SOSMN to City of Mpls: MOA in Default on Lease Terms

On Tuesday, December 31, Save Our Symphony MN wrote a letter to Minneapolis Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED) Executive Director Jeremy Hanson Willis, copying Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Attorney Susan Segal.

Our letter addresses the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s (MOA) December 2 report to the City and the supplemental information they submitted on December 20 at CPED’s request.  We outline our belief that MOA is in Default under Section 28(I) of the Lease and request the City of Minneapolis to take appropriate steps to terminate the Lease.

Click here to read or download the letter:  SOS Letter to City of Minneapolis CPED (12-31-2013)

 

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Two Responses from the MOA

This is a note that came from an MOA employee. It was sent to two SOSMN separate supporters, one in November and one in December. It appears to be the bones of a form letter that the MOA employee adapts to the situation, and we feel these notes exemplify the disconnect between the MOA and the broader community. Red text is where the two letters are identical.

If you hear any responses from the MOA and would like us to read them, forward them to us at saveoursymphonymn at gmail.com.

***

November version

Dear XXX:

I’m writing in response to your most recent email to our Board members. Like you, I have a long history with this great institution. I started working at the Minnesota Orchestra over XX years ago—because I care deeply about the arts in our community. This organization’s success is built by a community of supporters made up of audiences, management and administrative staff, volunteers, board members, corporate supporters, individual donors and more. Together we lift the musicians so they can create wonderful music.

Our CEO and Board of Directors understand that their role with this non-profit institution is to protect it. Serving on and/or leading a non-profit board comes with strict financial and ethical responsibilities, all of which are governed by law.  They want nothing more for this organization than to make it sustainable for generations to come.  If we do not make the changes we’ve proposed, the endowment will be completely depleted in less than five years and we will be forced to make even more drastic changes.

From my perspective, this organization couldn’t be more respectful and transparent. I’m perplexed why anyone would question that the very stewards of this organization are turning their backs on our artistic mission or our musicians when in fact they are trying to ensure that this Orchestra remains a vital part of our community for years to come.  Our volunteer board members do so much for this organization. For most of them, the Minnesota Orchestra ranks as their top giving priority. They not only attend concerts; they donate their time and more than $1.5 million annually to the Orchestra. In fact, they and the organizations they represent have donated $60 million to the Orchestra in the last five years. They earn nothing in return for donating their time and expertise. If they didn’t believe in our artistic endeavours, it begs the question—why would they give so much of themselves to support our musicians?

You can be absolutely sure that our board is of the mind that music directors and musicians aren’t interchangeable or easily replaced. If you could hear their ongoing conversations with board colleagues, staff, and community members on any and all subjects related to the negotiations, you would have no doubt about this. But this context is rarely evident in press reports or recorded interviews. The “sound bites” quoted in print or in broadcast stories are often the ones that provoke heated reactions. So the misunderstandings multiply, and the public doesn’t realize that we all feel a sense of loss when concerts are cancelled, or when a musician leaves the Orchestra.

Please know that in the weeks leading up to our latest proposal to the musicians’ union and Osmo’s departure, the Orchestra’s Board of Directors did everything in their power to reach a sustainable contract agreement with our musicians. We worked directly with a mediator, consulted with the Governor and collaborated with 15 generous Minnesota foundations who stepped forward with additional funding. The new funds were structured to enable a contract resolution that represented our best efforts to save upcoming performances at Carnegie Hall, which our Music Director considered vital. We were extremely sorry to see Maestro Vänskä go: it was our hope that he would see the Minnesota Orchestra through this challenging period.

You mentioned treating musicians like a “pops band”. I want to assure you that the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) leadership team and Board of Directors is committed to preserving the future of this great orchestra and its classically trained musicians, whom we respect as superb and gifted artists.  We have presented non-classical performances in conjunction with its annual orchestral season for decades. Proportionately, this has remained the same over the years. From Cabaret Pops in the 80’s to recent Jazz offerings—the Minnesota Orchestra has offered a variety of musical genres.  In fact, the net impact of non-classical offerings help offset unusually high expenses associated with presenting classical concerts.  I encourage you to review the proposed contract on our web site. There is absolutely nothing that supports the idea that we intend to treat this Orchestra differently. To the contrary, the plan offers very specific direction around artistic initiatives.

