Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy New Year

My favorite performance from the Song of the Lark Advent calendar. Ella Fitzgerald in “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

2012 is over!

Thank crap!

GUYS! WE MADE IT!

I have some housekeeping stuff…

2012 STATS!

Every blogger worth his salt is writing something about his 2012 stats today. So I will, too, but with a twist… Following the example of the Minnesota Orchestral Association, I will release a number to you, completely out of context, which has been independently audited, by WordPress:

Traffic at Song of the Lark has increased by roughly 1600% from last year.

Here’s what this statistic looks like on a satirical graph I made to advance my pre-ordained narrative that this blog is doing fabulously.

Graphs are fun

Seriously, though. Traffic did increase by 1600%, and my readership has grown beyond my wildest dreams. There are a lot of people reading this blog. Want to know how many? Drew McManus is currently running a poll, asking readers to guess about various statistics about Adaptistration. Under the question “Which culture blog referred the most traffic to Adaptistration in 2012?” Song of the Lark is one of the options (along with Slipped Disc). I won’t tell you if it’s the right answer, just in case you want to take the quiz yourself, but the fact that Drew even considered using SOTL as an option… Craziness! Craziness, all of it.

So anyway, thank you thank you thank you, all! And how about a special shout-out to Michael Henson? He’s a huge reason why this blog is so popular!

In the continuing vein of British GIFs…

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MOST POPULAR POSTS!

In case you want to take a trek down memory lane… (Entries are listed in reverse order for optimal countdown excitement.)

5) Great Female Violinists: A List. Proof that before the Orchestral Apocalypse, I mainly wrote about Victorian violinists. If you’re remotely interested in the history of music, and you’re a reader who came aboard after August (and most of you are), you should check out this page. I’ve written about some really amazing inspirational women who are very unjustly neglected.

4) A Layman’s Guide to the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout. What the title says. As an update, yesterday I wrote and posted a sequel: A Layman’s Guide to the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout, Part 2.

3) Violinist Jill Olson Moser Writes About Minnesota Orchestra Subs. Proof that my readers like it when I shut up once in a while and bring aboard amazing guest writers. A big thank you not just to Jill, but to all of my 2012 guest bloggers. You brought perspectives I don’t have, and I’m so thankful.

2) Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us? Ah, yes, the good old days before we knew they were…

And of course…

1) The Key And the Lockout: Minnesota Orchestra Musicians In-Concert, Oct. 18. Well, of course. This is the essay that led to the great Alex Ross Recognition of 2012.

Possibly the best tweet of all time.

Possibly the GREATEST TWEET OF ALL TIME.

NEW FACEBOOK PAGE!

I’ve had one for a while but I only revved it up yesterday. Here it is. You can also like it by checking out the link on the right-most column of the blog. There you can connect with other readers, share stuff, and message me privately. It’ll be interesting to see how the page evolves. Just a quick reminder to be respectful to everyone. Remember that important people are reading what you write.

Once the lockouts are over, and I go back to blogging about historical female violinists nobody has ever heard of, you have my permission to un-like me. ;)

OPEN THREAD!

Feel free to talk in the comments about what you want to see in the blog in the new year…ideas for mobilization…what exactly you want to see state representatives do in the new year… Anything, really.

Thanks for being my readers. You’re the best. xoxo

- Emily

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A Layman’s Guide to the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout, Part 2

Here’s a sequel to my Layman’s Guide to the Lockout. The first Layman’s Guide covered events from August to mid-October. This one will summarize events from mid-October to late December.

***

After the extraordinary sold-out gala concert at the Convention Center on October 18, there was a vague hope among patrons that maybe negotiations would start moving again. But unfortunately, if anyone thought that the Minnesota Orchestral Association, or MOA, would stop canceling concerts, their hope was misplaced.

Prior to canceling the next stretch of shows, the MOA put up a new page on their website called “Misrepresentations vs. Reality.” I fact-checked the MOA’s statements in an essay called “Misrepresentation, Reality…Misrepresentation of Reality.” In that essay, I asked:

The only interesting thing about this crap is the fact that management found it necessary to post it. Is this a sign that they’re having difficulty winning over their public? Or that they’re gearing up to pull an SPCO and cancel concerts through December 31st within the next few days, and they want to be prepared for the surge of confused PO’d patrons who will be coming to their website looking for an explanation?

On November 8, the MOA canceled concerts clear the way to the end of 2012. As I wrote in my next blog entry, “Either I’m psychic, or management is laughably transparent.” A flood of patrons surged to the Minnesota Orchestra’s Facebook page, expressing their anger and frustration at the stalemate. Most of them laid the blame squarely at the feet of the MOA.

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SOTL Glossary

The conflict between the Minnesota Orchestral Association and its musicians is obviously a hugely complicated one. Consequently, it’s full of lots of names, specialty terms unfamiliar to lay audiences, and even the occasional in-joke (popcorn?). So if you’re ever confused about a name or a term or an in-joke, let me know, and I’ll add it to the SOTL Glossary.

Bold phrases indicate names or terms that are explained elsewhere in the glossary.

***

990s. Forms the Minnesota Orchestral Association (or MOA) has to file with the IRS. More information about 990s here. Thanks to Drew McManus, we have the MOA 990s from FY 1998, 2000-6, and 2009-2010. The 2011 990 is available on the website Guidestar. I’m still waiting on a copy of the 2012 990.

Advent calendar. I sent an Advent calendar of questions to Michael Henson in December of 2012. He didn’t acknowledge it. (I also sent Christmas cards to Jon Campbell and Richard Davis; I never heard back from them, either.) You can read about my foray into Advent-calendar-based-activism here.

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One side of Michael Henson’s homemade Advent calendar

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SOTL on MPR

SOTL on MPR…

Many patrons, like Emily Hogstad, were left wondering how it will all play out.

