Best Season EVAR

Today the Minnesota Orchestra’s BEST SEASON EVAR was announced.

Since I don’t live in Minneapolis (…or, um, Minnesota…), every concert I attend, I deal with a two hour drive to and a two hour drive fro, and that is not nothing, especially during our eleven-month Siberian winters. So to help me decide which programs I should select, I’m going to muse out loud in a blog entry. To be clear, these are my personal picks: there are actually a lot more concerts beyond what I’m mentioning here, and you really need to check out the full schedule for yourself.

Renee Fleming Gala (September 5). This should be the hottest ticket in town, and I reluctantly admit the MOA would be STUPID to not jack up the prices way beyond what I can afford. But if you have the money, go go go. GOOOOO. Because how often do you get to hear an orchestra play great arias live? With Renee Fleming? That’s right: it happens NEVER.

Lake Harriet Free Concert (September 14). On the highlight list because it’s…well, free! And the repertoire is very fun: Borodin, Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss. Great music for outdoor dancing, or dramatic slo-mo running to the love theme from the Romeo and Juliet overture. Seven thousand people attended the last Lake Harriet concert, so join the fun! (And get there early!)

Barber / Mahler (September 26, 27, 28). Alisa Weilerstein’s passion is going to serve the Barber cello concerto fabulously well. And then the Minnesota Chorale in the Mahler “Resurrection”?


Don Quixote (October 9, 10, 11). Cervantes’ Don Quixote is the most beautifully deranged protagonist imaginable, and Strauss’s cello-concerto-ish tribute to his story is totally lovable. Our resident cello powerhouse Tony Ross solos. Plus, the principal viola part represents Sancho Panza. Tom Turner stars as Sancho Panza. That alone is worth the price of admission for a viola section fangirl. And then the sweeping luxury of the suite from Der Rosenkavalier… This is the way you celebrate a great composer’s birthday, wowza.

Tom and Tony

Tom and Tony. I’m assuming they’ll be dressed like this for the performance

Tchaikovsky 5, and Bassoons (November 21, 22, 23). Kinda looking forward to this one because I’m studying the viola part of Tchaik 5 for a Young Musicians of Minnesota performance in August. Plus, bassoons are on the program. Bassoons. So if you’re into either Tchaikovsky or bassoons, this would be a great program. And also: Gabrieli. Gabrieli, guys. When was the last time you heard Gabrieli at Orchestra Hall? None of us have enough Gabrieli in our lives. Seriously.

Messiah (December 12, 13). If Christopher Warren-Green’s Messiah is half as good as his recent Mozart interpretations, this will be a must-hear performance.

New Year’s Eve Gershwin (December 31). Party with Osmo and the musicians at Orchestra Hall? With Gershwin? Great New Year’s Eve, or the Greatest New Year’s Eve??? Holy crap. You know what? Let’s have a black and white party like An American In Paris. I want to see all my readers in their best dice and harlequin attire.

I will be disappointed if the lobby doesn’t look like this come New Year’s Eve. Can someone resurrect Oscar Levant? I’d kiss him.

Future Classics (January 16). This is an important show to catch. There’s nothing else like seeing brand new music, seriously. Even if new music is not your thing, think about attending this one anyway. The joy of discovery will be palpable, and it will be a showcase for the orchestra to boot.

Walton! (January 22, 23, 24). I don’t know a lot of Walton, but I’m crazy over what I do know. His first symphony is amazing, and his violin concerto is probably my favorite underrated work for that instrument. (And there are a lot of underrated violin concertos.) So I’d love to catch Henry V. And then…….

Bruckner 4.

Haha. Wow.

So. We meet again, Herr Bruckner.

Shakespeare Stuff (January 30, 31). A series of Romeo and Juliet themed blockbusters.

And then!

AUGUSTIN FRICKING HADELICH (February 5, 6) comes to town toting what will no doubt be a completely kickass Tchaikovsky concerto. Fun Factoid: I’ve never seen the Tchaikovsky concerto, the piece that inspired me to take the violin seriously, live. (…) If I can’t see Ehnes play the Tchaik, I’m not exaggerating when I say my next choice would be Hadelich. He’s a god, as I observed last time he came to the Twin Cities. Plus!: the New World Symphony. This is overplayed repertoire, maybe, but Who Cares. Sometimes even the most devoted music fans haven’t seen some of these pieces live (cough). And the Minnesota Orchestra excels at bringing new revelations out of overplayed repertoire.

GIL FRICKING SHAHAM (February 12, 13, 14) in the Korngold. Shaham’s sound and style are perfectly suited for Korngold. If I could hear him play one piece, it would be either Korngold or Elgar concerto, no joke. (And yeah, I do often sit around, musing which artists I’d like to hear in what concertos…) And then!: in the same program!: the teenage Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture. And the Faure Pelleas et Melisande suite. (Faure, the composer I love the best by far.) And then the second Daphnis et Chloe suite. DAPHNIS ET CHLOE.


Did the musicians steal my dreams, Inception-style?

I dunno, something like this happened during the season planning, I think

Next big highlight: Erin Keefe Starring In The Piece She Was Born to Play (April 2, 3, 4). Yup, you read it here first: Erin Keefe was born to play Lark Ascending. Every time my mom and I have heard a performance by Keefe we look at each other afterward and sigh, “Oh, wouldn’t she be amazing in Lark Ascending?” I love this piece. And I love Erin. And I have a thing about larks.

sotl heading

In case you hadn’t noticed

There is some other cool repertoire on the program too. And then afterward in the lobby: Quartet for the End of Time, with Osmo on clarinet. And candlelight. Might want to pack some Kleenex in the handbag. Wow.

