Tag Archives: wow a blog post with under 1000 words

Henson Out

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

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

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

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

So. Where do we go from here?

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

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

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


Filed under My Writing

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…

Continue reading


Filed under Uncategorized

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…”

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing

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.


Continue reading


Filed under Uncategorized

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!


Filed under Uncategorized

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.


Filed under Uncategorized

Seven Reasons Why I’m Leery Of The MOA’s “New Proposal”

The management of the Minnesota Orchestra went public with an offer to musicians yesterday. I hesitate to call it new. It was presented outside of the auspices of the mediator management had chosen (aka Senator George Mitchell, aka The Man Who Brought Peace To Ireland).

I’ll get right to the heart of the matter. Here are seven major concerns I as a patron have about this proposal. Until these concerns are addressed to my satisfaction, I just can’t support it.

So. In countdown-style reverse-number order:

7) Will this proposal fulfill the Minnesota Orchestra’s mission statement of fostering “a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence”? I’d say no. The proposal does very little to repair the MOA’s reputation in the eyes of new musicians the MOA needs to court if they want to sustain world-class quality.

On the other hand, I might have said yes…

  • if this proposal had been issued back in September 2012
  • if the crappy ridiculous work rule changes that didn’t have much, if anything, to do with money were removed
  • and if the management had allowed full access to analysis of its books and business plans, and demonstrated competency and transparency

But as it is, the MOA has demonstrated its love of disingenuous double-speak for a full year now, and the MOA has consistently used fuzzy math over that time, and a lot of people (not just musicians) doubt the need for cuts of this size, so… They need to do more to attract new world-class players.

6) Why ignore the proposal of the mediator the MOA itself picked? I mean, what’s the point of this, unless the MOA was trying to make the statement that they’re too good for George Mitchell, but they’re too scared to say that out loud because they know it’ll make them look like d-bags?

5) The management hasn’t yet addressed details about the proposal. What’s happening with sub pay? They better have great sub pay in order to get qualified players to fill all those empty seats while auditions are ongoing. How many seats does Michael Henson want to see the orchestra have? What will be the schedule for filling empty seats? What about the clause that allows wealthy people to hire musicians for their birthday parties and bar mitvahs? Who has the final authority to hire new musicians? What about injury leave? What’s the role of the CEO in the “new business model”? I mean, the details go on and on and on. The fact that the MOA did not present these – after initially sharing all of them in September – lead me to believe the majority of their “new” proposals are actually more of the same. This is troubling. These non-salary changes will affect the quality of the orchestra way more than the pay cuts will.

4) In a mere two years, the musicians and union will be weakened financially, emotionally, and spiritually, and will have great great difficulty mounting a battle if Henson and the board want to come back and “finish the job.” And the Minnesota audience will – understandably – have a limited appetite for a third orchestral lockout in three years. (And who knows where the SPCO will be at the end of their contract…oy…)

3) If you look at this from a three-year contract perspective, you could argue the cuts are 50% over the life of the contract (if you use one of several possible equations). The MOA gave the musicians a 100% cut in the 2012-2013 season, then would give a 25% cut in 2013-2014 and a 25% cut in 2014-2015. That’s a lot. Is this really so much a sweetened deal as it is drawing from money saved by not paying musicians for a year? I don’t have the answer to that question, but it would be interesting to know.

2) No pathways for communication have been set up between board and public. This is a huge concern. Okay, I know audience members aren’t part of the actual negotiations, and it would be thorny if they were. But the unprecedented outcry and anger toward the board hasn’t been acknowledged once. In fact, I hear rumors of really rude responses being sent by board members to people who took time to email their concerns. Plus, no one has offered a sensible explanation of Domaingate (“protecting the Orchestra’s name”? really?). No one has been held accountable for anything when it comes to the mistreatment and abuse of customers. In order that the MOA can start rebuilding trust within the broader community, any new contract proposal needs to come along with a new attitude from those at the top. And I’m not seeing that attitude. At all.

1) The expiration of the proposed contract coincides with Osmo’s departure in the spring of 2015. This is the most important point of all, and I haven’t heard anyone else mention it. I think any outside observer can see that board leadership is not fond of Osmo Vanska, and I doubt Osmo Vanska is at this point particularly fond of them. Plus, he’s the highest-paid employee at the MOA. I can just imagine how the board is salivating to cut that bit out of the budget. If he somehow survives the autumn in Minnesota, it’s pretty likely he’ll be taking his final bows at Orchestra Hall in the summer of 2015. So: guess where that leaves us. That’s right: in an even worse position than we are today. Yes, we’d buy two years of performances, but at what price?

What will the musicians do? I don’t know. What should they do? I don’t know. Hopefully we as patrons wait to make final judgments until we know more details. Plus, let’s keep in mind that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes we simply don’t know about.

But. That being said, knowing the limited amount I know, if I was a musician, I’d vote no. (Not sure what, if any, counterproposal I’d present; I’d listen to my well-respected lawyer’s advice about what to do there.) I’d then work my butt off to try to present a series of concerts in the fall of 2013, perhaps with the support of a fired-up patron advocacy group. And maybe for some of those concerts I’d investigate the feasibility of hiring a well-respected conductor…who might find certain weeks in his fall calendar suddenly empty.


Filed under Uncategorized


I was interviewed for the WQXR Conducting Business podcast yesterday! Take a listen here.

The incident is the latest example of political-style web advocacy that’s moved into the realm of classical music and the arts. In this podcast, we get three views on the trend, including that of Hogstad, who writes the blog Song of the Lark.

A Minnesota Orchestra spokesperson told NPR Music‘s Anastasia Tsioulcas that the organization reserved the URLs to protect the orchestra’s name, knowing well that the labor talks would be contentious. Such purchases are a standard business practice, although they’re usually masked by a third-party buyer so that it’s not quite so obvious what’s taking place. Even so, the revelation drew a wave of negative commentary and the orchestra had to acknowledge Hogstad’s blog, which she said it had previously ignored.

This is the start of a really important conversation that everyone in the arts world is going to need to have sooner or later (and preferably sooner). It was a fascinating discussion, and I was honored to be a part of it. I’m heartened and humbled by the immense power of blogs and social media.


Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing

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!

Continue reading


Filed under My Writing