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How management’s self-inflicted wounds are killing Minnesota’s two world-class orchestras — and what to do about it

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Brutal industrial tactics should play no role in the delicate relationship between orchestra management and the highly talented artists they employ.

When a disturbed individual deliberately provokes law-enforcement officers in a threatening way and provokes a lethal response, we call it “suicide by cop.” When the boards and managements of the Minnesota Orchestra (MNO) and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) engage in lockouts that provoke much of their best talent to leave, infuriate their other stakeholders and threaten the very existence of the world-renowned orchestras, we ought to recognize it as “suicide by lockout.” The leaders of these orchestras are destroying them piece by piece, or as MNO violist Sam Bergman recently stated, musician by musician by musician. Classical-music lovers need to continue to pull together, stand up and loudly say “Stop! Don’t do it!”

A lockout is a strong-arm industrial labor technique used by management to force a unionized work force to accept major concessions. The employees are forced into submission by long-term denial of salary and health benefits c which threatens them with personal financial ruin. It was most recently used by American Crystal Sugar, which forced its employees to accept its original proposal after being locked out for 20 months. During the lockout, nearly one-half of American Crystal Sugar’s work force quit or retired.

Brutal industrial tactics should play no role in the delicate relationships between orchestra managements and the highly talented artists they employ. Nevertheless, MNO and SPCO, represented by the same law firm as American Crystal Sugar, have invoked the same tactic. MNO has locked out its musicians since October 2012, demanding that they accept a 32 percent pay cut and indicating from day one that its proposal is absolutely firm.

SPCO recently settled its seven-month lockout, with the musicians ratifying a contract giving them more than a 22 percent cut in base pay and up to 20 percent cut in individual musician “overscale” pay. The settlement included retirement incentive payments for musicians age 55 and older, and a reduction in the size of the orchestra from 34 to 28. As we have seen, the results for both orchestras have been disasters.

Massive exodus of talent

Let’s look at what is probably a partial list of the self-inflicted destruction:

Minnesota Orchestra

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

  • As mentioned above, Principal Second Violin Kyu-Young Kim has taken a violin section position with the New York Philharmonic. Update: After publication of this commentary, the SPCO announced that he will remain with the orchestra and will become senior director of artistic planning.
  • Gary Bordner, Principal Trumpet, seeing the handwriting on the wall, took a leave of absence for the 2012-13 season and has now retired (see below).
  • Violinist Yoonshin Song left in 2012 to become Concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
  • Thomas Tempel, oboist and English horn player with SPCO for over 40 years, recently announced his retirement.
  • Timothy Paradise, Principal Clarinet for 35 years, resigned in the fall.
  • Musicians of the SPCO recently announced that cellist David Huckaby is taking a leave of absence next year, indicating likely departure. Huckaby was one of the youngest and most recent additions to SPCO.
  • There is no longer a keyboard musician in the orchestra since Layton “Skip” James retired in 2010.
  • Resignations of a large number of the most senior musicians are now happening under SPCO’s supplement retirement package offering musicians age 55+ cash inducements to leave. Because of the lockout and generally hostile working environment, many musicians have decided to take the package and leave. Musicians of the SPCO have recently announced nine additional retirements: Thomas Kornacker, Co-Principal Second Violin;  Brenda Mickens and Michal Sobieski, violin; Evelina Chao, Assistant Principal Viola; Tamás Strasser, viola; Christopher Brown, Principal Bass; Fred Bretschger, bass; Gary Bordner, Principal Trumpet; and Paul Straka, horn. June 17 is the last day to participate in the program.
  • A total of nine principal-level positions in the orchestra have become or now remain open: Principal Second Violin (upon Kim’s imminent departure); Co-Principal Second Violin (Thomas Kornacker); Principal Viola (Sabina Thatcher resigned in 2011); Assistant Principal Viola (Evelina Chao); Principal Cello (Ronald Thomas resigned in 2010); Principal Bass (Christopher Brown); Principal Clarinet (Timothy Paradise resigned in 2012); Principal Horn (Bernhard Scully left in 2011); and Principal Trumpet (Gary Bordner). There are so many vacancies that SPCO no longer lists them on its orchestra roster.

