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Who’s ‘winning’ Orchestra fight? Both sides, weak as they are, claim key support

MinnPost photo by Susan Albright
Minnesota Orchestra musicians and supporters participated in a rally outside Orchestra Hall on Tuesday evening.

While musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra continue to be locked out, it should be noted that orchestra management and the board of directors continue to be locked in.

At this point, it’s hard to see which body is in a weaker position.

Musicians have the talent. Management has the keys to a refurbished building. Musicians seem to have considerable popular support. But management and the board continue to have direct access to the major donors so necessary to long-term survival.

The big question surrounding any possible end game would seem to be what sort of feedback the management/board is getting from longtime supporters.

A little incident at Tuesday night’s rally of the orchestra and its supporters outside Orchestra Hall may offer some insight.

Veteran violinists Jean DeVere and Arnold Krueger were quietly discussing the situation when they were approached by Lois Gibson, longtime fan and supporter of the orchestra.

“We’re taking them [the Orchestra Association] out of our will,” Gibson told the two musicians. “My husband [Larry] and I are working on the letter now. We always wanted to nurture the orchestra because it was such a wonderful part of our lives. But what has happened with [Osmo] Vänskä  is the last straw.”

The will is going to be changed, she said, and their legacy gift that was to go to the orchestra will be given to some other organization.

“There is no chance that in our lifetimes this orchestra can be what it was,” she said.

But this sentiment is not universal. In a Tuesday New York Times piece, reporter James Oestreich quoted Michael Krasnoff, who also said he’s had a legacy gift in his will for the Orchestra Association.

“At the beginning, I was ambivalent,” he said. “I didn’t side with either.”

But now, he said, he’s “frustrated” by the players. Presumably, that means his legacy gift will stay in place.

Across the region, donors surely are making similar split decisions about their support of the orchestra.

Management expresses confidence

To date, orchestra management expresses confidence that key donors are sticking with the organization.

The Symphony Ball, held last month, was a significant indicator, management believes. Every attendance and financial goal was attained. About 500 people attended, and those attending pledged $1 million, which orchestra management says was the goal.

Additionally, there was an “auction” to raise money for educational programming by the orchestra. The goal was to raise $250,000, but bidders shot past that target in moments, pledging more than $500,000 for the project. (Those funds will be used only after a settlement has been reached.)

Michael Henson, controversial president and chief executive officer of the orchestra, said the ball was just one of many signs of support management has received from key donors.

The board/management also has been careful to stay in touch with those contributors, holding monthly private meetings to answer all of their questions. Donors have come out of those meetings, agreeing with management on steps that must be taken to create long-term sustainability for the orchestra.

Anthony Ross, principal cellistMinnPost photo by Doug GrowAnthony Ross, principal cellist and member of negotiating committee, center: “We will not stop the music.”

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Henson repeatedly returned to his single talking point, the long-term sustainability of the orchestra.

He does not, he said, look back and question the decision to lock out the orchestra. He feels bad about departures, but his view is there is no choice but to get the sort of cuts management has consistently demanded.

“I’m driven by my love of classical music,” Henson said. “We’re not going to sacrifice a 110-year old orchestra for a two- or three-year contract.”

He also amended a comment made by Jon Campbell, who heads the orchestra’s board of directors.

Campbell was quoted in the New York Times article as saying in the wake of Vänskä’s resignation: “The time pressures we were under are now removed. We’re probably in a pause for the next few months.”

In the interview, Henson agreed with that comment, adding only that the situation would change if musicians would indicate “that negotiations could be meaningful.”

The board, he said, is unified, and key donors continue to support the board.

Musicians tout strong support, too

But musicians appear to have strong support as well, and in some ways it seems to be growing. 

More than 4,000 people, for example, attended a free concert at the Lake Harriet Band Shell last month. The crowd showered the musicians with ovations and post-concert adoration.

The public also is buying tickets for musicians’ concerts.Over the weekend, the musicians will play two concerts at the Ted Mann Music Hall, a venue that seats about 1,120.Ticket prices run from $60 to $20, and musicians are hoping for sellouts.

