Clarinetist Burt Hara’s exit latest fallout from Orchestra lockout

Clarinetist Burt Hara
Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra
Clarinetist Burt Hara

The Minnesota Orchestra may be performing again, but the ramifications of the long lockout continue.

Earlier this week, Burt Hara, who for 26 years was the internationally acclaimed principal  clarinetist for the orchestra, sent a letter to his colleagues telling them he was officially resigning his position with the orchestra.

The ongoing,  unsettled status of Minnesota Orchestra leadership clearly was a reason for Hara’s decision to leave.

“I am resigning now because I do not believe the current leadership has the vision to restore the Orchestra to its place among the great orchestras of the world,’’ Hara wrote in a letter to his colleagues.  

Last May, Hara had taken a one-year leave of absence from the Minnesota Orchestra and accepted a position as associate principal clarinetist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Last month, he received permission to extend his leave from Minnesota for another year but decided putting off his decision would “only delay the rebuilding process [of the Minnesota Orchestra].’’

There is scuttlebutt among orchestra fans that current orchestra management did not work hard to lure Hara back to Minnesota.

In a conversation Thursday, Hara was cautious around that subject. The Minnesota Orchestral Association did grant him the additional leave time, he noted. But he also implied that there was no hard recruiting process to bring him back. In effect, the lack of push from Minnesota helped make the decision to stay in L.A. easier.

Orchestra management did not respond directly to questions about what  efforts — if any — were made to draw Hara back to Minnesota. Management did offer a standard sort of statement about people who depart from any orchestra, team or office.

“Burt Hara is an outstanding clarinetist and we sincerely thank him for his years of service and many contributions to Minnesota,’’ the statement read. “He will be greatly missed. We wish him and his family the very best in their new lives in southern California.’’

Hara, who is on tour with his new orchestra, said he decided the most unfair thing he could do was take a second year’s leave of absence, a second year he had requested and received.  

“If my chair [in Minnesota] stays in limbo, it’s only going to make the rebuilding process harder [in Minnesota],’’ Hara said.

Financially, Hara is better off in L.A., though he’s “associate principal’’ with the Los Angeles Orchestra.  Sunshine over snowbanks is pleasant, said Hara, who currently resides in Pasadena but commutes by biking to a nearby station and taking the train to downtown L.A.

But, he said, for years, Minneapolis was an ideal place for musicians who wanted to perform at the highest level.

“ It was a great place to live and raise a family,’’ Hara said. “The audiences are special and for years, there was a special chemistry with the orchestra. It was a wonderful place to be. I’ll miss what we had. But the future looks different.’’

In retrospect, Hara said, it seems as if the lockout and the lingering hard feelings could have been avoided. Had the final resolution — built around a 15 percent across-the-board paycut — been put on the table at the start of negotiations, Hara believes musicians would have settled quickly. 

Instead, there was a take-it-or-leave “offer’’ demanding much steeper pay cuts and other musician givebacks. When  musicians rejected that offer, they were locked out. 

“The way it unfolded is disappointing and sad,’’ Hara said.

What needs to be restored among the board, management and musicians are “teamwork and trust,’’ he said, admitting that’s easier to say than to accomplish.

Given the unsettled state of affairs in the management structure of the orchestra and given there currently appears to be no one in charge of the artistic direction, Hara said he thinks other members of the orchestra might be inclined to be more aggressive in seeking positions elsewhere.

The orchestra did say Thursday that three  musicians remain on leave: Mike Gast, principal horn; Tom Turner, principal viola; and Peter McGuire, violin, have not made their future plans known.

But four musicians who were on leave — Ken Freed, viola; David Pharris, clarinet; Tim Zavadil, clarinet; and Robert Dorer, trumpet — all have indicated they plan to return.

The huge question that remains surrounding the orchestra, of course, is whether Michael Henson will be retained as CEO and/or whether Osmo Vänskä will return as the conductor and artistic director.

Throughout the week, there have been rumblings that the board is nearing a decision. But so far, there have been no announcements.

Instead, this has been the week when the ramifications of the lockout have been felt again.

“I had not planned to leave the Orchestra,’’ Hara wrote in his farewell to his colleagues. “I never wanted to leave. I considered myself incredbily blessed to work with musicians whom I admired both artistically and personally. The chemistry onstage was unique and I appreciated it every single day I went to work.’’

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/14/2014 - 05:18 pm.

    When I saw the headline

    I thought that it was referring to Vänskä, the noted clarinetist.
    Sounds like Hara is trying to justify leaving to take a financially better offer, which he probably would have taken even if the lockout had never occurred.

