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The only path to settlement: Orchestra musicians, board members must negotiate

Courtesy of KPMB Architects
It is time to stop delaying the work we sorely need to do: to sit together and negotiate back and forth over contractual options, until, together, we reach a solid result.

The following is an open letter to the negotiating committee of the Minnesota Orchestra’s musicians from members of the Minnesota Orchestra’s board in response to a recent Community Voices piece. 

To the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee,

Anger and misrepresentations such as those you recently expressed (“Dear Mr. Henson: Your lockout is the ‘barrier to negotiations.” ) waste time and consume energy without producing any possible positive outcome. The orchestra’s board has one goal in these contract talks: to negotiate a sustainable contract that ensures the Minnesota Orchestra’s future in our community. We continue to hope you will join us at the negotiating table to work constructively toward producing the best contract we can jointly develop.

Venting ire may be satisfying and it definitely offers a means to avoid contract talks, but it is time to stop delaying the work we sorely need to do: to sit together and negotiate back and forth over contractual options, until, together, we reach a solid result.

The fundamentals are these: The Minnesota Orchestra spends millions of dollars more each year than it earns. As with any overspending household, this creates a deficit that must be covered from some source. In our case, we’ve been taking large draws from the orchestra’s endowment to pay our musicians’ salaries and benefits during the recession, but we can’t continue to do this.

When we say this activity isn’t “sustainable” for the future, we aren’t referring to a remote future decades from now. If we continue drawing down the MOA endowment at our current rate, it will be depleted in 2018. This means the salaries that we’ll be able to offer musicians will fall from an average of $89,000 (our current offer) into the range of $60,000. And the board will have erased an endowment that was intended by the donors who contributed to it, to last into perpetuity.

We hope you understand why the board cannot let this happen. It is not for lack of respect for your talents. We want to pay you the most that our nonprofit can afford but, as a board, our responsibility isn’t just to you, our excellent current musicians.

Our responsibility is to the future of this organization. Our duty is to future concertgoers, future school children and, yes, future musicians who will be employed by the Minnesota Orchestra. We cannot squander our resources today and remain a viable organization for the future.

Vilifying President Michael Henson does not change these fundamentals. Mr. Henson did not create the fiscal problems the Minnesota Orchestra is facing. To the contrary, he has been charged by our board to resolve unsustainable financial practices and, while we accept this change is hard, it is necessary if the Orchestra is to thrive in the future.

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians understood this. That renowned orchestra, facing the same situation — a lockout over a contract that the community couldn’t afford — chose again to partner with their board and negotiated a settlement (including a 20 percent reduction in the size of the orchestra and in pay) that focuses on the long term good of their art form rather than personal gain.

In our 2007 contract negotiations, in good faith, the board shared the good times with musicians and offered a more than 25 percent increase over five years. Now, facing challenging times, we are asking for your help, and you refuse to discuss the terms of your contract with us.

Here is the contract we are offering:

  • An average salary/benefit package of $120,000;
  • A minimum of 10 weeks paid vacation. (The average will actually fall between 11 and 17 paid weeks off each year.)
  • No changes to a defined benefit pension plan to which the MOA contributes 7.63 percent of base salary each year and to which musicians do not make any contributions.

Our community has consistently given generously to the orchestra; our board also continues to give generously and make major future gift commitments, despite the negativity musician spokespersons have so often unleashed. Staff has been reduced by 20 percent, and those who remain have accepted wage and benefit cuts. Our audiences are tired of hearing about contracts over art and simply want the music back on the stage.

The only path to a settlement lies in board members and musicians meeting at the bargaining table to talk about real financial problems and how we can solve them, together. We are ready. Will you join us?


Nicky Carpenter and Greg Pulles

Nicky Carpenter is a Minnesota Orchestra Life Director and Greg Pulles is a Board member. Both serve on the Board Negotiating Committee.


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Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Michael Hess on 04/26/2013 - 08:51 am.

    Communication – good start but confusing?

    Following the back and forth of these negotations this is a bit confusing – the entire letter is about the financial sustainability of the orchestra and a call to negotiate. Yet the management proposal to the musicians contains many, many work condition and artistic direction changes that go beyond finances. If the crux of the issue is financial, why the many changes to working conditions?

    Also management positioned the current financial offer as a “final offer” prior to instituting the lockout. Does the call to negotiate mean this really isn’t a final offer, or does negotiate mean “accept the offer as is”?

