Eight orchestra board members resign over Henson departure

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2014 - 6:14 PM

Eight members of the Minnesota Orchestra board resigned over the recent departure of CEO Michael Henson.

Eight members of the Minnesota Orchestral Association board have resigned in the wake of last week’s announcement that CEO and President Michael Henson had stepped down.

“By encouraging a person to resign — one who had tirelessly helped us work toward sustainability — we send the wrong message to future applicants for that position,” wrote Teri E. Popp, a Wayzata attorney and member of the board’s executive committee, in a letter to board chairman Gordon Sprenger.

The departures represent just more than 10 percent of the 77-member board. In addition to Popp, the list includes James Lawrence, CEO of Rothschild North America in New York, Jack Farrell of Haskell Wines, attorney Gregory Pulles (also a member of the executive committee), John P. Whaley of Norwest Equity Partners, David Wichmann, chief financial officer of United Health, Timothy O’Brien of Pine River Capital and Anne W. Miller, a former WAMSO president.

The number of resignations was described as unusual and significant by someone with knowledge of the orchestra board.

“This has been a difficult time for the Minnesota Orchestra, as we emerge from a long labor dispute and face challenging issues,” Sprenger said in a statement. “I was disappointed to receive any resignations — as these directors have all been very dedicated members of the board. I hope we are able to get some to reconsider, but I respect their opinions and decisions.”

While the eight voiced disenchantment with Henson’s departure, they appeared to be more upset with the process that led up to it.

“I may never know the real story of how the Board got from a strong vote of confidence for Henson on February 28th to showing him the door on March 20th,” wrote Whaley in his letter to Sprenger.

At that earlier meeting, the board voted 40 to 8 in support of Henson.

Henson will leave the job in August, as part of a negotiated package approved March 20 by a deeply divided board.

Save Our Symphony Minnesota, a community group formed during the lockout, said late Friday that it was disappointed by the news of the resignations. But it supports the board decision regarding Henson.

“Replacing Mr. Henson is a necessary step on the path of bringing this treasured 111-year-old cultural institution back from the brink of disaster,” SOSMN said in a statement.

The orchestra is in talks with former music director Osmo Vänskä, who this weekend is conducting the orchestra for the first time since musicians returned to work Feb. 1 after a bitter 16-month lockout.

Vänskä said earlier this week that he has “unfinished business” with the orchestra and would like to return. It’s not known what position is being offered by the board. Vänskä said in an interview that every corner of the organization needs to be cleaned, “so that it could be working again appropriately.”

Henson and former board leaders Jon Campbell and Richard Davis became lightning rods of criticism when they sought cuts of 30 percent in musician compensation. The final deal reduced salaries 15 percent in the first year with increases in the second and third year.

Three musicians resigned from the orchestra during or immediately following the lockout. They were clarinetist Burt Hara and violinists Gina DiBello and Stephanie Arado. Four musicians who had taken leaves have returned. Three are still on leave and have not indicated whether they will return.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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