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10 key points the public should know about the Minnesota Orchestra situation

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
A lockout is not a strike. Management locked out the musicians on Oct. 1, 2012.

Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN), an audience advocate group devoted to pursuing concrete action to end the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, is pleased to see movement in recent days in negotiations between the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) and the locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. We are grateful to the foundations and companies that have stepped forward with new “bridge funds.”

But we find it unacceptable that our world-class musicians have been locked out for a year without pay or health insurance, and that they are being forced to negotiate from that position.

We believe it is disgraceful that the MOA is negotiating in the media, rather than confidentially through their own chosen mediator. The MOA seems to be angling to position the musicians as solely responsible, should Music Director Osmo Vänskä leave and the Carnegie Hall performances be canceled.

SOSMN has significant concerns about the MOA’s handling of the impasse. We believe that a trust deficit is just as troubling as a fiscal deficit.

We would like to remind the public and media of 10 key points:

1. Management presented musicians with a “final offer” in September 2012 calling for 30 to 50 percent cuts and more than 200 changes in work rules, despite having the sixth-largest orchestral endowment in America. No other major orchestra has proposed a contract remotely like this.

2. A lockout is not a strike. Management locked out the musicians on Oct. 1, 2012. They have continued it for a year despite massive public outcry. Management could end the lockout at any time by its own initiative (however, they have publicly stated they will not do so because they will lose “leverage”).

3. Management rejected the musicians’ proposal for binding arbitration. This process would involve substantial risk to the musicians, but management would not subject its finances and contract proposal to an independent arbitrator’s scrutiny.

4. One of many examples of the MOA going back on its word is the saga of the joint financial review. The musicians proposed it at the beginning of the lockout, but management declined. After state legislators got involved, the MOA agreed to an analysis. But the MOA could not agree on the reviewer or terms. Finally, the MOA pulled out of joint analysis altogether and paid for its own so-called “independent review.” This review was finished in June but not released to the musicians or public until September. It contained no comparisons with other orchestras in cities with more successful orchestras. But it did suggest a significant level of financial mismanagement over the years. Responsibility for this lies with the MOA board and management.

5. In 2009, according to their 990s, the MOA sold millions of dollars of securities at a $14 million loss. No other American orchestra reported a loss like this. Despite repeated calls from the public, the MOA has not explained what these securities were or what their value would be now.

6. In July, CEO Michael Henson said that a $960,000 state grant represented 7 percent of the MOA’s 012-13 budget, which means the budget came in somewhere around $13.7 million.  So the MOA spent nearly $14 million and yet presented no orchestral concerts in 2012-2013.

7. Management recommended former Sen. George Mitchell as a mediator. The musicians accepted his “play-and-talk” proposal, which included equal risks for both sides, but the management rejected it.

8. In August, management presented an offer to the musicians that it specifically stated was outside the mediation process. It was presented to the media at the same time it was presented to the musicians. But the “new” proposal was almost identical to a proposal the musicians had already unanimously rejected. To this day, the management continues to negotiate through the media. In fact, on Sept. 26, the MOA presented another contract proposal to the musicians through the Star Tribune -— before the musicians had even seen it. How can the community trust a group of people who believes this method of “negotiating” is acceptable?

9. Management repeatedly states that orchestra musicians are easily replaceable. This assertion is false. Look at the experiences of the Detroit Symphony and Louisville Symphony after their devastating work stoppages.

10. Richard Davis, chair of management’s negotiating committee, recently said to the Star Tribune, “Osmo may have to leave.”  These words are personally and professionally insulting to the man who has led the orchestra to greatness. We find this disrespectful attitude to be appalling and thoroughly unworthy of this great institution.

What does Save Our Symphony Minnesota want?

  • We ask management to end the lockout immediately and without preconditions.
  • We want the board and management of the MOA to be fully accountable to the community. We ask for full transparency with musicians and public.
  • We ask MOA to engage in a constructive public dialogue with the audience and the greater community.
  • We ask the MOA to negotiate confidentially through Sen. Mitchell.