***Acadia!*** (April 30, May 1, 2). The perfect way to greet spring: a performance of Judd Greenstein’s Acadia, which I wrote about on the blog a lifetime ago (AKA March of 2012). My heart is melded to this piece, now more than ever. My mom – who isn’t even an orchestra musician! – frequently says to me that the premiere of Acadia was the most moving concert she’d ever been to, and we’ve been to some pretty moving concerts over the years. So you all need to come. To see it live is a fabulous journey that will be made all the richer for what we’ve all endured. Look for me: I’ll be the sobbing mess somewhere on the main floor! Yay!! You can listen to the piece here to see what I’m talking about. Need more convincing? Burt Hara is returning for Copland clarinet concerto. Plus, Steve Heitzig and Bernstein.

Beethoven 7 (May 21, 22, 23). Yup, they definitely stole my dreams. Get out of my dreams, musicians!! My dreams should be PERSONAL SPACE, thanks. But if I could have programmed one piece this season, it would be Beethoven 7, for reasons explored here. It’s my favorite Beethoven…maybe even my favorite orchestra music, period. And then the gripping first piano concerto of Brahms, the piece in which he explored his feelings for Clara Schumann… (Those two independent, unconventional spirits are definitely my favorite couple in music history. Go, Team Johannes!) A program simply doesn’t get much better than this. And dear Stan, leading a weekend of Brahms and Beethoven at the age of 92!

Sibelius Cycle Wrap Up Part 1! (May 28, 29, 30) and Sibelius Cycle Wrap Up Part 2!! (June 5, 6). I can only assume Osmo’s thought process went something like this: “You know, defying all odds by finishing a historic Sibelius recording cycle that most people gave up for dead is simply not going to be enough. I think we need to add on a Mahler symphony, and also – why not – Andre Watts in Brahms 2.” And God bless them, the musicians said, “Sure!” Quick etiquette question: do we start writing the 2017 Grammy acceptance speech now, or would it be good manners to wait until the performance is actually put down on disc?

So, um. I wanted to write this to clarify which set of five or so shows I want to go to, but turns out I JUST MADE MY DECISIONS EVEN MORE DIFFICULT ARGH. How am I going to choose? Seriously. How – am – I – going – to – choose? I DON’T KNOW. I should just set up a heated tent in Peavey Plaza over the winter or something. Or figure out the whole teleportation thing.


Maybe a wormhole…

Anyway. It will be a yearlong musical masterclass like you’ve never seen before, and I urge everyone visiting the blog to take a look at the schedule and budget for as many shows as you can. Sold out houses will help ensure that the 15-16 season will be just as incredible.

If you have any ideas about how SOTL can make your 14-15 season special, let me know. I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from YOU what you want to see on the blog…and maybe before or after certain concerts. So to that end, let me know which concerts you’re most excited about, and why!

Before I sign off, one quick question: have you stopped to realize what a miracle this season is? Like, a dictionary-definition miracle? As in “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency”? Okay. That’s good. I’m so happy you remember.



Filed under My Writing

Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Mozart

This week’s Microreview is of the Minnesota’s Orchestra Mozart 39 – 40 – 41 concerts. Apparently the Strib was too exhausted from kissing Richard Davis’s tap shoes to send a critic to this week’s Minnesota Orchestra concert, so my word count standard for this week will come from Rob Hubbard’s Pioneer Press review, which clocked in at 359 words. As per usual for Microreviews, I wasn’t in the hall: I was on my couch listening to MPR. So the suspected disclaimers apply.


I like Mozart. I respect him. I don’t love him.

But if more people played Mozart like the Minnesota Orchestra did last night, my heart would reassess.

Every section shined, but to me, this was the strings’ night. Rob Hubbard mused in his review that the string complement might have been too large, and I can understand the concern, because the string sound was certainly big. But strings are my things, so I didn’t mind one whit.

Endless tiny moments to savor, all night long. The ringing of the open strings at the end of descending scales in 39. The unfussy phrasing of the opening of 40. The batsh*t crazy tempo of the finale of 41 (how did the back of the firsts and back of the seconds stay in synch at this tempo from across the stage?).

And this ascending line in 40. What the hell kind of magic is this? It’s a simple ascending line, for God’s sake. It shouldn’t make me want to squeal in bliss like some kind of Mozart-loving pig.

ascending line

And the breathlessly gorgeous phrases just kept coming. One phrase would end, and an equally luscious one would spin in to take its place.

This is a strange analogy, but I’ll make it anyway. The Minnesota Orchestra sounds like a splendid grande dame. She has the wisdom of decades combined with all the mischief of youth. She may be impeccably dressed, but fashion is only important to her within the context of self-expression: her motivations are pure, always. She knows when to be bold and brassy and when she can underplay her hand. Her sense of humor is sharp and biting and more than a little black and snarky. She can stay out later and party as hard as any twentysomething. She has been through more triumph and tragedy than anybody, and accordingly, she won’t stand for bull. She is an amazing 111-year-old lady.

And I love her.

