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Distress signals: SOS groups form for Minnesota Orchestra, Vänskä

Photo by John Whiting
Osmo Vänskä conducted the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra in a "Grammy Celebration Concert" Feb. 1 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Last week’s uproar over the Minnesota Orchestra’s preemptive buy-up of domain names was noticed by the Daily Kos (“Opponents of Minnesota Orchestra Lockout are ON FIRE!”), NPR, and the New Yorker’s Alex Ross, who also commented on Alan Fletcher’s speech to Tuesday’s Orchestrate Excellence forum (“I cannot bring myself to believe – despite mounting evidence – that they [the board and management] actually want a drastically reduced orchestra, its assets stripped, its ambitions narrowed, its activities no longer relevant to the outside world”). Blogger Emily Hogstad, who broke the “Domaingate” story, became an overnight celebrity. Even “Gustav Mahler” stepped into the fray, commenting on the Kos that “anything that prevents performances of my works is bad.”

The uproar turned out to be good for Save Our Symphony Minnesota, a brand-new group of self-described “locked-out patrons and donors of the Minnesota Orchestra whose input, advice, and questions have been ignored by the board and management of the Minnesota Orchestral Association.” SOSMN launched its website, blog, and Facebook page last Tuesday; in the first 48 hours, the Facebook page drew more than 3,700 “likes.” That number is fast approaching 6,000. SOSMN has also helped boost the “likes” count above 8,000 at the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Facebook page.

It might have been fortuitous that the MOA snapped up, and other more obvious choices. SOMO and SOO don’t have the sinking-ship urgency of SOSMN, and SOSMN is a nod across the river at SOSPCO, the group of Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra fans who formed in frustration during that orchestra’s lockout.

There are now two large citizens’ groups making noise about the lockout: SOSMN and Orchestrate Excellence. Each has the same goal – ending the lockout – but they’re going about it differently. The former is pro-labor torches-and-pitchforks, the latter more measured and moderate; it wants a resolution, but it’s not taking sides. The two organizations are not at odds, nor are they mutually exclusive. You can “like” both.

On Thursday at the Fair, where he made an appearance at the Star Tribune booth, Gov. Mark Dayton said he believes the two sides of the labor dispute are in their “last window of opportunity … I’m hoping, and this is just my own assumption, that they both want to get it solved and they have until basically Labor Day to do so.” That’s six days from now. What are the chances? There’s always hope. In June, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra was saved just days before a foreclosure auction – by a large infusion of cash from a major donor.

If that’s what it takes, then SOS: Save Osmo, yet another new group of Minnesota Orchestra supporters, may have more influence than anyone. Launched Saturday on Facebook, SOS: Save Osmo is a pledge campaign that promises financial support for the MOA when four conditions are met: 1) the MOA recommits to its original mission statement; 2) it ensures that Osmo Vänskä remains as music director; 3) the musicians are paid competitive salaries commensurate with the orchestra’s stature as one of the top 10 American orchestras; and 4) a new endowment campaign is launched to create long-term financial stability. We might add a fifth condition, based on Alan Fletcher’s speech last week to the Orchestrate Excellence community forum: 5) musicians are added to the board.

Early signatories to SOS: Save Osmo include Minneapolis attorney Lee Henderson, former Minnesota Orchestra cellist (and current Bakken Trio manager) Mina Fisher, former Minnesota Orchestra associate principal cellist Janet Horvath; Bill Slobotski, who describes himself as a passionate orchestra fan; and Nils Halker, Science Museum of Minnesota professional development specialist and SOSMN secretary. All have spoken out against the lockout.


MPR has announced the fall 2013 series of “Wits,” plus a new Wits Social Club with bennies. “Wits,” if you don’t know, is a national radio program hosted by John Moe featuring comedians and indie musicians that airs weekly on MPR News and The Current. The show is recorded before a live audience at the Fitzgerald (just like “A Prairie Home Companion”), with stops and starts and occasional do-overs. It’s a party and a tweet fest. The line-up: Oct. 17: Chris Kluwe, Dave Hill, and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek). Oct. 24: Paul F. Tompkins and Yo La Tengo. Oct. 25: Tompkins again, this time with Rhett Miller (the Old 97’s). Nov. 1: Aisha Taylor (“The Talk”) and Loudon Wainwright III.  Nov. 7: Ellie Kemper (“The Office”) and Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield). Nov. 14: Margaret Cho and Josh Ritter. Nov. 21: Jim Gaffigan and Busdriver. Dec. 5: Tim Heidecker, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. Dec. 13: David Cross (“Arrested Development”) and Har Mar Superstar. Dec. 20: Maria Bamford and Thao Nguyen. Tickets go on sale to the public Sept. 17. Wits Social Club members can buy tickets (at a discount) starting Sept. 4 at a special Happy Hour party.

har mar superstar
Har Mar Superstar will appear with comedian David Cross at Wits on Dec. 13.

