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Sense of urgency being felt over Minnesota Orchestra plight; local bands to play Target Field

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra
A photo of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians on their Facebook page shows “ghosts” representing unfilled positions — musicians who have left or are leaving.

When will the Minnesota Orchestra lockout end, and how can it possibly end well? It’s said that in a successful negotiation, nobody’s happy with the result, but it’s hard to imagine a worse situation than we’re in right now, or a positive outcome. 

A photo of the musicians on their Facebook page shows “ghosts” representing 24 unfilled positions – musicians who have left or are leaving. Last week, music director Osmo Vänskä threatened to quit, and Burt Hara announced that after 25 years as principal clarinet, he had taken a new position with the LA Philarmonic. (More top players will very likely follow.) A full-page “Open Letter to the People of Minnesota,” published in Sunday’s Star Tribune and paid for by the musicians, called for readers to contact board leaders Jon Campbell and Richard Davis and “urge them to step aside.” An editorial Saturday urged (that word again) Minnesota governor Mark Dayton “to use the influence of his office to prevent a catastrophe at Orchestra Hall.” On Saturday, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, who once said that “the Minnesota Orchestra sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world,” wrote on his blog, “The Minnesota Orchestra … is veering toward catastrophe” (that word again) and wondered aloud if “the board and management actually wish to destroy the Minnesota Orchestra.”

Maybe it’s time for the people of Minnesota to pick up their torches and pitchforks. If this orchestra is lost, it will be a cultural catastrophe for our state, and if our leaders sit passively by and allow it to happen, shame on them.

In other news: the Old Log Theater will be sold, but it won’t be razed and replaced by cabins or condos. The theater and its property are being acquired by Excelsior Entertainment, owned by Greg and Marissa Frankenfield. He’s cofounder and CEO of Magenic Technologies; both are theater enthusiasts and producers who plan to continue the Old Log’s tradition of professional, live theater. So it’s less of a sale, more of a torch-passing, which should make a lot of people happy — including 95-year-old Don Stoltz, who bought the Old Log in 1946.

Minnesota now has three more James Beard Media Awards, which look kind of like Olympics medals. At Friday night’s ceremony in New York City, Andrew Zimmern took Outstanding Personality/Host for “Bizarre Foods America,” seen on the Travel Channel. Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine won Best Video Webcast, On Location for “The Perennial Plate,” their online weekly documentary series. MSP magazine food writer Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl lost to Mike Sula of the Chicago Reader for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. Don’t worry, Dara, there’s still plenty of time. On Saturday night, Zimmern and Tony Bourdain (who also won a Beard for his PBS program, “The Mind of a Chef”) will share the stage at the State in a program called “Guts and Glory.” Maybe they’ll wear their new medals. FMI and tickets.

tornado alley photo
Courtesy of the Science Museum of Minnesota
Omnifest: Big movies on big screens at the Science Museum

Love big movies on ginormous screens? From May 10-June 20, the Science Museum hosts its popular annual tradition, Omnifest. Five films will run in rotation on the Omnitheater’s 90-foot domed screen. This year’s films: “Tornado Alley,” about storm chasers, who are about as crazy as a bag of hammers; “Wild Ocean,” about what happens when billions of sardines migrate up the coast of South Africa toward a hungry crowd of sharks, dolphins, and whales; “Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees,” a Science Museum original production; “Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West,” a story of exploration and discovery; and “Antarctica,” a film about ice and snow, as if we need reminding. FMI and tickets.

The Minnesota Twins and K-TWIN are bringing local music to Target Field. Starting May 15, every Wednesday home game from May-August will feature Minnesota bands performing original songs live from the left-field balcony during pregame, inning breaks, and pitching changes. Here’s the line-up: May 15, The 4onthefloor; May 29, GB Leighton; June 12, Jack Knife and the Sharps; June 19, Hitchville; July 3, P.O.S.; July 31, Rocket Club; Aug. 14, Trampled by Turtles. The Aug. 20 game against the Kansas City Royals will present the winner of “The Sound Factor” contest, open to all local bands beginning May 15. FMI on that. 

The Minnesota Ballpark Authority voted last week to spend up to $300,000 on public art for spaces near Target Field where Hennepin County plans to build a transit interchange. It’s expected that a Public Art Selection Committee will soon be formed and a RFP sent out. The Strib had the story (a short one) on Sunday. 

Minnesota Citizens for the Arts has compiled a list of pending arts bills to care about. They include the Legacy and General Fund arts funding bills and three nonprofit tax issues: the ticket tax, and expansion of taxes to services done by nonprofits; street maintenance fees (will there be an exemption for nonprofits?); and a proposal to change how charitable giving is treated in Minnesota. One thing MCA would like you to do now: Send your legislator a quick email asking him or her to dedicate 50 percent of the Arts Legacy fund to the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Regional Arts Council. This way, that money will go towards arts activities in every corner of the state, which is what we voted for in the first place.

