Op Ed: Open the books, end the lockout

Published in the Star Tribune, November 28, 2012 | by TIM ZAVADIL, BURT HARA, DOUG WRIGHT, TONY ROSS and CATHY SCHUBILSKE

Musicians need full access to the books before making a counteroffer.

“Management should provide the complete independent financial analysis that the musicians seek,” stated the Star Tribune Editorial Board on Oct. 5, regarding the lockout of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (“A change in key at Minnesota Orchestra“). “The ‘trust, but verify’ approach works in diplomacy; it should work here.”

On Oct. 27, the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak made a similar call for financial transparency by unanimously passing a resolution stating that the city “encourages that measures be taken to ensure that both the Minnesota Orchestra and its musicians have a common understanding of existing financial information and future projections.”

The Star Tribune reports (“Orchestra walked thin line on finances,” Nov. 26) that management chose to delay the incurring of deficits so as not to affect fundraising and state bonding requests, according to minutes from the orchestra board meetings. In fact, the minutes reveal that members of the board hired a public relations firm that helped determine “what size of deficit to report publicly …”

This confirms why we musicians contend that we cannot and should not make a financial counteroffer without a full, joint, independent analysis of the orchestra’s finances.

No one is more vested in the financial health and future of this orchestra than the musicians. Unfortunately, the musicians have neither the access to financial data needed to make a more detailed offer nor the transparency that the Star Tribune and the city have urged management to provide.

Our community has raised many questions. In an open letter on MinnPost.com, major donors Cy and Paula DeCosse, featured by orchestra management in fundraising materials, ask why management decided to undertake a massive $50 million lobby renovation at Orchestra Hall when the finances were so dire.

More importantly, the DeCosses observe, “The strategic plan on the orchestra’s website contains a new mission statement. In contrast to the old mission statement, this one does not even mention the orchestra. Why was the mission statement changed?”

We as musicians wonder the same.

The musicians do not understand why it would be effective to shrink the orchestra at a time when we have achieved global acclaim. With the sixth-largest endowment, thanks to our generous community, the orchestra would have its annual budget slashed to a level that would diminish its ranking to 15th.

The musicians refuse to accept that the “greatest orchestra in the world,” as Alex Ross of the New Yorker wrote in 2010, should become a minor-league player when Minneapolis as a city and Minnesota as a state strive to be world-class at every turn.

Even as the Minnesota Orchestral Association has proposed extreme and unprecedented cuts, other leading orchestras have supported and rewarded their musicians through constructive contract negotiations. The Chicago, Cleveland and National orchestras have advanced reasonable, forward-thinking contract solutions with modest upward wage adjustments.

Minnesota Orchestra CEO Michael Henson, while testifying before the Legislature in 2010 regarding funding for a new lobby for Orchestra Hall, stated: “On the financial front, we have announced three balanced budgets in a row.” He went on to say that the orchestra is one of the “finest in the world.”

Three former music directors have stated that the current offer will “swiftly destroy” our artistic legacy and world-class status.

In light of news that management has not been transparent about its finances, and because management has not shared any new financial data with the musicians since the lockout began, the musicians continue to urge the board and management to open all of the books for outside analysis.

As Music Director Osmo Vänskä states, the lockout needs to end. This is also the position the City Council and mayor stated in their resolution, saying that the city “discourages ‘lockout’ as a means to resolve the existing labor dispute.”

The musicians agree. We ask the board to end the lockout. While we are disappointed that our previous requests to meet with the board to discuss the future of the Minnesota Orchestra have been refused, we renew our commitment to working with the entire board in good faith to preserve our world-class orchestra.

* * *

Tim Zavadil, Burt Hara, Doug Wright, Tony Ross and Cathy Schubilske are musician members of the Minnesota Orchestra negotiating committee.

Musicians Vote No Confidence in Orchestra CEO

Musicians Say It’s Time for a Change

The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra today issued a unanimous, secret ballot, “No Confidence” vote in Minnesota Orchestral Association President and CEO, Michael Henson.

Citing numerous examples of Henson’s missteps since becoming CEO, the Musicians say that Henson’s removal is key to resolving the current lockout by Management of the “greatest orchestra in the world.” (Alex Ross, New Yorker, 2010).

Among the significant issues that Musicians cite for their lack of confidence in Henson for during his term as CEO:

·       Misleading the Minnesota Legislature about the orchestra’s finances during his testimony in favor of the orchestra’s bonding request.  LISTEN

·       The revelations in the Star Tribune story of Monday, November 26th that Henson’s strategy to show large deficits at the time of labor negotiations, but illustrating how he led the organization in showing “balanced” budgets when requesting state bonding funds. STORY      MINUTES

·       Changing the Minnesota Orchestra’s Mission Statement without including Musicians in the process and removing the word “orchestra” from the new mission statement.