You mentioned your concerns about our mission statement in your letter. One of the obstacles to making a counterproposal cited by musician leaders was: changing the organization’s mission statement. We’ve agreed to modify the mission statement to address musician concerns. I believe “art” is at the core of what we are all striving for. If you look at our strategic plan posted on our web site, it clearly outlines our priorities and intent—with artistic integrity being at the core of the plan. The opening letter from our board leadership and CEO clearly state this.

“Balancing great artistry with financial viability, our Vision for a Sound Future outlines three major tenets: to heighten our artistry and world-wide presence, to further develop our community connections through the expansion of Orchestra Hall and outreach initiatives, and to build a financially sustainable foundation. The plan calls for us to capitalize on the renovated Orchestra Hall to attract new audiences, strengthen artistry and reputation through regular touring, broadcasting and new media, and engage with our community through intensive exchange and collaboration.”

This is reinforced in our mission statement which emphasizes both our “performances and music” and our “financial sustainability”. The introduction of the words “financial sustainability” are not intended to compete with our primary goal of presenting great music. They are intended to protect it. It’s the fiduciary role of our volunteer board members to make sure the organization can function now and for years to come.  While it might be easier to ignore financial concerns and just focus on “art” the facts are that our goal is to continue to support a world-class Orchestra.  And that requires us to periodically negotiate contracts with our musician’s union. Contract negotiations require us to talk about finances and to pay our musicians a salary that our community can afford and is financially sustainable into the future.

I understand your frustration with the current situation; we are doing all we can to steady the ship in the face of deep disagreements over musician salaries, which are at the core of the dispute. We wish we had not experienced a “perfect storm” of conditions that reduced our endowment and produced a sizeable annual deficit, and we wish we could offer the musicians raises rather than pay cuts. To keep raiding the endowment to pay musicians’ salaries today means even deeper pay cuts in the future—and then the music would, indeed, stop.

Thank you for writing – we’re glad you care about the Minnesota Orchestra and hope you’ll return to Orchestra Hall when the music resumes.

Sincerely,

XXX

 

December version

Dear XXX,

Thank you for your recent phone message. Like you, I have a long history with this great institution. Per your request, I have coded your account to restrict future mailings.

I’ve served under many volunteer board chairs and presidents during my tenure with the Orchestra, and I can assure you that Mr. Campbell and Mr. Henson are both men of great honesty, compassion, and integrity. I’ve been disheartened by the musicians’ efforts to publicly discredit them as well as the rest of our volunteer board.

Our CEO and Board of Directors understand that their role with this non-profit institution is to protect it. Serving on and/or leading a non-profit board comes with strict financial and ethical responsibilities, all of which are governed by law.  Mr. Campbell and Mr. Henson, along with all our outstanding volunteer community leaders, want nothing more for this organization than to make it sustainable for generations to come. If we do not make the changes we’ve proposed, the endowment will be completely depleted in less than five years and we will be forced to make even more drastic changes.

From my perspective, this organization couldn’t be more respectful and transparent. I’m perplexed why anyone would question that the very stewards of this organization are turning their backs on our artistic mission or our musicians when in fact they are trying to ensure that this Orchestra remains a vital part of our community for years to come.  Our volunteer board members do so much for this organization. For most of them, the Minnesota Orchestra ranks as their top giving priority. They not only attend concerts; they donate their time and more than $1.5 million annually to the Orchestra. In fact, they and the organizations they represent have donated $60 million to the Orchestra in the past five years. They earn nothing in return for donating their time and expertise. If they didn’t believe in our artistic endeavours, it begs the question—why would they give so much of themselves to support our musicians? 

