Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Time of Celebration or Not?

Just when it looked like life at the MOA had settled down into work mode, yet another brouhaha erupts.  Last Friday, April 11, Graydon Royce reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the co-chairs of the MOA's premiere annual fundraising event, the Symphony Ball, Camie Eugster and Karen Paulson, had resigned.  They gave their reason as "the current climate at the orchestra did not lend itself to celebration."  Their resignations resulted in the cancellation of the Symphony Ball this coming September.  However, the Ball will apparently rise again in June 2015 to raise money for the MOA.

Hmmmmm.....  "Current climate"?  I wonder what that means?  Among the MOA Board members?  The staff?  "At the orchestra" is way too ambiguous to really know and understand what Ms. Eugster and Ms. Paulson meant.  And is a lockout a time of celebration?  But I would really like to know this: Why hold the Symphony Ball during a debilitating lockout of the musicians last September and not this coming September when the contract dispute is over, fundraising is crucial, and everyone is trying to move forward and heal?  At least, I thought "everyone" was trying to move forward and heal.  Apparently not.             

The cancellation of the Symphony Ball and the resignation of its co-chairs smacks of sour grapes that relates to the MOA Board perceiving that their strategy for the contract dispute failed and they "lost."  We saw some of this several weeks ago when eight Board members resigned in protest over President and CEO Michael Henson's resignation, effective August 31, 2014 (that's a long time to give notice).  According to Royce's article last Friday, two of those Board members have rejoined the Board.  I consider that to be good news.  I think.  But it seems this Board, essentially the same people who agreed to the Board's lockout strategy, is in no mood to celebrate anything.

Why do we celebrate?  Let me count the ways:
  • The contract dispute ended.
  • The MOA maintained their lease on Orchestra Hall with the City of Minneapolis instead of facing a procedure to lose it.
  • The MOA staff accomplished the herculean task of finalizing concerts for the remainder of the 2013-14 season, marketing them, selling tickets, and getting the business up and running again (albeit with some speed bumps)
  • Conductors and other guest artists have agreed to come to perform with the MO again
  • The musicians have returned to rehearsals and concerts.
  • The audiences have returned to the concerts.  Some of the concerts, notably when Osmo Vanska conducts, have been sold out.
  • The Minnesota Orchestra with Osmo Vanska won a Grammy Award (I mean, how great is that?  How cool?).
  • The MOA Board and Osmo Vanska are in negotiations for Osmo to return as Music Director.
  • President and CEO Michael Henson agreed to resign, the first step in moving ahead with the healing.  Let me just reiterate here: the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra had taken a unanimous vote of no confidence in Mr. Henson in November 2012 and steadfastly stood by that vote through the lockout and contract agreement.
  • The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have shown a truly unique unity and resilience, and a ironclad commitment to artistic excellence on which to rebuild, rejuvenate, and celebrate classical music and the orchestra.
Osmo Vanska holding Grammy Award aloft on April 15, 2014 at Orchestra Hall

Now, I would like to ask Ms. Eugster and Ms. Paulson this: are these not reasons to celebrate?  Why would you run away from the MOA when it needs good people to help with rebuilding and healing?  Why wouldn't you want to work to raise the money for the organization now?  The MOA, now more than ever, needs good people to help raise money and to promote and support the orchestra.

Osmo Vanska has commented that a thorough housecleaning is needed at the MOA.  This can be a common occurrence with an organization/company that has just gone through a labor dispute.  It makes sense, doesn't it?  The people who set up the policies and conditions that led to the labor dispute are not necessarily the best people to lead the organization after the settlement, especially if their strategy is the one that failed, unless they did not agree with and support that strategy.

I had thought that governance reform could wait, but now I'm not so sure.  The Minnesota Orchestra needs a Board of Directors that understands its governing role, i.e. in support of the Minnesota Orchestra and in service to it.  Not a Board that wants to manage and control it.  Maybe now is the perfect time to reform the governance structure at the MOA.  The question for the MOA Board now is: Do you want the MN State Legislature to take over the MOA and take the reform process out of your hands, or do you want to work for a membership structure that will make State Rep. Phyllis Kahn's HR 1930 unnecessary?

Hey, call me!  I'd love to fill you in on the details of a membership structure.....


George (Jake) Jaquith said...

Thanks as always for the wise insight. What is the status of KAHN´S HOUSE BILL? I thought she was going to drop it since the crisis is perceived to be over by the general public. I gained a lot from your three part series about governance with the rich quotations from former chairs like Kennth Dayton, who said the main purpose of the board is for the care and feeding of the conductor who can lead with vision. We need a wider audience for your ideas.

Gina said...

Thanks for the comment, George! Rep. Kahn re-introduced HR 1930 a couple weeks ago. She had thought of dropping it but apparently she changed her mind. I haven't been in contact with her, so I don't know what her thinking is. Not sure where the bill is now, whether in committee or not. It can take considerable time to make its way through the process.

George (Jake) Jaquith said...

Gina, Thanks for the info and getting back to me. As you probably know, I live in Mexico. I told Gwen Pappas over the phone in December that I might be interested in returning to Minnesota if we had a stable, world class orchestra. She told me not to start packing yet. The jury is still out.

Truly we need this bill to move forward to change the governance to something more functional and supportive of great music.

Also, the musicians, union, Friends of the MN ORCH, Young Musicians, and the MOA ought to work together to replace the event canceled by the two co chairs who said there was nothing to celebrate. Thinking outside the box, this could be a stupendous event that is all inclusive and even family oriented in nature. What do you think?

Gina said...

I think the orchestra is in better shape than Gwen may have thought last December before the contract settlement. Putting on their own concerts during the lockout certainly helped them stay in shape. In an interview, Osmo indicated it would take 1-2 years to get it back into the same shape it was in before the lockout. He's also been pleasantly surprised and pleased with how they're playing now in spite of everything going on around them.

Phyllis Kahn's bill is not the way to go, in my opinion, but it certainly helps by putting some pressure on the MOA Board.

There's been some bandying about of an idea for a People's Ball to replace the Symphony Ball this year, mostly on Facebook. The union does not get involved in such things, actually, but the musicians do. In the past, music directors and musicians have attended and played at the Ball. I think the community organization, Save Our Symphony Minnesota, could also be involved for positive results. There will be a Symphony Ball during the MOA fiscal year 2014-15, but it'll be in June 2015 instead of Sept. 2014.