Monday, February 4, 2013

The Minnesota Orchestral Association

It's been a while since I've written about the contract dispute between the Minnesota Orchestral Association management (MOA) and the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.  I wish I could report that they have settled and we have symphony orchestra concerts once again on a regular basis in the Twin Cities, but they haven't and we don't.

MN Orchestra (Greg Helgeson)
After two-and-a-half months last fall of contentious back and forth in the media, however, the MOA suddenly softened a bit and invited the musicians to talk in early January, without preconditions.  You don't have to look far to discover the reason for the MOA's sudden change: the Minnesota State Legislature began breathing down their necks and asking questions about how they'd used the millions of dollars the State had given them.  The Legislature scheduled a hearing to learn about that and the economic impact of the musician lockout on the Twin Cities.  They also invited management and the musicians of the SPCO to testify.  You can read about the January 23rd hearing with links to the actual testimony at The Song of the Lark.  Michael Henson, President and CEO, represented the MOA.  It was a decidedly weak performance.

The musicians accepted the invitation to talk and everyone got together on January 2.  During that meeting, they agreed (yes, agreed) to the following:

The MOA would:
  • Return to the former Mission Statement
  • Share 2012-15 financial forecasts with the musicians
  • Invite musicians to submit a proposal for a mutually-agreeable independent financial review designed to verify the organization’s financial position
  • Offer additional meeting dates
 Last week, the MOA released their update on their progress at the same time they sent it to the musicians, rather than sending the musicians the update first and making a joint statement about it after review.  This was just one more misstep by the MOA in a series that has demonstrated to an appalling degree the depth of the MOA's lack of respect or consideration for the musicians and their concerns.  Let's review a few of them:

When the musicians requested a joint independent financial analysis of the MOA's finances in May 2012, shortly after receiving the MOA's first and essentially final contract proposal, the MOA responded that such an analysis was unnecessary because they submitted to an annual financial audit.  Subsequent requests for an independent financial analysis were met with MOA derision, calling the requests "typical union stalling tactics" and a "frolic and dance," indicating clearly what they thought of this idea.  What else did they demonstrate here?  Lack of respect for the musicians and their concerns, lack of understanding of the difference between an audit and financial analysis, and rigid thinking.  How do the musicians trust people who are so unwilling to listen and work with the musicians?

I had met some Board members and others involved with the MOA and without exception each said the same thing to my comment about taking a softer stance: there was nothing MOA could do until the musicians submitted a counter-proposal. Each person used the exact same words as if following a script.  What did this demonstrate?  These people and the MOA were not open to listening to anyone, much less the musicians.  And an alarming stupidity -- a counter-proposal is not a prerequisite to talks, as we have seen, of course, since they sat down with the musicians on January 2 without a counter-proposal.  Were these people just puppets and who controlled them?  Who wrote the script?

Music Director Osmo Vanska wrote a heartfelt letter to both sides last fall.  The MOA made a HUGE misstep by using a part of his letter, editing it drastically to make it seem as if Mr. Vanska wrote in support of their actions, and using it in a letter to patrons and donors.  Since the complete letter was published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and appeared in its entirety on various websites. I wonder what the MOA thought they'd accomplish by ripping off Mr. Vanska that way.  Subscribers, donors and potential donors could see for themselves just how unscrupulous they were.  They did not ask for Mr. Vanska's permission to use his letter, which was of a personal nature not a business letter, nor did they apologize for their disrespectful actions.  I guess they showed us just exactly how they regard their Music Director, eh?  There is one word for this type of thinking and behavior: arrogant.

And then, as a last example, there are the numerous comments made by Jon Campbell, Michael Henson and Richard Davis regarding the possibility of musicians leaving because of the gutted master agreement.  They made it clear that they do not understand about excellence in music performance and how to attain it, that it depends on coherence and consistency of personnel, and a shared vision.  These three men seem to think that musicians are as interchangeable as tellers in a bank or managers in a corporation.  Their comments about music schools graduating lots of talented musicians every year who'd love to play in the MN Orchestra just underscores their ignorance.  It takes a LOT more than merely playing well to be a successful orchestra musician.  But they are not open to listening to the musicians talk about that or about what artistic excellence actually means.

I cannot describe my profound disappointment in the MOA executive management and Board of Directors for their arrogance, ignorance about nonprofit arts management, close-mindedness, disrespect for people who know more about musical performance than they do, and their rigid thinking.  You'd think that reasonably intelligent people, as I'm sure these people are, would be open and eager to learn and grow, to do their best for a nonprofit organization that is considered a Minnesota jewel and magnificent national asset.  On top of all that, I was deeply disappointed but not surprised that I saw no Board members or executive management at the Grammy celebration concert last Friday evening.  And finally, I am deeply saddened that these people, for all the above characteristics, fail to comprehend that they do not understand and need to open their minds and learn.

I make no apologies for being pro-musician in this dispute.  Before April 2012, I was also pro-MOA because I believed they were pro-musician, too.  They have showed themselves to be not even pro-music, not even pro-artistic excellence, but pro-profit.

For an interesting take on last Friday evening's concert, check out Anatomy of Perceval's "Sibelius and the Minnesota Orchestra."  

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