There’s no doubt in my mind: this was the best played concert since the lockout ended.


341 words. Ha. I’ll cure you yet, wordiness.

If you don’t have your tickets for tonight, go! Buy them at



Filed under My Writing, Reviews

Advertising Beethoven’s Crotch

Whenever I need a break from music, I log on to Tumblr, scroll down, and zone out.

Then the other day in the midst of mindless scrolling I saw this.



Of course I immediately wondered if this was the work of a trickster with too much time on his hands and a grudge to bear against the Dallas Symphony, so I opened a new tab and Googled “dallas symphony beethoven festival brochures.”

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing

Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Mendelssohn, Wagner

We all know I can write long. Even Alex Ross knows this.


I remember when this happened… *dreamy sigh*

But can I write short? Uh… Not really.

So to practice, I’m going to take the Strib’s review word count and work within that limit. This week’s Minnesota Orchestra Strib review belonged to Michael Anthony and clocked in at 456 words, so I’ll try to stay under 450. I do like to go long when I’m actually in the hall – in-person, I always see and hear a lot I want to write about – but when I’m just listening over the radio, I don’t see any harm in going short. I’m calling these micro-reviews. For lack of a better term.

If anyone wants to join in on the micro-review fun, do. The more the merrier when it comes to discussing concerts.


You know the best way to listen to a Minnesota Orchestra concert?

Livestreaming on a laptop!


Well, it’s better than nothing. After a fashion report from Brian Newhouse (apparently Erin Keefe was wearing a “beautiful dark blue sleeveless gown”), Friday’s concert began with the Mendelssohn violin concerto. It was disorienting to jump into a concerto without an overture, but there was a 70-minute ~WAGNER EXTRAVAGANZA~ after intermission to consider.

The orchestra played with fine, elegant understatement. And I’m not sure I cared for that. I usually like my Mendelssohn with icy aristocratic soloists and wild-eyed accompaniment. It was the opposite dynamic here: Erin was providing all the fire, and the orchestra the cool restraint. Maestro Wigglesworth was completely justified musically, historically, and philosophically in taking this approach, but I need more time to decide if I liked it or not.

Lest you think I’m bitching, I thought the orchestra played beautifully, and the wind section in particular made some of the most stunning contributions I’ve heard in any Mendelssohn, ever. The single bassoon note linking the first and second movements startled me with its character.

And need I say that Erin Keefe played flawlessly? Silver tone, searing vibrato, character to burn… She’s perfection.

Next came the Wagner adaptation and its attendant harps and horns. Also, horns.

I admit that when it comes to opera, I’m a philistine. I find it hard to take this music seriously. Any story that goes remotely like this…

…has me skeptical before a single note is played.

But of course the performance was first-rate. The wild, Romantic, edge-of-your-seat quality I was missing in the Mendelssohn was here in spades. (Possibly because there were a lot of players literally on the edges of their seats. Don’t think I haven’t seen those string parts. What kind of sadist writes four nights of that?)

This guy

This guy

There were times when the arrangement was successful. The Ride of the Valkyries, for instance, took on a whole new meaning inserted into a larger narrative. Here the character of the strings almost stole the show from the brass. (Almost.)

But after a while, it all turned into a bit of a…blur. Albeit a heavy, horn-y, supremely well-played blur. I had two antithetical impressions: certain ideas seemed truncated, yet everything was so long. Call this the “Paradox of the Orchestral Adventure.”

Hey, did I mention there was brass? There was, and they played gorgeously, majestically, with a rich, plummy sound.

But one detail made it tough for me to truly enjoy this piece: namely, it was by Wagner. Apparently the Minnesota Orchestra has played this extravaganza every ten years since 1994. Maybe in 2024 I’ll go see the next performance.

Or….maybe not.


453 words. *dusts off hands*

Just because I’m wary of Wagner doesn’t mean you should be. You can still buy tickets for tonight at Erin’s Mendelssohn is worth more than the price of admission. If I was in Minnesota this weekend, I’d be going in a heartbeat. Enjoy yourself!



Filed under My Writing, Reviews

We Finnished It

The last time I was in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis was in March 2012 to see the premiere of Judd Greenstein’s Acadia. This is a work for full and fabulous symphony orchestra, and it explores a narrative of change, loss, and redemption.

I left the hall that night happy – and completely oblivious to the fact that I’d be living those themes for the next two years.

Eight weeks after that concert, the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) quietly fired the first shot in its aggressive PR battle, months before the work stoppage they were planning for even began. This shot at audiences and donors was completely unprovoked and completely indefensible. Presumably assuming that the wider world would never discover their dirty underhanded trick, somebody at the MOA authorized the purchase of a variety of domain names based on variations of the phrase Why? During the Detroit Symphony strike, audience advocates there had created headaches for the board and management by creating an organization named Save Our Symphony to protest the direction the DSO was going. And consequently, the power players at the MOA wanted to make it harder for any Minnesota-based upstarts to start a similar group. This paranoid purchase proves that they were afraid that Minnesota audiences might try to derail the plans they had to choke the organization and remake it in their own image.

I can confirm that their fears were well-founded.


