Letter of the day 9-6-2013

Today’s letter is in response to Marilyn Carlson Nelson’s Commentary in today’s Star Tribune.  Ms. Carson is a Minnesota Orchestra life director.

Dear Marilyn Carlson Nelson,

Thanks for your thoughtful letter and generous, visionary support over the years for the Minnesota Orchestra. Yes the Minnesota Orchestra is facing a time of severe crisis. Yes the musicians have to be part of the solution. Continuing the lock out does not encourage their participation. If the orchestra accepts the plan as put forth by the MOA, it will mean the end of the Minnesota Orchestra as we know it, and potentially the demise of the orchestra even in any diminished shape or form. There are three faulty assumptions in the MOA math.

FALSE ASSUMPTION No. 1: The MOA has done all that can be done to raise money. They’ve actually discouraged contributions and missed golden opportunities to capitalize on recent successes of the orchestra. When Mr. Henson bragged of operating in the black in the depth of the recession, he implied there was no urgent need for additional contributions. When the MOA locked out the orchestra and changed the business plan, it further discouraged contributions – people can’t contribute to a season without concerts, and didn’t know what sort of future orchestra their dollars were being asked to support. The MOA initiated no presence on last year’s very successful Give to the Max Day. They have neglected and disrespected newer and smaller donors in continually relying on past big individual and corporate donors. They don’t look to successful models elsewhere, and instead rely on dated projections from their unproven “Strategic Plan.” More could and should be done.

FALSE ASSUMPTION No. 2: The Citizens of Minnesota can’t and won’t come up with enough money and other forms of support to sustain the Orchestra. Minnesotans have shown for over 100 years they have the will and means to support the orchestra. The MOA has simply not asked or allowed the public to be part of the solution. The current MOA “Strategic Plan,” including eleven months of lockout, does not paint a compelling picture of an orchestral mission worth the support of music lovers here or elsewhere. The MOA “Strategic Plan” relies on outdated numbers from the depths of the recession, uses national trends of attendance of giving and attending, far below levels of traditional Minnesotan support for the arts, and abolishes artistic input in artistic decisions. Give the people a chance to be part of the solution.

FALSE ASSUMPTION No. 3: The musicians can afford one year of lost salary and benefits, followed by two years of a 24% reduction in salary. They can’t and won’t. 25% of the orchestra have voted with their feet already. The fact that so many have survived rigorous audition procedures to find jobs elsewhere is a testament to the former level of the orchestra. Players’ families have already suffered lost homes, health, nest eggs, and more over this. There is simply no reason for great players to join or stay with the Minnesota Orchestra under the MOA proposal and the toxic work place environment they created: “There was this kind of ‘the bully’s going to meet you at lunchtime’ feeling for at least a year and a half,” according to former Acting First Associate Concertmaster, Peter McGuire, now one of the concertmasters of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. “The flogging will continue until morale improves” simply does not work.

Nobody invests in a “sustainable.” We invest in the arts to sustain us! If the MOA and musicians could come together and make some good-faith risks and sacrifices for an interim solution that could at least guarantee a season that includes Conductor, Carnegie Hall, and the completion of their historic Sibelius recording cycle, they will give supporters of the Minnesota Orchestra here and around the world something worth supporting and the chance to step up and prove the MOA’s pessimistic view of them right or wrong. If the audience comes through, they’ve saved an orchestra; if they don’t, then the MOA will still have the means and finally have an argument to support the “sustainable” reduced orchestra remains projected in their “Strategic Plan.”

Best wishes for the future of our great orchestra!

Rolf Erdahl
Apple Valley, MN

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

  1. Lisa Wienhold says:

    Well said

  2. ccyager says:

    Rolf, I’ve wondered why they haven’t figured out a way to take advantage of crowdsource funding on the web. There are several websites that offer it, and it would be a great way to raise money for the orchestra. But they’re not thinking in terms of how they can utilize resources online to help them. Or in the community. I feel like they betrayed my trust.

  3. Lori says:

    Well said.

  4. Warren Park says:

    All your points are very well stated. Something needs to be done immediately to preserve the Orchestra with the remaining personnel. If 90% of the current members leave for greener pastures, all of the music lovers in Minnesota will suffer. Artistic quality is essential, and should be the most important factor in this situation.

  5. WOW! Put you in charge of reorganizing things. So well thought out and stated. Thanks

  6. Rolf Erdahl says:

    The MOA has shown very little interest in crowd sourcing. Instead they seem fixated in hitting up past reliable big donors in place of finding a multitude of new smaller donors. The Orchestra would have many more people with a stake in the success of the organization if they erased their PROJECTED annual deficit of $6 million by seeking 100,000 people (less than 2% of the state population) to donate an average of $60, or even 1,000,000 people to donate $6, than if they just go back to 6 past generous individual or corporate donors and expect them to cough up an extra $1 million apiece.

    To Warren’s point, time is indeed incredibly critical and running out fast. If the MOA and musicians fail to come to at least a temporary solution in time to retain Osmo, Carnegie Hall, the Sibelius recordings, and the season, it probably spells the end of the Minnesota Orchestra’s illustrious 110 year history and legacy as the cultural backbone of Minnesota’s cultural, artistic, and civic infrastructure. This would negatively impact everyone in the state, whether they are music lovers or don’t care about it one way or another. The musicians know what’s at stake. The management seems not to see or care about potential consequences of their actions. The MOA’s proposals are simply not feasible. In effect, so far the MOA has offered two different lengths of rope to hang the orchestra with – 40% or 25% pay cuts. One’s a steeper cut, but both would effectively kill the orchestra, as we know it. Everyone should feel mutually obligated to have some skin in the game, love of music, belief in and hunger for a solution, and courage, faith, wisdom, and grace to grant what may seem undeserved grace to parties on the other side of the table. They also must give the clearly committed wider community a voice, and salvage something worthy of their contributions for the future. NOW must everyone live up to the legacy of generations of visionary support from Minnesotans of every background and means that brought the Minnesota Orchestra to the great heights it attained before the lockout. Before it’s too late.

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