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We're locked out, too: Questions for MN Orchestra management

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting
Photo by John Whiting
The locked-out musicians organized and played a concert in October, with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting.

The recent announcement of additional Minnesota Orchestra concert cancellations only deepened the gloom of hundreds of Twin Cities patrons and music lovers. We've already missed six weeks of concerts, and now the holiday concerts have been canceled as well. Orchestra Hall is under construction; the Convention Center auditorium is dark. The musicians are locked out – and so are we!

As the conflict has dragged on, with letters from the board citing unsustainable deficits and musicians protesting a 30-50 percent pay cut (management says the cuts would be 20-40 percent), we in the community are trying to make sense of it all. We have a lot of questions.

  • Why is management only now tackling the budget deficits that have been mounting for at least three years?  In a 2010 interview, Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson stated that, although many orchestras around the country were hard hit by the recession and having financial difficulties, ours was doing well and that, thanks to its "unique" community support, its priority was "continuing the excellence in the artistic work."  Now, after the stock market has regained much of its pre-recession value, he says that the orchestra is in such a critical situation that musicians' salaries must be drastically cut. What is going on? 
  • The renovation of Orchestra Hall is expected to cost at least $47 million.  If the orchestra is in financial crisis, why did the management undertake a huge and costly building project?
  • The strategic plan on the orchestra's website contains a new mission statement. In contrast to the old mission statement, this one does not even mention the orchestra. Why was the mission statement changed?
  • The orchestra's season has been shortened over the last several years; this year the opening concert was delayed from the usual September time until mid-October (when it was canceled by the lockout).  Meanwhile, more pop concerts have been added. Is the orchestra being sidelined and its quality compromised?  Has the community raised almost $47 million to renovate an Orchestra Hall that will not include a first-rate Minnesota Orchestra?
  • The $47 million for the hall is only part of the money that the orchestra management says it has raised. In all, public and private donors have contributed $97 million for the orchestra's Building for the Future campaign. The rest of the money is earmarked for the endowment, but what kind of a future are we building?  

All of us, through our taxes and our personal gifts, have contributed to the Minnesota Orchestra. We have opened our wallets, as well as our hearts. With the musicians organizing exciting concerts like the one planned in December, this might be a unique opportunity to forge a new collaborative model for the way the orchestra operates and the way it engages the community — not just a business model, but one in which all Minnesotans could feel renewed ownership of the orchestra —  our orchestra, which at least one critic called "the best in the world."

That kind of relationship can only be built on trust, which at this moment is sorely lacking — for the musicians and for us.

We sit here on a dreary November day, wondering what is going on and  holding our tickets for additional performances that will not happen. We're locked out.

Paula and Cy DeCosse are residents of Minneapolis.

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Comments (30)

Good questions

Good column. I'd like to know too as a supporter and patron.

I miss the old families

who lead by example and persuasion to support and improve this community treasure. As they
pass on, a new generation needs to step up. This post's questions need an answer.

And the question that has been on my mind since the beginning:

Management says that the musicians have made no counter-offers.

But they have.

They have offered to submit to arbitration, which is very risky for them. The arbiter might come in, look at the orchestra's financial records, and say, "Sorry, musicians, but management is right. You just have to accept those cuts."

But management has rejected that idea.

Why?

Do they know that an arbiter would come down on the side of the musicians? Do they have something to hide?

Are the managers part of the arrogant new breed of business executives who think that they're more important than the people who do the actual work in their company or organization?

Are they ideologically motivated union busters?

Their cluelessness is evidence by the fact that after canceling the first three months of concerts they have the nerve to come to the subscribers asking for donations.

The British are coming, the British are coming!

Excellent questions! Unfortunately, instead of answering straightforward questions in a straightforward manner, Henson and Board will no doubt choose the cowardly path of pleading the 5th. Will the Board never learn its lesson after the likes of Tony Woodcock (someone who feels no need to hide his disdain for the orchestra and orchestra musicians despite his position as president of New England Conservatory...look how he treated Ben Zander and Mark Churchill--two men who dedicated their lives to that institution)? How will this orchestra, one of the best orchestras in the world, ever recover from being treated with such malice? How will they come together to make music again after having their spirits trampled under the heavy foot of management? I would venture to guess that Henson is still getting paid his $400K a year and making his mortgage payments. Tragic. The community should hold this Board and its Trustees accountable...but how?

destroying a priceless resource by tea party politics

The Minnesota Orchestra is the one thing around here that is indisputably world class. On good days, and there were many good days, the combination of Maestro Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra was good as any in the world and better than virtually anyone else. The board of directors is playing tea party politics in its effort to break the musicians. In their folly, they are destroying a priceless heritage. Some further questions: How does one get on the board of directors? Is the primary or sole criterion who has the most accumulated wealth? Do the board members individually or collectively have any knowledge or appreciation or love of classical music? Do they even care? What do they plan to use the new $55 million dollar lobby for? Cocktail parties and other functions for the upper 1/10 of 1%? If they have their way, there won't be an orchestra left to play there.

