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Michael Henson, MN Orchestra president: It’s time for musicians to negotiate

MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
"I certainly know from the board and management perspective, we’re puzzled and we’re frustrated as to why we haven’t been able to get the musicians to move this further forward."

An hour after the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra announced a tentative contract settlement with its locked-out musicians on Wednesday, Michael Henson, president of the Minnesota Orchestra, expressed cautious hope his orchestra’s locked-out musicians would respond in kind, with an offer to start negotiating a new contract.

The Minnesota Orchestra locked out 95 musicians Oct. 1 after their union rejected a proposal to reduce base salaries by 32 percent. The orchestra management has said that the cuts are necessary to offset ongoing deficits. Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra currently make an average $135,000 a year, not including benefits.

In an interview with MinnPost, Henson noted that the St. Paul Chamber musicians have agreed to accept comparable cuts in salary and orchestra size. Here are excerpts from the interview:

MinnPost: Will the settlement of the St. Paul Chamber lockout have an effect on the Minnesota Orchestra musicians?

Michael Henson: We very much hope what’s happened in St. Paul will actually bring impetus to our discussions and impetus to get our musicians and the union to the negotiating table to begin to have substantive conversations.  One orchestra has quite clearly agreed to an 18.6 percent change which, as I said, like for like, is considerably higher than the change of rate to our orchestra with the pay raises that they’ve had. So this is very much indicative that our players need to actually partner with us sooner rather than later and accept those challenges. Why has one orchestra accepted those challenges, why has one set of musicians accepted that they need to find a settlement and then why this group has not agreed to do that, is indeed puzzling.

MP: You’ve asked the musicians to meet with the board later this month. Is that going to happen?

MH: We have been trying to remove the barriers that musicians have said have stopped them putting forward a counter proposal in order to move this process forward in the most reasonable way possible. 

We hope very much that we can announce successfully the financial analysis this week. [The musicians have asked for an outside audit of the orchestra’s finance, but the two sides cannot agree on the audit guidelines.] We hope our musicians will come and speak to the board. But what we really want is substantive negotiations to take place, an acknowledgement of the very serious financial challenges that we face and to actually negotiate a contract that is actually sustainable for this community and respects the musicians’ skill levels.

MP: Are you hearing donors or board members express frustration about the duration of the lockout?

MH: I think the board and the management have wanted to move this forward as quickly as possible. I think our donors want to see their money used responsibly and to insure that we have sustainability. I’m sensing a growing frustration with the fact that our musicians have not put in a counter-proposal and have not actually negotiated. I certainly know from the board and management perspective, we’re puzzled and we’re frustrated as to why we haven’t been able to get the musicians to move this further forward. 

It’s important to remember that our board are volunteer donors. They all give over $10,000 to be on the board and they do it because they believe in the music. They believe in this community and they believe we have a great art form. So this is not a commercial board that is extracting returns. It is a board that is doing this out of the goodness of what they believe should be occurring in this community. 

In the end, you can only scope the size of an organization to the generosity of a community, and this community is very, very generous. But the reality is, if you generate one dollar, you can only spend one dollar. 

I think the good news is, looking at all aspects, we can generate $26 million a year. That is a substantial amount of money in order to create a great orchestra. The bad news is that the current expenditure, with the contracts we have at the moment, is roughly between $32 [million], $33 million a year. We have to bridge that gap both through cost reductions but also, critically, through new income schemes.

So our new business plan has looked at substantive change within the organization. Already, we’ve laid off, unfortunately, 20 percent of our administration. The new business plan has required us to look at more flexible working practices within the management and the administration. It also requires us to try and generate another $4.2 million of income, which is a very aggressive target to try and reach.

It is now time, and we’ve said this for the last two years, for our musicians to partner with us in terms of being part of that solution.

Those changes are substantial but we are still offering at the moment, without any further negotiations, a package that, on average, works out at $120,000, including benefits of pension and health care.

MP: Are artistic differences fundamental to this dispute?

MH: I think it’s always possible to come with excuses as to why you don’t want to have a conversation, but the reality is, we have a great orchestra here and we will continue to have a great orchestra. We will continue to evolve and change. Classical music is critical and central to our mission. We’re not aiming to increase the number of pops concerts that the orchestra does.

You can only scope the size of an organization to the demand that exists out there, and all orchestras, all organizations, whether you’re for-profit, not-for-profit, have changed during their history.

