I wanted to be the first blogger to break it:
More information as it develops…
I wanted to be the first blogger to break it:
More information as it develops…
A few days ago, I took a trip through the 2010 Minnesota Orchestra e-tour site. That’s the place where I found the “winning” article from Gig Magazine, where the Minnesota Orchestra was described ”as a beacon institution among the bad [economic] news.” Not long after I blogged about that article, it mysteriously vanished from the Orchestra’s website. Luckily, a reader had told me to take screenshots, and so I posted those. We’re going on seven weeks now, and management has yet to address the disappearance.
Anyway! During my recent return trip to the e-tour site, I found some more quotations that I feel compelled to share with you now. They’re from an interview that Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson gave to Classical Music Magazine in August 2010 called “Flying the flag.” I’m not even going to bother with the cache. Here’s a direct link. When that’s taken down, here are the screenshots. Click for bigger images.
Mr. Henson is speaking…
“We’re being fiscally prudent, looking at how we plan the short term at the same time as being mindful of the medium and long term.”
“The current Sommerfest series is being well attended and the orchestra came in on budget for the 2009/10 season.”
In the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the Minnesota Orchestral Association, or MOA, says their operating draw percentage was 10.7%; in 2009-2010, the orchestra says the operating draw percentage was 11.4%. (I say “says” because guest blogger and local nonprofit professional Mary Schaefle reports that the numbers released to the public don’t match the MOA’s tax returns, and so far, we have not received clarification from the MOA on this point.) As Jon Campbell, the chair of the MOA board of directors, and Richard Davis, the immediate past chair, put it, ”In Minnesota, we were able to deliver balanced budgets through large, unsustainable endowment fund draws and ‘bridge-the-gap’ fundraising.” Which – and correct me if I’m wrong about this – is bad. But according to August 2010 Michael Henson, unsustainable endowment fund draws and “bridge-the-gap” fundraising are also….fiscally prudent, and being mindful of the short and medium and long term. Or something.
Although there has been a slight decline in recent audience numbers, it has not been enough for alarm bells to sound.
But… I thought national trends indicate a need for change…
So I guess there’s a need for change, but there hasn’t been enough change for alarm bells to sound? Or in other words, there’s no need for changes that require a significant departure from the traditions of the past?
Clarification would be very cool right about now.
“We’ve done a very good job in terms of maintaining audiences and indeed the audiences have really shown that even if we’re in a tough economy, people still want to come out and hear a great orchestra.”
In the fiscal year lasting from 2009-2010 (the year Mr. Henson had just finished as he gave this interview), overall attendance dropped by 7%, from 270,000 to 250,000. Is this “a very good job in terms of maintaining audiences”? I suppose if you get convoluted about it, and if most other American orchestras saw their attendances plummet by 10% or 15% that year (and I don’t know if they did), you could make that case. Otherwise…I dunno. Please forgive me if I’m not completely convinced. I’d love to hear more of the subtleties of the argument, and more figures to back the argument up. If Mr. Henson ever sits down with a reporter like Matt Peiken from MNuet, these remarks could form the basis of a fascinating and productive discussion. (Mr. Peiken has asked to interview Mr. Henson; Mr. Henson has not yet accepted the invitation. Maybe he will now.)
(And yes, I’m aware that a big chunk of that attendance drop can be ascribed to the fact there were 9% fewer concerts in the 2009-2010 season, as Mary has explained here. But Mr. Henson wasn’t talking about revenue here; he was just talking about audience maintenance.)
At the time Henson was appointed to the Minnesota Orchestra, he was quoted as saying he believed orchestras were in a golden period. That, he says, is still the case.
Yes, apparently we are in a…golden period. Pretty fricking depressing Golden Period, if you ask me, but…OK.
“At the moment we are getting some great artistic performances from major orchestras in America. The real challenge is looking at the long term future. It’s critical that the art remains central to our mission and critical that we continue to act in a fiscally prudent way. This orchestra’s been in existence for well over a hundred years and our job and duty is to make sure it’s thriving for the next hundred.”
I agree with Michael Henson about something?
This warrants a celebration.
OK, celebration over.
Now. Remember, at the exact same time that he was saying all of these things…”golden period”, “people still want to come out and hear a great orchestra”, “we’re being fiscally prudent, looking at how we plan the short term at the same time as being mindful of the medium and long term”…Mr. Henson was, behind closed doors, not only approving endowment draw rates of over ten percent, but Strategically Planning the Strategic Plan that would culminate in 20-40% pay cuts for musicians, prominently highlight how “stressed” orchestras are, and produce a drastically altered mission statement that can be interpreted as the MOA having no interest in supporting orchestral music at all. By management’s very own admission, the Strategic Planning began in the spring of 2010: months before these sentences were ever uttered to Classical Music Magazine (or, for that matter, Gig Magazine).
So, to sum, as he was giving these rosy interviews to the international press, behind closed doors, Mr. Henson was saying (formatting mine for emphasis):
- “the status quo can no longer be preserved” (from the Open Letter)
- “…this is a journey that began several years ago, when the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Orchestra recognized that the organization could no longer survive based on optimistic economic assumptions and the hope of limitless benefactor generosity” (from the Open Letter)
- “…the reality is that over the past three years we met regularly with our musicians and others with a stake in our future to share the clarity of our financial challenges“… (from the Open Letter)
- “Board and management have been communicating the financial position of the Orchestra with musicians for three years.” (from the Misrepresentation vs. Reality chart)
- “As part of the strategic planning process, the board openly shared the Orchestra’s financial situation with musicians in a series of meetings spanning three years.” (from the Misrepresentation vs. Reality chart)
- Would you like me to keep going? Because I could keep going. But alas, I have pity for this dead horse.
What are you feeling right about now? Personally, I’m suffering from a bad case of confusion, and the only thing that has a chance to cure it is a long, long hours-long sit-down chat with Mr. Henson himself.
Here are some more quotes that struck me as odd as I was paging through old newspaper articles. Lots of interesting ones…although, awkwardly, none of them are as damaging as what is actually still on the Minnesota Orchestra’s own website.
Terms of his [Henson's] contract were not disclosed. According to public documents, [Tony] Woodcock, his [Henson's] predecessor, earned an annual salary of about $300,000. – Pioneer Press, 22 September 2007 [According to public documents, Mr. Henson's salary in the 2010-2011 fiscal year was $360,283; total compensation was $389,861. We are currently waiting on numbers from the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Since I don't have a paid account with Goldstar, I have no access to the 990s that would go into the details of Mr. Woodcock's compensation.]
Henson believes the hall’s finest characteristics must be preserved. He has visited the new Guthrie Theater, MacPhail Center and the Walker Art Center and came away concluding that while all three make distinct visual statements, it is what happens inside the building that matters most.
“There is no point in having a great building without having great art inside it,” he said. – Star Tribune, 24 February 2008
The Minnesota Orchestra has raised $24 million toward its $40 million Hall renovation. Michael Henson, president and CEO, told the Orchestra’s annual meeting Wednesday that $10 million was raised in September alone. In other financial highlights, the Orchestra balanced its budget for the third consecutive year even as total attendance declined, and ticket revenue rose 4.4 percent…
“We must balance artistic initiative with fiscal responsibility,” Henson told the noon luncheon in downtown Minneapolis. “We’re quite pleased with these results in a challenging year.” - Star Tribune, 9 December 2009. [In the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the year Mr. Henson is referring to here, the MOA states the endowment draw rate was at 10.7%, over double what they now say is "sustainable" and responsible.]
Michael Henson, Minnesota Orchestra CEO and president, hinted Monday that the organization’s renovation of Orchestra Hall might be expanded. Henson’s optimism came after Gov. Tim Pawlenty included $14 million for the project in the state bonding bill. Coupled with private and corporate fundraising of $24 million, the orchestra has now raised $38 million toward a plan that was announced last summer at $40 million.
“You recall that the project was downsized from $90 million,” Henson said, referring to a previous plan announced in 2007. “If we can generate more money through our fundraising, then it would make sense to grow the project, but it’s too early to say that, and we’ve made a priority to be fiscally responsible.”…
It is no secret that the orchestra has been pleased with its fundraising. Last June, when Toronto architects Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB) were chosen to spearhead the renovation, pledges for $14 million had been secured. That grew to $24 million by last December’s annual meeting. An organization’s ability to raise private capital helps its chances in the legislature. Henson said he was pleased that “the governor has shown confidence in this project. It’s a very good day for the orchestra.”
KPBM was expected to deliver sketches last December, but that likely was delayed to see whether fundraising might be robust enough to expand the project. - Star Tribune, 15 March 2010
A gift of $5 million from Target has pushed the Minnesota Orchestra past a $40 million fundraising goal for its Orchestra Hall building project. With the Target donation, the orchestra has raised $43 million to expand and refurbish the 1974 hall’s lobby and surrounding terraces.
Target’s is the campaign’s largest corporate gift. The state of Minnesota contributed $14 million through state bonding, and one individual gave $5 million, according to Michael Henson, the orchestra’s president and CEO.
At the same time, the organization announced that the building project is part of an even larger fundraising effort it calls the Building for the Future Campaign. That initiative has raised $82 million toward a $100 million goal and has been talked about only within the orchestra and the philanthropic community. The campaign includes $40 million for the building project, $30 million for the orchestra’s endowment and $30 million to support artistic and education programs.
However, Henson said, within that framework it’s possible that more money could be dedicated to the renovation.
The $40 million was a “focused budget,” he said. “By passing that amount, we’re not going to increase the scope of the project, but we will increase the quality of finishes and other aspects that give us additional value.” – Star Tribune, 15 June 2010
But those weren’t the only articles I read. Over the course of a lazy afternoon, I carefully studied a couple dozen in which Mr. Henson discusses his work in Minnesota. In none of them was there any hint of an impending apocalypse, or even a “market reset.” True, there were articles about cutbacks in staff after the Great Recession began, and occasional mentions of a “difficult economic climate“, but just about everybody suffered staff cutbacks after the Great Recession began, and of course we all knew we were in a “difficult economic climate.”
Here. Don’t take my word for it; check out Highbeam or EBSCO yourself. The search term you want to use is “Michael Henson” orchestra. Leave any interesting links I may have overlooked in the comment section, especially if they prove me wrong. Because I’d love to be proven wrong. Go ahead. Make a fool of me.
I eagerly await Mr. Henson’s (and Mr. Campbell’s, and Mr. Davis’s) clarifications.
…………………..Because they’d better clarify.
Here’s a final observation from Mr. Henson from August 2010:
“These are much bigger organizations than British orchestras. That requires the right sort of skills and anybody contemplating coming here has got to have the right skill set. But there are some fantastic opportunities in America.”
So. What have we learned?
Assuming the MOA wants to support an orchestra (and at this point, I’m not convinced they do; they can get back to me on that one when they change their mission statement back to include the word “orchestra”), we’re going to keep circling round and round until we agree on the answer to one simple question:
Can you sustain – nay, heighten – the artistry of an orchestra while also cutting its budget by twenty percent over the course of one season? Can you pay twenty percent less for a product and still get a better product? (Especially when you can’t outsource the assembly of said product to China?) Do you believe that an orchestra that pays roughly half as much as the best orchestras in this country – that consists of demoralized dejected players seeking work elsewhere – that has no seniority pay - that has a management team reviled by musicians and music-lovers across the world (and I’m not exaggerating when I say that)…do you believe that such an orchestra will ever become a professional destination for world-class players? (Especially if – sigh; when – Osmo leaves in 2015?) I say no. (Robert Levine, a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras, also says no.) (Arts consultant Drew McManus has also expressed doubts.) I maintain that no matter what Mr. Henson says, easily walkable geography does not a desirable location make.
If you don’t have the money to sustain an orchestra’s quality, should you level with your public and say they can’t support the quality of ensemble they’ve grown accustomed to unless they pony up tons more cash and quickly, or should you promise your patrons the moon in the cynical hope they won’t notice when your orchestra starts to decline? As a patron, what kind of management do you want to have in charge? People who are level with you about the challenges ahead, or people who consistently sidestep the truth over a period of years?
Hopefully we all agree: eventually we’ll reach a tipping point. Obviously we can’t buy a world-class orchestra for, say, $0 a year. So somewhere along that sliding scale between $32 million and $26 million and $0, we’ll lose our “world-class” quality. So where is the Minnesota Orchestra’s tipping point? Is it at $30 million? $28 million? $25 million? $10 million? If we’re going to cut twenty percent, then what keeps us from cutting, say, thirty percent? Forty percent? Fifty percent? After all, that would give us more money to invest in the endowment. It would protect us against another major recession and give us more money to use on educational programs. How about we cut ninety percent? Ninety-five? Ninety-nine? How about the musicians pay us to have the chance to play in a world-class orchestra? All right; now I’m being hyperbolic. But hopefully you understand the broader point I’m trying to drive home here. Where is that tipping point? How close to the bone can we shave without seeing a marked decrease in quality (and an accompanying decrease in financial support)? Do we know? If so, how do we know? And why was the community never given a chance to discuss this? Because we’re not dumb. We could have helped you solve the problem, you know. It’s our orchestra, and we deserve to have a say in its future.
The only way I can reconcile Mr. Henson’s words (without labeling him a self-serving cynic who specializes in painfully inept incompetence) is to assume he honestly believes that a world-class orchestra – (in a golden age of orchestras) – will thrive artistically – (and therefore, financially) – after he brutally gouges the salary and working conditions of his musicians, and misleads and then infuriates his devoted public. Personally, I find that idea to be roughly as realistic as the idea of an obese man flying around the world to deliver toys to every good boy and girl on the face of the earth, and so do many experts in the field. The idea may be comforting at first glance, but in practice, it’s unworkable. But for whatever reason, a lot of people on the board appear to agree with Mr. Henson.