If these steps are taken, we have great confidence that the music can be brought back, Maestro Vänskä can remain music director, the Carnegie Hall performances can go on as planned, and the 2013-14 orchestral season can get under way with significant renewed support from the community, Minnesota Orchestra patrons, and donors.

Please join us in our efforts.

Maryann Goldstein is SOSMN chair, Jon Eisenberg is SOSMN vice chair, Mariellen Jacobson is SOSMN treasurer and Nils Halker is SOSMN secretary.


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Comments (40)

  1. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 09/27/2013 - 05:22 pm.


    This piece raises some pertinent questions ahead of Maestro Vanska’s departure. Maybe the board can contemplate them as they try to figure out where they’re getting their next music director from.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/28/2013 - 06:41 am.

      Put an Ad on Craig’s List

      If they think the musicians are “easily replaceable”, why would their opinion of Osmo be any different?

      You have to pay for talent in the executive suite, but they don’t think that’s true anywhere else.

  2. Submitted by Sarah Schmalenberger on 09/27/2013 - 06:09 pm.

    For the Locked Out Audience

    Thank you, MinnPost, for giving the space to present the SOSMN advocacy group. It is vital to consider the perspective of audience members who have been locked out, who want to help, who support the musicians of course but also the overall well-being of the entire Minnesota Orchestra organization.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/27/2013 - 07:21 pm.

    Certainly not an unbiased position, is it?

    “Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN), [is] an audience advocate group devoted to pursuing concrete action to end the Minnesota Orchestra lockout[.]”

    Really? This piece reads as if it were written by the union.

    Is there no issue on which SOSMN supports the Orchestra’s position? Is there no issue on which SOSMN would like to see the union bend?

  4. Submitted by Lee Henderson on 09/27/2013 - 08:24 pm.

    Free enterprise

    In the words of one Strib commenter: “If these musicians are as good as they say, they shouldn’t have a problem finding a new employer willing to pay what they want. Free enterprise, it’s what makes America great.” Right?

    • Submitted by Jeremy Brezovan on 09/28/2013 - 08:48 am.

      Some of the musicians HAVE found other employment

      In the end, I don’t see that the board has done anything but denigrate the talent and ignore the Orchestra’s audience. Musicians of their caliber are not a dime a dozen, as the board would have us believe. Who do they think will be so eager to step into the shoes of the musicians and audience members they’re worked so hard to marginalize? They’ve shot themselves in BOTH feet.

      And who do they think will replace Vänskä when he leaves?

      • Submitted by Ken Meyer on 10/07/2013 - 11:47 am.

        They may not be “a dime a dozen”….but I seriously doubt that it’d cost 1.5 to 2.5 million dollars to round a dozen of ’em up, either.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 09/29/2013 - 11:35 am.

      But the orchestra is not a free enterprise it is a public

      non profit organization and as such is a “public trust”.

    • Submitted by Walter Anastazievsky on 10/01/2013 - 11:43 am.


      About a quarter of the musicians had already left before Vanska resigned. How many more will follow? I guess we’ll have a beautiful new lobby to welcome guests who come to see the Podunk Community Orchestra perform.

  5. Submitted by Nils Halker on 09/27/2013 - 09:39 pm.

    Consistent with the Evidence

    Hi James,

    Thanks for reading our commentary and replying to it. We are passionate audience members who belong to no union, and who have studied this situation intently for coming up on a year. Among the authors are a physician, an attorney, a tech consultant, and I am a biologist. All of us have been trained in our respective disciplines to evaluate evidence carefully. This commentary is the result of our analysis of the available data. I am sorry if our conclusions appear to you to be biased, but we believe them to be consistent with the facts.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/30/2013 - 08:14 am.

      I appreciate your response,

      but my questions remain unanswered.

      • Submitted by Amy Adams on 09/30/2013 - 03:07 pm.

        Orchestra? “Orchestra”?

        Sorry to be nitpicky, James, but if you’re refering to the MOA or management, could you call them as such? When you speak of the orchestra, many people (myself included) picture violists and trumpet players and such.
        And of course, the converse: the “union” is in fact the musicians. The “union” is the orchestra.

