Political leaders’ unusual silence speaks volumes about the complexities of orchestra lockouts

Photo by John Whiting
Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä led musicians in a Grammy Celebration concert on Feb. 1.

Political leaders have been the only players more silent than the members of the Twin Cities’ two great orchestras this season.

Gov. Mark Dayton has been absent from the lockouts of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak received some cheers for bringing together the orchestra earlier this month for a performance to celebrate the orchestra’s Grammy nomination.

And St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has met, quietly, on “a couple of occasions’’ with both sides of a labor dispute that’s gone on for more than four months.

But there has been little use of bully pulpits to bring the lockouts to an end.

Given that the region always promotes itself as a cultural center — “we don’t have just one great orchestra, we have two!’’ — and given that DFLers pride themselves in supporting labor, the silence seems strange.

Unique factors

But this is a complex, almost soap-opera-like situation.

These are tux-wearing,  well-paid union members, who are working for nonprofit organizations.

At least some in the labor movement have a tough time getting empathetic with musicians being paid a base level of $113,000, even if these “world-class workers” are being handed a take-it-or-leave-it offer of Minnesota Orchestra management that would cut that base to $78,000.

Making matters more difficult for pols to take strong sands  is the reality that the boards of these two orchestras are made up of the region’s biggest movers and shakers. Politicians don’t go out of their way to upset such people as Jon Campbell, who is the chairman of the Minnesota Orchestra’s board of directors and executive vice president of Wells Fargo, and Richard Davis, CEO of US Bancorp, who was past chair of the orchestra board.

There’s at least two ways to looking at this desire not to offend the big cigars:

• These are the sorts of people who build stuff. Wells Fargo, for example, is reported to be contemplating building a “campus’’ in the area surrounding the new Vikings stadium.  Does the Minneapolis mayor really want to come down hard on Campbell and Orchestra management?

• Coleman, St. Paul’s mayor, has a somewhat less cynical view of why even pro-labor DFL politicians don’t play hardball with the respective orchestra boards. “These are the same people who have poured millions of their own dollars into the orchestras,” Coleman said. “They love these institutions.”

Careful as pols have been not to offend, there have been instances where management representatives of the Minnesota Orchestra haven’t been nearly so cautious.

Earlier this month, for example, Rybak and Judy Dayton “hosted” a Minnesota Orchestra event to celebrate its nomination for a Grammy Award. Dayton, by the way, is the aunt of the governor and over the years has contributed millions of dollars to the orchestra.

This event was supposed to work as an olive branch to the two sides. Rybak described it as a night for both sides to set aside anger and celebrate music.

Michael Henson, president and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestral Association, was in no mood for olive branches.  When Rybak announced the event, Henson sent a smug note to Orchestra board members:

“Today Mayor R.T. Rybak and Judy Dayton issued an invitation to Osmo [conducter Osmo Vänskä] and the musicians to perform a concert at the Convention Center, February 1, conducted by Osmo Vänskä. … While we expected to use the Grammy nomination to maximize their arguments about the importance of art, we did not expect this.”

In the same note, Henson scoffed at Minneapolis.

“As you are all aware,” he wrote to the board members, “the City of Minneapolis does not provide any funding to the Minnesota Orchestra.”

Minneapolis helped lobby for orchestra

There are no checks sent from City Hall to Orchestra Hall. But the city worked mightily  to push for a $14 million state bond for the now-controversial renovation of Orchestra Hall.  Other city projects were given lower priority by the city  in an effort to help the Orchestra.

On a night to celebrate the music and forget, for a few hours, the labor woes,  neither Henson nor any key members of the board’s negotiating committee attended the concert, which received big cheers from the New York Times.

“The orchestra played like the truly great ensemble it has become,’’ wrote the Times’ James R. Oestreich.

It appears that there is somewhat less antagonism involved in the lockout of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The cuts are dramatic — the base for current members would be $62,500 — but the big union rub is that new members would come in at a base of $50,000. In the union world, that’s known as an unwelcome two-tier system. Additionally, the size of the Chamber Orchestra would be cut.

Still, there  is hope that an agreement can be reached as soon as next week to at least temporarily resolve the lockout.

Carol Mason Smith, longtime oboist with the SPCO, called next week’s meeting with the the board’s negotiating committee “absolutely crucial”’ if any part of the season is going to be preserved.

