Minnesota and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra negotiationsNews: A Twin Cities apocalypse of orchestral proportions!
From Emily Hogstad
I thought I'd keep a running thread here discussing what is going on from my perspective as both an SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra patron and music blogger. Anyone with additional thoughts or news, please chime in.
MPR ran a primer on the situation here.
Five days ago an article called "Fearing for 'our orchestra as we know it'" written by Evelina Chao, assistant principal viola with the SPCO, was posted on the St. Paul Pioneer Press website. You can read that here. (I recommend doing so.) Chao writes, "Unfortunately, in recent negotiations to sign a new contract (our current agreement expires Sept. 30) the SPCO management and board have proposed wage cuts of 57 percent and 67 percent, as well as reducing drastically the number of concerts involving our full ensemble. These proposals have caused some musicians to sell their homes, audition for jobs elsewhere, and request leave in order to seek work in another field... Corporations reduce costs by outsourcing work. We believe our management envisions reducing costs by making wages untenable for existing musicians, causing them to leave, and by importing people from elsewhere to perform as SPCO musicians on a per-service basis."
On August 28 MPR ran a story about various SPCO musicians heading to the Minnesota State Fair to share their talents and spread awareness of the situation to the general public. In this article SPCO Interim President Dobson West is quoted as saying, "I don't know how they arrived at those numbers, but they are not correct numbers. We have never proposed that kind of a magnitude of a cut." I've dug around quite a bit, but I've been unable to find an interview in which Mr. West discusses (what he feels are) the actual numbers. If he does make them public, I'll post a link to them here.
That same day, the musicians of the SPCO released a PDF summary of the negotiations so far. You can read that here. This document discusses some eyebrow-raising changes to insurance, tenure procedures, seniority pay, sub compensation, etc. Go read it. It's...pretty depressing. Cue up some happy, triumphant music to listen to afterward; you'll likely need it.
We've heard comparatively little coming out of Minnesota this week, but my gut tells me that's likely to change within the next few days, as musicians and management are meeting today (August 30).
One story that has flown entirely under the radar is that on August 27 the orchestra's blog was unceremoniously stopped with this truly bizarre entry. All it says is, "The Inside the Classics section of our website is currently being redesigned. Sam and Sarah’s blog will be temporarily inactive, as we plan the 2012-13 season at the Minneapolis Convention Center, which begins February 8, 2013. We look forward to sharing the new season with you."
The Minnesota Orchestra blog is (um, was) written by a violist (Sam) and the principal pops conductor (Sarah); they co-host the Orchestra's Inside the Classics series. Clearly there was no serious discussion about the cessation of the blog with either of them. There were no good-bye posts and no hint of an impending ending or break in earlier posts. The author of the Truly Bizarre Post is not Sam or Sarah, but rather a shadowy figure, heretofore unknown, named "admin". Don't let the excuse that they're busy planning the upcoming season fool you: the Inside the Classics series has been going on for years now, and both Sam and Sarah are consummate professionals who are fully capable of updating a blog and planning a concert series at the same time. I can literally think of no credible reason why this happened. (Someone is scared they'll write a pro-musician entry? Someone doesn't want the public asking questions about the negotiations in the comments section? An escaped enraged zoo monkey came into the Orchestra's offices and started slapping on a keyboard and miraculously typed those exact words and then by accident clicked post?) And "admin" is going to blame the blog's break - or whatever it is - on Sam and Sarah's implied inability to balance both, when they've balanced both for years? Really? ... As my best friend says, "LAAAAYAME!" If whoever is behind this entry is going to imply a lie so transparently, he or she could at least do us the favor of lying entertainingly. How about telling us how Sam and Sarah are going on an exciting African safari for the next six months?
As a music blogger myself, this really annoys me. (Clearly.) I can't think of two better bloggers on orchestral culture, and it just seems the height of stupidity and irresponsibility to kick those articulate voices to the curb without any warning. Hey, Minnesota Orchestra, if you're trying to foster good-will with your public, here's a news flash: you're failing. Miserably.
Well, that should bring you mainly up to speed. I'm off to browse the four years of Inside the Classics blog entries and save what I can, because at this point, given this weird turn of events, I wouldn't be surprised if the blog disappears entirely, soon, and without any explanation.
More news as it develops.
Even if you're not in the Twin Cities, you can help by liking the Musicians of the SPCO and Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra on Facebook. Doing so will keep you up-to-date on what's happening and give you suggestions for how to help.
From Christina C.The need for cutbacks is unfortunate but necessary in light of the economy, it's just a question of how & how much. I haven't been following the specifics of these 2 groups so I can't say whether the cuts proposed by management are reasonable. A recent blog entry in one of the blogs I follow gives what I thought was a very level-headed take on the situation.
Posted on August 31, 2012 at 04:56 PM
From Emily Hogstad***SPCO***
Posted on September 1, 2012 at 04:29 PM
There has been relatively little news out of St. Paul over the last forty-eight hours. However, I was happy to see this article on MinnPost’s website because it included a long-awaited public response from SPCO Interim CEO Dobson West on Evelina Chao’s Pioneer Press article. It’s worth checking out in full, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version: “We have never proposed and wouldn’t propose salary cuts in the 57 to 67 percent range. That magnitude is way beyond anything we have proposed… We are not reducing in any way our commitment to the community in terms of the number of concerts we perform. We perform roughly 120 concerts per year. We will continue to do that… It is not our intention at all to turn this into a per-service orchestra. We understand that it is important to the overall sound to have a constancy among our musicians… We have a great ensemble. Everybody – the musicians, staff, board, and management – loves this ensemble. We do not want to do anything to damage it. But we cannot ignore the financial realities we face, and that other arts organizations – in particular, orchestras – face. We need to address the largest single cost we have, which is our musicians.” I’m happy to hear from management, but unfortunately these remarks muddy the waters more than anything: they make very clear that someone is either point-blank lying, or else very very stupid. Who is it? As best as I can tell, no actual numbers or percentages – or really any details about management’s proposals, period – were discussed in this interview…just refutations of Chao’s article. So feel free to speculate, I guess. As MinnPost rather helplessly notes: “Until journalists are invited to the bargaining table, this is what we know.”
The organization MN2020 put out a pointed editorial called “Sour Notes” drawing parallels between the SPCO’s situation and the exciting national pastime of union-bashing. Regardless of your opinion of the author’s politically progressive viewpoint, I think we can all agree on its closing line: “Mediocrity yields no rewards.” Artistic…or fiscal.
There’s not much to report from the other side of the river. Today the Minnesota Orchestra musicians posted a blog entry describing the latest talks with management. Here is the entirety of the entry: “On August 30 and 31, the Musicians met with the board and management in two sessions totaling 5 hours. The parties continued to discuss both artistic and financial issues, and agreed to meet again in September.” End entry. This is by far the vaguest report we’ve gotten yet. I was interested to see the talks apparently extended to August 31; last I heard they’d only been scheduled for August 30. Read into that what you will.
More news as it develops.
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