  6. Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 09/27/2013 - 11:28 pm.

    unbiased position

    This does not read like it was written by the union. It reads like a group of very well informed patrons who have watched the Minnesota Orchestra musicians get repeatedly sucker punched in the kidneys by this shameful group of “leaders” who seem bent on destroying our world class orchestra for over a year. There has been so much deception on the part of the management and board that I feel strongly that this kind of fact sheet is most definitely needed in order for the public at large to understand some of the issues that have not been addressed. Well done writers

  7. Submitted by Donald Kahn on 09/28/2013 - 01:14 am.

    musicians lockout

    one important point regularly missed is that the board has proposed changing work rules to remove the music director from the final choice of a new musician (presumably to fill a vacancy already approved) and leave the final choice to the chairman of the board. since the music director is responsible for the quality of the music, this seems to put the music director in an impossible position.can you imagine toscanini or furtwangler conducting an orchestra whose musicians have been selected by a banker, who may have never attended a symphony orchestra concert?

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/28/2013 - 08:32 am.

    Massively irrelevant

    This piece is as massively irrelevant to the orchestra’s problems and any settlement of them as the orchestra’s nonsensical choice to make a one time offer.

    There are lots of reasons on all sides to nurse grudges and weep bitter tears. But the simple and largely undenied fact is that the orchestra doesn’t have enough revenue to sustain it as it has been operated in the past. Now the blame for that primarily goes to mange because bringing in money is primarily their job. But at all times players have the option both to bring creative solutions to the table in terms of changes in work rules that might lower costs, and also to bring new ideas which would make the orchestra more appealing to the community, something that ultimately translate into greater revenue. That’s not the orchestra’s job, of course, but neither is it management’s job to make a fiscally irresponsible deal which would destroy the orchestra down the road.

    Who is it, by the way, who is managing the musisicans’ PR? Whining is not attractive. Complaining about mean managers is not attractive. Why aren’t orchestra members doing what they do best? Performing music. Making the case for what they do, and taking every opportunity they can to show our community what we are missing.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 09/28/2013 - 10:09 am.

      Hiram, don’t you know?

      That the musicians have been LOCKED OUT by management, but they are STILL producing music. In fact, I attended their concert a few weeks ago at Lake Harriet and have tickets to the one next Saturday at Ted Mann Hall. Why don’t you attend?

      And no, the musicians do NOT have the option “at all times” to bring anything to the table, because there isn’t a place for them.

  9. Submitted by Lee Henderson on 09/28/2013 - 09:18 am.

    please define work rules

    While some understand what “work rules” are, those tossing out that argument need to realize that the general population of working adults define “work rules” as “I show up; I work; I get paid” …. while it might take a little space, it would be beneficial in your argument to list them all, instead of cherry picking the top line, which frankly the general concert goer probably doesn’t understand. Enlighten them please

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/29/2013 - 09:43 pm.

      This attitude towards labor relations

      works in situations where workers are interchangeable cogs in the industrial machine.
      If you think that this model is applicable to world class orchestras you have no business commenting about the compensation of musicians in the MSO.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/28/2013 - 10:44 am.

    Work rules

    I am a stranger to this dispute, and while fulminate a lot on this issue, it’s always from a position of blissful ignorance. I know nothing about the orchestra and/or the rules under which it operates. What I do know, at least what I am pretty sure of, is that the orchestra’s problem is a simple one; revenues are out of whack with costs. Just as the problem is simple so is the answer. You have to lower costs or increase revenues.

    It’s been kind of axiomatic in orchestral labor disputes that orchestras can’t increase productivity. You can only play so much Mahler in front of so many seats. I thought that was naive, when the old business model was in it’s heyday, and it’s totally wrong now that the old business model has broken down. The orchestra must be more productive, and one way to do that is to change work rules. It’s not for me to tell anyone involved in this dispute how to do that. But one of the things I will tell those involved in dispute is that if they want a deal to get done, as opposed playing the martyr for the audience on Almanac, changing work rules to become more productive is one way to do it.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 09/29/2013 - 08:09 pm.