But it’s not just the season that’s at risk, Mason Smith said. On Wednesday, Kyu-Young Kim, principal second violnist for the orchestra, announced that he has won a position with the New York Philharmonic and will be leaving the SPCO.  Although that’s the first loss from either orchestra, Mason Smith fears others will be departing.

“This was a destination orchestra,”’ Mason Smith said. “This was a place musicians aspired to come to.”

That means, she said, that musicians in the orchestras here are in demand elsewhere.

Perhaps because of high hopes that some sort of settlement is near, Mason Smith is very careful with her words. When asked if musicians are disappointed with the low-key role political leaders seem to have played, she was silent for a moment, then offered some praise for Coleman.

Behind the scenes

“He has been generous with his time,’’ Mason Smith said, noting that he has met with representatives of the musicians on a couple of occasions.

Coleman says he also has met with representatives of the board’s negotiating committee.

“I have tried to stress the importance of getting this resolved,” Coleman said.

This is a more perplexing labor dispute for even deep-rooted DFLers than most disputes, Coleman said.

“It’s different than a traditional situation,’’ Coleman said, adding that this isn’t about the amount of profits or bonuses for management.

Although board members of the two bodies have been “gagged” by their negotiating committees — “don’t talk to the media” — board members, off the record, talk about how  unique this situation is.

The realities:  Neither orchestra can come close to being self-sustaining through ticket sales. In fact, ticket revenues are a small portion of the operating budgets. Corporate and individual
donations, which fell during the recession, are vital to the economic survival of the orchestras.  Given that corporate revenues are vital, it’s pretty hard for anyone to lash out at the corporate heads who write the checks.

Still, there are other backdrop issues that would make it seem that the orchestra boards are simply playing contemporary hardball with the unions.

For instance, it’s hard not to smell collusion in what’s going on in this dispute.

Not only did the boards of both orchestras decide to go hardball on contracts in the same year, they’re using the same law firm, Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon and Vogt. That firm, by the way, also represents American Crystal Sugar, which has locked out its employees.

Beyond that, the Minnesota Orchestra is locked out conveniently in the year that its concert hall is closed for renovation.

Those types of “coincidences”’ typically would be red meat for DFL pols.

Still, the  governor has been especially silent, although a couple of sources said that members of his administration have reached out in an effort to bring about resolution.

Members of the Minnesota House have been the most outspoken, none more than Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who as head of the House committee overseeing state Legacy art  funds has some clout.

She’s talked to her committee about trying to direct those dollars directly to the musicians, not the organizations that usually receive the money. She’s not sure how — or even if — that’s possible.

Kahn  is perplexed about so much silence coming from Dayton’s office.

“My husband wonders why the governor doesn’t invite both sides in, lock the door and keep them locked up until they reach an agreement,” the representative said. “Guess that’s not the way things
are done anymore.”

The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Comments (43)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/22/2013 - 08:46 am.

    DFL pol

    As a DFL pol myself, I haven’t felt particularly called upon to say anything about the orchestra lockouts. If I were, I would tell the unions that this is the 21st century, and that they must be more flexible, more innovative, and that means challenging some fundamental assumptions about the future of their business. I would tell them, that there is nothing to be gained by nursing old grievances, or by vilifying management. What I would tell management is no one goes to the orchestras, or listens to the orchestra in any format to hear them. I would remind them that the failure to adequately adjust to this 21st century musical environment is their failure, that it’s up to them to be the primary source of the kinds of innovations needed for the orchestras to return to relative prosperity. And they need to frame these innovations in a positive way, so that orchestra members perceive that there is a carrot out there, not just a stick.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 02/22/2013 - 10:27 am.

      Hiram, no one called you

      Given that you think “no one” goes to hear these orchestras, or “listens to them in any form”, you obviously have no clue about the entire situation. You’ve drunk the kool-aid that it is all about greedy musicians and their unions, which is just what the corporate masters want you to think. You are perfectly suited to be a “management consultant”.

      • Submitted by Daren Cotter on 02/22/2013 - 11:42 am.


        Sarah, take a breath and read Hiram’s comment again. What he said was:

        “What I would tell management is no one goes to the orchestras, or listens to the orchestra in any format TO HEAR THEM”

        As in, nobody goes to the orchestras to listen to management — not that they don’t go to the orchestras at all.

      • Submitted by Scott Chamberlain on 02/22/2013 - 11:53 am.