Change will continue to occur. If you just look to the past, you won’t thrive or survive. We need to look not just to the next two years of any contract or three years of a contract, we need to look at how our great art form becomes and remains vibrant over the next five years, the next 10 years, and the next 15 years. 

MP: To ensure this future, does the Minnesota Orchestra have a responsibility to cultivate music and musicians?

MH: Yes, we want to make sure we want to retain the best in terms of the orchestra. At the same point, we actually have to address an art form that has to remain competitive. I think we an incredibly exciting art form so we have to think about how we put on concerts, how we attract new audiences going into the future, how we reverse the declining trend of audiences. 

You have to retain and attract talent, but you also have to retain, attract and develop audiences.

MP: Some say that art, such as classical music, is priceless, yet it’s your responsibility to put a price on it. How do you do that? 

MH: The first thing to emphasize is that the art is at the center of what we’re doing. This is why the board volunteers, why the board donates money. They want to have a great orchestra based in a community. That is the driving force. The reality is, you’ve actually got to scope the best art, the best terms and conditions that you can with the available resources. 

You have an extraordinary board here who have been working extraordinarily hard to generate money, to help develop strategy — a plan to look after the best interests of balancing the art for the community, but making sure it is here for the long term.

MP: Is the MOA prepared to counter a counter offer?

MH: We have always been prepared to negotiate appropriately within parameters. So, we have been willing to negotiate. There are number of parameters that we can agree to negotiate — the size of the orchestra, amount of remuneration, health-care benefits. So there obviously is some flexibility with what we’ve proposed so we can negotiate. Substantial change is required and we will be prepared to move and negotiate. But substantial change is still required. 

MP: The MOA states it has reduced costs by 6 percent over the last 10 years, but you are asking the musicians for a 32 percent cut. Is this fair?

MH: I would look back to the last five years. Our musicians have received a 19.6 percent increase. Effectively, our staff  have been frozen over that period, so yes.

MP: The union has also taken exception to the renovation of Orchestra Hall. But donors have been generous to this $50 million project. Why do your donors prefer to give to capital rather than salaries?

MH: I quote a story that I have from one of the donors. He made a very substantial donation to this project, and what he said was, “You came and asked me for a capital donation and I gave you this much money. [Henson indicated a foot in length with his hands.] If you came and asked me for the annual fund, you’ve got that much money.” [Henson indicated an inch between his thumb and forefinger.] We have very sophisticated donors who understand long-term and understand the importance of a hall.

orchestra hall
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Construction continues on Orchestra Hall.

Yes, we’ve raised nearly $50 million for the Hall project, but it’s part of a $110 million campaign — $30 million for artistic initiatives, $30 million for the endowment with the object of that actually helping underpin our musicians’ salaries. 

The project itself was part of a 30-year vision. It was the time to do it. We’ve re-scoped the project so it was more fiscally responsible.

 The project is way beyond the lobby. It’s a project that goes across the entire hall. A musician was in on the selection process. We had numerous meetings with musicians, probably 25, 30 meetings with a committee in terms of how we move this forward. The musicians actually were very integral in how this project was set up and moved forward.

It’s on time and on schedule and we’re expecting it to open at some point in the late summer.

MP: What do you do if you don’t have musicians to play in that hall?

MH: I think that what we firstly want to do is to get our musicians back to the table to negotiate. There is a long way to go before we actually get there, and I’m hopeful that our musicians will actually come forward and put forward a substantial proposal. I hopeful that’s going to happen. That’s our expectation because that’s what they’ve been saying.

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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 04/11/2013 - 08:31 am.

    Why, exactly,

    is Cyndy Brucato doing an Arts and Culture piece like this?

    A cynic might think that her well known Republican proclivities might influence her views on this matter as the horrible unions are involved?

    And I am a cynic.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/11/2013 - 09:30 am.

    What he said

    “You came and asked me for a capital donation and I gave you this much money. …. If you came and asked me for the annual fund, you’ve got that much money.”

    So it’s clear that it was the Association, not the donors, who valued the building over the musicians.

    I think that the real difference right now is that Chris Coleman brokered the SPCO’s agreement, so neither side had to directly accept a proposal by the other.
    We need a similar ‘honest broker’ for the MN Orch. RT?

    • Submitted by Anja Curiskis on 04/15/2013 - 10:27 am.

      Mayor Coleman “broke” the musicians..