Indeed, I think their plans are to not have an orchestra.

Of course the management and board are operating in a way such that they can't be called out on it, but I strongly believe that their plan is to not have a resident orchestra in the city, rather to just hire whatever light entertainment they desire from other cities.

That they are not wanting to show the books, and that they're asking for a pay decrease, are just distractions to the main issue -- They want to get a critical mass of musicians to leave, so that they can throw up their hands in despair and say "Oh My! It appears we don't have the musicians necessary for a professional orchestra anymore, I guess we have to dissolve it and do whatever we can to reclaim our hall investment."

And time is on their side. The longer they keep any action from happening, the more people will leave. Their end plans for the hall probably aren't harmed at all by the destruction of the orchestra, and they're going to make it look like an accident of negotiation. The same kind of thing that happens at companies ruled over by MBAs and mega-CEOs nationwide, more and more each year. Even better if they get taken to court; five years of lawyer Olympics in the courts will burn through their endowment just as well as whatever other games they've played. The end result is the same--an excuse to dissolve the orchestra.

I see two choices--Find a way to abandon the current management and create something with broad community support, likely of lesser professional quality, on the orchestra players' terms; or play management's waiting game until there isn't critical mass of professionals to form an orchestra.

I just don't see any way any legal or social pressure is going to return control to sane parties before the waiting game destroys everything.

Matthew Probst,I believe you

Matthew Probst,

I believe you are correct in speculating that Henson et al have a covert plan to eliminate the orchestra. And an article by MPR back in 2010* may have been the writing on the wall.

"We see this as a place for many different kinds of events.” This quote from one of the renovation architects supports your theory Matthew, that as far back as 2010, Henson had plans to bring in musicians from around the world.

And if Henson plans on eliminating the orchestra, he may be forcing a musicians’ exodus hidden beneath the guise of an extended lockout. The 2012/13 performance season is an opportune time for this because the building is to close for construction. Instead of performing at the Convention Center as planned, Henson may have decided to save some money on musicians' pay and Convention Center rent.

*http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/04/09/orchestra-hall-renovation/

Lack of trust

I've given annually in the past, but I just don't trust management at this time to do the right thing. I want this orchestra back much more than I want this management back!

It Should Be Clear by Now

That, while the supporters who contributed to the rebuilding of Orchestra Hall thought they were upgrading a fine symphony hall,...

management thought they were building a sports stadium to which people would flock because it's new (no matter what the quality of the orchestra playing there).

They're just attempting to do what the sports teams seem always to do - build a new stadium, get rid of their best players, then make a lot of money while fielding a cheap and lousy product (which I can only presume the management class intends to use to pad their own salary and benefit packages).

I think we need a grass roots-based hostile takeover of the boards and management of both the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber orchestra. There HAS to be a way to fire these people who so clearly demonstrate that they have zero interest in providing high quality music, and seem, in the end, to have NO interest, here, except to bust the musician's unions.

Let's figure out a way to bust the management, instead. Once they're out on the street singing "Vesti La Giubba" from "Pagliacci" (if they'd even recognize it), we can replace them with the kind of creative, dedicated people who will work in the service of the orchestras, music and the public instead of using their positions to require those around them to constantly service their bosses' weak-and-constantly-in-need-of-fluffing egos.

Self-fulfilling prophecies

The simultaneous destruction of the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra is baffling and sad. I have (modest) subscriptions to both orchestras. In theory I will "lose" about ten concerts a year. But my daughter was in Minnesota Youth Symphonies and GTCYS, and had sectionals and lessons with many members of both groups. And many of these musicians are also my colleagues at the U as performance faculty in the School of Music. It is not just orchestra audiences who will "lose" if these two organizations go under.