So what do you think? What I think isn’t important. It’s what you, the patrons, think that really matters. (Or, at the least, what should really matter.)
As always, the comment section is open.
~ Preface ~
If you’re a first-time reader, I highly highly highly recommend that you mosey over to this post, If you’re just joining us…, to get all the relevant details about who I am, what I’m doing, and where the Minnesota Orchestra negotiations are at right now. Otherwise big chunks of the following won’t make much sense.
This blog has been criticized – and occasionally rightly so – for overuse of sarcasm. Well, if sarcasm isn’t your thing, then you’ll want to look away now, because this entry is loaded with it. That being said, until Minnesota management gets serious, I’m not particularly interested in being serious, either. The time for joke charts like this one is over. It’s time for some real answers. And if you don’t give them to me, then I’m going to Release The Snark! What else am I supposed to do? Reason calmly and politely and rationally? I – and many other patrons – have already tried that. And it didn’t work. Like, at all. So I dunno. Might as well turn up the sarcasm?
I’d also like to say – once again – that I do not speak for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. I have never spoken for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and I will never speak for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. I speak solely for myself. If we often share perspectives, then so be it, but keep in mind that’s incidental. We are totally separate entities. They never pressure me to say anything, and even if they did, I wouldn’t listen to them. I say what I say how I want to say it when I want to say it. So if you’re going to criticize this entry, or the tone of this entry, then remember the criticism belongs squarely at my feet. Not an ounce of it should go to them. Because they’re better wiser human beings than I am, and they consistently take the high road, while I routinely veer off into the brambles of angry, cranky, frustrated snark.
Now for our feature presentation…
What’s that, you say? Minnesota Orchestra management has some new information up on their website?
*heart rate spikes*
*do you think they’ll answer any of my questions???*
*gallops along to read, excited to finally get some answers!*
*heart rate slows*
*becomes ridiculously disappointed*
*resists urge to get drunk*
*pounds wall in frustration*
*searches Google Images for “FRUSTRATION”*
Here it is, in all its irrelevant, completely unhelpful glory. It’s a two-column chart called “Misrepresentation vs. Reality.”
I love how we’re all tip-toeing over the word everyone’s thinking but nobody’s actually saying. I say obfuscation; you say misrepresentation; we both mean another word entirely…am I right? Anyway. Let’s get to analyzing. I’ll copy/paste the Misrepresentation and Reality, and then counter with my own Misrepresentation of Reality. Then management (assuming they ever acknowledge I exist) can come back with a “No, That Misrepresentation of Reality Is Really A Misrepresentation of Reality.” Or, whatever.
Misrepresentation: The Minnesota Orchestral Association’s (MOA’s) contract proposal calls for salary cuts of up to 50%.
Reality: The proposed salary cuts in the current proposal range from 20 to 40% with the vast majority under 35%. (Specifically, 70% of the musicians would see salary cuts of less than 35%.)
The current proposal offers an average annual salary of $89,000 plus ten weeks paid vacation, and additional benefits averaging $30,000 per musician (including healthcare and pension), for a total package of $119,000.
Misrepresentation of Reality: ”The vast majority” are “under 35%”? Oh, well, that’s not so bad, then! I guess I’ll put away my picket sign. Twenty to forty percent of someone’s paycheck is chump change. So chump-ish, in fact, that, if Michael Henson took that pay cut, he’d only lose out on a mere $80,000 to $160,000 a year. I’m sure he’d swallow such a cut easily, without any resistance whatsoever. Especially since there are so few orchestra CEO positions available in the world today, and since he’d have such difficulty finding work elsewhere.
I’m going to sound a bit like a broken record here. As I’ve said before, keep in mind the difference in base versus average salaries (the proposed base is $78,000); both numbers should be considered. As I’ve said before, musicians don’t have vacation weeks, ever; only weeks in which they do not perform with the orchestra. As I’ve said before, take everything from both sides with not just a grain of salt, but a salt mine.
The more I read about this topic, the more I realize I can’t state with any certainty what numbers are accurate. Especially not when we’re talking about the massive fiscal infrastructure of a major American symphony orchestra. And especially especially not when the numbers come from management, since they have a long – and apparently proud – history of obfuscation. However, I am well aware that just like Bible verses, numbers can be massaged to say whatever the crap you want them to. (Exhibit A.) And since management routinely obfuscates about the things I do understand, like musician “vacation time”, then that makes me feel as if they’re also obfuscating about the things I don’t understand, like their financial status. That’s just common sense. If someone obfuscates about one thing, what’s to keep them from obfuscating about another? So they’ll really need to step up their game to get me to believe them.
So let’s keep reading and see if they do that…
Misrepresentation: The MOA turned down three musician contract proposals.
Reality: Musicians have not presented a single contract proposal since negotiations began in April.
The three “proposals” provided by musicians—to play and talk, to submit to binding arbitration and to conduct an independent financial analysis—are not contract proposals.
Misrepresentation of Reality: But…binding arbitration would have resulted in a new contract, right? If I offer to do something that’s guaranteed to end in a contract, then that’s basically a contract proposal. IMHO. If I tie a ring box around the neck of my boyfriend’s dog and push the dog into the room where my boyfriend is sitting, I’m not saying out loud “please marry me,” but the intent is obvious: I’m making a proposal of marriage. If an orchestra offers to go through binding arbitration, then their intent is obvious. Correct?
Misrepresentation: The MOA is refusing to share specifics on the Orchestra’s finances with musicians.
Reality: Board and management have been communicating the financial position of the Orchestra with musicians for three years.
In addition, the Orchestra’s Negotiating Committee has provided more than 1,200 pages of information to the Musician Negotiating Committee in the past six months, including the independently audited financial statements.
Misrepresentation of Reality: Oh, I see. So the board and management have been communicating the financial position of the Orchestra with the musicians for three whole years…just not with the public or with the press. *thumbs up* My confidence in you is soaring…like the Hindenburg! (To borrow a famous quote from Colbert.)
There is nothing in the “reality” spiel about incomplete and misleading numbers, which, to the best of my understanding, is the crux of the issue. Number of pages tells me nothing. Nada. Zilch. I could easily print out 1200 pages of documents about the sorry state of my finances and still not reveal to you how much is actually in my savings account ($5, if you’re interested). Also, notice: no word about the already approved budget that they are apparently refusing to release. And no word about the mysterious vanished article from 2010 that says how well they’re doing. No word, no word, no word. The rest is silence, et cetera.
Misrepresentation: The audited financial information shared was from Fiscal 2011 and is out of date.
Reality: The Fiscal 2011 financials are the most current audited figures available.
Our most recent fiscal year ended in August and our 2012 independent audit is now underway. Those figures, too, will be shared with musicians when the audit is complete.
Misrepresentation of Reality: Dunno the exact truth here (and if you do know anything, please don’t tell me – unless you want to go on the record; I really really don’t want to get stuck in the middle of discussions about numbers I can’t verify), but this is what Ellen Dinwiddie Smith said in the Matt Peiken MNuet interview… (5:29 in)
MP: Ellen, you also told me, and I want you to talk about this a little more, you mentioned that to date, you have not seen…as an orchestra, you have not been shown the books, let alone your request to have an independent auditor look at them. Is that true, that the musicians have not seen the books?
EDS: This is true. We have repeatedly called for a joint independent financial analysis, and they have refused to do that. We have given the papers that we were given to people who have looked at them and basically told us that everything they’ve given us is so contradictory to each other that it doesn’t make sense.
So…take from that exchange what you will. Pretty impossible for those of us on the outside to understand all the subtleties of what’s going on here, I think. Nonetheless, management doesn’t once address the musicians’ central allegation: that there are contradictory numbers at play.
Misrepresentation: MOA’s refusal to “play and talk” signals an intention to create a second-rate orchestra.
Reality: After six months of playing and talking without a single counter-proposal from the musicians, Orchestra management concluded that continuing to repeat that activity would only result in more unproductive discussions and costly delays. A “play and talk” agreement incurs monthly operating losses for our organization of $500,000.
Preserving the future of an exceptional Orchestra for generations of music lovers is our highest priority. We await a counter-proposal from the musicians so we can resume negotiations and reach a settlement as quickly as possible.
Misrepresentation of Reality: Hey, guys. I know it’s hard for you, but let’s get real for a brief moment. The idea of the “playing and talking” period being while the musicians were still legally obligated to play…that’s just such a ridiculously ludicrous notion, and so far outside the definition of the phrase “playing and talking” in the orchestral world, that I don’t even know what to say. Barney Frank said it best: “On what planet do you spend most of your time? Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table; I have no interest in doing it.” And you know what? He’s right. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea why I’m giving this chart the time of day. It’s ridiculous and useless and irrelevant. This is the Dick Morris of charts. At a certain point, you stop reading for information and start reading for the sheer entertainment value.
But we’ve gotten this far. So let’s keep going… Maybe we’ll be surprised by a flash of insight…
Misrepresentation: Most of the musicians will leave if this contract is approved.
Reality: We believe our musicians remain committed to this organization and community, and hope they will choose to remain.
Other major orchestras across the country who have undergone a market reset have not seen significant departures from their players.
These orchestras still report a high number of qualified candidates applying for positions that do become available.
Misrepresentation of Reality: That Kool-Aid must taste awfully delicious. While you’re drinking, you might be interested in checking out what happened to the principals in Detroit after their own orchestral apocalypse. Here’s a little taste.
Also, clever clever clever use of the word “most.” No, “most” probably won’t leave…but “a lot” certainly could. Especially our principals. Who are some of the very best in the business. Heck, one could easily argue that we’ve already lost Sarah Kwak over this. She and her husband – also an Orchestra violinist – saw this coming. I wouldn’t be surprised if that knowledge factored heavily in their decision to leave for Oregon.
Also also…”undergoing a market reset.” Ha. Hey, while we’re throwing around chilling Orwellian phrases, here are some of my personal favorites: “Ministry of Plenty” – “Newspeak” – “Ignorance is Strength” – and “no animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.”
Note that once again, there is no concern at all, whatsoever, for THESE particular musicians, for these individuals, for these hearts and souls, and for the relationships the community has with them. The callousness verges on entertaining…if it wasn’t so cruel. The relationships they’ve built with community members – particularly, with children and young people – are not easily replaceable. I know this will come as a shock to some of you, but there are other consequences to this conflict besides economic ones. And you’ve yet to address those.
Orchestra member Manny Laureano is a co-artistic director and conductor at the Minnesota Youth Symphonies. If he’s anything like my youth symphony conductors, he is hugely influential, and his example brightens hundreds of kids’ lives. When he announces his departure for greener pastures, I defy you to walk up to every single student that he has led and inspired over the years in the Twin Cities, and reassure them that “well, a high number of qualified candidates are applying for Mr. Laureano’s now-vacant seat, so don’t worry, kids! That’s just what happens during market resets!” I dare you to do this. Orch dorks may not look threatening, but I think you’d be surprised by the reaction you’d get. Repeat a scene like this for every single individual who leaves the orchestra due to the behavior of management. Behind every single departed musician, I guarantee you will find a wake of depressed fans, students, friends, co-workers…maybe even families. These are holes that cannot be mended quickly or easily…if ever. Poking open those holes is not a task that should be taken likely. And when it does need to be done, it needs to be done with empathy, sympathy, and respect. None of which you’ve shown. Ever.
For future reference, this is how an emotionally intelligent person would answer the question “will musicians leave?”
Yes, there is a danger that some will leave. We regret that our community cannot afford to pay them the salary they could earn elsewhere. We respect these individuals’ decisions to seek work elsewhere. We are proud of them and the amazing work they’ve done in the Twin Cities, and we wish them well as they seek better-paying jobs in other communities. We can only hope that their replacements will live up to the high standards they have set.
In other words…… R-E-S-P-E-C-T!!! Find out what it means to me! (And plus it’s to-tal-ly free!) You can sing along with a karaoke version here! (Actually, the lyrics to this entire song are hilariously applicable to this entire debacle, and I really recommend taking a break from this blog to belt them out. It will be therapeutic.)
Misrepresentation: The Orchestra Board raised money to renovate Orchestra Hall that should have been used to pay musicians.
Reality: The funds for renovating Orchestra Hall are part of a larger $110 million campaign which began in 2005.
The majority of these contributions ($60 million) are being used for two purposes: to build the future endowment, which will continue to fund musician compensation, and to support artistic initiatives (like touring and recording).
Misrepresentation: The MOA should now use the funds raised for Orchestra Hall to support its musicians instead.
Reality: Our donors had a choice over which component of our $110 million campaign they wished to support.
Some donors (corporate, foundation and individual) prefer to give one-time capital gifts that come with naming options.
The funds raised for the renovation of Orchestra Hall are restricted for that purpose and cannot be diverted for other uses.
For example: $14 million in bonding support from the State of Minnesota must be used for this capital project and cannot be used for ongoing operations. In order to draw down these funds, the Orchestra has met a requirement for a 2 to 1 match with funding from private and corporate supporters.
Misrepresentation of Reality: BFEWJIAO;IFJEOWA. FJISODA;JFIDS;AJFIDSA.
