Tag Archives: society can be really weird sometimes

Peter Gelb’s Series of Unfortunate Events

Another summer, another lockout looming!

This time it’s the Met’s. If you’ve been following my Twitter account, you know my thoughts. (There I’ve posted such in-depth analyses as Who looks at the Minnesota Orchestra negotiations and says, “I want THAT for my non-profit”? and I don’t think Peter Gelb got the memo about the power of audience advocate groups. Anyone want to deliver that memo? It’s kinda important.)

But as the deadline grows nearer, it’s time to dig deeper into the story. Let’s turn to the New York Times‘s July 23rd article, “Met Opera Prepares to Lock Out Workers.” Met General Manager Peter Gelb, here’s your chance to convince me you’re not Michael Henson 2.0. As you speak, keep in mind Song of the Lark Lockout Tip Number One:

When you’re preparing to initiate a lockout, don’t come across as a dick.

So. The floor is yours.


In letters to the company’s unionized workers, Mr. Gelb, who is seeking to cut pay and benefits, wrote that “if we are not able to reach agreements by July 31 that would enable the Met to operate on an economically sound basis, please plan for the likelihood of a work stoppage beginning Aug. 1.” He added, “I sincerely hope to avoid such an unfortunate event.”


An unfortunate event? An “unfortunate event” is having to take a detour during construction season. An “unfortunate event” is getting caught in the rain without an umbrella. An “unfortunate event” is going into a bakery craving cherry doughnuts and finding out the guy in front of you just bought the last cherry doughnut.

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Advertising Beethoven’s Crotch

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

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



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

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Michael Henson’s Massive Bonuses

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

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

Henson bonus

Click to enlarge

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

Here is the explanation on the 990.

supplemental information

Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

And here are orchestras who have publicized their 2012 990.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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2013 Symphony Ball

Well, before the story moves on and my memories become completely irrelevant, here are my thoughts on the 2013 Symphony Ball – or, to be more precise, the rally that Save Our Symphony Minnesota planned and executed during the 2013 Symphony Ball.

To my intense irritation, the media played up our gathering like they were expecting a second Haymarket Riot. The New York Times sported the headline MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA PLANS GALA; DISSONANCE IS EXPECTED. One local television station warned of an upcoming “tense protest.” WCCO called it “a situation.” People on Facebook said that things could “get ugly.” A politician even Tweeted that he was excited to mock us. It was ridiculous, especially since I’d sat in on conference calls with my fellow SOSMN volunteers, and I’d heard firsthand how they’d spent untold hours planning the event and mapping out messaging. They could not have made it any clearer in their media advisories and press releases that this was meant to be a peaceful celebratory rally led by audience advocates. Of course, this angle was the focus of approximately none of the mainstream media’s coverage.

Jon Stewart once said in an interview:

The bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict, and laziness.

There may be something to that.

I chose to wear evening dress (albeit with leg warmers, two layers of socks, and long underwear). After I got dressed, a friend brought me to the hall, and my mom and I walked around the block, taking in the scene. A large crowd had already gathered around Peavey Plaza, which looked like a combination circus, prison, and ShopKo garden center. There were tents, guards, and shrubberies. A tented sidewalk extended out from the hall’s main entrance, made a sharp turn to the left, and drained down to the empty Peavey Plaza fountain, which now was the location of a Symphony Ball tent, in which exciting activities would no doubt take place (dinner? dancing? dozing?). The tents didn’t have any windows, but there was a plastic French door on the Twelfth Street side that bravely attempted to add elegance to the proceedings. Generators buzzed near the sidewalks with massive cords leading into the great white tent. What were they for? Lighting (a blue hue eventually began glowing from the ceiling)? Heaters? A DJ booth? Endless possibilities! Parked next to the generators were trucks full of wine bottles. Caterers were unloading them. They were dressed like stewards on the Titanic.

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Save Our Symphony Rally

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

We have indeed entered The Twilight Zone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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On “Patron Advocates”

In the latest Minnesota Orchestral Association email blast, there was a sentence that could not have irritated me more if it had been specifically designed to do so (which, knowing the MOA, it probably was).

“It is the Board’s privilege and duty to serve as responsible fiduciaries for the Minnesota Orchestra. In many ways, we serve as advocates for Orchestra patrons [my bold] and our goal is to ensure that these patrons—you—have a sustainable orchestra for many years to come.”

