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Well

Well, let’s see what the news is today, Tuesday January 14 year of our Lord 2014…

*ambles over to Google News*

Obama to Place Restraints on Surveillance. Interesting…

Some rumblings about net neutrality. Compelling…

Why Journalists Frighten Putin. Haha. Haha, yeah. Dictators better beware of the power of writers…

…There’s apparently now a first-person cat simulator

Oh, yeah, and the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians is over.

***

Um, so, I don’t really know what to say tonight besides thank you. Thank you to everyone. I didn’t have anything prepared to say tonight (no, duh). In all honesty, if I’d been forced to make a prediction at gunpoint, even a week ago, I’d have said another six to twelve months will pass, my friends and idols will ultimately be forced to their knees, Save Our Symphony Minnesota will fizzle out, and I’ll enter my twenty-fifth year as a total cynic who will forevermore hate orchestras and everything associated with them. (It was not a future I was particularly anticipating.)

But…that didn’t happen.

The contract on the table isn’t perfect by any means, but if you were expecting a perfect contract, you were always going to be let down.

We saved the Minnesota Orchestra and we saved it together. Because of our work, the Minnesota Orchestra will not die.

However, the new business model did. We killed it, and we killed it together.

But. Now we have to create the model that will replace it. And that’s where the hard work will come in.

Are you ready for that?

Tonight is not the end. In fact, it is only a chance to have a new beginning.

But in the meantime, I think we’re allowed to celebrate how far we’ve come, and think with hope of a better future.

***

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New Year’s Notes

It’s New Year’s Eve, so it’s time for some sentimental naval gazing.

Well. 2013. You wanted soul-crushing disappointment? You wanted dizzying ecstasy? You wanted proof that arts activism is alive and well? (You wanted proof that orchestral music is alive and well?) You wanted proof that improbable, impossible things are, in fact, quite possible? Then 2013 was the year for you.

Here were the year’s most popular SOTL stories in reverse order…

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Michael Henson’s Massive Bonuses

Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson saw two massive bonuses as he was planning for his musicians’ major work stoppage, totaling $202,500.

This information comes courtesy of the 990 that covers the time period between 1 September 2011 and 31 August 2012. It was recently quietly posted on Guidestar.org. This document is not on the Minnesota Orchestra’s website, so you will have to go to Guidestar.org to see it.

Henson bonus

Click to enlarge

Henson took home $386,916 in base compensation – $202,500 in bonus and incentive compensation – $9,800 in retirement and other deferred compensation – and $20,097 in non-taxable benefits for a grand total of $619,313.

Here is the explanation on the 990.

supplemental information

Click to enlarge.

Michael Henson’s bonus amount in Part II, Section B, Column 2 consists of bonuses for two separate fiscal years that were paid in the same calendar year. The bonus for fiscal year 2011 was paid in March 2011 and the bonus for fiscal year 2012 was paid in December 2011. Per IRS regulations, this schedule was filled out based on the calendar year 2011.

For comparison’s sake, here are some other American orchestras by budget – their expenses – who their executive directors are – how much they were compensated – and what percentage of the budget their compensation is.

Here are orchestras who haven’t yet publicized their 2012 990. This is from FY 2011.

Los Angeles Philharmonic – $103,925,230. Deborah Borda – $1,602,228 – 1.5%

New York Philharmonic – $68,400,555. Zarin Mehta – $887,401 – 1.3%.

And here are orchestras who have publicized their 2012 990.

Boston Symphony – $85,844,758. Mark Volpe – $622,938 – 0.7%

Chicago Symphony – $80,055,672. Deborah Rutter – $577,189 – 0.7%

San Francisco Symphony – $78,338,012. Brent Assink – $638,857 – 0.8%

Philadelphia Orchestra – $57,182,000. Allison Vulgamore – $610,446 – 1.1%

Cleveland Orchestra – $51,298,527. Gary Hanson – $584,498 – 1.1%

St. Louis Symphony – $26,597,756. Fred Bronstein – $394,572 – 1.5%

Houston Symphony – $25,817,059. Mark Hanson – $295,979 – 1.1%

Baltimore Symphony – $25,116,360. Paul Meecham – $261,843 – 1%

The Pittsburgh Symphony, Dallas Symphony, and Indianapolis Symphony were in a time of leadership transition so I left them out.

The Minnesota Orchestral Association’s expenses were $32,908,241. Mr. Henson’s compensation was $619,313… or 1.9% of expenses, roughly double the rate of other orchestras.

Edit, 1pm: The entry was altered. I – and my proofreaders! – made a (rather embarrassing) decimal error in calculating the percentages above. Apologies. But the point of the entry still stands.

As everyone who has been following the lockout knows, the Minnesota Orchestra posted a six million dollar deficit in FY 2012. Michael Henson’s compensation and bonuses would account for a full tenth of a six million dollar deficit.

