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Dear Mr. Henson: Your lockout is the ‘barrier to negotiations’

locked out musicians
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have been locked out since Oct. 1.

The following is an open letter to Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson, in response to a MinnPost Q & A, “Michael Henson, MN Orchestra president: It’s time for musicians to negotiate,” published April 11.

Dear Mr. Henson,

As the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra enter our seventh month of being locked out of our jobs without salary or benefits, we wanted to remind you, as well as the public, our audience, and MinnPost readers, of some facts regarding our “negotiations”:

  1. Since April 2012, you have demanded $5 million in annual reductions from the musicians. Without input from the community, you have insisted on an over-reaching and draconian reduction in the orchestra’s budget and scope that would destroy the world-class standing of the orchestra as we know it. You have not moved from that position.

  2. The musicians have always been ready and willing to negotiate and have offered several proposals, including binding arbitration and play-and-talk with a no-strike guarantee. You rejected all of them.

  3. When first approached during the depths of the recession in 2009, the musicians voluntarily gave back $4.5 million in contract concessions. When approached again in 2010, the musicians offered an additional $1.5 million in concessions. You rejected them.

  4. Since your arrival in 2008, you have actively divided musicians, board members, and staff through your actions and misleading or inaccurate reports. Even worse, our audience has been completely alienated by the lockout. Our formerly positive workplace, envied throughout the industry, has become increasingly toxic and hostile since your arrival, and trust has been destroyed.

  5. When Mayor R.T. Rybak and the orchestra’s largest benefactor, Judy Dayton, invited you and board members to participate in a celebratory Grammy nomination concert as an attempt to build good will and end the lock-out, you rejected them and refused to attend the concert.

  6. When securing bonding funds in 2010, you testified to the Minnesota Legislature that you had “reported 3 years of balanced budgets.” According to MOA Board meeting minutes, your plan was to declare huge deficits 2 years later in order to ‘improve’ your negotiating position. This has led us to call for an independent financial analysis to gain a clearer understanding of what the orchestra’s financial situation actually is. The Legislative Auditor is currently investigating your testimony to determine if the legislature was misled to secure taxpayers dollars.

  7. The MOA Board minutes of January 26, 2012, reveal that you had formed a ‘Work Stoppage Committee’ almost three months before you made your proposal to musicians, prompting the question, “Was this lockout planned in coordination with the $52 million building project all along?”

  8. You reduced the marketing budget by 25%, leading to a significant decline in revenue from ticket sales. During a period when the orchestra was receiving increased critical acclaim at home and abroad, (including a review from The New Yorker proclaiming we “sounded like the greatest orchestra in the world”), none of these accomplishments were used to reach new audiences or promote our “product.” Under your direction, the orchestra’s development department has seen the level of annual contributions decline precipitously. With a reduction in all revenue streams under your tenure, the musicians have no faith in your plan for the future of this orchestra.

  9. Your lockout is now threatening recording projects, a prestigious Carnegie Hall concert series, future European invitations, the opening season of the renovated Orchestra Hall, as well as the very tenure of our acclaimed Music Director, Osmo Vanska.

  10. Every peer American symphony orchestra in negotiations this past year (Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, National) has settled reasonable contracts with modest increases or freezes in compensation. No other top tier symphony orchestra has insisted its musicians take a 30-50% cut in pay, along with drastic changes to their working conditions. Under your direction, the enormity and eviscerating scope of the changes presented in the management’s “final offer” are inherently destructive to the core identity of this orchestra and the international reputation it has built. The musicians simply cannot endorse such an extreme and risky plan.

Your lockout is the “barrier to negotiations.” We call on you to act in the spirit of Minnesota’s civic culture of respect and transparency. End the lockout in order to restart the high quality music of the orchestra that you profess to maintain for our state. Our aim is to work together to maintain and grow the world-class, world-renowned orchestra that this community has worked so hard to build over the past 110 years.

In order to begin, you must end the lockout.

The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra 

Tim Zavadil, Doug Wright, Burt Hara, Tony Ross and Cathy Schubilske are the musicians’ negotiating committee.


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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Robert Farlee on 04/16/2013 - 10:06 am.

    Well stated

    For a time, the Orchestra management was able to portray the musicians as the barrier, but that has long since passed. For the reasons stated so clearly in this article, the board has lost its credibility, and can only regain it by offering a sensible approach and entering into genuine negotiations.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/16/2013 - 10:32 am.


