Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Unthinkable Has Happened

No, not the federal government shutdown.  That's happened before and we've lived through it.  I think the Tea Party Republicans are fools if they don't think we all know they are responsible.  No, I'm talking about the Minnesota Orchestra's labor dispute and recent developments.  Over the weekend, we saw a flurry of activity -- business and foundation leaders raising over a million dollars as a "bridge fund," another proposal from the Board that the musicians rejected, two more proposals from the musicians that management rejected.

MN Orchestra in 2012 at Orchestra Hall

Yesterday, the Board jumped the gun.  They withdrew the orchestra from the Carnegie Hall concerts in early November.  There is a reasonable proposal still on the table, offered by the mediator, that the musicians have approved, but management has balked at it.  This proposal would have made it possible for the lockout to be lifted, for the orchestra musicians to perform for four months while still negotiating with management ("Play and Talk"), for the Carnegie Hall concerts to go on as planned, and kept Osmo Vanska as Music Director.  Management complains that this proposal doesn't "guarantee a settlement."  Guarantee?  There are no guarantees.  If management negotiates in good faith, if they trust the musicians to negotiate in good faith, then there's a much better chance that they will reach a settlement.  But no.  The two proposals the musicians made over the weekend were variations on the mediator's proposal and management rejected them.

Osmo Vanska conducting the MN Orchestra in 2011
This morning I woke to the news I'd been dreading.  Osmo Vanska announced his resignation, effective today.  MPR has posted all the relevant public statements.

I was struck by Jon Campbell's statement.  He is the Chairman of the Board.  In the second paragraph, he does his best to make it look as if the Board bears no responsibility for Mr. Vanska's resignation.  The musicians are totally to blame.  Those pesky musicians!  They won't do what the Board wants them to do.  They've actually rejected the gutted master agreement that would have eliminated the $6 million deficit. Can you believe it? (If this were on The Big Bang Theory, Leonard would be holding a "sarcasm" sign up right now.)  Those musicians!  They won't work with us!  They won't accept our "very best efforts to reach a compromise...."  Compromise?  I don't believe that many people actually believe the Board's statement here, making them victims of the musicians' refusal to compromise (which isn't true, by the way).  And this is the first time I've heard anyone on the management side utter the word "compromise."

A hundred years from now when classical music-loving Minnesotans look back at this time, what will they think?  Was the Board right to take such a rigid adversarial position from the very beginning and insist on the musicians accepting their "final" offer of September 2012?  What were they really trying to accomplish with that offer?  Were they right in treating the musicians' requests with such contempt and derision?  Was the Board right in isolating itself from the larger community, from the possibility of people coming forward with ideas to help resolve the financial issues?  Were they right not to accept the mediator's proposal so that the orchestra could return to work, perform at Carnegie Hall, and retain Osmo Vanska as Music Director?

And what about the musicians?  Could they have done something differently?  Perhaps.  But were they wrong to produce their own concerts during the 2012-13 season and maintain contact with the larger community?  Were they wrong to continue educational outreach efforts as best they could?  Were they wrong in asking for, but not receiving, an independent financial analysis of the MOA's financial position for the last 10 years that included comparisons with comparable orchestras in similar markets?  Were they wrong to insist on being seen as human beings and artists and not numbers on a balance sheet?  Were they wrong in accepting the help and donations from the community they serve?

Michael Henson
A hundred years from now I think one name will live in infamy in the annals of American classical music: Michael Henson.  He may be proud of the Orchestra Hall renovation, and I hope that he's able to rustle up a lot of rental business to help with the Association's financial situation.  But he has failed in his other duties and demonstrated a distinct lack of leadership ability not to mention communication skills.

I hope a hundred years from now, the American classical music world will have come to terms with the fact that having bankers and for-profit business people try to run a non-profit business is a truly terrible idea.  These people are used to thinking in terms of making money to the exclusion of all else.  To them, outsourcing leads to profitability.  Selling lots of cheap products leads to profitability.  And of course, I hope no one forgets the roles banks played in the Great Recession of 2008-09.  The profiteers may enjoy a little music with dinner on occasion, or even traipse off to a concert for a snooze, but unless they have non-profit business leadership experience and a deep love for the art form, they should not get involved.  Unless...they are willing to admit what they do not know and be willing to learn a different kind of business.

My heart is broken.  Truly broken.  I can only hope that the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will now re-incorporate as a separate orchestra with Osmo Vanska as their first Music Director.  They could call themselves the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.  Or, The State of Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.... 

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