***

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17 Tips On Marketing Orchestras to Millennials

Yesterday I read a slim but interesting book called Marketing for Millennials, by Jeff Fromm and Christie Garton. It verbalized a lot of my gut instincts, and especially the gut instinct that most orchestras suck at marketing to millennials.

Roughly speaking, millennials are carbon-based human life forms aged 18-35. (For a point of reference, I’m 24.) It’s tough to generalize about an entire generation, but I’m about to do so.

Millennials

  • use the Internet a lot
  • tend to be more politically progressive
  • are extremely well-educated
  • value companies with consciences
  • frequently live with our parents thanks to the recession
  • possess larger social networks than any other generation

And here’s an interesting factoid: there are more of us than there are baby boomersYup, you read that right: we’re the largest generation in American history.

You would not know any of these things based on most orchestras’ marketing efforts.

So here, without further ado, are seventeen suggestions for orchestras to keep in mind as they think about how to attract young people.

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The Firebird

I hope that you were able to attend Osmo’s Farewell concert, or at least listen to MPR’s broadcast. Circumstances conspired to keep me at home, so I listened from afar. In all brutal honesty, it was probably a good thing I wasn’t there in person; my sobs would have spoiled the broadcast. Brian Newhouse knocked it out of the park – he never succumbed to unwarranted pessimism or optimism, he never assigned blame, and he made it very clear that it was the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra onstage, not the Minnesota Orchestra. Everyone turned in a flawless performance. Bravo. It was a show for the ages.

After I dried my tears, I looked up the story of the Firebird and stumbled across this website.

And I cried some more.

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.

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An Announcement

You may notice a couple tweaks around the blog. The reason? Until further notice, I am tossing Richard Davis, Jon Campbell, and Michael Henson into my mental Bin of Irrelevancy.

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These three men now join other things that are personally irrelevant to me, such as Windows 98, asparagus, and shag carpeting.

I’ve done a good job over the last year explaining why these men aren’t good custodians of the orchestra. At least I’m assuming I’ve done a good job because they’ve never come forward to dispute anything I’ve said, which insinuates that what I’ve said is accurate. The alternative is that they think I should be ignored just because of the platform I use, or because I’m young or poor. But in this day and age, that’s all the more reason to toss them into the bin.

So I’m archiving the “Hello, Minnesota Orchestra Management!” entry. I don’t need the answers to those questions. I have all the answers I need. The questions I’m currently asking have literally nothing to do with Minnesota Orchestra management. This feels good.

As for the pinned “If you’re just joining us” entry, that’s going as a link under my re-vamped About tab. You guys all know who I am now. This still comes as a huge surprise to me, but I’m beginning to get used to the idea. That introductory entry doesn’t need to be front and center any more.

I also tweaked my bio to reflect the fact I’m a lot better known for my writing than for my freelance fiddling career.

And ta-da! I can now move forward with a clean slate! I feel like I always did at the start of a new school year. I can practically smell the crayons and erasers.

If by some crazy miracle circumstances change dramatically within the next few months (former Minnesota governor Arne Carlson has suggested getting the Vikings involved, which would be a fascinating plot twist), and I’m forced to deal with Davis, Campbell, and Henson again, then I will, of necessity, re-assess…air sickness bag in hand. (Blech.) (And I’m sure they’d be just as thrilled to have to work with me!)

But until then, I am putting the lid on the bin. And I’m doing it gladly.

Thanks, Mr. Davis, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Henson, for helping to launch my career! *thumbs up* Couldn’t have done it without you.

As for everybody else, I can’t wait to work with you to make exciting things happen this season! Do you have your tickets for the show in November? We’ll get to hear Brahms – beloved Brahms! How blessed we are!

What do you want to see in the 2013-14 season, since your ideas will be taken into account by the team planning the shows? Personally, I want to work with young people, and I want to share some music history. If I’m extremely lucky, maybe I can shoehorn some women’s music history into whatever project I undertake. What do you want to do – or see someone else do? As we dry our tears, and mourn what we’ve lost, let’s have a conversation about the future.

And so. I hereby decree that my attention and energy will no longer be spent deconstructing. It will be spent reconstructing. The only reason to look back now will be to learn from past mistakes as we move forward.

“Living well is the best revenge.” – George Herbert

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In Search of a Plausible Story

People in my social media circles are slitting their wrists over the following probing blog entry from SOTL reader Paul Cantrell: When a tree falls.

Read the whole thing. I’ll wait.

Paul makes an alarmingly convincing case that we’re all screwed:

No, my heart is unmoved: this tree has already fallen.

Orchestrate Excellence, you’ve been by far the most constructive and reasonable voice in this mess. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?

