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Vanska resigns: Responses from orchestra musicians and board

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: October 1, 2013 - 10:46 AM
Osmo Vanska in a 2012 photo by Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Responses to the resignation of Osmo Vanska came in Tuesday from both musicians and the board of Minnesota Orchestra:

“The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are deeply saddened by the resignation of our beloved Maestro Osmo Vanska.  Through his tenure, he has led the orchestra to remarkable musical heights.  We enjoyed a truly rare chemistry with him and are deeply grateful to Osmo for imparting his passionate vision, exacting discipline, and the resulting confidence that came from being at the top of our game."


from Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Jon Campbell

We are very sorry that Music Director Osmo Vänskä has announced his resignation, as it has always been our hope that he would see the Minnesota Orchestra through this challenging period. 

We will always be grateful to our generous foundation community for coming forward with additional funding over the last few weeks to enable a proposed contract resolution with musicians that represented our very best efforts to save the Carnegie concerts and Maestro Vänskä’s tenure.  The Board has done everything in its power to reach a compromise with musicians by September 30, and we are very sorry they have rejected all efforts.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä has been an extraordinary conductor, and we are profoundly thankful for his service to the Orchestra and our audiences, and our organization will continue to celebrate his many achievements.   He will hold a distinguished legacy in the history of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Orchestra board releases details of proposal to end lockout

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: August 29, 2013 - 3:36 PM

Minnesota Orchestra management today released details of a proposal to end its lockout of musicians. It is a deal that had been offered previously through the office of Sen. George Mitchell and the release was intended to put the details in front of the public.

Mitchell has been working with board and musicians to achieve ground rules for a mediated negotiation. The board's proposal was an attempt to lift the lockout for two months, allow musicians to work at full pay while they negotiated and if no deal were reached, impose a 22-month contract. Musicians rejected that proposal. Mitchell then offered an idea that the board rejected. It would have allowed for four months of negotations, with a six percent pay cut in the final two months if there is no deal.

The board has been frustrated that in both cases, terms that were offered through Mitchell were leaked to media. CEO Michael Henson said Thursday that "We did not leak them," implying that musicians had done so. Therefore, Henson said, the board was technically stepping outside the Mitchell process and making its proposal public.

Henson said that if musicians agree to the deal, Mitchell would still be engaged to mediate negotations.

Among the terms: musicians would return at their former salaries on Sept. 30 and would "play and talk" for two months.

If no agreement were reached, a 24-month contract would go into effect that would pay the musicians an annual average salary of $102,200. That would represent a 24 percent cut from the average annual salary of $135,000 in the musicians' previous contract, which expired Sept. 30, 2012. 

In a contract offer made last September, the board had proposed an average salary of $89,000.

With benefits, the average total compensation will be $135,000, according to a release issued Thursday afternoon.

The new offer also changes overscale pay, reducing it by a 25 percent across the board, versus a range of 22 percent to 40 percent in the previous proposal. Benefit and vacation packages remain the same in the two proposals.

Under the terms of this revised two-year proposal, the Minnesota Orchestra would accrue a deficit of $2.2 million over the course of the contract. “Our aim was to eliminate our deficit entirely,” said Board Chair Jon Campbell, “but the board has put forward this compromise in the hopes of getting musicians back on the stage and audiences back in Orchestra Hall in time to launch a new season.”

The orchestra requested that the Musicians Bargaining Committee present the new terms to the musicians for a vote by Sept. 9.

Musicians issued a statement Thursday afternoon that criticized the board for "abandoning the mediator they recommended." The statement called for political leaders -- including Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapois Mayor R.T. Rybak -- to step into the fray.

More details of the new proposal are at the orchestra's website.

Aspen Music Festival CEO: Lockout should end, sides should talk

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: August 27, 2013 - 3:00 PM

Here is a complete transcript of the keynote address by Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival, to a public forum organized by the group Orchestra Excellence in Minneapolis on Aug. 20. Graydon Royce of Star Tribune reported on the forum here.

Speech by Alan Fletcher:

Everyone in the world of music cares very deeply about what is happening, and will happen, here in Minneapolis. Our profession is knitted together in profound ways, and no one can be indifferent to the problems faced by musicians, by management, by philanthropists, and by this whole community, that has such historic importance in supporting music.

There’s an important particular connection between Minneapolis and my place in Aspen: the first summer of music in Aspen was 1949, when Dmitri Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony came to the mountains for a landmark residency. They came back the following year, and helped establish a tradition of music that has been unbroken for 65 summers. Now we depend on our school and our faculty rather than on a visiting orchestra, but we wouldn’t have gotten where we are without your city’s great orchestra.

The United States is a beacon to the world for its unique forms of philanthropy, and Minneapolis has long been a beacon to America for its own commitment to the arts: to world-class theater, to the cutting edge in the visual arts, and, always, to an unparalleled variety of great music making. Choral music, chamber music, new music, and symphonic music have long enjoyed the Twin Cities as a place of world-wide significance.

Thus there is a special pain for us all in these past many months of conflict and struggle. If bad things can happen here, they can happen anywhere. As a citizen of the world of music and a teacher of future musicians, I have found it impossible to be silent.

