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Update on the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout

Emily Hogstad

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Published: June 29, 2013 at 11:26 PM [UTC]

The long slow death of the Minnesota Orchestra continues. On July 1st, we will enter the tenth month of the lockout, which began in October 2012 after musicians refused 30-50% cuts in compensation, as well as changes in work rules that would allow management to send players out to play corporate events and birthday parties. (It would also grant Minnesota Orchestra CEO and lockout architect Michael Henson final say over who hires new players, over Music Director Osmo Vanska.) Management and musicians are no closer to a resolution today than they were in April 2012, when negotiations initially began. Management continues to resist independent financial analysis that would compare its performance to its peers and answer pressing questions about the organization’s finances and business plan. In addition, it has come out in the blogosphere that people at the Minnesota Orchestral Association are “monitoring” all letters, articles, and blogs, ready to harass and possibly fire administrative employees for being critical of their bosses. There are multiple individuals who are currently fearing for their jobs. (Hello, Minnesota Orchestra Monitors! Great to see you...again!) Despite the fact my investigative blogging has received international attention, and despite they're apparently “monitoring” me, they continue to refuse to acknowledge my - or my readers’ - existences. If we protest the direction the organization is going, or ask any questions of substance, we’re actually struck from email and phone lists. Yes, apparently somewhere in the bowels of the MOA, we're on a blacklist. As everyone knows, there is no one more dangerous than a tiny 23-year-old violinist blogger...

The opening of the new $50 million lobby has been delayed. “Summerfest”, which was originally scheduled to take place in the hall, has been shortened to three programs, and Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis rented out for the purpose...assuming, of course, that a settlement can be reached within a couple weeks, which is a major stretch. The MOA has said that the hall renovation is not, in fact, behind schedule, and that they chose to spend the money renting out Ted Mann because it “worked well last year.” Rumors from well-placed (albeit obviously unnamed) sources indicate that the hall construction has in general been a bit of a fiasco. I’ll hold back on specifics for the moment, but if what I’m hearing is true, many donors may be disappointed in the quality of the orchestra’s renovated home.

In the face of overwhelming institutional dysfunction, it’s good to see one group of stakeholders working together to bring great symphonic music to the Twin Cities: young people! In May a group called the Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM) formed to “help preserve the Minnesota Orchestra’s 110-year legacy of fostering music students.” Their enthusiastic efforts have so far been greeted by total silence by the MOA leadership and board. Nonetheless they soldier onward. They’re banding together to create an orchestra, and on July 27th, they will be presenting an ambitious program of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Beethoven in Minneapolis. If you know of any young musicians around 25 or younger in the Twin Cities (especially string players!), please check out the group and lend a hand to support it. Their concern for their teachers, mentors, and friends in the Minnesota Orchestra - and for the mighty institution itself - is inspiring. It’ll be a great night. Tell all your music-loving Minnesota friends! Their website is at youngmusiciansofmn.org, and you can follow their activities on Facebook.

Also mark your calendars for September 20, when the Minnesota Orchestra's annual Symphony Ball will be held in the brand new lobby. (Tickets on sale in July!) I found out about this event after the wife of a locked-out musician was sent an invitation in the mail. It’s hard to tell if the MOA is playing mind games with musicians and their supporters, or are just brutally incompetent. (Maybe both...?) At the Ball, board members and their friends and clients will gather at a lavish party to benefit an orchestra that currently does not exist. The theme of the party is “Overture.” According to the MOA, “All proceeds from this event support the artistic initiatives and education programs of the Minnesota Orchestra. Funds will only be accessed when a contract settlement with musicians is reached.” Which, at this pace, will literally be never. Expect to see angry patrons protesting on the streets. We're hoping to finally get a chance to see or talk to MOA board chair and Wells Fargo VP Jon R. Campbell at the ball. Reliable sources indicate he never actually goes to Minnesota Orchestra concerts. He has turned down all requests to speak to patrons to answer questions.

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