Friday, September 12, 2014

The Minnesota Orchestra: Back to Normal?

This coming Sunday, September 14, if you're in the Twin Cities area, the place to be for fine classical symphonic music is at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in southwest Minneapolis.  There, at 3 p.m., the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by William Eddins, will perform a FREE concert for anyone willing to sit on the hard benches or the ground.  Want more details?  Check here.

Minnesota Orchestra at Lake Harriet Bandshell
Yes, I just gave the Minnesota Orchestra a big plug.  They deserve it.  They also deserve to be heard.  Their 2014-15 season is now on sale and I've been especially pleased to see far more classical concerts than pops and presentations.  Michael Henson departed as of August 31 at midnight.  The MOA has a savvy interim President and CEO, Kevin Smith, who seems to be far more people-friendly than Henson was, and far more knowledgeable about non-profit management and governance.  So, is the MOA back to normal?

Hardly.  In his community outreach and public meetings, Kevin Smith has been forthright about the amount of work that needs to be done, but they've made a good, solid beginning.  The atmosphere in the Hall and staff offices has also improved.  Their financial situation got a lift during the summer with a total donation of $13.2 million from donors.  Lee Henderson's fundraising campaign also raised thousands of dollars from the community.  Governance continues to be an issue.  (Full disclosure: I have sent Mr. Smith all my writing on MOA governance and he's passed it on to the MOA Board committee that's reviewing governance.)

On September 5, the Minnesota Orchestra held a gala concert at Orchestra Hall, with Osmo Vanska conducting, and soprano Renee Fleming as guest soloist.  If this concert is a foreshadowing of concerts to come, we MO listeners are in for a real treat this season.  Despite needing to fill out each section with new players, the orchestra sounds terrific.  Standing united during the lockout has helped them to maintain their unity in playing, I think.  What I hear from friends who attend concerts, the MO musicians continue to mix and mingle with their audience before and after concerts.  This is an excellent idea and I'm glad they continue to do it.  It demonstrates that they learned just how loyal their audience is and their audience loves meeting them.

OH Lobby (Photo thanks to MOA)
We are still stuck with that corporate, cold new lobby, however.  For the gala, the MOA decorated it in quite a festive way that softened the corporate effect.  I hope they keep some sort of decoration plus add chairs and stools and anything else that patrons can use to sit while they're waiting for people or socializing.  I hope that, as time goes on, the MOA will find ways to decorate the lobby to bring more warmth and humanity, not to mention art and music, to it.  

OH Lobby (Photo thanks to MOA)
Then there are the things that are much harder to repair: trust, for example.  The musicians were treated abysmally during the lockout, and while the three leaders who set the tone are now gone, there's still a need for an apology, which would be the first real step toward rebuilding trust.  Have the MOA Board members opened their minds and hearts to learning just what orchestra musicians' lives are like?  Have those Board members who know little about classical music decided to learn and listen to more of it?

I am pleased to see the community groups that were created during the lockout, Orchestrate Excellence and Save Our Symphony Minnesota, still in operation.  I think they would make a nice foundation to a membership governance structure....


Amy Adams said...

Seems that Kevin Smith should stick around longer than merely an "interim" period. What a change in atmosphere he's brought.

Gina said...

You are not alone in thinking that, Amy. He'll be at the Hall for the 2014-15 season most likely simply because it takes time to find a good President/CEO. I'm thinking that the MOA Board needs to really take their time, vet their candidates well, and take care to NOT hire someone like Henson again.