“I have no idea yet,” she said. “I think it is way too early for anybody to know, as crazy as that sounds because it’s been going on for a while.”

Hogstad writes The Song of the Lark, a detailed and deeply researched blog that has explored the intricacies of the Minnesota Orchestra dispute. She supports the musicians’ cause and is frustrated by the lack of progress.

“I think if there are changes, they are happening behind the scenes,” Hogstad said, “and we have to do all we can to pressure those who we disagree with to maybe come around to our point of view.”

Hop down a couple of paragraphs and we hear from Michael Henson…

In Minneapolis, Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson agreed that the issues will take time to resolve. Musicians have not made a counteroffer to a contract proposal first put on the table in April.

When asked directly if his negotiating team might make a new offer to break the logjam, he said: “We’ll continue to evaluate the most appropriate solutions to find a resolution to this.”

However, he returned time and again to the board’s belief that the orchestra needs to reduce its annual budget to $26 million in order to survive.

So helloooooo, Michael Henson! Any time you want to stop pretending you don’t know who I am, feel free! I promise not to hold your silence against you. All I want is to hear from you and have you answer a few questions. That’s all. I promise.

Maybe if I greet you with some British GIFs gleaned from the Internet, you’d be more likely to return my greeting…? Well, it’s worth a shot. Here goes.

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Some Observations on Charts

I’ve been studying the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s 990s that Drew McManus so generously released to the public in late November. If you’re remotely interested in this conflict, and have no life, they’re great fun to dig through. (Want to know what the President of the MOA was paid in 1999? Want to know how wildly income from grants and contributions has varied over the years? Want to know how much the MOA pays Vengerov or Ma? The 990s will tell you.) I’m hoping that Mary might comment on the “vintage” 990s at some point, whether on this blog or in another public space, but in the meantime, I wanted to point something out.

Last night I was constructing some charts for my own personal use, and fiddling with this kids’ graph-making website, when I realized something no one had ever taught me: charts are wildly subjective.

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The End of Michael Henson’s Advent Calendar

Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and you know what that means: Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson is opening the last door to the obscenely glittery homemade Advent calendar that I made and sent to him!

A poorly filmed homemade video of me showing off the pretty Advent calendar I made for Michael Henson, as well as the cards I mailed to Jon Campbell and Richard Davis.

You can see the full virtual version here, at the Michael Henson’s Advent Calendar Tumblr.

This entire Advent calendar project may strike you as being ridiculous, and I agree, it was pretty ridiculous. However, I submit that it is not as ridiculous as attempting to decimate one of the great orchestras of the world without once giving a single in-depth interview about your intentions.

And no, in case you’re wondering, of course, I never got any acknowledgment of receipt, much less any answers. Not from Michael Henson, not from Jon Campbell, and not from Richard Davis.

Ah, well. I suppose I’ll forgive them. They’re probably busy preparing to answer to the state legislature.

Wishing all my readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year. We’ll get this thing fixed. I promise. I know for a fact that very big things are in store for us.

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Review: Minnesota Orchestra in Bach and Beethoven, December 2012

“It’s our fricking orchestra, and they can’t take it away from us,” she said, except she didn’t use the word fricking.

“She” was a new friend, a Minnesota Orchestra patron and Minnesota Chorale member. My suitcase was upstairs; she’d invited me to stay with her overnight. We were in her parlor in her house in St. Paul, her adorable dogs scurrying around our feet. Old and new friends dropped in and out over the course of the afternoon. I knew some; she knew others; some, we’d both only met the day before. Everyone hugged. Together we brainstormed wild ideas. Vented. Laughed. (Swore.) There was chamber music, and pie. The recipe had come from another new friend from Oregon. We befriended her after she took an interest in the musicians’ plight. She sent three identical necklaces to Minnesota with our Christmas cards; a special charm hangs from each chain. I wear mine proudly, a talisman honoring the power of unlikely musical friendships.

The flurry of musical activism could only mean one thing: the locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra were putting on another lockout concert.

***

I won’t go into the details of what’s happened since the Minnesota Orchestra lockout began on October first. If you want those, my blog is full of them, and there’s no shortage of information online. However, suffice it to say, both patrons and musicians are living a dramatic, tumultuous chapter of American orchestral history. Draconian wage cuts of thirty to fifty percent are still on the table, as well as over two hundred proposed changes to working conditions. There have been rallies, house concerts, lockout shows – Christmas cards, invitations, thank-you notes – hypotheses, inside jokes, fruitless readings of unreadable tea leaves – even a Grammy nomination, for the Orchestra’s recording of Sibelius 2 and 5. Blog entries and editorials have been passed back and forth feverishly, discussed and debated behind closed doors. Dozens of late-night emails have been exchanged, some triumphant, some despairing, some triumphant and despairing. Musicians are auditioning left and right, and when they aren’t auditioning, or preparing for auditions, they’re subbing – in New York, in Cleveland, in Detroit, in Atlanta, in Chicago. A bombshell article appeared in the Star Tribune on November 26, in which reporter Graydon Royce revealed that the Minnesota Orchestra management had deliberately planned its current deficits back in 2009 so they could be better positioned to get money from the state and massive salary cuts for musicians in 2012. All the while, construction of the luxurious $50 million lobby at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis continues apace. I’ve contacted the Minnesota Orchestral Association again and again and again, asking dozens upon dozens of questions about what’s happening; nobody has ever answered me…or anyone else. Requests for interviews have been turned down flat – requests from me, from Matt Peiken, from Drew McManus. Thankfully, after countless pleas from patrons, the Minnesota State legislature is finally getting involved. No fewer than fourteen representatives have sent a pointed letter to Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson and Minnesota Orchestral Association board chair and Wells Fargo Vice President Jon Campbell, basically asking what the hell is going on. According to WCCO, representatives from the MOA have been asked to participate in a legislative hearing in the new year to discuss their finances and their treatment of musicians. Since the lockout began, my blog has evolved into one of the primary clearinghouses for information on the conflict, and it’s become semi-famous, to the point where when I go to Minnesota Orchestra concerts, audience members recognize me and stop me for hugs. I’ve written for Norman Lebrecht – appeared on the front page of the Pioneer Press – been cited by Alex Ross, the genius critic at the New Yorker, who has been my hero for years.

