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.
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.
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.