where Osmo conducted Sibelius’s Fourth and First Symphonies. This had high drama—the community banded together for the “Finnish it!” campaign to demand Osmo’s reinstatement as Music Director. And the atmosphere was joyfully raucous, with wild cheering that began 10 minutes before the musicians took the stage. Attendees arrived in Finnish-themed face paint. And the fact that the audience went absolutely wild at the end of Sibelius’s brooding Fourth Symphony (listeners were so put off by the work at its premiere that they didn’t applaud at all) added to the atmosphere.

A random, favorite memory. There are so many wonderful memories from over the past year, but there is one I have a particular soft spot for: the 2014 season opening concert. This was the Chorale’s first chance to sing under Osmo’s baton since his reinstatement as Music Director, performing (appropriately enough) Mahler’s Second Symphony, Resurrection. My blog post from that week gives a great sense of the occasion.

* * *

Thank you for reading over the last 12 months—it’s been an eventful year, and I’m glad to have shared it with you. And here’s to an even better 2015!





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