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Thanksgiving Snark

Question: Can I mock the Minnesota Orchestral Association while still leaving its CEO, board chair, and immediate past chair in the Bin of Irrelevancy?

Answer: This is my blog, I’m the queen of my blog, and I’ll do what I want.

Because the inspiration for this entry was just too beautiful in its absurdity to leave alone. I know I’m a few weeks behind the times, as this was sent out on November 1st, but this is a Mona Lisa of absurdity, and I’ve been pretty busy this month and haven’t gotten around to it yet, and I want so badly to mock this Thanksgiving Eve, and like I said, I’m the queen of this blog, and I do what I want, so there.


Behold the fount of absurdity!

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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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How SaveOurSymphonyMN.org Was Named

At this point, few things trigger my rage at the Minnesota Orchestral Association. Lying about fiscal stability in front of the state legislature? Sure, whatever. Old news. Shrugging at the potential loss of all their principal players and world-renowned conductor? Yup. That happens. Completely ignoring important patrons and donors? Par. For. The. Expletive-Deleted. Course. I mean, of course the lockout upsets me – hence the year’s worth of obsessive writing - but it no longer makes me want to start throwing suitcases around in a fit of incoherent rage like the American Tourister gorilla.


But I swear, my suitcases were in serious danger the other night.

It was right before bed. It was late. I was doing a favor for some friends and looking up a domain name for an organization they were thinking of launching. But it turns out, the name they were curious about wasn’t available. Someone else had bought it. And it was a really absurdly specific one, too: saveourminnesotaorchestra.org.

Out of curiosity, I checked the owners. And my mouth dropped open.

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The MOA And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Fundraising Email

We’re nearing mid-August, and you know what that means:

The Minnesota Orchestral Association’s fiscal year is close to ending!

According to CEO Michael Henson, the MOA spent roughly $13.7 million this fiscal year (in that, in early July, he estimated that a $960,000 grant would consist of seven percent of the organization’s operating budget). Who knew it was such an expensive proposition not putting on concerts?

So. The Minnesota Orchestra needs money.

Obviously it’s not ideal to have to ask for money during a year-long lockout that shows literally zero signs of stopping, but if you have to, here are a few semi-reasonable ways to do it.

  • A) Acknowledge the pain of the last year.
  • B) Introduce innovative fundraising methods.
  • C) Reassure donors that everyone is working as hard as possible to move forward.

Or you could go in a more, shall we say, batsh*t crazy direction and

  • D) Pretend the lockout never actually happened.

The MOA decided on option D.

As Stephen Colbert says when absurdity becomes too much to bear: “I cannot emphasize this strongly enough.” This is an actual email that was sent to actual people.

And even worse, I know of at least one locked out musician who got it.

Dear Patron,

For more than 100 years, the Minnesota Orchestra has been a cultural cornerstone of the Twin Cities.

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Young Musicians and Munchkins

Yesterday was quite the day: the Young Musicians of Minnesota made metro-wide news.


Yeah, unbeknownst to the locked out Minnesota Orchestra musicians, the Young Musicians of Minnesota brought their instruments to Nicollet Mall to play a concert of Tchaikovsky 4 in front of US Bancorp. Their mission? To send a message to Richard Davis to end the lockout of their mentors and heroes. YMM members deliberately didn’t tell the musicians what they were up to. I’m sure there are rumors floating around the upper floors of US Bancorp and Wells Fargo that those damn musicians put ‘em up to it, but to believe that would be to succumb to the worst kind of cynicism. (Hear that, Minnesota Orchestral Association monitors? Good.) Sadly, Richard Davis didn’t acknowledge the crowd, nor did he send anyone down to say hello, but they did get an awful lot of attention on the Mall.


Some of YMM at the US Bancorp gig

I couldn’t be there, but I was tipped off about the show beforehand, and so I shooed some dedicated Twin Cities Larkers to downtown Minneapolis, and I heard a couple reports of how the afternoon went. Well it turns out there was press there, and US Bancorp couldn’t really do much about any of it except watch uneasily and talk to people on cell phones.

Consequently the following three videos aired last night on KSTP at 4:30, 6, and 10. Kudos to YMMer Emily Green, who has more composure in a major interview than any other teenager I’ve ever seen.

I did notice, though…. There’s something in the first video that got snipped out of the second two. See if you can spot it!

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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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Transcription of Feb 12 Hearing, Part 5

And here’s a rather fascinating coda to what went on after the main body of the testimony… Mr. Henson was actually called back from the audience to answer a few questions from lawmakers. This concluding portion of the hearing can be heard starting at approximately 1:35:00 in this mp3.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn was the chair. Other representatives who spoke include Anna Wills (R), Jean Wagenius, John Ward (DFL), Leon Lillie (DFL), Dean Urdahl (R), and Mike Freiberg (DFL). This meeting occurred on 12 February 2013 in front of the Legacy Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives.


PK: Thank you, all. Are there any quick questions for Committee members? And again, we’ll…Rep. Wills…again, we will be continuing this discussion; I don’t want to stop it here, but…

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Michael Henson’s February 12 Testimony in Seven Minutes

Before I continue with my transcriptions, I wanted to share a video with you that I made yesterday…

“Michael Henson’s February 12 Testimony in Seven Minutes.”

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Transcription of Feb 12 Hearing, Part 1

Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson appeared in front of the Legacy Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives the afternoon of 13 February 2013. The audio of this hearing can be heard here. The section having to do with the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra begins at 42:45.

The legislators who spoke at the hearing were Rep. and Committee Chair Phyllis Kahn, Rep. Mary Murphy, Rep. Dean Urdahl, Rep. Alice Hausman, and Rep. Mike Freiberg.


PK: The next issue which has been brought to my attention from a lot of people and have also been brought to us I think – I hope to other members of the committee, too – is the, um, public comment on Legacy funds and perhaps general funds. This is – you know, we talk vaguely about the arts at some point, but this is also specific public problem that seems to be before us at this time, which is the issue of the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. And I wanted to – and you know, whenever I talk to someone I realize that I know much less about this than I think I know, from reading in the newspaper, reading newspaper articles and reading people’s, um, comments to me. So again, hopefully this is the start of our conversation on this to see if there’s some role – the state, as I’ve pointed out, is a very large donor to some of these organizations and see what our role can be as that donor. So. Going to start now with the first person for comment is Michael Henson, who’s the President and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestral Association. Mr. Henson? Thank you. And you need to say who you are for the tape. Thanks.

MH: Um. Madame Chair, and Representatives. I’m Michael Henson, the President and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra. Thank you very much and I very much welcome the opportunity to address you and answer any questions you have today.

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More proof that the MOA knows who I am…

The MPR article – in which I and my blog got more space than Michael Henson – is now listed in Industry News.


Um. Why is management even obliquely promoting this blog? Is this a sign that the Industry News page is starting to post others’ viewpoints? What’s next? A link to SOTL? Is this a shift in strategy, or just a dumb mistake?

I don’t get this, at all, but I guess it wouldn’t be the first time I don’t get the logic behind the MOA’s PR tactics. So, um, thanks for the shout-out, MOA. If you want to…you know…actually contact me…………feel free. I’ve got a shiny Facebook page now through which you can do that.

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