The orchestra manager who gets a bonus for not managing an orchestra

The orchestra manager who gets a bonus for not managing an orchestra


norman lebrecht

October 12, 2013

More shocking Minnesota revelations from Emily E Hogstad, right here.



  • Julia says:

    Despicable. Full stop.

  • Anon says:

    Er, except he doesn’t.

    As most of the commenters over at Emily’s seem to have missed, though she writes it herself, these payments were made before the lockout. The bonus referred to, whatever it was for (I assume contractual for meeting whatever targets or stipulations the board had set), was not for the time when there’s been no orchestra; it was for a time when there was a playing orchestra.

    • Anonymous says:

      Anyone who thinks the MOA wasn’t already planning for the lockout in Dec 2011, when the 2nd bonus was paid, is naive. Even assuming that’s not true, it still shows they had cash to pay sickening sums of money to their fat-cat execs while preparing to claim poverty and crush the musicians, their raison d’être. This board is full of seriously disturbed individuals.

      • Anon says:

        You may be right, but that’s irrelevant to the charge of receiving-a-bonus-for-managing-an-orchestra-without-an-orchestra.

        And further any claim of poverty would (should) have been made after calculations which would include any possible bonus payments they know of. Arguably it is good business practice to flag up impending financial doom at a time before the actual cash in the bank runs dry, so it seems rude to complain that they made a stand to try and deal with ‘impending financial doom’ whilst still having some cash in the bank.

        (I freely accept they have gone about it in a seemingly ridiculous way, but that’s not relevant to the point)

        • AnonAlso says:

          Dear Anon:please clarify where anyone accused Mr. Henson of receiving-a-bonus-for-managing-an-orchestra-without-an-orchestra? I believe those your words alone, a straw dog to set up and knock down. I believe the true allegations are that he was NOT MANAGING the orchestra which is why it was run into financials straits after raising and spending over $50 million on a shiny new lobby, and/or that he didn’t deserve such large bonuses or any bonus, and/or that a cash-strapped orchestral association should not have paid him over $600,000 in 2011. Would you care to address any of THOSE concerns?

          • Anon says:

            Um, no. See the headline to this piece, and further see the comments over at Emily’s blog. The other concerns are off-topic here, and are addressed during several other exchanges of views in the comments threads on this blog, so I see no reason to rehash the arguments here.

  • MacroV says:

    The bonus does seem astounding, but do keep in mind it was for 2011-12, when the Minnesota Orchestra was still in action. More important to watch for future ones, but you must assume that Henson is still in place because he is carrying out the Board’s agenda; surely he’s not such a cowboy to have created this whole debacle on his own, without their full support.

  • db says:

    So apparently the orchestra isn’t so cash-starved after all?

    The bad news, I fear, for the orchestra is that the board is so pig-headed, stupid, and stubborn that they’d rather ride the orchestra all the way into the ground instead of admitting they’ve take the wrong approach and appointed the wrong guy. They will go full NYCO.

    It was obvious to everyone following NYCO that Steel was completely out of his depth and should have been sacked almost immediately. Yet the NYCO board decided they would rather see their organization destroyed than publicly admit they made a horrendous mistake. Way to dig in your heels NYCO board – you sure showed everyone how smart you were.

    Now the MN orch board – who has already poisoned the waters – is determined to go the same route. For any negotiations there has to be a level of trust, and when the management/board says, “There’s no money!” and then gives Henson a 200k bonus on top of a 400k salary, they are clearly liars.

    Furthermore, Henson said he was willing to take the same percentage salary paycut as the orchestra. Well that’s an easy thing to offer when he knows he’s getting a bonus that would more than make up for any of his cut in pay. What a completely revolting and disingenuous person.

  • Anonymous says:

    A-ha…..they were “destitute”, yet still found a way to give Henson a $200,000+ bonus. Simply revolting.

    • Anon says:

      I think you are at risk of being too simplistic. Before they could say there was a financial shortfall, they would have to look at all future liabilities. These would include any contractual bonus payments (whether you think them justified or otherwise is irrelevant), so they would only have been saying “we don’t have enough money” from a point which has already taken that bonus into account, not saying that and then magically finding the bonus money.