The Board members, who are at least nominally in charge of major decisions affecting the orchestras, are volunteers. Most of them have been supporters for years. Somehow they have been persuaded that these lockouts (and the draconian new contracts that started the stalemates) are in the best interests of the organizations.

I have written to the board chair of the SPCO. I have talked at length with senior staff at the Minnesota Orchestra. Both groups continue to ask me for donations. Most recently I was asked to become a 'sustaining guarantor' of the Minnesota Orchestra! How can I sustain something the management is dismantling?

I honestly don't know what I can say or who I can write to at this point. At least from the outside, it looks like the two boards are reinforcing each others' bizarre decisions.

Sounds like an attempt at union busting

The actions of management remind me of Scot Walker in Wisconsin. I really haven't looked at how is on the board and don't know who the board is taking advice from but this really sounds like a corporate board of directors for a for-profit company trying to break a union. It really doesn't sound like a board of a non-profit organization that is to keep the best interest of the community in mind.

Hard to Believe

It seems self-evident that a well-run organization could avert the need to cut salaries by 30-50% in one fell swoop (or chop). Indeed, management was able to plan ahead in order to finance its construction project; why, then, could it not adjust those plans when it foresaw lack of funds to pay its resident musicians? This, combined with the new mission statement, leads me to believe management is willing to accept a lesser orchestra. Perhaps they are right that more money can be made by further watering down the classical music calendar. If that's the case, they should be transparent about it.

Regardless, it looks like the orchestra may have to accept a considerable loss. But I don't think they should do so without a fight.

The community, too, may have to accept that the Twin Cities cannot sustain two high-quality, professional orchestras. That would be sad, but times have changed.

As for me, I will continue to patronize the orchestra, but only if management strikes a fair bargain with those who make the music. If they don't, I'll probably just visit the opera and theater more.

Change in Mission Statement Says it All

It has been practically impossible to find the new mission statement in print. For those who did not follow the link in this column, here are both the former and current statements, as issued by the Minnesota Orchestral Association.

FORMER Mission Statement:
"To enrich and inspire our community as a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence."

CURRENT Mission Statement:
"Minnesota Orchestral Association inspires, educates and serves our community through internationally recognized performances of exceptional music delivered within a sustainable financial structure."

Missing in the new mission are the following details: symphony orchestra, international recognition, and artistic excellence.

The musicians were not consulted on this breathtaking change, nor were community stakeholders - audience members, donors, or taxpayers. The Board has an ethical obligation to these constituents. At a minimum, the Board must explain to the many corporate, foundation and government donors who have given millions, how it feels it can use the funds it has received to support something so dissimilar and diminished as that which has been outlined in the new mission statement.

Now is the time--perhaps the last chance--for those large donors, to demand accountability from the Orchestral Association. Corporate, foundation and government agencies should compare the current mission to the one presented when the appeal for funds arrived. Were funds granted to support an internationally recognized symphony orchestra built on artistic excellence? To support an organization that would serve as an ambassador for Minnesota around the state, country and the world? Justifiably so. Unfortunately, not one of these things is to be found in the Minnesota Orchestral Association's new mission.

Additional question

Great questions, but one more needs to be asked and answered by the management and board: what salary cuts are being demanded of and given by the management and staff? It seems to me that Michael Henson and his staff should set an example and cut their own salaries first, then ask the musicians for a pay reduction. Pay cuts for musicians always should be the last resort and never should be thrust upon them without lengthy and complete disclosures to them and the entire community. If the orchestra was on a fiscally unsustainable path, we all should have been informed of that when the problem began and given ample time to work on a solution. Locking out the musicians and canceling concerts represents an utter failure of the management and board.

All you need is love

Cy and Paula are amazing Medicis of Minnesota. They are artists. They understand, love, and support great art, seek out and attend concerts, commission compositions, support arts education programs, and are talented amateur musicians as well.

There would be no problem now at either MN Orchestra or SPCO If the current Boards and Executives "leaders" had a fraction of the the DeCosse's, love, vision, and commitment to the art of music, and to the sacred duty of preserving and promoting Minnesotan's treasures of great orchestral music-making as a lasting legacy for future generations.

MN Orchestra Board like the St. Olaf Trustees & WCAL

The stratification of our society is becoming ever more evident. As is the ossification of the
thinking of the upper crust. The present leadership of the Minnesota Orchestra Board of Trustees
refuses to deal with any reality other than their own "vision thing."

