Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Minnesota Orchestra rank nationally?
In terms of budget size, musician compensation, and artistic recognition, the Minnesota Orchestra has historically been ranked in the top 10 of American symphony orchestras, enabling the orchestra to attract and retain the superior musical talent needed to be at the forefront of orchestral and artistic excellence on the local, national, and international stages. In terms of musician compensation for the 2011-2012 season, the Minnesota Orchestra currently ranks approximately 8th nationally.

The orchestra’s achievements with its musicians at home raise its artistic profile and reputation in the national and international press. We export our reputation to national and international stages to demonstrate our success, leading to collaborations with well-known conductors and soloists, as well as recording and touring projects.

Why are there 95 musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra?
A minimum of 95 musicians is the standard needed In order to perform at an internationally acclaimed level, and for the past fifty years the Minnesota Orchestra has maintained its current size to meet the personnel needs of the great orchestral repertoire.

To compare, other major orchestra such as Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco have 99 or more musicians. Orchestras such as Indianapolis and Milwaukee have 84-85 musicians. The larger string complement allows musicians to create the depth and beauty of tone our audiences expect from a major symphony orchestra.

George Szell, the music director famous for developing the great Cleveland Orchestra sound, noted that musicians in his orchestra were trying to play ‘too loud’ to get the sound he was asking for, so he doubled the winds and increased the strings in order to allow the sound to grow in depth and beauty.

Are tax dollars used to support the Minnesota Orchestra?
The Minnesota Orchestra is supported by private donations of generous music lovers and foundations. A smaller percent of the budget includes funds granted for specific initiatives such as the Common Chords Project. State and City bonding provided $14 million for the lobby expansion project.

How do the arts and our orchestras impact our local economy?
The economic impact of the arts for the State of Minnesota is over $1 billion, resulting in over 30,000 jobs. (
When the Minnesota Orchestra holds concerts, local restaurants, hotels, bars, parking garages, and numerous other local services generate additional revenue and hire more employees as the economic ripple effect spreads through the metro. Attendees at nonprofit arts events spend an average of $22.87 per person, not including the price of admission, on restaurants, parking, and hotels. Revenues generated by these businesses result in increased tax revenues for the people of Minnesota.

How do the arts and our orchestras attract jobs to the Minnesota?
The Minnesota Orchestra is the largest arts organization in the state, and Orchestra Hall is one of the top 25 tourist attractions in the State of Minnesota. Minnesota is also frequently named as “The Most Livable State in the Nation” due in large part to its strong arts support, which elevates the market appeal of Minnesota to businesses and talent looking to relocate.

A strong arts community helps enable local employers to recruit and retain skilled employees. Business and education leaders frequently cite core competencies nurtured by the arts that employees need to have in the 21st century global workplace, such as creative thinking, problem solving, individual responsibility, sociability, and self-esteem. A KPMG survey of more than 1,200 high-tech workers examined the most important factors associated with taking a new job. “Community quality of life” was the second most important factor – after salary – and more important than benefits, stock options, or company stability.

What does it take to make an orchestra like the Minnesota Orchestra successful?
It takes a huge community of people, from musicians and staff, to board members and an appreciative audience for a full-time symphony orchestra to be run successfully. For a complete description of how an symphony orchestra organization works, we have provided this essay: The Orchestra Machine: What Makes It Run.

How does one become a musician in the Minnesota Orchestra?
To attain a position with a major American orchestra is to reach the very top of the profession. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are hired through a rigorous international audition process.

For each opening, as many as 200 candidates play behind a screen on the Orchestra Hall stage for a committee of musicians. Despite the large number of applicants, few demonstrate the level of talent required by the Minnesota Orchestra. Frequently, there is no candidate selected and the process begins again. Finalists play for the music director and committee and may also be asked to play for several weeks in the orchestra before being hired. Because openings occur so infrequently, some say that one has a better chance of playing major league baseball than winning a job in a major symphony orchestra.

For some great insights to this process check out these links; What it Takes to Land a Major Symphony Job; 56 cellists, 1 seat (part one) &  Playing for Keeps (part two). A recent Boston Symphony Article is linked here.

