Tag Archives: wow a blog post with under 1000 words

Some Friendly Advice To Peter Gelb

H/t Drew McManus, a great Peter Gelb quote:

“Once the dust settles,” he added, the musicians “don’t have to love me to play well.”

Hahaha.

No, but

NEWSFLASH!

The public has to love you.

Not just major donors. The great unwashed public. Y’know, the people you need to fill that gargantuan 3800-seat cavern week in and week out. The paying customers you’re now so eager to lock out, disrespect, and condescend to.

2014 has shown that bad things can happen to hated music CEOs, and we’re not even seven months through! Things like screams of “fire Henson!” emanating from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, or the crowd heckling San Diego Opera head Ian Campbell after he announced he was shutting that company down. The actions and attitudes of both of these men led to widespread public anger and decreased support of their respective institutions. (Until their departures, of course.)

So some friendly advice:

You’re thinking of your labor dispute as a two-way tug of war. Surprise!: it’s a three way. The third team is the public. They’re just coming on the field now. If you keep screwing up your PR, two of those teams will be pulling against you.

***

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale, Heitzeg, Stravinsky, Orff

Time for the last Microreview of the season! *gets weepy*

Catch this fabulous program tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at Orchestra Hall; tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org. SOTL Microreviews will return this fall as we all embark on the Best Season Evar! Feel free to contribute a Microreview of your own, too.

My word count comes from this week’s enjoyable Rob Hubbard Pi-Press review: 429. I think it’s best for everyone if we forget the Strib’s review of weirdness ever existed, so 429 words it is. Here goes!

***

This week the sacred and the sexual mix unabashedly in a program of Stravinsky, Orff, and Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg.

I’m not so familiar with Heitzeg, although I love his soundtrack for Death of the Dream, the TPT documentary about abandoned Midwestern farmsteads. It was sparse and devastatingly effective. So it was interesting to hear his voice in this new context. “Now We Start The Great Round” has the flavor of movie music written for a Copland biopic, and it serves as a sweeping curtain raiser. But it finished before it started, especially when the stage change took half as long as the piece itself.

After the Stage Change of Interminability came Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Way too late I realized: maybe it’s irresponsible to write about a performance of this piece, especially when

  1. I’ve never heard it before,
  2. I don’t know anything about choirs, and
  3. my two instruments have left the stage (violins! violas! come back!).

So I put the critiquing ears away and just soaked in the ambiance. From that perspective, the Symphony was all melancholy angularity, lit by the glow of the sound of the Chorale. It sounded like candlelight flickering in an Escher cathedral. Lush, sacred…and very odd. Last night I didn’t grasp the narrative. It was all very lovely, but meh. Then again, I don’t find much Stravinsky seductive, so…

Oh, you're the bad boy of music alright.

Oh, you’re the bad boy of music alright

The narrative for Carmina Burana, on the other hand, hit like an anvil to the head. From the first notes it felt like straight-line winds were blowing over the radio. O FOR-TUN-A, indeed. I think the Minnesota Chorale put every single emotion of being locked out of Orchestra Hall for sixteen months into that opening phrase. The bitter sneer of those consonants! My takeaway? Do not get on the wrong side of the Minnesota Chorale. Damn.

It was immediately clear that members of the Chorale could not only sing Carmina in their sleep, but under general anesthetic. That familiarity could easily lead to a bored performance, but of course they’re above that. Their effervescent joy at being back on that stage was contagious, and so deeply satisfying to hear. The Orchestra supported them all the way, but – dare I say it? – it was the Chorale’s show last night. And deservedly so.

As for the baritone in Ego Sum Abbas, I wish I sang that well drunk.

To sum up the 2014 season:

Away with sadness!
summer returns,
and now departs
cruel winter…

wretched is the person
who neither lives,
nor lusts
under summer’s spell.

***

Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Mozart

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

ascending line

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

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

And I love her.

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

***

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

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

***

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Mendelssohn, Wagner

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

rosstweet

I remember when this happened… *dreamy sigh*

But can I write short? Uh… Not really.

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

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

***

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

Livestreaming on a laptop!

/sarcasm

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

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

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

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

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

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

…has me skeptical before a single note is played.

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

This guy

This guy

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

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

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

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

Or….maybe not.

***

453 words. *dusts off hands*

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

***

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Henson Out

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

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

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

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

So. Where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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New Year’s Notes

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

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

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

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Layoffgate? … or something like that

I know I’ve deposited Michael Henson in the bin of irrelevancy. And trust me, I’ve enjoyed leaving him there. But occasionally I can’t resist peering into the bin, especially after Bonusgate…and I want to take another peek now.

I was doing some research for a friend the other day when I came across this article from the Strib.

Minnesota Orchestra trims its staff

It’s from May 9, 2012. In it, the Minnesota Orchestral Association announced the axing of nine full-time positions (thirteen percent of its administrative staff) and seven part-time positions. In all, sixteen people received the soul-crushing news that their jobs were disappearing. Yes, it was acknowledged that some part-timers might come back after the hall reopened in “the fall of 2013″ (how’s that workin’ for ya?), but the full-time position reductions were apparently permanent.

But on the plus side, the MOA was going to save $450,000 over the course of the 2012-2013 season!

Of course the November 2013 reader says, “Hey, wait a minute…”

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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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Fork in the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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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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