Overflow crowd cheers locked-out Orchestra musicians — and plans for more concerts

MinnPost photo by Doug Grow
Violinist David Brubaker, left, performed in a quartet along with violinist Rebecca Corruccini, cellist Anthony Ross, right, and violist Michael Adams at Monday's meeting.

The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra mixed some Beethoven and Mozart with what appeared to be a shot across the bow of the Minnesota Orchestral Association at a unique Monday morning meeting with the media and the public.

Although there were frequent comments from musician leaders that their No. 1 priority is a contract settlement to end the 14-month-old lockout, they also announced plans for as many as 10 concerts for the winter/spring season.

This news was greeted by big cheers from an overflow crowd — perhaps 200 — who came to hear a status report from the musicians. The gathering was at the Hilton Hotel, which, of course, is only a few steps away from Orchestra Hall.

At the meeting, musicians announced that they had organized into 13 committees, which do everything from raise money — to date, more than $600,000 — to organize concerts. The funds have come from more than 1,200 donors, according to the musicians.

“We’ve learned so much about each other,’’ said harpist Kathy Kienzle, who heads their members committee. “This is a very smart, multitalented group.”

The musicians’ education committee has arranged a substantial number of orchestra performances at metro-area schools — which always has been part of the orchestra’s mission. Additionally, the orchestra has performed in such unusual venues as a YMCA in north Minneapolis and at a club, the Rodeo, on Lake Street, which is a particular favorite of Hispanics in the Twin Cities. 

At least one MOA board member reportedly was seen at Monday’s meeting, although she was not available for comment. It’s impossible to say whether her attendance shows at least a crack in the unified position of the MOA board. That board, by the way, meets Wednesday.

The MOA responded to the musicians’ meeting with a statement, emphasizing its vast resources:

“We are pleased to hear the musicians referenced today their desire to reach a negotiated settlement. The Minnesota Orchestral Association raises millions of dollars each year to support the musicians’ salaries. It offers hundreds of performances in the community to audiences reaching more than 350,000 people and organizes outreach events for 85,000 music lovers each year. Clearly, we are a stronger organization with much greater reach when we are together. We very much hope the musicians will soon agree to join us at the bargaining table.”

Does the scheduling of a wide variety of school programs and full-blown concerts mean that the musicians are moving toward a complete break-away from the MOA?

“Our No. 1 goal is to come to a contract agreement,” said Tim Zavadil, clarinetist for the orchestra and the head of the musicians’ bargaining committee. “But short of that, we have to have plans.”

The MOA made a similar announcement via its report to the city of Minneapolis last week. The MOA said that it had a Plan B, if a settlement with the musicians is not reached.

Separating from the MOA — starting with a new name — is a huge step. But clearly it has been talked about among musicians, who have been buoyed by support they’ve received locally as well as from symphonies and musicians’ unions around the country.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians have performed with 80 different symphony orchestras during the lockout, ranging from the Alabama Symphony Orchestra to the New York Philharmonic.

Performing elsewhere, said violinist David Brubaker, has increased his appreciation toward what he described as the special skill and work ethic of the Minnesota Orchestra.

At this meeting, Brubaker performed in a quartet along with violinist Rebecca Corruccini, cellist Anthony Ross and violist Michael Adams. Their performance made this a very unusual public meeting/news conference.

The four had practiced for two hours on Sunday, put in another hour before the meeting and were lights-out spectacular at a time of day and in a pretty unusual performance space for A-team musicians.

Even in this small room with “terrible acoustics” on a cold December morning, Adams admitted to being nervous when the musicians sat down to play, only a couple of feet from where TV cameras were stationed.

What was on Brubaker’s mind when he drove to the Hilton for this performance? Wasn’t he afraid that his fingers would freeze in place making the trip?

“I tell you what I was thinking,’’ said Brubaker. “I can’t imagine how people in construction can work outside. Whatever they’re getting paid, it’s not enough.”

Spoken like a blue-collar union man.

The event not only gave musicians a chance to display their special talents, but more importantly, a chance to get their message out.

Throughout the negotiation, musicians have been criticized for not coming up with counter-proposals to the deep cuts proposed by the MOA.  Those cuts, the MOA has insisted, are necessary for the orchestra’s long-term sustainability.