This reminds me of the way the leadership at St. Olaf College went over its own cliff when they sold off one of their most precious resources - WCAL Radio. It had an extraordinarily valuable radio frequency, heritage of first-class musical knowledge, listener base, and history of training students
and listeners. All because a new college president from out East wanted the building it was in. And the Board members just couldn't be bothered about something they didn't listen to anyway.

The Orchestra Hall board would rather spend millions on the lobby, where they and their friends can "see and be seen." A few more steps, and they'll be building "sky boxes" where they can nosh and make business deal without having to listen to the damned music or be bothered by rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi.

Investment Mismanagement?

If you read the MOA's strategic plan, the cause of the current fiscal crisis becomes clear: after the 2008 stock market crash, the endowment's managers got out of the market and did not participate in its subsequent rebound (see page 10). Thus, while my 401K is back to where it was in early 2008 (I never got out of the market), the MOA's endowment balance is still languishing at 2009 levels, $50 million or so below its pre-recession value. I wonder who has been managing the Orchestra's endowment fund? USBank (led by 2010-11 MOA Board Chair Richard Davis)? Wells Fargo (led locally by 2011-2012 MOA Board Chair Jon Campbell)?

Yes, the Orchestra's 2008 contract is probably unsustainable under the current circumstances, but it might not have been if the endowment fund hadn't been so poorly managed through the recession. Did the Board members manage their own investment portfolios as badly as they managed the Orchestra's?

Second guessing and recriminations

It is probably the case that a lot of mistakes have been made here, some by management others by orchestra members. While it might be worthwhile going forward to understand what those mistakes were, it would also be a good idea to put them in two categories: one category for mistakes that are reversible, and a second category for those that are not. As part, and let me emphasize only as a part, of the ongoing negotiation process, there should be some focus on the first category of mistakes. There is no point in continuing down a wrong path if we don't have too. But what I think is happening a bit too much is that there is a focus on the second category of mistakes, and this has been the source of second guessing and recriminations which has consumed time and energy on both sides while achieving nothing.

The orchestra can't stay where it is. It must grow or it will fail. Both sides must realize this, and both sides must understand that an effective growth strategy is going to involve innovation and sacrifice. It's also going to involve a decision on each side to trust the other and to put aside a lot of ancient grievances however justified they might be. That is the only path forward.

some observations

Interesting watching this from the sidelines and the lack of logic by the musicians and venom at the orchestra board. I have attended the orchestra a few times over the last few years so it really isn’t my cup of tea but now that my neighbor has a “norma rae” support the musicians yard sign thought I would make a few observations.

The board is made up of people that enjoy classical music, you think it is some type of cabal designed to destroy or take down the orchestra. Really? These board members are volunteers and all give very large amounts of money to the orchestra and open their homes and donate tremendous amounts of time. But they are some evil group of locals and bankers looking to destroy the musicians as part of some multiyear plan. Got it.

Ticket sales only make up a very small part of the revenue(less than 30%), the rest comes from donations and draws on the savings account “the endowment”.

So either ticket prices have to be raised, more donations have to be secured or they can keep pulling from the savings account. (or I guess tax money can be used, we bought a few stadiums why don’t we just fund everybody’s hobby’s at this point)

Thus the board can just keep things as the status quo and the endowment will dry up and then the orchestra will actually be bankrupt since their operating model currently produces a loss.
This just isn’t happening with one or two orchestras, it is a very long list where American orchestras are struggling to survive but hey this is all the board’s fault and us stupid uncultured peasants who don’t appreciate it.

The musicians have to realize that the market for their product isn’t as robust as it once was, and that the free will of the market is showing what our community values and for what price. Haven’t seen Evening at the Pops in the top 10 tv show ratings for a awhile.

But hey if the market can’t afford the salaries, we should find another rich person to pay more or get a few tax payers from the iron range to make up the difference for the $130K a year salary according to the comment sections.

The musicians make $130K a year and have half a year off and I am suppose feel sorry for them and support them because they are in solidarity with brethren that are actually fighting for benefits from actual profit making companies, but they have yard signs so it makes them legit now.

If they can find 200K a year go for it, find other places that will pay above market rate. It is a free country go for it.

So the whole labor vs. management construct doesn’t really work when the management are volunteers and it is a non-profit. Outside of Hensen and the rest of his office staff(of which a number have been let go according to my neighbor, I guess the everybody is supposed to feel the pain but the musicians) All the CEOs and “rich” board members do this for their interest in music and actually give large amounts of money.