But there was no time to reflect on any of that as I stepped for the very first time into the Rorschach test of a new lobby. (Do you see a brand new $50 million boondoggle symptomatic of a dysfunctional organizational culture that values bricks and mortar over world-class orchestral music-making, or a badly needed remodel that will strengthen the Orchestral Association in a myriad of ways and foster community engagement and goodwill? Your answer will remain confidential between you and your therapist!) I immediately was in the arms of a musician friend, tearing up on a tux shoulder. Screw reflection; we’ve been to hell and back and we survived, so let’s celebrate. His words came out in a rushed tumble. We’re playing well, he said. Each week we’re sounding better. We need him back.

Of course, “him” is Osmo Vänskä: the beloved Finnish music director who brought the already great Minnesota Orchestra to even greater heights during his ten year tenure. He’d resigned during the sixteen-month-long lockout, and it is obvious he won’t bother to return unless and until the MOA board of directors demonstrates a renewed commitment to world-class orchestral music-making…a goal they, to be blunt, didn’t show any commitment to in 2012 or 2013. (Thankfully, 2014 is going a little better. So far.) What exactly that commitment might consist of, and what their terms might be, I don’t know, and of course it’s none of my business to know. But now that the lockout is over, there are at least some board members who want Osmo back. They’ve taken the first step to getting him back by overseeing the…completely voluntary resignation of the orchestra’s controversial CEO, Michael Henson. Osmo and the Orchestral Association are now in negotiations to see if they share enough of the same goals to make his return worthwhile. If the stars align, part two of our beloved Osmo’s tenure could be on its way. Plus, so many audience members are relieved to see the architect of the lockout packing his bags. Hence the electric buzz in the lobby.

Speaking of the audience…

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing

Henson Out

Michael Henson will be leaving the Minnesota Orchestral Association at the end of this fiscal year. Here’s the MinnPost story.

Perhaps surprisingly, I find I don’t have much to say.

In some ways, our relationship, such as it was, felt like a weird chess game. (Albeit one Mr. Henson never acknowledged he was playing. Or believed he was playing.) Nonetheless, moves were made…and a lot of people ended up watching. He’d testify in front of the legislature; I’d write a blog entry dissecting his testimony. He’d quote talking points in an outrageously misleading press release; I’d send him a sparkly homemade Advent calendar (as you do). And later, once Save Our Symphony and other groups and other writers got in on the game, the chessboard, along with the number of pieces, expanded exponentially. Action, reaction, etc., for eighteen long hard-fought months.

As the game begins to wind down, I survey the chessboard. In an appropriately bizarre ending to an equally bizarre game, I find I have approximately zero interest in complaining about Michael Henson today. At this point, his record speaks for itself. Quite loudly. And heck, truth is, I owe a lot to this man. More than he’ll ever know, certainly.  I owe my attendance at a lot of great lockout concerts to him. I owe a lot of new firsthand knowledge about how government and non-profit processes work to him. Without Michael Henson, Alex Ross would not know I exist (please note: I am still extremely pumped about the fact that Alex Ross knows I exist). But most importantly of all, I owe readers – and therefore friendships – to him. I’m so lucky to have you, my readers, as my friends. You are irreplaceable, and to be honest, I don’t remember what life was like without you. Without him, I wouldn’t have you. Michael Henson may be leaving Minnesota via golden parachute, but I walk away from the game the richer woman. By far. So thanks. Seriously. Bon voyage, Mr. Henson. I’ll be watching your career with ~great interest.~

So. Where do we go from here?

Mr. Henson’s departure is a big step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work left to be done. I feel an odd kinship to the poor besieged Concorde in Airport: 79. We’ve evaded drones, dodged F-15s, and the landing strip is now in sight. On the other hand, there are gaping holes in the plane that have caused explosive decompression. But! This week’s news, and the potential change of organizational direction it could possibly theoretically maybe? signify, means that despite everything we’ve been through, we still might be able to land this thing. That’s not nothing. I’ll continue my volunteer work behind the scenes. I hope you continue to do what you can, too, whether that means writing comments online, sharing information with friends and family, buying tickets, etc. Even just staying informed is an important thing to do.

I think the moral of the saga is: Minnesota Orchestra leaders, listen to your audience and to the community both. Listen closely. Because we’re watching you, every little thing you do, and if you try taking any step that we feel goes against this organization’s best interests, forgive us when we trip you up. And if you do the right thing? We will help you. With everything we’ve got, 100%. A community of passionate people is a lot easier to work with than against.

So. Onward to the Grammy celebration concerts! What celebrations they’ll be, too! (Remember to wear blue and white, as per the instructions of Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s Finnish It Campaign!) Of course nothing is guaranteed, but my fingers are crossed that another big announcement might come soon. It would be quite the surreal ending to an extraordinary chapter of American music history…


Filed under My Writing

Maddalena, Musicology, & Me: Prologue

There is an elephant in the room, and that elephant is the fallout from the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

Unfortunately, I can’t do much about that elephant right now. Crucial portions of the future of the elephant, which will determine how I ultimately react to the elephant, are being decided in closed door meetings. My poking the elephant could easily turn counterproductive. And rest assured, I work with friends behind the scenes every – single – day to do what I can to help the elephant; and I imagine many of you do, too. So until there is more concrete information about the state of the elephant, or the state of elephants in general, I want to move onto another topic that brings me joy, namely:

Discovering the work of a forgotten composer – resurrecting one of her compositions – musing on the (dangerous?) nature of our Sacred Canon of Western Art Music – learning what I can about period performance practice of the 1770s – taking up a new violin concerto – and writing about the journey for anyone who cares to read.