And in the hubbub, I’ve lost count of how often I’ve cried. The musicians of my beloved orchestra are slipping away. They’re leaving, one by one, to pursue brighter futures. The clock is ticking. Time is running out.

 ***

It was against this desperately frantic backdrop that we gathered at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis on December 15 and December 16 for two concerts put on by the Minnesota Orchestra musicians. The program was the Bach double violin concerto and Beethoven 9. Tickets were a hot commodity in the Twin Cities; the musicians sold out nearly 2400 seats within a few days. They could have sold out a third show, if they’d wanted.

Like the October lockout concert, the crowd consisted of all ages, all classes, all types. Our intentions were pure; our message clear: bring back our orchestra, dammit. We were there because we’re starved for great orchestral music, and we feel our souls shriveling without it. The silence makes us cranky. Every conversation I overheard had an undertone of grim resentment to it; we’re sick and tired of Michael Henson’s bull. A gentleman in front of me sighed, “I feel like an addict given a shot of crack.”

“Think of how they feel,” his row-mate answered, nodding toward the rows of empty chairs onstage.

“True.”

***

The musicians have begun a tradition of walking onstage together for their lockout performances, proud and unified. And the audience has begun a tradition of leaping to our feet and screaming ourselves hoarse. You’d be forgiven if you thought that Justin Bieber was in the house. We’re so desperately hungry for the spiritual and emotional and intellectual nourishment that these particular individuals give to us. So very, very hungry. It is such an overwhelming relief to see them in Minneapolis, where they belong.

It took a while for the giddy crowd to settle.

The first piece on the program was the Bach double concerto: a tasty appetizer before the meat of Beethoven nine. The soloists were former and present concertmasters, Jorja Fleezanis and Erin Keefe. When Ms. Fleezanis won her job in 1989, she was only the second woman to hold the title of concertmaster in a major American orchestra, and her friend and successor Ms. Keefe is proudly continuing our tradition of kick-ass female leadership. I like to think that somewhere Minneapolis Symphony violinist Jenny Cullen, who in 1923 became one of the first women to work in a major American orchestra, is smiling.

The Bach was delightful. The two women traded phrases back and forth, each concertmaster’s unique personality shining bright and brilliant. The second movement, the passionate heart of the concerto, was especially stunning, as the two shaped and exchanged their long, luxurious lines.

As a poignant reminder of what we’ve already lost, violinist Peter McGuire was sitting concertmaster. He’s accepted a job in Switzerland, and will be leaving for his position in the new year.

***

After intermission, Erin and Jorja returned to the stage as stand partners. (Erin’s former stand-partner, Sarah Kwak, has left Minneapolis to become the concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony. She left last year, along with her husband, also a Minnesota Orchestra violinist.)

After the chairs were rearranged and the full orchestra settled in, violist Sam Bergman came to the front of the stage to speak on behalf of his colleagues. He began with thanks: for us, for the volunteers, for the soloists, for the choir, for former Minnesota Orchestra music director Edo de Waart, who was conducting the concert. One of his shout-outs went to 89-year-old music director, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, who had just arrived from Germany to show his support for the cause. He stood, and the crowd whooped its appreciation.

Then it was down to business. A lot has happened since the last lockout concert in October, Mr. Bergman acknowledged. “For instance, we were nominated for a Grammy!” Applause. “We’re not actually a hundred percent clear on who’s scheduled to pick up the trophy if we win, but…” Murmurs of laughter. Black humor kills during lockouts.

He then continued to lay out a brief summary of the situation from the musicians’ point of view: clear, concise, and with conviction. “Our CEO and board leaders,” he said, “have been going around and telling anyone who will listen, that once these cuts are implemented, the Minnesota Orchestra will be exactly as it has always been – it will just be less expensive.”

And at those innocent words, the auditorium instantly transformed into a den of agitated pissed-off vipers. I’ve never heard anything like it. Entirely without provocation, an entire audience spontaneously, simultaneously, hissed. And not over a performance or a composer, like you read about in the history books, but an orchestra CEO. Don’t get me wrong – I agree with the sentiment – entirely – but I have to admit, a chill of fear shivered down my spine as I heard the sound. The rage of a crowd is a powerful thing, and Minnesotans are angry: very, very angry. I doubt Michael Henson realizes it yet, but the damage to his reputation is real, and it is lasting. His position is an extremely problematic one.

Mr. Bergman wrapped up his speech speaking of the Orchestra’s proud 110-year-old legacy. “We will continue to fight for it,” he said, voice rising, “and we will continue to sacrifice for it, for one day longer than our management continues to – ” He kept speaking, words ringing with authority, but he was rendered inaudible by the boisterous audience.

So. The lines in this battle are drawn. It appears that we are either going to have a world-class Minnesota Orchestra, or no Minnesota Orchestra at all.

***

From the very first notes, it was obvious the afternoon’s performance would be an overwhelming one. The sadness, rage, and fury, all held so politely in check over the months, came pouring out of strings and reeds and horns. The desperation sizzled. None of us will ever hear Beethoven like this again. Heck, we may not hear an orchestra like this again. We know it, too, and we ate it up. After all, we’re dealing with a rage and fury of our own. So performers and audience united, seeking meaning and catharsis in Beethoven: some kind of message to bring home, back to the senseless reality that lay outside the auditorium doors.

