Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Perhaps There's Still Hope for the Minnesota Orchestra


Before last weekend, the situation looked grim for the musicians of the MN Orchestra.  Then MPR invited President and CEO Michael Henson and MN Orchestra percussionist Kevin Watkins to talk on air and take caller questions.  If you missed it, you can hear it here.  What leaped out at me? 

First, Kevin Watkins was an extremely effective spokesperson for the musicians.  He was knowledgeable and would not allow Mr. Henson to get away with anything, pointing out the fallacies and misrepresentations in Mr. Henson's answers. 

Second, Mr. Henson's communication skills have not improved.  He's the perfect guy to listen to if you need to check if your BS monitor is working properly. 

Last, and probably the thing that startled me the most because of the rawness of the feeling, was that each side profoundly distrusts the other.  Mr. Watkins stated it quite clearly, if I remember correctly.  The interviewer never got a straight statement out of Mr. Henson about it, but what he got was Mr. Henson saying, almost plaintively, that if MOA management proceeds with the mediator and accepts the mediator's proposal, there's the chance there won't be a complete season or that they'll have a contract by the end of the four months.  Management has wanted, all along, to control the outcome, i.e. that they get what they want.  If they let go and negotiate with the musicians, there's no guarantee that they'll get what they want.  Well, welcome to life, MOA management!

The callers were, to put it mildly, unhappy about the situation and wanted to see a resolution as soon as possible, 1. to bring classical music back to Orchestra Hall and downtown Minneapolis, and 2. so they don't have to listen to the two sides anymore, although the musicians fared better with this than management.  Yes, we have contract dispute fatigue.  Imagine how the musicians feel, eh?

Something must have happened though.  Yesterday morning I woke to news that MOA management had given the mediator a proposal to give to the musicians, signalling that they are now going to work through the mediator.  This is a huge step in the right direction.  No details about the proposal have surfaced and probably won't.  The mediator insists on complete silence and secrecy.  Did MOA management decide to change their modus operandi finally?  Was it because of that interview on MPR?

Or maybe the cause is more closely related to the musicians' proceeding with producing their own series of concerts through the end of the year?  These concerts would include subscription-style performances and educational concerts -- all for the Twin Cities and beyond.  Most concerts would be in the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.  The first is the first weekend of October, two performances (Friday and Saturday nights), and the musicians welcome pianist Emanuel Ax as soloist in a Mozart piano concerto and a Beethoven piano concerto.  So far I haven't seen any mention of who will conduct these concerts. 

Would Osmo Vanska?  Management's deadline for a settlement has passed (Sept. 15).  Management set the deadline for settlement in order to have the time to get the organization up and running again for the orchestra rehearsals Mr. Vanska has said need to happen by Sept. 30 or he will resign and the MOA will lose the Carnegie Hall concerts in early November.  Mr. Vanska's deadline is Sept. 30, not the 15th, so there is technically still time.  Would the musicians attend rehearsals without the contractual paperwork complete?  I'm most concerned, actually, about the music library, which has been moved twice because of the Orchestra Hall renovations, and the librarians were not allowed to do the move.  They are locked out with the musicians.  Who knows what condition the library is in now?

Finally, Save Our Symphony Minnesota has organized a rally to occur this Friday outside Orchestra Hall for members of the community to demonstrate their true thoughts and feelings.  Many musicians will probably also be there.  The date is important to MOA management, however.  It is the evening of the Symphony Ball, one of the biggest fundraising events of any given year.  At 8:30 p.m. the same evening is a post-Symphony Ball party called "Crash the Ball."  It too is a fundraiser.  In a normal year, both of these important events raise funds for education programs as well as artistic programs.  The rally is not against the fundraising.  The rally is against the timing of it, and the fact that there is no "symphony" for the ball -- the orchestra had played at it in years past. I have mixed feelings about this particular rally.  I'm not sure I will go to it.   

I find it a teeny-tiny bit heartening that MOA management is now using the mediator, and it looks like there is some movement, a teeny-tiny step of movement, forward..... 

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