      Mayor Coleman hardly helped the musicians of the SPCO. He caved into big money during an election year.
      He helped Dobson West and his minions destroy a world class orchestra. Mayor Coleman was given facts that he chose to ignore and then threw in his support for a bogus deal.
      The musicians have literally been starved in to submission.

      I for one, hold out hope that the SPCO musicians will vote down this latest proposal and go on to form a new Orchestra without the failed Board lead by West who is liberal only when it comes to the truth.
      If the musicians do choose that route they will need a lot of support from us, their audience.

      As for the MN Orchestra musicians….it is much the same. They are being starved into submission by billionaires without moral compasses.

      It is a sad time for Minnesota. We should all be ashamed for allowing these corrupt few destroy our orchestras. Or, it seems “their” orchestras, as neither management seems to show care or concern that ultimately these are community resources, not their personal property.

  3. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/11/2013 - 12:19 pm.


    Sell me some competitive art, please! It’s gonna be real good at rock bottom prices.

    Sarcasm aside, this article, as well as the frequent emails I get from the Orchestra Board justifying their tight pockets make me sick. It is complete tripe that “your donors” prefer to fund capitol over salaries. “Your donors” were not made aware that there were other needs. When I was asked (or, rather, harangued mercilessly) whether I wanted to donate to the upgrade of the lobby–yes, the lobby–I was completely unaware that the organization was running at a deficit. I would not have said, begrudgingly, yes. No way, no how. Especially since I now know that the Board was raising money for a building that they already had while plotting to take the deficit out of the hides of the musicians. No. No no no no. This isn’t about making our orchestra competitive. This is about people with too much money and no real power pretending that they have power by squashing people who are more talented than they are. I don’t buy the reasoning I keep getting in my email and I don’t for one moment believe that any of the above is reasonable.

    I would support an orchestra that reformed from this without the 80+ hangers on that call themselves the Board.

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 04/11/2013 - 12:27 pm.

    It is Mr. Henson that needs to move on

    This has been mishandled from the start and there needs to be a house cleaning at the Orchestra.

    Donors also need to focus on what’s important – your name on a plaque on the wall or great music.

  5. Submitted by Jeffrey Reed on 04/11/2013 - 12:41 pm.

    “It’s important to remember that our board are volunteer donors. They all give over $10,000 to be on the board and they do it because they believe in the music. They believe in this community and they believe we have a great art form. So this is not a commercial board that is extracting returns. It is a board that is doing this out of the goodness of what they believe should be occurring in this community.”

    Really? They believe in the music? Or do they believe in the power and influence that comes with the seat they BUY on the board?

  6. Submitted by Jim Roth on 04/11/2013 - 02:11 pm.

    Who Started the Lockout?

    Correct me if I’m wrong but I seem to recall that the Board made a “last and final offer” and then locked out the musicians when they didn’t accept a very large decrease of salary and benefits (30+%).

    That tactic and related message didn’t exactly invite the musicians to negotiate or make a counter-offer.

    I think Mr. Henson needs to go back and look at the files of what actually happened before he starts laying the blame on the musicians for “refusing to negotiate.” I also think it’s inappropriate to refer to a single discussion with one donor to argue the notion that supporters of the Orchestra want a new fancy building much more than they want a world-class orchestra to play in it.

    It seems the Board is trying to starve the musicians into submission and barrage the public with the message that it is the musicians who are unreasonable.

    Lockouts are a very hard core management tactic.

  7. Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 04/11/2013 - 02:21 pm.

    These questions sound so familiar

    This interview sounds so much like the ridiculous question/answer section found on the Minnesota Orchestra’s website –Why, it’s almost as if Michael Henson told CB what to ask him.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/11/2013 - 02:40 pm.

    In the days when orchestras were the personal property of the wealthy and powerful, do you think that they paid the musicians what the musicians wanted?

    As we enter a new gilded age, it is worth considering that art must have a patron to survive, but that doesn’t guarantee good pay for the musicians. After all, many of the great halls of that period remain whereas few remember the players in the chairs.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/11/2013 - 04:14 pm.

      “The Great Halls of That Period”…says a lot, right there.

      Well. You’re right, a building will remain standing long after the humans who built it or ate appetizers in it or performed in it are gone…just as the house you live in will be owned and lived in by somebody else when your time has passed.