You can be absolutely sure that our board members are of the mind that music directors and musicians aren’t interchangeable or easily replaced. If you could hear their ongoing conversations with colleagues, staff, and community members on any and all subjects related to the negotiations, you would have no doubt about this. But this context is rarely evident in press reports or recorded interviews. The “sound bites” quoted in print or in broadcast stories are often the ones that provoke heated reactions. So the misunderstandings multiply, and the public doesn’t realize that we all feel a sense of loss when concerts are cancelled, or when a musician leaves the Orchestra.

This challenge we face can only be solved if all of us who care about the Minnesota Orchestra step forward and offer assistance beyond words of criticism and/or advice. We all need to be active ticket buyers and supporters to make a real difference. I believe this organization’s success is built by a community of supporters made up of audiences, management and administrative staff, volunteers, board members, corporate supporters, individual donors and more. Together we all lift the musicians so they can create wonderful music.

I can understand your disappointment in the current situation. I started working at the Minnesota Orchestra over XX years ago—because I care deeply about the arts in our community. I’m observing first-hand the difficult times faced by not only our orchestra but orchestras across our country. 

I intend to stay involved and supportive of this wonderful orchestral community as an employee, subscriber and donor and I hope you will do so as well. You clearly love the Orchestra very much, and I am personally sorry for the stress this situation is causing you.

Sincerely,

XXX

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“Murder Most Foul: Minnesota’s World-Class Orchestra is no More, and its Death was no Accident” – article by Tad Simons in December 2013 MSP Magazine

Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine’s Arts and Entertainment editor Tad Simons is an award-winning journalist whose writing on the local arts scene has appeared in the Twin Cities Reader, City Pages, St. Paul Pioneer Press, American Theatre magazine, BackStage, Variety and the Washington Post. Over his 25 year career, Tad has covered theater, books, music, visual arts, dance, film, and performance art (including politics). Tad’s articles and essays on these and other subjects have won more than 30 local and national awards for editorial excellence.

To read the article, click here:  Murder Most Foul – Simons MSPMAG 2013 Dec

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Letter of the day – 11-12-2013

Note: The Star Tribune made the requested corrections in the online version of this column the following day. Unfortunately the print version contained the incorrect information.  We understand a print correction will appear on Sunday.

To the Editor:

In James Lileks’ column in the Sunday, November 10, 2013 Mpls. Star Tribune, he refers to the current situation between the Minnesota Orchestral Association and the Musicians of the MN Orchestra as a “strike” twice. At no place does he refer to the situation as a “lockout.”

He’s wrong. It is a lockout by the Board of Directors (including Michael Klingensmith, Publisher and CEO of the Star Tribune who sits on that Board) of the Minnesota Orchestral Association.

I’m astonished and appalled that after 13 months, this factual error of Mr. Lileks’ managed to get past his editor. I should think that a newspaper that has won two Pulitzer Prizes this year would want to correct immediately any factual errors that appear in its pages.

However, due to Mr. Klingensmith’s participation in the lockout, I wonder if Mr. Lileks’ column was an opportunity to disseminate misinformation and make it appear that the musicians have caused the darkness at Orchestra Hall? This raises in my mind the question of the newspaper’s ability to cover this labor dispute with journalistic fairness and objectivity as long as Mr. Klingensmith is publisher and also an MOA Board member. Mr. Lileks’ column could be an example of a conflict of interest issue.

Mr. Lileks is entitled to his opinion but he does need to get his facts right.

Sincerely,

Gina Hunter

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Letter of the day 10-16-2013

[This letter was sent to Graydon Royce, Reporter at the StarTribune]

October 15, 2013

Dear Mr. Royce,

My name is Angela Fuller Heyde, from 1999-2006 I was a first violinist in the MN Orchestra. I left for a concertmaster position, and am now principal 2nd of the Dallas Symphony. In other words, I left a great orchestra for a leadership position in a lesser orchestra. I have often questioned my choice, until now- when for the first time I am glad not to be there anymore. 