Look, I don’t think anyone is saying “Stop the renovation in its tracks and give that money to musicians!” No. We’re objecting to the picture you painted in 2010 and earlier, in which you were “a beacon institution” among “bad economic news.” We’re wondering if people would have donated to the hall construction effort if they’d known such massive pay cuts were coming. In other words, if you guys had told us in 2010 about the impending pay cuts, would you have raised enough money for the hall? That’s what we’re asking. But you’re not answering. Hello! Is anyone home? Anyone? It’s not that complicated a question!
Misrepresentation: The MOA has money to pay the musicians—it just doesn’t want to.
Reality: The Orchestra has paid musicians’ salaries over the last several years by making additional draws from its endowment. The draw rate was three times higher than a sustainable level in 2011 (17% vs 5%).
That’s like taking money out of a 401k to pay normal living expenses. The more that’s pulled now, the less there is for the future.
If we continue to draw from our endowment at our current rate, the MOA endowment will be depleted by 2018.
Misrepresentation of Reality: Groovy, cool beans, awesomesauce. How about you prove this to us by submitting to a joint independent financial analysis? Like this Star Tribune editorial said you should? The very same Star Tribune editorial that you posted a link to on your website? In the words of Reagan and the Star Tribune, “trust but verify.”
Or is Reagan too much of a union-loving commie pinko lefty for you?
Look, even if the numbers come back as total exact duplicates to your independent audits…well, hey, at least you’ll have shut the musicians – and us patrons – up for a while. And I mean, you’ve got to admit, we’re frigging obnoxious.
Misrepresentation: The musicians already took a pay cut in 2009.
Reality: The musicians agreed to a one year wage freeze in 2009. They did not offer to take a cut in salary.
Misrepresentation of Reality: Um, that’s actually not how you characterized it in 2010… “At the same time, Henson negotiated modifications to the musicians’ contract, resulting in around $4.2m in cost savings up to 2012 – mostly through salary and pension reductions, and a wage freeze in FY2010.” (That “winning article” just keeps on giving and giving. My goodness. No wonder Henson wants it removed from the face of the earth.) That’s also not what you told the Star Tribune in August 2009: “Musicians at the Minnesota Orchestra have agreed to concessions in the face of financial pressures on the organization… The plan involves pay cuts totaling $1.8 million.”
What am I missing?
Misrepresentation: The musicians offered to take more cuts but were rebuffed by management.
Reality: The musicians did not offer to take any cuts.
They did offer to defer salary increases in exchange for extending the current contract an additional two years. However, this would have further depleted our endowment and put off the problem, not solved it.
Misrepresentation of Reality: Fascinating! Of course this had absolutely nothing to do with the fact the SPCO’s contract would be up for expiration in 2012. And it has nothing to do with the fact that an overworked local media wouldn’t be able to keep track of both stories. And it has nothing to do with the fact that major contracts were coming up in Atlanta and Indianapolis and Cleveland and Chicago and St. Paul, and at least three of those were likely to be settled with sharply concessionary contracts. No…nothing whatsoever to do with any of those things. It was all 100% concern over the health of the organization and the endowment. Mmmhmm.
*tinfoil hat crinkles*
(Of course I have no proof of this, and I can’t imagine we’ll ever get proof from management. But it’s not very hard to read the writing on the wall, and wonder. And since they’ve never addressed it…)
Misrepresentation: Management hasn’t taken any cuts internally.
Reality: In fact, staffing costs have been lean for many years. Over the last decade, all costs in the organization—minus musician costs—have decreased by 6%. In that same time period, musicians’ costs have increased by 26%.
Since the start of the 2007 musician’s contract—during which time the players received a 19.2% increase to base salary—the management and administrative team has taken a salary reduction, a wage freeze and had their pension contributions from the MOA reduced by more than 40%. This includes the president.
The size of the staff has decreased by 20% since 2009 due to layoffs.
Misrepresentations of Reality: I think a guest blogger (or two) may eventually have something to say about this. I think you’d be surprised by the…tenaciousness, shall we say, of certain patrons. So stay tuned. And stop belittling us.
Is anyone saying that management hasn’t taken any cuts internally? Because we all know that people have been fired, and fired brutally. In fact, that’s actually one of our concerns! Take a listen to what Ellen Dinwiddie Smith said in the Peiken interview (at 29:30).
What happened when they fired our staff…right before they closed the hall this summer…we had several staff members who were actually told that morning. They were brought into an office, and as they were being brought into the office, their computer passwords were changed, and they were told they had to leave the building. They were escorted out of the building and they were allowed to come back some time later and pick up their things. These are people who had worked at the orchestra twenty years, some of them just like at the stage door. There was no reason to make that kind of a layoff because they knew they were going to get laid off or whatever in a week or two weeks when the hall closed, but the Association staged it in such a way that, oh, we had to do this, you know, big layoff thing.
Soooooooo. Is this true? Why aren’t you addressing this allegation? Do you still want to talk about cuts in management, or would you like to move onto another subject?
Here’s a question: if this is true, then what the actual [bleep]? What possessed you? Who on earth decided this was okay? This isn’t how we do things in Minnesota.
This also is a phrase that interests me: “This includes the president.” Then whassup with this? $390,000 in 2009 and $404,000 in 2011-ish? Even if Michael Henson’s total compensation, including benefits, somehow did go down, it sure as crap doesn’t look like it went down 20-40%. Also, how about this article? “For the big guns, nonprofits with budgets of $25 million to $50 million, the median CEO compensation was $243,000 at the top tier.” Thoughts? Explanation? Justification? Rebuttals? Apologies?
One more thing: I’d imagine the decrease in the size of the staff was at least partially due to the fact that your hall is under renovation, and you had to let some people go while you were away. Correct? And yet…no mention of that here. Obfuscations obfuscations obfuscations. At this point I’m realizing it would have been easier to point out the things in this chart that are true, rather than pointing out the things that are misleading. Oh, well; we’re too far along now. Let’s keep going…
Misrepresentation: MOA doesn’t want any assistance from a third party to break the stalemate.
Reality: Orchestra management strongly supports an independent party involved in negotiations, and a federal mediator is participating in our negotiations.
It is highly unusual to suggest arbitration in a negotiation in which one side has not put forward even a single proposal.
Final and binding arbitration provides no assurance that the Orchestra’s financial instability would be solved, even in the short term.
At best, it would delay needed changes for many months while the arbitration unfolds. The Orchestra would incur significant operating losses with each month’s delay.
Misrepresentation of Reality: OK, so I know that every orchestra is local, and every orchestral meltdown is unique in its own way (“each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”). And we could probably have a long in-depth discussion about why (if you would bother discussing anything with anybody in-depth, which you won’t). But here’s a question: why do you think that the managements at Louisville and Detroit even entertained the idea of binding arbitration for more than five seconds, if it didn’t provide any assurance of financial stability, even in the short term? Were those leaders just being reckless? Were they desperate? Stupid? Or do you think that your financial position and outlook are even worse than theirs? If so, why? Because our arts scene is envied across the country. And I think the folks in power at Louisville and Detroit would have killed to be in this generous, thriving, well-educated community.
Misrepresentation: The Orchestra’s endowment has been mismanaged.
Reality: On the contrary, the MOA Endowment has exceeded investment return benchmarks over the last five years.
The critical issue is that we have taken additional draws from our endowment in order to fund the 2007 musicians’ contract—and this has reduced the endowment’s value. In short, we have less money to invest because of the salaries from the previous contract.
Our organization needs to learn to live within the means of a 5% investment draw, to ensure the endowment can grow and support the Orchestra in the future.
Misrepresentation of Reality: FYI, in case you’ve forgotten, the musicians didn’t unilaterally impose a contract in 2007: you guys agreed to it, too. If that contract is the only thing that went wrong, you deserve blame, as well. In 2007, orchestra board chairman Paul Grangaard said, “We have a three-year plan to break even, and we’re confident we’re going to achieve that.” (Mr. Grangaard is still listed as being on the Board of Directors.) So don’t give me this crap that it’s solely the musicians’ fault and you had absolutely nothing to do with it and you have no idea who on earth okayed all these crushing fiscal obligations.
Also: what is the definition of “mismanagement”? It could be anything from “fraud” to “slightly under-performing the market,” really. Depends on who you ask.
Two questions. First question: is this bit from the musicians’ website false? “Board Chair Jon Campbell expressed regret at the Board and Management’s handling of the endowment funds over the past ten years, noting that they had been unhappy with the advice they had acted upon and had to change investment advisers. Campbell also admitted that the Board and Management had been wrong in 2007 regarding their investment predictions.” Second question: why the switch in independent investment consultants? You said yourself a few days ago that you switched: ”In 2010, a new independent investment consultant, Cambridge Associates, was hired to manage the portfolio.” Answer those two questions honestly, and then maybe we could get past the posturing and strutting and puffing and begin to discuss this like adults.
Misrepresentation: MOA leaders created the organization’s strategic plan in secret and the plan reflects no interest in artistry, community service, education or marketing.
Reality: Musicians were participants in creating the artistic and community outreach portions of the strategic plan, since this is their area of expertise. Likewise the board and management created the financial portions of the plan.
As part of the strategic planning process, the board openly shared the Orchestra’s financial situation with musicians in a series of meetings spanning three years.
The complete plan—including sections on artistic achievement and community outreach—is available online, and includes many initiatives relating towards international touring, recording, broadcasting, and new community outreach programs
Misrepresentation of Reality: First off, please please please stop touting the fact that you were telling the musicians how terribly you were doing financially, when you weren’t telling us. This only reminds us of your fundamentally disingenuous nature. I feel like my husband cheated on me for three years with a woman named Nicole, and, worse, that he keeps insisting he’s trustworthy by saying, “But I was faithful to Nicole the whole time!” You’re. Not. Helping.
Second, the “complete strategic plan” is utter poppycock, full of phrases that are so vague and cliched as to render them practically meaningless. “New concert formats”? “Explore new earned income streams”? “Vital holiday festivals”? What in the name of crap is a “vital holiday festival”? Let me check Google…
Oh. Well, maybe Google Image Search will be more helpful – ?
Those are the first three results when you look up “vital holiday festival” on Google Image Search. Unfortunately, this doesn’t clear up my confusion, or answer my questions. And neither does management. So I’m still in the dark.
Look, you can’t write a “complete strategic guide” for a major symphony orchestra in a glossy thirty page document full of pretty pictures and sentence fragments. The idea of that is absurd. A real comprehensive strategic plan would be difficult nuts and bolts work, requiring substantial input from the community, and it would take hundreds upon hundreds of pages to debate, define, and implement. And you haven’t released those pages. I don’t even know if they exist! Right now I kinda doubt they do.
And that’s not even touching on the changed mission statement. Here’s the old one:
Our mission is to enrich and inspire our community as a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence.
Our mission will be implemented by:
- Enhancing the traditional core of concerts with innovative approaches to programming and format;
- Providing the finest educational and outreach programs;
- Representing and promoting the Minnesota Orchestra and the State of Minnesota to audiences across the state, across the country and around the world through tours and electronic media;
- Maintaining an acoustically superior hall with a welcoming environment.
Here’s the new one:
The Minnesota Orchestral Association inspires, educates and serves our community through internationally recognized performances of exceptional music delivered within a sustainable financial structure.
End statement. Something’s missing in that second one that’s very prominent in the first. I can’t quite put my finger on it… Something about “an orchestra”, maybe? Question: why take the word orchestra out of an orchestra’s mission statement?
Misrepresentation: MOA’s proposal includes a dramatic shift in healthcare costs to musicians.
Reality: In the proposed contract, the musicians will participate in the same medical plan that covers management and administration.
Even with this change, the MOA will make an average annual contribution towards family medical coverage of $17,250 per employee, almost twice the national average.
Misrepresentation of Reality: Um, yeah. Quick question… Are you aware that the “reality” you just gave didn’t even address the misrepresentation?
I ask this in all sincerity: Do you think we’re dumb? Because I’m getting the vibe you think we’re dumb. But the thing is, we aren’t dumb. And we get really annoyed when you treat us like we’re dumb. Because we aren’t, in fact, dumb.
Misrepresentation: Musicians have collected more than 7,000 signatures supporting their position.
Reality: None of the petitions provide any specifics on the contract negotiations. The current petition online reads “Minnesota deserves artistic excellence. I support keeping world-class musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra so that all Minnesotans may continue to enjoy extraordinary music.”
Orchestra leaders support that position. Preserving extraordinary music for generations is the core of the proposed contract and the Orchestra’s five-year strategic plan.
Misrepresentation of Reality: Well, duh. Nobody is going to sign a change.org petition if they have to read a 50-page contract full of indecipherable legalese first. But I can guarantee you, the people who signed do support one thing: they support keeping these particular world-class musicians in Minneapolis. And orchestra leaders simply don’t support that position. And don’t tell me they do; Davis and Campbell themselves have said they’re expecting turnover, and they seem awfully cool with it. Also, there’s that old maxim: “actions speak louder than words.” Pretend you’re management. If you really wanted to keep these musicians in town, would you treat them the way management has been treating these musicians? No. Of course not. We’re Minnesotans. (Well…I’m from western Wisconsin, but that’s basically the same thing.) We have a long proud history of being fundamentally decent human beings. There’s a whole Wikipedia entry on it.
*reaches the end of the chart*
*keeps clicking, convinced there’s more, somewhere*
*reaches end of page*
I feel just like I did at the end of season one of Sherlock!