    Lastly, there has been a lot of rationalization of the financial cuts proposed comparing musicians salaries to the office staff of the orchestra, to the “average” patron, to PhDs, etc….. I would hope the board is conducting similar self comparisions of how the MO is being run compared to other peer organizations that do not seem to be in such distress. It could be possible that those organizations are conducting a strategically planned unsustainable pull-down of their endowment to appear financially stable to justify large public bonding requests while planning for subsequent labor agreement resets. But I doubt any credible large arts organization would take that approach.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/26/2013 - 09:29 am.


      Negotiation doesn’t mean “here’s our offer, take it.” To put an ultimatum on the table and then accuse the opposition of not negotiating is dishonest.

      I also agree that it’s inappropriate to compare the musicians’ salaries with patrons, PhDs (I have one, by the way), staff, etc. Apples and Elephants, there. It is clear to me that these comparisons are an underhanded attempt to sway the public into demanding that the musicians submit to the lowest bid out of jealousy. How very Harrison Bergeron of the Board.

      Instead of going all Handicapper General on the Orchestra, why doesn’t the Board take a look at other successful orchestras and model themselves after those rather than pointing to the lower pay of yet others as an example of what our orchestra should look like.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/26/2013 - 11:41 am.

      “Take it or leave it” means negotiation ?

      Since when ? This kind of dissemblance seems to be typical of the Orchestra’s management.

      You gotta wonder if the management and board see themselves as EVER making ANY KIND OF error or mistake in their ways ? As having ANY responsibility whatsoever for the fix the Orchestra is in ? Do THEY need to do ANYTHING different, other than cut the musicians’ cost ?

    • Submitted by Andrew VanZ on 04/28/2013 - 03:34 pm.

      Not to mention…

      the board’s utter disingenuousness in calling out the musicians (whom They Locked Out) for “anger”…what unbelievable gall. The musicans have shown, if anything, admirable dignity and restraint under the untenable circumstances. The board isn’t convincing anyone with their slanderous remarks.

  2. Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 04/26/2013 - 10:24 am.

    orchestra “negotiations

    Would someone from the Minnesota Orchestra Board please explain to me how stripping the music director of artistic control and handing it over to a couple of suits from the corporate world, who know diddly squat about music and in some cases, don’t even attend concerts, helps saves money and contributes to a”sustainable” future? Although the slashing of salaries, the likes of which have never been seen by a major America orchestra, EVER and is incredibly destructive, the working conditions that are being touted as a way to move forward are so outrageous that people’s mouths just dropped open in disbelief at last night’s concert when the public finally was told that the plan was to have our world class orchestra play a little background music for corporate events, weddings, etc etc and occasionally do real music. This is equivalent to having Tiger Woods “working” at my favorite mini putt putt course at the snack bar. The disrespect and outright hostility towards the musicians was present long before the negotiations ever started. The level is so severe that not only do musicians from other major orchestras shake their heads in disbelief, SO DO THEIR MANAGEMENT TEAMS.

    As a musician, educator, and 35 year resident of Minnesota, I have never witnessed this kind of destruction in any arts organization. Whether you go to concerts or not, our orchestra is a 110 year old state treasure and it is being dismantled piece by piece by people who maybe have good intentions but are clueless about the damage they are causing. The media needs to do a much better job of reporting all sides of this mess. Clearly, there is a conflict of interest when one of the board members also serves as editor of a major newspapers in town. It falls upon other news media organizations to cover this story accurately and allow the musicians and patrons to tell their side of the story.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 04/26/2013 - 04:00 pm.

      It is clear that the audiences

      (the forgotten stakeholders, the people for whom the orchestra plays) are on the musicians’ side.

      I wonder if any board members were in the nearly sold-out O’Shaughnessy Auditorium last night when the musicians received repeated standing ovations. Now their performances were excellent, as always, but the real message in these ovations was that the audience members love the musicians and are frustrated and angry at a board that seems willing to destroy a world-class orchestra just because they themselves don’t know how to manage money and marketing.

      As Ms. Erickson notes, the dispute goes beyond money and benefits to issues of artistic control and community outreach, something this opinion piece glosses over in an attempt to make the musicians look stubborn and greedy.

      If the board and managers had any integrity, they’d resign and hand management of the orchestra to people who love and understand classical music as well as money. With their crabbed view of the world, they can’t understand that while musicians like money as much as anyone else, it’s not the only issue for them.

      Is there anyone with the power to force this board out? Or is there any local multimillionaire who would be willing to bankroll the formation of a new orchestra with the 75% of Minnesota Orchestra musicians who haven’t left for more amenable surroundings?

      • Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 04/28/2013 - 11:07 pm.

        stepping up to the plate.

