Minnesota chair might not see out the year

Minnesota chair might not see out the year


norman lebrecht

October 12, 2013

Emily E Hogstad, an independent string player in her 20s, has offered some of the most sane and insightful coverage to emerge from the Minnesota Orchestra crisis, on her site Song of the Lark. In an exclusive article for Slipped Disc, she notes that it is customary for the Association’s chair to step down after two years. That’s in December. Could this be an opportunity for the deadlock to be broken? Will Big Jon do the decent thing? Here are Emily’s observations.

emily e hogstad #

After the music director Osmo Vänskä handed in his resignation letter to Minnesota Orchestra Association, he led three sold-out concerts on October 4 and 5 with the Minnesota Orchestra musicians. He also added an unscheduled Egmont Overture to the program. Anyone who knows the story of Egmont – and heck, anyone who doesn’t – got his message loud and clear. The concert was a sacred experience for all who were involved, whether as performers, patrons, or listeners on the radio.

Despite this body blow, the orchestra has not folded. As the musicians note on their website:

The weekend of October 4th, 2013 was the end of an era; Osmo Vänskä’s farewell concerts for the community. It was also the beginning of a new era; opening night for the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.

So what next?

In early December the board of the Minnesota Orchestra will gather for their annual meeting. In recent years, board chairs have served two year terms, and current board chair Wells Fargo VP Jon Campbell ascended to the position in December 2011. Obviously many eyes will be on Mr. Campbell this December.

jon campbell


Orchestra management will continue to rent out the newly renovated Orchestra Hall for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and Republican fundraisers. Unfortunately for management, no unionized performer will perform there until the lockout ends. A number of acts have canceled, including Bill Cosby, the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies, and VocalEssence. It seems likely the management will miss out on earned revenue from the lucrative Christmas season.

Happily for the community, the musicians have a much more interesting season planned. As they note on their website, resigning en masse and creating their own organization would just enable the management to hire non-union employees, or to dissolve the orchestra part of the organization altogether. That being said, the musicians are forging ahead with producing their own season, and also assembling an internal governance structure with which to do it. Former Minnesota Orchestra music director (and possibly the most energetic 90-year-old in the orchestra business) Stanislaw Skrowaczewski is slated to direct Wagner, Mozart, and Brahms at a mid-November concert. This show is on track to sell out weeks before the date. More concerts will follow.

Even after a year of lockout, the musicians have a great deal of community support. Just one example: in September, the musicians gave a free community concert at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, and according to park police, over 7000 people attended. (The Star Tribune reported there were 4000. Interestingly, the Strib’s CEO is on the Minnesota Orchestra’s board of directors…) More people tried to attend but couldn’t find parking less than half a mile away. This concert used to be a beloved community tradition before current Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson axed it in 2008. But it’s back now under musician control, and more successful than ever. Many listeners hope that the wildly successful Lake Harriet concert is a harbinger of what will happen in the new season.

People often ask me, “How will this end?” Here’s the answer: nobody knows. Even a year into the lockout, there are too many variables at play. Crazy stuff can and probably will happen. For example, ex-Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson recently went public with a suggestion that the Vikings football team should donate to the orchestra. The story is not over yet.

As we mourn what has been lost – and make no mistake, we have lost a great deal! – we refuse to remain immobilized by cultural tragedy. Minnesotans are a stubborn and resilient people. One way or another, we will find a way to make great symphonic music happen.

If anyone is interested in supporting the Minnesota Orchestra musicians, they are currently accepting donations from around the world via their website. Even $5 has an impact on the musicians’ ability to continue their vital education work and exciting experiment in artist-driven governance.


  • James Brinton says:

    I would love to see this resolved, but OTOH, I would hate to see a resolution that kept the present management in control of the MOA and its endowment. From all I have been able to find out, they have shown themselves unworthy of public trust, much less the trust of any musicians that might serve in the Orchestra.

  • Terry says:

    I’ve heard that Osmo isn’t going anywhere, at least not just yet. He has a home in Minneapolis, of course, and he was in the audience at a concert by Accordo (concertmasters of the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra, plus other principal players) on Monday evening in South Minneapolis. Would he return as music director if management was replaced and the labor dispute settled? That’s the question of the week.

  • David J Gill says:

    Any chance we will be able to see Vänskä’s farewell concert on Youtube? Since the Hall is off-limits, where was it held ?

    • Mark H. says:

      Someone posted the radio broadcast on youtube.com. It was taken off due to copyright,but maybe it’s back on. MPR was waiting to see if they could get permission to archive it.

    • Bob Peskin says:

      Ted Mann Concert Hall at U of Minnesota.

    • Sarah says:

      David, it was held at the U of MN’s Ted Mann Concert Hall. The concert was filmed, as well as recorded, but I don’t know how much has reached YouTube, nor if anything will be available commercially at a later date.

  • Mark H. says:

    There is less reporting in the news in the last week since Vanska’s resignation and the farewell concert Enthusiasm will likely wane fast after the one year mark of the lockout with no sign of ending, unless there is a change. But where is that to come? The musicians could form their own organization, but if they resign, then the management could hire other musicians. Can the musicians form their organization while they are still technically employed by the MOA? They could wait until the MOA declares bankruptcy, but when will that happen if they still have a large enough endowment?

    If Campbell does vacate his office, will that improve the situation? Where does the power lie behind the actions of MOA? In Henson, Campbell, or Davis? Or is it larger? It is difficult to believe that three individuals alone have this much power and influence without support. If Campbell is not the power behind this lockout, it might not have much effect.

    Considering the considerable negative image around the world that MOA has now, it is difficult to fathom why they have been acting in such a self-destructive way. Mitchell couldn’t end the lockout, Vanska resigned, the musicians have not caved in. Do they something to hide? What motive could they have? Is it now a war between the musicians and MOA, each out to destroy the other?

    If it was going so good, how did it get to be so bad?

    I have been following this every day for several months now, I still don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t trust that the board is telling us everything, and has the best interest of the public and the orchestra in mind. Such an public enterprise is built on trust, and they have squandered it. To me, unless the MOA changes, I would not like to see the musicians go back.

    • MWnyc says:

      In theory, Minnesota Orchestra management could hire other musicians. In practice, no member of the musicians’ union anywhere in the country would agree to play there, and any musician who hoped to get into the union at some point in the future would not play there.

  • Philip Low says:

    Tedd Mann Concert Hall at the U of MN is where it was held.

  • Lisa Renee Rags says:

    I just want to thank Emily for her excellent coverage of all the happenings with the MOA. If you ever assemble all of this into a “book”-type thing, I want a copy.

  • Barbara Hodges says:

    On the MOA Board of Directors list, Nancy L. Jamieson is listed as President Elect – is that of the MOA or something else? Anyone know?

    • Amy says:

      Barbara, under Nancy Jamieson’s name it says “Friends of the Minnesota Orchestra” President…because of the column formatting, the nature of that title isn’t really clear. FOMO used to be Women’s Association of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.

  • Thomas Thoreson says:

    Maybe that Dem. “Chucklehead Senator, Al Franken or Obamacare could help.