The orchestra leadership ise by far the largest donors, but based on the insults being hurled at the board I would probably give pause to ever giving this group of musicians any more funding. Or even coming in as a white knight to the rescue at this point.

Do you really think a board made up of volunteers that donate millions of dollars a year is doing this to bust a union, or destroy the orchestra?

After hearing some of the musicians and supporters comments made about the board, if I was a major donor, I would say screw it, I am not giving a dime more to such ungrateful bunch and find better places to donate money to such as hunger relief, homeless assistance or inner city education.

The musicians have done a great job at working a narrative to try to get people to think of them as poor, underpaid workers going up against the evil bank CEOs and stupid rich board members. But this is a non¬profit. If you actually step back and look at it objectively you will see the board appears to be right, but hey that isn’t what the musicians want to hear. Same with the fact for each opening for a major orchestra you have 200 people that want that seat.

The musicians should realize their business model isn’t all that different from a street performer and that they live off the donations of passersby.

The market for classical music is drying up, either the musicians can act like adults and work on a solution or they can throw a fit like a middle schooler at the mall not being able to get the pair of expensive jeans they want. But hey we now have yard signs in the neighborhood saying I want the $200 jeans and are going to hold my breath till I get them.

A pretty lengthy snark

Okay "John Smith" we get it from your snark and sarcasm that you think the wealthy donors are the ones to be empathized with here.
But nowhere in your lengthy diatribe is there a good answer for why the board has turned down arbitration. If things are as cut-and-dried as you suppose, the board should have no trouble prevailing in such a situation.

John Smith's comments

Good for Minnpost! Airing the resentment of a "stupid, uncultured peasant". And he sympathizes with management! What a fine job they have done on behalf of music in Minnesota. If Richard Davis or Jon Campbell ran their banks as the orchestra has been run recently, they'd be asking for a government bail-out.

A lengthy snark...and...

he doesn't really have a clue what an arts organization should be about.

Anyway, if you want to hear world-class music, you need look no further than the professional choral groups in the Twin Cities. Minnesota is the U.S. epicenter of fine choral music, and there may be no other place like it on earth except maybe for Great Britain.

All of these organizations have concerts coming up in December:

The Singers - www.singersmca.org

The Rose Ensemble - two-time winner of an international choral competition. - www.roseensemble.org

VocalEssence - www.vocalessence.org

And for a unique opportunity, the Oratorio Society of Minnesota is sponsoring a special performance of 'Messiah': 16 professional singers and a professional chamber orchestra with period instruments. These types of performances of 'Messiah' are popular elsewhere, but have not been done in Minnesota because of the traditional performances by the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO each year. For more info, check out: www.oratorio.org

Observations #2

In regards to arbitration, I find it funny that the musicians, from what I read haven’t proposed anything for 8 months but just keep chirping arbitration, arbitration, and arbitration.

Arbitration isn’t a counter offer, it is a process and unless it is specified within the contract, why should the board take that path. It doesn’t change the fact that the business models for orchestras are materially changing within this country. A counter offer with a number would be a good start.

When one goes to buy a car or receives an offer for a job, one usually responds back with what they are looking for. It is not let’s bring in a third party instead of me giving you an offer on the Prius and if you don’t I will throw a public tantrum on the floor of the dealership and fill the showroom with whiny prattle and say the sales manager is a stupid doo doo head(which the musicians today did a pretty good job of)

The real question should be is why aren’t the musicians willing to put a number on the table. I don’t understand why they won’t… outside of it being a fairly transparent labor playbook ploy.

It is clear what the strategy of the musicians has been the entire time; unfortunately people fall for this simple but false labor vs. management narrative that keeps being repeated. And what is sad is people are equating this with actual blue color labor struggles during this. Sorry nonprofit tuba playing isn’t the same as a coal worker in a mine working for a profit making company.

Even FDR said public unions are crap and this would also go for the local nonprofit orchestra as well, you sort of need a profit motive to balance out the other side.

But then again false class warfare has always worked especially since the early 1800s so why not have the local fiddle players using this tactic as well since people fall inline and blather along with it.

Even better the president of the orchestra is English and the head of the board and past head of the board are leaders of the local financial institutions. Awesome anytime you can blame the British and the bankers as part of a class struggle you have to do it.

The financials are public for the orchestra, the basic analysis shows that unless the current operating model changes in regards to costs it will be out of business. Arbitration doesn’t change this at all.

