minnesota orchestra cancels rest of season, what’s next?

The management of the Minnesota Orchestra announced today that the rest of the 2012-2013 season is officially cancelled. This is horrible, but not unexpected. So, what happens now?

I don’t think there’s much to be optimistic about here. Both sides are about as entrenched as one can expect to see in a labor dispute.

Even though I am firmly (and totally) on the side of the musicians in this travesty, I cannot help but think that there is no way they can win this. Why? Because they have everything to lose (and look to be doing so with each passing day). The board and management of the Minnesota Orchestra really have nothing to lose. They just remodeled their concert hall without having to pay an orchestra for an entire season. They didn’t have to find alternate venues in which to perform, or pay soloist fees (though they did pay the entire management staff and the music director, I’d bet). What a bargain! They also, even if more of their incredible wealth of musical talent decides to leave for better situations, will manage to field some sort of orchestra next season, even if it means filing for bankruptcy and starting over. Because clearly, the board doesn’t really understand what quality means. Sure, they might hear a second-rate community orchestra and maybe hear that things are out of tune and not really together, but beyond that, they seem to be completely unable to understand what makes a great orchestra great. So if they lose two-thirds of their principals and rank and file players, who cares? They won’t really know what they’re missing. Even if their audience does. Because there are thousands of music school graduates who are “just as good” as a seasoned member of a world-class orchestra, right? Lose a world renowned music director? Who cares? He probably costs too much money anyway. They’ll just hire someone who has no name recognition for one-third the cost, and it’ll sound “just as good”. All the board has to do is wait, and eventually, they will “win”. It will be a scorched earth victory, but a victory nonetheless. And they know this. That is why they are unwavering, even in the face of such evidence of their own duplicity and cowardice. Even though they hate the union and know nothing about music, they know that they can win by doing nothing.

This is what seriously makes me beside myself with frustration over orchestra governance. Boards seem to want to manage (and isn’t that what they hire a president or an executive director for?) instead of oversee the management. They don’t want to grow, they want to prune – even if by every metric in the not-for-profit universe it is proven that cutting leads only to decreased revenue, no increased savings. Presumably, a manager is someone who knows how to manage, and has some degree of familiarity with the artistic functioning of the organization which they manage. And if they don’t have a tremendous amount of artistic background – that’s what the music director column of the organizational chart is for! And the musicians! We musicians are in this for the long haul – we aim to spend our entire lives making great music for audiences in our community. We aren’t out to make a quick buck – we want to build a strong organization with deep roots in the community we serve.

My advice to board members: if you are disenchanted, leave. You aren’t helping. Find a friend who is always asking you about the symphony, and suggest them as your replacement. If you want to apply for-profit logic to the not-for-profit world, leave. You won’t be successful. Chances are all you’ll do is make a few bankruptcy attorneys very wealthy. If you really don’t like classical music all that much, and don’t plan on attending any of the concerts, leave. Orchestras need board members who are passionate about the music and the musicians. If you are not passionate about the organization which you serve, you will never sell its experience and benefits to others. Fund raising will stagnate, costs will be cut, and it will be the beginning of the end. Want proof? Look to Minnesota.

sage advice, and not just for minnesota

I would think that the board and management would understand that you cannot cut your way to prosperity. When you have some of the world’s finest musicians and conductors making world-class music, it is not a lack of a quality product that is the problem. You need to look inward — it is management’s responsibility to sell tickets, raise money and balance the budget. Very few organizations cut their way to more success. Great music is not found on a spreadsheet.

Lee Henderson, lawyer and arts lover, in today’s Minnesota Star Tribune.

deep pessimism in minnesota

I hope that Bill Eddins’ most recent blog post is off the deep end of the pessimism scale, because if it isn’t, then what is happening with the Minnesota Orchestra is an epic catastrophe for that organization.

“… there is no room for artistry in the “vision” being laid out by the current administration of the M.O.  Their vision is completely about money and control.  Musicians under contract will be dealt with as nothing more than grunts, front line soldiers to be told where, what, and when, but certainly not to be considered as valuable assets, let alone artists.  As this madness has dragged on, the odds of the Minnesota Orchestra ever returning to the heights to which they are accustomed have dwindled precipitously.”