        Possible different meaning?

        For what it’s worth, I took the “them” in Hirman’s statement as referring to the *management*, i.e. no one goes to a concert to hear *the management* do anything… not that no one goes to the orchestra generally. Although the author himself might be able to clarify.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/22/2013 - 11:37 am.

      And I would reply . . .

      . . . that a professional orchestra is not like other employers. The arguments you would use to justify closing a factory and moving production to Bangladesh are, at best, inapt. Why is it only the musicians who need to “perceive that there is a carrot out there, not just a stick?”

      Your comment reads more like an argument for the closure of the orchestras. My, but that would enrich our lives!

  2. Submitted by Hudson Leighton on 02/22/2013 - 09:27 am.

    Fiddle Players

    They are all just a bunch of Fiddle Players, but those who actually play their fiddles may spend 6 figures on them.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 02/22/2013 - 09:38 am.

    “Given that corporate revenues are vital, it’s pretty hard for anyone to lash out at the corporate heads who write the checks.”

    That’s why artists can rarely be trusted.

  4. Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 02/22/2013 - 10:17 am.


    Although you make some good points Hiram, this lockout is not about old grievances or lack of flexibility. The over 250 proposed changes to the old contract amounts to an attempted coup by management who is trying to grab artistic control over something they are not qualified to control. In what insane world should Michael Henson, who has very little real music training, have the final say in the audition process? In what way could the musicians’ union have been more flexible? If you want to sell your brand new BMW and someone offers you $500. Are you being inflexible if you don’t take their offer seriously? The musicians would have been slitting their own throats had they made a counter offer to such a ridiculous proposal. Given the MOA’s very unethical fundraising tactics; refusal to allow the musicians to address the whole board; intentionally withholding vital information from the musicians for over 6 months; and speaking to donor groups about the musicians as if they were enemy combatants—I’d say that the management is doing a pretty good job vilifying themselves. I am appalled and disgusted by their behavior.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/22/2013 - 12:40 pm.


      this lockout is not about old grievances or lack of flexibility.

      It is hard for me to say what role grievances or lack of flexibility played in the initial decision to lockout the players. Based on their public utterances since then, I am pretty comfortable in saying that both of those factors have played a role in the continuation of the dispute. In particular, I hear a lot of complaints by one party about the other party’s choice of representation, something that’s none of their business.

      If the objective is an agreement that both parties can live with, that is at least satisfactory to current musicians while also taking into account the long term interests of the institutions themselves, I think it’s a really good idea for each side to take the other side seriously, and maybe without taking undue umbrage when offers are made which aren’t appealing. For one thing, when one party makes an outrageous offer, maybe a better choice is to counter with an equally outrageous offer as opposed to stalking out of the negotiations and onto the set of Almanac. One thing incidentally I wouldn’t do is complain about the ethics of fundraising tactics, that at least in part, resulted in the raising of funds that pay the complainants salaries. It may very well be the case that management withheld information from labor for six months, but however many bitter tears we may weep over that, there is nothing at all that can be done about it now. If labor wants to focus on that, no deal will ever get done. If one side wants to indulge themselves in disgust and anger, I guess that’s their choice. I hope for them, I hope that’s a satisfactory alternative to playing music and getting paid.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/22/2013 - 10:31 am.

    Corporate revenues

    Among the realities that both sides are going to have to adjust to, is that they days of blank checks from corporations will soon be a thing of the past. The folks Doug talks about who support the orchestras and who he suggests the politicians must cultivate are men and women of the past, and it is the case that it’s their failure of leadership that has put the orchestras in the pickle that they are currently in. What’s required is a level of innovative thinking far beyond the capabilities of CEO’s and their law firms

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 02/22/2013 - 11:59 am.

      Are you the same Hiram Foster who posted first?

      Because here you make a decent point: it’s “management’s failure of leadership that has put the orchestras in the pickle they are currently in.”
      The innovative thinking will come in handy after they’ve acknowledged the damage Henson’s done and he goes away.

  6. Submitted by richard bonde on 02/22/2013 - 10:41 am.

    Maybe you should explain your strange non-sequitor, Mr. Levine. “…artists can rarely be trusted.”

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 02/22/2013 - 11:52 am.

      Because they are dependent upon the beneficence of wealthy patrons. Anger the rich or corporate and you’re out of luck.