The announcement Thursday morning that Vänskä is returning to the conductor’s podium for these concerts is powerful in every way. Vänskä’s return to say “farewell” surely will be taken as a sign of respect for the musicians he led for a decade. It also will surely boost the morale of the musicians and energize their supporters. 

At Tuesday night’s rally, musicians were talking optimistically of playing a full season of concerts at venues throughout the Twin Cities.

“It’s the community that owns this orchestra, not management,’’ principal cellist Anthony Ross told those attending the rally. “We will not stop the music. We’ll play every hall until we get back here [to Orchestra Hall].”

Musicians are dividing proceeds from the concerts as one source of income.

Creating their own concert schedule isn’t the only thing keeping musicians afloat financially. Many of the musicians who haven’t left for more peaceful pastures are finding opportunities to perform with the now undermanned St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and with other orchestras around the country. 

Percussionist Kevin Watkins, for instance, soon will depart for a six-week tour with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Those opportunities to play elsewhere and the cheers of the local crowds have the musicians feeling unifed.

“It’s hard to explain the feelings we have for each other,” Watkins said. “When we perform, we’re a team, and now — through this — we’re remaining a team.”

Other unions’ support?

From the beginning of the year-old lockout, there’s been some question about whether elite musicians could receive support from more tradition unionists.  Certainly, management has tried to drive a wedge between middle-class workers and musicians.

Management made much of the fact that their last offer — which would have amounted to more than a 17 percent cut in pay for musicians over three years — would give musicians, on  average,  salaries of   about $105,000. Additionally, they would have received one-time bonuses of $20,000.

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Musicians unanimously rejected the proposal.

Bill McCarthy, president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, said most workers aren’t fooled by such management positioning of the offer.

“When bankers [top leaders of the board of directors are bank executives] are saying someone else makes too much money, we get that,” McCarthy said.

Besides, McCarthy said, the lockout tactics employed by the board are familiar to workers across the country. The only difference in this situation is that the locked-out workers carry violin cases, not lunch buckets.

If anything, local labor leaders at the rally seemed pleased by a more militant attitude expressed by some. None was more militant than Ray Hare, president of the American Federation of Musicians. Hare, in a stemwinder of an old-fashioned union speech, went through many of the names of the board members and the companies they head or work for. He called on those attending the rally to boycott those companies.

Spirits seem surprisingly high among the musicians.

Management options?

Where does that leave management?

If the intent of the year-long lockout is to break the union, it doesn’t seem to be working. If the intent is to ultimately hire replacement workers — as was done at Crystal Sugar when workers were locked out — it’s a losing strategy.

To become a replacement worker, musicians would have to resign from the union before going to work. It’s hard to imagine local musicians doing that, and harder still to image elite musicians from other regions of the country being willing to step into this mess.

The only thing that is certain is that someday this will end. All labor disputes do. But there will be no victories.

Leslie Shank, violinist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, attended the rally Tuesday. The chamber orchestra did settle after a lockout and long, bitter negotiations.

“It’s been hard to go back to work,” said Shank, who was a leader of the musicians’ negotiating team. “I’m happy when we’re playing, but the rest of the time, I think many of us are still in shock and there’s still some anger and depression.”

What’s most difficult, she said, is that 10 members either left for other orchestras or accepted buyouts. There are empty chairs where colleagues and friends once sat.

“It’s going to take at least two or three years to be back to what we were,” Shank said.

There’s even more bitterness — and more empty musician chairs — surrounding the Minnesota Orchestra brawl.

When the situation finally is resolved, the big unknown is who will be around to help pick up the pieces.

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by kevin terrell on 10/03/2013 - 11:28 am.

    Love the idea of killing what you eat

    It’s great that the musicians are selling tickets for their concerts.

    My proposal: give them 100% of ticket revenue from the Orchestra as their compensation. So in effect, the community pays for the building and operations, and the musicians keep what people are willing to pay to hear them play. A deal not unlike our pro sports stadium deals.

    When that is in place, the musicians can themselves decide on the tradeoff between pay and artistic control. If they can make $150,000 a year playing the type of music they want to play, in the way they want to play it, then rock on, so to speak. But if they find that there are not enough people to support that, then they might decide to play more of the “pop” music that seems to be part of the their current objection to the way management is (was) running things. Their pay would be totally within their control

    100% of what people are willing to pay to hear them play – is that not fair?

