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Public squeeze is on to resolve MN Orchestra dispute and end lockout

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
The Minnesota Orchestra lockout is now in its 340th day.

The public squeeze is on to resolve the Minnesota Orchestra contract dispute and end the lockout, now in its 340th day. On Friday, Orchestrate Excellence, which in August hosted a community forum on the orchestra’s future attended by more than 600 people, released its summary report. It includes an urgent call to community action:

Orchestrate Excellence urges community members to contact, without delay, Board members and management, musicians and elected officials. Musicians, board members, and management must get to the negotiating table immediately, without preconditions, and find a solution to the current situation.

A letter-of-the-day published Friday in the Strib suggested that “planning should begin now to convert this vacant tomb [the renovated Orchestra Hall] into what could be an important historical site and tourist attraction, like the Roman Colosseum, the Parthenon, the Mayan cities, and other wonders where a culture once flourished.”

An article in Saturday’s New York Times summarized the dispute, noting that former Sen. George J. Mitchell has been called in as mediator “as the orchestra hurtles toward a Sept. 15 deadline that is likely to determine its fate.” The article includes these words by orchestra president Michael Henson:

“When we get up and running again … as other orchestras in this position have, we will advertise for the jobs that we need to replace, and I’m sure we will get an astonishing bunch of individuals who will want to perform and live in this great city.”

The recently formed Save Our Symphony Minnesota (now approaching 7,000 likes on its Facebook page) is publishing letters-of-the-day written to Minnesota Orchestra board members. The letter published Tuesday, from members of Save Our Symphony (Detroit), describes what has happened with that orchestra since its 2010 labor dispute. Replacing musicians is not so easy. True, Detroit is not Minneapolis — that city is experiencing problems on a massive scale — but one has to wonder how many musicians will choose to venture onto the scorched earth of our dispute once it ends.

Labor Day weekend saw a blog-a-thon on the lockout – 16 bloggers who took the time to write generally thoughtful and considered posts. It was organized by Bill Eddins, a Minneapolis resident and music director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, whose “The Sinking of the Minnesota” post, published almost a year and a half ago on March 17, 2012, was dismissed at the time as needlessly inflammatory but turns out to have been a canary in a coal mine. You can start with Eddins’ contribution to the blog-a-thon, then see the list at the bottom to read others. Tom Peters’ “Baseball and Beethoven: The Minnesota Orchestra, the Marlins and the Perils of Market Correction” is one of several worth a read. 

Orchestra management is not engaging in public conversations with any of the above, but neither is it staying silent. On Sunday, it ran a full-page ad in the front section of the print edition of the Star Tribune headlined “Time is Running Out. We Need Musican Support NOW” that spells out the terms of the latest offer, which the musicians have not officially rejected but about which they had strong words last Thursday. On Tuesday afternoon, it released the results of yet another review of the orchestra’s finances, the third done within the last year and the second paid for by the orchestra. (The special review by the Office of the Legislative Auditor released earlier this year was initiated in response to legislators and considered only the use of state funds provided to the MOA.) The New York firm AKA/Strategy, which conducted the most recent review, came to the following conclusions, among others:

[The] overall logic of the [MOA’s] Strategic Business Plan is sound, as are the underlying financial assumptions in it … It is unrealistic to think the Orchestra can fundraise its way out of its current financial difficulties. Further exceptional draws from its endowment only complicates its problems. Musicians’ expense is the one untouched area of the operating budget.

Even with the projected size reductions in total musicians’ operating expense, the Strategic Business Plan only partially addresses several long-term financial obligations … Indeed, the Orchestra’s financial circumstances are presently such that even the sizable projected reduction in musicians’ compensation in the Strategic Business Plan does not allow the Orchestra to achieve true financial equilibrium.

In an article filed late last night on the Star Tribune’s website, Graydon Royce reported that Richard Davis, chair of the orchestra’s negotiating team, met Tuesday with the paper’s editorial board and said, “Osmo may have to leave. The board is resolved to know that that is a risk. Carnegie, the opening of the hall. All three may have to fall.”