You can’t end the story there! Guys! That’s narrative malpractice! There are so many unresolved plot points! Nothing more about why you refuse to submit to an independent financial analysis? Nothing explaining why the Strib was wrong for recommending you do so? Nothing about how your Industry News section only has sad articles about orchestras and never happy ones? Nothing about being sorry for treating the musicians like cogs in a machine? Nothing about how Henson is still earning roughly $1100 every single day the lockout churns on? (He’s earned over $36,000 since it began, by the way…) Nothing about the dozens upon dozens of questions I’ve raised on this blog? Nothing about why you won’t talk to Matt Peiken? Nothing about the intelligent questions Mary Schaefle asked? Nothing about the mysterious vanishing Michael Henson article of 2010 that everyone’s talking about? (Even frigging Alex Ross at The New Yorker knows about it at this point!) Guys, this was such a huge opportunity for you, and you just…you kind of blew it, to be honest.
I could tear this chart apart even further. Maybe I will, too, eventually, if I’m ever in the mood to shoot muskies in barrels. But doing so would just consist of me further blabbing about things I’ve already blabbed many thousands of words about, and that would be boring and a complete waste of space. (Just like this chart!) The only interesting thing about this crap is the fact that management found it necessary to post it. Is this a sign that they’re having difficulty winning over their public? Or that they’re gearing up to pull an SPCO and cancel concerts through December 31st within the next few days, and they want to be prepared for the surge of confused PO’d patrons who will be coming to their website looking for an explanation? Who the crap knows. But if prior efforts haven’t done anything to move the needle of public opinion, I can’t imagine this will.
Hey, Minnesota management! The day you start getting real, then I promise you, that’s the day I’ll drop the sarcasm and start taking you seriously. Until then, I can’t view management’s position as anything except a terrible joke. And I’m going to treat it with what an inappropriate joke deserves: with massive amounts of scorn and derision.
Today I found out I’ll need to do a lot of re-formatting on this blog, because the link to the oft-cited “Aiming High: Michael Henson Profile” from the July 2010 Gig Magazine has officially broken.
But unfortunately for both Michael Henson and Kim Kardashian, once something is published on the Internet, it never really goes away.
So we still have this cached version… (Edit 10/29: The cache has vanished. So here are the screenshots…)
But we still have this screenshot JPG version (and a PNG version and a GIF version). And also an HTML version. And also a text version. And an RTF version, and a PDF version. And multiple other versions in multiple other formats. Which I won’t share here because that would be overkill and a possible infringement of copyright. But I have them, and I have them all. Stored in multiple places. On multiple computers. And on a flash drive, which I keep tucked in secret pocket in my purse. And all those copies say the exact same thing they said a couple days ago, a couple weeks ago, a couple months ago, and a couple years ago:
The former Bournemouth Symphony head is strategising his way through the recession – and winning.
There’s no single strategy to beating the downturn,’ Michael Henson asserts. ‘There has to be a whole series of strategies to maintain a focused approach. The priority is continuing the excellence in the artistic work.’ With orchestras across the US hard hit by the recession – and management strategies the number-one talking point at the League of American Orchestras’ conference in June – the Minnesota Orchestra stands out as a beacon institution among the bad news…
It’s quite a remarkable article.
It’s almost as if Michael Henson never said those contradictory things……….. Almost.
There were 43 articles featured on the Orchestra’s 2010 tour website. As of today, 42 remain. The only one that’s been removed? The Michael Henson one. Do you think that’s coincidence? If the entire tour website had been taken down – or multiple articles had been removed – then maybe it could have been coincidence. Maybe. But just that single article? The one article that has come under very public scrutiny over the last couple of weeks? The one article that so obviously risks undermining the credibility of management’s entire message? Hmm.
Taking down this article does nothing, and whoever thought it would should not be in charge of a major orchestra’s website. Anything online is permanent. Period. Even though I may well be making a fool of myself, I’ll never try deleting any of my words here…because I’m tech-savvy enough to know that such a thing is pretty much darn near impossible…especially if someone has good reason to try to use my words against me in future. That’s simultaneously one of the prime glories of the Internet, and one of the prime dangers: despite its seemingly ephemeral nature, it is ridiculously permanent.
The sudden excision becomes even lamer when you look at the comments here. One of my readers actually said on October 3:
I suggest you get ahold of that article on the mnorch website about Michael Henson and post the text directly onto your blog. and keep another record of it somewhere. If this whole fiasco is as conspiracy-esque as we think it could be, management might start hiding more things before real info comes out. It might just be a good idea to have that article handy in case…
Yes. Yes, it was a good idea.
I honestly didn’t think it would come to that, but… I’m glad I followed this paranoid bit of advice, that really wasn’t so paranoid after all.
This is feeling more and more like a John Le Carré novel, and it’s kind of ridiculous. We’re in the middle of an orchestra lockout, for Pete’s sake; not the frigging Cold War.
“You’ll have to assume they’re watching you… Things aren’t always what they seem!”
All this deletion does is remind the public that Michael Henson has not explained the discrepancies between his 2010 words and his 2012 words. It also gives some very potent ammunition to those who believe that management is totally, wildly, veering-on-hilariously inept…and is secretly (very very very secretly) humiliated by it. If management didn’t think Michael Henson’s words could be used to successfully undermine their arguments…then why bother deleting them now?
(Or should I say, trying to delete them?)
It makes a person wonder:
Is someone starting to feel the heat?
The Minnesota Orchestra lockout began at midnight on October 1. Early that morning, management canceled concerts through November 25. I read the official press release describing the reasoning behind the cancellations with some serious perplexion, as sentence after sentence after sentence contained obfuscations that I personally feel were very easily avoidable.
Come along and let’s take a closer look together.
The final proposal offers an average annual salary of $89,000, a guaranteed pension benefit that includes an annual contribution by the Orchestral Association of 7.63 percent of base salary, 10 weeks paid vacation and up to 26 weeks of paid sick leave.
Obfuscation #1: Professional orchestral musicians never have ten weeks of paid vacation a year. Period. “Vacation weeks” are merely “weeks the musicians do not perform with the orchestra.” During those “vacation” weeks, they are still practicing at home and studying for hours and hours a day. Musicians don’t often have vacation days, and they never ever have vacation weeks. If they go a single day without practicing, they will get twitchy, and will become highly unpleasant individuals to be around. Trust me. Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
Obfuscation #2: ”Sick leave” ought to be relabeled “injury leave.” Management knows that the average patron doesn’t understand what a physically demanding job being an orchestra musician is – or how often and how agonizingly orchestral musicians get hurt on the job – or that being forced by finances to play while injured can easily result in the end of careers that began in early childhood – or that insufficient rest can lead to musicians seeking wildly expensive medical care. Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
Throughout the nearly six month negotiating process, the musicians have not offered a single counter-proposal.
Obfuscation #3: According to the musicians, they did not offer a single counter-proposal because they were waiting on important financial information before they felt they could make a fair and realistic offer. When that information was refused them, musicians offered at the eleventh hour to go through binding arbitration. This is an offer that is historic in its generosity on the part of the musicians. Look at the situations in Louisville and Detroit if you don’t believe me. The managements there would have killed to have the luxury of going into binding arbitration before their work stoppages even began. Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
We have great respect for our musicians’ talents
Obfuscation #4. Look at obfuscations #1 and #2. If they really respected and understood their musicians’ talents, would they really obfuscate about their working conditions, and make them sound like lazy entitled children? Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
The Orchestral Association honored the musicians’ 2007 contract even though, in the midst of the recession, it placed unsustainable pressure on our endowment.
Obfuscation #5. I’ve already covered this before, so I’ll just link to my longer entry explaining it. But in short, Michael Henson, the Minnesota Orchestral Association, and the board were delighted with the way things were going financially at the orchestra all the way through 2010, more than halfway through that unsustainable contract. In fact, they were so happy with how things were going that in July 2010 they posted an article from Gig Magazine tossing around such phrases as “the Minnesota Orchestra stands out as a beacon institution among the bad [economic] news.” If you want to read it yourself, feel free to go to the Minnesota Orchestra website and do so, because it’s still there. They haven’t even bothered to take it down, although it directly contradicts what they say over here. (If they do ever take it down, let me know. I’ve saved a copy on my hard drive and can upload it if necessary.) (Edit: And, whaddayaknow, they finally got around to taking it down…in mid-October, when it was rather too late. Details on this here.) Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
(Also, management ignores the fact that musicians gave $4.2 million in concessions in 2009. Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.)
We cannot resolve these issues without significant participation from our musicians nor can we turn responsibility for the Orchestra’s future over to a single arbitrator.
Obfuscation #6. If, after the books were opened, and the proposed changes were fair and warranted, chances are, an arbitrator would impose significant participation onto musicians, and the musicians were willing to take that very real risk. Salary is a secondary sticking point in this battle. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if we were discussing just salary and not contract changes, we might have settled this dispute many months ago. No, this battle is about a number of non-financial contract changes or nominally-financial contract changes that “give management more flexibility” but actually have the unfortunate consequence of allowing businessmen to make vital artistic decisions. A reader who has studied the contract more carefully than I have recently pointed out this little gem to me. It’s Section 23.3, (15), about Audition Committee. It’s on page 39 here.
Yes, Michael Henson would like to be the one with final authority to “extend an offer of employment to a potential Musician.” He does not want this ultimate power to go to the musicians. He does not want this ultimate power to go to the music director. No, he wants that power to go to…Michael Henson.
Do you understand? These are the kinds of radical changes the musicians are objecting to. Many of them have nothing to do with money, and everything to do with power and sustaining artistic excellence. These are the kinds of changes that are buried deep within the 50-page contract of thick and thorny legalese. These are the kinds of changes whose implications have yet to be fully understood by the public, because our press is overworked and there is not a single expert reporter working on this story full-time. Question: would anyone with an orchestra’s best interests at heart really want to have Michael Henson tasked with extending offers of employment to musicians, without having to be held accountable to anyone else? That has nothing to do with money. Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
Since 2009, the full-time management and administrative staff have experienced a salary reduction, a wage freeze and more than a 40 percent reduction of their pension contributions from the Orchestral Association.
Obfuscation #7. According to public documents, Michael Henson makes $404,000 a year, which is up from his 2009 salary of $390,000. (According to this Star Tribune article, Salaries drop for nonprofit leaders, this is 1.5x the average for “nonprofits with budgets of $25 million to $50 million,” which is $243,000.) I know that others within the organization have sacrificed, and sacrificed greatly, but based on the available public evidence, I’m not convinced their leader did. Shouldn’t great leaders lead by example? Of course Henson’s salary alone wouldn’t fix the financial problem management says they have, but it would send a message about his character. It would send a message about his humanity, and respect, and shared sacrifice. As Andrew Young once observed on the Colbert Report, strikes aren’t about money; they’re about respect. Also, let’s be clear: I don’t think any of the musicians are scorning the people who wield relatively little power within the organization, who have suffered terribly throughout this whole debacle. According to one of my readers, at least one of these hardworking underpaid people was fired via email. If this is indeed true (and I have heard no one dispute it, or apologize for it), do you believe that high-level management really cares so much about the people below them? Or might they instead be seeing them as pawns in a grand seven-tier chess game (as nationally renowned arts consultant Drew McManus feared back in May)? No, this is a failure of leadership from the very top: from powerful multi-multi-millionaire board leaders Jon Campbell and Richard Davis, and Michael Henson. Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
“We have been transparent with our musicians over the last three years about the substantial financial challenges facing the organization and the need for change in this new economic climate,” said MOA Board Negotiating Chair Richard Davis.
Obfuscation #8. Once again, I direct you to the article I wrote, wondering if the orchestra has indeed been transparent about the substantial financial challenges facing the organization. Because several articles from 2008-2010 would indicate they were not. They were certainly not transparent to the press, and they were certainly not transparent to their patrons and their donors. Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
The musicians’ 2007 contract, which expired on October 1, included an increase of 19.2 percent to musician base salary over the life of the five-year contract.
Obfuscation #9. Financiers like Jon Campbell and Richard Davis may be interested to learn of the existence of a thing called “inflation.” Pesky thing, inflation: it throws a wrench into the simplest of calculations. The rate of inflation in 2007 was 4.1%, in 2008 was .1%, in 2009 was 2.7%, in 2010 was 1.5%, and in 2011 was 3.0%. 2012 numbers are obviously unavailable, but so far look to be about 2.3%. That’s an approximately 13.7% rate of inflation over the life of the contract. That’s a mere 5.5% raise above the rate of inflation over the course of five years, or in other words, a little over one percent a year. And during that time, the Minnesota Orchestra has solidified its reputation as one of the greatest orchestras in the world. I don’t know about you, but I personally believe that when you distinguish yourself professionally in an internationally cutthroat scene, you deserve every single penny of your 1% annual raise above the rate of inflation. Maybe management wasn’t able to afford the contract they signed in 2007, and maybe they can’t afford it now, but they can’t imply their musicians haven’t deserved that increase in pay. Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
We must be very respectful of our donors and ticket buyers; gifts and ticket sales alone cannot be expected to bridge our financial gap.