    The problem is that both sides seem more interested in making their case to the public than they are to each other. In this case, what we seeing is a recitation of ancient grievances, which has little to do with the Orchestra’s ongoing issues, whatever they might be.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/16/2013 - 10:55 am.


      I’m not sure what makes you say that both sides seem more interested in making their case to the public. This lockout is now in its eighth month or so and this letter and the one from Mr. Henson are the first I’ve read which attempt to make any case or appeal to the public.

      I’m also not sure what you are referring to as the ancient grievances here. The letter states pretty clearly what the issues are. If one side, i.e. the Board insists on continuing the lockout and blowing up the Orchestra to maintain its position, it’s also pretty clear appeals to the public, which has a stake in this dispute too, are quite in order.

      • Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/16/2013 - 12:19 pm.

        First attempt to make a case? Where have you been?

        Jon Erik Kingstad, I don’t know what media outlets you follow regularly, but I have seen miles of position statements and commentary by the musicians and their supporters. The musicians operate a website that outlines their case, enumerates grievances, asks valid questions, acknowledges the public and (unlike management) provides a forum for questions and input.
        You’re so right…the public has a stake in this dispute. I’ve read of a number of patrons given the brush-off (as in removed from the phone/email lists) when they expressed support for musicians….a great example of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

        • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/16/2013 - 07:13 pm.

          Must have missed those.

          I follow MPR news and MinnPost and others. I’ve read position statements reported in the media but I’ve never seen a position statement which lays out the problems in a way that demand some sort of response. Sorry if my take on the crisis offended.

          • Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/17/2013 - 02:56 pm.

            No worries…

            I re-read your comment and it seems I got unnecessarily irate. It’s MOA’s intransigence, Henson’s jaw-dropping disingenuousness and the depressing passivity of the board…it’s just gotten to me.
            The fact that the musicians are acting with such dignity under these circumstances is amazing – I couldn’t do it.
            Here’s hoping for salvaging what’s left of the orchestra…here’s hoping that the remaining Sibelius symphonies actually get recorded With These Players. And Osmo. I don’t see how that’s going to happen at this point, much less take the polished works on tour to Carnegie…

  3. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 04/16/2013 - 10:56 am.

    Why not play and talk?

    How about playing and talking, Mr. Henson? Even if you run up a deficit for a few months while paying the musicians their old salaries, surely within this context it would be worth it. The community gets the music it is starved for. The groundwork is laid for a “fresh start” to negotiations. You can begin to court donors who have been alienated. Orchestra Hall can have an actual orchestra at its reopening. The Carnegie tour can happen. Osmo will have a chance to say good-bye before he heads off to greener pastures (as we all know he will). How can you put a price tag on all those things? You can’t. It would be worth deficit-spending to do this.

    Mr. Henson, musicians, community, and the MOA board: please be creative and aim to work toward some kind of win-win. I don’t know what form that would take, but negotiations suffer when they’re zero-sum games…

    • Submitted by Maryann Goldstein on 04/16/2013 - 05:22 pm.

      Play and talk pettion

      One win-win would be to allow the musicians to play the last few remaining concerts of the 2012-13 season while negotiations continue. The musicians would regain some trust in the MOA (who now look increasingly untruthful about prior intentions to lockout the orchestra for the entire season), the MOA would gain some good will (the Board complains all the time about how they are vilified), and the public would benefit. This single act ought not to break the MOA’s bank and could go miles in bringing back the patrons who are necessary for the long-term survival of the orchestra. We have already submitted a first huge batch of signatures and comments to the MOA and although the outcome has not been satisfactory as of yet, we do know that the MOA/Board has received the petition and looked at it VERY carefully. Let’s continue to lobby for resumption of fine classical music performances by our world-class orchestra. Especially in these times, sublime music and the arts have the capacity to restore and sustain our humanity.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/16/2013 - 01:23 pm.

    Playing and talking, at least from Henson’t view, would just be a continuation of a status quo that is driving the orchestra into bankruptcy. If management is to be believed, it’s hard to see how a deteriorating financial situation makes any contribution at all to a “fresh start” that would serve as a basis for any contractual agreement. Certainly not one that would ensure the viability of the orchestra. No one can put a price tag on a Carnegie Hall appearance, but what one can put price tags on is the financial future of the orchestra.