The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, MPR, and American Composers Forum have announced the 2013-14 season of Composer Conversations. The 2012-13 season started off strong with Maria Schneider and Laurie Anderson but was kneecapped by the lockout of the SPCO that began Oct. 21. No worries this year, so let’s go hear some creative, successful, and celebrated artists talk about how and why they do what they do. All events but one will take place at the Amsterdam in St. Paul at 7 p.m. They’re free and open to the public, but reservations are required; tickets are available a month before each. Some are related to SPCO concerts, others to Liquid Music shows. Wednesday, Sept. 18: MacArthur “Genius” and Pulitzer Prize winner John Harbison (whose world premiere and SPCO commission “Crossroads” shares the bill with Beethoven’s Fourth at the Sept. 19-21 concerts). FMI and tickets, available now. Wednesday, Oct. 22: Dawn Upshaw and Shawn Jaeger. Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014: Matthias Pintscher. Saturday, Feb. 15, at 2 p.m. at the Walker (this one is the exception): Serengeti, Son Lux, and Sufjan Stevens with contemporary visual artist Jim Hodges. Thursday, March 20 (back at the ’Dam): Timo Andrews with Gabriel Kahane, Ted Hearne, Becca Stevens and Nathan Koci. Wednesday, April 2: John Luther Adams. Wednesday, April 9: Vivian Fung. We’re glad the SPCO and its partners have decided to continue with this enlightening series. 

John Harbison
John Harbison

Heads up on two Minnesota Historical Society events likely to sell out. (We had three on our list but it’s already too late for one.) Saturdays, Sept. 14 and 21: “From Pig’s Eye to Summit — Saint Paul’s Brewing History Bus Tour.” Skip the tippy pedal pub and let author Doug Hoverson (“Land of Amber Waters”) lead you on a meandering three-hour tour of samples, conversation, and hidden gems. Starts and ends at Summit Brewery, 910 Montreal Circle, St. Paul. 3:30-6:30 p.m. Ages 21 and up. $35/$30 MHS members. Reservations required; go online or call 651-259-3015. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21 and 22: F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tours. Forget the latest “Gatsby” and celebrate Fitzgerald’s birthday (Sept. 24, 1896) with a 75-minute walking tour of the St. Paul neighborhood where he grew up. Starts at the Commodore Hotel, 79 Western Ave., and includes stops at 599 Summit Ave. (where he wrote “This Side of Paradise”) and his birthplace at 481 Laurel Ave. Does not include interiors. 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. $12-$8. Reservations required; call 651-297-2555.

You might get your tickets now for Harriet Brewing’s Rauchfest 2013, the third annual Beer, Art, Food & Music Festival set for Saturday, Sept. 28. Craft beer, food trucks, local artists, and music from 1-10 p.m. by ten bands on two stages including Useful Jenkins, Dead Larry, Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers, Erik Koskinen Band, and more. FMI and tickets. $10 before Sept. 23, $15 week of show. 

Do you know a young dancer? The Moscow Ballet is holding open auditions for Mice, Snowflakes, Party Children, Angels, and other roles in “The Great Russian Nutcracker,” coming to the Orpheum on Dec. 6 and 7. Those who are chosen will dance side-by-side with professional ballerinas from the Moscow Ballet. The first audition is Friday, Sept. 13, at 6 p.m. at the Museum of Russian Art (5500 Stevens Ave. S., Minneapolis), the second is Sunday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. at City Scape Dance (9363 Penn Ave. S., Bloomington). Moscow Ballet’s Ekaterina Uksusnikova will be present to select the dancers. FMI and registration.