At this session, musicians told their most ardent supporters that they’ve made 10 counter-proposals. Most of those proposals, they said, have included pay cuts and other cost-saving measures. All have been rejected, they said.

Cellist Ross, whose public comments have been more militant than those of many musicians, told a story that he believes shows both the musicians’ passion and their desire to resolve the conflict.

“I had a moment of revelation recently,” Ross said. “I was at an event recently and a woman who was about 10 years older than me was looking at me. Finally she said, ‘You’re that angry cello player, aren’t you?”

“My face does not lie. How can we not be angry? But our No. 1 goal is to get back with the MOA and start rebuilding now.”

Still, there has to be an option, he said. And that means concerts.

“What this orchestra is doing is because we love the music and we’re family,” Ross  said. “And you, the people here and in our audiences, are part of that family. We will not let you down. I promise.”

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 12/09/2013 - 03:10 pm.

    Time to boot the failed management

    It’s time to start a foundation and support organization to restore Minnesota’s orchestra (lower case) to one that actually plays music. It’s obvious that management has utterly and absolutely failed at what we wanted them to do – produce a world class orchestra.

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 12/09/2013 - 04:11 pm.

    Those of us who have been at the University of Minnesota

    for a long time can still remember when the Minnorch played in Northrop. Apparently Osmo is coming back in the Spring to do a commemorative concert with the band in Northrop.

    Why don’t the musicians – in collaboration with the U – make their home Northrop again until the MOA comes to their senses.

    Just a thought.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/10/2013 - 05:21 am.

    The hall

    It would be a nice gesture for the MOA to allow the orchestra members to play in Orchestra Hall.

  4. Submitted by John Bracken on 12/10/2013 - 08:36 am.

    Osmo- The Million Dollar Man

    The Orchestra has received $650,000 to help the musicians. Doesn’t Osmo make around $1.1 mil? For that reason alone, I wish MOA nothing but a bumpy future. The upper echelon of the arts are leaches with enormous egos, overpaid head honchos, and charitable tax status. My daughter both dances and is in a choir at St. Olaf. I build all the sets for free for my daughter’s musicals. I support the arts. I just don’t think most people care. The masses have spoken. The world has moved on. Classical music needs to reinvent itself or become obsolete. Snooty, wine sipping, book club loving, MPRish type people are far and few between. No one cares. Evolve or perish (or get the government to subsidize your hobby). I heard Governor Dayton has a great electronic gambling scheme to build stadiums. Try that.

    • Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 12/10/2013 - 04:00 pm.

      But Osmo is worth it

      Superstars are rewarded, and OSMO IS A SUPERSTAR likely one of the world’s 10 best living classical conductors, just as Davis and Campbell are superstars in the banking world and Adrian Peterson, and Joe Mauer in sports. But Michael Henson??????

  5. Submitted by Tim Milner on 12/10/2013 - 10:27 am.

    The sad part

    is that the members of the orchestra are just not seeing the finical reality – even though they are now “the management” for themselves.

    In the Star Tribune report on this same event, it was shared that so far, the musicians have earned $201,289 from concerts since Oct. 1, 2012, while spending $288,587. The deficit has been funded by the $650,000 raised.

    Even if all the expenses incurred where just for musician salaries, it would be a fraction of what they would make under the new proposal contract.

    Setting all the distrust aside (probably impossible, as I know there is a lot), the musicians have to be realizing by their own experience managing their own concerts, the economics of classical music have greatly changed. They will need to adapt somehow – on their own or within the existing organization. Either way, they are going to have to accept less pay and more liberal work rules to survive.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 12/10/2013 - 01:29 pm.

      Tim, where did you get this idea???

      It’s interesting that the Star Tribune chose to highlight finances in the actual headline of the story, isn’t it.
      I know that’s the purported “bottom line” from management’s standpoint.

      But what you’ve got there – the idea that the musicians are just not seeing the financial reality – that is totally fictitious and comes straight from the mindset of the MOA and board…that tiny island of people who believe that their ideology and actions will pay off in the long run, as they’ve been told it would.

    • Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 12/10/2013 - 04:15 pm.

