Category Archives: My Writing

The Atlanta Symphony Facebook Page Loses It

A gut-wrenching thing is happening to the Atlanta Symphony.

And I’m not talking about the second musician lockout in two years, that looks set to deprive the Southeastern United States of great orchestral music for months, if not years, to come.

No, I’m talking about the fact that Atlanta Symphony CEO Dr. Stanley Romanstein PHD is being forced to endure people saying negative things about him on the Atlanta Symphony’s Facebook page…simply because he took home obscene bonuses in the years before the first lockout started.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a couple of days.

On midnight of the night of September 6-7, the musicians’ contract expired.

On September 8 came an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra status update:

We really enjoyed having Joshua Bell in Symphony Hall in May.

… O…kay?

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As my friend and fellow symphonic rabble rouser Amy Adams observed: “That is indeed a wonderful thing to share from months ago. ANY OTHER MAJOR NEWS TO SHARE?”

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Review: Minnesota Orchestra and Renee Fleming, September 2014

Last year I and a couple hundred others showed up outside a glitzy event at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis: the famous Symphony-less Symphony Ball. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra had been locked out for nearly a year, but the leadership wanted to throw a gala fundraiser anyway. The musicians weren’t invited. Nor was the music director. So a group of us got together to point out that this was, y’know, kind of insane.

I chose to wear evening dress (albeit with leg warmers, two layers of socks, and long underwear). After I got dressed, a friend brought me to the hall, and my mom and I walked around the block, taking in the scene. A large crowd had already gathered around Peavey Plaza, which looked like a combination circus, prison, and ShopKo garden center. There were tents, guards, and shrubberies… – 24 September 2013

Slide forward fifty-odd weeks. Mom and I were dropped off by the same friend in front of the same hall. It was the same time of year. I wore the same glamorous dress, albeit without the bulky layers underneath. But this time, we were invited, the guards had disappeared, and the shrubbery now existed only in our memories. September 2013: musicians locked out, music director uninvited, guards posted outside the lobby glowering at patrons, a band of women shaking their fringed costumes the only musical attraction within. September 2014: the Starry Starry Night gala fundraiser, musicians back onstage, Osmo directing and schmoozing in the lobby, no less than superstar Renee Fleming commanding the stage in a haze of golden tulle.

It was surreal. Two vastly differently realities in the same place, less than a year apart. All night I felt like I was slipping back and forth between the two realities, the present and the past.

*

First on the program to this gala concert was the Overture from Maskerade by Nielsen. Osmo strode onstage, turned his back on the hollering audience and raised his arms, simply unable to contain his eagerness to embrace the music. And just like that, we were off. Their tempo was just a hair too fast, a hair too dangerous, and it was glorious. Pianissimo string crossings in the violins were backed by little upward blips from the woodwinds, sounding like a group of happy, and slightly tipsy, revelers. When the whole orchestra came whirling back in, triumph in giddy full voice, it was impossible not to grin in wonder.

The Strand Settings for soprano and orchestra by Anders Hillborg were being played Friday night for the first time outside of New York. They were cloudy, misty, ethereal – strange and dreamy – celestial. Fleming’s voice floated through the hall above the cushion of sounds, weightless, piercing silver through all the instrumental shimmer. Some portions brought to mind the feelings of awe one might feel alone in the dark of the night in the countryside, endless black sky-scrape spread above, distant stars twinkling. Other portions were much earthier, recalling a memory of jazz, or maybe a Bernstein musical: bass thumping as the commanding female voice soared above it all. My thoughts lately have gravitated toward death and rebirth, toward angels. Friday night Renee Fleming was one.

*

After Osmo’s resignation, when it seemed likely if not certain that the Minnesota Orchestra as we knew it was dead, in desperate hope I wrote an entry where I copy/pasted the story of the Firebird:

The Firebird is known to many as the Phoenix. It is a mythical bird that lives in five hundred year cycles, which is able to regenerate from injury and is therefore, immortal. With plumage of red and gold that illuminates its flight, the Phoenix is as much a symbol of divinity as it is of fire and many legendary tales have evolved around its existence. Its most spoken about quality, that has inspired stories of encouragement or been compared to adversities that have been overcome, is that the Phoenix, nearing the end of its life cycle, builds a nest where he sets himself and the nest on fire. From the ashes left behind, a young Phoenix rises, to take the place of the older…

The glow from the Firebird’s feather was powerful enough to light up an entire room. It is also believed to bring hope and relief to the suffering and in need, and one story in particular tells of pearls falling from the Firebird’s beak to the peasants below, for them to trade for food…

