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As MN Orchestra cancels more concerts, much talk about bleak situation

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
The Minnesota Orchestra musicians have been locked out since Oct. 1 of last year.

The Minnesota Orchestra yesterday canceled six more concerts, which surprised no one who has been paying attention, since management and musicians are still not talking. The musicians have been locked out since Oct. 1 of last year. The canceled concerts were scheduled for July 20 to Aug. 3 at the Ted Mann. The 2013-14 season has been planned but not yet announced.

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of discussion about the orchestra’s increasingly dire situation. NPR reported on Aspen Music Festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher’s annual convocation address (June 24), which made a pointed reference to the Twin Cities. “This has not been a good year for many people we care deeply about in the world of music,” Fletcher said. “We’ve been seeing some terrible fractures in the historic cooperation that is needed to create music. For me, the very worst of it has been in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where two great orchestras were locked out of their halls. … A strike is a very unhappy thing, but a lockout is unworthy of us all.”

MPR’s Euan Kerr and Chris Roberts summed up the generally bleak outlook and noted that “several observers believe the Minnesota Orchestra dispute will only be resolved with outside help.” Musician and blogger Robert Levine responded, “The real problem … is that there is no third party willing to wade in and lean on the Minnesota Orchestra board to abandon an approach which has not worked and shows no signs of ever working. And why is that? I would guess it’s because the Minnesota Orchestra board chair and the head of the board’s negotiating committee – in other words, the two people most in charge of calling the shots – run, or help run, the two biggest banks in town. … There are not many people who could actually make a difference to a bad orchestra negotiation who are willing to tangle with that kind of firepower. Normally, one would expect the mayor, or the state’s governor, or perhaps the state’s U.S. senators, to get involved in a negotiation that’s garnering so much negative national publicity. But politicians need donations, and most certainly don’t need the fourth or fifth largest bank in the country opposed to them. Other board members are not going to be willing to go up against heavy hitters like that either – not if they might ever need a working relationship with one of those banks in the future.” Does the current stalemate really boil down to self-interest and fear?

There’s already talk of picketing Orchestra Hall if it reopens during the labor dispute. Things could get even uglier. So – where’s the third party? Over the past several months, we’ve asked a number of concerned and knowledgeable people, “If you could send anyone in to talk with both management and musicians, who would that be?” Many would like Gov. Mark Dayton to get involved. (An editorial published in the Star Tribune in May urged the governor “to use the influence of his office to prevent a catastrophe at Orchestra Hall.”) Other names mentioned include Fritz Mondale, former Gov. Arne Carlson, former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer, and Sam Kaplan, who recently returned from four years as U.S. ambassador to Morocco. Who else?  Ideas?


Stephen Paulus
Photo by Sharolyn Hagen Photography
Stephen Paulus

St. Paul-based composer Stephen Paulus suffered a major stroke on July 4. The latest posting on his Facebook page reports that “he’s currently in critical but stable condition at a hospital in the Twin Cities.” His family has opened a CaringBridge page for updates and messages of support. Paulus is a prolific, respected and widely admired composer of music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, solo voice, keyboard and opera, a co-founder of the American Composers Forum, and a recipient of both Guggenheim and NEA fellowships. To date, he’s written more than 450 works – not nearly enough. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will present a three-concert series at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis as part of its 2013-14 season. This is the fourth year the SPCO has performed at the Capri but the first series it has offered in this intimate, 250-seat venue. A third of the seats will be free – first come, first served. Season tickets for best available assigned seats are $30; order online or call 651-291-1144. Single tickets go on sale at a later date. Concert dates are Oct. 10, Feb. 6 and May 8. Program details TBA.

Union Depot is getting its second of 10 public art installations, part of a $1.25 million public arts grants program established by Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority. Connecticut artist Tim Prentice is on site installing his kinetic sculpture as you read this (if you’re reading it between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Friday). Lightweight aluminum tubes linked together will glide on air currents, creating constantly changing patterns and reflecting light in unpredictable ways. (Prentice calls what he does “drawing on the air.”) The next time you’re in the Kellogg Entry, look up.

art installation photo
Photo by John Whiting
Artist Tim Prentice, left, and principal assistant, David Colbert, installing Prentice’s kinetic sculpture at Union Depot.

We really like the line-up for the 17th season of Pen Pals, announced this week by the Friends of the Hennepin County Library. Oct. 10-11: George Saunders, a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient and master of the short story. His latest collection, “Tenth of December,” has been on the New York Times bestseller list since its release in December 2012. Nov. 4-5: distinguished English novelist, poet and critic A.S. Byatt (“Possession: A Romance”). Feb. 6-7, 2014: Tijuana-born storyteller Luis Alberto Urrea (“The Devil’s Highway,” “Into the Beautiful North”). April 24-25: artist and illustrator Art Speigelman, whose Holocaust narrative “MAUS,” written in comic-book style, is a Pulitzer winner and a must-read. May 8-9: poet Tracy K. Smith, whose most recent collection, “Life on Mars” (Graywolf Press) won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. Subscriptions are on sale now; download a subscription form or call 612-543-8112. Pre-sale mail orders for individual tickets are being accepted now.