This massive outflow of extraordinary musical talent from Minnesota is unprecedented. It is sad and discouraging to watch the decimation of our two outstanding orchestras happening in real time.

Origins of the damage

How did these disasters come about? Much has already been written about this from different perspectives. SPCO cited a deficit of up to $1 million that it stated could not be allowed to continue. Yet SPCO dropped ticket prices starting in 2009 to attract more audience members (“thanks to a balanced budget”). Despite its outstanding international reputation, SPCO ticket prices are now the lowest in the nation for comparable orchestras. Tickets to see the finest chamber orchestra in the U.S. are as low as $10, and 80 percent are $25 or less. The maximum price of $40 is below the minimum pricing of some comparable orchestras.

In fact, there is no longer any reason to purchase either season or individual concert tickets, other than out of ignorance. That’s because SPCO also offers a “membership” program under which you can attend an unlimited number of concerts for $5 per month – driving net pricing well below $10. For example, even looking only at the 16-concert series at Ordway Center and ignoring other concerts on the schedule, the $60 annual membership cost nets out to an absurd $3.75 per concert.

SPCO boasts that its lower prices have helped fill the neighborhood concert halls and “break down barriers associated with concert attendance.” Those are admirable goals. However, SPCO seems blinded to the way rock-bottom prices devalue its concert offerings. SPCO leadership also does not recognize the devastation their pricing strategy has caused to the orchestra’s finances. For example, for its fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, SPCO ticket sales and concert fees generated a shockingly-low 18 percent of total “revenue and support.”

Eyes-on-the-prize donors

SPCO past and returning president Bruce Coppock has published a detailed “business” analysis explaining why he and SPCO believe “concerts are a loss leader” and “filling the hall is the sine qua non, even at the expense of ticket revenue.” Contrary to what music lovers might expect, it turns out that orchestras need to stop worrying about ticket revenue and instead need to “think of ourselves as being in the patron-development business.” According to this theory, orchestras need to “continually develop patrons to the next [donation] level” based upon “the alchemy of patron-revenue growth.”

SPCO, by bringing Coppock back, is plainly signaling that it is prepared to ride this disastrous pricing strategy into the sunset. Even in the face of recent declining corporate donations and large budget deficits, SPCO has rejected numerous calls to raise ticket prices (see also here, here and here). Its leadership obviously prefers to ignore revenue shortfalls and to focus solely on cutting expenses. That is why SPCO leadership instigated a lockout seeking to slash musician pay and the size of the orchestra, even at the rather predictable price of wide scale musician resignations. The leadership clearly wants a much smaller, cheaper orchestra, at least if we assume they intended the natural consequences of their actions. If not, then they played their cards very poorly.

Youth and (architectural) beauty

At the same time, SPCO, through its participation in the St. Paul Arts Partnership, has helped raise over $50 million to renovate one portion of the Ordway Center. This is completely consistent with what Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, recently dubbed the “Edifice Complex.” While SPCO will no longer have the nation’s finest musicians in its orchestra, at least it will have the shiniest and most acoustically brilliant concert hall in town.

SPCO also raised $3 million from a private fund earmarked to entice its senior musicians to leave, apparently because they are growing too old for – well, we don’t know for what. Fortunately, and to the musicians’ credit, newer and younger replacement musicians cannot be treated as second-class citizens. This is because the musicians adamantly resisted what management really wanted: a two-tier pay structure through which the “new” (read: younger) SPCO could be made even cheaper. Remarkably, both the musicians who would remain and those who knew they would soon be leaving made certain they did not benefit current employees at the expense of those who would come later. They thereby avoided leaving the future orchestra divided into two camps. There ought to be an award for that kind of selfless courage.