        Ms. Sandness asks: Is there a multimillionaire willing to bankroll a new orchestra? I sure have thought about that. But by management’s own figures, we’re short only about $5 million dollars. This amount would negate the need for drastic cuts that the MOA keeps insisting is necessary. 5 million dollars is the change in Zigi’s pocket or the Polhad boys’ pockets. These guys are billionaires and they get huge subsidies from the state for their “for profit” businesses. They want the state to invest–fine–I would like a return on my investment. How about since they are getting hundreds of millions of dollars, they cough up enough to help us save our world class orchestra from destruction. I love Mahler and I love football but I’m getting weary from the constant attention being paid to new stadium development when one of our greatest treasures is really being dismantled in front of our eyes. There’s plenty of people in this town that have money. It’s a matter of whether they value this cultural gem enough to help save it.

  3. Submitted by Bill Slobotski on 04/26/2013 - 10:35 am.

    Simple questions about the endowment

    I am asking this question in the hopes that either one of the authors of this article or another member of the board will reply. When you were taking large draws from the endowment the economy was a wreck. Now that the economy is back on its feet, do you foresee the same percentage draws from the endowment if the musicians played under their current contract? The endowment used as a buffer during down years seems like one reason for having such a large pool of money in the first place, yes? No?

  4. Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/26/2013 - 11:38 am.

    The musicians are ready to talk when you are.

    Ms. Carpenter and Mr. Pulles: the Board is in fact the party who is squandering resources. That you would accuse locked-out, unemployed musicians of squandering resources puts a label of “out-of-touch” directly on you. You firmly ignore the numerous draconian changes in the workplace rules, you firmly ignore all offers by musicians to play and talk, or enter binding arbitration (a generous offer that puts the musicians’ interests at real risk)
    I see nothing in your words that acknowleges the $4.5 million in concessions already given by musicians, or the additional $1.5 million they offered in 2010 and you rejected.
    I see no acknowlegement of the audience that you have alienated…you know, those people attending the wildly popular concerts given by your locked-out musicians?
    The reputation of the Minnesota Orchestra is damaged, nationally. Look into it, and into the part you played.

    • Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 04/26/2013 - 12:21 pm.

      damaged reputation

      In regards to Amy’s comment, I would say it has been damaged internationally, given that friends of mine in Paris know all about this mess and can’t believe Minnesota as a progressive state has allowed this to happen. My friends in Vienna and London, who have heard the Minnesota Orchestra perform, also know what’s going on. So I would say pretty much the entire orchestra world is disgusted by the actions of the MOA.

  5. Submitted by Arnie Hillmann on 04/26/2013 - 12:28 pm.

    Minnesota Orchestra Negotiations

    Negotiating via Media fails. I won’t write a lengthy commentary about it, but Lock Both Parties in a Room and let them emerge when there is a deal that best serves the Community. Nuf said.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/26/2013 - 02:04 pm.

      Wouldn’t that be great?

      I wish that would happen, too!
      Since management, with the board’s support, locked out the musicians…they have the keys to the room. There is enough money to play and talk…binding arbitration has been offered and rebuffed…
      and this board ignores everything the musicians have presented. The orchestra world is aghast at what can happen through negligent handling of a treasured commodity.
      Perhaps the musicians will find a way without them. I hope so.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/26/2013 - 01:45 pm.


    Several commentators have suggested that the offer contained in the article above represents an ultimatum, a take it or leave it proposal, which is inconsistent with the notion of bargaining. For all I know, it may well be, but I don’t think that’s what the article says. I would also note that the offer is is interesting for the issues it doesn’t address, specifically those related to work rules, some of which pertain to issues bearing on artistic integrity. My guess is that there is plenty of room for negotiation on those issues.

    I thought I would say a couple of things about arbitration. Arbitration needs to be in the interests of both parties, and it really isn’t much use when fundamental, existential interests are being addressed. The fact is, the effect of arbitration in this context can never be anything other than one sided, since the outcome would bind management, but orchestra members who might not like the outcome are free to go elsewhere. Musicians can play in any orchestra, but management only manages the one here in Minnesota.

  7. Submitted by Scott Chamberlain on 04/26/2013 - 01:54 pm.

    A Response

    Nicky and Greg, you’ve been great supporters of the Orchestra for many years. I say this with respect, but the musicians’ commentary can only “waste time and consume energy without producing any possible positive outcome” if there is only one result that can be considered a positive outcome.