  7. Submitted by Thierry Carlson on 02/22/2013 - 10:55 am.

    Nobody at all?

    “What I would tell management is no one goes to the orchestras, or listens to the orchestra in any format to hear them.”

    Fascinating … nobody? Needless to say, I stopped reading at that point.

    • Submitted by Daren Cotter on 02/22/2013 - 11:44 am.

      Read again Terry

      Too bad you stopped reading Terry, because you missed the entire point.

      “WHAT I WOULD TELL MANAGEMENT IS no one goes to the orchestras, or listens to the orchestra in any format TO HEAR THEM”

      Hiram’s point was that nobody goes to the orchestras to listen TO MANAGEMENT.

  8. Submitted by jody rooney on 02/22/2013 - 11:00 am.

    Sounds like Union Busting to me

    It is a pity the trades don’t refuse to work on Orchestra Hall to support the players.

    That said I never go to hear the orchestra. I’ve been their twice and I have hated the facility both times. It’s a pity they don’t play in other venues. I think I would prefer Northrup or even the football stadium to Orchestra Hall.

  9. Submitted by Scott Chamberlain on 02/22/2013 - 11:00 am.

    A new low

    “…we expected to use the Grammy nomination to maximize their arguments about the importance of art, we did not expect this.”

    This, to me, feels like a new low in an already ugly labor dispute. Mr. Henson, the obvious rejoinder is they are *musicians* and their entire career has been predicated on the importance and value of art. What do you expect? This notion is also deeply offensive to the many patrons of the Orchestra (donors, concert-goers or both). They are attending the concert *because* they personally recognize the importance of art and value it both for themselves and the community. We’ve already made that leap—we want art in our lives! We don’t buy a ticket or a CD in honor of the organization’s fourth quarter performance. It is this commitment to art, and the deep emotional connection held by Judy Dayton and others that have made this orchestra survive for more than a century.

    The board and the management are charged with maintaining the financial security of the organization—I get that. But please understand that for the overwhelming majority, financial security is simply a means toward an end: having a world-class arts group that presents world-class music and deeply enriches the community. It feels like the management pursues financial stability as its own end, without ever asking what it is in service of. And with Mr. Henson’s statement, is happy to belittle anyone who does ask this critical question.

  10. Submitted by Amy Adams on 02/22/2013 - 11:13 am.

    And you would be who, now?

    In trying to figure out who exactly this Hiram Foster is, I find nothing of note about him on the web except his words submitted to news sources. Anyone who would type the sentence: “What I would tell management is no one goes to the orchestras, or listens to the orchestra in any format to hear them.”…is himself greatly out of touch with reality. Perhaps there’s a cottage industry for professional trolling in the Twin Cities. The reality is that patrons there love…LOVE their orchestras and want the lockouts to end. Management has dug their own hole…it’s not “vilifying” to report what’s happened.
    And why would you have to “tell management” that “no one goes to the orchestras”…? Don’t they go to the concerts? Do you?
    Perhaps this is a subject not really suited to your expertise.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/22/2013 - 12:22 pm.

      “What I would tell management

      “What I would tell management is no one goes to the orchestras, or listens to the orchestra in any format to hear them.”…is himself greatly out of touch with reality.

      I thought that was one of my less controversial statements. Nobody goes to Orchestra Hall to hear managers read from balance sheets. I suspect the problem is with me, sometimes my sentence structure does get a little baroque at times.

      Management have dug a hole, but if they have, both labor and management are currently located in it, and each could use the help of the other if they both want to get out of it together. But maybe they don’t. Some European orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic comes to mind, are run by the musicians themselves, Maybe that’s a model the musicians here might consider.

      • Submitted by Amy Adams on 02/22/2013 - 01:10 pm.

        🙂 I gotcha now.

        I misread your first statement, Hiram, this makes a great deal more sense.
        This is where the (bolder members of) the board could make actual progress, if they wanted to.

  11. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 02/22/2013 - 11:13 am.

    They love these institutions?

    “These are the same people who have poured millions of their own dollars into the orchestras,” Coleman said. “They love these institutions.”