      Music is of the moment; it is fleeting and precious like life itself. Philistine remarks about the importance of brass plaques in lobbies will provide all the self-congratulation people with fat checkbooks need.

  9. Submitted by Rolf Erdahl on 04/11/2013 - 04:15 pm.

    Strained Board generosity, Dodged probing questions

    The Board has, for the most part, been incredibly generous, but they’ve been put in a tough position by Mr. Henson, whose actions have decreased orchestra support outside board circles by alienating many long-time donors and failing to reach out to new audiences and supporters, just when the orchestra had reached unprecedented heights of playing and acclaim. At a time when what the orchestra was doing should have been any marketing and development department’s dream situation, Mr. Henson chose not to field an orchestra. His over-reliance on the generosity of the board as his chief supply of donors has stretched them much thinner than ever should have been the case. He has made public dismissive statements of smaller donors, and ignores overwhelming passionate feedback in support of the orchestra because “none of that comes from major donors.” The orchestra would be much better off with one million “stake-holding” donors of $10, than ten donors of $1 million.

    To the board member who offerred a foot of support for capital improvements and an inch for the annual fund, any marginally imaginative orchestra executive should have at least made the case for 11 inches for building, and 1 inch for the annual fund, because there’s no point putting up a shell without having a band to play in it. An executive with vision and passion would have accepted the full 13 inches, given that board member his engraved plaque, and gone drumming up other operating support elsewhere.

    Mr Henson states, “You can only scope the size of an organization to the demand that exists out there, and all orchestras, all organizations, whether you’re for-profit, not-for-profit, have changed during their history.” How well would Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would have done if they had “scoped their size to existing demand?” They started from vision, created something of value, and convinced the world that it was something that people wanted and needed to improve their lives. To downgrade a great orchestra to fit an imagined smaller demand is unconscionable. Any orchestra executive that isn’t compelled to find ways to encourage and create a greater demand for classical music, arguably one of the highest expressions of the human spirit (and one of the more contagious enthusiasms once it’s discovered), should not be in charge of any orchestra, let alone a world-class one.

    Cyndy Brucato asked good, probing questions: “Are you hearing donors or board members express frustration about the duration of the lockout?” “To ensure this future, does the Minnesota Orchestra have a responsibility to cultivate music and musicians?” “The MOA states it has reduced costs by 6 percent over the last 10 years, but you are asking the musicians for a 32 percent cut. Is this fair?” “What do you do if you don’t have musicians to play in that hall?” Good luck finding a straightforward answer to any of those questions from Mr. Henson. We need serious answers, better management, broader community support, and we need our great orchestra back.

  10. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 04/11/2013 - 06:10 pm.

    I spent my afternoon writing a critique of this interview…

    MinnPost, I hope if you interview Mr. Henson again, you will give him more follow-up questions, especially since Mr. Henson failed to answer roughly half of the ones you gave him.

    That being said, I’m encouraged that Mr. Henson is speaking publicly. It’s more than he’s done in past. However, he needs to change his message and method of delivery before patrons, legislators, and donors outside the board can take him seriously. And he REALLY needs to stop dissing the patrons and musicians that make his $400,000 annual compensation possible.

    I encourage everyone reading to consider signing the patron-led Play and Talk petition that is circling.

    Emily E Hogstad
    Eau Claire, WI

  11. Submitted by Michael Hess on 04/11/2013 - 07:54 pm.


    “MP: The MOA states it has reduced costs by 6 percent over the last 10 years, but you are asking the musicians for a 32 percent cut. Is this fair?

    MH: I would look back to the last five years. Our musicians have received a 19.6 percent increase. Effectively, our staff have been frozen over that period, so yes.”

    Here is a simple math view – if you start at 100, and reduce costs 6%, you are at 94%. But if you start at 100, go up 19.6%, and then go down 32%, you end up at 81.3%. So basically the musicians would be at 81% of the salary they were at 5 years ago assuming the numbers quoted in the article are correct. The staff have been frozen so they are at 100% (not adjusted for inflation). If to be “fair” the musicians were to end up at 94% of where they were 5 years ago, like the rest of the overall orchestra costs, you would be looking at a proposed cut of about 21.4%. I know some analyses put the proposed cut above 32% for some musicians but to keep it simple just use the numbers from above. This type of slipshod glossing over complicated financial differences is really odd.

