MnOrch management launches its own financial analysis, cancels concerts

UPDATED WITH MUSICIAN REACTION 6.45pm

20081106_orchestra_47.jpg Citing frustration over lack of progress in discussions with locked-out musicians over an independent analysis of the orchestra’s finances, management at the Minnesota Orchestra today announced it has launched a study on its own. The musicians are however crying foul, saying it’s management doing the foot-dragging

Management also canceled concerts through May 12th.

If you haven’t been following this closely, here is a quick play-by-play: today’s move is the latest twist in an argument which has been going on for months. Musicians requested the independent analysis back in August, saying it needed the information to make an informed counter-proposal to the management contract offer presented in April last year. Management refused for several months, saying the organization’s annual audits should be sufficient. After the last contract lapsed at the end of September management locked out musicians on October 1st.

Things seemed to be taking a turn for the positive in early January when management said it would join with the musicians for the analysis in order to move the negotiations forward. However discussions since then have only produced an agreement on who would do the analysis. Even then the two sides had to pick two analysts because they couldn’t agree on one and, on top of that, the names were kept confidential.

Today’s development comes after management says it grew frustrated with the lack of progress. Orchestra President Michael Henson says the orchestra board decided to move forward on its own when the musicians insisted the scope of the analysis extend beyond simple finances.

“And unfortunately we began to see those parameters expand to include an examination of our artistic decision-making process and the quality and effectiveness of the board,” Henson said this afternoon. The board decided to move on with an analysis on narrower terms.

However musicians say management has stepped out of line. They say management and musicians had agreed to a framework for the study. Then the players say management wanted the following language inserted in the agreement. “It is understood that this financial analysis/review is not intended nor will it encompass subjective matters such as the artistic quality of the music director or the musicians, the comparative quality of other orchestras, programming decisions, performance of management or staff, or board quality/competency.”

The musicians objected to this language, and said so.

Tim Zavadil, chair of the Musicians Negotiating committee says the examining the artistic decisions, board performance and making the comparisons with other orchestras is what makes this an analysis as opposed to an audit.

He says the musicians were under the impression they were still talking about how to do the analysis and he was flabbergasted to hear management has decided to go ahead on its own instead of together with the musicians

“That would be the best way to go, to do it jointly,” Zavadil said this afternoon. “I am sure if we did one they would say well that’s just one that the musicians did on their own. I don’t know what our response will be if they release this information.”

Management hired Anthony Knerr, managing director of AKA Strategy to do the analysis. He has had no connection with the Minnesota orchestra up till now. Henson says he expects the results of the study to be available by the end of May and they will be shared with the musicians. A fundraising feasibility study to judge whether there might be more fundraising capacity within the Minnesota community for classical music is already underway, with results expected by mid-May.

Henson says he remains hopeful that musicians will present a counterproposal soon so negotiations can begin.

He says the round of cancellations announced today through May 12th are an extension of that hope.

“It’s important to stress we still have concerts that go through to early June,” he said. “And we are still very much hoping to stage Sommerfest. So there is potentially very much music-making in the summer.”

However the musician’s Tim Zavadil says he doesn’t know how this can go forward. He says the paycuts management wants to make in the musicians contract is like asking the players to make a $5 million investment in the orchestra, and any investor considering such an investment would want information about the long-term prospects of a company in question.

He points out how management initially resisted the idea of an analysis. “And now when we thought we were still discussing the parameters, they claim they are going ahead without us. It’s almost like they liked the idea so much they have stolen it.”