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Tough city letter asks MOA to detail its 2014 Orchestra Hall plans

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
The MOA’s scheduling plans for the refurbished Orchestra Hall are required under terms of a complex lease the MOA signed off on with the city in order to receive $14 million in state funds, which were used as part of a major renovation of the Hall.

Minneapolis officials have found a recent Minnesota Orchestral Association report a few notes shy of a symphony.

Earlier this month, the city sent a letter to Michael Henson, chief executive of the MOA, seeking more information [PDF] about what type of scheduling plans the organization has in the event of a continued lockout.

The MOA’s scheduling plans for the refurbished Orchestra Hall are required under terms of a complex lease the MOA signed off on with the city in order to receive $14 million in state funds, which were used as part of a major renovation of the Hall.

It’s hard to know the full intent of the letter from the city’s Planning & Economic Development department. Is the letter a sincere effort to receive required information, or is it a prod for the MOA to end the lockout of the musicians, a lockout that now is approaching 15 months?

Certainly, the city’s expectation of a response from the MOA by Friday seems a little surly given the fact that the city didn’t send out its letter until Dec. 6. But surliness may be understandable, given that the empty Hall creates little vitality in the heart of the city. 

With the exception of a couple of college holiday concerts, the Hall has been largely silent because of the MOA’s lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra.

There are at least some musician supporters who believe — or at least hope — that if the MOA can’t live up to the terms of the lease with the city, it could lose control of Orchestra Hall. That would be helpful to musicians if they eventually split from the MOA and form a new organization.

But it should be noted that musicians continually have said that “our first priority’’ is to resolve the labor dispute with the MOA, which controls a substantial endowment.  Musicians have made that desire clear even as they’ve scheduled a series of winter and spring concerts that will be performed throughout the region.

In its letter, the city asks that the MOA’s report “fully cover the major activities at the Hall for the MOA’s current fiscal year, which ends September, 2014.’’

The MOA’s initial report to the city was vague at best as to what events would be held at the Hall, presuming the lockout continues.

The city wants specifics.

“Please provide us with a program schedule that lists all of the non-Orchestra events, including those that already have occurred and those that are planned or in the works, with dates and names of performers.’’

This could be difficult for the MOA. Most U.S. professional entertainers and symphony orchestras will not perform at the Hall as long as Minnesota Orchestra musicians are locked out.

The relationship between the city and the MOA came about because of the MOA’s desire for public (state) money in support of the renovation of the Hall.

The MOA is the underlying owner of the land and the Hall, but the type of grant the MOA received from the state needed to go to a public entity (Minneapolis) with an ownership interest in  the property. So the city got the money and passed it to the MOA, which then leased the Hall property to the city for 50 years with the MOA holding on to the ownership of the property.

That was only part of the deal. Then, the city leased the property back to the MOA “under terms that reflect the requirements imposed on the city by the state.’’ Among those terms is that the MOA operate a performing arts center that serves a public benefit.

All of this emphasizes again why lawyers have replaced musicians as the main performers around Orchestra Hall.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Todd Adler on 12/18/2013 - 03:59 pm.


    The buzz on the street that I hear is that Orchestra Hall is being rented out left and right by corporations that want to hold meetings, holiday parties, and the like. It sounds like the lockout has been a real boon to the staff that handles the rentals.

    So far from being a spot devoid of life, it may be quite the hoppin’ place at this point.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/18/2013 - 04:36 pm.


      Are they renting more than the lobby?
      Most corporate meetings don’t have 2000 people attending.
      How much does that bring in?

    • Submitted by MaryAnn Goldstein on 12/18/2013 - 09:37 pm.

      corporate and party rentals at Hall

      Well then, I suppose that’s something– as I recall, when the remodeled Hall opened, General Manager Neu stated that they expected around 200K a year from rentals (which seemed like a very low ROI for the 52million dollars the MOA spent on the renovation… ) While that’s better than nothing, I suppose, these rentals seem to have very little to do with an orchestra or an “Orchestra Hall” or a performing arts venue—and most importantly, the city’s requirements for the MOA in the lease agreement. The MOA’s response to the City letter ought to clarify just how “hoppin'” the Hall is and if those requirements have been and are expected to be met. The City thought they were funding a venue for performing arts, with the centerpiece being the Minnesota Orchestra (now the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, not the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s corporate cronies). Bravo to the City of Minneapolis for asking the detailed questions that are not answered in Michael Henson’s original report.