How many concerts does the Minnesota Orchestra play annually?
The Minnesota Orchestra plays over 200  concerts each year; each concert requires dozens of hours of rehearsal and individual preparation. Minnesota Orchestra concerts reach nearly 400,000 music lovers annually, including at least 50,000 children, many of whom are hearing concerts for the first time through educational and outreach programs.

Is playing in the Minnesota Orchestra a full-time job?
Absolutely, this is every musician’s full-time job and career. Musicians rarely take a day off from practicing; most of us take our instruments along on vacations. Like athletes, we always need to “be in shape”, enabling us to produce the quality performances that our audiences and music deserve.

What is involved in the education and training of orchestral musicians?
Professional orchestra musicians usually begin their training as young children. String players typically start learning their instruments at the age of four or five. Wind, brass and percussion players generally start in fourth or fifth grade, though many have had piano lessons before that time. The seeds of a dream of playing in a professional orchestra are often planted while playing in a band or in youth symphonies in middle school and high school.

Before beginning the competitive and rigorous process of winning a coveted spot in music school, young musicians must have already studied with a knowledgeable and supportive teacher and devoted the many hours of practice necessary for mastery of their instruments. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra attended acclaimed music schools such as the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music, both of which have a lower acceptance rate (Juilliard 5.5% and Curtis 4%) than Harvard (7%).

Even by the time orchestral musicians complete their undergraduate studies, refining their instrumental and ensemble skills, many will go on to earn post-graduate degrees or win prestigious solo competitions.

Professional orchestral musicians also spend an abundant amount of time and resources “cross-training” in other aspects of the orchestral discipline by studying at music festivals, chamber music festivals and master classes. In addition to practicing, musicians’ training is ongoing. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra continue to spend time studying scores, recording ourselves, and listening to recordings of the music we are preparing.

Why does the orchestra tour?
The orchestra tours and records as a demonstration of the artistic excellence it has achieved here in the state of Minnesota. When the orchestra plays in Carnegie Hall or at the BBC Proms in London, it is akin to representing our city at the Oscars or the World Series. As musical ambassadors, we are regularly invited to bring the cultural richness of the Twin Cities to audiences around the state, the country and the world, raising awareness of our unique cultural atmosphere.

Why are the musicians in a union?
Before musicians joined together to become collective bargaining units and members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), age, race and gender discrimination were prevalent in hiring and firing practices in orchestras. Professional orchestra musicians also experienced poor working and touring conditions which led to injuries. However, the collective efforts of the AFM, working in tandem with supportive boards and managements, have resulted in healthier and more fair organizations that can plan ahead with greater effectiveness and provide enhanced stability. Organizing has had a significant impact on security for the lives of the musicians. Being organized and secure as professionals has allowed the quality of music to thrive and has fostered an environment of respect and goodwill between musicians, conductors, and managers.

Who pays for the musicians’ instruments?
Although the orchestra owns some instruments such percussion instruments, and pianos, nearly all the other orchestra musicians are required to provide their own top-quality instruments for practicing and performance. String instruments are a monumental investment, ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 and up. Although wind and brass instruments generally cost less, players are required own multiple instruments to meet the requirements of the varied music we play. Some woodwind instruments must be replaced every three to five years. All instruments require costly regular maintenance, and musicians continually upgrade to and invest in the best instruments available.

What is the average age of musicians in the orchestra?
The Minnesota Orchestra age ranges from musicians in their 20s to some in their 70s. The range of musicians gives the Minnesota Orchestra fresh talent and new ideas of younger musicians balanced with those musicians in their 70s who bring decades of experience and tradition to the artistry of the orchestra. The majority of musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra are in the their mid-40s.

How are the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra involved in community outreach?
As residents of the Twin Cities, we are committed to serving the community by volunteering and supporting community events and organizations collectively through thousands of hours of volunteer time.

You may also find Minnesota Orchestra musicians making meals for the needy, building houses for the homeless, or mentoring at-risk youth. Musically speaking, we are engaged in schools and make visits every year to give demonstrations, teach master classes and offer insights into the lives of professional musicians. Some musicians give free lessons to needy youth and many volunteer for concerts that benefit both local and international relief efforts. We believe that giving back to the community that gives so much to us is vitally important to the sustainability of a rich cultural landscape.

Do you have a question for the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra? Email us so we can answer it for you!