Minnesota musicians miss an open goal

Minnesota musicians miss an open goal


norman lebrecht

November 12, 2013

Given an opportunity to state their case in the STrib, which is owned by a board member of the Minnesota Orchestra, three hardline musicians set out an argument that they have set out many times before. It makes painful reading. They seem to be locked in an internal loop.

When musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra were locked out by their company last year, they engaged a media consultant who guided them brilliantly through the short dispute. While negotiators agreed to a pay cut, the musician won every single point in the public arena, wrongfooting their opponents at every turn and emerging from the conflict as heroes, not victims.

The Minnesota musicians need to think about changing their tune.



  • Terry says:

    In my view, Norman, the musicians stated their case perfectly and, in fact, have already WON the public-relations battle in this attempted “hostile takeover” by a banking cartel on the orchestra board that only focuses on the endowment fund (1/3 of the budget) while failing to focus on ticket sales and donor contributions (2/3 of the budget). The locked-out musicians’ self-produced concerts routinely sell-out and their current fundraising goal has nearly been met (and will be exceeded this Thursday on “Give to the Max Day” here in Minnesota).

    Out of curiosity, what would your strategy (“new tune”) for the article have been? We can use everyone’s assistance in this battle!

  • I think you are a bit harsh on the musicians, but they are definitely lacking power tools in the messaging department. By definition, management has control of public relations because they already have structures at their disposal, while the musicians have to start from scratch. Management is not winning the PR war here, but the musicians are poorly positioned to exploit the most brazen weaknesses. Sadly, arts and cultural affairs reporting in the Twin Cities is deficient and controlled by media organizations whose management is uncomfortable with what a win by the musicians might mean for them.

  • Brian says:

    Perhaps I am needlessly dense, Norman, but I did not find the piece “painful reading.” The musicians make some very fine points, particularly with regard to the millions spent by a business (MOA) producing not a single product (performance). Where, exactly, is all of this money going? And that is surely only the tip of the iceberg. As a resident of a contiguous state (Iowa), I have been following this story with more than a bit of interest. The pain is in the whole situation, in which it appears that the MOA has no intention of resolving.

  • R. James Tobin says:

    I am also from a neighboring state, Wisconsin, and I don’t see anything “hard line” about this letter.

  • Bill says:

    Michael Klingensmith is the CEO of the Star Tribune Media Company and joined the company after the acquisition of the paper from its previous owners through the bankruptcy proceedings. He is not the owner, though he almost certainly has a stake in the company.

  • Larry W says:

    Norman, I feel you unfairly misrepresent the position of the three Minnesota Orchestra musicians when you refer to them as being hardline. They were responding to a November 5 article that asked what the musicians want. If their answers seem repetitious to you, keep in mind that many STrib readers may have been fully learning of the musicians’ position and concerns for the first time. I would refer you to an article written by one of the orchestra’s representatives, Marcia Peck. It quite eloquently and beautifully answers “Why classical music?” No media consultant was needed here. http://www.minnesotaorchestramusicians.org/why-classical-music/

  • Elizabeth Balay says:

    If there’s one area where orchestral musicians deserve to take a hard line, it’s on the proper mission of the organization for which they play. It represents the connection of their art to their effort – the sum of their life’s work. The gulf between musicians and the management and board of the MOA on this issue is so vast as to be practically unbridgeable. The musicians and their many fans and supporters find it unnacceptable to retreat from the pinnacle of artistic excellence and relevance they’ve achieved through years of shared effort, polished by the exemplary leadership of Osmo Vanska. It could be this quality of strength, cohesion, and team spirit which has made the musicians so formidable in their resistence to MOA tactics to reduce the Minnesota Orchestra to a regional pops orchestra with a limited schedule.

  • Wha-wha-WHAT?!! Do my eyes deceive me? I’m reading someone speaking of the WORLD-CLASS* MN Orchestra musicians in a negative way?! Blasphemy!

    * When referring to MN Orchestra musicians, it is now mandatory one uses this prefix.