As Dr. John Watson would say:


Want to know why this was especially galling? I had to rely on a friend to forward this email to me, because the MOA hasn’t written or called my family in about a year, despite the fact all our contact information is complete and up-to-date. Many of my most vocal readers have met the same fate (while, ridiculously, musicians and their families are routinely hit up for money).

So. That being said, I have some stories to tell you.

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Notes On Richard Davis

A few days ago, the following letter appeared in the Strib.

On July 18, Minneapolis Institute of Arts members will vote on a slate of 10 nominees for vacant three-year positions on the board. One of the nominees is Richard Davis, the CEO of US Bancorp and a major architect of the current disastrous Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

Unfortunately, MIA members must vote on the entire slate rather than for or against individual nominees. We therefore urge all MIA members concerned about the future of the arts in the Twin Cities to contact the MIA and request that Mr. Davis withdraw his name from the ballot.

We are proud to live in a city noted for its philanthropy (both corporate and individual), and appreciate those who volunteer to lead our nonprofits. But orchestra fans horrified at the catastrophic damage inflicted by this board’s tactics do not want to see Davis governing another Minnesota gem. Even under the most charitable interpretation of his actions with the orchestra, the continuing stalemate and controversy make him a very unwise choice for another local arts board.

This letter was signed by the following members of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Jackson Bryce, St. Paul (Marjorie Crabb Garbisch Professor of Classical Languages and the Humanities Emeritus, Carleton College); Carolyn Hawkins, Minneapolis; Christine Gregory Knutson, Minneapolis (associate director of development, MIA, 1989-1993); Nita Krevans, St. Anthony; Sheila McNally, Minneapolis (Professor Emerita of Art History, University of Minnesota); Philip Sellew, St. Paul; Patti Stuhlman, Edina, and Stephanie Cain Van D’Elden, Minneapolis.

So while the Strib’s on the topic… Let’s talk a little bit about Richard Davis.

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Analysis, Withdrawn

From Minneapolis, Minnesota, the flash – apparently official – Michael Henson’s sanity died at 5pm Central Standard Time yesterday.

*takes off glasses in a dignified Cronkite-ian manner*

Yeah, the MOA suddenly decided to withdraw from financial and organizational analysis yesterday afternoon because, after months of discussion, the board couldn’t stomach the proposed terms. From this MPR article

Orchestra President Michael Henson says the orchestra board decided to move forward on its own when the musicians insisted the scope of the analysis extend beyond simple finances.

“And unfortunately we began to see those parameters expand to include an examination of our artistic decision-making process and the quality and effectiveness of the board,” Henson said this afternoon. The board decided to move on with an analysis on narrower terms.

However musicians say management has stepped out of line. They say management and musicians had agreed to a framework for the study. Then the players say management wanted the following language inserted in the agreement. “It is understood that this financial analysis/review is not intended nor will it encompass subjective matters such as the artistic quality of the music director or the musicians, the comparative quality of other orchestras, programming decisions, performance of management or staff, or board quality/competency.”

The musicians objected to this language, and said so.

Tim Zavadil, chair of the Musicians Negotiating committee says the examining the artistic decisions, board performance and making the comparisons with other orchestras is what makes this an analysis as opposed to an audit.

He says the musicians were under the impression they were still talking about how to do the analysis and he was flabbergasted to hear management has decided to go ahead on its own instead of together with the musicians.

“That would be the best way to go, to do it jointly,” Zavadil said this afternoon. “I am sure if we did one they would say well that’s just one that the musicians did on their own. I don’t know what our response will be if they release this information.”

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Detroit, Minnesota, and Funhouse Mirrors

Will the DSO be Michigan’s next casualty in this recession?

YES, if DSO management and board of trustees have their way.

They believe the DSO cannot survive in its current form and propose to downgrade our orchestra from its world-class stature by drastically reducing the number of musicians and performances, slashing the musicians’ compensation and benefits while imposing draconian working conditions…

We are DSO patrons, donors, subscribers, business owners and community members.

We are people who love great music and also recognize the economic value that this powerful orchestra brings to Detroit and Michigan.

We believe so strongly in preserving the essential character and tradition of this world-class orchestra that we formed the nonprofit group: Save Our Symphony (SOS).

The mission of SOS is to promote and support the world-class artistic excellence and stature of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and to hold its management and board of trustees accountable for their fiduciary responsibilities to the public trust including the preservation of this great orchestra and its future.

