I’m no expert in orchestral management, but… If you’re the CEO of a world-renowned orchestra, and your conductor sends you this letter…wouldn’t you maybe want to change tack?
November 12, 2012
Dear Members of the Minnesota Orchestra Board and the Musicians of the Orchestra:
In the last few years, the Minnesota Orchestra has truly established itself as a world-class orchestra. Critics and audiences around the world praise what we have achieved together. The national and international attention we have attracted through our Beethoven and Sibelius recordings, our Carnegie Hall and BBC Proms engagements, as well as our crucial work at home is the result of the invested talent, energy and commitment of an exceptional group of artists, not merely competent professionals.
The Board is justifiably proud of the results which the Minnesota Orchestra has achieved; many other Boards would be delighted if their own orchestras achieved anything like the level of the Minnesota Orchestra. This is all the more gratifying when you compare our costs with our peers in Chicago, New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles.
The Twin Cities area is such a special place. No metropolitan area our size can boast the award-winning cultural offerings that we do. We are the home of several Fortune 500 companies as well as many other innovative businesses. Our downtown is thriving, our unemployment low. Smart, creative people choose to live here because of all the Twin Cities has to offer. No other market our size has an orchestra such as ours, playing at the same level as the greatest orchestras in the world. A metropolitan leader as cultured as this must protect, preserve and cultivate such an asset.
But now I fear we may be on a path to diminishing greatly, if not destroying, the Minnesota Orchestra as an artistic and cultural leader. While there is no progress in the contract negotiations; while players are unable to rehearse and perform together; while some are obliged to seek jobs elsewhere – I am desperately anxious about the risk posed to the quality and spirit of the orchestra for the future. I become deeply emotional when I listen to our latest Sibelius recording edit of the 1st and 4th Symphonies, first because the music is so moving and superbly played in the hands of our musicians, and second because I fear that to preserve our reputations I may need to consider letting go of the remaining recording projects we have planned. I will also be in a position to think seriously about the viability of bringing a diminished or compromised orchestra to Carnegie Hall for our four concerts in the 2013-14 season, plus international touring thereafter, including a re-invitation to the BBC Proms.
It is difficult to imagine that the current negotiation process will sustain the orchestra’s future. Rather, the process may rob us of the chance of having a world class ensemble for years to come. When the lockout is over, the Twin Cities may have a “professional orchestra” but inevitably not the same one, nor a highly regarded one. Will anyone – either the Board or the Musicians – be able to reflect back with pride at what was accomplished during this season? The Association and the Musicians must come together to mitigate any more damage.
It is clear that the orchestra’s finances are deeply troubled and finding a solution must balance business and art. I urge the Board and the players of the MO, from the bottom of my heart, to seek new and creative ways – without insulting or demeaning – to pursue these negotiations, to re-establish a common vision, to identify a path forward, in partnership, to a financially and artistically sustainable future. There must be some way to re-establish trust and bring both parties to negotiate once again.
The Twin Cities is a unique and great place to live. The 109-year-old Minnesota Orchestra is a great orchestra. We are all proud of what we have achieved here. The world-class Orchestra Hall this orchestra needs and deserves is only months from completion. Once again, many other orchestras envy our significant accomplishments.
Nine years ago, you brought me here and entrusted me to lead a world-class orchestra, which I have enthusiastically and faithfully done. It is my responsibility as Music Director, and one that I take extremely seriously, to maintain and develop the artistic level of this great orchestra. If the orchestra does not play, its quality will most definitely diminish. Please, do what it takes, find a way, talk together, listen to each other and come to a resolution of this dreadful situation.
That letter speaks for itself. I have nothing to add to it.
For some reason, I don’t get emails from the Minnesota Orchestra management any more. (I stopped receiving them after I started being critical of them on this blog. I logged in tonight to make sure that all my contact information is current and up-to-date, and it is. Sigh. Whatever.)