Obfuscation #10. Yes, management must be very respectful of their donors and ticket buyers, but they aren’t being very respectful of their donors and ticket buyers. Their donors and their ticket buyers have invested their hard-earned cash in a very specific product. In doing so, there was an implicit trust that the high quality of this very specific product would be sustained. Pretend someone sold you a ticket to see the Super Bowl and you dropped a lot of cash doing so ($14 million in the case of the state taxpayer; or $2.61 for every man, woman, and child in Minnesota, the vast majority of whom will never set foot in Orchestra Hall). Imagine buying your Super Bowl tickets, being escorted into the stadium…and then seeing two local high school football teams warming up on the field. Such a transaction would be the height of disrespect and obfuscation. I’m qualified to say so, because over the last five years, according to publicly available documents, I’ve spent a higher percentage of my income buying Minnesota Orchestra tickets than Richard Davis has donated to the Minnesota Orchestra. If the quality of the orchestra had not been so stellar, would they have gotten as many donations as they did, and sold as many tickets as they did? If they had been trying to sell a first-rate new lobby for a second-rate orchestra, would they have succeeded in their $100 million quest to “build for the future”? I don’t think they would have, and I don’t think management thinks so either, because the orchestra always prominently features that famous Alex Ross quote wherever they go: “the greatest orchestra in the world.” So at some subconscious level, they must understand that they need that kind of world-class quality to pull in that kind of money. And Michael Henson needs that world-class quality to get the money to pay his world-class salary.
For the final time:
Management seems to be banking on you not knowing this. They seem to be leaving out facts so that they can manipulate you. They seem to be afraid to take a couple extra sentences to explain the fuller, more nuanced truth. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
So there are ten obfuscations right there. Some are obviously more blatant than others. I could dig in and explain more, but once you get to a certain point, further dissection and discussion become overkill. When you have a 765 word press release, and can find 10 obfuscations within those 765 words, that’s a ratio of obfuscations to words of 1:77, or a demonstrable obfuscation every few sentences. If I can’t trust the orchestra’s press releases, do you blame me for not trusting anything else they say? Especially when the organization is resisting independent financial analysis, refusing to go through binding arbitration, and contradicting what it says in public about its finances? And never taking the time to explain the discrepancies?
Musicians may well have to sacrifice, and sacrifice a lot, to keep this mighty organization afloat. But we can’t know for sure until the obfuscations stop.
The other night while waiting for lockout news, I decided to prove my nerdiness by comparing the two contracts the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) has offered its musicians. They’re on their website, and you can find the first one here (Contract A) and the second one (the “final offer”) here (Contract B). So I opened up two Adobe Reader windows and went line by line through both fifty-odd-page documents, determined to find where management had agreed to compromise, and by how much. I may have missed some small changes here and there; if I did, alert me, and I’ll add them to this entry. But I’m pretty confident I caught the majority of them. This is actually the first orchestral contract I’ve read in full, and so I’m obviously not qualified to discuss the implications of all the changes, but when I did have something to say, or questions to ask, I wrote a little paragraph underneath the screen shots. I’d appreciate if someone fluent in legalese could discuss the implications of the changes.
So they added in the dates. Nice.
Change number two…also consists of adding in dates.
So it looks like in Contract A, musicians are to work no fewer than 38 weeks and no more than 42 weeks. Contract B alters that to just plain old “shall be expected to” work 42 weeks.
Discussions of community outreach. It goes from “in any season” to “in any 42 week season.” Management also adds in an (s) after rehearsal.
Here are some free days built into Contract B that were not in Contract A.
A change in the number of musicians allowed in split orchestra situations…
This is in Contract B; it is not in Contract A…
This looks like it has to do with vacation time re: the switch to a 42-week year, and as such, I think it’s more of a clarification than a compromise…
Equations like this bring back memories of crying in my eighth-grade algebra class, so I’ll leave analysis of this to more qualified individuals…
Changes in Internet broadcasting provisions…
Glad that Contract A’s (e) was changed. That strikes me as being a huge potential loophole: “nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to limit the Association’s ability to promote the orchestra through current and evolving social networking/social media forums.” Does that mean that the MOA could post videos or concert recordings onto, say, Facebook or Myspace (or whatever social media site explodes in the next five years) without paying its musicians, as long as it was done for “advertising purposes”? I wouldn’t be averse to videos or concert recordings being available online, but the musicians would need to be compensated in some way for that. However, I know the laws dictating digital media are complicated and in flux, so I may well have interpreted that wrong. I’ll update this paragraph later if someone else can clarify. (It does seem to be a moot point now in this particular situation, though.)
Here it appears that individual musicians won the ability to receive higher payments for recording sessions. That only seems logical…
This sentence is only in Contract B, and strikes me as being one of the most interesting changes of all. On the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians website, I’m counting 15 first violins (with two on leave of absence), 9 second violins, 10 violas (with one on leave of absence), 10 cellos (with two on medical leave), 6 bass players, 4 flutes, 3 oboe, 4 clarinet, 4 bassoon, 5 horn, 4 trumpet, 2 trombone, 1 tuba, 2 timpani, 3 percussion, 1 harp, and 3 librarians (with one as a substitute). That adds up to 86, with two of those players now in the Oregon Symphony, one in the San Francisco Symphony, and none of the three very likely to return. And then the one substitute librarian. What happens when the number dips below 84, as it looks guaranteed to do even if nobody leaves? (And I can guarantee you, people will leave…) Will management face any consequences for failing to hire new players, or be forced to agree to an accelerated schedule of auditions to fill vacancies to keep the orchestra at the magical 84 number? Or is this a largely symbolic provision with no teeth to enforce it?
And…another change having to do with dates.
So in a 52-page contract, we have approximately 14 fleeting changes (although your exact number will vary depending on if you feel the changes should be counted per sentence, per paragraph, per line, per section, etc). Three of those changes have to do with dates. So really there are only about 11 changes. Compare that to the 250+ changes the musicians say management has made from the old contract. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that management’s Final Offer is probably about 95% of what they originally wanted, change-wise.
Have you guys ever watched Pawn Stars? If we translated the negotiation of the changes within this contract into a Pawn Stars segment, it would go something like this:
Rick: Wow, here’s a valuable car I really, really, really want to buy. It’s amazing. Wow. This is world-class stuff right here. Yes, I’m very interested. What do you want for it?
Client: I was thinking $10,000.
Rick: WHAT? Um, no. No, no, no, NO, NO, NO. Absolutely positively no way. How about $100?
Client: Sorry, what?
Rick: $100. Sorry man, times are tough.
Client: Can you, um, do any better than that?
Rick (five months later): Here is my absolute final offer.
*suspenseful music plays*
Rick: It’s totally respectful and realistic.
*more suspenseful music*
Rick: I will give you 5% of what you want. So $500.
Client: (backs away slowly)
Rick: What is your problem? I’m so disappointed you aren’t working with me! I’m being reasonable and generous and incredibly respectful! Why are you driving away in your awesome car that I said I totally wanted??? Why doesn’t anyone want to negotiate with me??? Fine. Whatever. I’ll just close the shop till Thanksgiving while continuing to pay myself $1100 a day. See if I care. Geez.
This would be the worst TV show ever. (And I’m including Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in that appraisal.)
Well, regardless of the exact percentage of changes, here’s the inevitable question:
If you have only 11 relatively minor changes to share, why would you post two separate 50-page PDF documents? Or, phrased another way, why wouldn’t you post a short errata to make your positions as clear as possible?
It couldn’t possibly be to confuse Joe Patron, who is most likely elderly, and probably doesn’t know how to work Adobe Reader, or tile the windows on his computer so he can read both documents at once, and probably doesn’t have good enough eyesight or the physical ability to sit and spend a couple hours skipping back and forth between the two contracts for fifty pages. It couldn’t possibly be to give Joe Patron the impression that management is engaging in good-faith dialogue and agreeing to lots of substantial changes, when really there are only a handful of them. It couldn’t possibly be to overwhelm a local news media that’s already overwhelmed with negotiation news and simply doesn’t have the time or resources to devote to comparing the two contracts.
Because management would never ever do that to its devoted public, right? The very same public who makes Michael Henson’s $404,000 annual salary possible, right? Nobody could possibly do that in good conscience…could they?
So what’s the alternate explanation?
I’ll have some stuff to say later tonight or tomorrow morning, but I just wanted to let y’all know that business is booming here at SOTL with tons of Minnesota Orchestra patrons wanting to know what exactly the f*** happened today.
To provide a little lighthearted reading in the midst of the apocalypse, here’s a list of amusing terms that readers have used to find this site. I’ll feature the best ones every day, so if you want to send a coded anonymous message to management, feel free! Just use a search term that will get you to this site, click on a link, and voila (or should I say, viola?). If it’s amusing enough it will be posted here. Have fun!
This week is when the crap really starts hitting the fan in regards to the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra negotiations. Or, as it’s known around these parts: Orchestral Apocalypse ’012. Here’s a comprehensive discussion of what all happened in Week -4, Week -3, and Week -2. Warning: this situation has become so complicated, so political, so bizarre, that if you’re just starting to pay attention now, you’d be well-served by reading the entirety of my Tumblr, which includes the discussions of what happened in the various weeks, as well as all the editorials I’ve written. Yes, I understand that’s a lot of reading, but to be fair, a lot of crap has happened lately.
25 September 2012 (published a day late; sorry)
A lot of information has come out lately. Here are some articles you can read at your leisure…
Orchestra headed toward lockout? Star Tribune. 24 September, 11:11AM
Minn. Orchestra Musicians Say Strike Is Possibility. WCCO. 24 September, 5:55PM
Could Twin Cities Orchestras Go Silent? KARE. 24 September, 6:05PM
The latest on SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra labor talks. MPR. 24 September, 9:20PM
Minn. Orchestra, SPCO contract negotiations still without agreement. MPR. 24 September.
SPCO rejects musicians’ contract counterproposal. MPR. 24 September.
SPCO contract talks stall; management wants 28 players, down from 34. Pioneer Press. 24 September.
Just some miscellaneous thoughts…
I’m disappointed that the media isn’t talking more about working conditions and managements’ visions for the future. These are not just squabbles over money, although you’d never guess it from the majority of press reports.
I’m not sure why Minnesota management refused to allow their musicians to address the board, especially since there were already plans for management to convene that evening…? I’d like to hear from them about that. Why wouldn’t you at least make the show of meeting with them? You wouldn’t have to actually listen to them, if you didn’t want to. You could play with your new iPhone and tune them out. But then at least afterward you could say you met with them when they offered to reach out to you. This just seems like an easily avoidable PR failure. (One of many, unfortunately…)
After this latest barrage of press reports, I feel like I’m understanding better why there has been no counter-proposal from the Minnesota musicians: they want more answers about the organization’s finances before they can decide what would be a reasonable proposal. I think that’s a totally fair request. Having just dug into some old articles, and found some pretty serious discrepancies in management’s attitudes (and numbers) between 2008 and 2010 and 2012, I believe the musicians are more than justified in asking for an independent financial analysis. In fact, I feel that donors should be clamoring for an independent financial analysis. (If I was Julia Dayton, I’d be making some very angry calls to Orchestra Hall administration after what management has all said over the past few weeks…) Once again, management, you’re free to step forward and clarify, either here directly or through the press or through your website. But until you do, I have to deal with the facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground say that the musicians have good reason to feel confused…and betrayed.
Remember how on the 24th SPCO management rejected the musicians’ proposal (details above)? That consisted of “a first-year guaranteed pay of $73,000 for the first two years, with an increase to $77,000 in the third year. They also asked for no change in the size of the orchestra, increased pension contributions in the third year and increased seniority pay throughout the contract,” according to the Pioneer Press. Well, the musicians have tried again…
According to the Pioneer Press:
The musicians agreed to further salary cuts that would bring the minimum annual salaries down to $70,000 for the first two years of the contract and $75,000 for the third…
In order to avoid reducing the orchestra’s size from 34 players down to 28, the musicians have asked management to take the money set aside for buyouts and apply it toward the operating budget.
“They’ve told us 16 musicians are eligible for a buyout,” said Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee. “That money should (be used) to preserve the orchestra rather than dismember it and start all over again.”
In addition, the musicians have offered to perform up to eight free concerts specifically for fundraising events.
I’m guessing the musicians feel fairly confident about this offer, as they’ve posted the entirety of their contract up on their blog, which they’ve never done before. Waiting on management’s response now… (One wonders where the money that management wanted to use for buyouts came from. Has anyone explained that? Right now, judging by press reports, it seems it just magically appeared. Abracadabra!)
I’ve been feeling for a few weeks as if the situation in St. Paul is slightly less bleak than the one in Minneapolis, and hopefully this proves it.
Speaking of the bleak situation in Minneapolis…
The situation in Minneapolis is bleak.
Yesterday Minnesota management offered their ominously titled Final Proposal, which makes a generous effort to compromise by…not really compromising much at all. Management is still claiming they want a $89,000 average salary. (Really, guys? You couldn’t even come up to, say, $90,500 to at least give a vague impression of compromise? A $1500 raise in the proposed average salary would only cost you roughly $135,000 more a year. [The exact number would vary depending on how many musicians would be in the group.] Michael Henson alone could cover the vast majority of that if he agreed to a 30% pay cut.) But I guess they did offer some clarifications and some changes in working conditions, and that’s…something. I guess. Not sure what those exact changes are yet. Musicians are still reviewing the document. Hopefully we’ll hear from them soon. I’m not optimistic about their response.
Richard Davis said:
“Nearly six months have passed and we have yet to receive from our players a counterproposal or even any indication of their priorities,” he said.
*politely raises hand* Um, Mr. Davis, I’m not sure where you’ve been over the last few months, but since you’re clearly just joining us, allow me to be the one to inform you that the musicians’ first priority is an independent financial analysis because the things you have said about the state of the orchestra’s finances contradict themselves. We have Google now, people! You can’t expect us to forget what you said in 2010! How are the musicians possibly supposed to know what their priorities are if they don’t even know how much money the orchestra may (or may not) be sitting on? It’s like someone saying, “Well, I’m not sure what my income currently is, or what it will be in future, but I do know with absolute certainty how much I can afford to spend on food, clothing, shelter, insurance, transportation, and everything else!” That’s the talk of a deranged mind. And a banker of all people should know that. Hell, maybe if you agreed to run an independent financial analysis, and the numbers came back that you’re saying will come back, who knows what could happen? Maybe the musicians would agree that your proposal is reasonable, and the only possible way to save the organization, like you’ve been telling us all along. Then maybe we could all move the crap on.
