Mr. Henson Goes to St. Paul, Part I

From the Star Tribune website

The locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra issued a unanimous vote of no confidence in the organization’s president and CEO, Michael Henson, on Tuesday.

Here’s a GIF of my reaction to this news:

You can read a list of objections the musicians have to Mr. Henson on their website. Their first is that he misled “the Minnesota Legislature about the orchestra’s finances during his testimony in favor of the orchestra’s bonding request.” There they linked to an mp3 of Mr. Henson testifying before the Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance Division of the Minnesota House of Representatives in January 2010…and misleading, if not lying, to them. Here’s a link to the mp3. The segment having to do with the Minnesota Orchestra begins at 2:38:55. In the interest of context and thoroughness, and for future reference, I’m transcribing the entirety of Mr. Henson’s appearance here. Apologies at its length, but…it’s long! They always say that lawmaking is like sausage-making: people don’t like knowing how either is made. Well, here’s your chance to watch some sausage-making, up close and personal… If you’re anything like me, the process will make you a little queasy.

***

Here are the cast of characters (listed in order of appearance), their initials, their political party, and their title at the meeting (if applicable). Information courtesy of this page and quick Google searches…

Mary Murphy (MM), DFL, Chair of meeting

Margaret Kelliher (MK), DFL, then Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives

Michael Henson (MH), President and CEO, Minnesota Orchestra

Greg Davids (GD), Republican, Lead of meeting (he is referenced by Margaret Kelliher; he does not actually speak)

Lyndon Carlson (LC), DFL, ex-officio

Alice Hausman (AH), DFL

Dean Urdahl (DU), Republican

Diane Loeffler (DL), DFL

***

MM: Rep. Kelliher, 2528.

MK: Madame Chair and Committee members, thank you for your work; I’ve been watching you, and you have a lot of good projects in front of you. I could say something very nice about every single thing I’ve seen. I just hope that Rep. Davids and I don’t have to team up like we had to in my first term in the legislature this year to make some of these things happen. So I really appreciate your hearing a couple of bills today. We’re first here to present our bill on the Orchestra – the Minnesota Orchestra, and Orchestra Hall and Peavey Plaza. And so I’m going to be brief about this; I want to tell you just a couple of things about the Orchestra. The Orchestra was formed in 1903, and since 1907 there have been 680 concerts in 60 communities around the state. There’s a wonderful packet that they’ve put together for all of you, including the impact on your own districts of the Orchestra. But I do love this quote by a Tyler resident, who had only seen the Orchestra once as a young boy. “On Friday night he was hearing the Minnesota Orchestra perform as a whole new experience. ‘It’s a pretty nice deal,’ he said, ‘getting something like this out here.'” He was quoted in the weekender Independent in Marshall, Minnesota, in February 2008. So the Orchestra has a broad scope and reach. Over 80,000 students are served by educational programs by the Orchestra every year. It performs over 200 concerts. And Orchestra Hall has hosted ten million visitors since 1974. And that’s our topic today. This renovation of Orchestra Hall and Peavey Plaza is job-intensive. Over 900 jobs will be created with this little bit of state money, partnered with a lot of private money. This Orchestra is also one of our state’s great cultural exports. The Orchestra has been winning terrific acclaim all around the globe, including the London Daily Telegraph, as well as the New York Times. And you can also know the reach of this Orchestra by the fact that it’s one of the only – it is the only American orchestra with a regular broadcast on the BBC. I think that’s pretty amazing, Madame Chair, and members. And I have to tell you just a quick personal story. My own children got to participate in something very special through our church a few years ago, and it was the production of the oratorio that had been commissioned. And it was an oratorio that the music of course was played by the Minnesota Orchestra. And the singers came from a large pool of singers, including children from the Basilica of St. Mary. They had an amazing experience, being able to record that piece – the first recording of it ever, in Orchestra Hall, by a Swedish company that came in and did that with a Swedish production company. And it has had an amazing and profound impact. The oratorio itself was about the impact – it was actually commissioned by our priest at the time, Father Michael O’Connell – and the story was the story of the children of the Holocaust. And my own children, when they sang in that production, said, “Oh, Mom.” I mean, you could just imagine the terrifying thing that was happening to those children at that time. So I think for me, what music connects, and what a project like this connects, for people, for children, for adults, all across the state, is how music tells the story of people’s lives, whether that story was a long time ago, or that story is today. And so I’m pleased to introduce to you the President and the CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra, Michael Henson.