    But in a broader context, this comparison shouldn’t matter. The fact is the musicians are the product of the orchestra – the entertainment, the music. Managements job is to deliver this product at the lowest costs possible which means overhead costs should be controlled. that’s true in whatever industry you care to look at. so if you can control or reduce overhead costs that’s a good thing.

    I am also “puzzled” by how often Mr. Henson and board members who speak ont his topic use the term “puzzled” in relation to the lack of counter financial proposals from the musicians. It seems to me from the media coverage that the musicians have deep reservations about how the orchestra is being run and they want external corroboration of the business plan before proceeding. If the board truly wanted to remove obstacles they could have aknowledged this last summer (I mean the musicians publicized a unanimous vote of no confidence in Mr. Henson – not exactly subtle) and started the analysis then. Instead it was delayed to January, and there have been weeks between responses back to musician responses. The Musicians asked to address the board when, last fall? and now it may happen. so here in mid April. There does not seem to be a sense of urgency from management or the board to truly address what is standing in the way of a back and forth negotiation.

  12. Submitted by John Bracken on 04/11/2013 - 08:39 pm.

    Life is Hard

    Society does not value orchestras. In a world of supply and demand, the musicians skills aren’t in demand. Work for less or find another job. As it is, the orchestras are propped up by state funding and charitable write-offs. Time for the arts community to do their “fair share” and stop relying on the taxpayer to fund their musical tastes.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/12/2013 - 12:59 am.

      Ladies and gentlemen who have taken up the musicians’ cause…

      You apparently don’t exist, because, as John Bracken states above, “society does not value orchestras.” And all musicians being offered short-term and long term work in great orchestras across the country…I guess you’re not in demand. Thanks for your input, Mr. Bracken. You’ve done the discussion great service.

  13. Submitted by Scott Chamberlain on 04/11/2013 - 10:50 pm.

    Mr. Henson, it is possible for you to have a legitimate point… one I may not agree with, but a legitimate one. What you have offered here is, with respect, a feeble lists of arguments that would only convince someone who already agrees with you. Let me explain:

    “…this is very much indicative that our players need to actually partner with us sooner rather than later and accept those challenges.”

    “Need”? How does one thing necessitate the other? The scenarios involved are radically different in all the particulars. Yes, they both involve orchestras, but there are huge differences because of the lobby rebuild, issues around the capital campaign, size of the organization, salaries generally…. If we’re going to compare vaguely similar scenarios, JC Penny’s CEO was just axed for financial mismanagement and ruining a venerable, centuries-old retail institution. Should we expect the board will do the same to you?


    Well, at least you stopped stopped using the word “perplexed.” It has been explained repeatedly by a variety of people why it isn’t “puzzling” the musicians haven’t made a counter offer. First, they don’t need to—the dispute can be resolved without an official counter-offer. Also, making a formal offer might give you the legal authority to unilaterally declare an impasse in negotiations and to impose a new contract. And, your initial offer was so preposterous it was like demanding a car salesman to sell you a car for $5, and expecting the salesman to make a counter proposal so you could continue negotiations. Really, if the musicians made a counter offer with a 40-60% raise, would that resolve the situation?

    “We hope our musicians will come and speak to the board.”

    Well, that statement would have greater credibility if you hadn’t categorically blocked all previous attempts for the musicians to do so. Even saying something like “In light of current developments, we’ve decided to…” would make this sound less disingenuous.

    “I think/ I think/ I sense”

    Again with respect, what do you base these intuitions on? I may be biased, or even in a media cocoon, but from my vantage point I’ve seen no indication that the public feels this way, as evidenced by repeated hostile questioning from the state legislature (prompted by hostile questions from constituents), and the fact that you are very publicly losing a PR war. Have you, for example, read the MN Orchestra’s Facebook page?

    “I think the board and the management have wanted to move this forward as quickly as possible.”

    The elaborate plans laid out since 2009 in the board minutes make this statement a tough sell. As do the clear, elaborate contingency plans to cancel the season.

    “It is a board that is doing this out of the goodness of what they believe should be occurring in this community.”

    Agreed, they are generous and committed. Absolutely. Does this mean that their management ideas drawn from the private and financial sectors are appropriate for a non-profit arts organization?

    “I think the good news is, looking at all aspects, we can generate $26 million a year.”

