I’ve been quiet lately, but not by choice. A month ago my grandfather fell and broke his hip. Two weeks ago, on his sixty-fourth wedding anniversary, he died. Our family is small; the loss is large. For the next little while I might prefer silence to writing on topics that seem – temporarily – so inconsequential.
Edit: Literally just as I published this, the Met and various unions announced that they have extended negotiations for 72 hours and at least temporarily averted a lockout. Keep an eye on developments via Google News and on Twitter. Here’s hoping this entry becomes irrelevant, and soon.
It looks like we’re rapidly hurtling toward a Met lockout, and so to…er, celebrate isn’t quite the right word…to commemorate…to observe the occasion…I thought I’d jot down a few informal tips for various stakeholders. Your mileage may vary with these; they are just some preliminary thoughts from the perspective of one music-loving audience member who was present for the length of the knock-down drag-out hell-fight that was the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. I encourage my wise readers to add their their own survival tips in the comment section.
- Recognize how devastating a shuttered or diminished Met would be, not only to you personally, but to your city and even to your country.
- Connect with other organizations who have been through similar implosions and who have helped to drive constructive resolution. I’m thinking about Save Our Symphony Minnesota and Save Our Symphony Detroit, especially. They are nice people; they care about art; they can help you.
- Remember that in this day and age all it takes is a Facebook page to create an effective gathering place for concerned patrons (see: Save the San Diego Opera). Social media is especially effective in the music world, where everyone is only a degree or two of separation away from each other.
- If you’re a writer, and you’re clever, and you play your cards right, you could make a career out of this. Camp on the story, cancel your plans for the next few months (I’m only half joking about that part; *speaks from experience*), and write. There is a massive audience hungry for information about what is going on, and that audience will only grow. Writers will need to be on this thing full-time to interpret all the spin and rapid-fire developments.
- Try to absorb all the information you can – from all sides. Be skeptical of everything.
- I know this isn’t a very polite question to ask, but – who is the most important stakeholder in this dispute? I mean, obviously everyone in an arts organization is important, but if, gun to your head, you had to choose The Single Most Important Stakeholder, who would it be? It’s not Peter Gelb. It’s not the board. It’s not the musicians. It’s not the union leaders. It’s you. Without an audience, there’s no reason to have grand opera or indeed the Met. You are the most important stakeholder. Act like it.
H/t Drew McManus, a great Peter Gelb quote:
“Once the dust settles,” he added, the musicians “don’t have to love me to play well.”
The public has to love you.
Not just major donors. The great unwashed public. Y’know, the people you need to fill that gargantuan 3800-seat cavern week in and week out. The paying customers you’re now so eager to lock out, disrespect, and condescend to.
2014 has shown that bad things can happen to hated music CEOs, and we’re not even seven months through! Things like screams of “fire Henson!” emanating from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, or the crowd heckling San Diego Opera head Ian Campbell after he announced he was shutting that company down. The actions and attitudes of both of these men led to widespread public anger and decreased support of their respective institutions. (Until their departures, of course.)
So some friendly advice:
You’re thinking of your labor dispute as a two-way tug of war. Surprise!: it’s a three way. The third team is the public. They’re just coming on the field now. If you keep screwing up your PR, two of those teams will be pulling against you.
Another summer, another lockout looming!
This time it’s the Met’s. If you’ve been following my Twitter account, you know my thoughts. (There I’ve posted such in-depth analyses as Who looks at the Minnesota Orchestra negotiations and says, “I want THAT for my non-profit”? and I don’t think Peter Gelb got the memo about the power of audience advocate groups. Anyone want to deliver that memo? It’s kinda important.)
But as the deadline grows nearer, it’s time to dig deeper into the story. Let’s turn to the New York Times‘s July 23rd article, “Met Opera Prepares to Lock Out Workers.” Met General Manager Peter Gelb, here’s your chance to convince me you’re not Michael Henson 2.0. As you speak, keep in mind Song of the Lark Lockout Tip Number One:
When you’re preparing to initiate a lockout, don’t come across as a dick.
So. The floor is yours.
In letters to the company’s unionized workers, Mr. Gelb, who is seeking to cut pay and benefits, wrote that “if we are not able to reach agreements by July 31 that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis, please plan for the likelihood of a work stoppage beginning Aug. 1.” He added, “I sincerely hope to avoid such an unfortunate event.”