If arbitration can sell more tickets and raise more funds, by all means let’s arbitrate all day and all night. If it can get people to listen to classical music well we should hurry up and get the arbitrators in here ASAP.

It seems after today’s cheap publicity stunt of character assassination with torches and pitchforks on the president of the orchestra, the musicians are once again showing the public they are teenagers that just can’t deal with reality. Real classy. The food court tantrum against mom for the $300 pair of jeans isn’t really working is it.

If the musicians aren’t happy with their pay find another institution to pay them what they think they are worth, or better yet create their own orchestra. The free market is wonderful it works both ways. Just as the donors can take their money and go home, the orchestra is free to do the same and say we won’t play.

And also why not get rid of the union if you are the musicians and ask to be paid on merit, the guys playing the triangle in back and the violas shouldn’t be getting paid as much as the first chair strings(and that means cellos and violins, sorry violas you don’t really count) It would be like paying the punter as much as a quarterback or d-lineman.

But hey man solidarity forever. Fight the power…whoops the power happens to be volunteer donations that actually pay their salaries..man this might not work out so well. Stupid market economics and stupider hand that feeds us.

In response to the comments about having a clue what an arts organization is about, is it really any dissimilar then the local corvette club, local curling club or local canary watching club.

You have a group of people with similar interests getting together to say hey I like classical music, you like classical music lets go ask the local blue bloods cause they like classical music and I bet we could get an orchestra in town and offset some of the costs by selling tickets.

Same goes for if you like choirs, chamber music, bagpipes or triangle ensembles. Awesome examples Joel of the free market giving people choices. The musicians should realize this as well.

And in regards to Davis and Campbell running the orchestra like their do their banks. They are very good at making profits for their shareholders of their banks and have demonstrated that they are good stewards of capital. This is what you want in leadership and management.

The fact they see the orchestra hemorrhaging money and that this reoccurring loss is increasing at an increasing rate and that action has to be taken before the orchestra goes broke; proves that these are the type of people you want running these entities. I know MBAs and CEOs are evil and community organizers are good.

Sorry...but your ignorance is showing.

"Sorry nonprofit tuba playing isn’t the same as a coal worker in a mine working for a profit making company."

You're right. A PROFESSIONAL tuba player probably works more hours.

"...the guys playing the triangle in back and the violas shouldn’t be getting paid as much as the first chair strings(and that means cellos and violins, sorry violas you don’t really count) It would be like paying the punter as much as a quarterback or d-lineman."

What makes you think that a person playing triangle only plays triangle? You're either being ridiculously obtuse or completely ignorant. Furthermore, you can't have a proper orchestra without violas. I don't know this for a fact, but I would imagine first chair strings DO get paid more...particularly the Concertmaster.

"In response to the comments about having a clue what an arts organization is about, is it really any dissimilar then the local corvette club, local curling club or local canary watching club."

I don't even know how to answer the ignorance of this statement.

"They are very good at making profits for their shareholders of their banks and have demonstrated that they are good stewards of capital. This is what you want in leadership and management."

Good stewards of capital, you say? If that were the case, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all.

Not having THIS Orchestra in town would be unconscionable. Minnesota is known for its appreciation and dedication to the Arts. It's too bad the leaders and management of the Orchestra don't understand this and are willing to throw these world-class musicians under the bus.

Please think before you rant

The position of the Union is that the Orchestra's financial picture as it is currently known is full of accounting gimmicks and possibly falsehood, making it impossible to make a counter-offer. That is why they have called for a full independent audit and/or binding arbitration. This position is very consistent and reasonable.

Investigation by the Star Tribune has raised enough questions to support this position in my opinion. There are many reasons to question the finances of this organization. More to the point, the public money going into renovations at Orchestra Hall invite additional scrutiny from the Legislature - a process I think is very much in the interests of taxpayers as well as ordinary music lovers. An independent audit of some kind is very likely.

Please take the time to understand the position before you rant against a series of straw-man arguments. Allegations of abuse of public trust by the Orchestra board are based on substantial evidence.

Counter offers

"The position of the Union is that the Orchestra's financial picture as it is currently known is full of accounting gimmicks and possibly falsehood, making it impossible to make a counter-offer."

This is something of a non sequitur. The fact that the union may or may not know everything about the books, doesn't prevent them from making a counter offer. Rarely do two parties to a negotiation know everything there is to know about each other.

"That is why they have called for a full independent audit and/or binding arbitration. This position is very consistent and reasonable."