Photographers, the Stillwater Visitors Bureau is having a photography contest. They’re looking for images to use on the Discover Stillwater website and the 2014 Stillwater Visitors Guide, so don’t go too crazy. Suggestions: history, people having fun, events, landmarks, scenery, attractions, dining, lodging, shopping, weddings. Images can feature any season. Stillwater is one of our most scenic and photogenic towns. Winners receive up to $300. Send images (12 MB resolution) to

A brief State Fair wrap-up: Our great state get-together suffered high heat and humidity for seven of its 12 days, but Sunday was spectacular. If you were there, you were one of 236,197 visitors on the best-attended single day in State Fair history. We’ve seen the last of Heritage Square as we know it, which leaves us feeling not at all nostalgic. At the Fine Arts Exhibition, the state’s largest juried art show, Daniel Volenec of Eden Prairie won the People’s Choice Award for his charcoal-and-pencil-on-paper work titled “What Did I Promise You.” MarJenna McWilliam of Winger was crowned the 60th Princess Kay of the Milky Way and will spend the next year as official goodwill ambassador for our 4,000 Minnesota dairy farmers. And more than 70 of the 500 different foods served were on-a-stick. That few?

Our picks for the week

Our picks, your coin toss, because everything we like happens on Thursday.

Courtesy of the Bell Museum
Raccoon by Robert Avidor, from “Something Sketchy”

Thursday at the Bell Museum: “Something Sketchy” opening night. Sketches by over a dozen local artists, inspired by the Bell Museum and its ongoing Sketch Night program, are on display in the Bell’s Jaques Gallery. People have always enjoyed sketching in museums. Curator Jennifer Menken started Sketch Night in 2011 “to create an opportunity for artists of all levels to get together in a relaxed, social setting and sketch some of the unique items in our collection that often aren’t accessible to the pubic.” The exhibit also features vintage sketches from the Bell’s collections. And guess what: This also happens to be the first Sketch Night of 2013-14. Come ready to look, sketch, and schmooze. 6-8:30 p.m. At the corner of University Ave. and 17th Ave. SE in Minneapolis on the U of M campus.

Bill Carrothers, Dave King, Billy Peterson
Courtesy of the Dakota
Bill Carrothers, Dave King, Billy Peterson

Thursday at the Dakota: Dave King Trio. If you know drummer Dave King of The Bad Plus, Happy Apple, Dave King’s Trucking Company, Junk Magic, and/or any of his other bands, you don’t quite know Dave King. And you’ve probably never heard him play a standard like Cole Porter’s “So in Love,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re in Love,” or Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.” With pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Billy Peterson, King made an album last year called “I’ve Been Ringing You,” recorded in a single four-hour period at a rented church, featuring moody standards and American Songbook ballads. Critics loved it. This week’s concert is a kick-off to next week’s residency at the Village Vanguard in New York. 7 p.m., 1010 Nicollet Mall. FMI and tickets ($17). Here’s an interview with King about “I’ve Been Ringing You.”

Thursday at the Textile Center: “Elemental Matter” opening reception. Works by Moira Bateman, Caroline Keefe, Marjorie Fedyszyn and Chiaki O’Brien, all recipients of Jerome Fiber Artist Project Grants. Includes bengala and eco dyeing, sculptural and large-scale felt pieces. 6 p.m., 3000 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis. Free. If you like what you see, come back for the Artists’ Talk on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.

Thursday at the Walker: Performing Arts Season Preview 2013/14. Philip Bither, the Walker’s enthusiastic and engaging senior curator of performing arts, will explain why every event of the upcoming season is worth attending. And he’ll be right. These dance, theater, music, and interdisciplinary programs from around the globe are generally strong and provocative, and even those that leave you scratching your head are worth your time. In all the years we’ve attended events at the Walker, we’ve only experienced one train wreck, and it led to so many interesting stories and conversations that it turned out to be a good thing. Bither’s one-hour presentation will be followed with a champagne toast and backstage tour of the McGuire Theater. 7 p.m., 1750 Hennepin Ave. Minneapolis. Free. 

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/04/2013 - 09:48 am.

    “Osmo may have to leave”

    The management and board of the Minnesota Orchestra are in a MBA-induced bubble. They think they’re more important than the orchestra that they supposedly have stewardship over.

    Yet they’re the ones who failed to grow the endowment during a period when the stock market was booming.

    They’re the ones who told everyone that the orchestra’s finances were just fine up until the point where they locked out the musicians.

