Letter of the day 10-6-2013

Osmo’s resignation on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the lockout is the capstone on a disastrous year for classical music in the Twin Cities. It is clear to me that the board and management of the Minnesota Orchestral Association was never interested in a settlement on any terms but their own, and I believe that they are happy to have Osmo gone. This should convince any doubters: It was the MOA who abruptly called off the first face-to-face talks in months and then quickly turned around and called Carnegie Hall to cancel the November concerts. I don’t know whether to characterize their behavior as cold and calculating or spiteful. Probably both.

What next? I believe that the new Orchestra Hall will become the metaphorical Chernobyl of the musical world. I have trouble imagining any scenario in which the Minnesota Orchestra can be reconstituted as anything but a third-rate pops orchestra. No conductor or musician worth his or her salt will come near the place for a generation. I can imagine that the current musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra could organize themselves under a new banner and build a new legacy, and I think that with creative minds at work they could overcome the considerable financial and logistical hurdles.

Orchestra Hall will stand as a tragic monument to a board that cared more about protecting the endowment than protecting the music; a board that chose ideology over art; a board that invested its efforts in material “things” over things spiritual. It will be a be a monument to some of the wealthiest people in Minnesota who made the cultural life of our state immeasurably poorer.

Nils Halker

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3 Responses to Letter of the day 10-6-2013

  1. Brian Johnson says:

    Dear Mr. Halker,
    Thank you! Brilliant article!! BRAVO!!!
    I’ve commented here and there throughout this ordeal, and I couldn’t agree more with your words; it’s as if you’ve typed out (and submitted) the ticker-tape that’s been repeatedly “tickering” in my head since this lockout began.
    I’d like to believe I’m one of the “creative minds” you refer to, because I would LOVE to get involved, on the ground floor, with the rebranding, remarketing, reestablishing, and rebuilding this great art The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra give us. (Every time I say that phrase, that “interim-name,” I feel like saying, “The Artist Formerly Known As…”). I digress.
    As mentioned, I agree with what you’ve said, and I thank you immensely for saying it. I hope I don’t come across as stupid asking this however, but could you clarify, perhaps simplify, the part about “chos[ing] ideology over art”? I’m interpreting (or associating) ideogoly with “principle” (air-quotes for appropriate effect). But can’t art embody ideology; and ideology, art? Or has the MOA effectively locked out my intellect too?
    Thank you again for such a brilliant, strong, and terse assessment of what the MOA has done to art, culture, and humanity.
    Brian Johnson
    Moorhead, MN

  2. Pat Norton says:

    Actually, the management and board were not very good at protecting the endowment. In fact, I wonder if the lack of a complete look back at the finances would reveal incompetence at best and malfeasance at worst, and that is why management has resisted calls for a complete audit (one that looks at more than the figures fed to it by management). The management’s “business plan” was entirely flawed, assuming, wrongly, that classical music was decreasing in popularity and that more pops music was required. They even removed the orchestra from the mission statement until forced to reinstate it. Minnesota has so many organizations that nurture musicians, especially young musicians, whom I always see at concerts.

    • Terry says:

      $14 million continues to stick in my mind for some reason — maybe someone can refresh my memory, but according to what I’ve read during this past year, I seem to remember that $14 million is the amount “lost” when millions of dollars in orchestra endowment investments were sold just after the 2008 financial disaster (although someone also “won” by purchasing those stocks at very low levels — every transaction has two sides, a seller and a buyer, and the investments have almost certainly risen in value by a considerable amount since 2008). Who purchased those bargain-basement-priced stocks, bonds, whatever? Someone on the orchestra board, perhaps? We don’t know the answer to that question, but if so, they have profited handsomely while also endangering the financial health of the organization.

      I believe it is correct that $14 million is also, very coincidentally, the amount of bonding monies from the MN State Legislature given to the orchestral association for the building renovations. It just seems odd that the two amounts should correspond so perfectly. Perhaps former State Auditor (and former Governor) Arne Carlson can figure this out for us.

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