Slipped Disc editorial: Today is zero hour in Minnesota

Slipped Disc editorial: Today is zero hour in Minnesota


norman lebrecht

January 15, 2014

The longest lock-out in the history of American orchestras is over.Late on Tuesday, the musicians and board of the Minnesota Orchestra signed a three-year agreement. Details here.

The musicians take a cut in pay and benefits of 15 percent. They had been locked out 15 months ago after refusing cuts of two to four times that amount. Average pay will be $118,000, which is still among the top ten in the US. UPDATE: Musicians reactions here.

The board get a reprise from a dispute that had forced its members to hire bodyguards and had given them an image of redneck philistines, riding roughshod over sensitive artists. The orch is now down to 77 players (from 95) and only seven will be hired by 2017. Real savings have been made.

Peace has been declared in Minneapolis.

But who wins? No-one. The Minnesota Orchestra today is a broken reed. Its music director, Osmo Vanska, has fled. More than 15 of its best musicians have migrated to other orchestras and the core that remains is embittered by financial hardship and humiliation at the way they have been treated by the president, Michael Henson, and his board.

Today is zero hour in Minnesota.




  • Margaret says:

    I hope (and expect) to see some shifts in management and leadership in the coming weeks. That is the only way the Minnesota Orchestra can have a chance to rebuild. Henson must be gone. And the Board should to everything in their power to get Osmo back.

  • Sarah says:

    Oh geez. You have obviously not heard the musicians play during the past several months. They are better than ever. And audience advocacy takes a HUGE step forward. THAT’S the new business model.

  • Bob Smith says:

    I hope the Musicians apologize to the community and donors who they insulted during their union inspired year and a half tantrum. They drove off the conductor, personally disparaged major donors and had no regard for the 100 year institution, only wanted more then the community could afford. Too bad they waited till six weeks ago to start talking like adults, then again their government benefits were about to dry up according to the local press. No amount of stunts including using cheap politicians worked in the end and I am glad they finally saw reality.

    We can only hope the major donors(who are the board members) still want to contribute to people that appeared to be ungrateful, truly bitting the hand that feeds them.

    • anon says:

      It’s true. Musicians who spend years perfecting and developing a craft at the edge of human achievement should not expect to make that much money. They should peddle their worthless “art” free in the streets after they make obeisance to the rich donors. Making money for the administration is the purpose of a symphony orchestra, and I don’t know how they failed to miss that critical point.

      • Steve Foster says:

        No one forced them to be musicians. They chose this field, and everything that goes with it. They, like any other career, are entitled to nothing more than what they produce and and the current value of said production.

        Your sardonic tone is laughable. Bob’s point was a valid one and you’ve contributed nothing to the conversation.

        • anon says:

          I was agreeing with you that the free market should be upheld at the expense of all values. We are both American, so that should go without saying, I thought.

        • Amy says:

          Which of Bob’s points was the valid one? They’re all untrue, and laughably unrelated to reality…I’d say it could have been written by one of the more intransigent MOA board members or their spouse or partner.

          The musicians did not insult their community/they had no tantrum/they did not drive off Osmo/disparaged not one donor/have nothing BUT regard for their institution/wanted only facts and information/talked like adults the entire time…


        • Sarah says:

          Bob Smith obviously knows nothing about the situation if he thinks that the musicians “drove off the conductor”.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          You are so naive, Steve. Very few people get paid by the “current value of said production”. Especially in the US where very little is actually produced these days. I suspect neither do you. What do you “produce”?

          Of course, in no society do all people “produce” anyway, even in the ones in which people actually do produce a lot of stuff. Some people also perform services of all sorts of kinds, from a waiter to the highest judge or government official in the county, to doctors who don’t “produce” anything that can really be measured in material value either, to scientists who often don’t immediately “produce” anything either to – artists, who also perform *a service*.

          Don’t watch so much Fox News. Most of the people you see on there don’t “produce” anything either – except for a lot of crap that is supposed to distract people like you from what is really going around them so they can be milked more easily.

    • Michael Barar says:

      Bob, I’m curious as to what your agenda here is. The musicians did not have a “union inspired … tantrum”. They were locked out, not on strike. And how is it that they drove off Osmo Vanska? Remember that he conducted musician produced concerts mere days after he resigned, and agreed to return to conduct the musicians again later in the spring. Those do not seem like the actions of someone who believed that the musicians were the problem.