    • Submitted by Jeanne Tanamachi on 12/19/2013 - 12:01 pm.

      Harmful to other venues?

      If Orchestra Hall is indeed being used for meetings and holiday parties, it may be taking even more business away from establishments in the vicinity that usually host those. Many of the downtown venues (and their employees) have been hurt by this ongoing sad situation.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/18/2013 - 04:43 pm.


    I think it would be a conciliatory gesture if the MOA allowed the musicians to use Orchestra Hall for their concerts. It would also tell them more about the economics of a reorganized orchestra.

    • Submitted by Michael Wunsch on 12/19/2013 - 03:15 am.

      Self-produced concerts by musicians in the hall – consequences

      If the MOA allowed the musicians to stage their self-produced concerts in the hall, I suspect that might actually take pressure off of the MOA to reach a deal with the musicians.

      Right now, the MOA is in a difficult position: If it does not offer concerts consistent with its mission before the end of the fiscal year, it will be in breach of its agreement with the city and will lose the hall. At the same time, it is very difficult – almost impossible – for the MOA to fulfill the terms of the contract as long as the musicians are locked out; any concert that they hold will be vigorously picketed, and their choice of performers will be severely constrained, as no unionized musicians will perform. The result is that there may actually be some pressure on the MOA to reach a true compromise with the musicians.

      Allowing the musicians to self-produce their own concerts in the hall while the MOA sits on the endowment could be a trap. If the musicians self-produce their concerts using the hall, the MOA could then utilize those concerts as justification that the hall is being used for its intended purpose. This argument would not, of course, be completely honest, but this type of under-handed behavior is consistent with past actions by the MOA. If the MOA’s lawyers are good enough, it will probably stand up in court. Given the $885,000 in legal fees spent by the MOA last season, the MOA appears more than willing to spend the money on the associated legal costs. If I were the musicians, I would not accept use of the hall for self-produced concerts for as long as the MOA controls the hall.

  3. Submitted by Amy Adams on 12/18/2013 - 06:44 pm.

    So…the name of Orchestra Hall

    …should be in quotation marks, right?

    Event Planners Hall…Corporate Annual Meeting Hall…it doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? LITERALLY.

  4. Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 12/18/2013 - 07:48 pm.

    Is this unintentional irony?

    Book ad on this page – “Discover the real criminals of the Bankster era” – oh, sorry, that should have been Gangster. My bad.

    Or maybe the irony was intentional.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/19/2013 - 05:28 am.


    What the city or whomever is doing is nibbling around the edges of the problem. Assuming no significant change in it’s position, there are two ways to end this dispute. Either you persuade this management group to cave in, or you oust this management group which won’t cave in, with one that will. I haven’t seen a coherent strategy that brings us closer to either alternative.

    • Submitted by David Assemany on 12/19/2013 - 03:28 pm.

      Oust the management?

      Hiram, I wholeheartedly agree with you about ousting the MOA management group. Can you think of a way to do that? The board, which hires and fires the management stands firmly behind management. What is the way forward?

  6. Submitted by Steve Miles on 12/19/2013 - 02:23 pm.

    A new idea

    The city, as owner of the building, should require the Minnestoa Orchestra Association to provide the building rent, insurance, and utility free to the musicians for the musicians concerts while labor negotiations are going on.
    That way
    -The endowment would be used for building support and to support concerts.
    -The musicians would not have to pay to rent halls.
    -The public would get a good listening place.
    -The Board would have to separate the advantage they get from holding the building hostage from their wage negotiations.

    Steve Miles, MD
    Forlorn subscription holder

  7. Submitted by Dorion Macek on 01/06/2014 - 11:07 pm.

    Orchestra Hall

    The MOA has not been honest with us, the audience. And they have not negotiated with the Musicians re their “New Business Plan”. They insisted on a 33% pay cut; a change of name??? and a requirement that small groups of the orchestra would play at events in the twin cities. The payment would go to the MOA. They say that this could be done in the hours of their paid work. Practicing appears not to be a part of their New Business Plan. Even though, as they well know the practice with the conductor is ?????? For concerts that are 2 hours more or less long.
    They proudly claim that they offered a new proposal during the confidential meetings with the ??????? This the one that M.Henson gave to the Star/Trib 2 days later. This blew any hope of a negotiation. Plus it had tricks??? in it. Given that these are intelligent people on the MOA, the audience, us, has to assume that this was not expected to be accepted by the Musicians.

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