We also heard why management does not want an independent financial analysis:
unnecessary delay and duplication of efforts
One word for this: lame. On second thought, three words: lame, lame, and lame. Management doesn’t cite the cost (the thing my naive self assumed would be the stumbling block); they cite “delay” and “duplication of efforts.” Well maybe if you’d agreed to an analysis a few weeks ago, we’d be that much closer to getting the results! And maybe if you’d agree to an analysis, the musicians might temporarily accept your terms while the calculations are going on! And maybe if you’d agreed to an analysis, you could silence devoted patrons who are going so far as to wonder out loud if you’re engaging in fraud (comment section)! What would the down-side to such an analysis be, besides the inconvenience of “delay” and “duplication of effort”? It would make your musicians happy, as it would presumably answer the questions they have which they say you’re not answering. It would make negotiations less tense because everyone would be on the same page. It would be a net gain for management, as it would make the musicians look incredibly petty for being so obsessed with independent financial reviews lately. If nothing else, management could at least answer some questions about why you guys said you were doing so swimmingly in 2010, when now you say you were actually drowning in 2010.
Until further notice, I’m assuming there’s something fishy going on. Given the publicly available facts, what else am I supposed to think?
“If they want more conversation this week, we are here to find a resolution,” he said.
You guys didn’t seem to be interested in conversation the other day when you rejected a request for the musicians to give a presentation to the board…
Well, in the meantime…if you’re lonely and need someone to talk to about finding solutions to your orchestra’s countless intractable problems…you’ve always always got me and my Hundred Questions… Just saying. :) <3 xx
Here are the articles that came out today, so you can read all the details and try judging for yourself what’s happening…
Minnesota Orchestra’s final offer. Star Tribune. 25 September.
SPCO musicians make counteroffer; Minnesota Orchestra talks appear stalled. Pioneer Press. 25 September.
As deadlines near, developments in contract struggles at MnOrch and SPCO. MPR. 26 September.
Also interesting: yesterday’s Minnesota musicians’ blog entry discussing their last negotiating session.
Some highlights (lowlights?):
Board Chair Jon Campbell expressed regret at the Board and Management’s handling of the endowment funds over the past ten years, noting that they had been unhappy with the advice they had acted upon and had to change investment advisers. Campbell also admitted that the Board and Management had been wrong in 2007 regarding their investment predictions.
After lunch, Musicians asked questions related to the most recent endowment charts, with the main question being: Where does the $97 Million that the Board has raised thus far (in the Building for the Future Fund) fit into the total endowment structure? The Board and Management did not answer [editor's note: lol], but said they would provide that information later…
Finally, Musicians requested to speak to the entire Board of Directors at that evening’s meeting, and be given an opportunity to offer their morning presentation. The Board and Management rejected that request.
Stay classy, Minnesota Orchestra management. Stay classy. *thumbs up*
Well, this is not a day of events I’m looking forward to summarizing. And it probably will only get worse from here on out. I knew it was bad when I realized I was in the mood to listen to a lonely mournful lumberjack singing sad incomprehensible lyrics…in falsetto.
God I’m depressed. *takes swig of alcohol*
Yesterday SPCO management rejected their musicians’ proposal. Here’s the article from the Pioneer Press, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra managers reject union contract offer.
In a statement late Wednesday, Sept. 26, SPCO president Dobson West called the proposal a “very small step forward” that does not provide any material savings and places the financial burden on the orchestra’s audience and donors.
Did he really need to qualify “a step forward” with the condescending “very small”? At this point, it seems as though any small step should be considered a giant leap. Because if you’re making any kind of progress at all after nine months, frankly, that’s a miracle. This new contract is taking as much time to gestate as a human baby.
While I’m on the subject of the SPCO (which I haven’t been on very often lately) I wanted to throw in my two cents about memberships: they’re ridiculously, criminally cheap. How about offering something like two months of free concerts, to see if you’d even be interested in attending, and then after that, increasing the price of a membership to $10 or $12 a month? I’m living way below the poverty line, and I’d be happy to pay $7.50 (the musicians’ offer) or $10 or $12 a month for access to world-class concerts. Honestly, I’d pay $20, but music is obviously the most important thing in my life, so I’m a skewed sample. But surely people who are really interested and invested in the orchestra, who are told that an increase in the cost of membership will go directly to keeping that orchestra intact during difficult financial times…surely those people would be willing to pony up an extra $2.50 a month? If they don’t feel invested enough in the orchestra to pay that little bit more a month…would they really then bother coming to the shows? I have a very hard time believing they would. And isn’t that the whole point of the membership program…to cultivate new audiences? Not people who come once or twice and then stop… People who come and then keep coming. People who feel invested in the quality of what’s happening onstage. People who will support the other people (also known as the “orchestra”) onstage.
I don’t feel comfortable running all the calculations on how much this proposed contract will save the SPCO because I don’t have the expertise (or time) to wade through all the numbers, but I’d be interested in seeing management’s math on that one. There’s a letter on their website about the 24 September negotiations, saying that the union’s second proposal only saved $100,000 over the three-year life of the contract, but none has been posted about the musicians’ most recent proposal. Maybe that will come later. Or maybe they’re waiting until after this weekend to unveil the numbers. I don’t know.
Also, why has Mr. West not explained the $1.6 – $3.2 million – not sure of the exact number – which has been made available for the 16 musician buyouts? Once again, I’m so curious to hear where that number came from, when, how, why, etc. I don’t think he’s mentioned the background on that…has he? Have you heard anything about it? Let me know if you have.
Here’s an excerpt from West’s September 7 letter:
This proposal represents a significant stretch for the Society and our donors. Our donors have spoken loud and clear: there is no additional funding available to support the status quo and in fact, current funding levels will not be sustained for the status quo. Significant additional funds will be available, however, for real transformation – an orchestra of exceptional artistic quality with our fixed expenses in line with our sustainable revenues, with the flexibility to meet a rapidly changing environment and with fair and respectful compensation for our Musicians, at rates we can afford.
I wish we could hear from these donors. I haven’t heard from them in the press, and I would very much like to. I would like to hear them explain in their own words why they feel the status quo is unsustainable, and if they feel the artistic quality of the orchestra will decrease as a result of these specific cuts, and also their qualifications for making such assessments. I wonder if there are any large donors who are expressing concern about a possible sharp decrease in quality and cohesion…? You’d think there would be. Many small donors have.
Also, a respectful base salary for a new musician in an ensemble that aspires to be one of the greatest chamber orchestras in the world is not $50,000 a year. Especially not in a state where the median income is about $57,000. Sorry. That’s not much more than the musicians would earn if they were teaching privately full-time. Actually, with their training, they could probably make more money teaching full-time, especially if they supplemented with other performance opportunities. According to this website, $50,000 is about what a subway operator, sales representative, or librarian makes a year. And no offense to those good folks, but they didn’t invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into their education and career starting at the age of five. I don’t see how you could realistically aspire to be a super-selective elite world-class musical organization while offering a salary that is not much different to one a teacher could make. What would keep those whip-smart musicians from opting to teach…or heck, becoming very musically talented subway operators, sales representatives, or librarians?
My last hope: management in St. Paul is actually secretly willing to agree to the majority of items in this proposed contract, but they’re waiting for the next set of talks to see how much they can squeeze out before the contract deadline. And then the conflict will end and rainbows will shine and unicorns will fly. Naive? Probably. But I want good news. I’m to the point where I’m getting pissed at other people’s good news, and that’s never a good sign. Chicago Symphony ends their strike? My first grumpy thought: why can’t our strikes last a day? Referee lockout over? Minnesota management would never compromise… Teachers’ strike over? How’d they come to an agreement? What’s their secret? Lucky bastards!
Last night I read about the Atlanta Symphony musicians agreeing to the deep cuts management had proposed…and it devastated me. Especially when I went to the Atlanta Symphony’s Facebook page, and saw their breezy, wildly wildly inappropriate status update: “Let the music begin! A new contract has been ratified and the 2012-13 season will open on October 4. See you soon!” Hey, you know what, Atlanta Symphony? F*** you! It made me wonder what the end-game in Minnesota will look like (ugly, probably), and when it will come. It’s clear that management doesn’t respect their musicians, or even understand what the word “respect” means. How can we as a community show that as passionate music lovers we do? How can we pressure all those who have treated others so rudely to go away? How can we encourage incompetent people to step down, and competent ones to step up? How can we patrons help to rebuild whatever long-term damage may result from the toxic environment that managements have so unnecessarily fostered? How do we make sure we don’t become so entrenched on the musicians’ side that we can’t recognize healthy compromise when we see it? I want to know what I can do to help. I want to keep as many of these people in the Twin Cities as I can, and I want them to have careers that are as satisfying to them as those careers are to me.
For a laugh, here’s the most useless discussion I’ve read yet about this entire fiasco. (And trust me, I’ve been in the Strib comment section, so I’ve read some useless discussion.) I mention it here solely for entertainment’s sake. It starts with the assertion that (I’m paraphrasing) “hey musicians, you’re spoiled, coddled, childish brats – but no disrespect intended!”…and it goes on from there. We hear that “when the rich have money, they give it away. When they lose money, they don’t.” This makes total sense, since according to the New York Times, in the United States, “The bottom 99% received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.” Yes, that certainly does explain why orchestras have been doing so well post-2010! And then we also hear that Minnesota has “canceled opening concerts due to lack of funding or, due to unresolved contract negotiations, enforced a musicians’ lockout.” Fascinating. Someone has clearly opened a portal to the future! Can I hop through to see how this all ends?? There may be some worthy points hidden deep in the essay…somewhere…but in the face of such monumentally lazy writing, I’m not keen on making the effort to dig them up. Dear commentators: if you are going to write stuff like this, or post stuff like this, please make sure the text you’re about to post is free of fundamentally basic errors. Otherwise, you lose your audience before you begin, even if you do have some good points to offer. Surely Mr. Lebrecht knows that Minnesota isn’t actually locked out (yet). If he doesn’t, that’s unsettling, because even I know what’s happening at all the major orchestras, and I don’t comment on orchestras for a living.
In an attempt to get away from all this frustrating news, I watched a couple Daily Show episodes, and watched this interview with Bill Clinton. And I was surprised to find that what he said applies, in a certain way, to this whole orchestral apocalypse. Bolds mine, obviously.
I think… Just forget about politics. Just think about any time in your life, [when] you’ve been confused or angry or frightened or resentful or anything and you didn’t know what was going on. In those moments, explanation is way more important than eloquence, and rhetoric falls on deaf ears. So the only chance I had to get anybody to really listen was to say, “Here, look, this is what I think happened – boom boom boom boom – and one of my favorite responses came from a guy, he said, I’m a conservative Republican, and I never voted for Clinton. I never even thought he was eloquent. But he treated me like a grown-up, and I appreciated that. I felt like we could sit down and have a conversation. People need to be told… The American people are plenty smart enough to figure all this out…
I think the American people take this election seriously. They know they have to make choices that will affect their lives, and it’s not very helpful if you take up their time and you don’t explain what those choices are…
So I wanted to try to explain that in simple terms. No one else would do that. No one…unless you were being driven by ideology instead of by evidence… This is a practical country. We have ideals – we have philosophies - but the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mole the evidence to get the answer you’ve already decided you’ve got to have. It doesn’t work that way. Building an economy, rebuilding an economy, is hard, practical, nuts and bolt work. You have to look at what the competition is doing; you have to look at what the factors resisting growth are; you have to look at the strengths of the country. This country has enormous assets that most of our competitors don’t have…
This economics is not ideology. It’s hard work. And it’s seeing what the competition’s doing, it’s analyzing the alternatives… [Jon Stewart: Results-oriented. Merit-oriented.] Yes. That’s what America needs. We need to get the show on the road here and stop all this kind of mindless and fact-free fighting.
Yes, management, I’d be so appreciative if someone could treat musicians and concerned patrons like intelligent adults for once. If someone could answer our questions, and trust us enough to engage in a dialogue, and not leave out inconvenient facts, and not act like our concerns are baseless or naive or irresponsible, and not be condescending or adversarial. That would be so d*** lovely. Thanks.
Some late breaking news:
Contract negotiations continue at orchestras; final offer, counter-proposal, from MPR, 27 September.
Without contract, Minn. Orchestra lockout possible, from MPR, 27 September.
And Minn. Orchestra musicians face lockout if no deal from the Star Tribune, 27 September.
Management at Minnesota has also posted their most recent contract.
Sooooooooooooo, looks like the Minnesota Orchestra is headed toward a lockout. They meet on Saturday on whether to accept the contract (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the vote will be NO), and are requesting to meet with management on Sunday. After that…let the silence begin!
And so we’ve come full-circle. I offer you some melancholy music:
*drinks more alcohol*
Head on down to the comment section if you want to engage in some group therapy.
