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What a difference a year makes! Why we’re optimistic about the Minnesota Orchestra in 2015

Jan. 14 marks the one-year anniversary of the agreement ending the 16-month lockout of the musicians. We have observed a remarkable healing and transformation.

There’s reason to celebrate the orchestra’s remarkable resurgence and look ahead to a promising 2015.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

Today’s date marks the one-year anniversary of the agreement ending the 16-month lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians. Only a year ago, many in the community, either individually or through independent advocacy groups, were working diligently to bring the music back. Now there’s reason to celebrate the orchestra’s remarkable resurgence and look ahead to a promising 2015.

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We are thrilled that Grammy-winning Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the musicians have returned, playing brilliantly in a more comfortable, renovated hall. But just as important, we are heartened — and think you should be, too — by organizational changes that are creating a firm foundation upon which an artistically superb and financially secure future can be built. We are also grateful that the orchestra is now engaging the wider community. Here’s what we see:

A new era of collaboration, openness, and common vision. While the prolonged lockout created frustration and divisiveness among musicians, board members, staff, patrons and community members, over the past year we have observed a remarkable healing and transformation. Led by Board Chair Gordon Sprenger and CEO/President Kevin Smith, in partnership with key board members, staff and musicians, the organization has rallied around a common vision — true artistic greatness and financial sustainability achieved through transparency, trust, teamwork and responsiveness. Here are a few examples of how, within this new vision, the community is being embraced as a vital part of the orchestra’s “family”:

MaryAnn Goldstein
  • Kevin Smith held public Q & A sessions.
  • Management posted email addresses inviting communication, and opened the Annual Meeting to all stakeholders.
  • A Task Force of board, staff, musicians and community members worked together to create successful fundraising and new audience initiatives.
  • Staff and community groups collaborated in planning an “All Together Now” celebration in conjunction with the opening concerts last fall.

 This year we look forward to even greater community involvement.

Better-than-expected financial results. Fueled by strong concert revenue, reinvigorated donations, and acceptable endowment draws, the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2014 deficit was smaller than anticipated (even for a truncated season). Almost certainly due to confidence in the strong new organizational leadership and vision, fundraising jumped, with over $13 million dollars in major donations. The community also successfully matched Lee Henderson’s fundraising initiative in August, and again met the Board Challenge in December.

Paula DeCosse

However, we understand that the orchestra is not “out of the woods.” Restoring complete financial health while offering full concert seasons requires patience, planning, patrons’ ongoing generosity, and filling the hall. Like all nonprofit entities, the Minnesota Orchestra needs support at every level to ensure sustainability — but we believe that as success builds on success and with further community involvement, the momentum will continue toward that end.

Outreach is expanding. As part of rebuilding efforts, community engagement has become increasingly diversified. This year the orchestra will continue to perform free concerts for the general public in local venues, for thousands of schoolchildren at Orchestra Hall, and for Greater Minnesota communities while on tour. Now orchestra musicians are giving back locally in new ways. They are taking the music to area schools through their Symphonic Adventures program, reaching out to specific underserved groups (autistic children, the homeless), and changing lives through their work with El Sistema MN.

Innovative programming and partnerships. The orchestra is seriously working to broaden its appeal to diverse audiences. In addition to developing new thematic programs, the orchestra is partnering with other Twin Cities organizations (last fall with the University of Minnesota Astronomy Department; Museum of Russian Art). This year, the previously successful, interactive “Inside the Classics” series returns along with new casual “Symphony in 60” concerts. There’s even a poetry contest for the “Shakespeare Winterfest” and upcoming events with local microbreweries.

This experimentation is exciting and essential — an opportunity for greater involvement. Since the board, management, staff and musicians are all listening, we urge you to provide them your feedback.

A remarkable atmosphere of community and gratitude. The positive energy at Orchestra Hall is palpable. Invigorated musicians, management and staff greet audience members with genuine appreciation. There’s elation for the superbly played music and huge relief that we have our great orchestra, which we almost lost, back again. One cannot help but feel the optimism, camaraderie, and high morale — the sea change is miraculous!

The Orchestral Association is now saying, “The Minnesota Orchestra belongs to all of us!” From our perspective, it’s true! Please join us in supporting this outstanding orchestra so that it remains artistically great, becomes financially sustainable, and serves you and the entire community better. If you are already on board, we heartily thank you. If not, we hope that you look at the organization anew and become engaged in any way you can.

This will be a watershed year for the Minnesota Orchestra — let’s make 2015 a success, all together now!

MaryAnn Goldstein was formerly the chair of SOSMN. Paula DeCosse is the co-chair of Orchestrate Excellence. The opinions expressed are their own and were not written on behalf of these organizations. 


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