But! Lucky for me, a brave friend rode to the rescue and forwarded me management’s official response, so that I wouldn’t have to toss and turn tonight wondering what Mr. Henson and Mr. Campbell are thinking of this terrible blow to their cause.
We want to make you aware that we recently received a letter from Music Director Osmo Vänskä expressing his hope that the Board and musicians will come together to resolve our negotiations. He wrote, “It is clear that the orchestra’s finances are deeply troubled and finding a solution must balance business and art. I urge the Board and the players of the Minnesota Orchestra…to pursue these negotiations, in partnership, to a financially and artistically sustainable future.”
Holy…crap. You…think that letter was written in support of you and your methods? What – ? Just – what?
Is this some Rorschach test?
We agree. It has been a great partnership – between musicians, Music Director, Board and community – that has led the Minnesota Orchestra to great artistic heights; no one entity could have done it without the other. Similarly, in the end, the way forward for our contract negotiations will also be through partnership.
*spews water across keyboard*
Quick question. Can you please share with me one aspect of this negotiation that has been done with the word “partnership” in mind? Just one…
It is for this reason that we confused by the musicians’ unwillingness to return to the negotiations with a contract proposal. How can a negotiation take place if one side refuses to participate? It has now been 31 weeks since the Board put forward its proposal and we have yet to receive a counterproposal from the musicians.
In the Star Tribune on November 8, Labor relations expert John Budd, of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, agreed that the musicians’ positions are “structural requests around the parameters of the negotiations and not formal counterproposals.”
Yeah, I actually have that article here, and quoted from it on the blog. Did you take a quick moment to glance at what people – the public you are purportedly serving – in the comment sections said? If you haven’t, here’s a little sample…
Why is management collecting their salary if no concerts are being performed? We certainly don’t blame the musicians (those who actually make the money) for the current situation. Management is supposed to plan and raise money. They are the ones who failed and the ones who need to be replaced.
How much damage is management willing to do to the orchestra? Appparently, quite a bit. It’s disgusting.
There are two lockouts by management and the Board: the musicians and the public. Both are victims of an arrogant disregard for the interests of either.
This is so sad, and reflects utter failure and incompetence at the top. Is there not one courageous board member, or group of prominent donors, who will stand up, and demand another approach ? The Founders are spinning in their graves. Shame on you board, and admin. You are ruining one of the great institutions of the nation, and not one of you speaks out ? Your little social club is disgusting. Replace the board with those capable of leading, with the understanding of negotiating difficult situations, and creating consensus. Someone need to step-up here, and do some reconciliation, and bridge building. This is disgusting in so many ways, and betrays a vastly sick organization, rotten to the core.
I have been reading article after article in a variety of sources – newspapers, MPR, blogs . . . not ONE commenter who self-identifies as an audience member supports management. Not ONE. As a subscriber and donor to one orchestra and a ticket-purchaser to the other, I am furious that we are not being included here. The arrogance of management is astounding.
Yeah. Suddenly the stuff I’ve said on this blog doesn’t seem so bad, does it?? While you’re at it, do you want to hear some input from your Facebook page?
The musicians ARE the orchestra. Pay up.
I LOVE the Arts, please show respect and pay the musicians. This post is truly a shame.
Very disappointed that you have not been able to work out an agreement which is more fair to the musicians.
Shame on management and the Board for getting into this situation and for their unwillingness to go to arbitration.
Management and the Board needs to STOP acting like the victim here, and take responsibility. You are the steward of OUR orchestra, entrusted with ensuring that it maintains its place in the world as a top-tier orchestra. You should be answering to the musicians and the patrons, not some imaginary stockholders! You are holding this community hostage, and we WILL NOT stand for it.
Yeah. That tone actually continues…unanimously…and unambiguously…throughout the entire comment section. I think you might want to check it out, because, if this email is any indication, you haven’t.
We can only reach a resolution if we meet at the table, share proposals and begin earnest conversations, something which we are eager to do.