The scherzo bit and sassed and whirled, the intensity slowly rising and subsiding within phrases, like sea waves. The sense of movement that this Orchestra possesses is nothing short of extraordinary, and miraculously, the months of playing apart from one another have done absolutely nothing to blunt the musicians’ chemistry. Repeated chords beat against the walls of the hall like massive sonic hammers.

The fury of the first two movements drained away for the third. Instead, long-breathed phrases drifted past, glowing warm with sincerity and serenity. A blissful contentment blossomed within me. What is more beautiful than a well-played line of Beethoven, delicately, perfectly judged and shaped? Nothing. Nothing at all. If you take this perfection away from us, I swear: you will have hell to pay.

Then came that miraculous fourth movement, with its snippets of stolen moments from the preceding movements, finally materializing into the theme of the Ode. As various sections passed the tune around the stage, each treated it carefully, reverently. One by one, they endowed the melody with the nobility of their souls. And when they finally united to play it together, their conviction – and yes, joy – burst forth, and we all discovered the message of the music anew. Music is a miracle. Suddenly it was possible to remember nothing but beauty. To remember nothing but our strength in the face of adversity. To remember that no matter what the suits might say, we know it takes hard work to sustain a world-class orchestra, and we’re more than willing to put that hard work in. We are a community united by our love and appreciation of great music, and we deserve a world-class orchestra. And if the management of the Minnesota Orchestra insists on taking actions that every single reputable expert has said will decimate the quality of the ensemble and turn it into a second- or third-tier band…well, then we patrons are going to band together and make their work a living hell. Simple as that.

Because it’s our fucking orchestra, and they can’t take it away from us.

Within the context of Beethoven 9, everything good, no matter how unlikely, seems possible. The Ode to Joy was exactly what we needed in this moment: a reminder, an invitation, to hope. Even in our darkest hours, there are moments of brightness. As the music played, I clasped my necklace.

***

After the final chord, we all jumped to our feet. We would not let the musicians go; we could not let them go. But despite our never-ending applause, the musicians eventually left the stage, waving and beaming at us. I think they felt the love. Co-principal violist Richard Marshall gave us the thumbs up as he headed up the rear. We screamed our approval at him.

It is obvious: as long as these musicians want to fight, this city is behind them, a hundred percent.

It might seem strange, but I feel more confident now than I ever have about this city’s ability to preserve world-class culture. Don’t get me wrong: the Minnesota Orchestra is not out of the woods, not by any means. But we have proven our devotion to the cause. We have shown our willingness to take on a long-term full-time fight. We’ve garnered the attention of the entire music world. We are forging new friendships in the heat of battle, and they will not be broken. All who care are coming together in a rather spectacular way, and our passionate wholehearted activism is obviously getting things done.

So. Game on, Michael Henson and Jon Campbell. Answer our questions. Or else. In the meantime, we’ll see you at the State Capital.

***

After the show, old and new friends alike gathered to celebrate the communion of the concert in the Ted Mann lobby. It might not have cost $50 million, but it served our purposes just fine.

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Analysis of the MOA’s 12/21 Letter to the Legislature

Well. When it rains, it pours.

On December 21st, the MOA sent a six-page letter to the state representatives who contacted them on December 6th, asking the MOA for information about their finances. The first page of the reply consists of addresses; the second and third, standard boilerplate taken verbatim from the MOA’s website. I’m not going to bother rebutting the boilerplate here, because I’ve already done so in previous entries, but if anyone from the government is reading this and wants an informed outsider’s perspective about the letter, please contact me at the following email address: songofthelarkblog[at]gmail[dot]com. I will gladly explain to you sentence-by-sentence how and why this letter is misleading. It only tells part of the story, and as lawmakers, I think you deserve to hear a broader perspective. I’ve been covering this story since late August, and I’d be delighted to help you gain that broader perspective, and answer any questions you may have.

The fourth page of the MOA’s letter starts getting more specific…so let’s start our analysis there.

In your December 6th correspondence, you make the following specific requests of the Orchestra:

a. Provide the musicians the current financial documents that they have repeatedly requested.

The Orchestral Association has been transparent with its financial information. Since this negotiation began in April, the Orchestral Association has shared over 1200 pages of information, including the following:

  • Audited Financial Statements (2011 and 2012) (The 2012 Audited Financial Statement was released on December 6, the date on which the Board approved it);
  • Monthly Finance Committee Meeting Minutes (2009 through 2012);
  • Monthly Financial Updates to the Board of Directors and Committees (2009-2012);
  • Profit and Loss Reports;
  • Contribution Reports (2009-2012);
  • Building for the Future Reports (2009-2012);
  • Investment Policies and Objectives;
  • Information Related to the annual draw from the endowment for fiscal years 2010-2013; and
  • Actuarial Report for the defined benefit pension plan

Looks impressive…at first glance. The only problem? These are not the financial documents that the musicians have requested. According to the musicians, this is what they want:

  • The 2012-2013 budget
  • The FY2012 audit. This may very well have been released to musicians on December 6, but according to them, for months beforehand, the MOA refused to release reports they gave to the auditors. Hopefully a copy of the audit is indeed now in their hands. But the only reason it is is because it was released to the public at the same time. It wasn’t because they were interested in clarifying the situation for musicians.
  • An answer to the question “if the ‘substantial decline’ ($15.25m) in contributions and pledges from key staff, Board members, and Board-member influenced organizations between fiscal years 2010 and 2011, was related to these contract negotiations.”
  • Oakleaf Trust meeting minutes
  • Answers to “a series of questions related to Endowment Fund policies, practices, and projections.”
  • A joint independent financial analysis, which, according to the musicians, would “cover an institution’s viability, stability, business plan, strategic plan, the quality of its management, comparative performance, [and] present and future prospects…” It would also “assess current and future trends, opportunities and risks.”