MM: Welcome, Mr. Henson.

MH: Thank you very much, Madame Chair, and Representatives, and what a great pleasure it is to be here today, and thank you, Speaker Kelliher, for such an eloquent presentation. I’d like to begin by sharing a bit more background on the Minnesota Orchestra with you, and then to update you on the substantial progress we’ve made on our building project since we appeared at the Capitol in 2008, requesting planning funds for the renovation of Orchestra Hall. I joined the Minnesota Orchestra just over two years ago, coming from England, and one of the factors that drew me here was the Orchestra’s reputation. It is one of the top orchestras in the world. The Minnesota Orchestra was founded in 1903, as Speaker Kelliher mentioned. It started touring the state only four years later, and has continued to do so ever since, traveling to every corner of the state. We began our education concerts in 1911 and they continue to this day, too. Today the Minnesota Orchestra performs nearly 200 concerts a year, reaching over 400,000 people, 200,000 additional individuals across the state weekly hear our radio broadcasts, and millions across the country through national and international radio broadcasts. On the financial front, we have announced balanced budgets over the last three consecutive years, and we are facing the current economic downturn with stability. In general, the orchestra is musically enjoying a Golden Period with music director Osmo Vänskä. And we are excited about the many possibilities surrounding our hall renovation. Let me detail the project very briefly. I have to say that I found this project to be an extremely captivating one since the first moment I visited Orchestra Hall. I was struck then by the tremendous potential of a revitalized Orchestra Hall in this community. Since I joined the Orchestra, we have tested and re-scaled the scope of the hall project in light of the very challenging economy. The result is a very focused and feasible project. Our vision for an expanded Orchestra Hall is a $40 million renovation that re-invents our public spaces, better serves our young audiences, and makes certain that Orchestra Hall lives up to its full potential as a beacon in the city, accessible to all in the community. Our general contractor estimates that the project will create nearly 900 jobs. Orchestra Hall was built in 1974 for approximately $15 million. The bulk of these resources were put into the auditorium, which still functions very well. The lobby, on the other hand, was built to last only fifteen to twenty years. We have three priorities in our renovation, and the top amongst these is an improved lobby. The second is to modernize our auditorium. And last, but not least, we have started to regenerate Peavey Plaza in the Orchestra Hall renovation. We believe that the reinvention of this entire city block will have a powerful social and economic impact on our community. I’d like to note that the $40 million figure relates only to the cost of renovating Orchestra Hall, not Peavey Plaza. We are currently working with the City to determine the appropriate costs for the renovation of Peavey. Our private fundraising efforts are going very well, but public funding is critical if we are to reach our ultimate goal. Our private donors are keen to hear that the state is a partner in our project. I thank you in advance for your support of our plans to re-imagine our hall and Peavey Plaza for our new audiences in this century. Thank you very much.

MM: So Rep. Kelliher, was the orchestra heard on BBC before Mr. Henson came to Minneapolis?

[laughter]

MH: I’ve had a close working relationship with the BBC for twenty years. That has obviously helped; however, we have a world-class orchestra and if we were not a world-class orchestra, we would not be appearing on the BBC. So I think there is a very good synergy between a world-class orchestra and another world-class broadcaster.

MM: Good answer. Very good. Rep. Carlson.

LC: As ticket holders, my wife and I might be interested in where will we be attending during the construction period?

MH: I think in the construction period we actually looked at a variety of options. One was to close the hall over a three year period – six months each year. What we decided to do is to close the hall for one season, and we are currently in advanced stages of negotiating where we’re going to appear in the downtown. We’re aiming to maintain the vast majority of that orchestral series, and the object has to be to actually retain that audience, so that when we close the hall and reopen it in a year’s time, we have retained as much of that audience as possible and retained that enthusiasm. So hopefully in the next couple of months we will be announcing that, and we are trying to minimize the amount of disruption.

LC: So the main point is that you’re still going to perform.

MM: Maybe in Duluth. [laughter and chatter]

LC: He never said which downtown.