    Here is the crux of the dispute. After moving money around, shady draws from the endowment, fundraising for a new lobby, and getting state bonding under suspicious circumstances, no one has confidence in this number. Is it absolute? Is it based on research into the capacity of the community? Did you make that number absolutely clear to donors as you solicited funds for the lobby? This distrust is why there are multiple calls for an independent, and comprehensive financial analysis.

    “Already, we’ve laid off, unfortunately, 20 percent of our administration.”

    Again, this includes personnel from Orchestra Hall who were let go during the reconstruction. Does this include a decrease in your personal salary? You taking a 40-60% pay cut could have kept many of those people on staff.

    “We’re not aiming to increase the number of pops concerts that the orchestra does.”

    That is a positive step, and a nice statement to make. It is undermined, however, by the change to the mission statement and the types of renovations being made to Orchestra Hall to facilitate amplified music.

    “You have to retain and attract talent, but you also have to retain, attract and develop audiences.”

    Yes. If, however, you were to explain how hundreds of proposed changes to the labor contract, reduction of staff (including marketing staff) and a pay cut to the musicians will directly lead to larger audiences, your statement will seem less like a talking point. Or, to be honest, like a non-sequiter.

    “We have always been prepared to negotiate appropriately within parameters.”

    Perhaps, but you’ve referred on numerous occasions to your proposal as a “final offer.” I understand you have to make strong statements in public that may be more flexible in actual negotiations, but you’ve been fairly definitive that you can only offer so much. (Including above, with your $26 million cap.)

    […the donor anecdote…]

    Look, I’ve been in the trenches, and I know donors make the distinction between ongoing expenses (eye-roll) and a shiny new thing, with your name on a plaque! But other donors have publicly said they felt like they got a bait-and-switch—they would never have given to a lobby if the organization was in crisis. Plus, is that donor you mentioned the board chair who also is sitting on the negotiating committee?

    I say again it is possible for you to have a strong, well-supported point. I just wish you had taken this opportunity to express it, rather than to rehash weak talking points that have already been discussed—and in many cases, debunked.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/12/2013 - 01:15 pm.

      Perfectly stated

      I couldn’t agree with you more on this. Especially in light of the email I just got today from Mr. Hensen and Mr. Campbell today. This isn’t a negotiation. It’s ridiculous. Furthermore, the letter comes, again, from a terrible direction. The whole purpose was to try to show how “reasonable” the board is being. But it doesn’t appear reasonable at all. And the pathetic attempt to lure the audience into being jealous of the musicians’ salaries is maddening. Comparing the median 2012 salary of people with a Ph.D. to the offered average salary for the musicians is a false start. I have a Ph.D. and I don’t feel the least bit jealous of a musician at a world class orchestra making more than me. The thing is, I can’t do what they can do. There are very few people who can. How about we compare the average salary of a pro baseball player or football player to the offered salary of the musicians? That would be more appropriate. And the possible other solutions? You know what? Put the money raised for the lobby into the endowment. Presto! We’re almost half way there to having an actual orchestra that’s stably funded, per the Board’s own admission. Really, had donors known that there would be no orchestra to put in a hall with a new lobby, I’m certain that there would have been no new lobby.

      • Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 04/12/2013 - 06:05 pm.

        Actually, according to the board’s own calculations – that an orchestra’s base salary should be 1/2500 the size of the organization’s endowment – there is not a single orchestra in this country besides Boston that is stably funded. San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago, New York, Detroit: all of them are, according to Michael Henson’s endowment/base salary ratio, unsustainable. In fact, if Mr. Henson’s math was applied universally across the field, there would be only a handful of professional orchestras in this country.

        And another little point. The MOA sold various securities at a $14 million loss in 2009. No other orchestra lost $14 million in the market in 2009. If that $14 million had not been lost in the market – or even a smaller amount been lost – and, say, redirected toward operating expenses, it would have enabled the board to put forward a more generous contract. Possibly a much more generous one. But do we hear about this poor judgment and massive loss? Nope. Do they ever apologize for way under-performing peer orchestras? Nope. And does the press investigate it? Nope. Maybe MinnPost would like to follow up on that. It could be an interesting story.

  14. Submitted by Susan Sophocleus on 04/12/2013 - 08:00 am.

    Mr. Henson’s Responsibility

    It is Mr. Henson’s responsibility to do everything in his power to negotiate. Having locked out the musicians, he bears a higher level of responsibility. Mr. Henson and the Board should meet the musicians’ request for financial information. There is no excuse for taking months to agree on terms.