Individual tickets are now on sale to the SPCO’s 2013–14 season, which begins with four weeks of music from Beethoven’s “heroic” period including Symphony No. 5 (on opening night) and the “Pastoral,” the Fourth and the “Emperor” Concerto, plus works by Bach, Mozart, Schoenberg and Dvorák and the world premiere of John Harbison’s “Crossroads.” Conductors are SPCO artistic partners Edo de Waart and Christian Zacharias. Here’s the concert calendar; click an event FMI and tickets.

Common Good Books is starting a book club. The first meeting will be at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, giving you plenty of time to read the club’s first selection: Jess Walter’s “The Financial Lives of Poets.” A small-time reporter quits his job to write financial journalism in the form of blank verse. That can’t possibly turn out well. RSVP at the store or email 38 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul; free. Wine and cheese are provided, as essential to book clubs as books themselves.

Authors, publishers and agents: Nominations are open for the 26th annual Minnesota Book Awards now through 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13. Here’s the 411. Nominations are open as well for the Minnesota Book Artist Award through 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11. Anyone may nominate a candidate for the Artist Award, and candidates may nominate themselves. FMI.

The Minnesota Historical Society is offering the sort of student internship some of us would have died for in high school. “Design Diaries International” is a new project that explores the question, “How do clothes represent culture and who we are?” Through fashion, history, and culture, teens in St. Paul will connect with Palestinian teens in Jerusalem, create original garments, and hold their own fashion show at the Minnesota History Center to demonstrate what they’ve learned about American and Palestinian clothing. Plus they’ll earn $8/hour. Four will be selected to travel to Jerusalem in 2014. FMI. Applicants should have basic sewing skills.

Our picks for the week

Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 27) at the Trylon: “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.” Hot summer nights are made for Japanese monster movies. When Godzilla goes on the prowl, the daughter of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces calls upon Mothra, King Ghidorah and Baragon for help. (Not up on your daikaiju? Godzilla is a reptilian monster born of the nuclear age; Mothra is a humongous moth; King Ghidorah is a three-headed dragon; Baragon, not pictured, is a dinosaur with big ears and a horn who can fire a heat ray from his mouth.) In Japanese with English subtitles. 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., 3258 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets here.

godzilla, mothra, and king ghidorah
Get your daikaiju on at the Trylon Microcinema on Tuesday night.

Wednesday at the Fair: Read & Ride Day. Show your valid library card at the gate for a discounted admission. Head to Carousel Park for free Minnesota Book Awards bookmarks, fans (worth their weight in gold), and the new literary map, “From Main Street to Your Street: Minnesota Writers on the Map.” Created by the Minnesota Historical Society and Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, the map features 112 Minnesota authors. Here’s Mary Ann Grossmann’s story about it. We want one for the car.

Thursday at the Dakota: Ben Sidran. Singer, pianist, composer (“Space Cowboy”), radio host (NPR’s Peabody-winning “Jazz Alive”), TV host (VH-1’s “New Visions”), author, and Ph.D. Sidran stops by the Dakota once each year or so for an evening of smart, cool and low-key entertainment. He’s touring behind his latest CD, “Don’t Cry for No Hipster.” He writes in the liner notes, “One must approach the hip experience with a lifetime of preparation,” and he should know; this is his 35th solo record. Here’s a preview by Mordecai Specktor, publisher and editor of The American Jewish World and long-time Sidran fan. 7 p.m., 1010 Nicollet Mall. FMI and tickets.

Thursday at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: “It’s New/It’s Now: Recent Gifts of Contemporary Prints and Drawings.” This show of more than 120 original works on paper by Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Robert Motherwell, Ellsworth Kelly, Elizabeth Murray, David Hockney, and more closes Sept. 1. Catch it while you can. Public tours at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets here ($12/$10/$8, free to members). Thursday night is a great time to go to the MIA.

Correction: An earlier version of this story wrongly identified Bill Slobotski, a signatory to SOS: Save Osmo; the reference has been corrected.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by jody rooney on 08/27/2013 - 10:36 am.

    The Orchestra management does not seem to be

    meeting it’s obligations as a non profit and should probably have its status revoked.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/27/2013 - 12:31 pm.

    MN Orchestra

    I think what is needed is an outside mediator trusted by all stakeholders. I don’ think Sen. George Mitchell is going to get it done. I’d like to see Gov. Dayton call on George Latimer, Arne Carlson, or retired Archbishop Harry Flynn.

    Of course, mediation won’t work if the orchestra board isn’t committed to preserving it as a top notch organization. Whether or not they do is an open question.

    • Submitted by MaryAnn Goldstein on 08/27/2013 - 01:31 pm.

      George Mitchell chosen by the Minnesota Orchestral Association

      Mr. Phalen, Sen. Mitchell was chosen by the MOA not the musicians. ( It would be very distressing indeed for the MOA to thwart efforts to come to a resolution using the mediator that they themselves chose. Unfortunately, at this time this situation certainly seems to be the case.