Over the ages, the Phoenix, or Firebird, has inspired many artists, such as Igor Stravinsky, who in 1910 immortalized the legend of the Firebird, in his ballet score of the same name. From being a symbol of doom to hope, the Firebird’s rise from its ashes has given many the inspirations to rebuild their lives and to believe that there is light in even their darkest moments. The Firebird holds a sacred place in the folklore of Russia, as a creature that is in itself as much of a mystery as the legendary tales. – 6 October 2013

*

The Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana always risks sinking into shlock. But Osmo doesn’t do shlock. Instead, he crafts long lines to make warhorses feel suddenly, miraculously, new. Their performance was so tender and intimate I almost felt uncomfortable: it was a private love note between maestro and musicians, and an acknowledgement of all they have endured together.

But before the mood of tenderness had entirely evaporated, came the determined roil of the Overture to La forza del destino, and suddenly the tenderness was a mere memory. Now came muscular brass and flashy Italian spunk, and violins chattering repeated phrases high in their register, like gossipy Italian divas.

This orchestra can cover the full gamut of human emotion with a panache no other ensemble can muster.

*

Renee Fleming came out for her second act sporting a massive blue gown. In front of the podium sprawled a white bouquet. Surely this was planned: a not-so-subtle shout-out to the Minnesota Orchestra’s new colors, blue and white, shades of Osmo’s Finnish flag, the colors of the Minnesota audience rebellion. The beauty of “O mio babbino caro” garnered murmuring appreciative applause; the flirty sauce of “Ier della fabbrica a Triana,” from Conchita laughs and happy clapping.

After lovingly sung accounts of Somewhere and I Feel Pretty came a surprise encore. We all knew there would be an encore – we’re talking about Renee Fleming, after all! – but those of us expecting a classic opera aria were surprised.

“I want to honor you for taking care of this brilliant orchestra, treasuring this orchestra,” Renee said, to wild applause. She then went on to explain that her encore would come from Bernstein’s (legendary flop) 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that in its original setting, the song was about taking care of the White House. But in this context, in this night, she meant for it to be about taking care of “this incredible institution and treasuring it in the future and always.”

Oooooooookay, I think most of us thought, but we applauded enthusiastically nonetheless.

Then she sang, and her and Osmo’s intent became crystal clear:

Take care of this house / Keep it from harm / If bandits break in, sound the alarm – be always on call / for this house is the home of us all.

My jaw dropped at the ballsiness of it. From now on, every piece played in Minnesota will have double meanings for those who seek to find them.

*

The evening’s great showpiece was The Pines of Rome by Respighi. In another context its triumphant bombast might sound insincere: not here, not tonight, oh no. You would never guess this was an orchestra that stared death in the face and walked away. Every player worked together to create a whole even greater than the sum of its fabulous parts; sixteen months apart in 2012-14 had done nothing to mute their chemistry. Greg Williams knocked it out of the park with his earthy – yet otherworldly – clarinet solos. Kathy Kienzle sparkled on the harp. Erin Keefe and Tony Ross enthusiastically shared gorgeous lines together; they strike me as being musical siblings, both embracing grit and passion in equal measure in their music-making. Respighi meant the famous final movement to be a portrait of the ancient Roman army advancing, but I couldn’t help but think of the city of Minneapolis taking up their symbolic arms to fight against the destruction of their beloved orchestra. First the musicians had spoken: a clear, firm, but quiet voice. Then their listeners spread the message to their friends and family. Then a slow but steady crescendo of people from all around the world raised their voices in all manner of ways, drawing a firm line in the sand: here is Minnesota. Managements can approach the line without going over it, a la the Met. Or they can even approach the line and go over it, a la Atlanta. But the line is there. And in future, managements will cross it at their peril.

*

After the concert, suddenly a dear beautiful face from the past appeared. Screams from each of us, then a hug and tears of joy and triumph, spinning round and round. I had not seen her for two years; she has been in California. But she came back home for this concert, The lockout made us sisters.

Before the show, I met up with a brand new friend I’d met online. (Making connections with dozens of wonderful people has been one of the few silver linings in a very cloudy sky.) Within the blink of an eye, we were chatting as if we’d known each other all our lives. Such connections don’t happen very often in a lifetime… Together we earnestly discussed the wonderful ensemble and the terrible situation that had brought us together. “This isn’t just an attack on this orchestra,” she said. “This is an attack on beauty! And I will not stand for it!” – 22 October 2012

Together we all celebrated very late into the night, well aware we’re living as close to a happy ending as real life can provide. Let us put this lockout nonsense behind us, embracing the lessons it taught us, embracing the connections it fostered between us, and work toward an even brighter day.