      Oh, Hiram. “Stranger to this dispute…?” Good one.

      I’ve seen your Minnpost comments on this labor dispute for the entire year, and usually you weigh in three or four times per article, at minimum. That’s a bit disingenuous, don’tcha think? (Hope I used that word correctly this time…)

  11. Submitted by Norm Mead on 09/28/2013 - 11:03 am.

    The expensive remodel and the lock out

    With the amount of money spent on the remodel and the lack of financial support for the musicians this is reminiscent of a times long past.

    It’s the management that should be locked out not the musicians?

    • Submitted by Walter Anastazievsky on 10/01/2013 - 11:55 am.


      We will never get the old MN Orchestra back. The best we can do is support the concerts that the musicians are putting on by themselves (at Ted Mann Hall). Why should any MN Orchestra supporter go to another MN Orchestra concert until the current CEO and leaders on the board resign? They locked musicians and the audience out, now it’s time to boycott their organization.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/28/2013 - 11:37 am.


    Some European orchestras are run by the musicians themselves. I think it’s also the case, however, that those orchestras are largely subsidized by their governments. Since here, it’s management which produces the money, it’s quite impossible to do without them.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 09/28/2013 - 05:46 pm.

      Um, no

      It’s the DONORS who produce the money. And mgmt has not been active in “producing” donations unless they come from the “in group” who are totally in lock-step with the “new model”.

  13. Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 09/28/2013 - 01:35 pm.

    Bravo Ms. Carlson-Nelson

    Kudos for your attempt to save the orchestra and the pledges of support you have obtained. But there is more to be done.

    In as much as the musicians have rejected the boards latest ultimatum sweetened with “signing bonuses”, why not lead a revolt at the board and throw out the “Gang of Two” and their fellow travelers who are on a mission to make our orchestra mediocre or just eliminate it altogether.

    For starters, go back to the “foundations” and other friends of culture and the Twin Cities way of life and see how much more bonus money can be had. Perhaps enough to maintain salaries for a year or two while the revenue stream is improved.

    With new direction and imaginative programing attendance can be raised. And a lot of former contributors will return to the fold.

    Touring in the upper midwest will increase revenue, perhaps not by $6,000,000 worth but maybe close to one million?

    Make a push to sell Orchestra Hall to the city/state/county for $100,000,000? and lease it back at a nominal amount. Even if the orchestra paid an annual rent of $2 million/year, the sales proceeds could be placed in investment grade corporate bonds which pay about 7% (tax free to the non profit Orchestral Association). Government could issue tax free revenue bonds paid off with rent and a modest sales tax increment. (After all if we can pay for stadia for all of our professional sports teams, why can’t we help a non-profit that pays immense dividends to Minnesota in making it a cultural beacon in our land.)

    We can not let the orchestra go down the drain!

  14. Submitted by Michael Hess on 09/28/2013 - 06:30 pm.

    Well done

    This is a useful reminder of a pattern of behavior by management which informs the musicians responses. And while I think everyone would agree revenue is a problem the way the problem is proposed to be solved by dramatically slashing salary puts the product itself at risk which then puts more revenue at risk. The management really hasn’t involved the musicians or community in solving this problem ( with the exception of Mrs. Carlson Nelson’s leadership) but its worth noting other orchestras when needing salary cuts have for example made work rules better for musicians to soften the blow, instead of doubling down and making them an insult atop injury. Is the idea of final artistic control residing with management vs the artistic director a first for the industry? I seriously hope that management is motivated to put the shiny hall to work and the musicians can put the management past bad behavior behind them and find an acceptable path forward for both.

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/29/2013 - 06:01 am.

    It’s the DONORS who produce the money

    It’s management that has access to the donors, many of whom are in management, that is, board members. If orchestra members were more involved in raising money, they would have a stronger bargaining position.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/29/2013 - 06:10 am.