    When you’re a multi-multi-multi-multi-multi-millionaire, pouring millions of dollars into an organization is not a particularly big sacrifice. Plus, I think that may be an exaggeration, at least on the part of Campbell and Davis. The Minnesota Orchestra website says Davis gave between $250,000 and $500,000 and Campbell $100,000 and $250,000 to the Building for the Future Fund. I know they’ve given cash in the past as well, but I don’t know if it would have added up to *millions.* I don’t mean to denigrate these generous donations, I’m just saying that what looks hugely sacrificial to us probably wasn’t that big of a deal to them. By my calculations, I’ve given a slightly higher percentage of my income to the Orchestra than Campbell and Davis over the last five years. And if we’re going by “Person Who Gave The Most Money Should Have the Loudest Voice” formula, then Judy Dayton should have the loudest voice of all, since she gave over $10 million. I can’t imagine she’s happy with what’s happening, as she very publicly went to both musician-held lockout concerts…

    By the way. Jon Campbell doesn’t even go to Minnesota Orchestra concerts. How can he truly love the institution on a personal level if he never patronizes it?

    And also this idea that giving lots of cash equals automatic competence in non-profit arts administration? Especially when every single outside observer in the orchestra world has blasted your actions? I’m not buying it. That crosses a line from “loving the organization” to “maybe your intentions are good, but good intentions without expertise can be extraordinarily dangerous, so I don’t care how wealthy or powerful you are, get out of the way and bring in some people who know what they’re doing and are experts in the field.” I’ve made the analogy before…it’s like me, a writer, being put on the board of Wells Fargo. I might love Wells Fargo to death, but I could also destroy it, because it’s not my expertise. Same way non-profit arts leadership is not Jon Campbell or Richard Davis’s expertise.

    I know these are rude questions to ask, and I apologize for the rudeness, but they need to be put out there. We need to do what’s best for our communities. And what’s best for our communities is to loudly encourage the Minnesota Orchestral Association to remove people who display such disrespectful dismissive attitudes toward the community. Imagine if this was a private company. Would the board of directors of a private company WANT a CEO that refers to the city of Minneapolis, the mayor of Minneapolis, and its biggest shareholder (Judy Dayton) so derisively? Didn’t think so.

    • Submitted by Thierry Carlson on 02/22/2013 - 11:49 am.

      Contributions a business expense?

      One also wonders how much of a corporate executive’s “millions” or thousands in contributions can be taken as a business expense and, thus, be reimbursable? After all, they are promoting the “good” of their company or firm (read, Public Relations and/or Advertising) by volunteering their time on a nonprofit’s board of directors and being listed in the concert program with their company’s name attached.

      I’m not saying that’s the case, but it seems possible, especially in the case of Jon “ExecVP of Community Relations” Campbell. Perhaps a tax attorney or corporate accountant can help me with this question.

  12. Submitted by Thierry Carlson on 02/22/2013 - 11:28 am.

    Acoustically brilliant

    @JodyRooney — while I am not about to ever purchase another ticket to any event at Orchestra Hall, ever again, unless and until the tragi-comedy known as Henson/Campbell/Davis is over, and a new music-loving board installed, I have to ask:

    Why do you dislike the hall? It is known internationally as an acoustically brilliant and nearly perfect hall (from the audience’s point of view), assuming the Henson renovation doesn’t muck things up too much. “The great acoustical design has been attempted to be duplicated in many other concert halls.” (Wikipedia)

    • Submitted by Scott Chamberlain on 02/22/2013 - 03:36 pm.

      Hall does have its issues

      While I think the sound inside Orchestra Hall earns all the accolades it gets, the overall reality is the building has some serious limitations. One problem is that the building isn’t particularly accessible to mobility challenged concert-goers–or performers. Built before ADA accessibility standards, it is terribly problematic for someone in a wheelchair or with other mobility issues to get through the building and use the amenities. Not impossible, but clearly problematic. And some parts of the lobby are completely inaccessible–unreachable without climbing stairs. These features also make it difficult to move objects around, such as placing tables, restocking bars, or adding seating. Another large problem is the lobby is not large enough to fit all the people the hall itself can, making it challenging to move to restrooms, the box office, the bars or drinking fountains. This has given the Hall a clausterphobic feel that many, many people have complained about over the years. Lack of space also means that there are far fewer amenities than patrons expect at any other venue, and a lower ability to make money off concessions, drinks CDs or anything else. Plus, there is the general maintenance of a building from the 70s. Are any of these things catastrophic? No, and people can still have a wonderful time at Orchestra Hall. But they are very real limitations. Bar revenue, for example is greatly hindered but the facilities, but could be a great source of additional money.