    This is one of many ways in which Mr. Henson has failed to demonstrate a sincere desire to negotiate. When you want to work things out, you treat people with respect. You talk to them. You invite them to participate in finding solutions. You attend the celebration concert hosted by Judy Dayton and the mayor. You show an interest in their point of view.

    Let’s get some new management at the Minnesota Orchestra.

  15. Submitted by Michael Wunsch on 04/13/2013 - 10:52 am.

    Fundraising potential

    Mr. Henson indicated that the Minnesota Orchestra could raise $26 million a year. I think that it should be noted that if Mr. Henson believes the orchestra can raise this sum with the orchestra’s current approach, the orchestra actually has a much greater fundraising potential. I was a new subscriber this season; when the orchestra approached me about donating (in March), I indicated that I would donate if management significantly changed its approach relative to its negotiations with the musicians. I wrote several letters to the orchestra and the board expressing my dissatisfaction with the current approach to the negotiations and with the manipulative, misleading statements issued by the orchestra; rather than addressing these concerns, the orchestra has simply removed me from their e-mail and mailing lists. If orchestra management were serious about maximizing fundraising potential, it would cultivate relationships with its potential donors by addressing their concerns.

  16. Submitted by Bill Simenson on 04/16/2013 - 05:04 pm.

    Come clean

    It’s time for the management to come clean about the finances going back to the recession of 2008, if not before. Particularly, who was responsible for the losses in the endowment? Who sold the securities at a $14 million loss in 2009? Let’s name names. Are these people still in positions of responsibility? The musicians who are on stage performing for the orchestra put it all out there. We know who they are, what they are doing, and what they have done. Why not the same for management?

  17. Submitted by Fredrick Menz on 04/19/2013 - 07:56 pm.

    An observation shared with MN Orchestra Management.

    I e-mailed the following to Management after attending a Q/A session for “Laurete Contributors.” I’ve received no response, so I thought I’d share it for the “orchestra-side” as non-negotiations proceed to the orchestra addressing the full board:

    Thank you for inviting me to today’s meeting on the status of negotiations between management and the orchestra members. Michael Henson’s presentation of the case and dilemma facing the orchestra was very thorough, informative, and he presented the business case quite well. I thought, too, that questions from Laureate Members who were quite useful for me to obtain an understanding of whether and how there might be a resolution and return of musicians to the stage. Absence of anyone from the orchestra did make the discussion somewhat one-sided, though as a board member of another nonprofit I can certainly see the need to clearly, concisely, and responsibly present the business side of the problem to a key stakeholder group without distraction. I do confess that somehow I got included in this group and while a supporter for over 30 years, I’m at the $30/month level, I am at the Laureate level. I am, though, a former academic so I view things differently that most of the folks in the audience who did come from a business and/or a philanthropy background. Sharing that disclosure, I have two observations to offer based upon the discussion and in reaction to some hedging of challenges in the questions raised by Laurete members toward the end of today’s meeting.

    First, when I was about 10 years old, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra embarked on a program to conduct performances in the Chicago Public Schools to help create an awareness of classical music. They performed at my grade school, Shubert Elementary School, in full form, tuxes included, and a program fitting for an adult audience. We all sat there spell bound as orchestral music was something 10 year olds in my neighborhood were not likely to ever hear. Quite honestly, I fell asleep to the vibrant melodies and complexities of the pieces the orchestra played, and woke to the celebratory conclusion of the first symphony I’d ever heard (mostly). I was hooked. At the age of 71, this remains one of my memorable experiences. Something connected that connected with my heritage and with the artistic side of my personality. Yes, I took piano lessons, studied art, and hoped to become a concert pianist, but I couldn’t quite get the theory and practice put together. Sort of like wanting to be a swimmer, but not being able to time your breathing. I went onto a career that involved the softer side of life and the needs of people with disabilities. Now, I play for myself and maybe, because I can’t hear too well, none of the neighbors complain. This may also has something to do with our houses being 400+ feet apart. Whatever, Ruth and I have been subscribing members of the Minnesota Orchestra to fulfill our musical stimulus need for about 30 years. We make the trek in from Wisconsin for 6-10 concerts per year, whatever the weather, to be a part of the musical experience that only a world-class orchestra can provide. Being retired, we certainly appreciate the pricing for subscriptions, but that wouldn’t be a decider for us. When my work life had me commuting between Menomonie, WI and DC or Chicago or Denver or San Francisco, etc., the experiences of the talents in other orchestras always reminded me of the quality and competence of our orchestra. I’ve been around long enough to remember Manny’s early blasts, the celebration of the musical repertoire of a certain concert master and violinist, the charm and talent of a young cellist who reached maturity in the period, the intensity added by a new acoustic bass player around 2009, the passionate rendering of the orchestras portfolio by the current first cellist, the extraordinary number and wonderful talents of pianists and violinist brought to our stage, and how the orchestras has grown from Neville’s to Osmo’s leadership.