I would never presume to tell you how to do your job, and yes, I have an extremely biased point of view on the lockout, given my relationship with the orchestra. That being said, I have been disturbed by your coverage, or lack thereof, of the lockout. At least from my point of view, it seems that the talking points issued by the MOA have been the bulk of your reporting, with no investigation on your own part. In recent days, much has happened, none of which has been covered by you or your paper. 

1) Michael Henson’s newly publicized $200,000+ bonus in the 2011-2012 fiscal year- the year prior to locking out the orchestra. If there was that much money for one individual’s bonus, how dire can they claim finances truly are?

2) The unprecedented residence of an American orchestra at the BBC Proms in 2015… cancelled.

3) Rep. Phyllis Kahn proposing the state take over the Minnesota Orchestra.  She is proposing a bill to the legislature to follow the Green Bay Packers model- isn’t that worth reporting? Wouldn’t it be interesting to spark a dialogue on this topic?

I simply don’t understand how these points have been overlooked. While the local bloggers may be hyperbolic and passionately biased, they pose questions-BIG questions, elephant in the room questions, that DESERVE answers. Why have you not posed these questions? Or at least reported the facts that lend themselves to questions? Is it because your boss is on the MOA board? Or is that unrelated, as we have been told by the MOA?

Sir, this is the murder of a 110 year old cultural institution. The blood of hundreds of careers, past, present, and future, soaks the battlefield. I ask you to step forward, with integrity, and REPORT. Investigate, research, and report. Ask questions, stir things up. No more MN nice. If it is a risk to your job, you will at least have the knowledge that you helped to save what is left of the orchestra, or at least that you brought its killers to justice.

This is a dark moment in history for the symphony orchestra. Give people a reason to subscribe to your paper.

With respect,

Angela Fuller Heyde

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Letter of the day 10-8-2013

Minnesota Orchestra management has brought the issue from fiscal to philosophical

Jeffrey Richman, Oct. 8 2013

I attended the Locked Out Musician’s Concert, Osmo Vanska’s farewell, on Friday evening, October 4th, with my daughter Emma. We were already feeling the weight of the occasion when we heard Star Tribune columnist Kristin Tillotson’s prediction that Ted Mann Hall would likely slide into the river on a sea of tears. She was right.

Emma and her brother Sam are aspiring musicians. Emma is almost 16. She’s studied violin for close to 12 years. Sam is 13. He’s studied violin for 8 years. Between them, three orchestras, two string quartets, and an intense course of solo repertoire. They bug me for new bow hair, thrill at the acquisition of sheet music, refuse to leave the parked car until a piece of music has concluded and its details are established. They go to parties to sight read string quartets with friends.

The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are their heroes: their teachers, role models, sectional leaders, and their inspiration. We’ve waited at the stage door to congratulate anyone who had time to stop and talk about that evening’s musical agenda, say ‘hi’ to our conductor, Manny Laureano. Emma would hang a Jorja Fleezanis poster in her room, if there was one, or Tony Ross. Sam might swap his extra Burt Hara trading card in exchange for a rare Stanislaw Skrowaczewski special edition.

These young musicians need their heroes. Last year Emma and her MYS Symphony compatriots got to play in a side-by-side rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra. They worked on the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony. The “in” crowd refers to it as “Tchaik 4”. It was like a high school football squad getting a scrimmage with the Minnesota Vikings. (And don’t start with me about how bad the Vikings are. Those guys made it to the pros…their skills are undeniable. To an aspiring ball player, getting to run some plays with the major leaguers is a thrill not soon forgotten.) Just getting to play a game on their field is big news for a young squad. It’s the same for the musicians. The fact that the youth symphonies performed at Orchestra Hall, the locus of so many incredible performances, only added to their sense of legitimacy. They showed their pride donning tuxes and entering through the stage door. The first time Emma did it, she was in MYS Strings. She must have been 9. She was feeling apprehensive about finding her way, so I accompanied her. But the door monitor told me, only musicians.
Only musicians backstage. Funny how proud I felt being kicked out of there. Emma warmed up her instrument and played in Roger Frisch’s chair.