    President Henson presented his points to the public with a clear purpose of swaying public opinion in his direction. That is his right and a duty as a leader of one side of a labor dispute. But the musicians are equally within their right to rebut his points if they feel they are being mischaracterized in the press or unduly vilified. Or if they feel any points are factually incorrect. They can certainly speak out in a parallel attempt to say public opinion and to try to leverage public pressure on the board. And if that pressure succeeds in gaining a more favorable outcome, as they hope, it will certainly not be a waste of time—it will be, for them, a positive outcome.

    Plus, it seems incongruous that you’re insisting they negotiate with you when you state repeatedly that you’ve made your final offer. So what is there to negotiate, whether the cuts come in one lump sum or are distributed over 12 months? Putting it another way, discussing with someone whether they’re paying an invoice by cash, credit card or check does not mean you’re negotiating the price.

    You are right to advocate for your side. Both sides should actively debate their points. But many—and not just the musicians—feel that the Board’s position isn’t a self-evident, incontestable truth. Many outsiders have raised serious, *serious* questions about the MOA’s financial statements, finances generally, and spending priorities. Plus, you’ve made a strong statement about the necessity of a new business model, but have been less successful in refuting counter-arguments or counter-examples from other orchestras. If your new business model is the only one that could work, why have Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, and other orchestras adopted a very different approach? I think your point is debatable at best.

    Because of all the questions about how the MOA has managed this dispute, the questions that have arisen regarding reporting to the public, and overall lack of transparency, it’s starting to feel less like you’ve reluctantly been forced to adopt a new business model because of a financial crisis, and more like you’ve created a financial crisis to build a new business model. And that disappoints me.

  8. Submitted by Maryann Goldstein on 04/26/2013 - 03:41 pm.

    MOA management is what’s not sustainable

    So many of the comments above are right on.

    To anyone who has watched this debacle unfold over the last few months, it is clear that the the current MOA has not and will NEVER take any responsibility for what is happening, make any attempts to tell the truth (or illuminate the truth behind their positions) to the public, or negotiate in good faith with the musicians.

    Of course the recession caused financial problems—but this dispute goes far beyond the current financial status. For example,

    WHY, when the recession began, did the MOA not tell their constituents that the organization’s general endowment was at risk? WE DON’T KNOW. It doesn’t make any sense, unless there was little or no interest in preserving the orchestra as we know it. We hear that when given a choice, donors chose to contribute to the lobby renovation—but this does not acknowledge the fact that donors (including the state legislators) weren’t told of the financial difficulties facing the musicians and the orchestra. No wonder the public (musicians, donors, patrons, legislators) are skeptical of all these current financial pronouncements.

    WHY did the MOA lose more endowment money than virtually any other comparable arts organization during the recession? Who was responsible for this? We know that the financial management changed hands but late in the course of the recession. Who was overseeing this? Supposedly the Board and Michael Henson. How is the endowment doing now with regard to investments? ?????

    WHY is the chair of the MOA executive committee (Jon Campbell) someone who hates classical music, never attends concerts, and brags to others as to how little he contributes to the orchestra? HOW did he gain this position? Was it on the recommendation of his banker buddy Richard Davis, who preceded him as chair of the MOA Executive Board? (IMO, not exactly someone you want to have in charge of a world-class orchestral organization)

    WHY, aside from financial concessions in the MOA’s proposed contract, are there 250 working condition changes that the authors do not mention in their article above? These include things like 1) ceding complete artistic control (including hiring) to Michael Henson (over the Music Director) and 2) scrapping classical music concerts in favor of musicians playing background music for corporate events, weddings, etc?

    WHY did the MOA hire the same lawyer that oversaw the Crystal Sugar lockout as well as a PR firm to manage the public perceptions for the last four years? (Doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out).

    WHY was a person (MIchael Henson) who had a history of appearing to decimate at least one other orchestra and who ran amok of UK non-profit tax status rules in previous orchestra management get hired to be President and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra? (It’s a guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was hired EXACTLY to do the same thing here— ‘manage’ THIS orchestra by similar means as he has used in the past).

    WHY, when given information about other orchestral organizations’ (like Cleveland’s) successes (in spite of the recession) does the MOA dismiss their applicability to the Twin Cities out of hand?

    WHY, does Michael Henson churn out a number of $120million dollars as the immediately needed infusion to the MN Orchestra endowment in order to achieve an annual budget of $32million dollars (from their proposed $26 million dollars), when the current endowment is already somewhere in the vicinity of $129 million dollars. Emily E. Hogstad has clearly explained in her blog Song of the Lark ( why this number is ridiculous.