Board members, some of you argued to me this week quite vehemently that you haven’t failed yet. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?

SOS Minnesota, you’re still brandishing the torches and pitchforks of the good fight as if the fight is not already lost. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?

Musicians, even after all you’ve been through, two thirds of you have not yet jumped ship. Bless you for your strength and optimism, but pray tell, why not? Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?

Somebody needs to tell that story, or else fatalism will self-fulfill.

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Fatalism, Sherlock style

Just like you can’t kill Sherlock Holmes, you can’t kill the Minnesota Orchestra. It will continue to exist in some form. The only question is, what form of Minnesota Orchestra do you want to support – or do you want to support a Minnesota Orchestra at all?

I’ve thought about this. A lot. For like, a year. At this point, I think every person is going to have to make a decision which end-game s/he wants to embrace. Here are the three end games, and their pros and cons as I see them:

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Fork in the Road

We’ve been on a bumpy road together for twelve months. And as expected, we’ve finally reached a fork.

The path to the left says that a worthwhile symphony orchestra can never be rebuilt here…or even if it can, it will take so long that it’s not worth trying. It says the great Minnesota Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony, is dead, so mourn it and move on. Go to New York or Boston or Chicago for great live symphonic music, or don’t see great live symphonic music at all. Requiescat in pace. Cue the apocalyptic silence after La Valse.

The path to the right says this is going to be a hard slog, but, despite any teary exhaustion, the story isn’t over yet. There are still great musicians performing in Minnesota this autumn, and those performances might contain the seed of a new way of doing things, if we work hard and are very lucky. It would be a waste to give up now, so let’s get to work trying to rebuild what we can on our own. Cue the final movement of Shostakovich 5.

There is something to be said for both paths. Each of us will have to make a decision which one we want to follow.

I’m guessing more musicians will want to take the left path than the right path. And I don’t blame them one whit. Many patrons and donors will follow them. I don’t blame them, either.

But you know the path I’m taking (for now, at least). At this point, I’ve invested too much to stop. Plus, unlike the musicians who find work elsewhere, I don’t gain anything by stopping. If anything, I stand to gain more by seeing this thing through to…wherever it goes. At least for the foreseeable future, moving from the Midwest isn’t an option, nor is staging a coup within the MOA offices. And I can’t really give up on the idea of live orchestral music because I’m an addict, and addicts do what they can to get their fix. So I’m stuck with the slog of rebuilding. There are worse fates.

To all my readers headed down the path to the left (including a certain beloved Finnish maestro): give me a hug before you go. I understand your decision completely. It’s been an honor and a privilege to travel together: thank you for your company. I’ve learned so much, and I’m a better writer and musician and maybe even person because of it. I’ll try my best to keep you posted and do you proud. I just wish my best was more! Don’t be a stranger.

And to all my readers headed down the path to the right: I’ll see you this autumn in Minneapolis. As you cry – and I imagine there will be more than a few people who will be crying themselves to sleep tonight; I fully expect to be one of them – do yourself a favor and remember that you are not alone. It is too easy to feel alone. You are not. When just two or three people gather in the name of music, there is something sacred at play. And we will have a lot more than two or three people gathering.

***

The lockout will likely no longer be the sole topic of conversation here. I’ll still cover it – no, duh - and I’ll cover it as extensively as I possibly can. But there are way more fulfilling things to blog about than Michael Henson’s stupidity…like the history of women in classical music, my part-time performing career (which has gone increasingly dormant this year), or (and I’m just throwing this out there) the gripping work of a musician-led orchestra in the Twin Cities. I hope that even if some of the entries bore you that you’ll be patient and stick around for the other stuff that doesn’t. Or maybe eventually I’ll keep two blogs, one for current orchestral events a la Adaptistration and one for research on dead women violinists and my rambly musings on the violin and viola. Because I don’t think the two audiences overlap much. Not sure. But anyway, as always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Speech on Peavey Plaza

Lots of people have asked me for the text of the speech that I gave at the Save Our Symphony rally on Peavey Plaza outside the Symphony Ball on September 20. So here it is.

Thanks to all who came and all who listened. It was a strange night, but a good night. I hope to write an entry describing the event in more detail soon.

***

As I’m standing next to Orchestra Hall, I have to remember the first time I came here. It was ten summers ago. I was just about to turn fourteen. My violin idol James Ehnes was playing the Beethoven violin concerto with the Orchestra. The staff at Orchestra Hall was so kind and so accommodating, and after James’s performance, they let me go backstage to get his autograph. After that experience, I went back to my room on the twelfth floor of the Hyatt over there, and I threw myself on the bed, and I sobbed like I had never sobbed before. I sobbed because I did not know that such beauty was possible.

My reason for being here tonight is simple: I want other thirteen-year-olds to be able to experience the same beauty of world-class symphonic music that I did.

