Minnesota Orchestra risks audience, future

The Minnesota Orchestral Association is holding its annual meeting today. This year it’s taking place behind closed doors, without the typical performances by orchestra musicians to punctuate the proceedings.

In an interview with Morning Edition’s Cathy Wurzer, Chicago-based arts consultant Drew McManus said that, compared with many other orchestral negotiations across the country, the Minnesota Orchestra’s situation is “particularly bad.”

McManus said that at this point the orchestra is risking the loyalty of its audience. But there’s still hope for resolution.

“When it’s gotten to this level of animosity it’s not unusual for the dispute to become more about winning the fight than whatever the issues were to begin with – it becomes personal on both sides. And it’s very difficult for individuals in both stakeholder camps to step back from that. The thing I talk about a lot with clients in this situation is you have to find a way to provide an opportunity for both sides to save face with a solution, so that somebody doesn’t have to lose in order for someone else to win.”

Meanwhile, Russel Platt writes in The New Yorker that the trouble in the Twin Cities points to a shift in culture:


For decades, the situation for classical-music lovers there has been almost impossibly generous. Minneapolis-St. Paul is the only major metropolitan center in the country that boasts not one but two world-class symphony orchestras: another way in which Twin Citians, who sometimes speak of their home with an affectionate affliction that even many in-state call Shangri-La Syndrome, can claim to be “above average.” (There is also the Minnesota Opera, a prominent regional-level company, a bevy of superb choruses, and a vibrant new-music scene.) In truth, they have much to boast about: one is indeed lucky to live in a metro area where, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, you can have your pick of great restaurants and world-class cultural events but still live on a tree-lined street and send your kids to a public school. (It is also an attractive place to be a working-class composer, hence my long residency.)

Platt charges today’s wealthy aren’t as interested in classical music as their parents were. And the liberal golden age of Hubert Humphrey has given way to “the brave new world of Michele Bachmann.”


…the Twin Cities musicians need to remember that their peers were forced to give in in Detroit, Atlanta, and Indianapolis, all comparable institutions. Only a mutual love of the art form will keep players and management on the same map; beyond that, there be dragons.

Do you see any hope for resolution between the musicians and the management?

  • karen

    Funny perspective by this fellow. The Twin Cities’ economic climate is obviously much better than that of Detroit et al and the arts culture is held in high regard by average people here, not just the “wealthy.” All the longtime orchestra patrons I know personally are siding with the musicians on this issue. Many have withheld their yearly financial contributions until the matter is resolved. I don’t know anyone who thinks that a new lobby is more important than retaining world-class musicians at a decent salary. By rushing to compare the Minnesota Orchestra to stricken orchestras in other metropolitan areas, the commentator entirely misses the point.

  • http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/speical/colur krisharstad

    It has been a tough few years for all artists, musicians and nonprofits. Everyone has had to make cutbacks and find other ways to continue doing their good work. It’s sad, but reality.

    This organization, so full of creative, talented and intelligent minds, can practice, work and play together to achieve such a high level of performance. There must be some way for them to use their experience and skills to come together and do some creative problem solving.

    They may lead as an example and help others in the process.

  • Randall Davidson

    I’ve known Russell since he was a composer living and working here in the Twin Cities. His twin brother, Alex, is a fine conductor who also lived here for a number of years. Both of them are the kind of talented young musicians that have lived in Minnesota for a time in the early part of their career and then move on.

    Minnesota is still one of the more impressive communities in the world for the arts and artists but the situation at the MN Orchestra is dire. A new business model needs to be forged — hopefully, the board of directors can shepherd a process that will respect the decades of dedicated service that musicians have committed to the institution. Hopefully, the musicians will be able to understand that the deficits are real and will threaten their long-term employment security.

    I believe Russell was correct: there be dragons. The consequence for not compromising may be bankruptcy or worse.

  • Monroe

    A way for each side to “save face” is for them to accept pay cuts across the board. Clearly, cuts are needed, but why should the musicians bear the brunt of them? Management claims they have cut staff by 20%, but what if these were mainly staff associated with operating the hall, which is now closed? And what are the other 80% of the (original) staff doing during the lockout? If management really cared about the growing deficit, they should be cutting everyone back to 20-30 hrs/week as long as the lockout lasts.

    Also, an independent financial analysis is needed, to help understand the effects the capital campaign may have had on the other endowment funds. Once the campaign has reached its goal, the new hall is open, and the musicians are back on stage, shouldn’t the financial outlook be much better than at this rock-bottom point in time?

  • Elizabeth Erickson

    The Minnesota Orchestra musicians have NEVER taken a stand in these negotiations that indicated an unwillingness to compromise. The one thing the musicians have asked for is a more comprehensive assessment of the overall organization that a financial analysis would provide. This is extremely reasonable, especially in light of the latest news of PR stunts and “creative” accounting. If management wanted this solved, they would provide the information the musicians have asked for. As for Michael Henson stating that the organization is losing money, implying it is the musician’s fault for not counter offering—that is a pile of frozen cow pies In the short run, the MOA is saving money in operating expenses. Of course, in the long run, they have so damaged their donor base that I’m sure they will end up losing millions which will further damage the orchestra.