    Although they will never say so, it really looks like some in the MOA have (and had, for over four years) other agendas than fiscal sustainability. Perhaps union busting? Perhaps running a luxe venue for their own non-classical enjoyment? Power? Ego? The circumstantial evidence is very strong, even though on the surface these hidden agenda items ‘almost’ seem incomprehensible–which is why the strategy is so brilliant, right?

    On the other hand, here are a few questions for which we DO know the answer:

    WHO locked out the Musicians? The MOA.

    WHO initially changed the mission statement to take out the word “orchestra”? The MOA.

    WHO delayed the opportunity for the musicians to talk to the board for 7 months? The MOA.

    WHO keeps changing their mind and responses to the musicians about the joint financial analysis? The MOA.

    WHO has been fundraising giving out untruthful information to patrons? The MOA.

    WHO has said that the proposed budget of $26 million a year is non-negotiable and then complains that the musicians won’t negotiate? The MOA.

    Sorry, and with all due respect, Ms. Carpenter and Mr. Pulles, these questions make it difficult to believe any of your or the MOA’s arguments regarding finances (past, current, or future) and trust the MOA’s global artistic vision for the future of the Minnesota Orchestra—that’s why in reality, it is the current MOA management which is unsustainable.

  9. Submitted by Tim Milner on 04/26/2013 - 03:24 pm.

    I have no pony in the race

    but would like to make a couple of comments.

    Currently financial strategies used by many non profits (including groups I’m associated with) allows 4% to 5% to be considered the safe, acceptable draw against endowments to fund existing operations. This is what financial advisers feel is the reasonable rate of return on prudently invested assets is in today’s market. You have to match the expected return to the draw to maintain the core assets in the endowment. Based on reports I’ve seen in the Mlps Tribune, the draw rate for the last several years has been far higher than that. The math says that can simply not continue.

    My guess is that the artistic direction issue has a lot more to do with expanding the potential audience (leading toward higher revenues) than it has to do with anyone’s personal preference as to what music is presented. The orchestra simply has to draw more patrons to generate the revenue to pay the musicians what the musicians feel is fair. That probably means more concerts/performances even completely different types of performances. But it’s clear that revenues have not met expenses for some time in the existing business model (which I gather is not unique in the orchestral world) – something must be done.

    I can’t comment on the work rules, but I have found that when labor and management get some common, fundamental understanding of the business model, work rule issues tend to be minimized, if not completely eliminated. This is a huge sticking point right now because it is clear no common ground exists.

    I hope all meet soon to settle this dispute because, quite frankly, time wasted posturing is going to do nothing to find that new, successful business model.

    • Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 04/30/2013 - 09:24 am.

      some good points

      I just want to clarify a couple of things; first of all, the numbers will show that there has been a much bigger decline in the attendance of jazz concerts. ( I’m fairly certain that if one adjusts for the fact that the number of classical concerts were greatly reduced, the actual classical concert attendance held steady despite the MOA seriously messing with the marketing budget. Song of the Lark blog could clarify this statement if it is inaccurate.) I don’t see anyone suggesting cutting back on jazz concerts because they are not generating enough revenue.

      In terms of the draws being taken–For almost a year, the musicians have been asking for additional financial information that could help address this issue. The MOA has: 1. flatly refused; 2. accused the musicians of frolic and detouring and using this reasonable request as a delay tactic; 3. agreed to a financial analysis only after 14 state legislators wrote a collective letter which managed to get published in the Strib; 4. announced in January that they were trying to agree on a firm to carry out the analysis; 5. dragged their feet in every was possible to the point that now, 100 state legislators requested a state audit; 6. announced that they were getting close to deciding on a firm; 7. pulled out a couple weeks after announcing this “progress” and are now proceeding to waste my orchestra donation money paying for someone who is going to say that everything is A OK. The truth is, none of us have a clue about the accuracy of the numbers the MOA keeps throwing out. Anyone following this tragedy knows that many numbers have been manipulated. It is impossible to use any numbers that the MOA reports to justify their outrageous actions. Clearly, the MOA does not want the musicians, donors, or patrons to have accurate numbers. THE BIG QUESTION IS WHY??????

  10. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/26/2013 - 03:36 pm.

    The only way to get the musicians to negotiate is for the board to rescind its horrible “final offer” and put everything on the table for negotiation. Everything.

    If these two board members can’t convince their fellow board members to do that, this opinion/PR piece is useless.

    And, I can’t help but say that this family seriously needs an outside counselor to help it with its dysfunctionality–we outsiders who love music just hear board and musicians screaming past each other.

    • Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 05/04/2013 - 11:48 pm.

      screaming at each other

      I would like to share one of my experiences with the musicians PR team early on in the tragedy. I was mad. I didn’t use profanity but I was pretty harsh towards the board. I received a polite email from one of the members of the PR team explaining why they could not post my submission. I emailed back apologizing for anything that was inappropriate. What struck me from the very beginning of this mess was, that in every way possible, the musicians took the high road. Over and over again, I heard the MOA taking jabs any opportunity they could. The musicians answered firmly and calmly stating what they needed to move forward, Anything they said fell on deaf ears. Now, I happen to know that Michael Henson went screaming down the hall when he found out about the Sibelius concert. I watched Doug Kelley on public television accuse the musicians of frolic and detouring simply because they were requesting additional financial information. When Michael Henson talks about the orchestra, it’s as if everything would be fine if they just didn’t need to have pesky musicians involved. I’ve at times, been frustrated because I wanted the musicians to scream back. If one reads over everything very carefully, it is crystal clear who is doing the screaming.

  11. Submitted by Nils Halker on 04/26/2013 - 04:33 pm.

    Talk to the Patrons as Well!

    Dear Ms. Carpenter and Mr. Pulles,

    I am a patron who is deeply alienated from the board. To put it into the language of the for-profit world, I am customer you are in grave danger of losing forever. I am dismayed that the board seems to be working so assiduously to destroy their customer base. I know that your counterargument is that this “is not our intent.” But under these circumstances, your intent is does not matter to me; what matters to me is your actions.

    I take issue with the very first sentence of your letter. Perhaps there was anger imbedded in the letter from musicians, but there was no misrepresentation. I don’t believe it was a waste of time, and I don’t believe it was a venting of ire. Nor was it a delaying tactic. The open letter from the Musicians was a careful and thoughtful enumeration of the real issues.

    I am weary of the single, unsupportable story that Mr. Hensen and board members cling to, that a desperate financial crisis created by musician intransigence is the only cause of this situation. Of course musicians and patrons want a financially stable orchestra. In 2009, musicians gave back $4.5 million; they offered (but were rejected) to give back another $1.5 million in 2010. This is a financial crisis created by management, including the bewildering decision to sell part of the MOA’s portfolio in 2009 at loss of $12 million!

    And we also want an ARTISTICALLY SUSTAINABLE orchestra. The myriad proposed changes in contract language are what are really at the heart of this dispute, and in none of the letters, press releases, or interviews that I can recall have Mr Henson or board members addressed those issues. There is in fact a philosophical conflict that you and the rest of board have failed to acknowledge. That is disingenuous. That is misleading.

    And I dispute your claim that our community couldn’t afford the SPCO; the fiscal problems at the SPCO are frankly because of incompetent management, they are not about the lack of community support!

    I agree that the path to a settlement lies in board members and musicians meeting at the bargaining table, and I am confident the musicians would agree, but it must be to talk about much more than financial issues.

    And there is also the issue of the board honestly opening itself to the community, your customers, who feel ignored. If a good agreement is ever reached, it will not only take years to rebuild this orchestra, it will take year to rebuild the trust between the board and this community. There is no time to lose. Get to work.

  12. Submitted by EP Barnes on 04/26/2013 - 10:17 pm.

    There is never “only one path to settlement”

    I don’t expect to be more eloquent than the commentators who already contributed their observations in response to this article. I’m writing because it’s important for the authors of the above article (and those they speak for) to simply hear from one more person who is disgusted by MOA’s behaviors in this horrible situation THEY have created. It seems obvious that if circumstances are as dire as they maintain, the best way to respond is to call EVERYBODY to the table, completely and transparently open all the books, and gather the best wisdom and creativity that everybody has to offer. Instead it appears that a very small, insular group of folks have chosen to make draconian shifts to an institution that they continue to claim they cherish, and unswervingly maintain their position in the face of all disagreeing voices and evidence to the contrary. Could it possibly be that there are other ways to deal with even the most dire circumstances? The longer this small, insular group of decisionmakers cling to their mistaken understandings, the more likely it will be that the institution they continue to claim they cherish will be completely gone. In a perverted way I almost wish we could get to that point so at least the opportunity will come for the phoenix to rise from these ashes.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/27/2013 - 05:59 am.

    Business models

    The offer above strikes me both as not in the form of an ultimatum, but also as highly incomplete, which suggests to me that there is plenty of room for negotiation, including negotiation on matters that have financial impact on musicians.