    The hall

    Make a push to sell Orchestra Hall to the city/state/county for $100,000,000?,

    As a real estate investment, the hall is worthless, nothing other than a money pit. This kind of purchase lease back arrangement is just an expensive way of doing indirectly what can be done directly, by just writing a check to the orchestra.

    We build these kinds of single use buildings, baseball stadiums, football stadiums and whatnot, because they provide us with the illusion that we are getting something for our money, a tangible physical asset that we can say we own. It’s a way of fooling ourselves into thinking we are not writing a check to the entities that use them. But that’s the underlying reality. These buildings lose money, that’s why private businesses have no interest in building them. Our share of the cost of building them, plus the costs we incur in maintaining are nothing other than the price we pay to have these entities here. We dress it up as building costs maintaining a building we “own” just to make us feel better about ourselves.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/30/2013 - 09:02 pm.

      What single purpose?

      Orchestra Hall is a single purpose building in the sense that it is an entertainment venue, but the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra is hardly the only act to perform there. I’ve heard some excellent jazz/pop performances.
      It does not exist solely for the MSO, even if that is currently its main client.

  17. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/29/2013 - 08:40 am.


    A great deal of energy in this dispute has been expended in various games of charades which divert us from focusing on the various realities which if properly understood, would bring us closer to finding a solution.

    Management won’t agree to binding arbitration because it won’t turn over it’s management responsibilities to a third party in the face of an existential threat. It is as simple as that. That’s why the various mediation and arbitration attempts are non starters as long as they don’t solve what management sees as the problems which threaten the future of the orchestra. Claims otherwise are just so much hot air.

    Something else to remember is that management has to live with the outcome of this dispute in ways members of the orchestra do not. They will be stuck with the deal they made. They can’t move the orchestra to Vermont. Orchestra members, on the other hand, if they don’t like the deal can always seek employment elsewhere. This is a basic asymmetry between the two negotiating postures, in that the players, unlike management do not have the same risk in any deal that’s ultimately reached.

  18. Submitted by jody rooney on 09/29/2013 - 11:40 am.

    Guys this is just basically union busting

    Too bad the other unions didn’t support the musicians.

  19. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/30/2013 - 09:24 am.

    too bad

    I don’t attend orchestra concerts or donate money. I do value artistic musical values over commercial, popular values. This dispute doesn’t affect me personally but generally I would support artists in charge of their art. For centuries I would assume that means an autocratic musical director in charge of musicians who are told what to do, how to play, etc. Did the musicians in Mozart’s day in “world class” orchestras dictate workplace policy? Just wonderin’.

    The one undeniable fact here seems to be that no matter how screwed up the orchestra board and its leaders are, they are still the bosses of the players and their conductor and they can set any rule they want. If the players thought otherwise it apparently was an illusion. Davis, et al, apparently want to start making more money and think they can do it by turning this group into a pops orchestra that plays behind guests that draw audience. Think Lorie Line or Doc Severson backed by the orchestra. I’m betting that for all the “music lovers” who post here, more patrons attend more pop events than serious music events. I’m sure there is a core group of people that want the heavy stuff (and I would if I preferred this type of music) but the fact is that the larger general audience can’t tell an excellent Mahler from a so so Mahler and they’d rather hear Beethoven’s fitth for their one concert a year anyway.

    Management holds all lthe power here so the musicians may as well accept or move on. The music lovers on the board seem to be agreeing with Davis. Sad but true. No longer top ten, no longer “world class”, just another orchestra…

  20. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/30/2013 - 10:37 am.

    Did the musicians in Mozart’s day in “world class” orchestras dictate workplace policy?

    Actually, Mozart broke the model that existed before, that musicians were employees and even servants of wealthy patrons. Mozart broke from his patron to work independently. As it turns out, this decision was problematic for him; he didn’t have a patron to support him, when things turned against him, but he set the pattern for what was to follow.

