Crisis at the Minnesota Orchestra

Crisis at the Minnesota Orchestra


norman lebrecht

February 08, 2021

From the MinnPost:

… The orchestra released its operating results for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2020. The big news: a deficit of $11.7 million, the largest in its history. Last year’s deficit was $8.8 million, another record-breaker. No one who follows the orchestra has forgotten that the record-breaker before that, for 2012, was $6 million, enough to help lead to a lockout that lasted 15 months.

The $11.7 million deficit occurred between September 2019 and August 2020, during which the orchestra played 89 live-and-in-person ticketed concerts…. If the deficit grew by nearly $3 million when the orchestra was still doing business as usual, at least for part of the time, what will it look like for FY21, during which it might not play any live concerts at all?

It gets worse. The orchestra has been slow and over-cautious in addressing Covid. Its public face has been unimpressive.

Read on here.


  • E Rand says:

    Same orchestra who gave the middle finger to the Minneapolis Police who keep them (and their older, frail patrons and benefactors) safe to come downtown to hear them?


    • True North says:

      And did you give a f*** about the police when Trump’s mob was beating the tar out of them on January 6th?

      • Sean Issacs says:

        What you mean ‘True North’ as you’re clearly not from America is during the highly selfish BLM and ANTIFA riots across the country when we were all supposed to be SHELTERING IN PLACE. Get your facts in order after you take your meds.

        Fortunately they spread COVID amongst each other as they rioted, burned, destroyed, looted and murdered innocent people as they selfishly packed like wild animals only inches from each other with few wearing masks. Hand washing by those goons was certainly too much to ask.

        Glad they got themselves sick after hurting so many innocent people!!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Just from a purely selfish standpoint, I’m hoping Vanska and the M.O. can and will finish their Mahler cycle for BIS. I like many (not all) of the releases from that cycle so far. They just released an sacd/cd hybrid of the Mahler 10th (Cooke III version), and it’s really good.

  • Michael Fine says:

    While there is no arguing with the numbers – a difficult situation shared by all US arts organisations – this orchestra has superb top management, a supportive board and has made a strong local impact via streamed concerts over Minnesota Public Radio.

    • Larry W says:

      It is also one of the finest orchestras in the country.

    • john marks says:

      Hmmm… you say, “superb top management & supportive board.”

      Weren’t they in charge when the Orchestra spent (IIRC) $50 million on an over-the-top, lavish to the point of laughable, concert-hall make-over?

      Which included an OUTDOOR WATER FEATURE… . Most orchestra seasons run September to May, and the time I spent in Minnesota in December, it was very very chilly. So I imagine that they have to heat the water above freezing for five or six months. If that’s the kind of thinking that characterizes “top” management, can Bankruptcy be far off?

      (Let us not forget the geniuses in Philadelphia who just had to have a concert hall with a cello-shaped floor plan. The same bozos, in due course and in short order, got to select a law firm for Bankruptcy.)

      Disgraceful examples of corporate governance abound in the non-profit world, and some of the worst examples always seem to happen in the performing arts.

      • Orchspork says:

        No, it isn’t. That was the leadership personnel that led to the longest lockout in US orchestra history in the early 2010s. There has been a huge shift in organizational culture and personnel spurred by that crisis, largely spearheaded by the president appointed following the lockout, Kevin Smith. This significantly impacted the hiring the current president/CEO, which is one of the reasons that Michelle Miller Burns is so committed to staying active and minimizing layoffs during the pandemic.

      • JKH says:

        Get your facts straight re funding of renovated Peavey Plaza. “The $10 million yearlong construction process was funded by $2 million in state bonds (granted back in 2010), $4 million from the city and $4 million raised by the Minneapolis Downtown Council and the nonprofit Green Minneapolis.

      • Richard Hahn says:

        I suggest you owe accuracy to any reader of your opinion. Please revisit the statements in your supporting arguments and accusations.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Quick!! Get a diversity officer.

  • FrankUSA says:

    Despite the rosy statements this is a major body blow. Minnesota is not the home of many deep-pocketed donors. Is not Vanska leaving(to Shanghai)? The previously MD Eiji Oue(sp) had big problem with attendance. And the MO got a lot of good PR with their recordings on BIS(although I think Vanska is over-rated and I REALLY don’t like his Mahler). I don’t know. I think they are going to have a tough time.

    • The View from America says:

      “Minnesota is not the home of many deep-pocketed donors.”

      3M is headquartered there. Cargill is headquartered there. Target Corporation is headquartered there. General Mills is headquartered there. Best Buy is headquartered there. USBank is headquartered there. Travelers Insurance is headquartered there.
      Hormel Foods is headquartered there. Medtronic is headquartered there. The Mayo Clinic is headquartered there. American Public Media is headquartered there.

      And that’s just for starters.

      • Bob says:

        Don’t forget that over-rated quarterback who has a $96 MILLION dollar contract.

      • Jean Gress says:

        Thank you for correcting the person who said there were not big pocketed donors there. That there are huge companies there and very rich CEOS was one factor that made the lock out such a crime.