Not too much news yet this morning, besides this excellent blog from Drew McManus called “Keep Your Eye on the Details in Minnesota.” He notes that management’s transparency concerning their new contract is actually not very transparent at all, since there’s no old contract to compare it to. Amen. Personally I find it insulting that management thinks anything on their website clarifies anything, besides maybe the fact that they think we’re dumbs***s with the reasoning capabilities of five-year-olds. (Idle question: do you think Mr. McManus’s blog will appear under “Industry News“? Or is his blog not as reputable as the anonymous writer’s from the Huffington Post?) (Also: notice that under “Industry News”, management still has a link to an article, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians on strike”…days after Chicago came to an agreement. Apparently in Minnesota Orchestra management’s world, that strike is still bitter and ongoing. If that isn’t a blatant example of “mol[ing] the evidence to get the answer you’ve already decided you’ve got to have”, I don’t know what is.)
While I was over at his blog, I hopped over to Mr. McManus’s entry on Atlanta’s concessions, and read this about the St. Louis unrest of 2005…
For example, in St. Louis, the executive overseeing their bitter labor dispute in 2005 left shortly thereafter and following that departure labor relations, along with the organization’s overall health and vitality, began to increase.
I thought this was relevant to the Minnesota situation because a few days ago there was an article in the Star Tribune that drew parallels to the St. Louis dispute, saying that things are better now, and implying they might improve quickly in Minneapolis, too. Well, no wonder the situation is better in St. Louis; it wasn’t made clear in the Strib article that their executive departed. I’d think that before you really start healing the wound, you’d have to kill all the bacteria causing inflammation…right? (And yet Detroit didn’t change leadership after their whole fiasco. So who knows. Might be too early to tell what would be the best course of action. And obviously the situations are different at each orchestra, depending on the power structure, politics, available resources, community, etc., etc.)
Soooooooooo….once again we come around to the question: how can we hold those who are accountable for this toxic atmosphere responsible?
I wanted to share a little anecdote from my personal life… I was speaking the other day to my grandparents about what’s happening with the Minnesota Orchestra. I summarized the situation as neutrally and briefly as possible, explaining that management wanted to cut base salaries by $40,000; that management raised $100 million over the last few years for a fundraising campaign; that what they’ve said over the last couple of years about the orchestra’s financial status contradicts itself; that they are not making an effort to answer questions about those contradictions; and that they have repeatedly refused requests from their musicians for a second opinion on their financial status.
“Well, if I win the Powerball, we’ll give them money,” my grandpa said.
My grandmother’s eyes flashed. “Oh, no, we won’t! Not if they’re mismanaging their funds like that!”
If my grandparents put together the pieces in thirty seconds…might the broader public do the same thing, too…whether there’s any truth to the assumption or not?
30 September (2AM)
I just got home from performing a concert and having a post-concert dinner out and I don’t have time to write much, but I thought I’d leave this here for any morning viewers. (Because I am sleeping in tomorrow! woohoo!)
Minn. Orchestra Musicians Reject Contract – 29 September, CBS Minnesota
Musicians vote down contract proposal – 29 September, Star Tribune
Also, I see someone found this blog today looking for “minnesota orchestra musicians.org 100 questions”. Was it management? Helloooooooooo! Management! We’ve got tea brewing for you! Come back!
The eve of the apocalypse seems as good a time for ever for me to repeat something I haven’t said for a while, and that’s I’m pre-emptively sorry. I’m sorry to anyone I’ve hurt, offended, mis-characterized, misjudged, misunderstood, during the course of the whole fiasco. Unlike certain members of management (cough), I don’t view myself as an infallible human being (since, you know, I’m not). I’m viewing this whole mess from the sidelines via Internet reports, and I obviously don’t have the whole story (stories?). (To be fair, I’ve acknowledged that from the very beginning.) I’m also very upset right now. I’m in music because of the example these people have set for me. I haven’t met most of them, and yet they’re some of the most influential people in my life. And of course anyone who sees their heroes being threatened immediately gets testy and defensive, sometimes unreasonably so. (I’m sure even Michael Henson, Dobson West, Jon Campbell, and Richard Davis would!) A certain lack of perspective in such a situation is sadly inevitable. I also tend to lash out with sarcasm when I’m pissed, and then come to regret it later. Soooo, if you ever think I’m flying off the handle, please be clear and say so, and pull me aside and tell me that I need to take a step back for a bit. I’d appreciate that. I’d appreciate it even more if you could do it politely, because my nerves are rather frayed right now. Thank you kindly, darlings. I’ll try my best to keep my temper under control and to stay open to all respectful, reasonable positions.
I also want to remind people that as this conflict gets more and more and more (and more) technical over the coming weeks (months?), I’m going to be less and less and less (and less) qualified to understand what’s really going on. (Only someone with the qualifications of, say, Drew McManus will be able to read the tea leaves with any authority, and that will likely be difficult even for him, since he’s just as much of an outsider to this situation as I am.) So remember to take everything I say with not just a grain of salt, but with a salt mine, as I said in an earlier entry. I started this blogging project a month ago knowing absolutely nothing about how orchestra contracts are negotiated. Although I’ve been dropped into an intense crash course on orchestral politics, and I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time, I still don’t know a tremendous amount about how the whole labyrinthine system works, and so I’m learning as I go along. (Embarrassingly publicly, as it turns out…) But I hope you’ll be patient and come along with me, anyway. Experts out there, feel free to weigh in. The comment section is always open. As these situations get more and more complicated and emotional, I’d like for this blog to be less me blabbing and offering my snarky profane non-expert opinion, and more of a place for concerned patrons to gather and discuss and ponder in a reasonable intelligent way…since management has sadly refused to provide such a place for us. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra website can’t really be much of a clearinghouse, either, for obvious reasons.
(Which isn’t to say I won’t resist sharing my opinions entirely. Surely y’all know by now I’m incapable of not sharing opinions! ;) )
More of those non-expert opinions thoughts tomorrow. Hope you had sweet dreams last night. It’s 2AM here, so probably time for me to head to bed. I’m hoping for dreams of a happy resolution, where we discover that the Twin Cities can somehow love and support two world-class orchestras.
30 September 2012
Well, last night’s early-morning entry is looking a bit prophetic on my part, as the Minnesota Orchestra musicians have just announced their intention to seek binding arbitration to settle their contract dispute, and this is the first step in this entire drama that I feel wholly unqualified to speak a single word on. I think I last heard the phrase “binding arbitration” in my ninth grade civics class, and that was nearly ten years ago, so for those of us who need a little refresher course…
Binding Arbitration: The submission of a dispute to an unbiased third person designated by the parties to the controversy, who agree in advance to comply with the award—a decision to be issued after a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.
Arbitration is a well-established and widely used means to end disputes. It is one of several kinds of Alternative Dispute Resolution, which provide parties to a controversy with a choice other than litigation. Unlike litigation, arbitration takes place out of court: the two sides select an impartial third party, known as an arbitrator; agree in advance to comply with the arbitrator’s award; and then participate in a hearing at which both sides can present evidence and testimony. The arbitrator’s decision is usually final, and courts rarely reexamine it.
Lots of people have strong opinions about unions and binding arbitration. When you Google “binding arbitration union”, there’s lots of stuff about binding arbitration and public sector unions. (A lot of people who don’t like public sector unions don’t like binding arbitration; many claim the decisions that come out of arbitration are too favorable to them.) So I tried “binding arbitration union -public.” Here’s an article discussing how American Airlines unions sought binding arbitration earlier this year; it claims that unions usually don’t like binding arbitration. (But in this particular instance, American was nearing bankruptcy, which, as I understand it, could have led to the possibility of the airline being able to reject the union contracts entirely, so in this case, binding arbitration was better than nothing.)
There’s less when you look up “binding arbitration union orchestra.” The first story that comes up is the great Louisville Symphony Debacle (LSD). There, however, it was management who suggested binding arbitration, and then only after many months of contentious negotiations. Detroit musicians offered binding arbitration only after five difficult months of striking, and only reluctantly. In March the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony signed a contract that allows for musicians and management to enter binding arbitration if they disagree on salary in 2014. Other than that, I can’t find record of a group of professional orchestra musicians who have offered binding arbitration before the work stoppage actually started. Let me know if there was one at some point, because I’m not finding it.
Feel free to take a moment to giggle at my lack of knowledge. At least I admit my limitations. And can Google.
I don’t know if this is the case or not, but it feels as if the musicians knew this was coming…doesn’t it? It feels as though they – or their PR team, or both – have studied other orchestras’ meltdowns and are making their decisions with their missteps in mind. The one time during this whole fiasco that I felt they were thrown maybe a little bit off their game was back when management released their contract without telling them. By being the ones to first mention the possibility of playing and talking, and the first to suggest binding arbitration before the lockout even began (an option the Louisville and Detroit managements would have loved), that really makes the musicians look ready for reasonable compromise, and demonstrates an affection and concern for their audience…an affection and concern we haven’t heard much of from management. I’ve also been very happy over the last few days to see the musicians really clarifying why they haven’t offered a counter-proposal (because they lack the necessary information to make an informed one). That explanation has been in nearly every article lately, and it’s good to hear; for a long while there, I think it just seemed to casual readers as if the musicians were unwilling to engage, rather than merely waiting on a request for financial information.
And before we’d barely had time to swallow this, much less digest it, we hear that management has rejected both the orchestra musicians’ offers to “play and talk” and to go through binding arbitration. Waiting to hear a response from management now… I can’t wait to hear Michael Henson come up with new and exciting ways to demonize the men and women whose talents he relies on for his exorbitant paychecks! Bless their hearts, but Davis and Campbell aren’t quite as entertaining on the hypocrisy scale.
I wonder: if Minnesota board wanted to come across as the most incompetent, most oblivious, most tone-deaf entity imaginable, what would they do differently? Maybe hire outside musicians a la the LSD situation, but otherwise… Not much. (And you know, at this point, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see them trying to hire outside musicians. The effort would fail miserably, but I can see management trying it in some capacity anyway, since they don’t really seem particularly concerned about the quality of the orchestra. I pray to God this doesn’t actually happen, but if it does, I urge all qualified players to show up for the job and then launch into your best impersonation of the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Then maybe, if we’re very lucky, we could get Anna Karkowska to solo with the Minnesota Replacement Orchestra! And then we could force management to sit through two hours of it! On second thought, let’s make it ten! While we’re employing non-union musicians, we might as well make the most of them! Hey, let’s do the Ring Cycle for kicks, with no breaks in between, and see how low our artistic quality can get! It’s the Orchestral Quality Limbo Stick Game! Catchphrase: how low can you go while you’re locking out the very best? Fun for the whole community! Woohoo!)
I feel badly about this, but I’m starting to feel the SPCO story slipping away from me. I’ll still keep posting links to articles about the situation, but things have flown back and forth so quickly lately there that I’m forgetting what offer was made when and what was said and who wants $77,000 here and who wants $50,000 there and was that base or including overscale or proposal number two or rejected proposal number three, etc., etc., etc. My brain can’t keep up with the limited amount of time I have to blog. That doesn’t mean I support the musicians or the organization or an equitable solution to that crisis any less; I just feel I have less to say about it, because I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable when I’m not. Maybe if the SPCO comes to an impasse, I’ll get time to breathe and study the details of what has all been going on there lately. However, for now I think I’m going to have to focus primarily on Minnesota situation; I’ve just spent more time with it lately, and it’s easier for me to keep up with. Of course if you want to discuss the SPCO meltdown in the comments, you’re welcome to, and I’ll try to engage with you as best I can!
News stories/blogs that have surfaced lately:
Musicians veto deal in Mpls. as SPCO rejects contract extension – KARE, 4:20PM, 30 September (strangely, this article is actually from MPR, though)
Minn. Orchestra musicians seek arbitration – MPR, 30 September
10,000 lakes, one fish, and no settlements – Robert Levine, Polyphonic
I’m going to start a new page called “Orchestral Apocalypse Index.” It will consist of links to all the pro- and anti-management articles and blog entries I’ve found. That way you can have the tools you need to begin making decisions about who and what to support, and you won’t need to wade through my wordy profane blather. If the article is halfway intelligent, and not just some anonymous dude on his blog going “zomg lyke musicians suckkk and r wayyyy 2 overpAID”, I’ll include a link to it. Additional submissions of links to blogs or articles I may have missed will be welcome in the comment section. So keep an eye out for that.
When I read the latest Star Tribune article on the Minnesota Orchestra crisis, one quote in particular struck me as being so patently absurd, and so directly opposed to everything that had come before it, I felt like I’d wandered into a new upside-down dimension. Either Michael Henson is going off the rails, or I’m becoming dangerously entrenched and reading much too deeply into a couple of sentences, and I’m not sure which it is. If you could convince me I’m crazy, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.
Here’s the portion of the article that made me feel as though a Rod Serling sighting was imminent:
Michael Henson, president and CEO of the orchestra, said on Friday that no immediate financial crisis exists, but he likened the investment funds that help fund each season to a retirement account.
“You can’t spend 90 percent of it in the first four years of retirement,” Henson said. “You need to make it last.”
He indicated the orchestra would like to draw no more than 5 percent annually from the funds; the draw rate has averaged nearly 10 percent over the past 10 years, he said.
Before I begin, I’m going to assume that Henson was quoted accurately, and that his words weren’t manipulated or misrepresented in any way. We should hear within the next couple of days if he objects as to how his comments were portrayed.
With that assumption out of the way, let’s try to unpack this “no immediate crisis” remark.
First, I’d like to say a few words on the nature of crisis.
If you are on track to spend ninety percent of your income in your first four years of retirement, then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.
If you’ve staked the long-term fiscal health of your organization on overly “optimistic economic assumptions and the hope of limitless benefactor generosity,” then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.
