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We’re locked out, too: Questions for MN Orchestra management

Our questions include: Why was the orchestra’s mission statement changed? The new one doesn’t even mention the orchestra.

The locked-out musicians organized and played a concert in October, with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting.
Photo by John Whiting

The recent announcement of additional Minnesota Orchestra concert cancellations only deepened the gloom of hundreds of Twin Cities patrons and music lovers. We’ve already missed six weeks of concerts, and now the holiday concerts have been canceled as well. Orchestra Hall is under construction; the Convention Center auditorium is dark. The musicians are locked out – and so are we!

As the conflict has dragged on, with letters from the board citing unsustainable deficits and musicians protesting a 30-50 percent pay cut (management says the cuts would be 20-40 percent), we in the community are trying to make sense of it all. We have a lot of questions.

  • Why is management only now tackling the budget deficits that have been mounting for at least three years?  In a 2010 interview, Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson stated that, although many orchestras around the country were hard hit by the recession and having financial difficulties, ours was doing well and that, thanks to its “unique” community support, its priority was “continuing the excellence in the artistic work.”  Now, after the stock market has regained much of its pre-recession value, he says that the orchestra is in such a critical situation that musicians’ salaries must be drastically cut. What is going on? 
  • The renovation of Orchestra Hall is expected to cost at least $47 million.  If the orchestra is in financial crisis, why did the management undertake a huge and costly building project?
  • The strategic plan on the orchestra’s website contains a new mission statement. In contrast to the old mission statement, this one does not even mention the orchestra. Why was the mission statement changed?
  • The orchestra’s season has been shortened over the last several years; this year the opening concert was delayed from the usual September time until mid-October (when it was canceled by the lockout).  Meanwhile, more pop concerts have been added. Is the orchestra being sidelined and its quality compromised?  Has the community raised almost $47 million to renovate an Orchestra Hall that will not include a first-rate Minnesota Orchestra?
  • The $47 million for the hall is only part of the money that the orchestra management says it has raised. In all, public and private donors have contributed $97 million for the orchestra’s Building for the Future campaign. The rest of the money is earmarked for the endowment, but what kind of a future are we building?  

All of us, through our taxes and our personal gifts, have contributed to the Minnesota Orchestra. We have opened our wallets, as well as our hearts. With the musicians organizing exciting concerts like the one planned in December, this might be a unique opportunity to forge a new collaborative model for the way the orchestra operates and the way it engages the community — not just a business model, but one in which all Minnesotans could feel renewed ownership of the orchestra —  our orchestra, which at least one critic called “the best in the world.”

That kind of relationship can only be built on trust, which at this moment is sorely lacking — for the musicians and for us.

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We sit here on a dreary November day, wondering what is going on and  holding our tickets for additional performances that will not happen. We’re locked out.

Paula and Cy DeCosse are residents of Minneapolis.

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