***

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Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses

I haven’t spent much time digging into the Atlanta Symphony cluster**** yet because this weekend I was in the Twin Cities celebrating. Thanks to two solid years of hard work by many hundreds of people, combined with copious amounts of luck and an extensive housecleaning at the top of the organization, the Minnesota Orchestra is finally turning a corner. It’s an unqualified miracle. On Saturday I was in the midst of a midnight conversation over ice cream with some dear lockout friends, sitting outdoors under the sparkling moon and laughing, feeling profoundly profoundly grateful for everything, when one of my fellow activist audience members pulled out her phone, checked Facebook, and read the Atlanta Musicians’ press release. We’d all known it was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier. Our smiles faded, and expletives were uttered, loudly. It was the only asterisk of unpleasantness in an otherwise magical weekend of celebration.

So I read what I could between parties, and have been trying to get up to speed today. Because I’m invested in this thing – and if you love orchestras, you should be, too. The Atlanta musicians’ fight is our fight, just transplanted to a different city, like some kind of dangerous airborne mold spore, or maybe an STD. As it was in Minnesota, Facebook is turning out to be an invaluable clearinghouse of information that is often more detailed and more valuable than the “he said, she said” summary of events in traditional print media. My friend and Save Our Symphony Minnesota volunteer Elizabeth Erickson advised in a comment to a post on the Atlanta musicians’ Facebook page, “Yes, start digging for financial dirt… Get pro bono lawyers and accountants on board to review 990 tax info; be vocal about what you find…” Yup. And under the Atlanta musicians’ Facebook page, under a link to Kevin Case’s recent excellent article, Kathy Shaw Amos wrote a comment about bonuses.

My eyebrows immediately raised. Bonuses to a CEO of a financially troubled orchestra right before a brutal musician lockout? This movie played for a while in Minnesota. And if I’m remembering correctly, it didn’t end well…for the CEO.

So I took the, y’know, two minutes it takes to fire up Guidestar.org, download some Woodruff Arts Center documents, and check to see if Kathy Shaw Amos was right. Two minutes I’m assuming the non-blogging media should have, which they apparently don’t. Did nobody learn from Minnesota that the first step is always the 990s? The first step is always the 990s. Check the first one out here, and scroll down to page 40.

At the top of the form, you can see that the Woodruff Arts Center fiscal years start on June 1st and end on May 31st. The most recent form available dates from the year extending from 1 June 2011 to 31 May 2012. The Atlanta musicians’ lockout occurred in the autumn of 2012, when ours did. So this is all pre-lockout.

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Click to enlarge.

What this says is that Dr. Stanley Romanstein, the Atlanta Symphony President, took home $335,344 in base compensation, with a $45,000 “bonus and incentive” compensation, plus $26,403 in untaxable benefits, bringing his compensation that year to $406,747. That begs the question: bonus and incentive compensation for what? It would be one thing to hand out bonuses to executives who are leading orchestras in good shape, but not ones so fiscally and morally dysfunctional they’re about to lock out the creators of their product.

For those of you who are just joining us, I asked similar questions back in October 2013, when I found that former Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson took home $619,313 in compensation, including two separate $100k bonuses meant for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. This scandal turned into what we in the Minnesota scene ended up calling “Bonusgate.” The Minnesota Orchestral Association tried, but ultimately failed, to suppress community outcry. It was one of the major developments that eroded donors’ trust in Henson so severely that a mere six months later he…..”resigned.” By the end of his tenure, he was unable to attend a Minnesota Orchestra concert without hearing pissed-off patrons yelling before performances, “Fire Henson!” It got to the point where I heard rebellious Minnesota audiences joking about whether or not it was legal to “yell fire Henson in a crowded auditorium.” (Heh.) Is this the kind of impotence that Stanley Romanstein aspires to? Or is he just hoping that Georgian audiences are dumber than Minnesotans?

So back to Atlanta. Other management members took home bonuses that year, too. Clayton Schell, currently the Vice President of ASO Presents according to the Atlanta Symphony website, took home a $20,000 bonus that year. Michael Shapiro, the Director of the High Museum of Art, took home a $30,000 bonus, pushing his total compensation to the low $700,000s. (The High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Symphony are connected via the Woodruff Arts Center.)