·       The lack of growth of the endowment fund since Henson’s tenure began.

·       Failing to act in the transparent manner that is expected of Minnesota cultural and civic institutions. For example, the Minnesota Orchestra does not receive a top score at CharityNavigator.org because management does not make audited financials or Form 990 available on the orchestra’s website.

·       Henson’s inability to take advantage of the artistic recognition of Music Director Osmo Vanska and the musicians of the Orchestra to grow the local audience.

·       Jeopardizing future recording and international tours by locking out the Musicians when the artistic reputation of the Orchestra is at its highest point.

“The community leaders who have built and supported the Minnesota Orchestra deserve better to ensure the long-term vitality of this world-class artistic institution,” said Tim Zavadil, chair of the Musicians Negotiating Committee. “The lack of partnership between Henson and the Musicians since his arrival has been dysfunctional and adversarial due to his management style and lack of leadership ability.”

“Henson is the major obstacle between the Musicians and the Board of Directors working out a new contract.”

Minnesota Orchestra’s board walked thin line on finances

Minnesota Orchestra’s board walked thin line on finances
Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune

As deficits worsened, the board worried about the impact of budget red ink on its fundraising.

From the article on the Star Tribune website:

“Balances in 2009 and 2010 would support our state bonding aspirations,” Bryan Ebensteiner, vice president of finance, told the orchestra’s executive committee in September 2009, “while the deficits in 2011 and 2012 would demonstrate the need to reset the business model.” His comments are included in minutes of the finance and executive committees obtained by the Star Tribune.

The board chose to cover operating deficits in 2009 and 2010 with major withdrawals from its investments. Then, in 2011 — on the cusp of labor negotiations with musicians — it “drew down” less money and declared a $2.9 million deficit.

Read entire article here


Agora or Temple? by George Slade

Our good friend and writer George Slade has produced another timely piece for us. Please enjoy his musings and his prose on this Black Friday!

A lobby used to be a transitional space, an overgrown mud-room, an air-lock you traverse expeditiously to access the main event. You check your coat, use the rest room, get a quick drink of water, linger only long enough to reconnoiter with a date, and head for the hall proper. A ticket-taker approves your entry and beseeches you to enjoy the performance. Posted in Musician’s Blog, opinion | Leave a reply

Happy Thanksgiving

We are thankful on this day for all of you who have supported us so generously during the lockout. We are filled with gratitude for the love you continue to express for great music and for your belief in its power.

Good wishes to all,
The Musicians

FAQ’s Related to the Negotiations

During the past several weeks, we have heard questions from many fans and members of the community seeking clarification on the following points.

What is the difference between the joint independent financial analysis proposed by the musicians and the past audit reports management says are enough?

What are the specific financial facts the musicians are missing?

Why haven’t the musicians made a formal, financial counteroffer?

What is the difference between a lockout and a strike?

If you have a question for the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, please contact us!


Standing Room Only ~ Please call the box office regularly with the box office for ticket turn backs. The Ted Mall Concert Hall phone number is 612-624-2345.

The upcoming  Bach and Beethoven Concerts of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have sold out all seats for the concerts. The Musicians are working with Ted Mann Concert Hall to ensure maximum space for standing-room only.

The performances, conducted by Edo de Waart, will feature soloists Jorja Fleezanis and Erin Keefe in the Bach Double Violin Concerto. Beethoven’s triumphant 9th Symphony will feature a world-class chorus with soloists Ellie Dehn, soprano, Adriana Zabala, mezzo-soprano, Thomas Cooley, tenor, and Timothy Noble, bass-baritone.

“The return of Edo and Jorja to support these performances is a testament to their respect and love for this orchestra and community. The Musicians are overwhelmed by the support of our audience and sponsors, and their enthusiastic response to these concerts,” said Tony Ross, cellist and member of the Musicians negotiating committee.


In reaction to our extended lockout, Osmo Vänskä has written this letter. Osmo says “But now I fear we may be on a path to diminishing greatly, if not destroying, the Minnesota Orchestra…”

November 12, 2012
Dear Members of the Minnesota Orchestra Board and the Musicians of the Orchestra:

In the last few years, the Minnesota Orchestra has truly established itself as a world-class orchestra. Critics and audiences around the world praise what we have achieved together. The national and international attention we have attracted through our Beethoven and Sibelius recordings, our Carnegie Hall and BBC Proms engagements, as well as our crucial work at home is the result of the invested talent, energy and commitment of an exceptional group of artists, not merely competent professionals.

The Board is justifiably proud of the results which the Minnesota Orchestra has achieved; many other Boards would be delighted if their own orchestra achieved anything like the level of the Minnesota Orchestra. This is all the more gratifying when you compare our costs with our peers in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.