Meet Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen. According to Wikipedia, she was born in 1745 (roughly a decade before Mozart) and she died in 1818 (roughly a decade before Beethoven). We don’t know a lot about her. What we do know, though, is fascinating. She was a violinist, composer, harpsichordist, singer, and businesswoman. When she was 21, she married another violinist and composer named Ludovico Sirmen. Ludovico eventually became involved with a countess, while Maddalena traveled across Europe with a priest. She performed in many of the cultural centers of her day and her work was widely praised. But unfortunately, if predictably, her extraordinary career was largely forgotten in the intervening centuries. In fact, if her name is ever mentioned today, it is invariably because her teacher Tartini (he of Devil’s Trill fame) once wrote her a famous letter about violin technique. But Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen was so much more than a Tartini student. In later blog entries, I’ll try to fill in some more of the details. But it’ll take some time and detective work. Continue reading


Filed under My Writing, Women Violinists

The Osmo Question

I’ve been hesitant to write much lately. First of all, I’m tired. Physically, spiritually, emotionally tired. But secondly, I haven’t wanted to write much. If I write anything positive, I fear it will come across as oh yay we’re all one big happy family now, when in reality we absolutely aren’t. (Yet.) On the other hand, if I write anything negative, it would be as icky as an absurdly critical Sean Hannity cuing up “the music from The Omen” a hundred days into Obama’s presidency (this is a Daily Show reference; see this clip beginning at 2:55; beware of coarse language). Clearly, public silence suited my purposes better.

That being said, there are some things that need to be said in this moment that have not yet been said, and I think I’m in a position to say them. I apologize for any baggage that I have coming into this discussion, but obviously I can’t change any of that now. So if it is at all possible, I ask the decision makers at the Minnesota Orchestral Association to forget who I am, forget what I did, and consider the following argument on its own merits.

The MOA should ask Osmo Vänskä back as Music Director – and do whatever it takes to win him back.

Why? you ask. Let’s talk about it.

Of course the first question: If you don’t ask Osmo back, who will you ask?

Some supporting questions:

What world-class conductor is available to assume a music directorship on such short notice? Music directors plan their careers years in advance. Who is available? Many outstanding candidates won’t be available in the 2014-2015, 2015-2016, and even 2016-2017 seasons. Is the MOA willing to go director-less for that long to secure the appropriate candidate…or does it prefer to rush into a hasty, very possibly ill-advised marriage?

Who among those available is attractive to the board? Who among those available is attractive to musicians? Who among those available is attractive to audiences? The last point is the most important, especially from the standpoint of selling tickets, a subject board members have expressed (completely justifiable) concern over.

Will the candidates’ managers advise their clients to take the job? Robert Levine theorized in this November 2012 entry that Edo de Waart may have consulted with his manager before agreeing to conduct the locked-out musicians in December 2012. Yes, we’re in a post-lockout world now, but even with a fair contract in place, the situation remains messy, and for obvious reasons, managers don’t like to get their clients into messy situations. It reflects well on no one.

And then. If anyone can get through that gauntlet, will any of the survivor candidates want to work for Michael Henson? In this case, it doesn’t matter what I think of him, or what the musicians think of him, or what the audience thinks of him. It matters what the candidates for the music directorship think of him. Remember, Mr. Henson is a man who sought many strange work rule changes to the musicians’ contract. Among other things, he wanted the power to veto the music director’s extension of an “offer of employment” to potential musicians. From the initial proposed contract:


This is a man who sought – and almost achieved! – a 2013-2014 season of half pops concerts. This is a man who will be in charge of the next round of contract negotiations, which, if they turn contentious, could make the 2012-2014 lockout look like a pleasant walk in the park. This is a man who said of his world-class musicians in the New York Times in August:

When we get up and running again, as other orchestras in this position have, we will advertise for the jobs that we need to replace, and I’m sure we will get an astonishing bunch of individuals who will want to perform and live in this great city.

And the disrespect doesn’t stop at the musicians. This is a man whose dislike – maybe even hatred – of the last music director was so thinly veiled toward the end that he actually said to the press in September 2013:

Ultimately, if Osmo decides to go, that is his decision. We want him to stay through to the end of his contract. [Note: Not stay period; stay only until the end of his contract in 2015. It's obvious Mr. Henson had no intention of pushing for a renewal.]

And it’s not like Osmo is crazy over Mr. Henson, either. In his now famous words from a couple of days ago:

For any healing to begin at the orchestra, Michael Henson must go.

But this isn’t just a Henson/Osmo struggle. I see it as a Henson/Music Director struggle. It doesn’t take a psychic to predict that any future music director will be continually sparring with Mr. Henson over turf, power, and artistic direction. Yes, taking the podium at Orchestra Hall could well be a conductor’s dream come true. There is still a great orchestra there, and a great audience. But that dream could very easily turn into a nightmare. Musicians are somewhat easier to replace. (Not easy to replace; just easier.) Musicians can always keep auditioning elsewhere if they’re not happy, or just quit outright, and the fact won’t trigger a series of shocked gossipy headlines on Slipped Disc. But music directors hitch their wagon very publicly to an organization for a period of years. They’re not going to want to do that if there are any doubts about the way the CEO treated the musicians, or, more importantly, any doubts about the way the CEO treated the last music director. Unfortunately, in dissing Osmo, Michael Henson poisoned a well he himself needed to drink from. Awkward, that.

