Minnesota Orchestra celebrates artistic and fiscal success — and ‘something harmonious’

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Marilyn Carlson Nelson will serve as chair of the Minnesota Orchestra board

The “L-Word” – in this case, “lockout” – wasn’t mentioned once during the Minnesota Orchestra’s annual meeting last Friday at Orchestra Hall. It was all about good news: recent successes, current fiscal health, future plans and something called the “Minnesota Model” that seems likely to draw attention from other orchestras currently going through tough times, or hoping to avoid them.

Less than three years after the orchestra ended a horrible 16-month lockout, it reported a balanced budget for the second year in a row, with a small surplus of $12,000 on a $31.7 million budget. Echoing 2015, it raised $18 million. The number of contributors rose to more than 7,200; “community donors,” those who give up to $2,500, increased by 1,000. Earned revenue, including ticket sales and hall rentals, jumped nearly 13 percent to $9.6 million. Concert attendance rose from 83 percent capacity to 87 percent. Ticket sales grew by 9 percent, subscriber rolls by 12 percent. Total investments fell from $140 million to $132 million due to factors including market volatility, but the orchestra stuck to its 5-percent draw for operations.

“We really are seeing growth in every area of this organization,” CEO Kevin Smith said at the meeting. “You can feel it.” And “the audience reports a sense of excitement and joy.”

Among the hits of 2016 were January’s Beethoven marathon, the orchestra’s triumphant return to Carnegie Hall, a European tour that included an international radio broadcast from Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the release of the final album in the orchestra’s acclaimed Sibelius symphonies cycle, new recordings of Sibelius’ “Kullervo” and Mahler’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the halftime performance at the Vikings’ home opener in the new U.S. Bank Stadium, and the start of Symphonic Adventures, an education program for metro area high school students.

Plans for 2017 include the launch of a $50 million fundraising campaign, a 5 percent expansion of the donor base (an annual goal), and two new commissions: a Reformation symphony from Sebastian Currier and a flute concerto from Jeff Beal, best known as the composer for the Netflix series “House of Cards.”

The “Minnesota Model” – a new four-year strategic plan approved last spring – places strong emphasis on collaboration, which includes musician involvement in artistic decisions and season planning. This is already happening. Principal cello Tony Ross said, “I served on the artistic advisory committee in the early ’90s and vowed never again. We weren’t advisory at all. Now we are in all areas. It’s a vastly different game.”

Anchoring the plan is a new mission statement: “The Minnesota Orchestra’s mission is to enrich, inspire and serve our community as an enduring symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence.” Note the word “enduring.” Other language in the plan includes “a mandate to cultivate [the orchestra’s] relationship with Osmo Vänskä,” “expanding Greater Minnesota engagement,” “engage diverse audiences” and this: “The unified strength of artists, staff, board and volunteers is harnessed to serve our mission in the community. Governance and management structures – board, musicians, staff and volunteers – are realigned to improve effectiveness, increase diversity and strengthen collaboration and communication.” Everyone has a voice and a role.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Companies, whose involvement with and philanthropy toward the orchestra reaches back to 1973, officially succeeded Warren Mack as board chair. Smith praised Mack as “a great boss” and noted that Mack had “experienced more joy in this role than any board chair in more than a century.” Nelson noted, “At a time of discord, it’s so good to be part of something harmonious.”

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Outgoing Minnesota Orchestra board chair Warren Mack passes the gavel to incoming board chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson.

The picks

Mondays at Mia: “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation.” True, the museum is closed on Mondays. But the Martin Luther exhibition is such a hit that it alone – along with Agra Culture and the museum store – will be open to the public on Mondays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. until the show closes on Jan. 15. They really want you to see this, and you probably should, since it won’t pass this way again. Tickets here ($20/$16 Mia members/free to members at the investor level and above). All Mia members get in free today (Tuesday, Dec. 6) and on five more “My Mia” days: Dec. 11, 12 and 15 and Jan. 8 and 10.

Courtesy of Made Here/Stephen Lang
Deb Lee Carson’s “Made Here” work

Thursday in downtown Minneapolis: “Spirit: Made Here” launch. The seventh iteration of Hennepin Theatre Trust’s urban walking gallery kicks off with a public celebration in the City Center atrium, an artist market, street performers, live music, spoken word, film screenings and group walking tours at 6 and 7 p.m., led by curator Joan Vorderbruggen. Begun in 2013, steadfastly supported by Andersen Windows since 2014, “Made Here” fills otherwise empty windows along Hennepin Ave. with paintings, paper sculptures, photography, fiber art, mixed media, video, puppets and more by Minnesota artists and students. It’s a good thing, and the biggest of its kind in the nation. Check it out. Launch event from 5-8 p.m., art viewable 24/7. FMI.

Thursday at the State Theatre: “Snap Judgment Live.” The hit storytelling-with-music podcast produced by WNYC Studios in New York and heard on NPR touches down in Minneapolis for a live show. Creator and host Glynn Washington will be joined by Jamie DeWolf, James Judd, Don Reed and Jen Kobler, who will tell tales about “the power of relationships to change everything.” The backing band will be the show’s usual Bells Atlas. In 2012, the Atlantic dubbed Washington “NPR’s Great Black Hope,” “the fastest-rising public-radio star in memory” and “the first African American host … who seems likely to become a public-radio superstar on the order of [Ira] Glass or Garrison Keillor.” Back then, “Snap Judgment” was on 250 stations; today, over 410. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($33.50-$43.50). Buy in person at the State Theatre box office, save on fees.

Coutresy of WNYC
Glynn Washington will host “Snap Judgment Live”

Friday at the Loft: “Into: Minneapolis” book launch. The literary and arts journal Into Quarterly works with local artists to create portraits of American cities that capture each city’s creative tone. The first was Austin, the second Richmond, Virginia, and now Minneapolis. Forty local writers and artists contributed, among them Bao Phi, Casey Deming, Dyani White Hawk, Ed Bok Lee, E.G. Bailey, Heid Erdrich, Kate Worum, Matt Rasmussen, Sha Cage and Shelly Mosman. Their themes: social justice, identity, cold and kindness. The launch event features readings and a brief panel discussion, followed by a reception and book sales. The event is free, the book costs $26. FMI. Sounds like an amazing holiday gift.

Friday and Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, not Orchestra Hall: Minnesota Orchestra: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in concert. Every frame of the first “Harry Potter” film, shown in HD on a 40-foot screen, with the Minnesota Orchestra performing John Williams’ score live. Australian maestro Nicholas Buc conducts. With the Minnesota Boychoir. Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30-90). 

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