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

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

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.

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. 


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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/14/2015 - 06:14 am.


    I would like to see some numbers here. A number of serious problems with Orchestra management were identified during the lockout and issues of trust were raised. Among other things we were told orchestra management lied to us about financing of Orchestra Hall. If that is the case, can we take their word for things now?

  2. Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 01/14/2015 - 12:50 pm.

    New beginnings at the Minnesota Orchestra

    Hi again Hiram—–The past top management names should not even be uttered in the same breath as the new people at the helm, who have helped this organization rise up from the ashes. In every possible way imaginable, the new top leaders are the very antithesis of those who they replaced. I was one of many on the front lines, fighting for the survival of this orchestra. I was as skeptical as one could be. From the very beginning of the new era, Kevin Smith was respectful, personable, and straight forward. I’ve had a chance to listen to him speak and talk with him individually. There is not an arrogant bone in this guy’s body. I’ve also met Gordon Sprenger and was very impressed. I have many clients who are physicians and know this guy personally; they all say the same thing; he is genuinely interested in what people have to say and knows how to get people to work together. For me to have 100 percent confidence in the new leadership, knowing what I know went on before, is nothing short of a miracle. As far as the numbers go, why on earth would anyone want to use past numbers that we all now know, were manipulated beyond recognition. No one is wearing rose tinted glasses; The management, board, musicians, community leaders, and active patrons know that everyone must work together to move forward. Maybe your question about the numbers will be more pertinent in a year or two–when things have really gotten settled and we can see some kind new figures that will actually give us real information. But for right now, I am celebrating the fact that the bus somehow develop wings and flew back up on land.

  3. Submitted by Michael Hess on 01/15/2015 - 08:21 am.

    great Summary

    Thanks to the authors here who are really a force to be reckoned with as the energy behind two critical audience and community advocacy groups. We are all in your debt for your relentless support of a fair and quality focused resolution to the management lockout. We are as you say in a much better place as a community now, with work remaining, but a new alignment of purpose across the stakeholders is a great change.

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