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/03/2013 - 11:39 am.

    Stupid bankers

    Do they really think they can brag about donations and demand concessions at the same time? It was just plain stupid to embark on a $50 million renovation while locking out the musicians at the same time. Regardless of the actual why’s and wherefores of the financial structure you just can’t spend that kinda of money and claim financial hardship at the same time. And what are you going do with donations and no Orchestra? Keep renovating the empty hall? This is just another example of typical incompetence and the mediocre nature of the American executive class. Bankers of all people have absolutely no experience with a population that can actually oppose their decisions, we just recently got consumer representation in this country.

  3. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 10/03/2013 - 11:55 am.

    false impression?

    My impression all along was that this lock out came out of the blue with no prior warning which makes it sound extremely heartless. But in the last few days somewhere in these pages I read that the musicians had turned down a couple previous offers that would have reduced their salaries a smaller amount, like 10% or something. So I’m left with the impression that they refuse any cut in salary no matter what the financial standing of the organization. For them, the board’s only role is to provide them with salary and a place to play and then get out of the way. For all the talk about work place rules I’ve only heard the musicians turn down offers because the salary decreased.

    That all leaves me with the impression that they are spoiled and unrealistic. Since any criticism of the musicians on Minnpost brings down the wrath of so many I will stand aside and cover my head.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 10/03/2013 - 04:04 pm.

      You are working with imperfect information

      The lockout has been going on for over a year. Musicians did NOT turn down “a couple previous offers that would have reduced their salaries a smaller amount, like 10% or something”. Management’s first contract offer was basically “take it or leave it” – no concessions whatsoever. Management turned down the mediation offer, to which the musicians agreed even though they would have made large and painful concessions.

      The workplace rules are seldom covered in the media; people tend to focus instead on $$ (like you). But there are significant changes which would be punitive and humiliating.

    • Submitted by Michael Wunsch on 10/03/2013 - 08:40 pm.

      a clarification on proposed salary reductions

      Bill, just for clarification: A year prior to the lockout, the musicians offered over $1 million in salary concessions to the management as a voluntary reduction in their contractually guaranteed salaries,and the management refused their offer. Others have presented possible explanations regarding why management refused these voluntary concessions from the musicians; I won’t attempt an explanation. When management proposed a new contract to the musicians in 2012, they proposed salary reductions in excess of 30% and told the musicians that the only part of the reduced compensation that could be negotiated was how the reduced compensation was accomplished … ie reductions in base pay vs. seniority pay vs. benefits, etc. This summer, management proposed three revised contract proposals to the musicians, each of which ultimately reduced salaries by 25%. In the latest proposal, the salaries were to be reduced gradually over a 3-year period, but at the end of the 3-year period, salaries would still be down 25% from 2012. Musicians countered with an offer to reduce their salaries such that total payroll expenses returned to the level at which they were at the end of their 2002-2007 contract.

      I think that it is important to realize, however, that this dispute is over a much larger issue than salaries. The musicians and many of the patrons disagree with the management’s vision for the Minnesota Orchestra Association, which involves a significant shift away from classical music towards pop performances, and they are deeply concerned about the MOA’s approach to managing finances, managing human resources, and engaging with patrons. While many talk about the demise of classical music, the reality is actually quite different. Many orchestras are thriving while maintaining a focus on excellence in classical music and paying their musicians well; Cleveland and Pittsburgh are perhaps the most obvious examples. The best approach to resolving financial concerns is usually to see how successful peer institutions are managing the issue. Regrettably, the MOA has shown no interest in adopting successful approaches pioneered in other cities.

      • Submitted by Walter Anastazievsky on 10/04/2013 - 11:02 am.

        Thank you!

        That is a very good, dispassionate overview of the facts and history here. Like you, I side with the musicians – and the facts explain why. Some have claimed that the Twin Cities aren’t large enough to support a world-class orchestra, but interestingly the two you cite – Pittsburgh and Cleveland – are in smaller metropolitan areas.