But I would not presume to come here as a visitor and tell you what you can, or perhaps must do. I can only offer observations that I hope might be part of a conversation in which you affirm for each other what is to be done.

Because the only solution that will stick will be one you have found for and with each other.

A fundamental question is: What do you, the citizens of Minnesota, want?

What will you support?

Do you believe the orchestra is important? Are you confident the orchestra can survive?

All other decisions will flow from your answers to these questions.

If it is no longer important that you have a world-class orchestra, then so be it. Other cities in other times have made this decision, or allowed this to happen.

But if it is part of the DNA of this great community that it should be the home of an equally great orchestra, then there is work to do. 

I will go so far as to be definite about one thing: the current lock-out of musicians should end, and end unconditionally.

I have recently read the point of view that the lock-out can only end as part of a larger bargain, because the Association must have the leverage of this tactic. Even the word “leverage” in this context signals that the plan has failed. That plan should now be abandoned.

Because one of the things that must happen is that all sides speak to each other. I know that an important point of view is that the musicians refused to make a counter-offer and thus, in effect, refused to talk. But the lock-out, if it is seen as a resulting fact, is not symmetrical. Only the musicians are living without salaries, without a means of supporting their families, without access to the hall that is their home.

To sit around a table arguing, negotiating, searching for viable solutions is to be, potentially, partners in creating a future. To be locked out is not. 

But then, the musicians must also come to the table in earnest, and deal with who is at the table. Another side to much poisonous rhetoric we’ve experienced is the view that the management, or board leadership, or both, must go, before the discussions can begin for real. A rhetoric of exclusion is a rhetoric of failure. The hall is not only the musicians’ home: it is equally the home of the management and of the board. Real estate can be owned, but the spirit of music cannot be owned, and to make music requires the collaboration of many, not a few; all sides, not just one side.

In my time as a chief executive in Aspen, mistrust and fear led to a conviction that someone had to go. (For many, that person was to be me.) It doesn’t matter now how it happened, but it happened that I stayed. There was still confusion and unhappiness about how to move forward. A turning point was when a leading musician said in a faculty meeting that, as it was clear I would be staying, it was necessary to find a way for us to talk together. And, from that moment, we began to talk together. We did lose donors, both because some disliked the specific steps we were taking towards financial stability, and because many donors just hate conflict. But we are now ahead of where we were, and a great many of those who stepped aside have stepped back in. We agreed – among musicians, our board, our administration, and our community – to operate with a deficit for a brief time, while challenging ourselves to emerge from it. We agreed to cuts in our compensation but no cuts in our expectations of ourselves. We did not reduce our artistic aspirations.

Istvan Szabo has a great film about a labor dispute in the musical world – maybe this doesn’t sound like a wonderful idea for a film, but take my word for it: his movie MEETING VENUS is wonderful. As a recurring theme – a leitmotif – in this story, everyone – a great diva, the conductor, the impresario, members of the stagehands’ union, orchestra players – at some point says to someone else, “You don’t love music!”

In our music world, that really is the ultimate disparagement. And, as is so clear in the movie’s parable, it isn’t true. Anyone involved with an orchestra must love music, or they wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be involved.

So what about a central element of the dispute here: that the business plan of the orchestra will not allow things to continue as they have been?

It is a plain fact that an organization can’t exist indefinitely on a horizon-less deficit. Financial planning requires a viable connection among annual costs, annual fundraising, management of an endowment, and true forecasting. It’s not enough towish that salaries that once seemed to make sense can continue rising, or even staying the same, forever, if sources of income aren’t adequate.

From my outside viewpoint, there has been much unreality in the discussions about the orchestra’s finances.

For instance, a key argument is over the past use of transfers from the endowment to cover deficits. This practice is completely usual (my own organization had recourse to it in two years of the recession). Furthermore, it isn’t and cannot be secret, as all these numbers are reported in a public way. I understand if many people didn’t know how this works, but the way it works is reasonable and normal. One has a good reason to close a fiscal year showing no deficit, perhaps in order to qualify for essential grants. But this can’t go on forever, so in another year it is necessary to show the extent to which expenses outstrip income. This has been viewed as an underhanded negotiating tactic, but it’s not a mystery at all, and any reader of IRS forms can understand it.

Capital fundraising is also clearly different from both annual fundraising and endowment fundraising. This difference is not a contrivance or mystification. Philanthropy is not a faucet that is turned on and off to varying degrees. (In my organization, during a difficult time, one faction suggested that I had neglected to raise enough money, as if it were simply a matter of willing it to be so.) Raising money is instead a complex web of relationships, all based on belief and confidence.

A major point of contention is the lobby project, which has come to assume the aspect of a boondoggle or at least a colossal misstep. But what if it will later be understood as a benefit to the very community that is crucial to the future support of the orchestra? Not everyone responsible for music-making is on the stage. Indeed, one of the pillars of the organization is to be found precisely in that lobby, before and at the intermissions of every concert: the audience.

If a plan is to emerge that solves the persistent deficits, it will be based on increased fundraising, and the community itself – the audience – is going to be responsible for it.