Join us so your voice can be heard: please register your email with us to stay sharp on the latest updates. Thank you for your patience as we establish contact information and build our website.


A few weeks ago I was contacted by David Assemany, the vice president of Save Our Symphony, the audience advocacy organization that formed in the wake of the crippling 2010-2011 Detroit Symphony strike. He was curious about some figures I’d posted here on SOTL, and he said if I had any questions to contact him. Before I wrote him back, I checked the Save Our Symphony blog to read about that group’s experiences. The first entry was the one you just read.

I couldn’t scroll fast enough. I felt as though I was looking in a funhouse mirror: the reflection wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly recognizable…and it was us. There was a community caught off-guard – a group of citizen activists scrambling to learn how orchestras work – stakeholders who felt ignored, disrespected, and betrayed – musicians leaving in droves – tensions over an expensive building project – accusations that the board cared more about bricks and mortar than souls – theories about capitalism and capitalists run amok – a CEO saying wildly insensitive things – a total breakdown in communication in the triangle of board, musicians, and community. Entry after entry after entry after entry could have been written by Twin Cities music fans. Just replace Minnesota with Michigan, and voila.

It was deeply, deeply unsettling.

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Mr. Henson Goes to St. Paul, Part 2

Click here for part one of my “Mr. Henson Goes to St. Paul” series.


Well, after that marathon transcription session, I’m ready to dig into the meat of the matter. Please feel free to join me in the comment section.

Margaret Kellihan: …There’s a wonderful packet that they’ve put together for all of you, including the impact on your own districts of the Orchestra.

Some questions… What specifically did this packet say? Did it include anything about the Orchestra’s financial situation? If so, what? Can a person or organization face consequences for submitting false or misleading information in writing to the state legislature? I highly doubt that anything illegal occurred; I’m assuming the leaders of the MOA were extremely careful to check with their lawyers to make sure that everything was done within the bounds of the law. But just the fact that I have to say “I’m assuming the leaders of the MOA were extremely careful to check with their lawyers to make sure that everything was done within the bounds of the law” leaves a terribly rotten taste. I’d be very interested in seeing what claims were made in that packet, or to the state government in general. How closely did lawmakers look at the financial situation of the Orchestra while deciding whether to entertain the request? What information did they need? What answers were they given? I don’t know how this all works, and I’d be interested in finding out.

MK: Over 900 jobs will be created with this little bit of state money, partnered with a lot of private money.

MH:  Our private fundraising efforts are going very well, but public funding is critical if we are to reach our ultimate goal. Our private donors are keen to hear that the state is a partner in our project.

Of course we already knew about the synergy between public and private money within the Building for the Future campaign, but hearing it here again really underscores how desperately important this bonding request had become to the MOA and their vision of the organization’s future. I doubt the renovation could have even happened without it. So I completely understand what a temptation it must have been to manipulate numbers to, as Mr. Ebensteiner said in 2009, “support our state bonding aspirations.” I don’t agree with that tactic, at all, but I certainly understand it.

MK: The Orchestra has been winning terrific acclaim all around the globe, including the London Daily Telegraph, as well as the New York Times. And you can also know the reach of this Orchestra by the fact that it’s one of the only – it is the only American orchestra with a regular broadcast on the BBC. I think that’s pretty amazing, Madame Chair, and members.

It appears from the Speaker’s words that a major reason this request was entertained was because the Minnesota Orchestra is a world-class ensemble…or, in other words, a destination for world-class orchestral players. Implication: if they were to secure this money for the renovation of Orchestra Hall, Mr. Henson and the board had ethical (if not legal) obligations to do everything they could to maintain the status and the reputation of the Minnesota Orchestra. But I’ve yet to hear anyone in the orchestra business suggesting that the current leadership team is doing that. Indeed, Robert Levine has called for the entire board’s resignation, as well as Henson’s dismissal. We all remember the joint editorial that Marriner, de Waart, and Skrowaczewski published in the Strib in early October, in which they said, “An orchestra does not recover easily, from such drastic cuts, if ever.” And Drew McManus recently wrote in the comment section of his blog:

I would also add that provided everything in Royce’s article is accurate, the public trust is likely damaged beyond repair at this point as well. It’s difficult to separate the accounting decisions vis-a-vis the public bond funding and the corresponding decision to then reverse the policy for the purpose of artificially exacerbated negotiation leverage.