An unfortunate event? An “unfortunate event” is having to take a detour during construction season. An “unfortunate event” is getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. An “unfortunate event” is going into a bakery craving cherry doughnuts and finding out the guy in front of you just bought the last cherry doughnut.
On May 4, 2013, a sixteen-year-old girl messaged me via my Facebook page:
Hello Emily, my name is Emily Green and I am a Young Musician of Minnesota looking to do something about this lockout! I currently am in MYS [Minnesota Youth Symphonies] and a few of us students are forming a large group of young musicians to make a powerful video in regards to the lockout. Would you be interested in joining us? (Your articles are amazing, by the way!)
And that was my introduction to YMM, a group of talented young people determined to support the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra during their 2012-14 lockout.
Over the last year, under Emily Green’s leadership, YMM has done a lot more than just shoot a powerful video. In their own words:
The Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM) is a student-led and operated organization, consisting middle school through college graduate music students from across the state who have bound together to preserve and promote classical music throughout the state. YMM is entirely student-led, with students taking on roles such as conductor, orchestra manager, logistics advisor, concert event manager, and as performing musicians. YMM serves as a gateway to the professional music world, believing in offering students opportunities to challenge themselves, grow in their musical leadership and technical abilities, develop a greater appreciation for classical music, and work alongside professionals, all for NO COST. YMM members have held a presence in the community through filming our own YouTube video, participating in rallies, performing at the Minnesota State Fair, Orchestrate Excellence forums, our own youth orchestra concerts, chamber performances in the Orchestra Hall lobby, and as well as at We Day Minnesota 2013 (which is an educational event and movement of our time—a movement of young people leading local and global change).
Not bad for a teenager!
We can all agree: the Minnesota Orchestra lockout pissed us off. There was no louder critic of the Minnesota Orchestral Association than this blogger (although Robert Levine, Norman Lebrecht, Alex Ross, and Bill Eddins all gave me pretty fierce runs for my money).
Was I wrong in taking such a critical stance? Nope. I’m convinced the lockout will be studied for years to come as a textbook example of how NOT to conduct productive negotiations. (Unit Eight will cover “For God’s Sake, Don’t Buy The Domain Names of Audience Advocates.”)
But here’s a more important, more relevant question: Does the Minnesota Orchestral Association still deserve my ire?
The truth is…..
No. Probably not.
I’ll acknowledge that being pissed off does wonders for the page views, but here are the facts.
- Michael Henson is leaving. He has about seven weeks left on the job and then he’s off to…a Bournemouth beach house? memoir writing? consulting with the Met’s management? Point is, his reign of incompetence is nearly over. Halle-fricking-lujah.
- Richard Davis and Jon Campbell are gone (well…officially; one assumes they have influence in the philanthropic and business communities, but – that’s the nature of the beast). Even more impressive? The remaining board representatives are now working with audience advocates.
- Osmo is back. Repeat: Osmo is back.
- The 2014-15 season is the best the Minnesota Orchestra has presented in years. It’s big, bold, ambitious, beautiful. This is the first time that I’ve looked at other big city seasons and thought, you know, Minneapolis’s season reigns with the very best. Yep, mark my words: the best orchestral music in North America will be happening at 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, Minnesota, ZIP code 55403. And you don’t want to miss it.
- Kevin Smith, the Minnesota Orchestra’s interim CEO, is giving every indication of being The Anti-Henson. Seriously. Everything Michael Henson did, Kevin Smith is doing the opposite. Just one example: Henson scurried with bodyguards through the back door of Orchestra Hall during Save Our Symphony’s “Ending The Lockout Will Be A Ball” rally in September 2013. Kevin Smith, on the other hand, has actually already talked with SOSMN, and has even scheduled two listening sessions that will be open to the public in August 2014 (follow Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s Facebook page for details as they become available). I have also heard some great things about new Vice President of Advancement Dianne Brennan. Mr. Smith will be here for anywhere from six months to a year; Ms. Brennan is here long-term.
- I think every rational outside observer believes that the Minnesota Orchestral Association is brimming with untapped potential. But here’s the flip side: that potential needs time to blossom. It won’t – it can’t – flower overnight. And as every gardener knows, you have to take care of a plant before it blossoms to enable it to blossom.