    In theory, it’s the players who hold the power. No one ever has gone to Orchestra Hall to watch managers manage or bean counters count beans. Content is always king. But while the players hold the power, they are weakened by the fact that they need paychecks. One of the issues I haven’t seen covered is how both management and labor are dealing with effects of the lockout. Some players are finding employment elsewhere. Are other players making ends meet by performing gigs around town. The fact that the players have been able to stay unified this long may well have been something management may not have anticipated. And how is management is doing? Orchestral halls cost money even when they stand idle. Do they have loans that are being paid off? If they do where is that money coming from? How are contributions coming? The orchestra is still soliciting contributions. Are they having much success with that? In any event, those are mostly side issues. To attain and retain world class status, the orchestra has to find more money. And demonstrating to the players that they can do that, will or at least should, move the parties closer to a settlement.

  21. Submitted by Carol Turnbull on 09/30/2013 - 12:02 pm.

    Interesting response from Orchestra Board

    On Sept. 17 I e-mailed all the Board members (sticking my neck out for the first time in this controversy), and I merely attached part of the article “Economics behind orchestra dispute: slouching toward the Lake Wobegon Symphony” by Louis D. Johnston. I was surprised to receive this rather scathing – and, I felt, inappropriate – reply from one member. In my response, I told him I don’t know any musicians, I’m not on their mailing lists and certainly none of them “enlisted” me to send my e-mail – and that I am anything but a “pawn.” I added that if he had responded in a reasonable manner I would have felt differently, but now I would share his e-mail with others:

    “Shame on you for sending this drivel and apparently believing it. Do you seriously think that those of us who have devoted our time and money to the orchestra want anything but the best orchestra we can afford. Do you seriously think that I who have been a subscriber since the 75-76 season and had the old Emerald series where I could attend 24 concerts a year wants anything but the best we can have. But even nonprofits have to pay their bills. Until the musicians and their pawns like you understand that we can make no progress. And having the musicians enlist 400+ people to send e-mails like yours merely hampers progress because they apparently believe that somehow if they send enough insulting e-mails $6-7M will magically appear.”

  22. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/30/2013 - 12:42 pm.

    Cooler heads

    Well, that’s really something. I would just say generally that the board isn’t at fault here and really isn’t that significant a factor in negotiations. The board exists mainly to raise money. I think they have been getting a little more, even a lot more heat than they deserve, and as a result, maybe the odd board member might act inappropriately.

    In any event all sides need to cool down, all sides need to understand the past is the past, and all sides need to put grievances aside, and focus on the problems of the orchestra going forward.

  23. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 09/30/2013 - 01:39 pm.

    Orchestra Board

    Aside from the “pawn” reference, the writer does have a point – 6 million of them.

  24. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 10/01/2013 - 06:03 pm.

    Minnesota Orchestra

    I applaud this outstanding journalism. The Strib hasn’t reported anything close to MinnPost’s work. This posturing by the Board can’t be characterized as anything but union busting. I watched an Almanac segment in which the Board spokesman, a conservative, red faced lawyer, was visibly uncomfortable sitting in the same room as the musicians’ representative, and more importantly, unable to offer verifiable, empirical data to confirm that the orchestra’s future lay in reducing musician’s wages. Spending $50 million on a facility overhaul while demanding reductions in musicians’ wages and benefits over the long-term is just a recipe for failure and a non-starter to negotiation. This is like the Tea Party conservatives telling us that “If we just keep on saying what we’re saying, we’re going to win the argument.” (repeating and repeating and expecting different results = insanity) The Tea Party is WILDLY unpopular among American voters! People are way smarter than that. The hardliner stances of these conservatives politicians — as well as the members of the orchestra board — will backfire badly. “destroying the village…” is simply the wrong tactic to the long-term viability of the Minnesota Orchestra. this is shameful.

  25. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/02/2013 - 03:19 pm.

    The board

    Posturing would be an improvement for this board. It’s very possible that renovating the might have been a mistake. The problem the orchestra has is a lack of revenue, and if a major renovation can’t be demonstrably proven to increase revenue, it’s a waste of time and money. What was certainly a mistake was committing to a building renovation without locking up the orchestra. Management seems to have failed to understand that in a content business, you can’t make a go of it without content.

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