    To sum up my first point: We (Minnesota, Wisconsin) have a rare treasure to keep and develop … or, to lose as has happened in other orchestra markets. As so many in the audience today said, we realize the jewels we have with the orchestra created in these many years and wish to have it continue to deliver its talents in our community(ies). As I looked around the room today, 80% of those attending would not be around long enough (most were older than me) if Minnesota were to have to re-create an orchestral resource comparable to that which we now have.

    Second. I come from academia, rather than private sector business, but understand the problems of running an enterprise dependent upon being productive, externally accountable, and raising salary and operational dollars. Today’s presentation by Michael Henson provided the business side of running an orchestra and told us what the business people laid out to the orchestra in advance and what the business projections were and how the orchestra needed to participate in achieving business operational goals and objectives. That no one was present from the orchestra was disquieting, but appropriate given the audience and mangement/board intent: Clarify the efforts and intents of management to responsibly manage and ensures sustainability to folks likely to contribute (or cease to contribute) to the orchestra’s endowment.

    Ah, but here comes the academic in me. Unlike business, where management determines direction and budget (priorities for expansions, maintenance, building, salaries), in academia the faculty believes that the faculty is the university. Rightly or wrongly, faculty (like the orchestra) expects that management serves to advance the goals of the university (or the orchestra) as defined and delivered by them, the faculty. When I heard that there have been no counter proposals from the orchestra I was not surprised because I come from academia. Before I became an administrator of federal projects, I had similar encounters over who was the university versus who represented the university versus who had fiduciary responsibility for the university. I think you can see the parallel I draw with where things are getting to in the non-negotiations between management and the orchestra. I could be quite wrong about this, but I suspect that the issues are not as much financial or salary or benefits or even personal. If I were Manny or Osmo or my favorite cellist, I think the issue before us would be this:

    Q: Who is the Minnesota Orchestra?
    A: We the performing members are the Minnesota Orchestra. I further suspect that the absence of a counter proposal is very appropriate.

    The performing members of the orchestra are challenging management and the board to decide whether it is the vision of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra or that of the management team of the Minnesota Orchestra that should be supported. I have to suspect that the orchestra members are waiting for leadership and support from the board for their vision. With all respect to Michael Henson’s background and training as a musician, he is on the fiduciary side, no longer on the talent side of the equation, important though those credentials were to obtain his position with the Minnesota Orchestra.

    I think that if management continues to believe that all of this comes down to negotiating a counter proposal over salary, vacation, health care, scheduled cut backs, how performances are counted as part of contract, whether musicians have to work on Sundays, etc., I believe there will be no resolution.

    The academic in me says, this is a pitting of positions over who determines the direction of the Minnesota Orchestra: Those who manage or those who are the public image of the orchestra. The academic in me (versus the higher education administrator) would say: “Don’t negotiate until the current (or a replacement of) management team (CEO, Board) involves us and our vision for the orchestra in Minnesota; our priorities for endowing musicians, programs, and plant; and starts planning and development from our input, rather than from the projections, priorities, and operational expectations of management for the Orchestra to be economically viable.”

    I’m pretty sure that the CEOs in the audience would appreciate thoughtful deviations from the present and unprofitable course toward a solution that brings the orchestra members and a management team together to chart vision and direction and to then return these world-class orchestral performers and their talent back to Orchestra Hall this season. There is always more than one solution to a complex problem involving talent, money, and opportunity. Perchance, have we come to be so much on the economic viability as envisioned by management that other more fruitful avenues are not explored with those who are at equally concerned with the sustainability of this orchestra?

    Again, thanks for the invitation. I wish the orchestra only the best.

    Fredrick E Menz
    Menomonie, WI 54751

  18. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 04/12/2013 - 05:44 pm.

    Don’t forget

    “remove the barriers”

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