MH: If I could also supplement that, we’re also aiming to increase our state touring for that year as well. And we’ll be looking at between two to four weeks of activity. So I think we’re going to see a smaller main season, but we’re also going to take that in terms of increasing our presence across the whole state.

MM: Representative Hausman.

AH: Thank you, Madame Chair. I believe it is this weekend we have the opportunity to hear the Minnesota Orchestra performing together with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and as the newspaper account says, those conductors who have international experience had really great things to say about the quality of the musical experience we have available in this state.

MH: That’s extremely pleasing to hear, and I know the orchestras are working as we speak at the moment, and I think it is going to be a truly splendid series of concerts.

MM: Representative Urdahl.

DU: Thank you, Madame Chair. Mr. Henson. I have had occasion a couple of times to attend the performances at the [?] Performing Arts Center, and enjoyed that, particularly with my Finlander wife and Mr. Vänskä. But if you’re looking for a home, you know, I’m sure that a good deal could be struck with the [?] Performing Arts Center. [Editor’s Note: I can’t make out which performing arts center Rep. Urdahl is referring to! Please listen to the mp3 yourself to judge and leave your ideas in the comment section. His comments are at 2:50:05. I’ll edit this entry if I get any clarification…]

MK: What a generous offer, Rep. Urdahl.

MH: Thank you very much.

MM: Rep. Loeffler.

DL: Thank you, Madame Chair. And Mr. Henson, I’d like to put something on your short list of alternative locations. Just about two miles north of where you are is the original home of the Minneapolis Orchestra, which became the Minnesota Orchestra, at least it did all of its original recordings in the Edison High School Auditorium, which had perfect acoustics. I don’t think they’ve changed that much since then, and it’s in the official arts district of the city, and you’ve never toured to our area, so I think coming back home and maybe re-playing some of those wonderful classics that were done and recorded there would really be a really interesting thing, to tour within – for your home city and back to something that is the historical roots of the Orchestra.

MH: Thank you very much for that very helpful suggestion.

MK: Madame Chair, I feel like we’re being lobbied as much as we’re lobbying all of you today.

[laughter]

MM: Any other suggestions for their off-season? [laughter] Thank you very much.

***

I’ll have more thoughts on this transcription later. If you have any corrections to my transcription, let me know.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

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7 Comments

Filed under Not My Writing

7 responses to “Mr. Henson Goes to St. Paul, Part I

  1. Mama-san

    OK, I’m probably missing a whole lot of what’s gone on, as I’m not a Minnesota resident, but when I read, “What we decided to do is to close the hall for one season, and we are currently in advanced stages of negotiating where we’re going to appear in the downtown,” my first thought was, “of course–they closed the hall for 6 months each year, and they didn’t want to pay whatever rent was necessary for the orchestra to perform elsewhere, so they locked out the musicians.”

    I’m probably missing the details that would prove me wrong, but that was my first thought.

    And a smaller main season? Do I hear a bell tolling here?

  2. Mary Schaefle

    Rep Urdahl’s district covers Annandale and Litchfield (west and a little north of St. Cloud). He could be talking about Benedicta Arts Center (which had a different name then I think) on the campus of St. Ben’s. MN Orch has performed their a number of times. But that doesn’t really matter.

    To be fair to the politicians and their reactions, I’ve sat through a couple of those long, long committee meetings when every organization from anywhere is making their pitch. Everyone in the room gets punchy.
    That doesn’t change Mr. Henson’s testimony – which I think it the main point you are making. He said they had a balanced budget, which was true. He just didn’t say how they balanced it or what future plans were.

    Each reader can decide whether omission of facts is lying, or the name of the game, or whatever term you would choose.

  3. Amy Adams

    Michael Henson, referring to the concert series during the year of construction…”We’re aiming to maintain the vast majority of that orchestral series, and the object has to be to actually retain that audience, so that when we close the hall and reopen it in a year’s time, we have retained as much of that audience as possible and retained that enthusiasm. So hopefully in the next couple of months we will be announcing that, and we are trying to minimize the amount of disruption.”

    Well. Mission accomplished. Very little disruption…and so much of the audience connection maintained! It’s proceeding just like clockwork….

  4. Sarah

    In the meantime, the Dec 15/16 concerts are sold out . . . . the musicians at least are certainly connecting with their loyal audience.

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