    I don’t think management is blameless here. The tragic tales of management mistakes described in the letter above has, I am sure, much validity. And it’s quite possible that management tactics in this labor dispute have narrow minded, short sighted, and counter productive. Any solution to the long term problems of the orchestra require a much greater degree of imagination and creativity than anyone has demonstrated, and management being management it’s their job to provide the lion’s share of those qualities. You will notice, I have no such solutions myself, and there is a part of me that says no such solutions exist and that orchestras, as currently structured, are a doomed relic of a bygone time.What I think I do know, is that both sides have to stop focusing on the past, which can’t be changed, and start focusing on the future which can be. Both sides need to make a conscious decision to trust each other, and to recognize that each side is doing the best it can for the future of the orchestra, and that really both sides have a responsibility to act in all kinds of ways to make sure the orchestra in this strange and brave new world has a future. If they do, who knows, things might just work out.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/17/2013 - 03:04 pm.

      Sorry, Hiram. No.

      I think it’s specious to claim that “each side is doing the best it can for the future of the orchestra.”
      One side is locking out the other. That side is in the wrong, though I have heard that they are “puzzled” and have hurt feelings that their strategy did not work the way they thought it would.
      You see, the past is where a lot of the interesting and relevant things have happened. Focusing on it explains an awful lot.
      And I don’t think you do the world of orchestral music any good at all by tossing around the phrase “doomed relic of a bygone time” – especially since you have no solutions yourself.

  5. Submitted by Anja Curiskis on 04/16/2013 - 01:33 pm.

    Let’s fresh start the boards!

    Sadly, I do not see that the management has any intention of backing down. The musicians have given their all.
    Clearly, the managements of both the MN Orchestra and the SPCO are in cahoots, and intend to starve out the musicians. These managements intend to win at all costs without regard to the Minnesota public. We, the simple minded audience…we, the public, are looked upon with disdain by those on the boards. We really are of no consequence to them.

    It is up to us to remind them we are here and we demand to be heard. Let’s not look at these two orchestras as two separate wars, but two battles in a war on the arts in this state.
    The only way to help Minnesota win, is to help the musicians win.
    We must demand that both boards and both managements step down. Let’s “fresh start” with fresh boards and fresh managements and get the music playing again in our state.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/16/2013 - 03:13 pm.

    ” I do not see that the management has any intention of backing down. The musicians have given their all.”

    To say that there is no possibility of an agreement is to admit that the Minnesota Orchestra as an institution, has failed. I know that I am nowhere near reaching such a conclusion. The fact is, management has come to the conclusion that the current financial model for the orchestra isn’t viable. I don’t personally know that to be the case, but I do have a high level of confidence that the people who have the power to make decisions do in fact believe that. Orchestra members who want to continue under the current model will have to persuade management that their analysis of the situation is wrong. Of the ten bullet points above I don’t see a single one that addresses the issue of the orchestra’s long term fiscal survival.

    • Submitted by Michael Wunsch on 04/16/2013 - 10:58 pm.

      response to Mr. Foster

      I appreciate your concern the long-term financial health of the Minnesota Orchestra, and I share your concern. I urge you to consider that management’s current approach carries strong downside risks of reduced revenues (many patrons feel that their concerns have not been heard) and of significant embarrassment to board members and senior management as musical talent departs and audiences and revenues dwindle. The Cleveland orchestra, which plays at a level of artistic excellence comparable to that of Minnesota prior to the lockout, pays its musicians very well (Cleveland’s base salary is $120,000 – more than Minnesota’s base salary prior to the lockout and over 50% more than the new base salary being proposed by Minnesota’s management), and it is thriving: Ticket sales and revenues are up sharply, and its finances are solid. Minneapolis has a stronger economy than Cleveland; if we look to the Cleveland Orchestra and follow their very successful model, patrons, board members, management, and musicians can all win. I would mention that I was a first-time subscriber to the Minnesota Orchestra this season; when the orchestra approached me to donate this winter, I told them that I would be very happy to donate if the focus on artistic excellence is restored and a contract is reached that maintains this orchestra as a desirable place for the musicians to work. The orchestra representative told me that her supervisor would give me a call to address my concerns, but I received no follow-up call or follow-up correspondence. Shortly thereafter, the orchestra actually ceased sending me any e-mail or written communication. I know that the board and management want the orchestra to be successful, but I think that it will be difficult to attract audiences or raise sufficient funds when patrons such as myself feel that their concerns have not been properly addressed.

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/16/2013 - 07:20 pm.