The fact that I’m talking to you today is proof positive that ANY music lover can make a difference. It does not matter if you are young. It does not matter if you are poor. It does not matter if you don’t have a degree from Juilliard. ANYONE can make their voices heard in this struggle. If you can’t contribute money, you can contribute ideas. Because God only knows we need some more of those.

I hope the men and women attending the ball tonight – who have given so generously over the decades – recognize that we the broader community are willing to give generously as well, in whatever way we can. We will not be ignored. The Minnesota Orchestra will not thrive again until all voices are listened to. We are here to help. Let us help you. Talk with us.

We may have legitimate differences of opinion as to what this institution ought to be. But one thing is not up for debate: we deserve to have the debate. Honestly, respectfully, and face-to-face. You will notice there are several influential men from Orchestra leadership who are conspicuously absent here tonight. This must change. This is a public institution, and we are the public. The public is the entity the Minneapolis Symphony was founded for in 1903. In the words of historian John K. Sherman in 1957: ‘Minneapolis at last wanted something that no one man or organization could afford. It wanted something that could no more pay for itself or show a profit than could a public library or an art museum. So the device of the guaranty fund, a citizens’ subsidy, was adopted, amounting in essence to a self-imposed tax by people who were public-spirited and also wealthy enough to pay the assessment. Minneapolis would maintain its proudest cultural institution through deficit financing, but to the canny it constituted a civic advertisement well worth the cost.’

Despite this last year, I have faith in the future of orchestral music in Minneapolis. Our commitment to excellence runs deep. In fact, I believe it is our birthright. Will that commitment take hard work to sustain? Yes, it will. Are we up for it? You tell me. But as long as there is music, there is hope. I speak from experience when I say the impossible is possible. I mean, I’m on a speaker list with Tony Ross, the cello god. How much more impossible can you get?

The musicians have committed to presenting a fall season of their own, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for taking that leap of faith. I do not know where we will end up, but I do know that we will end up there together. I predict that our love of orchestral music will not die; in fact, I predict it will flourish. Love tested in battle is the strongest love of all. If we work together – all of us – we can keep the doors of some hall somewhere open, with some kind of great orchestra within. We have done so for 110 years, and with hard work, we will do so for another 110 more. Together, we will serve the next young teenager who comes to the hall to discover the beauty that only a great orchestra can provide.

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Save Our Symphony Rally

I was invited to speak at Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s rally “Ending the Lockout Will Be A Ball.” Details here. I mean it when I say it’s a tremendous honor to have been asked. I also mean it when I say it’s incredibly awkward to be asked to speak, when Michael Henson is going to be a few hundred feet away, not listening to any of us, and attempting to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a non-existent orchestra, and maybe coming up with a condescending soundbite to give to the press about us.

We have indeed entered The Twilight Zone.

This will be the weirdest Symphony Ball in human history. There will be no symphony. Michael Henson, Jon Campbell, and Richard Davis will be ensconced inside (obviously). There will be security personnel milling about to protect vulnerable donors from The Union. The tents have already sprung up in Peavey Plaza. Some of the wilder rumors circulating include suggestions that windows are being darkened and shrubbery is being rented to shield the people who are fundraising for the orchestra…from the orchestra. As I always say, what’s the use of a $50 million glass lobby if you can’t obscure it with shrubbery and dark window cling? Yeah, that’s right: there is no point.

Anyway, SOSMN is having a rally to show support for the…I don’t even know what to call it at this point. I want to say “the orchestra”, but there’s this idea circulating that the musicians aren’t the orchestra, so… We’re there supporting the people who play great orchestral music in Minneapolis; let’s say that. There will be musicians there, friends there, families there. Some people will be dressed in gowns and tuxes. Others will be in sweaters and sweatshirts. It’s not going to be that structured…just a fun time milling about in downtown Minneapolis with some really fabulous first-rate music in all sorts of genres. We’re not out to vilify anybody. Just want to have a great time, chatting, dancing, singing, and listening. If our presence makes the board uncomfortable, then that’s not our problem, frankly. It’s about time they remember there’s an audience out there, because they sure haven’t listened to us so far!

Here’s an approximate visual representation of how I’m thinking this party will go down.

  • Arrhythmic dancing
  • A band
  • A guy in a suit
  • A guy in a sweatshirt
  • More dancing
  • Singalongs
  • Random hugs

I can’t guarantee there will be scantily clad dancers, pyro, or an abominable snowman with Shake Weights, but other than that, I think it’ll be very similar!

“Partyin’ partyin’! YEAH! Partyin’ partyin’ YEAH! FUN FUN FUN FUN!!!”

Well, I’ve slipped in my token Colbert reference for the week. Hope to see you Friday night in Minneapolis.

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