    I an intrigued by this notion that there are alternative business models which can perhaps enhance revenue. It should be noted, for one thing, that just because they aren’t discussed in the article above, that doesn’t mean that they are unknown to the board, and can’t be raised during negotiations by either party. From where I sit, as a total outsider to the process, I have been totally amazed by the lack of creativity displayed by both parties to this dispute. I would love to see some interesting ideas come from the Minnesota Orchestra community where it sometimes the last good idea was to cover the floor with a rug.

  14. Submitted by Amy Adams on 04/27/2013 - 05:33 pm.

    Well, here’s a contract change you can chew on…

    The proposed elimination of seniority pay for all musicians. In the words of industry expert Drew McManus: “To put it mildly, this is a profound proposal and, if implemented, it would be unprecedented in the field for an ensemble the size and stature of the Minnesota Orchestra.”

    This is just one example of management engaging in a perplexing and harmful action in negotiations…plenty of for-profit corporations engage in seniority or performance-based financial incentives. Why doesn’t the MOA want the musicians to have this anymore? It’s a wage loss for any experienced, veteran performer, and an eliminated incentive for great young musicians to consider auditioning for the orchestra.

  15. Submitted by Andrew VanZ on 04/27/2013 - 05:54 pm.

    The board

    Growing extremism in the Republican party has led us here. Management and board members are diggin their heels in deeper and deeper, because they’re angry and afraid…and projecting all their own “victim” feelings on the very ones they’re hurting: the musicians.
    Take a look at the bankers, and the deep, sinuous roots they have entwined into Minnesota state politics. Look at their behavior, at the few (yet revealing) statements you can find attributed to them on the web. These aren’t art lovers…they’re union busters.
    Would you stand with someone who says “‘Everybody’s breaking the rules, blah blah blah,
    get over it.” (Go ahead, search the internet for who spoke those words.)
    Stand with the musicians.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/28/2013 - 06:13 am.


    I am not a big fan of preconditions for negotiations. Simple minded me just thinks they are excuses for not negotiating. As for outside counseling, if both sides can be brought to some table for that, I am all for it.

  17. Submitted by Kim Munholland on 04/28/2013 - 08:58 pm.

    the future for the community

    The authors of this letter assure us that their goal is to assure the future of the orchestra “for the future of the community.” My question is: which community? The community that makes up the eighty or so members of the Orchestra Association? Or the community that worships the orchestra, its skills, its talents, its international reputation? If the latter, then there is what can only be called a public relations disaster. I am a member of the community that loves classical music. Yet the MO Association, led by bankers, assures us that we are a dwindling audience, that the young people of Minnesota are not interested in classical music. Yet this evening we listened to the wonderful MPR program, “Minnesota Varsity,” which demonstrated not only interest but enormous skill on the part of the teen aged contestants. We were told by Graydon Royce in the Star Tribune of December 1, 2010, “Frugality pays off for Minnesota Orchestra” implying financial stability and a balanced budget. We thought, mistakenly as it turns out, that the Minnesota Orchestra was being responsibly managed for the benefit of “the community” that we assumed was the concert-going public. There was, we now see, cause for concern, at least in retrospect. Below the image of the orchestra and its musical director, Osmo Vänska, was the comment, “The Minnesota Orchestra balanced its budget for fiscal 2009-2010. Tight financial controls resulted in a slim $8,000 surplus on expenses of $30.8 million, even as attendance and donations fell.” Another Minnesota miracle? We were led to believe so, but a closer reading of this positive assessment raises questions. Mr. Richard Davis, board chair, intoned, “This was a season characterized by disciplined budget management and significant expense cuts, which kept our operations stable in an unpredictable environment.” That is the economic environment, not the climate. How was this achieved? Expenses were cut by 5 percent. Capacity for concerts rose by 1 percent, but attendance fell by 7 percent. The audience–us–are to blame. We are a dwindling source of revenue. But wait. It turns out that Mr. Henson cut 16 concerts “a drop of 9 percent from 2008-09. Now, as I calculate, this means an increase overall of 2 percent per concert performed. Then Henson explains, “We re-scooped our season to budget with realistic expectations and continue to cut costs.” Why, instead of cutting costs, not pursue additional revenue by increasing concerts, which would produce more ticket sales? Am I missing something? Have we, the locked out audience missed something? By raising such questions are we raising the anger level that the authors of this letter deplore? Apparently the anger of the audience does not bother them. Yet we took Mr. Graydon Royce’s article as describing a stable financial present and presumably a bright future, that seemed confirmed when we were informed that $52 million, including a state bonding measure of $14 million, granted by a governor not known for his support of arts and culture. Construction began, and then the bad news arrived. There was no longer enough money to pay the positions, so they were locked out, the 2012-2013 season has been effectively cancelled, and for those of us who were hoping to hear one of the great orchestras of America and internationally, we were told to forget it, the musicians were too stubborn to be worthy of serious negotiation unless, of course, they capitulated to the draconian terms proposed by the MO Association’s leaders and executive council. Concerned citizens, hoping to rescue the orchestra from a serious loss of quality, formed organizations such as Orchestrate Excellence. Mayor Rybeck and Judy Dayton sponsored a “neutral” concert, but the board, with one exception I know about, boycotted the performance. Members of the board were told not to attend a recent concert at O’Shaughnessy auditorium at St. Catherine’s. Now we have a letter that accuses representatives of the musicians of engaging in angry discourse that leads nowhere. But there are others who are angry, who at first did not take sides in what was seen as a labor dispute between management and the musicians. Alas, for members of the board and its executive committee, your refusal to listen to the orchestra’s customers, those of us who buy tickets and actually attend the concerts, your refusal to take our concerns into account have produced a deep anger among people whom you will need once this is all over.