  4. Submitted by Greg Gamradt on 10/03/2013 - 11:59 am.

    Bankers and the Orchestra

    The central premise in the peer-reviewed theoretical paper from 2011 by Mitchell Anderson states that: “Highly placed psychopaths in the banking sector may have nearly brought down the world economy through their own inherent inability to care about the consequences of their actions.” It is not lost on me and others that the orchestral board chair and the past chair are bankers. They are slowly destroying one of the world’s great orchestras and could care less. The loss of Osmo Vanska is tragic. All this could have been prevented had the Minnesota legislature had labor stipulations tied to the $14,000,000 stipend for the refurbishing of Orchestra Hall. However, it appears to be just plain union busting and a will to win at any cost by the Orchestral board.

    • Submitted by John Ferman on 10/03/2013 - 01:36 pm.

      Re: Bankers and

      The $14 million was Legacy money. The MOA had to apply to the Lessard Commission. The grant would have been based on what was in the application – it should bd dredged up and published. So all could see whether the MOA falsified their intent. The grant would have come from the cultural part of the Legacy amendment to the State Constitution. If there was misrepresentations, there should be penalties.
      I would think a ‘claw back’ is in order.

      • Submitted by Sam Bergman on 10/04/2013 - 07:45 am.

        Not Legacy money.

        The MOA does receive Legacy money (over $900K/year in recent years,) but the $14m that went to the Hall renovation was bonding money. It was quite surprising when it was approved, since then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty had always line-item-vetoed arts projects out of bonding bills. It would be interesting to discover who convinced the Governor to leave the MOA in the bill, and what they were promised in return for their efforts.

  5. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/03/2013 - 12:05 pm.

    It is over

    It’s over. Forget the Orchestra Association, the board, and all patrons who would support the lockout and all that has come from them for over a year.

    The musicians must form a cooperative.

    Let the OA sit on their endowment in the empty Orchestra Hall while the rest play and listen to music. If musicians must accept cuts, let the first cut the OA.

    Don’t know the relevant law, but it seems like if you don’t have an orchestra playing music in a great hall, you should not have the endowment people provided to make that happen: the money should go back to survivors to distribute as they will, perhaps to a coop.

    Stop talking to the OA, become the orchestra you were, and never stop playing music again.

    The Minnesota Coopertative Symphony Orchestra. MCSO has a nice ring.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/03/2013 - 12:25 pm.

    The building

    I don’t know about the wisdom of renovating the building. In pro sports, modern stadiums are nothing more than money machines with tv studios attached. They are completely revenue focused. I don’t know if the Orchestra Hall renovation had that focus. In any event, what’s done is done. We have a nice hall. The question now is will anyone play music in it?

    Bear in mind that like the Twins Stadium, Gopher Stadium, and Vikings Stadium, Orchestra Hall has no value in an of itself. If it those buildings are used for the purposes intended, they are worthless.

    I see the idea of the Orchestra being managed by the players is being tossed around. European orchestras are managed by their members but they have public financing. The problem here is that there just isn’t enough money to pay for an orchestra as things are currently structured. This isn’t the fault of the orchestra, it has to do with larger changes in charitable giving, basically that corporations are tighter with the charitable buck and making sure the contributions they do make complement broader corporate goals. That doesn’t work to the benefit of contributions to the arts.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/03/2013 - 12:28 pm.

    Do they really think they can brag about donations and demand concessions at the same time?

    One thing they really need to do is persuade orchestra members that they can do a better job of raising money than they have in the past. Orchestra members feel that management has not been fulfilling it’s part of the job, and that the players are suffering from managerial ineptitude in bringing in cash.

  8. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 10/03/2013 - 12:52 pm.

    Check the books…

    …according to it’s 2012 financial statement, the Orchestra was a losing $$ proposition. The Orchestra Treasurer even included the following in the Annual Report “In today’s difficult market, classical sales continue to decline.Concert series were adjusted accordingly, resulting in fewer concerts and reduced income from concerts and ticket fees.” So, if you couldn’t meet the bottom line before, and now your donors have left by ??%, how do you survive?

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 10/03/2013 - 04:27 pm.

      Check the books yourself

      For several years – start with 2009. Finances were manipulated to paint a rosy picture so that the MOA could get $14 million from the state. Everything was hunky-dory. Then it “suddenly” went downhill. And was the supposed financial crisis a cause of fewer concerts (and reduced income) or an effect?

