If you’re just joining us…

This open letter was originally written in October 2012 and last updated 27 August 2013.

***

Dearest readers,

I’ve been getting a lot more views since the Minnesota Orchestra lockout began, and I thought I should put up an entry introducing myself, since so many of you are new.

First off, welcome! My name is Emily; I live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (that’s ninety miles from the Twin Cities, for those of you who aren’t from these parts). I’m 24 and a freelance violinist, violist, writer, historian, and wannabe musicologist. More details on my professional background here. I’m disabled and trying to save up for college, so as of right now, the only education I have is a high school diploma and what I’ve been able to pick up on my own. I’ve blogged about my musical visits to Minneapolis for a couple of years now, but, although I’ve known since spring 2012 that these negotiations would be unusually contentious, I was determined to keep my nose out of any labor disputes for the simple reason they made me sad. But then someone at the Minnesota Orchestra very rudely and suddenly shut down the Inside the Classics blog with the lamest entry that site had ever seen, and I got angry, and I started to write. And write. And write some more. You mess with the Minnesota Orchestra? You mess with me. (By the way, the Minnesota Orchestra has since nuked the blog, as well as its archive…completely unnecessarily. Stay classy, Minnesota Orchestra. Stay classy.) Since the lockout began, this blog has gotten international attention, which is both flattering and, honestly, a bit terrifying. I have no experience analyzing complicated orchestral politics, much less analyzing complicated orchestral politics with people I’ve idolized for years watching me, so I’m relying on my dear readers to nudge me in the right direction if I start veering off-course. (And they have, too, which I’m very grateful for. Thank you, readers!)

I’ve been going to Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO concerts since I was thirteen. Without these musicians, I wouldn’t have gone into music. They were integral inspirations as I grew up, and I can’t begin to explain to you how much poorer my life would have been if they had decided to make music elsewhere. So I freely acknowledge my pro-musician bias. Although I started this project with the intention to be more of a neutral aggregator than a commentator, I quickly became so shocked and frankly personally insulted by managements’ behavior, that soon I began verbalizing my PO’d POV…and I haven’t really let up since. Unless the Minnesota management begins aggressive PR campaigns to address in detail the big questions that patrons have been asking, please understand that I will remain skeptical of their methods and motivations. Before you judge my judgments, and immediately label me a commie pinko union lover unwilling to compromise, I ask that you first look back in my archives and see how many times I said “I want to be open to both sides!” I am, in general, a level-headed, reasonable, responsible person. I am not an extremist. Conflict makes me sick. I see the best in everyone, to a fault (I’m a textbook INFP). I have absolutely no ax to grind. I’m in total awe of talented effective management and leadership. I believe a virtuoso orchestra CEO is just as impressive as a virtuoso violinist. And so despite my instinctive pro-musician bias, believe me: both the SPCO and Minnesota managements had ample chance to make good, or at least neutral, impressions on me. Unfortunately, ultimately, both failed. (Minnesota in particular failed badly.) I’ve repeatedly called upon the Minnesota Orchestra board members to address the questions I and other patrons have asked, but I haven’t heard from them, although I know they know I’m here, and that I have many many readers who would be able to publicize their answers in a heartbeat. *waves at management* Hello, Board! Hello, management! I know you know I’m out here! I still hold out the quixotic hope they’ll eventually speak up. If they do, you’ll be the first ones to know. Don’t hold your breath, though.

I’ve labeled the Twin Cities meltdown “Orchestral Apocalypse ’012.” It started as a tongue-in-cheek term but has turned more serious as the months go on. More than one person has questioned where the term came from, so here’s the scoop. My subconscious stole it from the Colbert Report: combine the Glennpocalypse with the StePhest Colbchella ’012 – Rocktaugustfest, add in an “Orchestral”, and voila. Strange portmanteau, maybe, but I tossed it off in late August and never came up with a better phrase, so alas, it has stuck to my coverage.

Click here for a list of links to articles I’ve written about the Apocalypse. I originally listed them on the front page, but once I wrote my thirtieth, I thought the list was getting just a tad long for everyone to have to scroll through.

Sending all my love to those who are working in good faith to get this mighty ship righted again. I know that better, more engaged, more imaginative leadership is possible. I suspected that at the beginning of this fiasco, and I’ve only become more convinced of it the more I read, and the more I hear from you. And I’m convinced that if any community can get the Minnesota Orchestra back on track again, it’s this one. It may take a very long time, but we will do it, and we are in this for the long haul.

Thanks for reading.

And keep in mind that, unlike at the Minnesota Orchestra management’s website, the comment section here is always open.