Courtesy of the Walker Art Center
Walker design fellow Sang Mun has created a typeface he claims is not recognizable by National Security Agency surveillance.

Want to foil those spying eyes? Walker design fellow Sang Mun has created a typeface he claims is not recognizable by National Security Agency surveillance. (He should know; he spent two years working for the NSA.) Called ZXX, it includes four styles that stymie Optical Character Recognition (OCR) softwares. Here’s Mun’s blog entry on the Walker’s website, complete with a link to a free download.

The Minnesota State Fair grandstand concert series is complete. Sheryl Crow, with special guest Dwight Yoakam, are set for 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25. Brantley Gilbert has been added as the guest for the Tim McGraw concert on Monday, Sept. 2; Rival Sons has been added to Sammy Hagar’s Four Decades of Rock show on Saturday, Aug. 24. Now that we see the whole series, we’re putting Depeche Mode at the top of our list (Aug. 27). FMI and tickets.

Courtesy of KFAI
Dr. Willie Dean

KFAI – Fresh Air has a new executive director. Dr. Willie Dean most recently served as president and CEO of the YMCA of Arlington, Texas, and earlier as executive director of the Monsanto YMCA in St. Louis. During his tenure, the Monsanto Y was named one of ten model YMCAs serving urban communities in the United States. Dean earned his Ph.D. in education from the University of Minnesota. He takes over for Suzann Eisenberg Murray, who stepped in as interim executive director when Janis Lane-Ewart left the executive post in December after 12 years.

The Cedar has a new artistic director, someone who already knows the ropes. Sage Dahlen has worked at the Cedar since 2005, beginning as a volunteer, joining the staff as house manager, becoming part of the development team, serving as executive director Rob Simonds’ assistant, and in 2012 moving up to booking coordinator, a position from which she programmed many of the Cedar’s more than 200 yearly concerts. “It is my intention to build upon the qualities that our patrons have come to expect while also challenging those expectations, and stretching perceived definitions of global music,” Dahlen said in a prepared statement. The Cedar is pretty stretchy already, a gem of a venue that hosts a consistently interesting parade of artists from surprising places. (Like, for example, the Norwegian musician who played instruments carved from blocks of ice. He was great.) We look forward to seeing what Dahlen does next.

dahlen photo
Courtesy of the Cedar Cultural Center
Sage Dahlen, the Cedar Cultural Center’s new artistic director, someone who already knows the ropes.

The Jerome Foundation has announced the recipients of its 2013 Travel and Study grants. Funds support travel for professional and creative development. Grant categories for this round were music, theater, and visual arts. Several artists from Minnesota will travel near and far to study, do research, and form personal and professional connections. A few examples: Adrienne Dorn, director of development at the Cedar, which is located in a neighborhood that is home to a large Somali population, will attend the second annual Copenhagen-Somali Seminar in Denmark. Scott Thomas will go to Sarajevo to research Bosnian blues. Writer and performance artist May Lee-Yang will travel to Los Angeles to attend the Cornerstone Theater’s Summer Institute to learn their process of community-engaged theater, because theater is a relatively new form within her Hmong community. Kristopher Douglas of Rochester will travel to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, to conduct research in support of an exhibition by South African-born artists to be presented at the Rochester Art Center in 2015.

On the topic of artists and travel, specifically Minnesota lawmakers’ recent decision to nix the use of State Arts Board grants for out-of-state travel (and also for bringing artists here from elsewhere), the Daily Planet’s Jay Gabler had plenty to say earlier this week. “For a state that prides itself on having a strong arts scene, in this instance Minnesotans acted like people who think that making art is a complete waste of time and money,” Gabler wrote. “Many have called the Legislature’s decision provincial, and of course it is – but that doesn’t even get at the crux of why this decision is so deeply offensive to all Minnesotans who care about art … Let’s call this what it is: artist shaming.”

Finally: If you ever played Twister (or whatever you called it; people had their own special names for this game), a moment of silence for inventor Charles Foley, who died July 1 at Golden Living Center in St. Louis Park. He was 82.

Our picks for the weekend

Starts tonight (Friday, July 12) at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater: “Push Button. Get Bacon.” A satirical sketch-comedy review by the Recovery Party, a company comprised of Dudley Riggs/Brave New Workshop alums. The sketches, songs, and monologues deal with mail-order brides, evaporated milk, 3.2 beer and other hot topics. Scanning the BLB menu, we found a turkey, avocado & bacon sandwich. 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through July 27. FMI and tickets.