And of course the MOA knows this. They’re just hoping that legislators won’t have the time to dig to find what the musicians really want.

b. Return to the bargaining table in good faith with the musicians and resolve the contract negotiations expeditiously in a way that preserves the public interest and investments in the Orchestra

The Orchestral Association is ready and willing to engage in negotiation discussions. As a matter of fact, we specifically put forward our contract proposal in April, five months before the end of the contract, to allow ample time for discussion.

I think it’s worth reminding people here that way back in September, the MOA released that proposal to the public weeks before the old one expired, without telling the musicians they were going to do so. Needless to say, that’s not acting in “good faith.”

Keep in mind as well that during all these months, the MOA has not moved, or given the musicians the financial information they’ve requested. They might tell legislators that they’ve proposed two contracts, and that’s true…technically. But the second proposal still included about 97% of what they originally wanted. Not much negotiation or compromise happening there.

So no matter what the MOA says, nothing they’ve done over the course of this negotiation has been done in good faith, or with respect. Accordingly, they will need to do much more than send a letter to the legislature to regain the trust not just of the musicians, but of the taxpaying public.

More than eight months later, the musicians have not yet put forward a single counterproposal to allow for discussion at the table. We were very pleased to accept an offer from the federal mediator’s office to get involved: the federal mediator has not yet been successful in encouraging the musicians to come back to the table with a counterproposal either.

First of all, the main reason that the musicians have not submitted a counterproposal is because they don’t have a clear idea of what is happening with the MOA’s finances. (As we’ve already seen.)

Second, a counterproposal is simply not necessary for discussion. It never has been; it never will be. Read what orchestra expert Drew McManus says here. Mr. McManus, a respected consultant and a consummate professional, goes so far as to say that what Mr. Campbell and Mr. Henson are proposing is “a trap.” Once a counterproposal is on the table, it’s possible that could turn the conflict from a lockout into a strike, and that has ramifications, shall we say. Even more irritatingly, until December 21, the MOA was clear that they were not interested in even coming back to the table until a counterproposal was made. (Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis, on November 28 in the Strib: “The musicians’ negotiating team appears to be avoiding at all costs our request to come back to the table with a substantive counterproposal.”) Now, of course, the MOA has changed their tune, saying there will be “no preconditions” on their proposed January talks. It’s still unclear whether this is a kind of publicity stunt, or if pressure from donors, patrons, and government officials is finally encouraging them to be more transparent. Based on their past actions, I’m going to guess the former…but we simply can’t know yet for sure. Let’s hope the MOA provides all information the musicians request, and that I’m proven wrong.

c. Provide the necessary financial documentation that assures the public that they have not been funding the lockout of the musicians and that no public funds were used to pay costs associated with the management discussion to shutter this premier cultural attraction in our state

The Orchestral Association has not used any public funds to fund administrative expenses of the lockout.

The Orchestral Association has received a total of $641,677 in the State’s current fiscal year in grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, which in turn came from the general fund and the Legacy fund. These grants are for general operating support. We are extremely appreciative of this funding, as it goes to support a portion of the general operations of the Orchestra, including musician salaries and benefits paid.

Let’s stop right there and get a little clarification as to what the phrase “administrative expenses” means. From WiseGeek:

Administrative expenses are costs that are associated with the management and general functions of an organization and are not directly related to a specific department. Sometimes considered part of general business expenses, these costs can be for basic needs such as rental space for the business, utilities or office supplies. Administrative costs also can include the salaries of people who are not involved in sales, production or other departments within the company, such as senior executives, secretaries and receptionists.

Then, later on the page:

For charities and other [non]profit organizations, administrative costs are often defined differently from the way for-profit businesses define them. In many cases, any money that is brought into the charity organization and spent by the organization instead of being turned into charitable efforts or donations is counted as an administrative cost. Therefore, all of the costs of running the organization, such as for salaries, marketing, rent and utilities, would be called administrative expenses.

And here’s the definition of general operating expenses from the Foundation Center:

grants for the day- to-day operating costs of an existing program or organization or to further the general purpose or work of an organization; also called unrestricted grants

So if I’m understanding correctly, the funds given to the MOA from the State of Minnesota went to general operating support, but not to administrative expenses related to the lockout. So…where exactly is that place? Would it be out of bounds to ask for further clarification? Did all of the public money go to musicians’ salaries? Mr. Henson’s salary? Rent for temporary offices? Did it go into the endowment? If so, where in the endowment? Did any of the money go to the hall renovation? If so, how much? Why? And what is “security” mentioned by the WCCO report? Is “security” an administrative expense? (What does “security” even mean in the context of an orchestra?) As you can see, the definitions get slippery quickly, especially since non-profit definitions can differ from for-profit ones. Some of our non-profit buffs may want to jump into this discussion in the comments. What do you think the MOA could be talking about here? (And as always, MOA, you’re more than welcome to get in touch with me directly… You know how much I’d love to hear from you. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve asked for you to respond to my questions over the months…)

d. A full accounting of what funds have been used for marketing the Building for the Future Fund, public relations related to the Fund of the lockout.

The Orchestral Association has relied on distributions from the endowment for costs associated with marketing, public relations and fundraising related to the Building for the Future Campaign and, as noted above, for costs associated with administration expenses related to the contract negotiation. We have worked hard to keep our campaign expenses low. These costs average about 1.5 of our annual fundraising total, compared to an industry standard that is between two and five percent.