Drawing power

For MNO’s part, it has now been well documented from the Board Executive Committee’s own minutes that the financial “crisis” was deliberately created through management’s financial manipulation. While seeking public funding through the Legacy Amendment Funds, MNO took sizable draws from its endowment so it could “announce balances” showing that it was financially healthy. With labor negotiations upcoming, MNO made plans to turn off the endowment tap so it could “announce deficits” that would “demonstrate the need to reset the business model.” At the request of numerous Minnesota legislators, the legislative auditor has initiated an audit of MNO’s finances that will hopefully shed more light on these practices and the orchestra’s true financial situation.

Also suffering from the Edifice Complex, MNO raised $50 million to renovate the lobby of Orchestra Hall. The MNO board and leadership apparently saw no inconsistency in spending this massive sum on part of a building while claiming to have insufficient funds to pay competitive salaries to the musicians who are the heart and soul of an orchestra. In fact, a MNO board member publicly bemoaned the fact that nearly 50 percent of its expenses were to pay the musicians, without whom no performance could be held. The musicians aren’t buying it, and neither are the informed members of the audience or the public.

Activating the audience base

One bright spot emanating from these meltdowns is the organization of supporters of classical orchestra excellence, otherwise known as the audience. On the SPCO side, Save Our SPCO has organized audience members seeking a stronger voice and has brought together an Exploratory Committee of distinguished community members to look at forming an alternative orchestral organization and other options to improve the situation.

With the end of the SPCO lockout, Save Our SPCO has initiated a new fund-raising effort through which SPCO supporters can pool donations they would otherwise have given directly to SPCO. The funds raised, which currently stand at over $14,000, would be given to SPCO if changes sought by audience advocates are made. Those changes would include at least significant board representation for audience advocates. If SPCO is not willing to meet those requests, the funds will be used to support Save Our SPCO’s other initiative, which is studying the feasibility of establishing a new, world-class chamber orchestra in St. Paul.

Save Our SPCO has announced through fliers distributed at recent concerts that it supports orchestral excellence, respect for SPCO’s world-class musicians, retention of top artistic talent, financial stability, new organizational and artistic leadership, candor, transparency and a strong audience voice. Save Our SPCO is currently “crowd sourcing” a set of Guiding Principles through Facebook and web site postings. The end product of this process will be published and will guide the organization’s efforts going forward.

New models

On the MNO side, similar calls for change have been made. Bill Eddins, Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, has proposed a comprehensive model for change in the governance structure that includes a greater role on the Board of Directors for both musicians and “friends of the MNO.” Attorney and advocate Lee Henderson has also written a $5 million, five-year plan of action. There have also been various calls for the musicians of MNO to break away and form a new organization with its own board and management (see comments posted here and here, among others).

MNO audience advocates have formed Orchestrate Excellence. That group states that it intends to serve as a “positive voice to help end the lockout … seeking a solution to the current impasse that creates a path to a secure future for the orchestra and doesn’t compromise its musical excellence.”

Most recently, Young Musicians of Minnesota, formed “to express solidarity with the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra,” has set up its own website and Facebook page, published a letter of support to the musicians and released a video in which its members speak from their hearts and are shown taking action by writing letters to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Greater coordination between Save Our SPCO, Orchestrate Excellence, other audience advocates and labor leaders of the MNO and SPCO musicians would be appropriate and might lead to new ideas and opportunities to collaborate. Direct coordination and integration of the efforts may be too much to ask of what are essentially volunteer organizations. Perhaps we could start by meeting over another local art form, a Minnesota craft brew, to discuss how we can work together either to help prevent these two fine orchestras from putting themselves 6 feet under or to develop a breakthrough plan of action.

Jonathan L. Eisenberg is a business attorney and a director of SOSPCO. He and his wife have been season ticket holders of SPCO for more than 30 years and have also been concert attendees and supporters of the Minnesota Orchestra. The views expressed in this article are solely his own.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 06/10/2013 - 10:23 am.