Sincerely, musically yours,

Emily

Postscript, 10/9: Due to recent comments, I feel the need to clarify a few things. I appreciate all comments; but I don’t take any responsibility for what my commenters write, and I do not always agree with everything they write. I urge them to be kind, respectful, and thoughtful – to use common sense – and to remember that a metric crap-ton of important people in the orchestra business are reading this blog, so if you wouldn’t say it directly to Stanislaw Skrowaczewski or Tony Ross or Erin Keefe or Michael Henson or Jon Campbell or Drew McManus or Frank Almond [edit 10/24] or ALEX ROSS ZOMG, then don’t say it here. But if you have an issue with what someone other than me says here, please take it up with the individual commenters. Thanks kindly. xx

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “If you’re just joining us…

  1. Great Post Emily! I’ve been directing a lot of my own friends to this site and now you’ve made it easier than ever for people to understand it. Frankly, there’s just been so much going on I find it hard to explain it to people. “Just check out this blog, it has everything”. Apart from the musicians themselves, this blog, and you, are probably the spearhead of this movement. Thank you so much!

  2. Also, I haven’t found a new post from you yet, but I’m assuming ones coming since there was so much going on for MN today. I’ll share my comments anyway.

    THE CONCERTS ARE STILL ON!!!!!!!

    I am so proud of and happy for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra! They have taken control of their situation admirably and aggressively too boot! (maybe some of them read my impassioned post from the other night???)

    I’d like to share Michael Henson’s reaction (excerpt from a new MPR article):

    ” Management locked out the musicians early Monday. Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson said he respects the musicians’ right to play concerts, but said they still need to negotiate a new contract.

    “It doesn’t change the fundamental issue that the Minnesota Orchestra is facing at the moment,” Henson said “We need our players to accept the financial realities of 2012, and come to the negotiating table in support of a contract that our community can afford.” ”

    Well ya know what, MICHAEL HENSON? F&%K YOU!

    Musicians are going ahead with their own concerts and they have enough support to go on for a long time. As one commenter on Facebook said, they might not get paid as much to do this, but they’d have an audience. Additionally, other people are beginning to wonder if management is even necessary. You should check out the comments on the Facebook post. It has 110 likes. Musicians are lookin HOT!

    I hope management is starting to get afraid. If the MN Orch musicians can pull this off it’s going to be F&^king BIG. Possibly the first orchestra to be run by the musicians themselves? I know that Emily and I have fantasized about this in the past few weeks……is it actually possible? If musicians can get this to work, no more Minnesota Orchestral Association. You know what? ANYTHING can happen. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I’m SO much more optimistic than before.

    The Musicians are fighting back. Anthony Ross sure doesn’t look like he’s leaving anytime soon, and he’s one of the few who could easily get a job elsewhere (not that others couldn’t, but he’s principal cello after all)

    Although, it is important to remember that regardless of the managements F*** ups, economic times are hard right now. Becoming unshackled from management won’t change that, and it won’t change the need for at least some cuts. But as Emily has said before, it’s almost more about the rights. Musicians know cuts are coming and are ready to accept them. They are smart, logical people. But not cuts this big. Never.

    I’m getting SO excited for the SPCO concert this thursday ay St. Olaf! I hope there’s some management there, Because I want to show my full support for musicians! Lets go people! We’ve got some hope! At least for now.

  3. Emily, I think you’re doing a fabulous job of making the situation intelligible for the general public. I’ve been recommending your blog to anyone who asks me about the situation.

    Here are a couple blogposts that also deal with the situation from different angles:
    About Unions: http://eyesonlife-ginahunter.blogspot.com/2012/09/unions.html
    About the MN Orchestra and future: http://ccyager.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/minnesota-orchestra-and-the-future/

    A lot of people share your outrage but aren’t as articulate in writing as you are. Thanks for all your posts!

  4. Terry Carlson

    Just to be clear, for those just joining the discussion: Michael Henson, president of the Minnesota Orchestral Association; Richard Davis, the lead negotiator for management and CEO of US Bank; and Jon Campbell, who took over from Davis as board chairman of the orchestra at the end of last year and who is the chief executive officer for Wells Fargo Minnesota; are not like the men and women who made Minneapolis a cultural oasis in the Upper Midwest desert. They are, quite simply, greedy [bleeped] the likes of which (in the old, old days) would have been tarred and feathered and driven out of town on a rail. Where are the community leaders who will remove these men from their positions of importance before it is too late? Surely, a few bank depositors and/or shareholders making a few phone calls could end this labor dispute in a hurry. Unless, of course, Minneapolis truly has become just another Omaha or Des Moines.

  5. tina

    wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. MrD

    Emily. Thanks for all your work on this blog. I lived in MN for several years and fell in love with the MN Orch and Maestro Vanska. I now live in NJ and attend the NY Phil on occasion, but I still miss the MO. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful writing and research. I will be coming back for regular updates.