      • Submitted by Thierry Carlson on 02/22/2013 - 05:37 pm.

        Especially accessibility standards

        Thanks, Scott, all good points, especially about the accessibility situation. I was thinking only about the acoustics of the “inner shell” building. With any luck (we need some!), the $52 million renovation will take care of the lobby issues you mentioned.

  13. Submitted by Sandi Sherman on 02/22/2013 - 11:29 am.

    Labor support

    This is one among many, many rank and file union members who support the musicians of both orchestras. An injury to one is an injury to all, regardless of where you sit on the pay scale. The fact that the law firm the management of both orchestras chose to collaborate with is the same one being used in the almost 2-year lockout of the sugar workers in the Red River Valley demonstrates that we are all in the same boat as labor, regardless of what the color of our collar is! I believe this is union-busting pure and simple. They want to get rid of the union. It is an obstacle to implementing the course they have chosen. If musicians didn’t have their unions, management could carry out their plan to shrink orchestra, permanently slash salaries and create two tiers of players . Thank heaven the union is standing strong!

    • Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 02/24/2013 - 06:28 pm.

      union busting

      You are so right, Sandi. We need to see this as an assault on all union workers and I believe really all workers who are at the mercy of powerful interest groups. If the management at the Minnesota Orchestra is not held responsible for creating this unnecessary catastrophe, and attempting what amounts to an artistic coup, this tragedy will keep playing out all over the country and other union workers, whether they wear a tux and play an instrument that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars or they wear a tool belt—they will all be affected.

  14. Submitted by Maryann Goldstein on 02/22/2013 - 11:43 am.

    Thank you Doug Grow for this article which in my mind illustrates several things: 1) the contempt Mr. Henson has for the musicians and their successes 2) the likelihood that the musician lockout is part of a broader political/ideological anti-union agenda (and of which there is a lot of additional circumstantial evidence) and 3) in order to retain our world-class orchestra as we know it, the engineers (whoever they might be—but I’m guessing Mr. Henson, Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Davis) of the strategy to favor a new 52 million dollar lobby (and fund raise for that, rather than for the sustainability of artistically excellent Minnesota Orchestra) need to GO.

    As for the notion that a draconian financial reset due to the recession is/was necessary, I’d like to point out that the Minnesota Orchestra raised 52 million dollars for a lobby renovation during the HEIGHT of the recession, without anyone (except those on the MOA Board) being told that the orchestra itself was in extreme financial peril. So I find it completely ridiculous to just take Mr. Henson’s word for it that the community cannot afford the world-class orchestra that we currently have. Those 52 million dollars would have gone a VERY long way to ensure the sustainability of the orchestra as it now stands. If the public had been told the truth then, we might not be in this situation now.

    My husband and I are long term supporters of the Minnesota Orchestra. However, as I learn the facts and watch how events have unfolded (e.g., when the MOA mission statement all of a sudden changed to eliminate any concept of an orchestra, now only re-instated after 4 months of a lockout and only under duress, and when I learn that the MOA saves almost exactly the same amount of money as last year’s deficit by not having a 2012-13 season). I feel angry, duped, and betrayed. I do not trust Mr. Henson to lead this orchestra into the future. To me, it appears that the MOA’s financial crisis was exaggerated in order to change the entire direction of the organization to fulfill a political and personal agenda of some people in charge.

    I feel sorry for the musicians and our community. And I actually am now feeling sorry for the majority of the 80-odd MOA Board members, who have generously contributed their time and money to the organization, and who I can only imagine had no idea that the current strategy would not only lead to this much rancor, but also promote the decimation of a beloved institution. Somehow, I wonder if they feel that they have been duped as well.

    • Submitted by Sean Fahey on 02/22/2013 - 02:05 pm.

      Keep illuminating this issue Mr. Grow!

      I wonder if the orchestra board would have been able to get away with doing this to the musicians, without so much public backlash, had the board not undertaken this during the massive renovation of Orchestra Hall.

      As someone who does not find it easy to drop $150 on concert tickets, but feels extremely lucky to be able to afford even that much of a luxury, I would have believed an argument from the board that the musicians must also make sacrifices to keep the music here in Minnesota. Gullible, I know, but I would have gone along with that argument. Now, I am angry to know that a giant amount of money is being spent on renovations. People donated large amounts to this ‘capital campaign’ without realizing the musicians themselves were under threat!