  9. Submitted by Michael Morris on 10/03/2013 - 12:55 pm.

    MN Orchestra

    I do not attend performances given by our MO unless the tickets are free, so with my very limited qualifications as a fan this is what I see as the problem and challenge facing our orchestra and others around the country.
    When the NHL locked out our Wild players restaurants, bars and arena employees felt the loss of performances immediately and it was all over the news. To date I have not read one story or watched one newscast that has focused on the pain and suffering of those impacted by the loss of orchestra performances besides the players. The stories might have been done but honestly who is being hurt by this lockout? The faceless patrons and the unknown players and there is your problem. We don’t know any of the players and the coach who just quit didn’t know him either and he’s famous.
    In the world of entertainment the MO does a lousy job of marketing. We’re told they are like the New York Yankees of orchestras. Really? If they are an elite team what’s the last big championship they’ve won?
    The players and coaches have to get down in the trenches and market themselves. For starters they could do what hockey players do. Visit hospitals, dedicate a solo to a sick kid like a ball player promising a home run, show up a lot more often at schools than you do now and become more visible. Yes that’s right you market and self-promote.
    I can just see Osmo now in the booth at a Vikings game talking it up between plays about the next big performance.

    Has the lead violinist every adopted a high school orchestra? Can anyone reading this comment name the drum player? Sorry, but in this day and age if you consider yourself a pro you have to get down and dirty and meet the ticket buying public. Not at a tea or a recital but at a car dealership on Saturday morning. Ish.
    Next the orchestra needs to have a Super Bowl or World Cup. If we lost a heartbreaker to the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the finals of the WOC (World Orchestra Championships) that would be huge. Fans would greet the returning players at the airport. A parade might be in order, it would be an event. You’re a big deal so prove it.

    • Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 10/03/2013 - 07:04 pm.

      MN Orchestra

      The drum player????Which drum are you talking about? It sounds like you think this is a middle school band. I know a couple of the percussionists of the orchestra. As for those impacted let me give you a partial list: the parking garage attendants; the music teachers who gave scholarships to orchestra members so their kids could keep studying; the stage hands; the bartenders; several restaurants in the area have talked about how their businesses have been affected. ( It just doesn’t make the news after 10 minutes of high school sports scores;) the convention center lost tons of money; the MN Chorale was hit especially hard by the concert cancellations; the list goes on and on —so please do your homework. By the way, there is a Super Bowl for orchestras. It’s called the Proms and our orchestra blew the audience and critics away on a couple of different occasions in London.

  10. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 10/03/2013 - 12:58 pm.

    Some thoughts

    The park police said 7000 people attended the Lake Harriet concert. (The Strib, for some reason, reported 4000.) This was an event Michael Henson nixed during his tenure, so it’s great to see the musicians bringing it back!

    I think it’s worth noting that Mr. Henson doesn’t address the concerns of large donors who disagree with him…? (Judy Dayton, for instance, always shows up at the musicians’ concerts… You can’t really get to be a bigger donor than her…) A volunteer group I’m a part of, Save Our Symphony Minnesota, is trying to get a meeting with Mr. Campbell, Mr. Davis, and Mr. Henson. We’d like to pick their brains on why exactly they’ve done certain things the way they have, and we’d like to speak on behalf of the men and women *we’re* hearing from, who are horrified and disgusted, who are giving big chunks of their income to the orchestra, but who maybe don’t make as much in general as board members. Many of these donors feel cheated, and that the board wasn’t honest with them about financial challenges as they were fundraising for the hall. The day when Campbell, Davis, and Henson start talking to patron advocacy groups, and acknowledging there are many people who feel betrayed, whether they understand that betrayal or not…that will be the day that the Minnesota Orchestral Association starts to be responsive to the community it should be serving. That will be a very good day!

    “About 500 people attended”…and I know there was at least one person who were comped in…possibly more… I’m also curious how much the symphony ball net after expenses this year. The rental shrubbery, window coverings, and security to protect guests from the unruly union mobs (*eyeroll*) must have been a drain on the event’s budget they haven’t experienced in years past…? Wonder how many thousands rental shrubbery even costs?

