The Minnesota Orchestra: Dead or Alive?


Regular readers of this blog know that the Minnesota Orchestra plays a prominent role in Evan Quinn’s life.  Growing up in Minneapolis, he attended Minnesota Orchestra concerts.  After becoming a conductor himself, the Arts Council assigns him to lead this orchestra as its Music Director.  He still holds that post when he leaves in May 2048 for his first European tour alone but for two Arts Council watchdogs.

MN Orch in Orchestra Hall

The Minnesota Orchestra
in Orchestra Hall

For Evan, I had conceived of an orchestra very much like the Minnesota Orchestra of the 2011-12 season: at nearly full complement and playing at the top of the classical music world.  At the time I wrote the first novel, Perceval’s Secret, I envisioned a brilliant future for the Minnesota Orchestra.  Now I’m not so sure about that.

Since I last wrote about the labor dispute in early May between the musicians and the MOA (management), exactly nothing has happened.  At least, nothing has happened with respect to the negotiations.  Both sides remain far apart and deeply entrenched, the the Board of Directors isolated and apparently marching in lock-step behind President and CEO Michael Henson and Board Chairman Jon Campbell.  The MN Legislature Auditor reviewed the MOA’s financial health and the way they use public funds and found nothing amiss.  The MOA returned a MN Arts Board grant of $960,000 which had been earmarked for 2012-13 operating expenses.  Concerts scheduled in July, fast approaching, have a zero chance of actually happening.  The renovations on Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis have not been completed yet, and it looks like it could be the end of August or September before they are complete.  At the Mask of the Flower Prince blog, the blogger looked at the MOA’s FAQs regarding the lockout and found them wanting.  Song of the Lark works on a plan to organize patrons to picket Orchestra Hall this fall.  MPR News has posted an article in which those interviewed see gloomy days ahead for the MN Orchestra.  And Gina Hunter has given her view of what she’d do if she were in charge.  The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have told the Board that they will not return to the negotiating table until the Board lifts the lockout.  The Board continues to say that they need a counter-proposal from the musicians in order to get the negotiations going.  The last two sentences shows just how far apart these two are.

I have tried to remain optimistic.  We’re now in month ten of the lockout.  Both sides remain firm in their positions.  However, as Gina Hunter points out, it’s management that has the power to end the lockout and move negotiations forward, not the musicians.  Yet, they continue to claim the musicians have the power.  The musicians have asked for an independent financial review which the MOA pulled out of because they didn’t like the parameters of the review.  The musicians continue to say that they need more financial information before they can develop a counter-proposal — they are concerned about addressing real financial challenges in their proposal, not those claimed by MOA to make their case.  Who could step in and pull these two sides out of their respective trenches?

I agree with Gina Hunter that the MOA has made a terrible mistake in the way they chose to approach the musicians’ contract renewal.  They’re acting like a bunch of chickens running around in circles with their heads cut off.  It’s as if there was a plan with expectations regarding how negotiations would go, but the musicians have not complied with management’s plan.  Now, faced with new circumstances, they don’t have a clue what to do.  Nothing in their behavior since April 2012 has convinced me that they comprehend the real consequences of their actions, instead of how they want it to turn out.

They do not get that they don’t get it.  They have closed their minds to any other solution or approach that might get things going again, and that is their most egregious mistake.  At the beginning, the musicians tried to work with them, made proposals for “play and talk” and binding arbitration; but now, after being rebuffed by the Board time and time again, they have decided to remain where they are.  And so we have it.  No music.  No orchestra.

Orchestra Hall stage after lockout

Orchestra Hall stage after lockout

It breaks my heart to watch this situation play out.  I’m watching all my fears start to take a more concrete form.  This Board is destroying the Minnesota Orchestra, its reputation, and their own reputation. Suddenly, I’m wondering if I can even expect there to be a Minnesota Orchestra in the future that makes using them as Evan Quinn’s orchestra impossible.  I suspect that any orchestra that emerges from this mess will not be the Minnesota Orchestra the world knew in 2011-12 and should not even carry that name….

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2 responses to “The Minnesota Orchestra: Dead or Alive?

  1. Angie Ellison

    While the musicians have offered options such “playing and talking” and binding arbitration, they have not yet offered a contract counterproposal. The musicians say they don’t have sufficient information from management to do so. So far, the orchestra has lost an entire season and the 2013-2014 season which was to feature the opening of a renovated and expanded orchestra hall now appears threatened.

    • Angie, you’ve provided a very brief summary of what’s happened thus far, leaving out that the two parties got together last January and it looked like negotiations would proceed once all the financial information was provided and the independent financial analysis was finished, but then management backed out. Now it looks like both sides have agreed to work with a mediator, George Mitchell, who famously mediated a peace agreement between the IRA and the British. If this new effort is not successful and the settlement is not reached by mid-September, it looks like they’ll lose Music Director Osmo Vanska, something that would have a devastating impact artistically. Thanks for your comment!

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