  18. Submitted by David Anger on 04/29/2013 - 10:43 pm.

    Mrs. Carpenter

    I am certain Mrs. Carpenter knows what it is like to receive top-notch musical training, on-going education and support a family for an average of $120,000 per year.

    • Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 04/30/2013 - 09:09 pm.

      salary average

      And don’t forget that many of the string players have a more than $500,00 dollars worth of equipment and many others, tens of thousands of dollars worth of multiple instruments, add insurance, upkeep and repairs. Also, don’t forget that the average musician in the orchestra probably spent at least 15 years of working hours and hours a day without pay before they started collecting a check.

  19. Submitted by Kim Munholland on 05/01/2013 - 10:51 pm.


    The authors of this letter have a point. There is no need to vilify Mr. Michael Henson. He speaks for himself.

  20. Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 05/09/2013 - 12:06 pm.

    continued half truths and convenient omissions

    Sometimes what is NOT said is far more important than what is. In their article, Ms Carpenter and Mr Pulles cite the salary increases the musicians received back in 2007. As we have seen over and over again, the MOA chooses to mislead the public by failing to mention the other part of that same equation. Where is it mentioned in their article that the musicians gave back $4.5 million dollars of that salary increase? Where is it mentioned that they were willing to give back even more a few years later? This letter, as polite as it may sound, is yet one more attempt to portray the Minnesota Orchestra musicians as greedy inflexible whining children. Talk about self projection! These board members are supposed to be business people with at least a working understanding of numbers. Maybe I didn’t get too far past high school math, but I sure know when I’m being bamboozled.

    The thousands upon thousands of hours I spent in the practice room learning my craft, helped me understand that there were always multiple ways to look at a problem, multiple ways to work with it, and multiple ways to solve it. Anyone who starts out a sentence …”The only path”… is not a very creative thinker, and we need creative thinkers in order to put our orchestra back together again.

    The details of the increased “vacation” time is perhaps only hilarious to a professional musician. Ask Tony Ross or Burt Hara how many days they take off of practising in an entire year. Most musicians at this level practice at least 4 hours a day. I bet Tony does quite a bit more than that every day. So that’s about 35 hours a week of practice time, now add on rehearsal time, and then performance time. Also, remember that all of our world class musicians did a 15-20 year “internship” for little or no pay before they landed this job. Things don’t seem quite so cushy after seeing the whole equation. In addition to the management and board, who absolutely should know better, there have been a lot of people who for whatever reason, feel qualified to weigh in about these cushy musician jobs without having the slightest idea what they actually entail. I urge you to contact some of our world class musicians to get a better understanding of the whole picture. Visit their facebook page or visit their website Minnesota Orchestra Musicians.

  21. Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/10/2013 - 01:16 pm.

    Hear, hear…

    There is a reason, when swearing in witnesses before giving testimony, that the oath is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Time and time again, I see management and board make a statement that contains lots of the financial reality they are concerned with and little or no mention of the myriad changes to workplace conditions and artistic control they are also demanding the musicians give up. Focused as they are on money, that’s all they can see in other people.

    Meanwhile, incentive pay and seniority? A service area magically doubled in size? On and on, through the redline agreement…Raise your hands, board members, if you can quote any of the changes you’re demanding of the musicians. Go on and have a look.

  22. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/14/2013 - 07:46 am.

    Simon Rattle

    Has Osmo Vanska ever conducted a group of Minnesota high school orchestras?

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