The Twin Cities is such a special place. No metropolitan area our size can boast the award-winning cultural offerings that we do. We are the home of several Fortune 500 companies as well as many other innovative businesses. Our downtown is thriving, our unemployment low. Smart, creative people choose to live here because of all the Twin Cities has to offer. No other market our size has an orchestra such as ours, playing at the same level as the greatest orchestras in the world. A metropolitan leader as cultured as this must protect, preserve and cultivate such an asset.

But now I fear we may be on a path to diminishing greatly, if not destroying, the Minnesota Orchestra as an artistic and cultural leader. While there in no progress in the contract negotiations; while players are unable to rehearse and perform together; while some are obliged to seek jobs elsewhere–I am desperately anxious about the risk posed to the quality and spirit of the orchestra for the future. I become deeply emotional when I listen to our latest Sibelius recording edit of the 1st and 4th Symphonies, first because the music is so moving and superbly played in the hands of our musicians, and second because I fear that to preserve our reputations I may need to consider letting go of the remaining recording projects we have planned. I will also be in the position to think seriously about the viability of bringing a diminished or compromised orchestra to Carnegie Hall for our four concerts in the 2013-14 season, plus international touring thereafter, including a re-invitation to the BBC Proms.

It is difficult to imagine that the current negotiation process will sustain the orchestra’s future. Rather, the process may rob us of the chance of having a world class ensemble for years to come. When the lockout is over, the Twin Cities may have a “professional” orchestra, but inevitably not the same one, nor a highly respected one. Will anyone–either the Board of the Musicians–be able to reflect back with pride at what was accomplished during this season? The Association and the Musicians must come together to mitigate any more damage.

It is clear that the orchestra’s finances are deeply troubled and finding a solution must balance business and art. I urge the Board and the players of the MO, from the bottom of my heart, to seek new and creative ways–without insulting or demeaning–to pursue these negotiations, to re-establish a common vision, to identify a path forward, in partnership, to a financially and artistically sustainable future. There must be some way to re-establish trust and bring both parties to negotiate once again.

The Twin Cities is a unique and great place to live. The 109-year-old Minnesota Orchestra is a great orchestra. We are all proud of what we have achieved here. The world-class Orchestra Hall this orchestra needs and deserves is only months from completion. Once again, many other orchestras envy our significant accomplishments.

Nine years ago, you brought me here and entrusted me to lead a world-class orchestra, which I have enthusiastically and faithfully done. It is my responsibility as Music Director, and one that I take extremely seriously, to maintain and develop the artistic level of this great orchestra. If the orchestra does not play, its quality will most definitely diminish. Please, do what it takes, find a way, talk together, listen to each other and come to a resolution of this dreadful situation.


Osmo Vänskä


You can make a tax deductible donation to the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra on give to the max day, and maximize your gift! You can even set up your gift right NOW in advance of give to the max day!

Here is the link to Working Partnerships, a non-profit group that has set up a fund for us: MMO Fund
After you enter a donation amount, the next page has an option for “Designate this donation for a specific cause”. Please click on that, and enter MMO.

One hundred percent of the amount donated to the fund will be used for our concert productions, events, educational and service-oriented projects, and an emergency relief fund for musicians (provisions to be set forth by the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Committee and Working Partnerships under 501c3 guidelines). This is a tax deductible donation.

Ode to Joy – Special Holiday Concert!

Edo de Waart and Jorja Fleezanis return to join the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra… Ode to Joy!

Ted Mann Concert Hall
Saturday, December 15th | 8:00 PM
Sunday, December 16th | 2:00 PM

Purchase Tickets through U of M Ticketing Online
or, order by phone by calling 612-624-2345 

About the Concert
Edo de Waart joins the (Locked Out) Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra for Beethoven’s triumphant Ninth Symphony, sharing the stage with an 80-voice choir and an all-star cast of soloists.

The celebration begins with Bach’s poignant and animated Double Violin Concerto featuring Jorja Fleezanis and Erin Keefe (former and present Concertmasters of the Minnesota Orchestra).


J.S. Bach | Double Violin Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1043


Beethoven | Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Opus 125

Ellie Dehn, Soprano
Adriana Zabala, Mezzo
Thomas Cooley, Tenor
Timothy Noble, Bass Baritone

Eighty to ninety professional singers that support our cause will make up the chorus for this concert.

Ted Mann Concert Hall Directions & Parking Info
2128 Fourth Street S
Minneapolis, MN 55455

The proceeds of this concert will be used for our concert productions, events, educational and service-oriented projects, and an emergency relief fund for musicians (provisions to be set forth by the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Committee).