But let’s say that somehow an amazing candidate emerges. The board loves him or her (okay; him). The musicians love him. Michael Henson loves him. Against impossible odds, everything has turned bright and sunny, and everyone is a big happy family.

But now comes the question: will the audience love him?

Despite the domain name debacle, and the MOA’s apparent desire to stifle the formation and influence of audience advocacy groups, the audience pushed itself into this whole saga in a pretty remarkable way. They wrote about the lockout; they formed groups; they mounted demonstrations and town hall meetings. And these endlessly energetic people are bonded to Osmo. Lawyer Lee Henderson, who has been a staunch Osmo defender over the course of the lockout, gathered 2500 responses in a few days in answer to a February 1 Strib editorial to bring Osmo back. You can read the results here. The love and affection and enthusiasm for our resident Finn is palpable.

Every audience advocacy group wants Osmo to return. There are three main audience organizations that have worked for an end to the lockout: Save Our Symphony Minnesota, Orchestrate Excellence, and Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM). All three feel deeply that Osmo should be asked to return. In fact, teenager and YMM co-founder Emily Green even wrote for MPR in December:

Osmo Vanska’s departure was a shattering day for many young individuals. Several students, upon finding out about his resignation, excused themselves from class to go and sob in the bathroom. I was sitting in a practice room at my school when I found out. I sat, staring at my horn, and thought: “Is this truly what classical music in our state has come to?”

I won’t even get into how the Orchestra Hall audiences behaved on February seventh and eighth …or the fact that reports indicate that Judy Dayton was one of those who screamed, “Bring back Osmo!” to deafening applause of approval during a live international broadcast. Remember:

One reason why this is important. From the 16 December 2013 Strib.

From a 16 December 2013 Strib article

(While we’re on the topic: who’s to say that the shouts of “bring back Osmo” or “Fire Henson!” are going to cease? If the MOA hasn’t extended an offer of a music directorship by the time of Osmo’s Sibelius concert in March, prepare for one wild rebellious international broadcast. Does the MOA really want a mob of music lovers screaming orders at them during broadcasts, week after week after week? Because right now it seems like that could happen.)

What does it say about the board if they ignore this potent community support for Osmo? We are supposedly in a new era of collaboration. New board chair Gordon Sprenger said it himself in the press release announcing his nomination:

“Our collective work is now to restore trusting, respectful relationships within the organization among musicians, board and administration and to build broad bridges of support to our greater community. By focusing on collaboration, and our shared passion for world-class performances of the classical music that gives our organization its mission, I’m confident we will launch a positive new era for the Minnesota Orchestra and its audiences and supporters.” [My bold.]

Will the board ignore the audience’s wishes? – will they attempt to rationalize them away, and try convincing us that given enough time and distance, we’ll love the new guy just as much as we once loved Osmo? – or will they take that brave step toward true community collaboration and ask him back?

Another question: what does it say about the board if they are willing to throw a new conductor into the stormy seas of a post-Osmo Minnesota Orchestra with no life preserver? Can you imagine the pressure? Not only would this person be worrying about artistic power struggles with Michael Henson, and nervously counting down the days until the next negotiation with musicians began, this person would be constantly compared by audience and press to Osmo Vänskä, one of the great musical minds of our generation…and during a time when everyone is still resentful the MOA never tried to hire Osmo back. That’s a lot of pressure even for the best of conductors to handle, and frankly, not the best setting for world-class music-making, to put it mildly.

Here are some additional pluses to asking Osmo back:

More musicians who are considering work elsewhere will likely stay in Minnesota, reducing the amount of time it takes for the Orchestra to recover. Plus, fewer auditions for the MOA to hold. Auditions are hard work, and any chance you get to use the great players you’ve already got ought to be taken advantage of.

Mr. Sprenger’s stated desire for world-class performances of classical music will be made immeasurably easier. This combination of orchestra and conductor has already proven itself to be world-class. No time will need to be wasted getting back to work.

Recordings and tours could resume. Even in the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, which was meant to be a new model of austerity, recordings and tours remained a major part of the organization’s identity. Yes, those plans fell apart promptly once Osmo resigned, but… The Plan is still on the website if you have an old link (there’s no link to it anywhere on the new website). But assuming the MOA hasn’t renounced recordings and tours, bringing Osmo back is their best bet to get them back in a semi-timely manner.

Strained relationships with politicians could be repaired. Rightly or wrongly, many state legislators felt burned by the MOA not telling the State of Minnesota that major deficits were imminent when Mr. Henson requested state money for the Hall renovation. And they felt doubly burned when Osmo resigned because of what they perceived to be board intransigence.

From a 21 January MinnPost article:

Rep. Alice Hausman, a DFLer from St. Paul, recalled Vänskä’s role in winning state bonding money for the rehab of Orchestra Hall.

“When our House committee visited Orchestra Hall for the bonding pitch,” Hausman said, “it was Osmo Vänskä on the stage making the pitch. I think he was alone on that stage. We never would have done this for a board of directors, but we built it for the musicians and the director.”

Hausman is among those who believe that the board must ask Vänskä to return, noting that the music director seems to have made it clear that all the board must do is ask.

“We will look just as foolish as we did during the lockout if we don’t ask him back,” Hausman said.