      • Anon2 says:

        As much as I appreciate your common sense in this, you should save your breath (or fingers). The general concensus is that management = monsters and musicians = angels, and no amount of logic seems to break that.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, except for the fact that the board didn’t honor their contractual liabilities with the musicians. In 2009, with three years remaining on the CBA, management asked the musicians for $4.5 million in concessions, and in good faith, the musicians consented. Why didn’t they restructure Henson’s bonuses? I eagerly await the illuminating logic of Anon and Anon2.

        • Anon says:

          But that’s not relevant to my comment. I’m saying that when mgmt said “we’ve got no money” they already knew of the bonus payments, and I’m sure likewise their liabilities to the musicians too. These would all have been taken in to account in order to make the calculations which show a lack of funds.

          Your point, about honouring those liabilities (rather than perceiving them and calculating them) is a very different one. And, unless you are closer to the Minnesota mgmt than I suspect, how would you know if Henson’s bonuses had or had not also been restructured?

  • Martin says:

    There are people on this planet earning millions for making people redundant, aka restructuring. Not many seem to have a problem with those individuals. Why is an orchestra manager any different to those?

    • Trentt says:

      My guess is that the same people would have a problem with that (I do). If anything it’s worse since the orchestra is a non profit. However, that’s not what we’re talking about here.

  • nick says:


    You are blah-blah-blahing on things you have no idea what you are talking about, as usual. In 2011-12 season, the orchestra was already challenged with large deficit, according to the board, and yet they rewarded MH with such annual bonus.

    • Anon says:

      Sure, but in the ’11-’12 season there was an orchestra to manage, and MH was presumably managing it. At the very least, it would seem he managed it to the satisfaction of whatever the criteria were laid down by the board to receive his bonus.

      This much would seem to be as far as we can go. To start speculating on deficits and whether you personally believe a bonus should or should not have been awarded isn’t relevant to my comments above.

  • BillBC says:

    Forgive me if this is heresy, but when I look at the really stupendous salaries some orchestral directors make, a question occurs to me: given the fact that the era of music that requires huge orchestras began only in the later 19th century (Mahler, Bruckner, Wagner, R. Strauss, with Berlioz and perhaps others as outliers)—how many 90 member orchestras does the United States really need? Should every regional orchestra be supported to the degree that they can play Bruckner, or R. Strauss? Mozart didn’t have that many, nor did Haydn, and certainly not Bach. How many did Beethoven have? Couldn’t orchestras specialize? Let the big cities have huge expensive orchestras, and the regional centres smaller ones. I for one would be happy to hear the big boomer pieces only very occasionally….

    • anon says:

      Orchestras do specialise — the Twin Cities have (or had) the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul *Chamber* Orchestra. Minneapolis is not exactly a small city, is it? Besides, most orchestras already rely on subs or extras for the really big pieces, as matters stand.

    • Dave T says:

      @BillBC- Are you saying that the smaller cities should be stuck in the 18th century, while only the larger cities get to be…err… stuck in the 19th century?

  • AnonAlso says:

    Why did Mr. Henson get his bonus for the year ending 8/31/11 in MARCH 2011, and his bonus for the year ending 8/31/12 in DECEMBER 2011? I smell a fish.

  • Stereo says:

    The man is a total basxxxd. In Bournemouth he screwed our pension scheme so he has a track record. He was also the most boring,uninspirational CEO ever.Get rid would be my advice.

  • agememnon says:

    FYI : these bonuses were awarded at a time when the Mgmnt fired Fired nearly 20 people for financial reasons.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      So that’s probably what the bonuses were for – firing people is what managers do these days in order to improve the bottom line. Or sending their jobs to China. Which he really couldn’t do in this case, I guess.

  • Peter says:

    A big “Well done” to Michael Henson now Roger Wright has revealed the Orchestra were to have a residency at the 2015 Proms. A Sibelius cycle, now cancelled. Henson must be very proud indeed.

  • “ST. PAUL, MN – Today, State Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL – Minneapolis) announced plans to introduce legislation designed to ensure the long-term viability of the Minnesota Orchestra.

    Kahn, who chairs the House Legacy Committee responsible for appropriating state funds to support the arts, said her bill can help Minnesota retain its world-renowned orchestra and prevent the kind of uncertainty caused by the current lockout, which has now dragged on for over a year.”

    Go, Phyllis! Brief summary includes public ownership through stock with explicit stipulation that artistic decisions are NOT to be made by the board or its agents but by those hired expressly for those duties (music director).