Last night’s community forum about the Minnesota Orchestra was what Orchestrate Excellence, the organizers, said it would be: a civil discourse about the seemingly endless lockout. There were partisan bursts of applause, but at least in the main gathering, no visible anger. The general mood was one of frustration tinged with sadness. As forum chair Kenneth Huber said in his opening remarks, “I wish we weren’t here tonight. I wish we were all across the street at Orchestra Hall.”
Held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, the forum drew a crowd that filled the main floor of the sanctuary. Orchestrate Excellence had received more than 450 RSVPs by Tuesday afternoon. Six hundred programs were printed, and all were handed out. It was a mostly white, silver-haired crowd, dotted with members of the Young Musicians of Minnesota, a student-run organization formed in May to express solidarity with the locked-out musicians. For many people, it was a chance to be heard, at least by each other.
Orchestrate Excellence doesn’t take sides, preferring to speak to the interests of the community. “We are the audience,” the organization’s co-founder Paula DeCosse told the crowd, “and we miss our orchestra.”
The night’s keynote speaker, Alan Fletcher, CEO and president of the Aspen Music Festival and School, was called in because he knows about long and bitter disputes; he survived one at Aspen, which is thriving today.
“Everyone in the world … cares very deeply about what is happening and will happen here,” Fletcher said. “If bad things can happen here, they can happen anywhere.” He stated his intent to “offer observations that I hope might be part of a conversation in which you affirm for each other what is to be done.” As an outsider, he said, it was not his place to tell us what to do.
‘Would be dramatic testimony’
Except for this: “I will go so far as to be definite about one thing I believe, and that is that the current lockout of musicians should end, and it should end unconditionally … This step would be dramatic testimony from the board to their commitment to a real process, because one of the things that must happen is that all sides speak to each other.” The musicians must then come to the table, Fletcher said, and deal with who is at the table – no more talk about getting rid of management and board leadership.
(Here’s where we briefly imagined Fletcher and Minnesota Orchestra president Michael Henson sitting down together and having a little chat. Has that happened? It has not, Fletcher told us afterward.)
After the keynote, during which Fletcher briefly and matter-of-factly covered other thorny issues – the orchestra’s operating deficit (many organizations run on deficits, and they can’t be wiped out overnight), its use of endowment money to balance the budget and look good to legislators (not unusual), the new building (probably a good idea), and the aging audience (most major arts organizations are supported by people in their 50s and beyond) – the crowd broke into dozens of small groups and spread out through the church, charged with coming up with ideas for ending the impasse and helping the orchestra get back on its feet. We listened in on several groups and heard people who were deeply concerned about the orchestra and glad to be sharing their thoughts.
Preparing report for the public and MOA
The plan now is for Orchestrate Excellence to sift through the ideas generated during the breakout and prepare a report to share with the public and the MOA within 10 days.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and the corrosive effects of the 11-month lockout continue to be felt. Fourteen musicians have resigned or taken leaves of absence since the lockout began.
MinnPost photo by John Whiting
In Washington, former Sen. George Mitchell is working on ways to bring the two warring sides together while allowing both to save face; his first proposal was rejected last week by management. In Sweden, the record label Bis has postponed recording sessions with the orchestra planned for mid-September. And music director Osmo Vänskä has threatened to resign if the labor dispute isn’t over by Sept. 9, giving him time to prepare the orchestra to perform at Carnegie Hall in November.
We asked DeCosse, “What do you think was the main thing that happened tonight?”
“This was an opportunity for the community to come together and talk, because they haven’t been able to. We’ve all been individual voices trying to do something. But I think there’s a lot of energy in a gathering like this. Hopefully we can carry it forward.”