    Thanks for the article

    What I find interesting about the – let’s call it Coppock theory, for lack of a better term – is that it requires loyalty to the institution and extraordinary trust in the board of directors to have any chance of working. I and my friends may buy tickets to either the SPCO or MO, depending on how these lockouts shake out. But I can guarantee you, we are literally years away from ever donating a cent to either orchestra, and until significant changes are made at the top of both organizations, I will urge patrons to think twice about donating their hard-earned dollars there, because I’m not sure they will be spent wisely. To be brutally honest, the SPCO isn’t even the SPCO anymore; it’s an orchestra with some of the same players under the same name. Seven violins, one viola, two cellos, no basses, no clarinet, no horns, one trumpet, one oboe (with more retirements and/or resignations undoubtedly to come)? Please. It’ll be a completely different orchestra. Whether it will be just as good as the old one or not…let’s see, but I know one thing: it won’t have the connection with the community the old SPCO did. Connections with a community take decades to foster. Given how deep passions run community-wide about this issue, I can’t help but feel I’m not alone in the way I feel. So it will be interesting to see moving forward how this affects the Coppock theory. He has his work cut out for him in rebuilding this orchestra. Hopefully he knows this, and will discuss the difficulty publicly, so trust can begin to be restored.

  2. Submitted by Amy Adams on 06/10/2013 - 12:16 pm.

    Stimulating Patron Development…

    In Coppock’s business analysis (linked in the article above), one finds this philosophy highlighted at the end, in a concluding statement:
    “If we think of ourselves as being in the concert production business, and think of ticket revenue as
    core revenue, we limit potential revenue. However, if we think of ourselves as being in the patron
    development business and think of producing concerts as our mission, new horizons appear.”

    This is the part that disturbed me… It appears that management is saying “We no longer wish to focus on masterworks and performing them brilliantly. Instead, we will now focus on selling You…Whatever You Will Buy.”

  3. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/10/2013 - 12:09 pm.

    Patron development ?

    Hey it’s the same strategy that casinos and race tracks use on they call it player development.

    I guess entertainment is just entertainment after all.

    Perhaps tiered membership with different perks might be next.

  4. Submitted by Howard Salute on 06/10/2013 - 12:12 pm.

    We will get the Orchestra we can afford

    Management is faced with the hard fact that operating expenses must match operating income. To plan for something different is not a sustainable business plan. I’m comfortable with a Minnesota Orchestra that we can afford and support. We are a small market. The quality will still be spectacular! Historically, the pool of musicians looking for an orchestra position with the Minnesota Orchestra is quite large. Hundreds of applicants vie for a single open position. That will not change.

    • Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 06/10/2013 - 01:12 pm.

      Hmm

      Did you know that many professional orchestral auditions result in no-hires, because the quality of the players who showed up is not high enough, or the particular players who showed up did not mesh with the rest of the group? Many delusional people audition for orchestras, inflating the number of applicants. Principal positions are especially difficult to fill, and they can remain open for years.

      Unfortunately, the business plans of the Minnesota Orchestra are simply not sound, as I discussed in my own MinnPost editorial.

      http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2013/05/questions-remain-about-fiscal-performance-minnesota-orchestras-board-manage

      Read that article and come back to me and say you have 100% confidence in the men who won’t answer the most basic questions about their finances. Notice the MOA hasn’t answered any of my points, although they are aware of the article; it was *everywhere* when it was published, including on the New Yorker critic Alex Ross’s Twitter feed. I ask: is the MOA more interested in doing what it takes to sustain a “spectacular” orchestra…or in covering up some extremely poor decisions on their part over the past few years?

      Also, keep in mind if you endorse the idea that musicians are easily replaceable, you also endorse the idea that a mass musical exodus is desirable. Even if better musicians take the old one’s places (a TOTAL hypothetical), the Twin Cities will be greatly poorer place for the other players’ loss. Musicians are part of a musical and cultural ecosystem. To remove them – especially in such a quick, violent, ugly, acrimonious manner – hurts not only the orchestra, but the community as a whole. This is fact.