    The musicians’ season will be exciting and heartwarming, and patrons will have the amazing opportunity to help build a new way of doing things. Looking forward to attending and planning the season, and pushing for a larger – and more accountable – musician and patron presence on the board. But as long as the MOA management remains insulated from the concerns of the broader community, I look forward to making them increasingly irrelevant.

  11. Submitted by Wilbur Ince on 10/03/2013 - 01:14 pm.

    The Proof is in the Pudding

    Let’s see what kind of music ad reputation the Orchestra has in one year. Let’see what kind of music ad reputation the Orchestra has in five years.

    Let’s see when the first concert is scheduled, and let’s see who is playing.

    I am not hopeful.

  12. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 10/03/2013 - 01:22 pm.

    Not so sure musicians have public support

    I am not a MO attendee but listen on Fridays on MPR and donate each year. Like many I have mixed feelings. I think the musicians were petulant to not do a counter offer (like they did last week) a year ago. The impression is that their self-righteousness was so offended that all they could do was talk about how poor management is (a tired refrain at every company) and demand financial and ‘management’ audits. It had an elitist air and will in my mind my ensure the musicians 50% of the blame for the eventual consequences. But I think their current compensation is entirely reasonable-if it can be funded. The Board did not put their best foot forward as the comments above show. There is too much dis-trust of banks and the financial industry in particular and corporations in general. The most down to earth relaxed person on the board should have been the spokesperson. The re-modeling of Orch Hall was an unfortunate coincidence but the impression is left that the board saw an opportunity to time the lock out with the move to the Convention Center.

    What I am not confused about is that 100% of people I have encountered who have little interest in the MO have no sympathy for the musicians. Many consider this a dispute among the elite wealthy class with no relevance for their life. Even many professional people are not paid as well despite having similar training and abilities of a different type. Almost everyone in this community has suffered in the last ten years of Pawlentyism and then the fiscal collapse and Great Recession. But not the musicians of the MO. I’d be 100% behind them if they had countered with a 10% reduction but they did not so I remain sad with mixed feelings.

    Those writing in support of the musicians and critical of the board should examine their conscience. I know that many of those who attend have not really donated like they could. When you are sitting on millions in pension benefits (all public retirees fit this bill) and resources and then write out a check for $100 or $250 and think you are a hero you are not. Too many in the audience do not donate at all. You are too cheap to pay your share of your hobby. That’s OK but don’t criticize others for making large donations, sitting on the board and trying to balance the budget. The typical audience at Orch Hall could easily albeit collectively fund the discrepancy. Too many people are used to others in all areas of their life running things to make their life comfortable and meaningful but love to snipe at management and in this case love the bargain they are getting for their tickets. I know I am often one of them.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/05/2013 - 10:53 pm.

      I know anecdote is not the singular of evidence

      but I was walking toward the bus from Tuesday night’s rally when one of two women who happened to be walking behind me her companion what the picket signs were about.

      “The Minnesota Orchestra musicians are on strike,” the companion said.

      I turned around and said, “No they’re not. They were locked out. They’ve been locked out for an entire.”

      Both women gasped: “Locked out? Really? That’s terrible!”

      I wonder if whatever hostility there is comes from a misunderstanding of the situation, because I’ve heard local media talk about “the striking musicians” and focus on the money while ignoring the work rules or the original proposed revision of the mission statement to omit mention of orchestral music, two moves which are just as problematic as the money angle. It is also not widely know that management ended talks unilaterally and cancelled the Carnegie Hall concerts 14 hours before the deadline.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/03/2013 - 01:43 pm.


    “When the NHL locked out our Wild players restaurants, bars and arena employees felt the loss of performances immediately and it was all over the news.”

    The argument for subsidizing the orchestra is exactly the same as the argument for subsidizing the sports teams. Yes, the lost of the orchestra has cost local businesses. The difference is that while the problems are the same, the managers of the orchestra didn’t perceive them that way. They didn’t see themselves as salesmen with a product to sell. They were limited by their vision, and the idea of themselves that bankers just don’t do those things.

  14. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 10/03/2013 - 01:48 pm.

    …how do you survive?

    Sell more tickets and/or raise the prices; beg for more $’s from donors/patrons; and guess what – “Cut costs”. Oh, I almost forgot. Go to the State Legislature for a handout ala the “Vikings.” Do you really believe management hasn’t considered all of these alternatives?

