Letter of the day 9-3-2013

September 2, 2013

Dear Minnesota Orchestral Association Board Member,

We are writing to express our concern over recent comments made by MOA President and CEO Michael Henson in the August 30, 2013 edition of the New York Times:

…any musicians who do not return can be replaced. “When we get up and running again,” he said, “as other orchestras in this position have, we will advertise for the jobs that we need to replace, and I’m sure we will get an astonishing bunch of individuals who will want to perform and live in this great city.”


We speak from experience when we say that this statement is simply not true.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra went through its own wrenching labor dispute in 2010. The damage wrought by that dispute is still being repaired by the DSO family today. Let us enumerate the costs:

Since the labor dispute began in October 2010, every principal string player of the DSO has left for another orchestra, retired or removed themselves from their position. As you know, principal players are leaders who shape the sound of each section. This magnitude of turnover causes lasting disruption. In three years, the DSO has filled only the concertmaster position, the remaining section leaders are currently held by acting principals.

Since the resolution of their labor dispute, the DSO has been unable to fill the positions required by the contract. As of this writing, the DSO contract calls for 83 musicians. The current number under contract is 71. From the seven auditions held during the 2012-2013 season, the DSO was able to hire only four qualified candidates.

Holding auditions is always complicated, costly and time consuming. Holding even seven auditions during the 2012-2013 season was an immense task for DSO management, staff, audition committees and Maestro Slatkin: We applaud them for their commitment. If, as seems to be the case, the Minnesota Orchestra has lost 27 musicians during the lockout, it will take years to hold the auditions necessary to fill these positions.

The DSO is fortunate to have found many excellent substitute musicians to fill out the complement of the orchestra. Every orchestra uses substitutes occasionally; however, the DSO currently relies on substitutes as a long-term strategy. This means that many of the musicians on stage have only played together in a few rehearsals. The goal of a “signature DSO sound” cannot be achieved under these circumstances. A signature sound, as you know, is the feature that wins audiences, donors, recording contracts and touring opportunities.

When Mr. Henson tells you that the Minnesota Orchestra will have a full contingent as soon as the lockout is resolved, he is wrong. The reality facing the Detroit Symphony Orchestra shows otherwise. If a contract agreement is reached today, the Minnesota Orchestra will only then begin to repair the damage created by the events of the last eleven months. Every day that goes by makes the situation worse.

We are asking you as a Board Member of the MOA to stand up to Jon Campbell, Michael Henson and Richard Davis and demand an end to the lockout today. Demand that good faith negotiations begin immediately. Demand that Senator George Mitchell, the mediator agreed upon by both sides, be given the opportunity to resolve this labor dispute.

It is your responsibility to act in the best interests of all stakeholders in the organization. The world is watching to see if you live up to those responsibilities.


Judy Doyle – President
David Assemany – Vice President
David Kuziemko – Treasurer
Beverly Williams – Secretary
For Save Our Symphony Detroit


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6 Responses to Letter of the day 9-3-2013

  1. NYMike says:

    Wonderful description of reality undoubtedly falling on deaf ears.

  2. Linda Schubert Williams says:

    This is a wonderful letter. Kudos for posting it. Board members standing up to the “Head Honchos” is still possible. Or the “Supreme Beings” could easily remedy the situation by dipping into their own extremely deep pockets. It would amount to mere pennies for them. Both scenarios seem very unlikely, because the issue is not money–it is POWER. Only ripping off the “Heads” will allow the Board to act responsibly toward the Minnesota community.

  3. Emily Starr says:

    I wonder how much the Minnesota Board understands music. Of course some business experience is needed, but if board members think of the orchestra as an automobile with easily replaceable parts they themselves should be replaced on the board by people who understand both the music business and music itself.

  4. The real story here is that MN executives have been collecting fat salaries to represent an organization that no longer exists. Hello, IRS?

  5. Sara T says:

    Great letter. Just wanted to say that you guys have my full support. Hang in there, MN orch musicians.

  6. A Musician says:

    Detroit’s audition talent pool is depleted because of the labor dispute. Let’s say you’re a musician in a mid-level regional orchestra making $40-60k a year. You’re in your early to mid 30s — the prime of your career — with 5-10 years of professional experience. (As much as we hear about the prodigies right out of conservatory, these are the people that usually win the principal jobs in major orchestras.) Your spouse has a full-time job, and maybe you have a young child or two. I know many of these people, and I know they are now choosing NOT to audition for the Detroit Symphony. Why uproot your family and put the blood, sweat, tears, and money into audition prep to leave a stable job for a potentially unstable one, even if it comes with a pay increase?

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