As the situation unfolds, it is depicting an increasingly sad state of affairs for an organization that once held one of the highest reputations in the field.

If we hear from dissenting respected voices from within the orchestra business praising management’s handling of the conflict, I’d be happy to feature them here. But I personally have found none.

On the financial front, we have announced balanced budgets over the last three consecutive years, and we are facing the current economic downturn with stability.

The slickness of that sentence just… It makes me queasy. It’s so terribly upsetting. As a commenter on violinist.com said, “Henson uses an interesting choice of words: ‘…we have announced balanced budgets…’ rather than saying they achieved, attained, or just plain had balanced budgets. I could ‘announce’ tomorrow that I am indeed the Queen of Sheba. Doesn’t make it so.” Well, exactly. He’s allowing himself wiggle room. And listen to the tone of his voice as he says it. He doesn’t stop; he doesn’t hesitate. He’s owning that obfuscation. It’s not troubling him at all, even though he’s clearly constructed the sentence to allow him to backpedal later if necessary.

We could debate whether the “we have announced balanced budgets” line is false or simply misleading, but personally, I consider the bit about “we are facing the current economic downturn with stability” to be a lie. A total fabrication. You might disagree with that assessment; “stability” is a subjective word, and it can mean a lot of things to lots of different people. But personally I can’t begin to conceive of a “stable” fiscal future that involves a 20-40%+ pay-cuts for musicians and endangers the quality of the core product. I wonder why Mr. Henson even included this phrase? He could easily have stopped after the slippery “we have announced” bit. Nobody would have noticed.

In general, the orchestra is musically enjoying a Golden Period with music director Osmo Vänskä.


This is obligatory now

Since I joined the Orchestra, we have tested and re-scaled the scope of the hall project in light of the very challenging economy.

This is a point I would love to hear more about. What did the testing and re-scaling consist of? Did anyone ever consider postponing the project for a few years? Did the public have any input into the decision-making process? If not, why not?

Our private fundraising efforts are going very well, but public funding is critical if we are to reach our ultimate goal.

Yes, fundraising was going so well that, a few weeks after testifying to the legislature, Mr. Henson said to the Strib…

“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.”…

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

I know I mentioned that point a few days ago, but I think it deserves repetition, especially in light of Graydon Royce’s recent article. Because now we’ve got to wonder: did Mr. Henson really believe he could grow the project, or was he just saying that to manipulate the public? Your guess is as good as mine. This is incredibly disheartening. As Mary recently said in the comment section of Drew McManus’s blog: “A nonprofit’s most precious asset is trust of the community and donors that they are doing the right thing.” And right now we have a major trust deficit. Which will lead to exacerbated financial crisis. And so the downward spiral continues.

In other words:

We’re aiming to maintain the vast majority of that orchestral series, and the object has to be to actually retain that audience, so that when we close the hall and reopen it in a year’s time, we have retained as much of that audience as possible and retained that enthusiasm. So hopefully in the next couple of months we will be announcing that, and we are trying to minimize the amount of disruption.

Hmm. Yeah, about that…

(You know, now would be a fascinating time for minutes to surface in which MOA leaders discuss the possibility and likelihood of a work stoppage. Paper proof that Mr. Henson and his colleagues were anticipating a strike or lockout in January 2010 would add a whole new level of sleaziness to this entire affair.)

(Also, I’m eagerly anticipating the release of the Orchestra’s 2013-2014 schedule. Then we’ll have a much better idea of how many classical concerts the MOA really wants to put on relative to other non-renovation years.)

If I could also supplement that, we’re also aiming to increase our state touring for that year as well.  And we’ll be looking at between two to four weeks of activity. So I think we’re going to see a smaller main season, but we’re also going to take that in terms of increasing our presence across the whole state.

Great idea! Unfortunately, it never happened. Most (if not all; I’m not sure) of the Orchestra’s state touring is now done via the Common Chords project. In the 2011-2012 season, when the Orchestra was still in the hall, there were two Common Chords residencies, one in Grand Rapids and one in Willmar. In the 2012-2013 season, there was only one week scheduled, in April, in Bemidji…even though the Orchestra’s performance calendar was totally blank from September to mid-October. Is this an indication that the MOA was anticipating a work stoppage back when they were scheduling the season? Read the tea leaves as you will.

Well, those were the gist of my thoughts. I might have more as time goes by, and if I do, I’ll flesh those out in the comment section in conversation with you.


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