Minnesota woes: ‘I’ve spent all of my savings, I’ve sold my backup flute…’

Minnesota woes: ‘I’ve spent all of my savings, I’ve sold my backup flute…’


norman lebrecht

December 16, 2013

How players are facing their second Christmas without salaries. Read here and weep.

wendy williams minnesota


  • V.Lind says:

    Surely the Minnesota Orchestra board, those producers of precisely nothing (and that at a loss) and “earners” of substantial bonuses, are accountable to SOMEBODY? It’s time this was stopped, one way or the other.

    • Amy says:

      They are accountable to no one but themselves.

      As you can see, that results in insularity and intransigence. They think as a group.

  • PK Miller says:

    Thank you for presenting the human face of this. It’s all an absolute DISGRACE. I agree w/V Lind above–sure this Executive Director (of what?) and Board members are accountable to someone. I don’t know why the Governor cant somehow intervene here. I do not understand the legalities of all this. But surely SOMEONE can intervene and end this appalling war on the musicians. Freelancing is better than nothing but no substitute for a regular salary & benefits. I hope, perhaps, they are at least able to obtain insurance via Obamacare whether or not their state has an exchange. Good luck, friends.

  • Robert Levine says:

    They’ve been able to keep their health insurance – although they’re responsible for the hefty premiums – and will be able to sign up on the Minnesota exchange.

  • Stereo says:

    Maybe invite Henson to be Father Christmas on a temporary basis of course.

  • V.Lind says:

    The money that is paying their bills and bonuses is coming from somewehere. Donors may begin to get a little sceptical if they continue coughing up to pay for trash collection or whatever is actually getting done (aside from sending out begging letters for donations). As for the endowment, which is presumably what is keeping them afloat, are there no stipulations within it for what it is to be applied to?

    I know the various governments in the US have little authority over the arts (they contribute so little to them, relatively speaking) but is there no legal recourse in the endowment articles, or in labour law, or in tax, or anything?

    There is clearly no shame, nor any response to th e(relatively muted) public outcry.

  • It’s too bad there are no other orchestras available in this world where she could gain a position and earn some money. Oh, wait…

    I bet that $104,000 offer that was on the table several months back is looking pretty good to her now.

    • David Pharris says:

      Jason, there never was an offer of $104,000. The last offer was $89,000. Just because the MOA likes to throw out “average salary” figures, the median salary is nowhere near that.

      • It’s union verbiage like “seniority” and “bargaining units” that created the need to establish a median – a necessary method of communication with all interested parties.

      • Steve Foster says:

        Players are paid differently by how long they are there, David. But even if she got the ‘pitiful’ sum of $89,000, that could buy a lot of flutes.

    • MacroV says:

      Please keep in mind that the musicians are not on strike; they were locked out. And yes, don’t confuse average salaries with median or base.

      • I’m still a bit stupefied by the whole strike/lockout debate. It was the Association that was begging the musicians to come to the table with public pleas and private negotiations with George Mitchell, who apparently is the patron saint of arguments. (How’d THAT work out?)

        It might have started as a lockout, but if the union want’s to walk and not talk, I’d rename it a strike. Even the union would call it that since their definition of a strike is a “stoppage of work by a group of employees to express a grievance, enforce a demand for changes in the conditions of employment, obtain recognition, or resolve a dispute with management.” Clearly, this is what the lockout turned into.

        If the odd decision is made to not call it a strike, then it falls under an Impasse, which is a term referring to a situation where two parties cannot agree on a solution to a dispute. In legal usage, if impasse is reached, the employer is legally permitted to unilaterally impose its latest offer – which it has.

  • harold braun says:

    It is a shame and a disgrace to these world class musicians.And any moron who can’t even whistle or fart a tune should stop his idiotic (meant to be sarcastic)comments on these brave people here!

  • MacroV says:

    The world may not owe the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra a living, but I certainly think that the Minnesota Orchestral Association does, and it has failed to live up to the promise with which it has long promoted itself. Most members of the orchestra came from other groups, and they came to Minnesota based on a number of factors, including the quality of the orchestra, the charm of the Twin Cities, and, certainly, the salary offered. You can be sure that every ad for a MO audition indicated the salary range of the position. Of course the details are worked out in periodic contract negotiations, but until last year, the Minnesota Orchestra advertised itself to prospective members – not to mention the public – as a top-class, stable, well-paying orchestra of increasing international reputation. Now they are, whether they admit it or not, attemtping to undo a lot of that. Osmo Vanska didn’t say it in precisely these words, but his threatened and eventual resignation were his saying “I will not preside over the destruction of this great orchestra.”

    At this point, the musicians will never earn back the money they have lost during the lockout. Surely one reason they don’t knuckle under and go back to work under management’s offer is pride and the feeling that it would all have been for nothing. But they have done a fairly selfless thing, too: If they accept the proposed salaries and hundreds of work-rule changes, the orchestra will not be the same organization. It will be a much less attractive destination for the new members who join the orchestra each year, and more of its players will seek other opportunities. Minnesota has become increasingly a “destination” orchestra rather than a stepping-stone (or at least a stepping stone to a very small number of groups). Accepting management’s terms will make it much more of a stepping stone. The musicians’ stand is also increasing the likelihood that no other management of a major orchestra will ever again try this tactic; for that reason alone, orchestra musicians around North America owe them a great debt of gratitude and are, I hope, providing them significant support as this stalemate continues.

    Management may think they have the musicians in a difficult spot. But look at theirs: The reputation of the MOA is in tatters. There is no trust of the board and management by the musicians. No musician will audition if the MOA were to try to hire replacements, and no union musician will play in Orchestra Hall. Even long after this impasse is settled, musicians are going to think twice before accepting a job in Minnesota. And unless the MOA can find a way to lure Osmo back – or at least to depart on good terms – it will be a long time before another conductor of his stature agrees to come to Minnesota. Such a pity.

  • noochinator says:

    Looks like the musicians have found a workaround:


    • PK Miller says:

      I was very pleased to see this. I hope they can continue as the Musicians of the MN Orchestra or whatever. Perhaps they will not be making the money they were but they will be making music together and will not have sacrificed their integrity–artistic and otherwise. Thank you, Norman and everyone for keeping us abreast of things. Please continue to do so. It takes two to tango and to bargain in good faith. If the Board wants to pay the Executive Director extravagantly they can do so. I assume it comes out of the endowment. But that can quickly be spent down as happened with NY City Opera. And who would they get to play in such an orchestra. Anyone who doesn’t know what’s been going on will quickly find out. It;’s a small world. They might get students or recent grads but that;’s not a professional orchestra.