The City of Minneapolis wasn’t happy about the whole thing, either, as evidenced by their prickly exchange of letters with the MOA regarding the Orchestra Hall lease. Mayor Betsy Hodges has even weighed in on the Osmo question. From January 14:

I am very pleased that at long last, the management and musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have reached an agreement that ends the lockout. Our world-class orchestra is a crucial arts institution in our city, our state and the region. I also hope that going forward there is a resolution to the status of Osmo Vänskä and that he may return to us as the leader of this great cultural institution

There is an opportunity here to mend some severely damaged fences with politicians. Why wouldn’t you want to seize it?

It will be a comeback story like no other. The enthusiasm of the audience will blow the roof off Orchestra Hall…and isn’t audience enthusiasm desperately needed right about now? If anyone took Osmo or the Orchestra for granted before, they sure as heck won’t anymore. Chapter two of his tenure could be completely electrifying for everyone. And everyone loves a good comeback story. With hard work, this could become the king of all comeback stories. One for the history books, for all the right reasons.

All that being said… I can imagine the anti-Osmo arguments. I can imagine board discussion of “face saving” (whatever that means, exactly). I can imagine board discussion of how much Osmo will cost, and how the board will pay for him. I can imagine board discussion of how cruel it would be to dislodge Mr. Henson from his leadership position when his only crime was doing what the board told him to. Personally, I think those arguments are all pretty much poppycock. But even if they weren’t, would any of them make as convincing a case as the one I just laid out above? If anyone on the MOA board of directors has an equally strong case for ignoring Osmo and letting him be snatched up by another orchestra, I respectfully ask for that case to be made thoughtfully, publicly, and in detail. But until then, I join the thousands of voices from all across the musical world who say: bring back Osmo…whatever the cost.

The question is no longer, can we afford Osmo? It’s: can we afford not to have Osmo?



Filed under My Writing

Minnesota Orchestra Predictions

I haven’t checked in here for a while, and y’all are probably wondering why.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t been idle. I think I’ve written the equivalent of several novels in private messages with friends…dissecting the settlement, examining tea leaves, and coming to grips with a new era.

Lots of people have been taking a “what have we learned?” approach to the Minnesota meltdown. So I’ll zig when others zag and try out a “where are we going?” premise.

Without further ado, here are my best predictions of what happens next… Feel free to agree or disagree.

Orchestra Hall

Taxpayers will finally get to see the renovation they paid $14 million for. There will be some bitterness about it, given what we’ve lost. Also, people will be very critical of the light fixtures in the lobby (…and if you aren’t, your taste in light fixtures is highly questionable). (wink wink) Others might like the aesthetics of the renovation, but then they’ll start noticing certain things… A bar taken out. Floors that are easily stained. Seats that weren’t reupholstered with the rest. Shoddily constructed signs. (For instance, there was one photo that made the Facebook rounds a while ago in which a letter in the Box Office sign had already fallen down, only a few weeks after renovations had ended.) One wonders if the auditorium escaped unscathed. Questions might start to arise about the quality of the renovations…and that could quickly turn into a Pandora’s Box.

I really hope I’m wrong on this point, but we’ll see.

2014 Season

It will be well attended. The desperate edge to the audience’s energy will slowly diminish over the months, but the motivating drive will remain. We will not soon forget what was taken from us. The energy of Minnesota Orchestra concerts will be totally unique, and visitors will remark upon it. And I think that energy might unnerve Michael Henson.

One thing that made me laugh recently was MOA board member and frolic and detour catchphrase originator Doug Kelley saying he wanted the energy of the musicians’ indie concerts to find its way into Orchestra Hall. Bwahahaha. I wonder, Mr. Kelley, why there was energy at the musicians’ concerts?? Hmm. It can’t have been because the community was furious at what the board was doing, because surely if that had been the case, Mr. Kelley would apologize for that, so… Why were we all so hepped up? Did the musicians slip us drugs???? I don’t remember.

It’s all very puzzling. Why was there such energy? Why?

Anyway. No worries, Mr. Kelley. There will be energy. Maybe not the kind of energy you want, though.

Other Orchestras

I’m guessing that some orchestras that might have tried Minnesota tactics will choose not to based on what happened here. However, I can also imagine other boards and CEOs doubling down on their nefarious plans, betting their musicians won’t be able to hold out for the length of time the Minnesotans did. A lot of this will probably depend on the economy and the performance of various endowments, and the political moods in various places around the country.

That being said…

American Audience Advocates

Are likely here to stay. Save Our Symphony Detroit showed that audience advocates can make a difference, and the folks at Save Our Symphony Minnesota proved it. What orchestra comes next? Will the activists in that city continue the trend?

I’m incredibly proud of what activists did in this situation. So proud.

Minnesota Musicians

They will play better than ever. They’ve been to hell and back – and they survived. Not only that, but they went to hell with their audiences…and their audiences brought them back. This experience will increase the depth of our music-making. I say “our” because this specific audience will be a vital part of the power of every future performance. The audience will have a real ownership in the music, even if we don’t play a single note.

Nonetheless, some people will leave for good. (Happily, at least one or two will come back. Maybe more. I can’t wait to cry with happiness as I welcome each one home – where they belong. Because I am goddamned sick and tired of crying over my losses. Sick and f’ing tired of it.) I’m guessing the musicians who do leave will always feel a little bit of loneliness in their new jobs, because they survived something unique in American music history, and people who didn’t survive the meltdown with them will never understand an important part of what makes them, them…? But they will contribute to their new communities, and we will all wish them well. Of course.