      This reminds me of a similar problem we had in the Diocese of La Crosse when I was a kid. The bishop wanted to build a $25 million shrine in the forest, and at the same time close parishes, close schools, and fire teachers. He argued that money was donated for the shrine, and sadly couldn’t be used to fund anything else in the ailing diocese. Now that bishop is a cardinal in Rome, and his shrine a monument to his leadership!

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/25/2013 - 03:07 pm.


      I feel like I was suckered. I have been a supporter of the Orchestra for some time. I’ve been on the fundraiser calling list for just as long. When the fund raising for the new Hall was happening, and they just wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally relented and pledged. THEN I found out about the budget issues. Had I known, there would have been no way I would have pledged for the Hall upgrade. No. Way. It was dishonest to hide the state of the budget till after fundraising for a totally non-essential Hall upgrade. And now I get emails from the MOA proclaiming the woes of getting the musicians back to the table and how the musicians refuse to make a counter offer. I’m sorry, but I’m sure I’m not alone in believing that the Orchestra is all about the music and the musicians, not a bunch of deep pockets playing benefactor with other peoples’ money. This whole thing appears to be nothing but poor management.

  15. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 02/22/2013 - 12:04 pm.

    A case of eats shoots and leaves

    I should perhaps let Hiram Foster speak for himself, but I believe his comments about the orchestra have been misread by several commenters. Here is the sentence that has set people off: “What I would tell management is no one goes to the orchestras, or listens to the orchestra in any format to hear them.” In the total context of his remarks, I believe he meant that no one goes to Minnesota Orchestra concerts or listens to the orchestra on the radio or on CD to hear THE MANAGEMENT (“them”), not that no one is interested in hearing the orchestra at all. Am I right, Mr. Foster?

  16. Submitted by Candace Lund on 02/22/2013 - 12:21 pm.

    Who in labor movement is opposed to equitable compensation?

    “At least some in the labor movement have a tough time getting empathetic with musicians being paid a base level of $113,000, even if these “world-class workers” are being handed a take-it-or-leave-it offer of Minnesota Orchestra management that would cut that base to $78,000.”

    Did you really talk to someone in the labor movement who thinks musicians are overpaid, and if so why not provide a name and a quote? Are you suggesting there are union members siding with management on these lockouts?

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find a union member that hasn’t personally seen similar union busting contract proposals in their workplace.

  17. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/22/2013 - 12:59 pm.

    Self administration

    European orchestras like the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic, I think, are self administering. Maybe that’s an option the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra should consider pursuing.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 02/24/2013 - 12:23 pm.

      City support

      I believe that the Berlin Phil also receives $15 mil/yr from the City of Berlin – which obviously knows a good thing! Such support means that the orchestra isn’t so beholden to private donors.

  18. Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 02/22/2013 - 01:27 pm.

    Not everyone wears tuxes

    The women don’t. The SPCO musicians rarely do, and their salaries are below that of the MN Orchestra. NOT that any of these musicians are overpaid, in my opinion. That said, the fact that musicians may wear tuxes is in no way a bad thing – “elitist”, if you want to bring out that misused term. I don’t feel compelled to dress at “tuxedo level” to attend, especially if it’s darn cold (or darn hot) outside.

  19. Submitted by Michael Hess on 02/22/2013 - 03:00 pm.


    I’m really disturbed by the cynical comments attributed to Mr. Henson. To suggest that Minneapolis does have a standing in this issue because it does not pay directly for the MO when the city supported and prioritized the lobby renovation (over other civic opportunities) so the Mayor doesn’t have a place in sponsoring a celebration is insulting. The fact that management and most of the board boycotted the concert is insulting. This correspondance reveals little intent to collaboratively work together to solve the orchestras problems (as several board members have advocated for in letters to the Star Tribune, for example), and more focus on winning the labor dispute at all cost on terms most attractive to the management. I hope, I really hope, the independant analysis that I understand is going on now gives the board insights beyond the capabilities of current management to help perserve the institution to the high caliber it had prior the lockout.

  20. Submitted by jody rooney on 02/22/2013 - 03:53 pm.

    @ Terry – why I dislike orchestra hall

    I found the seats uncomfortable and the internal traffic flow bad. It felt claustrophobic. It is difficult to enjoy the music when you are physically uncomfortable.