  2. Submitted by Michael Wunsch on 03/14/2014 - 06:45 pm.

    Burt Hara will be missed

    I extend my sincere gratitude to Burt Hara for his role in helping the orchestra reach the highest levels of excellence.
    My gratitude to Burt Hara is personal. My wife was pregnant with our first child when we attended the concert produced by the musicians at the O’Shaughnessy last April that, in retrospect, was Burt’s farewell. The baby loved the clarinet concerto, particularly the second movement, kicking vigorously throughout. After the baby was born last September, we found we could calm the baby almost instantly by playing a recording of the piece. It was amazing – the instant the piece started, she would stop crying.

    I am deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the Minnesota Orchestra during its period of greatness, and I am deeply saddened that my children may not have the same opportunity. There is still an opportunity to restore the orchestra to its recent heights and to draw on an energized base of patrons for increased donations to support the orchestra, but that window of opportunity is quickly drawing to a close.

    I hope and pray that the board of the MOA reasserts its dedication to excellence in classical music, engages its patrons, and quickly makes the artistic and managerial leadership decisions needed to bring healing and rebuild. I think that most would gree this means that Vanska must be rehired, Henson must go, a fundraising drive must be started, and a mechanism must be found for patrons and small- and medium-sized donors to have a voice in the organization.

  3. Submitted by george jaquith on 03/14/2014 - 09:37 pm.

    Burt Hara and the ongoing implosion of the ORCHESTRA

    In all due respect to Paul Brandon, I had contact with Burt Hara and his family when he had children in the MPLS Public Schools. What he said in the exit interview is true. He loved Minnesota and the special collegiality found here. He did not go to L.A. just for more money.

    Mr. Wunsch is correct. Time is running short for the MOA to listen to the public and do the right thing. The international musical community is truly perplexed by the collective actions for the board and the CEO. Just read what a variety of NEW YORK critics have said. Please listen to the patrons and do the right thing. Rehire OSMO and let HENSON go.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/15/2014 - 10:54 am.

      And with all due respect

      Would he have left if he -hadn’t- been offered a higher salary?
      I suspect that the opportunities for side gigs are also better there.
      As for his family; are his kids still in school, or out on there own?
      That’s often a factor when people make a career move.

      I’m not attacking Hara personally; this is what professionals do to advance their careers. I just suspect the situation is more complex than just the lockout situation.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/17/2014 - 09:14 am.

        Higher salary

        “Would he have left if he -hadn’t- been offered a higher salary?” In a word: “no”. Salary obviously wasn’t his primary concern, were it, he wouldn’t have stayed for so long.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/15/2014 - 07:10 am.

    Hara’s departure, or more specifically, the coolness toward his departure is further evidence that management and the board has become isolated from the orchestra’s audience and for whatever reason, is no longer capable of effectively managing the orchestra. It’s as if they are engaged in tantrum of passive aggressiveness, if there is such a thing that for the moment at least, prevents them from doing the obvious things to make things right. Of course, they should have done everything reasonably possible to retain Hara, the star of those Grammy winning nominated and recordings the MOA is so proud of. Of course, they should do everything reasonably possible to bring Vanska back. Of course, they need to put the bitterness of the dispute behind them just as the players need to do.

  5. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/15/2014 - 07:23 am.

    Had Mr. Hara ever wanted to leave Minnesota to

    play elsewhere for more money there were no doubt plenty of earlier opportunities…

    Thanks, Burt.

    I am sure that the relatively new LA Phil conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, was a factor in the decision. As was the pathetic stalling by the orchestra board.

    Playing in an orchestra led by a great conductor, like Mr. Dudamel or Mr. Vanska, is a goal and an honor for great musicians – which you certainly are.

    I hope to hear you play in LA the next time I am there!

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/15/2014 - 08:47 am.

    Pay rates

    I would be interested in the respective pay scales. It’s hard to compare the LA Philharmonic with the Minnesota Orchestra for a number of reasons. For one thing, there are a lot more opportunities to perform and make money in LA than there are in Minnesota. Still, the LA Philharmonic has, like the Minnesota has been a second tier orchestra with occasional ambitions to move in the first tier. If Minnesota refuses to at least match the pay scales of orchestras like Los Angeles’, I would say there are more problems ahead.

  7. Submitted by Karla Jennings on 03/15/2014 - 09:50 am.

    Shame on the Minnesota Orchestra Association for passively overseeing the continued erosion of our once great orchestra. Rather than a single, fatal event, we are witnessing a more subtle and slow destruction as elite musicians make the understandable decision to continue their careers with orchestras that display a strong commitment to sustaining musical excellence. The MOA cannot even bring itself to craft a suitable announcement when a musician leaves, rather they issue a statement totally devoid of appropriate sentiment. If the MOA really has no interest in reversing the continuing damage, why don’t they have the courage to say so?