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/03/2013 - 02:51 pm.

    Do you really believe management hasn’t considered all of these alternatives?

    It may be possible that they have considered some of them, they just haven’t pursued them effectively.

    As for who the public supports, I don’t think it matters much. What does matter is that management gets some sort of deal that can justify a decision to go forward. For the moment, the don’t seem to mind at all playing the role of Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. As always, the risk is asymmetric. Management has to live with any deal they make. If orchestra members don’t like the deal, they can always take their tubas elsewhere. Management assumes a risk that orchestra members do not.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 10/03/2013 - 04:01 pm.

      Management can go elsewhere as well

      Michael Henson trashed two UK orchestras before being hired to do the same thing here. Managers switch around all the time – like George Steele, now head of the bankrupt New York City Opera.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/03/2013 - 04:41 pm.


        In hiring them, I expect the board might have been impressed by the English accent. Probably a mistake.

  16. Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 10/03/2013 - 04:27 pm.

    Funny how the story changes

    We kept hearing from mgmt about how their donors were “tapped out”, and how donations were “down” (as in 2008). Hmmm.

  17. Submitted by jason myron on 10/03/2013 - 04:43 pm.


    I’ve followed this story with great interest. From the viewpoint of someone who retired from the industry a few years back, after a 30 year career in sales and marketing with various independent and major labels, the musicians have completely miscalculated their situation. I’m not here to defend management…management is doing what nearly all bean counters have done to musicians since the beginning of time. The problem however, is the musicians stunning inability to face economic reality. They seem to have the same affliction that many record execs suffer from, by ignoring a changing marketplace and clinging to a dead business model.

    To me, the musicians walked into a negotiations armed with nothing except their talent. Don’t get me wrong, these people have extraordinary talent…the best in the world,. Unfortunately, that talent is only worth what a market is willing to pay for it. The fact is that symphonic music is an ever shrinking demographic, a transition that started back in the 90’s. It simply doesn’t have enough of a market share to sustain the compensation that the musicians were accustomed to. With virtually no place to put physical product (the preferred listening medium for purists of the art form), the genre will continue to languish from lack of exposure, and without increasing their demographic and finding new consumers to market their talent to, the 17% pay cut that they were asked to take will look pretty good in five years time.

    Michal Morris raises some great points….in 2013, musicians have an obligation, not only to keep their chops up, but to grow organically…to grow their brand to stave off obsolescence. It seems to me that they need to follow the path of so many other musicians who are dealing with the new realities of the music industry, and have done it without the help of union representation ( not a knock on unions, just the reality of the industry). Musicians need to be more active in the community, holding workshops at high schools, middle schools, music shops, art fairs, anywhere that they can reach out and plant the seed of interest to their music and grow another patron who eventually will search out and purchase their product, whether it be a recording or ticket. Today’s youth are all about interaction…when a band feels inaccessible, it’s a complete turnoff. The musicians need to completely rethink the way that they do business…..talent is not enough, they need to take responsibility for filling seats and keeping themselves relevant.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/05/2013 - 10:56 pm.

      Where have you been?

      The musicians have been doing community outreach on their own all year.

      The morning after Vänskä resigned, they gave a concert at Hopkins High School. They have continued teaching and mentoring youth music groups. Some of their most avid supporters are a teenage group called “Young Musicians of Minnesota.”

      It’s management that cut back on community outreach and marketing, thinking perhaps that all they needed was a a few dozen wealthy “angels.”

  18. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/03/2013 - 04:48 pm.

    Henson II

    According to the internet, Henson had a significant success with the Bournemouth Orchestra when he was able to obtain additional government support making it one of the best funded orchestra’s in Britain. I guess that’s what he was able to do here, but unfortunately the money went into the building and not the orchestra.

  19. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/09/2013 - 02:55 pm.


    I saw an article in the Times today that noted that in Berlin, the German government supports 7 symphony orchestras and three opera houses. I don’t know how many soccer teams Berlin has. I believe London has 14 soccer teams in all the various divisions and soccer is a much bigger deal and a far wealthier sport in America than football is here. If they can afford all those orchestras, all those operas, all those soccer teams, how come we can’t afford one measly orchestra?

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