The idea that philanthropists have an obligation to give, and to give to any particular thing, is mistaken. An organization must make the case that it has a worthy, indeed a crucial mission, and make the case that it can deliver on that mission in a superior way. This is the belief and confidence I mentioned. The Minnesota Orchestra, for generations, has accomplished this. Will it, can it, continue to do so?

Speaking of philanthropy, we must recognize that the solutions have to happen within our existing system. Perhaps the United States should abandon its philanthropic traditions, abandon the charitable deduction that has so dramatically contributed to our national well-being, and adopt a government-centered model of funding. I don’t think so, myself, but it’s part of our current political debate.

But it’s not a discussion relevant to this crisis, because we have to work with the rules we now have, and they are rules governing the functioning of non-profits.

A successful bank is a crucial part of the social fabric, and so is a successful orchestra. They are not the same thing, and, while some business aspects of any organization are similar, some aspects of for-profit and not-for-profit business are different. Perhaps a better term is social-profit. The fundamental aim is not to make money, it is to make music.

Once again: if the aim of the Minnesota Orchestra is to make music worthy of any stage in the world, then every step now taken, every statement made from here on out, should conduce to a process of talking together.

I know from intense personal experience how hard that will be. I had to sit at a table, over and over again, with people who had wanted me to be fired. But the people I was talking to felt the same way! In my executive capacity, I had ended the Aspen careers of some of their colleagues. There’s no soft way of putting that. We had profound disagreements.

I believe things began to be viable again in Aspen when we all realized how deeply we mutually cared about great music in Aspen – that was something we shared, and we started by acknowledging that it was possible to see different ways forward, or criticize different things from the past, without negating each other’s sincerity.

I cannot tell you that every action that brought you to this pass was right, or rightly-motivated, but I can predict that you won’t make it over this difficult pass if you go it alone.

I have real hope for the Minnesota Orchestra because I believe that the generous people and the devoted audience who have sustained it for generations still want it to be great. I believe that the administration entrusted with it wants the orchestra to succeed. I know that its musicians have given their whole lives to be prepared to make great music on its stage. How this impasse can be left behind, an impasse which many have created, not only some, despite their essential love of the orchestra, is something I cannot predict. I can tell you from personal experience that seemingly impossible problems can be solved, and I can hope, with you, that great music will again flourish in this great city.

U.S. House proposes biggest NEA cut in history

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: August 1, 2013 - 3:15 PM



The cast of "Elemeno Pea,"  a play staged earlier this year by Mixed Blood Theatre, which received a  $100,000 NEA grant. Photo by Bruce Bisping.

While funding for the National Endowment for the the Arts goes through a legislative tug of war between the pro- and con-NEA factions of Congress, this year's belt-tighteners on the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a staggering decrease -- 49%, or virtually half of the $146 million currently allotted.

An amendment to restore the funding was defeated along a party-line vote of 19-27, and discussion has now been suspended until mid-September.

"What usually happens is, the House proposes a cut, the Senate proposes an increase, and then there's a compromise later," said Sheila Smith, director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.

Minnesota is often among the top ten states in total NEA monies received. This year, it  ranked eighth, with 28 grantees including Mixed Blood Theatre, Northern Spark and Graywolf Press receiving $877,500, an increase of more than $100,000 from the previous year.

 If enacted, the proposed cut  would be the largest in NEA history. That record is currently held by  fiscal year 1995-96, when $162 million was slashed to $99 million. Beginning in 1967 with $2.9 million, the annual NEA appropriation peaked in 1993 at $176 million.

"The appropriations process is a mess and it's very likely they'll have to resort to a continuing resolution, but including this cut in formal committee legislation makes it a real threat," said Narric Rome, director of federal affairs for Americans for the Arts. The last time a large cut made it that far was in the early 1990s, he said.

"We usually have defeated these big cuts, but the world is an unpredictable place," Smith said.  MCA is urging pro-arts voters to contact their legislators.




Rolling Stone: Prince ranks No. 2 on list of today's best live acts

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: August 1, 2013 - 1:10 AM



Prince/ Photo by Kevin Mazur/ Wire Image

Prince is No. 2 again. Rolling Stone named Bruce Springsteen the king of current live concert performers, with Prince second and the Rolling Stones third.

You’ll recall this summer Entertainment Weekly cited Prince’s “Purple Rain” as the second greatest album of all time. But we digress.

Rolling Stone assembled 24 music-biz insiders to cast votes including managers Irving Azoff and Jon Landau, several promoters including two from the Bowery Presents, the music booker for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” three music journalists including two from Rolling Stone and a bunch of artists, including two members of Fall Out Boy, both Tegan & Sara, Trey Anastasio of Phish, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes.
Cliff Burnstein of Q Prime Management which works with Metallica, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Josh Groban, among others, said of Prince: "He's a better guitarist than you are. He's a better singer than you are. He can dance better than you. His songs are better than yours. You might have a better jump shot, though."
Rounding out the Top 10 were Arcade Fire, Neil Young, Jay-Z, Radiohead, Jack White, Rage Against the Machine and My Morning Jacket.
Here’s a link to Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 greatest live acts now.


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