I sure hope you’re right. I’m so hesitant to take anything the MOA says at face value. I always feel like there’s a trick behind everything they say, and many patrons feel the same. Needless to say, this isn’t a great position for a non-profit to be in.

e. A transparent representation of how endowment funds have been accounted for in loans and distributions to give the public perception of a balanced budget as Orchestra.

I’m not going to re-type everything that the MOA said in answer to this point, as they went into quite a bit of meandering detail. (It’s quite amazing how much they can say without saying anything at all…) Once again, you can read what they say here. But suffice it to say, not once does the MOA address why, back in 2009, they were planning to run deficits in 2011 and 2012.

From the MOA’s letter:

The Orchestra’s new strategic plan [adopted in 2011] calls for reductions in the rate of endowment distributions and continuing to show a balanced budget from operations would not accurately portray the financial condition of the Orchestra.

No…………..kidding, Sherlock. But isn’t this a tacit admission that showing a balanced budget from operations in 2009 and 2010 also didn’t accurately portray the financial condition of the Orchestra? The MOA can try to pussyfoot around this – cloak this in euphemism – write things on official-looking letterheads – but there’s really no getting around the fact they misled everyone.

This is what the MOA wants you to believe happened: throughout 2009 and 2010, while the economy was in freefall, the MOA was trying to figure out if bad things were happening to their finances (or, in their words, seeking “to better evaluate the depth and likely length of the recession and its effects on all sources of revenue”). As they were evaluating, they increased their draws from the endowment to meet expenses, but didn’t publicize the fact. And not only that, they trumpeted their extraordinary financial health to their patrons, the legislature, and the international press. (If you haven’t already, read this article from 2010: “With orchestras across the US hard hit by the recession – and management strategies the number-one talking point at the League of American Orchestras’ conference in June – the Minnesota Orchestra stands out as a beacon institution among the bad news.” That sentence was on their website until October of 2012, when I called them out on it and they pulled it from their website, without explanation.) But after the request for the $14 million from the State was approved, and after they’d gotten the additional private money they wanted for the Building for the Future Campaign, they finally decided to attack the problem by adapting a new strategy (“a restructured business plan”). Keep in mind that this plan had zero – zeroZERO – public input…and it’s a strategy that experts from around the country have said will completely decimate the artistic quality of the orchestra. It also was the MOA’s first public acknowledgment that they had a financial problem. Do you really think they were so stupid that they didn’t know there was a problem in 2009 and 2010? Really? No. They knew. There was no reason they couldn’t have been honest with us. And they weren’t. And they don’t even acknowledge the dishonesty in this letter.

They continue:

As noted above, public funds have not been used in this way. For avoidance of any doubt and to give you the assurance you are seeking, the Orchestral Association will immediately sequester in a separate account the funds that have been received from the Minnesota State Arts Board thus far in this fiscal year and will sequester any payments that are scheduled to be made going forward, until the contract negotiation is completed.

What does this do? Who, if anyone, will be overseeing this process? Have any funds already been spent? If so, on what? So many questions…

From yesterday’s MPR article: MN Orchestra re-opens negotiation talks, cancels concerts:

St. Paul DFL Rep. Alice Hausman, chair of the House Capital Improvement Committee, was one of the lawmakers who signed the letter. She supported giving the money for Orchestra Hall, but said it is important that musicians be treated fairly, as without them there would be no orchestra.

Hausman said she was pleased to hear about the sequestering of the Legacy funds.

“Having made that assurance, I personally would say, OK, I would take your word for it, you are going to put it in a separate account,” Hausman said. “And in that case I would probably say no legislative hearing would probably be necessary.”

However, Hausman said upcoming hearings on more Legacy funds for the orchestra will be problematic if the lock out continues.

“If the orchestra isn’t playing, ensuring we can’t send checks there, unless we have some sense that that is only going to be held for salaries for musicians,” Hausman said.

My dear Rep. Hausman, you are so awesome for looking into this, and I’m so so so deeply appreciative, but please, I beg you, don’t make that mistake! This problem goes way beyond if Legacy funds were used to fund the lockout. This is about a CEO misleading the state legislature, saying that his organization has “announced” balanced budgets, and that it is “facing the current economic downturn with stability,” when in fact it was doing no such thing. This is about a major non-profit believing it is okay to pre-plan deficits three to four years ahead of time, in order to be better positioned to get money from the government and wring concessions out of workers. (From the Star Tribune, November 26: ““Balances in 2009 and 2010 would support our state bonding aspirations,’ Bryan Ebensteiner, vice president of finance, told the orchestra’s executive committee in September 2009, ‘while the deficits in 2011 and 2012 would demonstrate the need to reset the business model.’” A “reset business model” is, of course, code for slashed salary and benefits.)

If Michael Henson and the Minnesota Orchestra management can get away with this, then other leaders will be emboldened. A disease of distrust will start to spread. We must not allow these individuals to set a precedent: this is not the way to do business in Minnesota. A sequestered account, while it may be a step forward, is not adequate. We still need that hearing. We need additional pressure from our elected officials. The public has too many unanswered questions, which the MOA refuses to answer. Keep in mind, not a single representative from the MOA has given an in-depth public interview about what is going on. Not one. This despite the fact that many writers have outstanding requests for interviews, including me, Matt Peiken from MNuet, and Drew McManus. If the only way we can get accountability is through the legislature, well, then so be it: let’s go through the legislature.

On the plus side, I’ve heard that Rep. Jim Davnie (the legislator in the WCCO video) is really fired up about this. A reader showed me a non-auto-reply email she got within a couple of hours of writing him…on Saturday. He said that he will “continue to work on this until the lock out is ended and the musicians return to work.” That’s comforting.

And also, here’s another tiny victory from the MPR article:

Henson said management is also prepared to respond to the musicians’ concerns about recent changes in the orchestra’s mission statement. He said the statement will revert to its original form except for three changes to expand the orchestra’s activities in the community.