  7. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra lockout and contract negotiation stalemate has motivated a group of patrons and music lovers, Save Our SPCO to form a committee to explore the feasibility of forming a new orchestra if the negotiations break down and the season is canceled entirely. Two MN lawmakers have joined the exploratory committee. For details from today’s press conference, visit the blog: sospco.org, or facebook.com/SaveOurSPCO.

  8. JKM

    We need to consolidate efforts among the various organizations that are seeking to preserve both orchestras. Although the SPCO is playing again, its problems have not been solved since it still has a tone deaf Board and a new CEO who may be as difficult as the last one, but equally indifferent to the interests of the music supporting community. The same with Orchestrate Excellence, which needs to be more active, particularly in promoting the proposed way to stabilize the finances while preserving the artistic excellence of the MO put forward now over three weeks ago by Lee Hamilton with the condition that the Board and CEO resign and be replaced by a board that is, quite literally, more in tune with the wishes of the music loving community, whose interests they claim to represent. We need a board with greater transparency, more honesty in its public statements, less devoted to obfuscation, more willing to provide real facts and figures and not treat the public like so many idiots as was described on this website.

  9. Emily, your analysis of the fiscal situation with the MOA is brilliant. Here’s an essay I wrote for http://www.reichelreccomends.com about the general situation between musicians and management/boards. (I used to play in the Boston Symphony and was Assoc. Concertmaster of Utah Symphony and did a lot of negotiating.) I’m not sure if this is the proper place to past the link, but I would be very interested to hear your response. Thanks, Jerry http://www.reichelrecommends.com/labor-of-love-a-primer-in-symphony-orchestra-musicianmanagement-relations/

    • Gerald, this is lovely! Thanks for commenting! I know you; I’ve read all your books except the last one. Very fun. :)

      I agree with just about everything you write. But that’s based on what I hear from friends, since I’m a mere 23-year-old semi-pro who is not a unionized musician. (I consider my personal expertise in this subject to be more in how Minnesota’s unresponsive management has affected audiences, and particularly students.) I do however totally connect with your idea that there is a massive disconnect between management and….everybody else, really. That gap can paralyze an institution, as we’ve seen in Minnesota. It’s hard to move forward when people can’t even agree on the basic numbers, or aren’t given enough information to make informed judgments about what is going on.

      You say this… “Maybe the golden era of the great symphony orchestra has played itself out in this country. ” I dunno. Try not to worry too much about that (yet). You may be interested to read about the Young Musicians of Minnesota, a nascent group formed by students. https://www.facebook.com/YoungMusiciansOfMinnesota?fref=ts We’re organizing to do what we can to protect the institution we cherish. I have a theory that there is a great deal of interest and passion among American young people that has been untapped by various unresponsive top-down orchestra managements. Like I said, I’m 24 next month and I’m sure as hell not leaving orchestral music behind. If I have to form my own orchestra to hear Beethoven, well, then I’ll do that, and I know I’m not the only person my age who feels that way. One hopes that out of the ashes of these conflicts comes a new generation of orchestra managers who grew up watching these disasters unfold first-hand, who will be able to chart more sensible, less destructive, more imaginative, more *collaborative* paths forward…and who will also be able to use social media and maybe crowd-sourcing or more democratic ideals to grow audiences, raise revenue, and maybe fix some of the problems that are currently paralyzing the MOA.

      • Emily, I admire your energy and your optimism, and if anyone can help turn the tide it’s people like you and your friends at the Young Musicians of Minnesota. When I speak of a golden era I’m talking about a time when radio stations had their own orchestras (e.g. NBC Symphony with Toscanini) and families would sit around the radio listening to concerts; a time when musicians like Heifetz and Rubenstein were featured in Hollywood films and were fixtures on network television; when record companies would subsidize the cost of recordings, knowing they would lose money, because they felt it added prestige to their label; a time when even TV series and kids’ cartoons drew upon symphonic music because it was so mainstream.
        That being said, I believe that classical symphonic music is thriving, the struggles of major orchestras notwithstanding. Recently I conducted a local amateur orchestra in Bartok “Concerto for Orchestra.” Imagine that! There seem to be more student orchestras and community orchestras and semi-professional orchestras than ever. Maybe a reason for that is we have so many talented kids graduating from good music programs compared to the number of available jobs that their making the 2nd and 3rd tier orchestras that much better.
        So maybe all the interest in classical music will eventually push professional orchestras back in the right direction. For now, the struggles continue. I’m really pleased you’ve enjoyed my first three books–ironically, it’s the fourth, Death and Transfiguration, that bears directly on orchestra issues. If you get around to reading it, let me know what you think.

  10. sierracanon

    Unfortunately, MOA management seems to think that management is what made the Minnesota Orchestra one of the best on the planet. But no… it is the musicians who made it one of the best on the planet. Management couldn’t put on a concert without their musicians if their lives depended on it. Keep up the good fight, Emily.

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