        • JoshW says:

          Just because the companies are there doesn’t mean they’re going to give. Target is formally phasing out its donations to the arts and focusing on “social needs.” Whether or not the lock-out was a “crime,” the eventual bailing out came from private citizens and not from corporations. And if these corps were so generous, don’t you think they would already have been asked for help before these huge deficits were publicly announced?

        • CA says:

          Typically the companies give based on corporate interests which oftentimes do not include the arts. The executives will give individually only if they are interested. Just because one is wealthy, it doesn’t follow that that person will support the arts necessarily. That person has to have an inclination to do so. Most of today’s generation of top leaders are not “in” to classical music. There is a great deal of education, cultivation and relationship-building needed to even be able to think about garnering support from many of them.

      • FrankUSA says:

        Did any of these companies help in the last MO fiscal crunch which ended in a lockout which was quite lengthy,Vanska resigned(returned after lockout

      • Josh@ says:

        And how many of those do you think donate in a major way to the orchestra? You may not be aware that about a year ago Target announced that it is going to phase out its giving to the arts and concentrate on “social needs.” Mayo and APM are non-profits and do their own fundraising. The only deep pockets that exist in Mpls come from corporate money and corporate money is no longer a generous supporter of the arts. In fact, many have phased out their foundation giving and give only through their advertising budgets as a means of maintaining visibility.

      • The Leftists NEVER Learn says:

        Democrats HATE big businesses and any prosperous CEO (until they’re broke again and expect a handout they’re “entitled” to).

        Oh, good luck with that job killing $15/hr Biden BS! The Left knows not what they’re demanding as it will eliminate their hours or job. Study NYC and how many people ended up on unemployment IF they could qualify along with all those on welfare or single mothers who keep popping out bags of extra income…

      • Jimmie says:

        How many of the companies forked over millions to Marxist BLM? That money could have gone to the orchestra but then again I would imagine there are numerous members of the orchestra that support BLM and defund the police.

      • Jan Kaznowski says:

        United Health Group and Optum Health are based there. A good donor base

  • Patricia says:

    Too bad. It was a first -rate orchestra. I remember when Neville Marriner was Conductor.

    • Bob says:

      I was in high school when Marriner came to conduct our high school orchestra. He really gave back to the community when he was there.

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    Maybe they can use the money saved from defunding the police to fund the MO?

  • OrchSpork says:

    What about the part of the story where MNOrch collaborated with the state public television station to simultaneously broadcast concerts live on television, radio, and internet free of charge with nearly 200,000 views? I would think if a site like SD is interested in sharing MN news outlet reactions to the orchestra, maybe they could also mine the excellent concert broadcast reviews in the Star Tribune, or any of the press around the collaborative study with the University of Minnesota. Correct me if I’m wrong but I haven’t seen much in the way of criticism on this site of Chicago Symphony’s small ensemble numbers. Every orchestra is doing the best they can with what they have, and if the board of this orchestra feels positive about the direction it’s going on, that counts for a lot – as they will continue to be among the strongest advocates to potential funders in the next philanthropic chapter. Then again, none of the good news qualifies as clickbait, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s totally absent here.

  • CA says:

    Tip of the iceberg unfortunately. Like dominoes, we will start seeing more of this. It will get a lot worse on paper before it gets better. FY21 is going to be terrible for many.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    This strikes me as catastrophic. An accumulated deficit of $20.5 million on an annual budget of $34 million? One wonders how they’re making payroll. One also wonders why they’re bragging about not making any staffing adjustments as that just seems foolhardy given these numbers. Watch this space for a job announcement seeking the next Executive Director.

  • Michael Fine says:

    Here is a link to a very impressive list of free offerings by the orchestra since they were forced to close there door to live concerts:

  • fflambeau says:

    I have great faith in the people of the Twin Cities. They have had a great music director/conductor whom they love. The area has lots of big businesses and money so I think this should be no problem.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      If they’re approaching an accumulated deficit that is equal to their annual budget, then this is indeed a problem. See comments above regarding the lack of “big business” support in the Twin Cities.

  • Musician says:

    Maybe Michael Henson was right after all

  • fflambeau says:

    First off, the Twin Cities is big: almost 4 million people and lots of the biggest companies in the world. The area is also home to a huge Scandinavian population where there is not only money but a willingness to spend it on arts. So there are lots of museums, theaters and the like. Big corporations with deep pockets include 3M, Target, General Mills, Land O’Lakes, US Bancorps and many others. If Osmo made a public appeal for funds, he would easily get all he asks for.

    • NotToneDeaf says:

      I’m sorry but this is naive at best and silly at worst. If Vanska can really “get all he asks for” then why hasn’t that appeal already been made? I can’t imagine there’s any good PR coming out of a $20+ million accumulated deficit – so if your statement was remotely accurate it never would have gotten to this point.

  • fflambeau says:

    A 1.19 TRILLION dollar (a trillion is 1,000 billions) Covid package is on the way. I don’t know all the specifics but I wouldn’t be surprised that this “debt” (which is no doubt real) is also intended for a large payout. Hence, no problem. I’ve seen other entities do this too; the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has indicated Covid has cost it $350 million. That too sounds right but what they are really doing is getting ready for a huge Covid payout. So, I think no problemo.