We’ve attended as many concerts as we could. Sometimes Emma would bring music to follow the violin part of the symphony. Once, when I couldn’t attend she had me drop her off at the hall and pick her up after. We would go to hear Sam Bergman and Sarah Hicks explain the music with their witty repartee, we watched the orchestra play the score to a Chaplin film, we checked out new music by guest composers and we heard soloists Joshua Bell, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and many others. We stayed late some nights to ask a question on a handheld mic. We shook Sir Neville Mariner’s hand.

Our young musicians need to visualize themselves in these seats. Or ones just like. They need a sense that when they’ve put in their 10,000 hours of rigorous technical study in music schools and conservatories, and gone to the depths of their souls to convey all the power and passion, all the love and despair, all the triumph and rejoicing in Bach and Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Ravel, and so many more, that their craft will be valued and they will have a role in the community and be compensated appropriately so that they too can live, build families and enjoy their days. And not be treated as a commodity that can be cast aside. You live in a home you worked to restore–a few blocks from the lake. Soon your kids will be starting college. You don’t like the sound of a 25% pay cut? Can’t you play a cheaper instrument? There should be caps–salary caps for people like you and Derek Jeter.

In the lobby on Friday night, someone carrying a camera asked if I had any thoughts I cared to convey. I related that I thought the management of the Minnesota Orchestra had brought the issue from fiscal to philosophical. Our orchestra is like a building on the historical registry. Or a national park. Should we let a bunch of bureaucrats tear down the Flat Iron Building? Or Taliesin? Do we really need those stupid redwoods? The beautiful thing about musicians is that they can play at a high level for a long time. Our orchestra is like an old growth forest. Or like a fine wine. Both of which should be tended, stewarded, but allowed to grow and mature organically. This management is a bunch of hackers who will be fine drinking box wine listening to Andre Rieu in their new stadium. And shame on the city and shame on the state for not stepping in and saying, no. No way are you putting a corporate campus, a golf course and a tract of McMansions in the Boundary Waters.

One time, in a moment of enthusiasm, I compared MYS Symphony, their highest group, to the Minnesota Orchestra. I had said that if you didn’t know it, you might mistake them for the pros. I’ve always regretted the hyperbole, especially since Ellen Dinwiddie Smith was in earshot. The fact is, although those teens are amazing, there’s no mistaking them for the Minnesota Orchestra–the Minnesota Orchestra who have toured the world and slapped critics awake, who have been nominated for Grammys and been sought out for collaborations by the world’s finest soloists and conductors, whose pianissimo can bring tears to your eyes.

Our music students are the future of classical music both on stage and in the audience. If the Minnesota Orchestra Corporation’s marketing department had been smarter they would have offered $10 seats for every concert to every youth symphony player and half price for their drivers. Bring up another generation of subscribers. But they don’t think like that. And now I hear that the increased fees to rent the hall will preclude many young players from performing there at all. Michael Henson and his board of directors have proven that they have no clue where their priorities should be. Like St. Exupery’s “grown ups” incapable of seeing what is truly important. At least more people are starting to understand that we don’t have to accept what Monsanto is trying to dish out. We can shop at the co-op–eat healthy food, support our farmers, and do something to benefit our planet, our community. Now we can get our music the same way.

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Letter of the day 10-7-2013

Today’s letter first appeared in the MinnPost letters section

As Carnegie Hall slipped away and Osmo Vänskä resigned, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra kept a date to play. That’s what professionals do when an audience is waiting — afar in a celebrated hall, or at home in a high-school auditorium.

On the anniversary of the lockout, student musicians settled into seats at Hopkins High School to listen and learn. They got more than Beethoven played by a world-class orchestra. They got a lesson in gratitude. Greatness is not a straight line, it’s a circle. The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra understand this. Their unwavering commitment to community is not about selling tickets — when you’re the best you don’t have to beg to be noticed. Serving their community is a responsibility and a privilege they welcome and require. Now, with management out of the way, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are free to keep the circle intact.

Kristin Parker, Minneapolis

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