    What is troubling to me

    as one who’s trying to avoid blaming the management or anyone is the failure to respond to some of these questions in the letter. If the management has been painting rosy future to the legislature to get funding for the Orchestra Hall renovations while not disclosing that on present trends Orchestra Hall’s No. 1 tenant is headed for bankruptcy, there’s something deeply amiss. And that’s an understatement.

  8. Submitted by Robert Edwards on 04/16/2013 - 07:31 pm.

    Disgraceful, AntiSocial Management

    There is clear, simple, dogma-driven union busting going on all over the country. Teachers and municipal workers take the brunt of it. It is not a coincidence.

    When the musicians offer to negotiate (in the best interests of the community vis-a-vis the makeup of this world-class orchestra) and when they offer to play while negotiating with a no-strike guarantee – and this is all rejected – clearly there is a serious problem with management.

    Problems cannot be solved by advocating a dogmatic agenda. What is being done to this orchestra and the community is disgraceful.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/17/2013 - 06:58 am.

    The problem

    Now I couldn’t be more of an outsider to this process. I don’t know anything about the orchestra’s finances, and little about player contracts. All I have is ignorance and perception, two qualities that have never stopped me having and expressing an opinion before, and won’t stop me now. As I perceive it, the Orchestra has a revenue problem and a cost problem. It’s audience is aging, and declining. Corporate support isn’t keeping pace with the Orchestra’s increasing for funds. Competition for the entertainment dollar is increasing, and the Orchestra isn’t winning that competition. Ideas that might have an impact on any or all of these issues are what the Orchestra needs, and I think, are what will move the discussion forward, at least if the discussion is to improve the long term prospects of the Orchestra, and indeed help to ensure it’s survival. To the extent that we allow ourselves to be distracted from these problems, in this case by whining about how management didn’t show up at a concert, and other minor concerns, we are simply delaying what may become inevitable, the disappearance in one or another of our great Minnesota Orchestra.

  10. Submitted by Tom Foley on 04/17/2013 - 08:19 am.

    Hiram Foster writes above that “the problem is that both sides seem more interested in making their case to the public than they are to each other.”

    I disagree. The lockout has been nasty and cantankerous from the moment it was initiated by the MOA, and it will not be solved by wasting time looking for an “everyone wins” kind of solution. It will be won when one side trumps the other.

    The public is the musician’s natural ally, and the orchestra membership has every right and incentive to enlist their support. Make no mistake, the weight of public opinion will be felt at the negotiating table.

    The orchestra membership should rally public support in every way possible.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/18/2013 - 02:27 pm.

      “The lockout has been nasty and cantankerous from the moment it was initiated by the MOA, and it will not be solved by wasting time looking for an “everyone wins” kind of solution.”

      The problem with this line of reasoning is that musicians need a paycheck a lot more than management needs an orchestra,

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/19/2013 - 06:51 pm.

      I agree, Tom.

      When one side has behaved badly, they understandably resent being reminded of it. They quite predictably cry “You’re focusing on the past!” But the past is Where All The Stuff Happened. It’s quite worth discussing and understanding. How can you understand the present, let alone figure out your future, if you haven’t reckoned with what’s been done??

      Like relationship therapy…At some point, the parties will decide what to do next. But until then, it’s best if honesty and forthrightness is displayed by the participants.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/17/2013 - 10:14 am.

    “The public is the musician’s natural ally, and the orchestra membership has every right and incentive to enlist their support.”

    I certainly don’t question the musicians’ right to appeal to the public for support. But what impact does that public support bring to the bargaining table? Does publicly vilifying Mr. Henson really have any impact his analysis of the issues at hand? Do you think if that if he gets snubbed at his country club, he will run crying to the musicians union for a settlement? And really, how much relevant public support is their to be rallied. Do you think even a majority of Minnesotans even realize their orchestra is locked out?

    And in terms of garnering public support, I don’t think the authors of the letter really made progress toward that goal. The letter above is mostly a list of complaints about management, a negative message that knocks them down, but one that doesn’t really enhance any sort of positive image for the orchestra. Self serving boasting doesn’t really help that much, particularly when you are addressing a public comprised of a significant percentage of phlegmatic Swedes.

    At several points I have said I don’t have much to offer in terms of positive solutions for the orchestra’s problems. I will disagree with myself a little bit here. I think the Orchestra has become too isolated from the community. I think they have failed to present a positive message for themselves, both during this labor stoppage and in recent years. I am sure in response to this, and orchestra person could email me a long list of attempts to do that, but what I would say in response is that what they have done just isn’t enough, and just doesn’t have enough impact. And the failure to do that effectively is at the heart of the revenue problems that are the real motivating factor in this dispute.