So, we’ve restored “orchestra” to the mission statement. That’s…not nothing.

But one does wonder why exactly it was taken out in the first place. And I’m not going to express wholehearted approval until I see the precise wording of the new version of the old mission statement. But it’s…something, I guess. It’s one tiny little bit of movement toward accountability. I’m going to assume it’s a sign of pressure being applied behind the scenes.

So. Anyway. I think the moral of the story is: keep writing legislators. Keep a (polite) drumbeat pounding. They’re obviously looking into this. The pressure is on. But we need to keep encouraging them. A slap on the wrist is simply not enough: we need, and we deserve, accountability. This can’t be allowed to happen again.

Once again, I encourage anyone from the legislature to contact me at songofthelarkblog[at]gmail[dot]com if you want to speak privately about any of this. I’ve written about this conflict since late August, and gotten international attention for doing so. If I don’t know the answer to something, I will know exactly the person to direct you to. Trust me, I have lots of questions for Mr. Henson and Mr. Campbell. I’d be delighted to pass them along to you.

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Invitations and Hearings and WCCO Reports, Oh My

Well, well, well. I was assuming that my next blog entry would be about Sunday afternoon’s Ode to Joy show, but apparently the universe deigned otherwise. Yes, the day we’ve all been waiting for has finally come:

Lawmakers Call For Hearing Into Minn. Orchestra Finances

(Sorry for the huge font, but it’s an awfully fulfilling headline to have on the blog, and so I think it warrants BIG LETTERS.) Watch the video, if you haven’t already. Post it on Facebook, email it to friends. Make it go viral.

The letter mentioned in the WCCO report is here in a Strib blog (that, interestingly, is not filed under “arts”, but rather “politics”!). Hopefully it’s all right for me to transcribe it here:

December 6, 2012

Mr. Jon Campbell

Chair

Minnesota Orchestra Association

Mr. Michael Henson

President

Minnesota Orchestra Association

Gentlemen,

The Minnesota Orchestra plays a key and unique role in the life of our state. It is a vital part of our vibrant arts and culture community. It is an internationally respected orchestra, and an asset to our economic competitiveness as a state. It also plays a unique role in Minneapolis, drawing patrons to our downtown core for musical events throughout the year. From there, patrons fan out across the city to eat, drink and shop, pumping additional monies into our downtown businesses.

The State has recognized the importance of the Minnesota Orchestra in a number of significant ways. The current construction and remodeling of Orchestra Hall is funded with $14 million in public dollars. Additionally over the past two years the Orchestra has received over $1 million in general operating funds from Legacy grants.

In addition to direct state dollars any number of school districts enhance their arts education efforts through field trips to Orchestra Hall. These field trips, while often involving significant private dollars also have public funds intertwined in them.

The current lockout of musicians blunts the value of all of these public investments.

The Star Tribune reported Monday that the Board and management made a “strategic” decision to show balanced budgets while pursuing over $20 million in state bonding funds and show a deficit while preparing to negotiate with the Musicians for a new contract.

It is more importantly in direct conflict with Mr. Henson’s testimony to the Legislature in favor of bonding funding to that the Orchestra had “presented three balanced budgets in a row.”

As stewards of the public trust and money, this is of great concern to us and warrants a public hearing and explanation to the legislature and the taxpayers of Minnesota.

The receipt and use of Legacy dollars by the Orchestra for general operating purposes puts the public in the possible position of funding the lock out of the musicians and denial of musical opportunities to Minnesotans. Funding lockouts of anyone is not in the interests of the people or State of Minnesota.

We write in request that the Orchestra Association:

(a) provide the musicians the current financial year financial documents that they have repeatedly requested; (b) return to the bargaining table in good faith with the musicians and resolve the contract negotiations expeditiously in a way that preserves the public interest and investments in the orchestra; and (c) provides the necessary financial documentation that assure the public that they have not been funding the lockout of the musicians and that no public funds were used to pay costs associated with the management’s decision to shutter this premier cultural attraction in our state; (d) A full accounting of what funds have been used for marketing the Building for the Future Fund, public relations related to the Fund or the lockout, (e) A transparent representation of how endowment funds have been accounted for in loans and distributions to give the public perception of a balanced budget as Orchestra.

In Minnesota, the public trust is essential to our health civic vitality and the state’s continued investment via bonding and Legacy funds in our cultural and community institutions; we must ensure that we maintain this trust on behalf of the Minnesota Orchestra due to our significant current public investments.

We await your response.

Jim Davnie, State Representative, District 62A

Jean Wagenius, State Representative, District 62B

Frank Hornstein, State Representative, District 60B

Alice Hausman, State Representative, District 66B

Karen Clark, State Representative, District 61A

Diane Loeffler, State Representative, District 59A

Tina Liebling, State Representative, District 30A

Mary Murphy, State Represntative, District 6B

Tom Huntley, State Representative, District 7A

Sheldon Johnson, State Represntative, District 67B

John Ward, State Representative, District 12A

Carly Melin, State Representative, District 5B

Raymond Dehn, State Representative-elect, District 58B

Tim Mahoney, State Representative, District 67A

I provided links to contact each of the representatives. If you have time, please send them a thank-you note or email. (Or heck, why not both?) Encourage them to continue their calls for transparency. Because, as you’ll notice, this letter was sent on December 6, and to the best of our knowledge, the MOA has not yet responded.

If you’ve been following the blog, the date December 6 will ring a bell with you: it was the day of the MOA’s annual meeting. Ex-actly. I bet I know now why their press release afterward was so subdued, and why, despite there being cameras at the Minneapolis Club, there was no filmed statement made by Mr. Henson or Mr. Campbell. Oh, to have been a fly on that luxurious paneled Club wall.