  • MacroV says:

    Must be that “two nations divided by a common language” thing again. I don’t see this as a missed shot, opportunity, etc. by the musicians. They make their argument quite clearly, and as another commenter pointed out, it came in direct response to a surprisingly ill-informed op-ed in the same paper a few days earlier. If the Atlanta musicians handled it better, then the Minnesota folks should indeed seek out their advice, but I don’t see many people who follow this story – a couple cranks on the blogs excepted – who don’t largely support the musicians. They are definitely the losers while they miss over a year of work and income, however.

  • I am unfamiliar with the Atlanta situation, Were they up against 250 work rule changes and a completely different mission statement than had been used for the last 100 years that would change the direction of the orchestra? Were the proposed salary changes ranging from 30-50% Were they dealing with morons who saw a well respected conductor who has given his blood, sweat, and tears for 10 years. as just a drain on the budget? There are so many pieces to this awful puzzle. I think the article was great and addressed its counter point, which was written by a grossly uninformed person who had not bothered to read anything but the MOA’s facebook page and the Star and Tribune newspaper (whose CEO sits on the orchestra board.) The reporting has been atrocious. The people of Minnesota needed to hear about the things covered in this article.

  • Anonymous says:

    Norman, your headline when Atlanta musicians agreed to management’s demands was “Atlanta lockout is over as players cave in”. You seemed surprised back in 2012 that they suddenly capitulated, but now you seem to have a different opinion. Additionally, the “brilliant” PR work on behalf of the ASO musicians yielded not one penny of concessions from management–the musicians ate the entire $5.2 million demanded of them. While I would still qualify the MOA’s recent offers as terrible, at least there has been some movement in management’s numbers–movement precipitated by the musicians’ “hardline” stance.

    Please note that I do not mean to disparage the ASO players, many of whom are good friends and colleagues. They did what most would do, and they’ve carried on their job beautifully with grace and pride. I only mean to highlight what I think is an unfair attack on the Minnesota musicians.

  • ed says:

    The musicians were sincere and articulate in their statement, and that is part of the moral stance that is important for them to maintain to be able to sell and sustain their cause, but Norman’s point is also valid, since the best PR people (aka lobbyists)- expensive as they are- know every trick in the book and know how to use it like jiujitsu against their opponents.

    My sense though is that the community is starting to respond, and that below the surface an important strain of political activism has been fermenting in Minneapolis that at some point will overflow and result in the exercise of more public control over what are in reality public benefit assets. I’d also love to see Minnesota establish a public bank, something on the order of what has been in existence for many years in North Dakota (though in no other State), and also in Costa Rica. See for example: Ellen Brown’s article “Public Banking in Costa Rica: A Remarkable Little Known Model” at: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article36837.htm Just think what could happen if depositors throughout the State (or better yet every State) withdrew their money from US Bancorp and Wells Fargo (and from the even larger behemoths) and put it where they could get a better deal (no matter what the IMF or the international bankers might say to the contrary). It would hit them like bitcoin has, but with real currency and maybe a sharper and more lasting body blow.

  • Mike says:

    Wow you totally missed the boat on this one. Atlanta, you mean where it came to complete capitulation? That s the high water mark? How would trying to negotiate in the newspaper help anything- it’s been useless for the board to go around their mediator the past few contract proposals…

  • Sarah says:

    I misplaced a comma so there may be confusion. The op-ed was written by a former Board member, not the takedown.

  • Dan says:

    Mike, I think it is not wise for anyone who does not understand what happened in Atlanta or what is going on in Minnesota to make any comments as all knowing. Atlanta was facing 35% plus in cuts to salary (even deeper cuts in compensation if the orchestra was not reduced to the size presented by management). We took a 17% cut in the first year followed by a 15% cut in the second (the lesser being that there are more work weeks in this current year). Some people might look at it as capitulation from the outside, but that is not an accurate picture – nevertheless a painful one for the orchestra who has not enjoyed increases as many of our peer orchestras enjoyed during the last 10 plus years. Everyone wishes for a satisfactory outcome for the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and we hope that that the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra are respected no less for their decision in doing what they thought best under the circumstances they were under.