Group backing musicians claims Minn. Orchestra misled on finances

Save Our Symphony Minnesota called for the Minnesota Orchestra board to fire its CEO, end the lockout and restart contract talks.

 

A citizens group aligned with locked-out Minnesota Orchestra musicians said Wednesday night that orchestra management has misled the public about its finances and strategic planning.

Jon Eisenberg, vice chair of Save Our Symphony Minnesota, said that orchestra leadership has “no credibility,” and that change at the top is essential.

The board should end the lockout immediately and replace CEO Michael Henson, he said.

Eisenberg, an attorney, said Henson “was entirely noncandid” when he lobbied legislators for $14 million in bonding money for the recent expansion of Orchestra Hall. The orchestra’s financial statements were “dolled up,” Eisenberg said.

He also called for the state auditor to investigate the orchestra’s books, and for both sides to return to the bargaining table.

Asked to respond to the group’s charges, Gwen Pappas, orchestra spokeswoman, said the event “did not raise any new issues.” She called the orchestra “one of the most financially reviewed in the country.”

A crowd of about 90 at Open Book in Minneapolis listened as SOSMN leaders issued a call for action by community leaders, board members and elected officials to resolve the labor dispute that has lasted more than 13 months, resulting in canceled seasons and the resignation of music director Osmo Vänskä.

At the event, called “The MOA Debacle: Unlocking the Truth,” SOSMN presented multiple charts and graphs based on its analysis of Minnesota Orchestral Association documents detailing “troubling financial performance for over a decade” and “excessive use of the endowment” to cover operating losses, said SOSMN treasurer, Mariellen Jacobson, a retired business consultant.

Jacobson wondered why management markedly decreased the number of classical concerts in the past 10 years.

Pappas said that was done strategically, “to match supply with demand” and “to increase our capacity sold and improve net returns, and these efforts have been successful.”

Eisenberg questioned the management decision to undertake a $50 million renovation of Orchestra Hall during a period of financial instability. He also said that there were “multiple red flags” about the worsening financial situation that MOA’s auditors should have heeded.

Larry Adams, principal in charge of the orchestra’s annual audits for the firm CliftonLarsonAllen, was in the audience. Eisenberg’s assertions were “uninformed at best,” Adams said.

“They said in the beginning that they didn’t have all the information or all the answers,” Adams said. “We were aware of all the information, and we stand by our audit.”

Pappas noted that the legislative auditor examined many of these allegations last spring and “cleared the orchestra on all counts.”

The group also called on the city of Minneapolis to investigate its authority to take over Orchestra Hall should the lockout continue. Technically, the city owns the hall, and the Minnesota Orchestral Association leases it back for a 50-year term.

Eisenberg made a point of praising the orchestra’s board in general as volunteers who give generously of their time and money.

“We’re not slamming the board, it’s the board leadership,” he said.

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