For artists: Springboard for the Arts is hiring an Artist Organizer to help the Cornerstone Group with the redevelopment of the Lyndale Garden Center site into a new Town Center for Richfield. The part-time position pays $30,000, with access to up to $25,000 for art projects. Information sessions are set for Monday, May 13 (6:30-8 p.m.) and Saturday, May 18 (10-11:30 a.m.) at 6334 Lyndale Ave. S. in Richfield. Download a job description, application and FAQs here.

May is National Chamber Music Month. Now that the SPCO lockout is settled and our magnificent chamber orchestra is officially playing again, you might want to act quickly to score your tickets to an upcoming concert.

April was National Poetry Month and National Jazz Month, and we’re idly wondering why there’s no National Bacon Month.

Our picks for the week

Tonight (Tuesday, May 7) at Pillsbury House Theatre: “Once in a Blue Moon.” Ten short plays written by professional playwrights (including Carlyle Brown and Jeffrey Hatcher), directed by professionals, and acted by top Twin Cities’ theater artists and neighborhood kids. Come for the plays, stay for the cookies and milk. 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., free.

Tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday) in downtown St. Paul (St. Paul workers, this is for you): the Cherry Spoon Collective plays an outdoor concert on Kellogg Boulevard across from City Hall. Michelle Kinney, a member of the multi-generational, multi-instrumental, multi-genre mini-orchestra, says they’ll be “improvising and grooving like a rock band, but not playing rock music.” Plans are to amplify the string section through a solar power system operated by sound designer Tim Donahue; if skies are cloudy, they’ll add bicycle power. It’s an hour, it’s outdoors, it’s free, it’s Food Truck Wednesday. What else do you want from us? Noon – 1 p.m. UPDATE: Due to the chance of thunderstorms, the show will move to the Amsterdam at 6th and Wabasha.

Wednesday at the Fitz: Isabel Allende. A spring addition to the Talking Volumes series of literary conversations. Born in Chile, Allende is the author of “The House of the Spirits,” among many other novels and four memoirs; her latest is “Maya’s Notebook.” 7 p.m. FMI and tickets.

Wednesday at the Trylon: “Queen: Days of Our Lives.” Not the Queen, that Queen: Scaramouche, Galileo! Director Matt O’Casey tells the band’s colorful story in newly discovered archival film and interviews, with an extensive soundtrack of Queen hits and unheard studio outtakes. Part of the ongoing Sound Unseen festival of films about music. 7:15 and 9:15 p.m. FMI and tickets.

Thursday at the Bryant Lake Bowl: “Country Roads: Dennis Curley Sings the Music of John Denver.” Seriously, who doesn’t love John Denver? (“Take me home, country roads!”) Backed by members of local bands Blazing Saddles and the Galactic Cowboy Orchestra, Curley is wrapping up a two-month BLB engagement of old favorites and less familiar Denver tunes. Closes May 11. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets.

Thursday at Shepherd of the Valley Church in Apple Valley: the SPCO performs their first official concert since the lockout ended. Thomas Zehetmair conducts; Steven Isserlis plays Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto. It’s a sure bet the audience will give them a very enthusiastic welcome. 7:30 p.m. Act quickly if you want tickets; only a few remained on Monday.

pottery bowl
Courtesy of the Minnesota Potters of the Upper St. Croix River
Pottery bowl by Delores Fortuna of Galena, IL.

Starts Friday: the 21st Annual Pottery Studio Tour & Sale by the Minnesota Potters of the Upper St. Croix River. Short version: pots! Seven local pottery studios will host 50 top potters from 15 states (and one from Scotland). All are within a one-hour drive of the Twin Cities; each is a short drive from the others. So depending on how involved you get in looking at pots, talking with potters, and checking out what other people are buying, it’s possible to visit all of the locations in one day. Or just take the weekend, as  a lot of collectors do. Whether it’s the cup that holds your morning coffee, the platter that serves your Thanksgiving turkey, or your favorite noodle bowl, handmade pottery is just better — like live music. Visit the link for a list of potters, a tour map, and lots of photos.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/07/2013 - 09:37 am.

    just wondering

    Have the Minnesota Orchestra musicians made any acknowledgement that the Orchestra should at least break even financially? I admit that their proposed pay cut sounds drastic but it sorta sounds like they have been very well compensated at the cost of the financial viability of the Orchestra.

    • Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 05/07/2013 - 09:21 pm.

      yes, we’re a little testy

      Hi Bill
      I, along with several other regular contributors on this issue, have been working our asses off for 8 months, (mostly Emily) to get accurate information out to the public about this tragedy. The MOA sure hasn’t helped, the Strib has barely helped with the tough issue at hand, and it often seems like people who really don’t care one way or the other about the orchestra’s existence, feel the need to weigh in on the orchestra mess without having much background. Those of us who are really passionate about the orchestra have spent hundreds, (in some cases thousands) of hours, pouring over 990’s, glossy charts and graphs of the MOA, testimonies at hearings, board minutes, etc etc etc. and we are exhausted. So when someone comes along who appears to not know things like the Minnesota Orchestra has the 6th largest endowment in the country, or that the musicians gave back $4.5 million dollars of their last raise and offered to do more, or that the numbers have been so messed with that NOBODY has a clue about the real state of the financial health which is why the musicians have been asking for A YEAR for additional financial information, we do get a little testy. Our orchestra is being destroyed by morons with no interest in the orchestra, who rarely go to concerts, and cooked up this insane plan that absolutely everyone who follows the orchestra music world carefully, thinks will destroy the orchestra. Please forgive us. We are all past Minnesota nice.

  2. Submitted by Chelle Stoner on 05/07/2013 - 11:49 am.

    Orchestra jerseys

    Do we want to be a city that is home to a first class orchestra? If so, we need to pay competitive salaries to our musicians. Some people I talk to think the musicians are overpaid, others say that $120,000+ is what a first violin in Cleveland or Philadelphia or Los Angeles makes. It is the same with all professions. We have to be competitive if we want the best. So – we just have to decide as a community if this is fundamental to our well-being and quality of life in the Twin Cities or if it is discretionary, an extra, no longer a core cultural endeavor. I do not attend the MN Orchestra much. Maybe once or twice a year. But I do know that I don’t want to live in a city that doesn’t have one. We can’t only be a sports town. Maybe we need jerseys for the MN Orchestra? Where is our dimensionality, our soul? Pay people what the market dictates. If not, who wants something only ho-hum? Ho-hum most certainly won’t get me to the orchestra more frequently. Maybe a jersey would.

  3. Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/07/2013 - 12:06 pm.

    Educate yourself about the musicians!

    Mr. Schletzer, start by reading the statements made by the musicians since the onset of the lockout. Then, head toward Adaptistration, Song of the Lark, Slipped Disc, Sticks and Drones or Polyphonic for intelligent commentary about this disaster. Make yourself comfortable, you’ll be there a while.
    Then, armed with information about what the musicians actually want, and have given, and what has been taken away from them…then try coming back here and implying even for ONE SECOND that they don’t want the orchestra to be financially viable.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/07/2013 - 04:00 pm.

      Hey, Amy, just askin’

      If the musicians are as hostile and touchy as you then I say too bad. Sounds to me like a pretty disfunctional place on both sides. So the strike is about EVERYTHING! I ask a question and get talked to by you like I’m a moron. What I am is someone who never attends the orchestra and could care if they are THE WORLD’S BEST or just pretty good. I generally will support the arts, especially in an environment that supports sports so much. I’d like to see 20th century creative music, Jazz, get half the subsidies this Orchestra gets. I’d like to see classical musicians generally spend more time playing what is creative and less heard then so much of Classical’s Greatest Hits. While you and all the INTELLIGENT people are patting each other on the back at Sticks and Bones, you are losing people like me who started our sympathetic to your cause. And finally I will for ONE SECOND imply that it is their economic self interest that at least partly motiviates the musicians.

      There are two sides to every good marriage and two sides to every divorce. The difference is that in the good marriage both sides acknowledge that.

      • Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/07/2013 - 04:45 pm.

        Ok. One more thing, Bill…

        It’s not a strike. It’s a lockout. That’s central to the whole dispute.
        I have to ask…if you’re someone who never attends the orchestra, and don’t care about their status as “best” or “pretty good”…then why on earth are you here, with an enormous chip on your shoulder?

        You are absolutely correct that their economic self-interest motivates the musicians. They would prefer to not negotiate both in the dark…and publicly. Management is the one who arranged things like this, though.

  4. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 05/07/2013 - 12:12 pm.

    No one is more concerned than musicians

    The musicians have said that nobody is more concerned about the fiscal stability of the Minnesota Orchestra than musicians. And rightly so! It’s not the board’s careers that are at stake here. However, there are serious, SERIOUS questions about the financial choices management made over the course of the last few years. They lost $14 million in the market in 2009, more than any other orchestra in this country, and have not explained why. The state of Minnesota is auditing management’s books to investigate if CEO Michael Henson gave misleading testimony when he requested the money for the Orchestra Hall renovation. People who donated to the lobby project were not told that the “business model” was going to be “reset” in 2012, so there are legions of furious patrons who feel they were duped. Management has resisted any kind of financial analysis that would include comparison of the effectiveness of its board and CEO to the effectiveness of other boards and CEOs. No outside expert in arts administration believes that this approach will result in a fiscally healthy organization, much less an artistically healthy one; in fact, Michael Henson’s plans have been universally blasted by people in the orchestra industry. There has been a culture of distrust and dysfunction within the organization for a very long time. The lockout extended that culture of distrust and dysfunction into the community. And that’s what the battle is about.