      • Mike says:

        Notice the comments from board member Kelly that the recent negotiations seemed (finaly) like more normal labor negotiations. What changed? Well the musicians didn’t, it was the same negotiating team for the whole period. But the negotiating board members changed. new members stepped up and the triumverate that engineered this disaster, mis-led the public and legislators, and wished Osmo and Carnegie a fond farewell – the triumverate took a back seat. That tells you that this wasn’t a musician or union tantrum or instigation, they were victims of a misguided management assault, saved in the end by a more moderate faction that valued the organization over financial performance metrics. Challenges remain but at least they now have time to show how to work together. Hopefully Henson will move soon to a new organization and the healing and rebuilding of trust can begin – the board and management owe the musicians a lot of mea culpa and that would be a good start.

    • anon2 says:

      Mr Smith, the musicians made *eleven* counterproposals.[*] Since management would not open their books for a truly independent financial analysis, we do not know whether the musicians’ demands were “more than the community could afford”. It is the management that insulted the venerable institution they were supposed to serve: they fiddled with the endowment to show a surplus when it was convenient, before desisting in order to show a deficit as the contract came up for renewal.

      [*] see

    • The community was insulted? I was at the Orchestra’s performance this past Saturday evening. We are stereotyped as being quietly polite around here, but if that’s how an insulted community behaves, I say give me more. The musicians were wildly applauded just for coming on stage accompanied by cheers and whistles. No, this community was insulted by management and the board.

    • Pamela Brown says:

      Bob Smith said, “I hope the Musicians apologize to the community and donors who they insulted during their union inspired year and a half tantrum. ”

      I am still waiting for a proper introduction from the ringleader of the clique I call “Monostatos” and an apology to my children for the effects they experienced by my being, in effect, ‘locked out.’

      We may both have a bit of a wait. :-0

  • NYMike says:

    It’s so easy for the anti-union trolls to ignore such truths as lock-out, not strike and the many egregious management demands during this ordeal. Tantrums?? – more applicable to management than musicians here. The board members/bankers were going to have their way regardless of the consequences. The AFM to which all musicians belong is there to support them, not tell them what to do. That said, NOTHING will change the outlook of the trolls commenting here and in the MN Star-Tribune. One wonders if any of them even care about beautifully played symphonic music and what it takes to produce.

  • Paul says:

    “forced Board members to hire bodyguards”??? Henson and bankers’ choice to spend donors’ money on security from the fictional ” national union thugs” only demonstrates Hensons’ special psychological world. Best wishes for a speedy return to the UK for security and help.

    Bob Smith/ mnorchfan, time now for a new hobby that will bring you happiness . Playing music perhaps?

  • anon2 says:

    It *seems* that management had to concede somewhat, although a 15% cut is certainly not ideal for the musicians. I suspect that management were imminently facing legal action (from the state of Minnesota, which is, ultimately, the landlord of Orchestra Hall), and thus had to reach a settlement to avoid going to court. Part of me wonders whether the musicians could have harnessed this leverage to attain a better deal — it is difficult to tell. If they had not settled, maybe the courts would have forced out the management. All that said, it strikes me that these musicians are a level-headed and determined group, who probably settled for a good reason, and with sound legal advice.

    What I would like to know is the nature of the work rule changes that were agreed (were they as drastic as the ones originally demanded by management?), and whether the musicians’ vote was unanimous.

  • musician says:

    Very special all this fuss around Vänskä and Minnesota?! Move on, coraggio, avanti!

  • GW says:

    “Hopefully Henson will move soon to a new organization”

    After his abysmal performance here, what organization would ever take him on?

  • Amy says:

    Who’s the “ringleader” you’re referring to, Pamela? Is this a real person or a character in your novel/screenplay you’ve been working on?

    (clicking Pamela Brown’s name above leads to a blog that exists primarily to repeat her comments on Slipped Disc.)

    • Pamela Brown says:

      Amy says:

      Who’s the “ringleader” you’re referring to, Pamela? Is this a real person or a character in your novel/screenplay you’ve been working on?

      PB: Apparently Amy is unaware of the concept that truth can be even stranger than fiction.

      And Amy say:

      (clicking Pamela Brown’s name above leads to a blog that exists primarily to repeat her comments on Slipped Disc.)

      PB: With all due respect, that statement is just a bit superficial. While the blog does include my SD replies (specified as such) , it also includes a number of posts, and even photos, that are biographical.