This combines two distinct things, an audit and an arbitration. I don't know the possibility of an arbitrator relates to an audit. Would the arbitrator get the complete access to the books, the musicians say they have been denied? Is this the way to get around what is probably a problem for management, the disclosure that they may have mismanaged the finances or at least managed the finances of the orchestra in ways that would have subjected them to criticism? If it is true that it was the musicians who leaked the minutes of management's internal discussions, the musicians may have played that card prematurely. Management is already embarrassed.

What's needed here is for the two sides to start talking to each other, not the proclaiming of reasons not to talk in the media. What is also needed is some creativity and innovation in response to a marketplace that is changing in some ways that are detrimental to the orchestra, both labor and management, but which might also present opportunities for future growth.

Arbitration

My guess is that the reason orchestra management doesn't want to go to arbitration is a concern that they might lose. It is perhaps their feeling that they, the managers are the ones charged with the management of the orchestra's affairs, not some neutral outside arbitrator. I am a pro-union guy, one inclined to support the musicians. But the musicians must understand that they have to negotiate with the management in place. They should not expect to have some outside arbitrator to be substituted for a negotiating party they find unsatisfactory.

Observation #3

Accounting gimmicks? We are dealing with a non profit community orchestra led by volunteers.

I know that destroys the narrative of evil management and bankers.

This isn't a balance sheet of a multi national with complex financial instruments with movements for tax, treasury and legal reasons.

Anybody with any accounting experience will tell you the books aren't cooked, no fraud was committed with the legislature, but hey we are dealing with a labor union and these little stunts are all part of the game.

Everything that they have provided including meeting minutes show they are on the up and up.

But hey if you have to resort to defamation of character and other clasy acts as opposed to just realizing the math just doesn't work ...revenue doesnt match expenses.

Everybody else has had to feel the pain of a downturned economy but I guess the musicians are immune and the front of the house staff that got laid off don't count.

This is a non profit the musicians are fighting they are looking worse everyday this goes on...they need to get better advisors. They aren't battling a local plant owner.

I hope the musicians realize that the people they are insulting are the people that actually pay them.

I talked about this with someone I know who actually is

an experienced arbiter, and he thinks that management is acting arrogantly and is ignorant of what it takes to keep good people in one's organization--not only generous compensation but also respect.

At any rate, the Minnesota Orchestra musicians appear to have the public and the artistic community on their side. Both their independently organized December concerts have sold out, and former conductors of both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra are coming back to conduct concerts.

As for the contention that board members of the Minnesota Orchestra "love the music," that may or may not be true. When I was a graduate student in the Northeast, my friends and I used to buy standing room tickets to the Metropolitan Opera and both the ballet companies. The first time I did this, I was apprehensive about standing during the whole performance, but as my friends had predicted, a lot of obviously affluent types in fancy dress came down the aisle at the beginning of intermission and gave their tickets to people in the standing room section. Their purpose in coming to the performance was not to enjoy the performance but to be seen in the lobby during intermission. In several years of traveling to New York for the opera and ballet, I never once had to stand through an entire performance and often ended up in the front rows or a box seat.

My point is that the board of the Minnesota Orchestra may or may not be made up of people who "love the music." Even if they "love the music," they may have imbibed that pernicious modern mindset that places the welfare and egos of managers above the welfare of the people who do the actual work of the organization.

The dispute

Shall we be frank and talk about what's really going on here? At least in terms of perceptions appearances? Management screwed up here by entering into a facilities upgrade it didn't really need and couldn't afford, and that's really what's sticking in the craw of the musicians' union, who now see themselves as being placed in the position of paying for management's improvident decisions. That's why they are insisting total access to the books, and why they released the minutes of management discussions. They know the books show that management, if not exactly cooking the books, did a little microwaving of them perhaps in order to persuade others to finance the upgrade, and perhaps to make it a little less apparent that the upgrade wasn't something they could afford now. Well, the union has exacted their pound of flesh, and have succeeded getting the public on their side, which is maybe where it should be.

But what's next? We can't reverse the decision management made to put money into the building instead of what people actually go to the building to see and hear, the orchestra. We can spend more time and effort further illuminating for the public how exactly management messed up. Embarrassing management in that way is very satisfying, psychologically perhaps, but how does that bring us closer to addressing the orchestra's long term fundamental problems, made temporarily worse by management's decisions, but would have certainly been there even without the management's short term errors in judgment?