Will these bonuses mean the difference between a deficit and a surplus, between fiscal strength and weakness? Well, no. Do I begrudge these folks their bonuses? Well, not…automatically. But as we saw in Minnesota, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Bonuses being tossed out so liberally by a non-profit as its orchestra is running massive deficits and contemplating locking out its employees certainly suggests that Hey, Y’Know, There Might Be More To This Story! And troublingly, that “more” might not show up in the 990s. Bonuses in times of financial trouble also bring up legitimate questions about the wisdom of the Woodruff’s and the ASO’s expenditures. Are bonuses for an orchestra CEO really the most responsible use for that particular $45,000? Is giving the CEO bonuses and incentive pay really the best way to advance the mission of the organization? My trust in this leadership team is eroding rapidly. And as we in Minnesota know, when the public can no longer trust a non-profit to wisely carry out its mission, said non-profit is doomed, until its course changes. New business model, old business model, “contemporary operating model”: Minnesota proved that no model can be successful without trust and transparency between all stakeholders.

I’d like to stop there, but unfortunately, the craziness continues. Jump back another year to find even more bonus insanity. This comes from the fiscal year lasting from 1 June 2010 and ending 31 May 2011. (Check out page 31.) There are bonuses sprinkled throughout, but notice Dr. Romanstein’s special accomplishment:

bonus2

Yes, he was apparently sooo amazing at running an orchestra in crisis that he earned $75,000 in bonus or incentive pay!

Go, Stanley!

And then, as the info-mercials say: but wait, there’s more!

Yes, back in the pre-Romanstein days, in the fiscal year lasting from 1 June 2009 to 31 May 2010, former Atlanta CEO Allison Vulgamore took home $169,101…in incentive and bonus compensation alone. Her total compensation that year totaled nearly $600,000. Check out page 28. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact her tenure was ending, but…I don’t really care. It’s still a bonus. Paid to a CEO. Leading an orchestra. That was in such dire straits. That a few years later. It purportedly had no other choice. But to lock out its players.

Gah.

(I guess we should be grateful the direction of the bonuses are gradually trending downward…?)

Hey, Woodruff, ASO management. As Jon Stewart would say, meet me at camera three.

Here’s my question:

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What the HELL, guys? Are you running a non-profit or a shell corporation with an in-house orchestra? What are these bonuses for? Why were they given? How could Stanley Romanstein accept them in good conscience, knowing it was possible – if not likely – that he would be locking out his players in a few months’ time? Does your entire board know about them? Do your audiences know about them? Do your donors know about them? How did these bonuses advance the mission of your organization? What kinds of bonuses are you paying Stanley Romanstein nowadays? As you were preparing for your second lockout in as many years, did you happen to glance to the north and see that these kinds of tactics got the organization nowhere? Are you consciously modeling your strategy after the one that failed so miserably in Minnesota (if so, WHY?), or are you just so dangerously oblivious you haven’t noticed the similarities?

If Stanley Romanstein and the leaders of the ASO and the Woodruff can’t answer these questions, they are not worthy of leading one of this country’s great orchestras. But judging by what they’re saying to the press now, it will likely take the determined long-term hammering of a lot of music lovers before they get the message.

Check out the Atlanta Symphony Musicians website, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Share the news with your friends and family. Just as our fight was theirs, theirs is ours.

And as always, follow the money.

***

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Eulogy

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.

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Lockout Tips for Met Stakeholders

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.

Click here to read the Met’s statement (which is, at this early juncture, the best I have right now, since no news outlets have had time to write up the development, and I need to go to bed).

- E

***

It looks like we’re rapidly hurtling toward a Met lockout, and so to…er, celebrate isn’t quite the right word…to commemorateto 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.

Audiences:

  1. Recognize how devastating a shuttered or diminished Met would be, not only to you personally, but to your city and even to your country.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Try to absorb all the information you can – from all sides. Be skeptical of everything.
  6. 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.

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Some Friendly Advice To Peter Gelb

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.”

Hahaha.

No, but

NEWSFLASH!

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.

***

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Peter Gelb’s Series of Unfortunate Events

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.”

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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.

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Double The Fundraisers, Double The Fun

Dear friends,

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?

Well…………….

The truth is…..

No. Probably not.

I’ll acknowledge that being pissed off does wonders for the page views, but here are the facts.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Osmo is back. Repeat: Osmo is back.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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…

Thank you

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 -

Emily

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Sommerfest!

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. 

You can buy Easy Passes here.

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*

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale, Heitzeg, Stravinsky, Orff

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!

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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

  1. I’ve never heard it before,
  2. I don’t know anything about choirs, and
  3. 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…

Oh, you're the bad boy of music alright.

Oh, you’re the bad boy of music alright

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!
summer returns,
and now departs
cruel winter…

wretched is the person
who neither lives,
nor lusts
under summer’s spell.

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Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.

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