2015: A Year in Review

Well, here it is… New Year’s Eve. This is a time of year when my regular level of introspection kicks into high gear, as I reflect on all the things the past year brought to us—or in some cases, threw at us. By any standard, 2015 feels like a watershed year that was filled with stories I couldn’t have imagined back during those prehistoric days of 2014.

Before the clock strikes midnight, let me look back over my posts and share a few thoughts about some of the year’s most important stories.

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1. Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba. I’m still in shock about this trip… and nearly every aspect of this trip. The fact that the entire Minnesota Orchestra family (musicians, administration, board, and community supporters) was able to pivot so quickly and so decisively to go on this tour was amazing in and of itself—it was just coming off its crippling, protracted labor dispute. The fact that it was able to pull the trip together in a few weeks was doubly amazing—tours of that nature usually take more than a year to plan and execute. The fact that the Minnesota Orchestra made history by being the first major cultural institution to visit since President Obama relaxed travel restrictions to the island was triplely (?) amazing.

And what a trip it was! I’ve never experienced a cultural exchange quite like it, where you could repeatedly see lives being transformed right in front of your very eyes. And it wasn’t a choreographed photo shoot followed by a hasty exit… everyone involved could see that we were starting something extraordinary. Indeed, a follow-up story has remarked that cultural groups are flooding the island, creating a sea change in US-Cuban relations that conventional politics never could match.

But for me personally, the most amazing thing of all is that I was able to take part in this tour, due to the overwhelming generosity of my readers. Others have remarked that this, too, was a sea change—a blow struck for reader-supported, independent writers everywhere. I’m sure it was, but for me it was and is a precious gift that I am profoundly grateful for.

If you care to read (or re-read) my coverage, the stories are collected here.

2. The Minnesota Orchestra Is Whole Again. In February 2013, in the early stages of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, the musicians formed their own 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians (MOM). Its mission was to present their own artist-driven concerts out in the community, and to take part in educational engagement activities in a way that made use of their entire complement—not just a few hand-chosen musicians, but the entire orchestra as an orchestra. Even after the lockout ended and the rebuilding got under way, the musicians maintained this separate entity, as an insurance policy against things turning against them.

No more.

On December 2, at the Orchestra’s annual meeting, the musicians announced they were disbanding their separate organization, stating that it had become (wonderfully) superfluous.  The educational and artistic initiatives they fought so hard to build over the last few years have been enthusiastically embraced by the Minnesota Orchestra as a whole, and woven into the overall fabric of the organization. Plus, the musicians then donated all their collected assets back to the Minnesota Orchestra itself—a gift of $250,000.

All’s right in Minnesota.

3. More Stupid Labor Disputes. It astonishes me that in light of the disastrous labor fights involving the Minnesota Orchestra and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, plus a near-meltdown with the Metropolitan Opera, that anyone would actively seek to go down that same path. But lo and behold, other organizations have decided to give it a try. At the top of my blog’s list of “most widely read” entries are posts dedicated to messy labor situations in Philadelphia, Ft. Worth, Hartford, and Binghamton. Sadly, the managements of these organizations are working from the same failed script, and making the same flawed decisions.

C’mon, guys. Enough already.

4. The Non-Death of Classical Music. Again and again, Very Serious People have warned that classical music is in its death throes. Yes, running an orchestra or opera company is a challenge, but too often warnings of disaster seem to be directly tied to contract negotiations. But the real news turned out to be a lot more positive. The Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, here in town, reported successful years. The Met Opera ended the year with a $1 M surplus. The Lyric Opera of Chicago announced a balanced budget. Other good news trickled in from all over the country. Not only was this good news in and of itself, but it tended to raise new questions about the labor disputes I alluded to above. If everyone else is succeeding, why is the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, for example, doing so badly? Might it be that in these various cases that the problem isn’t musician contracts or the fact that the art form is “dying,” but with management itself?

5. The Classics are Classic for a Reason. This is more an “insight” than a “story”… but one I think is important to share. In fact, it’s particularly fresh in my mind, in that I’m hours away from performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Minnesota Chorale and Minnesota Orchestra (if you’re interested, this same concert will be broadcast live on New Year’s Day, 2 pm Central Time, on Minnesota Public Radio, and streamed live on their website, here). I always revel in a chance to do great works with artists who have something to say about them. Don’t get me wrong—we absolutely need to do more to showcase contemporary works. But hearing Osmo lead Beethoven’s Ninth is a wonder, revealing new dimensions of the work, new ideas, new details, new perspectives. I had a similar experience earlier this year performing Verdi’s Requiem with these same forces led by Roberto Abbado. Verdi’s Requiem is as familiar as Beethoven’s Ninth, but Abaddo’s version brimmed with wonderful details and a profound insight. I don’t care how many times I’ve performed a work—if the team is right, the works sound completely new again.

* * *

Well, just a few thoughts to tide you over. Happy New Year, and thank you for reading!



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