Here are some of my brief observations on the WCCO video…

JIM DAVNIE: Which is it? Are you facing the economic downturn with stability, or are you running deficits? Did you put three consecutive years of balanced budgets on the table successfully, or did you not?

This quote needs to be screamed from the rooftops.

Later in the segment, Doug Kelley is forced to do a job that CEO of the Orchestra, MICHAEL HENSON, should be doing.

SERIOUSLY, MAN. WHERE ARE YOU? YOUR ORCHESTRA IS IN CRISIS! YOUR BIGGEST DONORS ARE APPEARING AT YOUR MUSICIANS’ LOCKOUT CONCERTS! YOUR CAREER IS CRUMBLING BEFORE THE MUSIC WORLD’S EYES! WHERE ARE YOU? Do you even exist? Or are you a mere existential fabrication of failure that our collective subjective consciousness has created and defined?

DOUG KELLEY: I am confident when we testify before them that the legislature will be satisfied that nobody from the Minnesota Orchestra misled them about the budget or our future stability.

Cool! Since you’re so confident, would you mind if the public listens in…? Awesome. I’ll just be over here in the corner listening quietly, with my popcorn. *waves*

I’m relieved to hear that Mr. Kelley says “when” and not “if.” It sounds as if he believes that a hearing is inevitable. Hopefully the only reason a date hasn’t been set yet is because we’re in between sessions. In the meantime, letters and emails to Minnesota representatives can’t hurt…

REPORTER: The Orchestra also received a million dollars in State Legacy funds for operating expenses, and legislators want to know if any of that money is being used for lawyers, security, or any other expense to fund the lockout…

Security? *eyebrow raise*

REPORTER: Mr. Kelley from the Orchestra said that no money of any kind in any way is being used to fund that lockout…

Wow, that seems……………………………hilariously implausible. I guess the money being spent on mailings is either A) coming from a magical fairy place, or B) Doug Kelley doesn’t consider mailings about the lockout to be a part of the lockout…

REPORTER: But even if this lockout ends, lawmakers at the Capital, Amelia, say that they’re going to hold that hearing anyway to find out  how this happened, and where all this money is going and how it is being used.

So that of course leads us to the question:

CAN WE GO TO THE HEARING?

No idea. Hold your horses. I don’t know when the hearing (hearings?) will be held; I don’t know who will be testifying; I don’t know if the hearing(s) will be open to the public; I don’t know if the press will be invited; I don’t know if bloggers are considered to be members of the press. I don’t know anything about it. All I know about it is that I’m going. If I can get into the hearing, I’ll get into the hearing. If I’m not allowed into the hearing, I will be outside at some kind of orch-dorky rally. If Orchestrate Excellence doesn’t spearhead one, I will. What do we want? Accountability! When do we want it? Now! Maybe if we’re lucky, we could swing both a rally and a hearing observation. Stay tuned.

Among all the hubbub, it’s easy to miss that concerts have been canceled until February 10

The Minnesota Orchestral Association announced that it has cancelled or rescheduled its concert performances through Sunday, February 10, 2013, noting that negotiations over a new labor agreement with musicians remain at a standstill.  As a means to initiate further talks, the Board Negotiating Committee has issued an invitation to the Musicians’ Union to return to the negotiating table on Saturday, January 5 or Wednesday, January 9, 2013, without any preconditions.

All ticketholders of affected concerts are being contacted and offered a variety of options including the opportunity to exchange tickets for a future concert or receive a refund.

“We are sorry for the disappointment these cancellations will bring to Orchestra audiences, but without progress toward a new contract and in consideration of the needs of our audiences, guest artists and partnering venues, we believe we have no choice but to cancel these performances,” said Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Jon Campbell.  “We all want to resume the concert season as soon as possible, and the only way to do that is to sit down together and negotiate a settlement that will help resolve the Orchestra’s serious financial challenges.  We hope our invitation to come back to the negotiating table—which comes without preconditions—can begin that process.”

On December 6, the Orchestral Association posted an operating deficit of $6 million for Fiscal 2012, the largest operating loss in its history, and released the independently audited financial statements for its 2011-12 fiscal year.  The audit was conducted and certified by accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen.

Contract talks between the Orchestral Association and its musicians, who are members of the Twin Cities Musicians’ Union (Local 30-73), began on April 12 and are currently overseen by a federal mediator.  The Orchestral Association’s proposal offers a total package averaging $119,000 per musician, including an average salary of $89,000 with $30,000 in benefits per musician.  The proposal also includes 10 weeks of paid vacation and up to 26 weeks of paid sick leave.

The MOA’s public tone has changed drastically. No mention of perplexion – or cliffs – or counterproposals. Indeed, there’s not much disrespect shown to the musicians at all. (I mean, they’re still not respecting them like they should, but at least they’re not dragging them through the mud, and that’s progress.) If you want to stroll down Memory Lane, take a looksie at how combative the October and November cancellations were. This one is incredibly mild in comparison. Read the tea leaves as you will.

One wonders what exactly the “no preconditions” bit means. Scrapping of all previous offers and starting from scratch? Is this a PR stunt to get public opinion back on their side? (It’s a little too late for that, MOA, but…okay…) An effort to satisfy big donors and/or government officials? Will the MOA be open to arbitration? An independent analysis? Is Mr. Henson’s job on the line? Are there fractures appearing within the board?

I have no idea what’s going on. So stay tuned. And in the meantime, may I offer…

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BREAKING: Lawmakers Call For Hearing Into Minn. Orchestra Finances

I wanted to be the first blogger to break it:

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2012/12/20/lawmakers-call-for-hearing-into-minn-orchestra-finances/

More information as it develops…

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