If you say on your website that “if the Orchestra continues to operate at its current rate of spending, our endowment will be depleted by 2018“, you are not only in IMMEDIATE CRISIS, you’ve been in IMMEDIATE CRISIS for years.
If your only hope of creating a “fiscally responsible” organization means cutting musicians’ pay somewhere between 25-50%, then you are in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.
If you knew you wouldn’t be able to work for the next few years, and knew your only income would be your life savings, and you knew you’d run out of that savings by 2018, then you would be in IMMEDIATE CRISIS.
If you knew that all American resources would, at the current rate of spending, be depleted by 2018, then newsflash: we would all be in one hell of an IMMEDIATE CRISIS.
Call this what it is:
Financial crises don’t start when your checks start bouncing. Crises start when you make the calculations and realize that all resources will be depleted by a particular point in time (say, 2018) if you don’t make major unprecedented changes (“significant departure[s] from the traditions of the past,” according to management) that run the risk of changing the face of your organization. The risk of such a thing happening is, in and of itself, a crisis. A huge one. Period.
I’m racking my brains and I can only come up with three explanations for this bizarre statement. Leave a note in the comments if you can think of another.
1) The orchestra is truly IN IMMEDIATE CRISIS!!!ZOMG111!!!1!ELEVENTY!!!1!…but Michael Henson either A) lied or B) accidentally said it isn’t. That means that Michael Henson is either A) a liar or B) incompetent.
2) The orchestra is not in immediate crisis, and management is misrepresenting what’s actually in the endowment in order to get a sharply concessionary contract.
3) Henson didn’t actually use those exact words, and didn’t mean to insinuate that the Orchestra isn’t in crisis right now, but he made a statement that led Graydon Royce to feel comfortable risking his and his paper’s reputation by interpreting it in that way. I have no reason not to trust Mr. Royce. (And like I said, we’ll see in the next few days if any statements emerge from Henson disputing how his remarks were interpreted…) If this is true, then that means Michael Henson is communicating poorly at a moment in time when he needs to communicating with crystal clarity. It also suggests that he hasn’t thought enough about how to explain the Orchestra’s problems coherently and persuasively. If you need unprecedented concessions from your musicians because if you don’t get them, the organization as you know it will no longer be able to “survive”…then for God’s sake, run with that. Yes, Campbell and Davis made some pretty damaging PR mistakes within the last few weeks, and that sucks. But Campbell and Davis have s*** to do. Those guys were probably sneaking a five-minute phone call into the Star Tribune in between eating caviar, approving billion dollar mergers, and telephoning Tim Pawlenty to ask if he’d be interested in being CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable (where Davis is a director, FYI). But this is Henson’s full-time job. For which he is being paid $400,000+ this year alone. He should be fully capable of handling a simple newspaper interview without mucking up his message.
Some additional questions…
If there isn’t an immediate crisis, why tamper with working conditions? How much would the changes in working conditions save the orchestra? Have they run the calculations on that? Why haven’t they made those calculations publicly available with their proposed contract? They’ve got an awesome shiny website with which to disseminate such information…
Also: why not agree to an independent financial analysis?
I’d like to take a moment to discuss the current musicians’ contract, which management is saying doomed all prospects of fiscal sustainability. This shamefully irresponsible contract was signed in October 2007, according to this Playbill article. Michael Henson came aboard in September 2007, so I’m not sure if he had any say in negotiating or ratifying that.
But even if he didn’t, dude was super-proud of how things were going financially at the Minnesota Orchestra as late as July 2010…almost three years into that irresponsible five-year contract. In retrospect, this is a hilarious article to read. [Edit 10/15: This article has since been removed from the Minnesota Orchestra website. Feel free to draw your own conclusions as to what that means. There has been no explanation so far. You can take a peek at the screenshots I took here.] For a bit of perspective, let’s remember that the much ballyhooed Strategic Plan was published in November 2011. In the introduction we read that “the ideas in this plan have been developed, tested, and honed over the last 18 months.” So that means management started working on the ideas contained within the Strategic Plan in the spring of 2010. Insinuation: they were seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices the organization must resolve to ensure a sound future” before the spring of 2010. (This meshes with the claims of the Open Letter, which claims, “This is a journey that began several years ago, when the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Orchestra recognized that the organization could no longer survive [my bold] based on optimistic economic assumptions and the hope of limitless benefactor generosity.”) So, having established that, I’d like to let Michael Henson from July of 2010 say a few things. Remember that during this time, he had not only been seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices” within his orchestra for at least the last few months, if not the last couple of years, he was also, behind closed doors, writing a plan to address those financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices.
The former Bournemouth Symphony head is strategising his way through the recession - and winning. [my bold]
“There’s no single strategy to beating the downturn,” Michael Henson asserts. “There has to be a whole series of strategies to maintain a focused approach. The priority is continuing the excellence in the artistic work.” With orchestras across the US hard hit by the recession – and management strategies the number-one talking point at the League of American Orchestras’ conference in June - the Minnesota Orchestra stands out as a beacon institution among the bad news. It’s planning a European tour in August (its second in two years), expanding its online content and starting a large-scale renovation project at its home venue – having recently announced the end of a highly successful fundraising scheme. “I would say the support we get from the community is unique,” Henson boasts.
“Minnesotans are highly educated and committed to education,” he goes on, “and with a community this size – around 5m people in the region – we have a wide range of arts organisations, and a collective desire from individuals and corporations to support them.” In 2008-09, contributions accounted for 44 per cent of the orchestra’s $32.5m income. “On top of that, we’ve made some concessions at various points, there’ve been some layoffs and pay cuts in administration,” Henson notes; in August 2009, he took a seven per cent pay cut himself [heh], while Osmo Vänskä, music director since 2003, took 10 per cent [the organization's fiscal leader took a smaller pay-cut percentage-wise than the music director? classy]. At the same time, Henson negotiated modifications to the musicians’ contract, resulting in around $4.2m in cost savings up to 2012 – mostly through salary and pension reductions, and a wage freeze in FY2010. The orchestra currently numbers 95 contracted players, with six positions open; delaying filling those positions could save up to $1.8m in the long term. [Why are these concessions not mentioned on management's website? Have they slipped Henson's mind? Pity, because he seemed awfully proud of them in 2010...]
The orchestra announced in June 2009 that it had raised $14m of its $40m goal for the renovations. One year later, thanks to a last-minute $5m donation from the Target department store chain, it announced it was up to $43m. “The extra will mean we have enough to do it right – to improve chair Y as well as chair X,” says Henson. It also bodes well for the orchestra’s more long-term fundraising programme, “Building for the Future”, which aims to supplement its endowment by $30m, and provide a further $30m for artistic and educational endeavours. Including the renovation funding, the campaign has raised $82m of its $100m target. “Even though we’re in a recession, we have to keep up the commitment to the long-term vision,” Henson continues. ”The board agreed to take the risk on this.”
This year, Minnesota will be the only US orchestra represented at the Proms, a fact with added significance for Henson. “We have already made six live broadcasts this season on the BBC,” he notes (another echo of his Bournemouth days). “Our appearances at the Proms, the world’s greatest music festival, have grown from our close relationship with the BBC and will contribute to the process of increasing our visibility.” Its 2010 tour will also take it to the Edinburgh Festival and the Concertgebouw Amsterdam. “We have to keep up our international presence,” Henson says, indicating again his multi-stranded approach to building up the orchestra’s standing. “It’s all about keeping the key priorities in mind.”
This does not sound like a man (or a board) who has been seeing “significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices” for months or years. Nor does it sound like a man (or a board) who is thinking very deeply about those significant financial issues and unsustainable fiscal practices and writing a Strategic Guide of how to address them. And this surely does not sound like a man (or a board) who is anticipating the necessity of a sharply concessionary contract – a “significant departure[s] from the traditions of the past” – a mere two years later, in September 2012. So of course one has to wonder: was Michael Henson being disingenuous to this reporter, or is he being disingenuous to us now?
In case you were thinking this was just a bad interview…may I present to you the Michael Henson of December 2009…
Henson says the last fiscal year was also one of artistic success for the orchestra both at home and abroad.
“We are quietly pleased with the results,” he said. “We are in control of a difficult situation and I think we are looking forward to the future with a similar amount of control, mindful of the economy we face.”
He says the coming year will continue to present economic challenges but he is confident the orchestra is keeping a careful handle on the situation.
That’s nice. But if you were drawing out of the endowment at an average of 10% during this time, then you were (by the parameters you set forth in the Star Tribune yesterday!) not in control of a difficult situation. You were not keeping a careful handle on it, and you had no right to be pleased – quietly or otherwise – with how things were going. Yes, I know that when non-profits are struggling, there is a reluctance to admit how bad things are for fear of scaring away donors and fostering death-spirals. But if things are bad, and you sugarcoat them, when the chickens come home to roost, you can’t treat the public like clueless idiots for asking why your tune has changed. You can’t be in a house, smelling smoke, feeling heat, and hearing smoke alarms, while simultaneously telling people you’re totally in control of any fire that may be forming on the property…and then, when the flames start coming out the windows, scold the public - who wasn’t even in your damn house - by saying, “Guys, I’ve been talking about this raging inferno for years. Help me put it out!”
Of course that leads me to wonder: maybe the fire wasn’t actually burning yet?
Here’s another article from December 2008:
As was the case last year, the orchestra drew only 6 percent from its endowment to help address the budget. The $191 million endowment was down 11 percent because of stock-market performance. The board is allowed to draw up to 7 percent, but spokeswoman Gwen Pappas said the organization has been very firm about avoiding that method.
Okay, so… Based on that 2008 article, let’s try to figure out what’s been happening with the endowment draw rate. I’m using an average of 7% for pre-2007 years, even though Ms. Pappas said the organization had been avoiding that percentage, and it may well have been lower…
2002 – 7% or less
2003 – 7% or less
2004 – 7% or less
2005 – 7% or less
2006 – 7% or less
2007 – 6%
2008 – 6%
I obviously don’t have all the numbers, but based on the ones I do, I don’t think it’s particularly outrageous to assume that, if Henson’s “ten percent over the past ten years” statement is actually true, then in 2009, 2010, and 2011, the board must have increased the draw rate to an annual average percentage of 17%+. This seems frankly unbelievable, especially since Richard Davis went on record in December 2010 as saying, “This was a season characterized by disciplined budget management and significant expense cuts, which kept our operations stable in an unpredictable environment.” I don’t know if anyone would call a 17% annual draw “disciplined budget management” (especially not the Richard Davis of 2012), but…okay. I’d be curious to know what all happened in 2009 that necessitated such a dramatic climb in the draw rate. Yes, the crashing economy no doubt had a lot to do with it…but does that explain all of it? (Or, is Michael Henson lying about the draw rate?)
Also, since the post-2009 draw rates were clearly such dramatic outliers, regardless of exact percentages, why didn’t Henson say something like “over the last three years, our draw has increased to an average of 17%+, but before the recession began, it was no higher than 7%”? Were ulterior motives at play? Did he want to make it look like the huge draws were an indication of systemic failure, rather than merely a result of the recession? (This meshes with management’s insinuation that problems have been in place “for many years.”) Did he want to keep the public from placing the blame on him? Did he just pull that number out of nowhere, forgetting that a quick Google search is all it takes to check his statements against Star Tribune articles?
[Important Edit 10/29: More information on draw rates here.]
And why isn’t Henson willing to clearly discuss everything that happened in his tenure, positive or negative? It smacks of a rather desperate insecurity. He was proud to say in December 2009 that he was in control of a difficult situation, and that he was pleased with how things were going. In July 2010 the Minnesota Orchestra felt comfortable posting an article on their website saying, “The former Bournemouth Symphony head is strategising his way through the recession - and winning.” Implication: management thought they were strategising their way through the recession, and winning. But now we’re being told that, “Whoops; our bad; we didn’t actually mean ‘winning’; we meant ‘veering ever-closer toward an inevitable fiscal Armageddon.’” Then why didn’t you tell us then???
Binds like this don’t happen overnight. If the Orchestra’s only options truly are to deplete their endowment by 2018 or impose 25-50% wage cuts, there is an immediate crisis, no matter what Mr. Henson says. Obviously someone, somewhere, screwed up. Badly. And even if part of the blame rests on the musicians’ 2007-12 contract, not all of it lies there. If the problems really were this serious back in July of 2010, and December of 2009, and December of 2008, then Michael Henson knew about them. And he had a duty to say something. Or at least email whoever was in charge of the website and say, “Guys, you might want to take down that ‘Michael Henson is winning’ article…it will come back to bite us in the a** in 2012 when we’re forced to reveal how hopelessly f***ed we are…”
Michael Henson is either misrepresenting the facts now, or he was misrepresenting the facts then. Period.
(Also, I have a funny little factoid for y’all: when you Google “Michael Henson Minnesota Orchestra”, my Hundred Questions are on the first page. So every time Michael Henson does a Google search on himself and his employer, he’s going to be reminded of me. Aww.)
Like I said, convince me I’m crazy. Please. Because this just seems too wild to be true. As always, the comments section is open to everybody.
Update, 9/26.According to the musicians’ blog, at their most recent negotiating meeting, the musicians asked management questions about “inconsistencies found within the Board and Management’s financial information.” I’m assuming at least some of those questions were similar in nature to the ones asked above…? “The meeting proceeded with an assurance from the Board and Management that the Musicians would receive answers to these questions later…” Interesting. Feel free to speculate as to what that means… If I hear or read anything from management addressing what I wrote above, I’ll add it to this entry. If you hear anything, post it below.