Yes, I acknowledge that MOA executive committee board member Doug Kelley is still having trouble coming to grips with reality, but I admit there’s a part of me that wonders… If he’s representative of hardliners on the board… And if the hardliners are waiting to bring his attitude into the next negotiating cycle… Might his words actually be an inspiration to give? To prove him wrong – to weaken his position in whatever way possible – to cut his arguments off at the knees? I genuinely don’t know the answers to those questions. In the end, you’re likely going to give in spite of his viewpoint, not because of it.
I COMPLETELY understand if you don’t want to give to the Minnesota Orchestra yet. Concerned patrons have been BURNED, with a capital B, U, R, N, E, and D. But I also encourage you to send a small amount of money with a promise of more once benchmarks of your choosing are met. Or perhaps you could send an email to the Minnesota Orchestra explaining why you aren’t contributing yet. If you don’t have faith that your emails will be read (and yes, it is true that many negative emails went unacknowledged during the lockout), CC Save Our Symphony Minnesota (saveoursymphonymn at gmail dot com), and I can offer you a personal guarantee that they will get to the people within the MOA who need to see them.
So. I’m saying all this because it’s a lead-up to some news…
My mom and I gave!
Yep, the Minnesota Orchestra is in the midst of its #CommUNITYinConcert fundraising effort, in which every dollar up to $100k will be matched in July. My mom and I really liked the idea, and we discussed the pros and cons of the investment, and then we gave.
I followed the Minnesota Orchestra lockout from the beginning (well, from before the beginning). I’m pretty sure there’s not another “civilian” who knows the ins and outs of the conflict better than I do. I milked the negotiating incompetence of the Minnesota Orchestral Association dry. Hell, I came close to making a career out of it.
So if I, the loud poor skeptic, gave what is a lot of money for me… If even I am optimistic that the flower of potential can indeed bloom here…
Will I regret the decision this time next year? Maybe. But right now the MOA is moving in a positive direction, one that was unimaginable six months ago. And I feel it’s important to send the message in my own very small way: this change is good.
Of course I sincerely hope you join me – but I also understand if you’re not ready yet.
And while you have your wallet out…
The Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM) are hosting their own Kickstarter fundraiser this July to cover the cost of renting Ted Mann Concert Hall on August first. DETAILS HERE! These entrepreneurial teens and twentysomethings have already reached half of their $4500 fundraising goal in a few days, so that’s hugely encouraging, but of course there’s still work to do! A gift to YMM might be an alternative investment if you’re still leery of the MOA. If you support YMM, you’re also supporting an outreach partnership with the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, as there will be a variety of musicians sitting in for the performance, granting these hard-working young musicians priceless exposure to world-class virtuosos. I honestly can’t think of a worthier musical organization to give to. To prove it, I gave to that fundraiser, too… Not as much as I wish I could, but I gave. Even a donation of $5 or $10 helps! If you aren’t in a position to donate, or if you’ve already blown your philanthropic budget this July due to the MOA challenge grant, then please, come one, come all to the concert on August first at 7pm! (And while you’re there, keep an eye out for my program notes!)
Okay. So despite the topics of my last few entries, it’s not my intention to turn into a promotional arm for the Minnesota Orchestral Association. But I did want to talk one-on-one, friend-to-friend, about these two hugely important initiatives, and offer you a chance to give if you feel so moved. I hope I’ve given you something to think about. If I haven’t, well, then sit tight, because there’s a lot more content coming. And if you want to chat about this whole big ambiguous topic, the comment section is open, as always.
Anywho! I’ll see you at Orchestra Hall this fall, as we all commit together to making a fiscally stable world-class orchestra in Minneapolis a reality.
With deepest warmest sincerest gratitude for your time, thoughts, and readership -
The air conditioning is roaring; the mosquitoes are feasting on my flesh; and those annoying explosion-happy neighbors are already gearing up for the Fourth of July. I have a feeling that Sommerfest is right around the corner.
The musicians recently wrote on their Facebook page:
Here’s the deal: buy an Easy Pass Package with 6 flexible vouchers redeemable now for Sommerfest performances as well for all of our Fall concerts beginning July 25. Select your seats from our best available locations and beat the rush before tickets go on sale to the public August 7.
So with that offer in mind, if you want to simultaneously get a jump start on the new season and also sample the joys of Sommerfest…
May I make some suggestions?