It’s LEGO weekend at the Mall of America. We’re talking an 8-foot-tall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles model. A big LEGO map of the United States. The giant LEGO robot at the LEGO store. Hundreds of kids building things with LEGOs. And the guiding, inspiring presence of LEGO master builders. Friday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily.

It’s Basilica Block Party weekend in downtown Minneapolis. Nineteen bands, three stages. Tickets are still available for both tonight (Friday) and tomorrow. 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. on the Basilica grounds.

Saturday is all about music – outdoors, so let’s do our Good Weather Snoopy Dance.

•  First Annual St. Croix Vineyards Wine & Jazz Festival. Show up and help start a tradition. With Mike Salovich and Marc Anderson, Patty Peterson and the Tanner Taylor Group, Seven Steps to Havana and the Atlantis Quartet – an exceptional line-up. Wander the grounds, sample some award-winning wines, maybe bring home a bottle or two. 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Free (except for the wine you buy). 6428 Manning Ave. N., Stillwater.

•  Music @ Franconia. The summer-long series at the sculpture park continues with a Bluegrass, Folk & Country Festival featuring the High 48s, Thea Ennen, Cactus Blossoms and Roe Family Singers. Noon – 6 p.m. Family-friendly and free (parking $5/car). At the intersection of Hwy 8 (Lake Blvd) and Hwy 95 (St. Croix Trail) in Chisago County, Franconia.

•  Third Annual Twin Cities’ Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Music Festival. Twenty-eight artists on four stages at Patrick’s Cabaret, Harriet Brewing and Mosaic Café. With the Meat Puppets, Erik Koskinen Band, Jawaahir Dance Company, Chastity Brown Band, L’Assassins, Gospel Machine, Spider John Koerner, and many more. Noon – 10 p.m. $15 advance/$20 door. Tickets here. 3010 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis.

•  Midtown Global Market Music Festival. Live music and dance from around the world, food, drink, arts, crafts, and fun for kids. Performers include the Tropics Steel Drum Band, Bad Habits Brass, Machinery Hill, Duniya Drum and Dance, and Dick and Jane’s Big Brass Band. 2 p.m. – 8 p.m. Free. On East Lake St. between Elliott and 10th, Minneapolis.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 07/12/2013 - 01:27 pm.

    MN Orchestra:”A strike is a very unhappy thing, but a lockout..”

    Huh? So refusing to perform is sad but a management imposed “lockout” in response to a refusal to negotiate is really bad? Is this another example of “Orchestra Speak?”

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/13/2013 - 07:47 am.

    The lockout

    When management isn’t managing and labor isn’t laboring, I think that’s a bad situation, no matter who is at fault.

  3. Submitted by Rosalie O'Brien on 07/13/2013 - 10:08 am.

    The lockout

    Wait a minute. As to strike v. lockout, financial facts matter. When an optimistically-structured multi-year labor contract expires under economic circumstances such as those of the past five years, it seems clear that workers can’t really expect to just continue at the final-year rates. Where would be the incentive for any financial adjustment? I understand that there are other issues, but when financial considerations are at least one of them and musicians have refused to acknowledge their legitimacy, management is not being unreasonable in refusing simply to continue in the red. Unfortunately, that does not make up for the losses that all of us are suffering–of the music, of the orchestra’s reputation, and possibly of the wonderful Osmo Vanska, with whom the orchestra had risen to an ethereal level. I cry for us.

    • Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 07/14/2013 - 01:28 pm.

      Not so fast…

      Musicians would acknowledge the problem’s legitimacy if management was trustworthy. They would acknowledge the problem is binding arbitration was allowed, or even if an outside expert to come in and discuss the feasibility of management’s business plans. (Did you know the full business plan hasn’t been shared with musicians? Much less released to the public? Despite the fact it exists? What are they hiding?) If you read the following editorial and still trust every number management throws at you, I’d be really surprised. As you read, keep in mind the MOA read this editorial, but chose not to acknowledge it. There are clearly points made in here they don’t want you to know. Remember that the musicians have an even greater stake in the long-term fiscal sustainability of the Minnesota Orchestra than the board does. They’re smart cookies.

      When many orchestras with smaller endowments in less generous communities are able to sustain much higher salaries than the Minnesota Orchestra management is proposing, there’s likely a problem on the management side of the equation.

      Not to mention, the minimum cut the orchestra members will take this season – assuming management and musicians approve a five-year contract – is 20%. Any more cuts on the table would be in addition to that. They’re not going to get back pay.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/13/2013 - 02:04 pm.

    Two sides

    There are of course two sides to every dispute, if not more. The musicians argue that management has mismanaged the Orchestra’s business affairs, and that they are now asked to bear the burden of that mismanagement. I really don’t know if that’s the case or not, but I do believe the current business model is under a lot of pressure, and that both sides need to make changes if the orchestra is going to be financially viable going forward.

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