      • Submitted by mp Rolojeck on 06/10/2013 - 06:09 pm.

        Calm down…

        This implication that the (then) current musicians were the ‘chosen ones’ has got to stop. Talented, well trained musicians? Absolutely. Any one else out there like them that can play as well (if not better)? No question about it.

        If there was EVER an orchestra that had an empty first chair ‘for years’, it wasn’t because of a lack of talent but a lack of management. There’s no such thing as a viable business keeping it’s doors shut for years because they can’t find a flute player. Nonsense.

        How you interpreted the desire for a ‘mass musical exodus’ from what Howard said is most puzzling. His point — a valid one at that — was that the musicians are not doing anything unique to the performance process, it’s simply hard work and diligence. The one in the same process many, many others do in order to become appointed to orchestra chairs every year.

        Of course, if you continue to believe that the musicians that made up the MO before this mess were the only ones that made them a world-caliber, spectacular, seated-at-the-right-hand-of-the-father orchestra, then the MO is officially dead since a chunk of them left. Thank goodness this is just not true.

        Imagine the clarinetist who takes Burt Hara’s chair once this whole thing is over with. “Sorry you’ll never be as good as the one that came before you, mate. Enjoy your sub-par stay.”

        • Submitted by Amy Adams on 06/10/2013 - 06:42 pm.

          Utterly wrong, “Rolojeck”…

          By describing the musicians of this orchestra as simply diligent, hard workers, you betray your lack of knowlege about the artistic side of this industry, and total ignorance of the audition process of top orchestras. Your patronizing tone (“Calm down…”) suggests you’re shilling for management, or functioning on this thread as a troll. Strong feelings often accompany injustice and outrage, and the locked-out musicians deserve our vociferous support, not condescension from people who think the musicians are basically factory workers.

          Gather the country’s really good clarinetists together and poll them. I bet the majority raise a toast to Burt and say: His shoes will be tough to fill.

          • Submitted by mp Rolojeck on 06/11/2013 - 04:19 pm.

            wow

            “Strong feelings often accompany injustice and outrage…”
            What a snide way of saying that you must believe in my cause and my side of the argument.

            I’m just glad you’re not in charge, because we’d never hear the orchestra again.

        • Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 06/11/2013 - 11:33 pm.

          Well….

          How long did it take to find a concertmaster in Minnesota? How long did it take to find LA’s principal flute? Principal clarinet in New York? Tell me. Heck, it’s often difficult to fill section positions in “lesser” orchestras in Florida, San Diego, or Milwaukee, because the orchestra simply can’t find the right person. Insane? Maybe. But it’s true, and it’s the way this crazy business works, and there are reasons why. Head over to myauditions.org and read a bit…you’d be surprised at how often auditions end up with a no-hire. Not to mention it takes months to schedule auditions: the hall has to be booked; the music director has to be available; the schedules of the search committees must align…

          Also, it is not “simply” hard work and diligence that makes the Minnesota Orchestra what it is (although hard work and diligence certainly goes into it); it is also chemistry and history…a considerable chunk of which disappears as each new vacancy is announced. There are reasons why the Minnesota Orchestra plays better than the University of Minnesota Symphony Orchestra…or other orchestras with smaller budgets…or even other orchestras with larger budgets. There’s a reason you won’t necessarily get a world class orchestra together even if you throw 100 random world-class players together.

          If you’re saying “it doesn’t matter who leaves or how many people leave; the orchestra quality will still be spectacular”, I’m sorry, but you’re also saying “I’m okay with musicians being replaced.” When you’re saying “I’m okay with their being replaced”, you’re saying you’re okay…with their being replaced. Hence, you’re okay with mass exodus. If you don’t consider the list in Jon’s piece to be a mass exodus, I’m not really sure what to say. How many people would have to leave for you to be alarmed?

