Blogosphere sides with musicians over Minnesota Orchestra management

While Minnesota Orchestra management and musicians have yet to find a contract they can agree upon, a number of voices are crying foul over the management’s approach to negotiations.


Bill Eddins

Bill Eddins is Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and co-author of the classical music blog Sticks and Drones. A resident of Minneapolis, Eddins has been following the negotiations closely.

The whole thing smacks of impersonality. There is no feeling in this. Everyone on the payroll is now just to be considered a cog in the wheel, and the output of the machine is supposed to be great music. The “Artist Entrance” should be renamed the “Servants Entrance.” That’s certainly the gist of the message from management. No matter how bad the situation is there (and it’s bad and it has been bad for several years; denial ain’t just a river in Egypt) this is no way to go about stabilizing this institution.


Matt Peiken

Matt Peiken is the creator of the newly launched, a website designed to aggregate information about the Twin Cities classical music scene.

…management’s tactic is calculated, craven, callous, corrosive and cowardly–emboldened and made possible, in no small part, by the bullying that has happened in places as disparate as Wisconsin’s legislature, Chicago Public Schools, Northern California hospitals and the worker breakrooms of union-allergic Wal-Mart, and championed across the commentariat at the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and the Drudge Report.

By going public, the management of the Minnesota Orchestra told their own musicians they’re overpaid–not in context with these economic times, mind you, but in general. Management has refused to open its books to an independent analysis–how well has that worked for Mitt Romney?–and also refused binding arbitration. How do you negotiate with honesty and integrity under this rubric and, at the same time, tell the public you’re committed to fielding a world-class orchestra? How do you hope to again work with these musicians from a position of mutual purpose and trust?


Emily Hogstad

Emily Hogstad plays violin in the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra and writes about classical music on her blog Song of the Lark. One of her recent posts lists “ten obfuscations” in a recent Minnesota Orchestra press release, including the statement that” the full-time management and administrative staff have experienced a salary reduction, a wage freeze and more than a 40 percent reduction of their pension contributions from the Orchestral Association.”

According to public documents, Michael Henson makes $404,000 a year, which is up from his 2009 salary of $390,000. (According to this Star Tribune article, Salaries drop for nonprofit leaders, this is 1.5x the average for “nonprofits with budgets of $25 million to $50 million,” which is $243,000.) I know that others within the organization have sacrificed, and sacrificed greatly, but based on the available public evidence, I’m not convinced their leader did. Shouldn’t great leaders lead by example? Of course Henson’s salary alone wouldn’t fix the financial problem management says they have, but it would send a message about his character. It would send a message about his humanity, and respect, and shared sacrifice. As Andrew Young once observed on the Colbert Report, strikes aren’t about money; they’re about respect. Also, let’s be clear: I don’t think any of the musicians are scorning the people who wield relatively little power within the organization, who have suffered terribly throughout this whole debacle. According to one of my readers, at least one of these hardworking underpaid people was fired via email. If this is indeed true (and I have heard no one dispute it, or apologize for it), do you believe that high-level management really cares so much about the people below them? Or might they instead be seeing them as pawns in a grand seven-tier chess game (as nationally renowned arts consultant Drew McManus feared back in May)? No, this is a failure of leadership from the very top: from powerful multi-multi-millionaire board leaders Jon Campbell and Richard Davis, and Michael Henson.

You can find out the latest on the Minnesota Orchestra contract negotiations here.