    However, according to my brother-in-law and his wife who were connected with the orchestra many before they moved to NY, I might add that it may be the violins. There are several songs that put me on edge and literally make me leave the room. Based on those songs they deduced that I don’t like the “soprano voice” which in the orchestra are the violins. True I like more robust pieces and prefer plucked strings to bowed strings.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 02/22/2013 - 06:28 pm.


      Thank you for honestly and thoughtfully considering why you didn’t enjoy the concert, Jody. If only the board chair, Jon Campbell, would show up to one once in a while…
      Don’t give up on orchestral music, though…and, soprano jokes aside…don’t give up on the high voices either! 🙂

  21. Submitted by Jon Butler on 02/22/2013 - 08:39 pm.

    the big shoe: will Vanska leave?

    So much of the story by Doug Grow is so depressing. Even if one might be able to read Michael Henson’s note to the Orchestra differently if we had the whole note, the simple facts are that the dispute isn’t settled and that the Board and musicians stand at the precipice of losing the entire season.

    But even more, I’m surprised that so little is said about another potential loss — Vanska. Almost precisely because he seemed so full of energy at the “Grammy Concert” — has anyone heard Finlandia played with such FURY? — is it not possible that he will feel he has little choice but give up and sign elsewhere?

    Perhaps this isn’t even in the wind. Who knows? We’re the sightless estimating the elephant. But is it unimaginable? Then what? Over a century of the Minneapolis Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra gone, throwaways in a disposable, virtual culture.

    But the building will sparkle.

  22. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 02/23/2013 - 11:37 am.

    To me the greatest indicator of the Board’s insincerity is

    their claim that the musicians made no counter-offer.

    The musicians DID make a counter-offer: arbitration.

    That was an extremely brave and risky counter-offer on their part, because it could have gone either way. An arbiter might have come back and said, “Sorry, musicians, but you have no option other than to accept the cuts.”

    I wrote a note to the board stating my opinion, and I got an e-mail back from a board member saying that arbitration was unacceptable because no arbiter would either be able to understand the Minnesota Orchestra’s financial situation or be qualified to make artistic decisions.

    Since several major corporations in the Twin Cities have had labor disputes subject to arbitration, and since the arbiter wouldn’t be making artistic decisions anyway, my reaction was “Huh?”

    Like the poster above, I, too, am concerned about Vänska getting fed up and leaving. Like all conductors of his status, he probably has more offers to guest-conduct than he can take, and an offer of a permanent post from a stable, well-run ensemble might be all too tempting.

    • Submitted by Maryann Goldstein on 02/24/2013 - 10:15 am.

      You are right

      Karen, you are absolutely right about this. Arbitration is ALWAYS hugely risky. If the MOA management had felt confident about what they were doing (i.e. telling the truth about the finances) , they should have gone for it. In my own personal experience, arbiters do not automatically tend to side with the “little guy”.

      In any event, one just suspects that the MOA management did not want their finances/plans scrutinized and/or will not accept anything other than what they have offered the musicians in the first place—at least until they had recouped the 6 million dollar deficit by not having a 2012-2013 season (the amount saved is almost exactly 6 million dollars). In fact, it almost looks like they planned to have the musicians “pay” for the deficit. This approach would also indicate that there is another agenda ( UNION BUSTING ) in play, and that they are selfishly willing to risk EVERYTHING (the reputation and quality of our fine orchestra, Maestro Vanska) in order to break the musician union’s back. It’s a very disgusting state of affairs.

      The horrible effects of the lockout have gone far beyond the loss of a season and the musicians’ livelihoods, as the testimonies of Orchestrate Excellence for the two previous legislative hearings probing the lockout and state bonding money (for the new lobby) have indicated. As far as I can tell, the only people who are thriving under this situation are 1) Mr. Henson, with his 400K/year salary and oh yes, his bodyguards 2) the soon to be hired MOA event planner 3) Mortenson and the construction workers building the new lobby 4) the MOA’s legal firm advising on the lockout 5) MOA’s PR firm (and who ought to be fired because they are failing miserably for the 50K/year that they are being paid) and last but certainly not least 6) the architects of the entire strategy who are salivating over the idea of busting another union no matter how vast and severe the collateral damage. It’s all pretty stunning, actually.

  23. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/25/2013 - 12:38 pm.


    I suspect management isn’t very confident about what they are doing. That being the case, what sense does it make for them to go to arbitration?

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