          Yesterday the Pittsburgh Symphony announced it had arrived at a new contract with musicians. Their CEO fretted in public statements that they’d lost two musicians. He’d be having a heart attack if he was in charge here in Minnesota, and had to deal with the list above.

          As for Burt. I guarantee you, the Minnesota Orchestra’s next principal clarinet will be well aware of the difficulty – and *perhaps* ultimate impossibility – of filling Burt’s shoes. Burt Hara is one of the great orchestral musicians in this country. You simply don’t take away a musician the caliber of Burt, with the personality of Burt, **with the connections within the community that Burt has**, and plug in the hole he leaves with a new player…no matter how great that player is. Doesn’t mean I won’t support him/her in whatever way I can. Doesn’t mean I don’t wish the new clarinetist all the best. (S/he will need all our best wishes to deal with the work environment that will takes years to clean up.) Doesn’t mean I don’t hope with all my heart s/he’ll in time accomplish something akin to what Burt accomplished. But I have the right to mourn Burt Hara’s departure, and to feel that we lost something extraordinary…and to be furious that management is so blase about it.

      • Submitted by Howard Salute on 06/11/2013 - 08:21 am.

        Very thoughtful

        Emily, thank you for directing me to your well written editorial. I believe you brought up many interesting points. Please remember the MOA board members are long time, well respected community leaders that volunteer their time. Have they made mistakes? I’m sure they have! Who hasn’t? But I also believe they put the best interest of MOA first. They have nothing to gain by seeing it fail. I’d like to read more about fiscal sustainability; a balanced budget whereby annual operating expenses are matched to annual operating revenue. And maybe as you elude to, this transition can happen over time in a less acrimonious manner. Please keep up the great work. You are a treasure!

        • Submitted by Michael Wunsch on 06/11/2013 - 11:05 am.

          Fiscal sustainability

          I think everyone – including the musicians – would agree that fiscal sustainability is important. The critical question is how you achieve fiscal sustainability. The current path chosen by the board and management of the Minnesota Orchestra relies on sharp cuts to the musician’s salaries, the broadening of musician responsibilities to include playing background music for corporate rental events, increased rental fees for the hall, and an increase in pop programming. Many of us think that better results would be obtained by focusing on the core mission of the organization (performance of world-class classical music and outreach efforts in the community, including educational programming for the youth), giving patrons and small to moderate donors a voice in the organization, and maximizing revenues through increased ticket revenues and other strategies. The Cleveland Orchestra, which is attracting record audiences and has sold out many of its concerts this season, has demonstrated that it is possible to sharply increase ticket sale revenues for classical music programming. It should be noted that Cleveland is also successfully balancing its books while paying its musicians salaries that are higher than those paid at the Minnesota Orchestra prior to the lockout.

    • Submitted by Scott Chamberlain on 06/10/2013 - 03:26 pm.

      Response to Howard

      Howard, your broad point about having an orchestra we can afford is true—obviously, every non-profit organization, or business for that matter, has to live within its means. But I would disagree with some of your particulars.

      First, you also seem to suggest that young musicians are no different from veterans, and quality won’t suffer if we use them. With respect, would you advocate the same scenario for, say, the Twins—argue that since it is a small market we should hire college guys who play for the love of the game instead of Mauer, Morneau and the rest? Sure, the replacements could play the game of baseball, but I suspect they would lose to the Yankees by scores of 20-0. Which wouldn’t do anything to jump start interest in the team or help sell tickets/merchandise.

      I would also say, as I have at length elsewhere, that replacing beloved (albeit more expensive) musicians with run of the mill replacements would have serious negative consequences for the Orchestra. In short, the audience members have a personal bond with them, which is a significant driver for donations and ticket sales. Would you spend the same amount of money to hear a group of temporary ringers, or give a similarly-sized donation?

