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Continued: Back-channel Minnesota Orchestra talks go nowhere

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 8, 2013 - 10:46 PM

“The only thing you can do is take a totally different direction — without irritating the philanthropic community, which is the challenge,” Henderson said in an interview.

Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges has supported the musicians publicly. There are seven new members of the City Council, which puts the issue of the lease in play.

“She has been a very strong advocate, and that’s a very different tone from the outgoing mayor,” said musicians’ spokesman Blois Olson. “If Orchestra Hall is available, we’d be happy to perform there and negotiate like another prospective ­tenant and their landlord.”

Michael Henson, CEO and president of the orchestra, said the board would be “happy to talk” with Hodges. “We have always had a constructive relationship with the city,” he said.

Out on their own

There is precedent for musicians breaking off from a parent organization. The Tulsa Symphony Orchestra was formed in 2005 out of the bankrupt Tulsa Philharmonic.

“The idea was that musicians would be integrated into all elements and govern themselves,” said Linda ­Frazier, a Tulsa board ­member.

Frazier said the Tulsa Philharmonic had very few of the assets of the Minnesota Orchestra, but was able to raise money to purchase the bankrupt organization’s music library and ­instruments.

The symphony is well-regarded in Tulsa, Frazier said, but “it’s hard for the musicians to make their ­living.”

If the Minnesota musicians were to gain control of the MOA’s endowment (estimated at $150 million) their ability to pay themselves would be greater than Tulsa.

However, there are the mechanics of running an organization — marketing, development, education, outreach, hall maintenance.

In 2012, the MOA spent roughly $14 million on costs other than players’ salaries.

Carlson has championed the use of public money as part of a comprehensive plan. However, Dayton found the waters very cold when he tested that idea with the Legislature in September. Sen Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, questions whether the state could overcome the political hurdles and objections from other arts organizations to kick in funds.

“For public money to be a factor, you’re going to have to get something more concrete, a meeting of the minds,” Cohen said. “We would have to be the last money in.”

Hopeful, or hopeless future?

For nearly a year, Laurie Greeno and Paula DeCosse have led Orchestrate Excellence. The citizens’ group continues to meet with both sides, pushing for an accord.

“We are profoundly discouraged,” Greeno said this week. “It seems in many ways to be intractable.

“Musicians had said emphatically that there is not a common vision, and that is the root of the issue,” Greeno added. “If we could get some conversations going around that vision, it might produce an opening.”

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