    They’re the ones who treated the musicians as expendable pawns and hired a union-busting law firm, creating an insulting adversarial relationship from the outset.

    They’re the ones whose marketing efforts were directed exclusively at people who are already classical music fans.

    They’re the ones who made 250 changes in the work rules, including one that placed final authority for artistic decisions in the board instead of in the music director, apparently not realizing the difference between a corporate-created boy band and an orchestra of professionals led by one of the world’s finest conductors.

    The cavalier statements about Osmo and more musicians leaving are clear indications that the people in charge are not suited for managing a major orchestra. If they had any self-awareness, they would resign and seek out replacements who are sincerely dedicated to healing this wounded treasure and finding artistically sound ways to shepherd it into the future.

  2. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/04/2013 - 11:51 am.

    The nuclear option is in play…

    “…Richard Davis, chair of the orchestra’s negotiating team, met Tuesday with the paper’s editorial board and said, ‘Osmo may have to leave. The board is resolved to know that that is a risk. Carnegie, the opening of the hall. All three may have to fall.’ ”

    Done deal, I’d say. Good luck finding a decent conductor to assemble an all-new, all-younger orchestra and start over maybe a year from now.

  3. Submitted by David Broden on 09/04/2013 - 12:32 pm.

    Real Community Leaders vs. Managers–Please Step Forward

    The Minnesota Orchestra is a Minnesota Signature!!! This became a signature because Real Leaders saw a vision that was shared by citizens across Mn for quality in the arts and music. Those leaders were Builders of the Mn of Yesterday and Today!!!! We now have evolved to be managers of the status quo at best and there is apparently little vision of how the vision of those who came before should be viewed and considered for the future. Across Mn and within the metro area there are many who share the Build and Grow Vision of Mn with links to Arts and Music. It is time that this group stand tall and take charge to save the Mn Orchestra and likely other art organizations that will fall to similar issues. The Orchestra board (and I am normally a very strong board supporter) today must be replaced NOW– at least in sufficent number to gain respect and attention across Mn through saving the Orchestra at the skill and quality level of today. The issue is not the conductor or some concert it is simply preserving the integrity, quality, and excellence that we all expect. I have been a season ticket holder for 40+ years–because of the excellence in music and professionalism. Botttom line DO WE IN MINNESOTA REALLY CARE!!–The ANSWER is RESOUNDING YES!! Lets get some Real leaders not just financial managers-lets look beyond the roots and the branches to see the value of the full forest of the Orchestra!!

    Dave Broden

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/04/2013 - 05:34 pm.

    I know how to solve the orchestra problem – Play for America (PFA) – get the best college musicians to bring their great energy and dedication – I”m sure they’ll be just as good as the experienced trained musicians!

  5. Submitted by Carol Logie on 09/04/2013 - 11:43 pm.

    Hey, one musician is just as good as another…

    Apparently the MOA board anticipates having first pick of extraordinary musicians clamoring to work for a wrecking crew who cuts salaries 30% and lets a world-renowned conductor slip through their fingers. I mean, “Osmo may have to leave.”? Are you kidding me? This isn’t the pool boy we’re talking about here.

    The willful, deliberate destruction of this orchestra —to service the politics of an incompetent, union-busting board—is the cultural equivalent of razing the street car line (“hey, buses!!”) and ripping down the Metropolitan Building. Another chapter to be added to “Lost Twin Cities”.

    The worst of it is, we’re all paying for this fiasco.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/05/2013 - 08:37 am.

    The past

    It’s very easy to grumble about mistakes which may or may not have been made in the past. But those mistakes are irrelevant unless they tell us something about the future. The question going forward couldn’t be simpler. Can the Minnesota Orchestra find the revenue it needs to sustain itself as a world class musical organization? So what’s the answer?

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/05/2013 - 11:08 am.


    The central challenge for management has always been revenue enhancement. How can the orchestra bring in more money? To what extent has this management been focused on that problem in the past? For example, the renovation. How much additional revenue is that expected to bring to the orchestra. If management told us, that might negate the union’s current talking point that this management is incompetent.

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