*Emily swoops in with a massive sampler platter of delicious Sommerfest-y morsels*
Time for the last Microreview of the season! *gets weepy*
Catch this fabulous program tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at Orchestra Hall; tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org. SOTL Microreviews will return this fall as we all embark on the Best Season Evar! Feel free to contribute a Microreview of your own, too.
My word count comes from this week’s enjoyable Rob Hubbard Pi-Press review: 429. I think it’s best for everyone if we forget the Strib’s review of weirdness ever existed, so 429 words it is. Here goes!
This week the sacred and the sexual mix unabashedly in a program of Stravinsky, Orff, and Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg.
I’m not so familiar with Heitzeg, although I love his soundtrack for Death of the Dream, the TPT documentary about abandoned Midwestern farmsteads. It was sparse and devastatingly effective. So it was interesting to hear his voice in this new context. “Now We Start The Great Round” has the flavor of movie music written for a Copland biopic, and it serves as a sweeping curtain raiser. But it finished before it started, especially when the stage change took half as long as the piece itself.
After the Stage Change of Interminability came Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Way too late I realized: maybe it’s irresponsible to write about a performance of this piece, especially when
- I’ve never heard it before,
- I don’t know anything about choirs, and
- my two instruments have left the stage (violins! violas! come back!).
So I put the critiquing ears away and just soaked in the ambiance. From that perspective, the Symphony was all melancholy angularity, lit by the glow of the sound of the Chorale. It sounded like candlelight flickering in an Escher cathedral. Lush, sacred…and very odd. Last night I didn’t grasp the narrative. It was all very lovely, but meh. Then again, I don’t find much Stravinsky seductive, so…
The narrative for Carmina Burana, on the other hand, hit like an anvil to the head. From the first notes it felt like straight-line winds were blowing over the radio. O FOR-TUN-A, indeed. I think the Minnesota Chorale put every single emotion of being locked out of Orchestra Hall for sixteen months into that opening phrase. The bitter sneer of those consonants! My takeaway? Do not get on the wrong side of the Minnesota Chorale. Damn.
It was immediately clear that members of the Chorale could not only sing Carmina in their sleep, but under general anesthetic. That familiarity could easily lead to a bored performance, but of course they’re above that. Their effervescent joy at being back on that stage was contagious, and so deeply satisfying to hear. The Orchestra supported them all the way, but – dare I say it? – it was the Chorale’s show last night. And deservedly so.
As for the baritone in Ego Sum Abbas, I wish I sang that well drunk.
To sum up the 2014 season:
Away with sadness!
and now departs
wretched is the person
who neither lives,
under summer’s spell.
Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.
(Warning for language.)
I’m so excited about the new season and our bright future. And I seriously cannot wait to work with people at the MOA who I was unable to work with during the lockout.
But. Fault lines from a multi-year conflict remain. (No, duh.) And if anyone ever cites false or misleading claims about the negotiations, well, then I have no compunction about setting the record straight. And I’ll use a sharp tongue if necessary, kum-ba-yah-ing be damned.
Board member Doug Kelley came forward today in MinnPost to reminisce about the Petters case and…the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. (Because those two things go together…I guess…) Remember Doug Kelley? He originated the catchphrase “frolic and detour” (frolicking detour?) and was the management go-to spokesman when Michael Henson was so inexplicably unavailable. (Which was most of the time.) Kelley’s stances on the lockout have been viewed as problematic by many observers, as even MinnPost acknowledges. Scott Chamberlain has also had issues with Kelley’s claims in the past, so it’s not just me who finds Kelley so…problematic. So with that in mind…
Say, did you hear that the 2014-2015 Minnesota Orchestra season has just been announced? The lockout era of 2012-2014 is now over, and it’s time to move on. In the recent words of Osmo Vänskä: “I think that there was a time to whine, but, it’s time to cry and then it’s time to stop crying and start to work again. And I think sometimes working is the best therapy for the mind, and I think that is right now happening.”
He’s right. In that spirit, I’m finishing and then archiving this “Lockout Stuff” directory. A link to this page will always remain under the Reference Posts page, and of course the articles themselves will always stay up, but the link to “Lockout Stuff” is coming off the main SOTL header. It doesn’t mean that the past will be forgotten, but it does mean that our energies should be focused on the future. New and better things await us all! So if you want, take a moment to breeze through this, relive old times, and then set your GPS for The Future!
Thanks for journeying along with me for the past two years. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together.
In solidarity, Emily