  12. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/17/2013 - 09:59 pm.

    I agree–fresh start the board, starting with Mr. Henson

    We’re watching the destruction of a 100-year-old community institution and for what? The letter from the musicians’ negotiating committee is reasonable and clear. This is a rogue board that needs to be disbanded.

    Who put these people— who appear to hate classical music and have been terrible managers—in charge and gave them life or death power over the orchestra? How do we get rid of them and save our orchestra?

    Seriously, how do we go about doing this?

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/18/2013 - 05:55 am.

    Disbanding the board

    In Europe, some orchestras are managed by the musicians’ themselves. I think the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic are both that way, and possibly others. But I think that can happen because the orchestras receive large public subsidies. If we can find a way to subsidize the Minnesota Orchestra independently, I should think it would be very possible to dispense with current management.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/18/2013 - 11:31 am.

      That would be a good option

      I think that would be great. Of course, it would be shaky in the beginning, but if it could work…

  14. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/20/2013 - 08:00 am.

    The money

    I am often criticized for obtuseness, and I like to think of myself as not very bright, as an asker of dumb questions, the stupider the better. The stupid question I have about the letter above is to whom is it addressed? If it was truly addressed to Mr. Henson, it’s authors might have printed it out, put it in a stamped envelope, and sent it to Mr. H. through the US Mail. But they didn’t do that. Who really is the intended recipient of that letter? The public? The fact is, the public doesn’t have much of a say in Orchestra management decisions. Truth to tell, the public is only dimly aware that it even has an orchestra, much less that it happens to be locked out. Is it directed to Minnesota Orchestra subscribers or attendees? A bit more so, I would say, and as others have noted on this board, the orchestra management is indeed engaging in risky behavior here which could possibly result in the permanent alienation of it’s audience. I have my doubts about that, I think if the orchestra gets back to work it’s audience will return, but bear in mind I am not very bright and in my life I have been wrong a lot.

    I think the letter was directed to what cynics and paranoids refer to as the establishment, the brotherhood, or as I often think of them, as “the money”. The money is why the Minnesota Orchestra has a management. That European orchestras have a steady supply of “The Money” from public sources is why they don’t need management. The letter above is an attempt to persuade “the money” that management and it’s orchestra are blocking them from receiving information, and also an attempt to undermine their credibility. The next stupid question I would ask is whether that is true? Is the “the money” seriously mis or uninformed about what’s going on with respect to the lockout? And maybe the deeper and more important question, in these difficult and changing times is whether “the money” even exists? Coming up with satisfactory answers to these questions might very well move discussions along.

  15. Submitted by Konstanze Scheurer on 04/30/2013 - 10:34 am.

    Orchestra’s run by the Artists

    Gentle persons,

    My family history with Orchestras worldwide is extensive. To that end I carry the archives of more than 200 years by default. What I do know is true about the Orchestras were once run by the Artists and even then they chose their Music Director! It was by “invitation”. My Uncle told me this about Ormandy when he left the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and went to Philadelphia. Maestro Ormandy was not kind to the artists and they stood up in numbers during a rehearsal and advised him the following “Mr. Ormandy you are in Philadelphia by “invitation” you are no longer in Minnesota, you will not treat us like this.” My Uncle was a student at The Curtis and a group of them were watching this rehearsal. My Uncle knew Ormandy from Minnesota as my grandfather was in the Orchestra! Ormandy was a mixed situation with my grandfather who lived to be 97 years old and told me the stories of Berlin, his beloved teacher Joachim and how Music was in our home town of Koeln, Germany in the opera house. Understand that artistic excellence IS because of the artists that make the music, dance, or opera! This has gone out of control where it pains me to see what has happened to a stunning world class orchestra! My family would be in horror and IF they were still alive they would be right there standing beside this generation of great artists! Stopping the music was and always will be a huge mistake in my eyes. I know the eight who once graced your stage would agree with me! In 1909 the Orchestra only had about 30 artists. It grew to 98 in 1967-1968! Now down to 73!

    The remedy, look back on the Orchestra’s history! Of course someone put all that in boxes underground so you cannot really access it!!! It is at the U of M! Your answers are in the archives!

    My best from all the Scheurer’s of Koeln, Germany who came to build this Orchestra not watch it be destroyed.

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