    I’m not a Minnesota Orchestra musician, but I personally believe that if the musicians had reason to trust the management of the Minnesota Orchestra, and the management of the Minnesota Orchestra had left the 250+ changes in work rules alone, the musicians may well have taken those cuts, or at least the majority of them.

    This is not about money. It’s about a complete lack of trust between parties, as well as a crippling institutional dysfunction.

    Emily Hogstad

  5. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/07/2013 - 03:35 pm.

    And furthermore,

    the musicians are upset about changes to the mission statement, which moves focus away from the orchestra and talks in generic terms about “music,” without specifying what kind, as well as a proposals to take hiring authority away from the music director and give it to management (unheard of in a field where music directors strive to choose players who work together well and can produce the desired sounds) and to cut back on community and educational outreach and hire the orchestra out for private events.

    The board makes it sound as if the musicians are greedy and financially irresponsible, concerned only about money. Perhaps that’s because so many of the board members are focused exclusively on money. They cannot understand why these other matters should be a problem.

    Yet when violist Sam Bergman came out on stage during the O’Shaughnessy concert and enumerated the items in my first paragraph, the audience gasped after each point. They understand what the real issues are, even if the board is deaf to great music.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/07/2013 - 06:03 pm.

      Karen, well said.

      Reportedly, when the musicians met with the board recently, the statements made to musicians by board members consisted in their entirety of “bottom-line” money issues. This is the difference between the two groups: the board cannot conceive of Reality without Money being underneath it all.
      Similarly, hostile commenters on various media outlets accuse the musicians of greed, of all things! …projecting their own natures onto the locked out musicians who want so very much to get back to work.

  6. Submitted by Susan McNerney on 05/07/2013 - 09:46 pm.

    Fundamentally, as an audience member

    I’m not going to pay the orchestra’s current rates to see a third-rate orchestra. So either they pay the going rate and keep the musicians they have, keep the thing top class, or they need to discount my tickets to the same price you’d find in smaller venues and small town orchestras. And how will that pay for that nice renovation of theirs?

    As commenters are pointing out, the musicians have other grievances unrelated to money, but even if you just look at it from the money angle, this doesn’t make sense. It’s like suggesting the St. Cloud State theater department should take over the Orpheum and provide all the roles for the upcoming broadway season there. No offense to St. Cloud – a fine school – but would anyone out there pay $100 for middling seats to see that?

  7. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/07/2013 - 10:32 pm.

    oh, sigh

    If that’s a chip you see I have it over you, Amy. I started here asking a question out of ignorance and all I’ve gotten from you is smug belligerence. I came here because I’m interested in this issue, although my interests in the arts are wider than this little niche, but now I keep coming back to see what new bit of hostility you can hit me with.I don’t care a lot for either side in this dispute for various reasons. I did visit those less than unbiased web sites you suggested and my little mind was able to absorb some information. I can do that when it isn’t presented to me in a fair and polite manner. You venom just pushes me to the other side just to be contrary and because I love to argue.

    As far as I can tell these two sides can’t exist without the other so they are going to have to make peace and compromise. Seems like you and the other “friends” of the musicians are stoking the flames of destruction by urging them to fight, fight, fight. So if management only cares about money and the musicians only care about artistic issues, why isn’t there room for compromise. The commenters here are so biased in favor of the musicians (fair or not) that I don’t think they are the clearest source of information. But I suspect no one in this thread wants to talk about compromise. The ship is sinking and the interested parties are only interested in who’s right. good night.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/08/2013 - 11:26 am.

      Bill, bias is funny that way.

      If I see injustice, I cannot take a middle-of-the-road stance on it. It would be a second injustice to ignore it. Musician supporters need make no apologies for their passionate opinions.
      Perhaps your late entry into following this dispute has you playing catch-up with discussions that have already been held in multiple forums. It grows tiresome, sometimes, explaining yet again a basic piece of information (“strike” vs. “lockout”) to someone who then needs to vent his frustrations…ok, fine.
      The musicians are without income, medical coverage and without their season. They know darned well about the economy, and how concessions and negotiations work. What they want is to make the most informed and wisest decision possible – I almost wrote “sustainable” …but that’s management vocabulary… 🙂 I’m totally fine with you getting all upset with me…better than insulting my friends in the orchestra.

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