      A larger issue is that in the case of both orchestras, the board has put forward a statement of what it *thinks* the organization can afford (or more accurately, what it thinks the organization *should* afford), but the numbers it uses are debatable at best. As Jon points out, there is a clear sense that the MOA’s endowment draws were manipulated at different times for different ends—most recently to show that deep cuts were necessary. But the organization drew in tens of millions in donations at the same time, making many wonder what the *real* financial state of the organization is. Since the management has been strident in its refusal to let others inspect the books, many feel like the statements about what the orchestra can afford are based on ideology, not finances.

      With the SPCO, there was a clear experiment, called “bold” and “unprecedented” at the time, to drastically cut ticket prices to artificially low levels with the hope of expanding audiences. As a PR move it worked, but as a financial solution it appears that it was unsuccessful… and yet the ticket prices are still held well below market value.

      So I don’t know if either case proves we “can’t afford” either orchestra.

      Yes, the management has made a clear case for what we can afford, but since they have a clear agenda about the numbers, I’d love to see an independent study made by an outside consultant who could give an impartial estimate of the long-range support either orchestra has here in town.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/11/2013 - 08:51 am.

      You’re kidding, right?

      First, even if we assume that the first statement is true, and the management is actually facing something unavoidable, it doesn’t follow that simply shoe horning in “what we can afford” will result in an orchestra that is still spectacular. As a matter of fact, I guarantee you that it will be good but definitely not spectacular. Even if some spectacular players stay, their talent doesn’t make others that are simply good spectacular. And it may even be that some of the good players will become spectacular when they have the opportunity to rehearse and play with those that have more talent, but a spectacular orchestra requires an entirely spectacular team of players. I know some very excellent musicians, but no matter how good they are (and some of them really do border on spectacular) they understand that they are not spectacular and that’s why they are not playing in a professional orchestra, let alone Minnesota Orchestra.

      Yes, there will still be hundreds of applicants vying for a single open position, but it will definitely be the B team. And if that is the case, there is little point in paying a lot for a ticket when there are many exceptional community bands and orchestras you can listen to for free or cheap. As for me, I’m not interested in paying rent for an orchestra hall with ticket money for a world class orchestra that doesn’t exist.

  5. Submitted by T J Simplot on 06/10/2013 - 01:28 pm.

    What’s the difference?

    “A lockout is a strong-arm industrial labor technique used by management to force a unionized work force to accept major concessions.”

    Then what would you call a strike?

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 06/10/2013 - 01:57 pm.

      I’d call it “an attempt to politically re-direct this thread”

      Whatever your feelings are about unions…
      THESE musicians were locked out by the managements of their respective organizations. So far, I’d say it has not had quite the winning effect that was expected. The players matter to their community.

  6. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/10/2013 - 02:25 pm.

    I’m shocked. This is the first place I’ve seen listed all the musicians who have left the respective orchestras in our Twin Cities–I had no idea departures were that massive. It makes sense for people to leave, of course, what with all the months without concerts or salaries or even negotiations with a board that seems not to get it, at all.

  7. Submitted by Wm. Sweeney on 06/10/2013 - 06:41 pm.

    Mostly correct

    The list of missteps by these two arts organizations is truly amazing…and reprehensible. Particularly upsetting is the focus placed by both in adding to or renovating their concert venues.

    I disagree, however, with one comment by the writer about the MNO and the use of its Endowment. Overdrawing on the Endowment to reflect an annual surplus was absolutely a short sighted strategy, and one that painted an incorrect financial position of MNO to its constituents and the Legacy funding source. But this practice of ‘overdrawing’ on Endowment funds had gone on for many years before there was a Legacy fund, and was simply a poor management practice of self-delusion that was assisted by poor Board oversight. I think it incorrect to state that stopping this practice was deliberately ‘creating’ a financial crisis. Rather, it was recognition by responsible board members that continual reliance on overdrawing Endowment funds is fiscally irresponsible. So, this was not so much ‘creating’ a financial crisis as it was recognizing that a crisis was in the making and needed to be addressed.