New Musicians

This is probably a controversial opinion, but I believe that thanks to the terms of the final settlement, Minnesota will remain an attractive destination for talented musicians. If prospective musicians have concerns about the organization’s internal culture (and they should; if they don’t have concerns, their naïvety will serve them poorly in their careers), there is also undeniable evidence of a hugely supportive musician family and a massively committed audience, and those two things have got to be appealing on a certain level. I’ll go one step further: depending on what all goes down in the next few months, Minneapolis may become one of the most interesting places in the world to have an orchestral career. Maybe. (At the very least, it might be a pretty nice place to stay while you audition elsewhere…)

The newcomers will probably tire of hearing stories about The Lockout, and be confused when we talk about stuff like frolic and detouring and $200,000 and tap-dancing munchkins. You had to be there.

Next Negotiation Cycle

Oh, God, do we really have to go there? I don’t want to go there. I’m still tired.

But let’s hope for a repeat of what just happened in Detroit: a contract settled eight months early…with wage increases.


Osmo will be back if the board wants him…and is willing to kick out Henson. Question is: will they? It would be a wise business move, but then again, the board has never been very good at recognizing wise business moves.

I do feel like if they’re hoping on attracting any semi-famous music director, they’ll have to get rid of Henson first. (Unless there’s a large pool of conductors out there who would want to work for Michael Henson…) (…)

Regardless of what happens, Osmo’s musical legacy will remain with the Minnesota Orchestra for years to come. It’s become part of the orchestra’s DNA. And that’s a great gift.


He has lost power. It remains to be seen how much…but he has lost power, along with a crap-ton of credibility. My gut instinct is that he’s a lame duck. Or as Robert Levine suggested, toast in a toaster. (Have you noticed that Henson hasn’t really spoken in the press at all on behalf of the MOA? It’s almost like he’s been asked not to talk. What’s up with that? Is the MOA nervous to have their own CEO speak on their behalf, even after a settlement has been reached? If they are…well, that says a lot. If people just aren’t seeking out his opinion, well, that says something, too.) He may still try to pull his old tricks, but…When your orchestra CEO can’t stand up in front of audiences for fear of being booed off the stage, you might have a problem. Hopefully the MOA knows that people like me, Scott Chamberlain, and Save Our Symphony will be on Henson’s case if he tries the kind of stuff he tried eighteen months ago. He simply can’t get away with what he used to without a well-organized and well-publicized backlash. If he doesn’t understand that yet, he will soon enough. Promise.

If he wants to make a fresh start (or is forced to make a fresh start), I believe he’ll be able to massage his resume to make himself attractive to some organization somewhere. He did oversee a $50 million lobby renovation, a recovery in the value of the endowment, and a 15% reduction in musician pay, after all… Let the rewriting of history commence.

Davis, Campbell

They’ll go back to whatever the crap they do whenever they’re not destroying orchestras by cutting them to death. I hear there’s a governor’s race coming up. That might be a fun, rewarding extracurricular activity for them to devote themselves to!

Remaining Board Members

They will have to figure out what exactly the crap just happened. I have to believe board members have a bit of whiplash. How to reconcile what they were seeking with what they ultimately got? I don’t know, and I’m glad I don’t have to be a part of that debate. The cognitive dissonance there would give the Second Viennese School a run for its money.

The person who is nominated for board chair, and the behavior of that person in the coming months, will tell us a lot.

Young Musicians of Minnesota

YMM will continue, and continue to be amazing. Emily Green will go on to do important things…that never could have happened without the lockout and the havoc it wreaked. That will be one of the lasting paradoxes of the lockout: hugely great things have come directly out of the destruction, and will continue to come directly out of the destruction. Even if we’re too close to the situation to see those things now.


SOTL’s views will likely trend downward. Scandals like Domaingate and Bonusgate will be things of the past (…um, I think?). I have a hard time imagining that the hard slog of rebuilding will be as dramatic or compelling as the work of railing against an unjust labor dispute built on the ugly foundation of public deception. I mean, I’ll still be here, obviously; and people will still be reading me; I just don’t think I’ll be read as widely. Soon I’ll go back to reading and writing about the history of women in music, then I’ll remember that nobody actually gives a crap about the history of women in music. I’ll start to miss the feedback, so I’ll try to find a balance (balance? what’s that?), and I’ll either return to fiction after a long absence, or I’ll write a book about the lockout, which will be published by a small regional press. If I ever get to New York City, I’ll get an autograph and a picture with Alex Ross. And then ——- I don’t know.

Lockout Miniseries

Oh, it will happen. You know it will. It’s only a matter of time. *wink* Leave your casting suggestions in the comments!


So there you have it: my completely unscientific predictions on what happens from here. I may be intuitive, but I’m no psychic. So who knows, really. Nobody does. Nobody.

What are your predictions for the future? If they’re positive predictions, what do we have to do to realize your vision? If they’re negative predictions, what do we have to do to avoid those outcomes?

And how will you make a personal commitment to make the positive visions a reality? For some reason…(God only knows exactly why)…we’ve stuck with the orchestra this long. Are you ready to keep working for it? I hope so.



Filed under My Writing


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.



Filed under Uncategorized