Oh, yes. You’re so totally eager to come to a settlement that you refuse to submit to an independent financial analysis, even when just about all the numbers you’ve released publicly contradict themselves.
Come on, guys. My sarcasm muscle is getting weak from overuse.
And by the way, since you’re apparently suffering from a major attack of amnesia, the musicians offered to meet at a table less than two weeks ago. And you turned them down.
We have great empathy for our musicians—and our audiences—right now;
BWAHAHAHAHA. You have great empathy for me?
And you have –
Great empathy –
For the people whose salaries and health insurance you cut off?
What the – ?
*goes to find dictionary*
*looks to see if “empathy” means the same thing in 2012 as it did in 1997 when I was in grade school and first learned the definition of the word*
the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
*slams book shut*
*checks calendar to see if it’s Opposites Day*
Um….did I just decode the entire meaning of this email?
*checks date on email*
Oh, shoot. It’s dated November 14th. I didn’t.
So as best I know, empathy does, in fact, still mean today what it meant in 1997.
I have no idea what they’re talking about.
however, we cannot continue performing on borrowed time. Last year our organization posted a $2.9 million deficit, and we anticipate this year’s shortfall to be $6 million. In order to protect the Minnesota Orchestra for the long term, we must address our financial challenges now, rather than push them down the road and allow them to multiply. We believe it is not only possible to combine great artistry and financial viability; it is absolutely essential.
It is our greatest desire to find a meaningful resolution to this labor impasse quickly so that the music can resume again for our community – and continue for many, many decades. We are grateful for your support.
Hahahaha. Hey, FYI, absolutely nobody supports you. Just a little head’s up there. If you don’t realize this, things might get a little awkward next time you show up to a concert and various patrons recognize you. Judging by the Strib comments, and the furious comments on your orchestra’s Facebook page, I’d advise wearing a mask next time you go to a show.
Where do we go from here?
No clue. Absolutely none at all.
I literally don’t know what could cause management to give a single inch, or submit to the public’s call for transparency, or cause Mr. Henson to say “yes, I made some mistakes along the way, and I’m sorry.” An internationally renowned conductor practically begging the two sides to sit down and talk to one another? (Doesn’t seem to have swayed Henson or Campbell.) Big donors withdrawing their support en masse? (I don’t know; there’s one hugely important one who has been very public in her support of musicians, and I’m assuming words have been exchanged with her behind the scenes. I’m guessing if she’s annoyed, then others are, too. Still hasn’t changed anything, at least publicly.) A counter-proposal from musicians halfway between what management is suggesting and what the musicians had in September? Say, totally theoretically, a 10% pay cut, with benefits and working conditions remaining unchanged? (No, management would reject that, and just start harping on how out-of-touch the musicians are with fiscal realities.) Maybe Mr. Henson could come work for my state’s governor? They’d get along splendidly, I’d think. (No, my governor would never pay anyone $400,000 to work in arts management…) Intervention from Governor Dayton or Mayor Rybak? I have no idea what they could do to help, if anything (?). Members of the board who disagree with Mr. Henson, and Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Davis, and Mr. Cutler, speaking up and going rogue? A civil war within the board? Who knows if even that would help. A criminal investigation? Highly doubt there are any grounds for that…
So… I… don’t know.
I don’t know.
The only comforting thing here? I’m just a patron, and nothing more. I’m not privy to inside information. I don’t know what insiders might be having heated conversations behind closed doors. I don’t know what board members might be tossing and turning tonight and wondering what they might say or do in the coming weeks. I don’t know where the governor or the mayor are, or what power or influence they could wield. I can’t see the whole picture. I’m not omniscient, by any means. And tonight? That’s a blessing. I can go to bed tonight hoping and praying that Osmo’s beautiful letter will have some positive effect on this horrifying situation.
That being said, my heart breaks for all of us tonight.
Because we were all betrayed.
And betrayed mightily.