  8. Submitted by Ben Munroe on 03/15/2014 - 10:10 am.

    Leadership, not money

    Salaries are not mentioned in the article, but anyone with basic knowledge of US orchestras, or the ability to do a web search, would know that the LA Phil is among the highest paid. However, this was not about money, as indicated by the last paragraph of the article and the fact that he waited nearly two years to resign. Hara wanted to stay in Minnesota, but the leadership essentially forced him out.

  9. Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 03/15/2014 - 10:40 am.

    We will miss you Burt

    We know you could have doubtlessly left for New York or Philadelphia for more money during your 26 years here. Los Angeles though sunny, would not have been in contention had it not been for the shortsightedness of a still dysfunctional symphony board which fancies itself as owners rather than guardians of our orchestra. The money may be better in LA, but can it make up for the higher cost of living and poorer quality of life inherent in that area?

    Well now Mr. Henson, you can leave the first chair empty and fill it with a substitute musician at a much lower wage than Burt’s. But many of us moderately (ex-) heavy contributors know that Burt was one of the 4 or 5 best orchestral clarinetists in the US and all though there are many really fine clarinetists including those remaining with the orchestra, he was one of the key elements in making theMinnesota Orchestra “World Class”.

    We will miss you Burt and all the best to you!

  10. Submitted by Karen Olson on 03/15/2014 - 12:12 pm.

    Burt Hara

    Everyone realizes that it takes more than one person to make an orchestra stellar. But Burt Hara was the heart and soul of the woodwind section of the Minnesota Orchestra. When he played the entire orchestra responded by playing more musically….with more expression and passion. I heard it happen hundreds of times.
    It is truly a sad day that we have lost this treasure that meant so much to the orchestra and to its listeners.

    Karen Olson

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/17/2014 - 09:33 am.

    Mediocre executives

    Unfortunately many of our large companies and organizations have become populated by mediocre executives who are barely able to manage status quo operations let alone crises or substantial change or challenges. From GM to Target, to the banking industry you see epic fails piling up year after year. For a while there is wasn’t clear that these executives actually understood that they were managing an orchestra instead of a bank or a meatpacking plant.

    Obviously somehow such executives have ended up in charge of the MOA. I’m sorry but expecting these people will deal with this situation effectively is like expecting a dog will pick up a violin and start playing it.

    Either these executives will find a way to exceed their abilities, i.e. set aside their muddled thinking and accept the obvious. Or they will have to be replaced with more capable executives. The problem is that time is not our friend here, it’s running out. This team put the orchestra into a death spiral and although the plane is no longer spinning, it’s still losing altitude at an alarming rate. Do we have Homer Simpson at the controls?

    It looks like the seeds of this debacle were planted when the board was designed and assembled, if the orchestra survives that board structure and membership will have to be examined. This board appears to be worse than useless.

    • Submitted by Ben Munroe on 03/17/2014 - 09:29 pm.

      Highly skilled cost cutters

      I beg to differ. The board seems to be carrying out their plan to downgrade the orchestra (cut costs, regardless of the consequences) with great acumen and fortitude. One needs to investigate how and why a group like this gained control of an orchestra board in the first place.

  12. Submitted by Stephanie Sarich on 03/17/2014 - 02:28 pm.

    Tea Party Board?

    Have the Koch Brothers infiltrated this pathetic excuse of a board, or what?

  13. Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 03/19/2014 - 12:06 am.

    Burt’s departure

    We have lost a treasure. I loved to hear Burt play and will miss his indescribably beautiful sound and wonderful smile, but wish him the very best in LA. He deserves to play where the management understands what they have. A little over a year ago, I sat in an “info session” for orchestra donors and could not believe my ears when Michael Henson nonchalantly said that Tony Ross and Burt Hara were free to leave when I asked him point blank how he expected to retain these particular superstars if they had their salaries cut by 50 percent, which was closer to the real figure for the principal players. When I heard this come out of Mr. Henson’s mouth, my heart dropped to my feet because I knew that he really did not care if this orchestra was completely dismantled. I have every reason to believe that was actually the plan, along with getting rid of Osmo.

    The continued ineptitude and spineless behavior of the board, while the “visionaries” ransack our orchestra is beyond the scope of my comprehension. Do the right thing–get rid of the mastermind behind this insanity, bring back Osmo, and beg Tony Ross to stay.

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