    Having said that, MNO’s handling of this fiscal issue has been atrocious — and might stand as a case study in how not to deal with business matters in an arts/cultural organization. I cannot help but think that part of the problem stems from the anti-union sentiment that now pervades our business culture — a sentiment that views unions as inherently evil and undeserving of even a modicum of respect.

  8. Submitted by Joe Musich on 06/10/2013 - 10:27 pm.

    The cities arts maybe on the way to …

    charter arts programs just like the schools. It’s what happens when the business model isn’t human.

  9. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 06/11/2013 - 07:31 am.

    I appreciate Emily’s lead on this…

    She continues to point out one important point among many. As a parent I ocassionally spend family money on myself or on things that I don’t want to take the time to justify to my kids to I give them general nonanswers if they ask, I “patronize” them. I don’t really want to share with and debate every little element of the family budget with them. But then they are kids and I’m the adult; it works in a family.

    But it doesn’t work, I think, in the context of a charitable arts organization, for the management to be anything but totally transparent, and as Emily continues to point out, that is not happening here. These guys are running the place like it is a publicly traded for-profit company. We should just trust them no matter how things look. Their whole financial model should be based on attraction to a quality product, not promotion as used in the financial models of their for-profit comapanies. Where does the model of ‘patron development” ultimately lead: pops, pops, pops, maybe soliciting a “rap opera” by Eminem, a “funk sonata” by Prince. That’ll draw the crowds, especially with a big, fancy new lobby.

    The board has strayed from their mission, taking the orchestra with it. Ask any regular attender, I think, which they’d prefer: a great orchestra in a shabby hall or a fair orchestra in a palace. I think the board and the patrons would have different answers to that question.

    Stay on top of it, Emily.

  10. Submitted by jim hughes on 06/11/2013 - 01:39 pm.

    what comes after?

    It’s hard to imagine where these ‘management’ groups think they’re going from here, because their fund-raising ability is now zero. We recently got a call from SPCO and our response was a polite equivalent of “you have to be kidding”.

  11. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 06/15/2013 - 08:25 pm.

    Wildly incompetent management/board–or am I missing something?

    I wasn’t aware until now that MN-O management hired the same bottom-feeding attorneys behind the sugar mill lockout. If a message was intended by this–and the only one really available goes something like ‘You [musicians] are expendable balance sheet liabilities’–it’s clear as day.

    Then there’s the utter stupidity behind spending $50 million for architectural renovations, while decimating the membership of the orchestra–a level of such catastrophically poor judgment that it almost defies belief. The consequence of losing many great members from the orchestra is tantamount to a cultural crime against the community.

    And in the case of the new Orchestra Hall design–how else can anyone characterize it?–it is an embarrassment in its mediocrity. The new design is, to borrow the words of one architecture critic, ‘businessman’s vernacular’–boxy, plain, uniform, sterile, uninspired–the antithesis of art. If you have $50 million to spend on construction (after well-compensating the musical talent first–the smart way to do things), how could you not demand something inspiring, something monumentally worthy of one of the country’s (formerly?) best orchestras? Instead we get a deadening glass bank building housing artistic treasure. Not a shred of creativity in sight with this structure, and all for the bargain price of $50 million. But hey, it created jobs.

    A question: is any member of the management salaried for more than any member of the orchestra? If so, how shameful. Spare us the rationalize-anything talk of ‘what the market says’ about management compensation levels. The deepest cuts must always start at the top with an orchestra. It’s clear there’s much more fat that can be cut away. Not reducing management salary bloat sends another ugly message about where their priorities lie.

    Potential donors: ask first how much management is making. If any bean counter is making more than the 3rd chair horn of the Orchestra or an on-call timpanist, then consider donating to another nonprofit of your choice.

    It would also help to cut out inanities, and their sources, like “The musicians are half the cost, and that can’t continue.” The metal in an ounce of gold is 95% of the cost. That can’t continue. It’s time to build a shiny new vault.

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