      You are absolutely correct that mediation won’t work if the MOA isn’t interested in preserving a world-class orchestra. We at SaveOurSymphonyMN are concerned that they aren’t for many reasons—including their most recent business plan from 2011 which eliminated any mention of an orchestra from the MOA’s non-profit Mission Statement, the 2009 plan for dedicated fundraising for a new lobby at the known and premeditated expense of the musicians, and Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson’s own statements on MPR about how it would be just fine for our orchestra to move into the higher teens in terms of ranking (which would make us a regional orchestra).

      Please join us on the web at and our Facebook page
      if you are interested in having a voice to save the Minnesota Orchestra as a world-renowned institution.

  3. Submitted by Amy Adams on 08/27/2013 - 01:25 pm.

    Everything management and the board have done recently…

    …points to union-busting. Such a strange and sad motive to recognize in people who claim to be stewards of music, guardians of a real national treasure. Now, when I encourage young people to pursue music as a career, I simply avoid the rapidly crumbling example of the Minnesota Orchestra. I used to point to it first.

  4. Submitted by Bill Slobotski on 08/27/2013 - 01:35 pm.

    Thanks for covering this, Pamela

    The public outcry of this ridiculous lockout has finally exploded. It is heartening to see the passion of music lovers and supporters who have been 100% shut out by the orchestra’s board, the same board who was simultaneously asking us for renovation checks while planning to silence the music. I am kind of surprised it has taken this long to come to this, and I get the sense that the board has exhausted the supply of “Minnesota Nice” in the public’s soul.

  5. Submitted by Jon Eisenberg on 08/27/2013 - 11:17 pm.

    The Board meets Wednesday

    We are all wondering if they will take this opportunity to make a fresh start and put an end to the madness that is the lockout. It is destroying this state, national and international treasure. It is not even necessary for the Board to swallow its pride. All it has to do is quietly communicate that they are ready to end the lockout and they will receive a huge standing ovation. It would be the start of the healing that is necessary to get the parties talking and try to come to agreement.

  6. Submitted by Tom Foley on 08/28/2013 - 06:32 am.


    Now is the moment for MOA board members to save themselves from the hell of self-condemnation.

    Will they remember the lockout as the action of misdirected individuals who truly felt they were doing good, or will they remember themselves and each other as the wrong hearted destroyers of one of the grand old orchestras of our nation?

    They will have to live with themselves and their decision far into the century.

  7. Submitted by Michael Hess on 08/28/2013 - 08:26 am.

    Board Reset

    I think the board has lost sight of their true responsibility and how they should be partnering with the musicians to achieve long term sustainability instead of blaming them. Much has been made of the need to “reset” the business model. It’s time to “reset” the board approach to this financial problem and come forward with a plan. Accepting mediator Mitchells proposal would be a great start to undoing damage caused by the lockout.

  8. Submitted by John Smith on 08/28/2013 - 12:29 pm.

    Nice to see the pledge drive

    The crux of the matter is funding. The musicians want more then the local area can afford.

    Nice to see the pledge drive started to see just how much paying interest is around, versus the gimme gimme gimme of the union of the last year while not wanting to propose a real counter offer.

    Outside of doubling ticket prices, more donations are going to be needed to pay the musicians what they think they are entitled to.

    And in the end it won’t be board that drove out osmo it will be the union. Perhaps the musicians are getting advice from California governmental employee unions in how to drain the public pot.

  9. Submitted by Amy Adams on 08/28/2013 - 02:13 pm.

    It’s good to see you trolling here again, John…

    When someone writes from your standpoint, it just clarifies the injustice being done by management. Since you’re doing this deliberately, I’ll assume that your hope is to drive people toward the musicians’ cause. Thank you.

    • Submitted by John Smith on 08/28/2013 - 08:21 pm.

      Injustice? Troll? Cause?

      Amy nice to see your dismissal of facts and narratives that aren’t aligned with your view as being a troll.

      Management or the stewards of the endowment aren’t the reason for this, they are protecting the future of the orchestra due to a decrease in revenue.

      So I guess it is an injustice then if the union can’t get what they want due to the public not finding their product interesting anymore.

      The musicians’ cause is to maximize revenue for themselves, nothing wrong with that if the market will bear it. But enough tickets arent being sold at high enough prices.

      Management doesn’t have a magic money box, they are responding to the will of the people.

      • Submitted by Amy Adams on 08/31/2013 - 10:33 pm.

        Thanks for trying – you still need help with facts.

        Management locked the players out. They – ARE – “the reason for this.”
        Mitchell was management’s choice of mediator, and management is inexplicably ignoring his advice.

        The decrease in revenue is due at least in part to MOA’s steadfast reduced marketing of the very art they promote. That you think the public doesn’t find their product interesting is laughably untrue…go visit the newly created Facebook page for SOS MN, with well over 6500 visitors saying things like: Please step down, Mr. Henson.

        And…sorry, the revenue responsibility is on the board and management. (See, musicians make music. The MO musicians are really, really good. Too bad the toxic environment is driving them away.)
        I’m sure, whoever you really are, that you can come up with something both untrue and unkind, which is par for supporters of the Minnesota “Orchestra Hall” Association.

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