This past week has definitely been a big one in the cultural life here in Minnesota, especially for Twin Cities music lovers. First, Michael Henson resigned his position as President and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestral Association. Next Osmo Vanska arrived in town to conduct the Grammy Celebration concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on March 27, 28 and 29. Rehearsal photos posted by musicians showed up on Facebook
showing the MO’s former Music Director hard at “verk.” Mr. Vanska also gave two interviews, one to Graydon Royce of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the other to Brian Newhouse of Minnesota Public Radio. In each, he made it abundantly clear what his priority is regarding under what conditions he’d return to the MO as Music Director and it had nothing to do with money. No, he wants to be able to work with the Orchestra as he did before, as he wants to work. This is called “artistic integrity” and “striving for artistic excellence.” He also announced that he and the MOA are in negotiations about his return to his old job. The celebratory concerts began on Thursday morning with concertgoers waving the flag of Finland or wearing the colors of the Finnish flag to show their support of Mr. Vanska and the Orchestra. Next came the announcement on Friday by the Minneapolis Star Tribune online that eight members of the MOA Board had resigned because of Michael Henson’s resignation. Good grief. What more could possibly happen?
If you’re expecting an announcement about the re-hiring of Mr. Vanska as Music Director this week, please don’t hold your breath. I imagine those negotiations could be complex and take time. I was terribly disappointed in the MOA this week. They made little effort to create a big hoopla around the Grammy celebration in stark contrast to last year’s celebration of the Grammy nomination that R. T. Rybak, Judy Dayton, and the Musicians of the MN Orchestra put on. Rybak and Ms. Dayton spoke briefly before that concert. No one from the MOA spoke briefly to congratulate Mr. Vanska and the Musicians at this week’s two concerts (so far). Wow. Talk about missed opportunity to mend relationships. Although Michael Henson has been MIA, rumored to be on a previously (long ago) scheduled vacation. Mr. Henson would have been the most logical candidate as President and CEO to speak briefly before this week’s concerts. The MOA should have sent someone to publicly congratulate Mr. Vanska and the Musicians on their Grammy win on behalf of the Board and the staff. It’s a big deal, after all, and the MOA Marketing Dept. has certainly been quick to create ads and posters using “Grammy-winning” in them.
Regarding the eight MOA Board members that have resigned, I see this development as positive. So far, the people responsible for the 16-month lockout debacle have left or have one foot out the door: Jon Campbell, Richard Davis, Michael Henson, and now 8 of Mr. Henson’s supporters. As I read the Star Tribune article (linked above), I was struck by a fact of math reported in it. The Board had voted on Feb. 28 and showed strong support for Michael Henson. This article now reveals that vote’s tally: 40 for Henson, 8 against. But the Board at that time numbered 77 people, not counting Mr. Henson. Where are the other 29 members? How did they vote? Did they abstain? That would be something that needed to be reported. This math issue only seems to underline the math problems this Board seems to have, especially regarding money, as it came to light during the lockout. That is, playing with the numbers with Bryan Ebensteiner’s assistance, in order to show balanced books during the years they wanted to secure funding from the State of Minnesota, and then showing a serious deficit when it came time to negotiate a new contract with the musicians. Yes, the Board needs to do some housecleaning before they can move forward.
What this Board of Directors needs to truly comprehend and understand is that the Minnesota Orchestra as an organization is about classical music. They need to understand that their role is to support the Orchestra in its work to fulfill the purpose of the organization. It is not their job to control the musicians or the music director. It is not their job to take over artistic decision-making. It is not their job to manage the MOA but to govern, as Gina Hunter so eloquently points out in her blog post “Governance is Governance,” about Ken Dayton’s article of the same title. It’s the President and CEO’s job to manage the organization, seeking guidance from the Board as well as their fundraising expertise.
Enough. I need to write a few words about the extraordinary Grammy Celebration concert I attended which was sold out. The music: Sibelius’ Symphonies 1 and 4. It was a profound joy to see Mr. Vanska back on the podium conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, to witness the special musical connection he has with the musicians. They all play their hearts out when they play together for the music and for the audience. Broad range of dynamics, precise ensemble playing, depth of sound and dynamic tempos all have become hallmarks of this orchestra and were on display in the concert, as well as a high level of artistic excellence. There was an electric energy, too, fed I’m sure by the audience’s excitement and love. The musicians have united in a way that’s rare to find among professional orchestras. Listening to them play, all worldly concerns fell away, the aches and pains of physical existence disappeared, and I felt one with the music, the sound, the emotion.
Evan Quinn would have loved it….