      Economics of classical music

      Tim, classical music and opera and regional theatre and museums are not self supporting from ticket revenue anywhere in the world. In the United States, deficits in performance income and expenses are made up by contributions and endowment income. In much of the world including Western Europe, endowments are substituted for or supplemented by government support as many governments wisely feel that these forms of enlightenment are worthy of perpetuation. The Minnesota Orchestra is a “World Class” orchestra worthy of a “World Class” board LEADERSHIP, to take care of its endowment and priorities, so that it can make up the deficits with endowment income and prudent planning. It could even increase performance revenue by performing classical concerts more often in its locale and by promoting itself. It could even increase revenue by requiring all board members to purchase two full season subscription tickets (though attendance would not be mandatory).

  6. Submitted by jim hughes on 12/10/2013 - 12:36 pm.

    negotiation

    First of all, it’s a lockout, so any negotiation starts out being just a bit one-sided. Secondly, a very credible mediator was engaged with the approval of both sides. The musicians accepted his proposal – MOA walked away from it. So who isn’t negotiating?

    The orchestra certainly wants to reconnect with the hall and with the endowment; but first, current MOA leadership would have to go. I believe this will happen at some point but if not, I’m ready to start contributing to a new organization that will enthusiastically take on this mission – instead of concocting devious schemes to end it and use the money for other purpose.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/10/2013 - 12:51 pm.

    Zero in the last 14 months

    MOA says: “It offers hundreds of performances in the community to audiences reaching more than 350,000 people and organizes outreach events for 85,000 music lovers each year. ”

    Who do they think they’re kidding? They have produced exactly ZERO concerts in the last 14 months and they plan to produce just as many until the existing contract expires in 12 months. The MOA has done nothing but deny 85,000 music lovers a chance to see this Orchestra perform in a concert designed expressly for that purpose. Whatever audiences this orchestra is reaching it is reaching despite, not because of the MOA.

    By the way, I don’t know where this notion that the musicians must somehow be naive regarding the financial demands of an orchestra they’ve been part of for decades but it’s kind of silly. Some people around here must not be aware of the fact that these musicians have been negotiating contracts for decades and recently took a pay cut. Its amazing that anyone would look at two groups, one that has put the orchestra into a death spiral, and another that has actually been performing concerts for 14 months, and conclude that the death spiral group is the one with all the business expertise.

  8. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/12/2013 - 11:49 am.

    The musicians’ activities during the year

    belie the contentions of the MOA and its supporters that the musicians are “greedy” and “unrealistic.”

    They may not understand that people who have enough musical talent to make it as professionals literally live to play music and to help others learn music. These are their consuming passions.

    The MOA underestimated this and did not understand that the musicians would find ways to perform and teach with or without them. Being bottom line types, the MOA board members did not understand that the changes in work rules and artistic control were more offensive to the musicians than the financial demands.

    Like a lot of people who can afford to pay $10,000 to take a non-paying position as a board member, they underestimated the way in which most audience members, perhaps prompted by memories of unreasonable employers in their own past or simply a realization that the musicians are the people who do the real work of the organization, would attend the musicians’ independent concerts in great enough numbers to sell out the halls.

    They also underestimated the solidarity that musicians show toward one another. Other orchestras have taken up collections for them and hired individuals for temporary gigs. Other musicians have refused to perform at Orchestra Hall, necessitating the rescheduling and relocation of certain concerts. Renowned guest artists and former conductors have come to play for reduced rates…or even for free. When the musicians picketed Orchestra Hall during the Symphony Ball, they were joined by musicians from other genres, including jazz and country-western.

    Finally, the musicians have been anything but lazy during the year. They have handled all aspects of concert production themselves, and as many of us have learned by experience, nothing builds feelings of camaraderie and solidarity more than working together on successful projects.

    Having spent three years as a clerical temp many years ago, I know some of what goes on in the business world. I imagine that most of the MOA members have bought into the notion that they have to be “team players,” which sounds nice but really means, “Buckle under to what the top dogs demand and don’t complain.” (“Not a team player” is management’s way of saying, “Tells us when we’re wrong.”) It is therefore disappointing but not surprising that the MOA re-elected the same two top officers who got it into trouble in the first place.

    As for me, I’ll be in the audience on December 14 at the Convention Center, and I already have my ticket for the Northrop concert in May.

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