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Classical Notes

Editorial Fallout from the Minnesota Orchestra Disaster

Posted at 9:46 AM on October 4, 2013 by Emily Reese (17 Comments)
Filed under: In the media

Image of The Telegraph article

It took me a while to find the last word for that 'headline'. The word 'disaster' seems histrionic, but only in a larger context of tragic world events. In terms of American orchestras, and the larger culture of orchestral music, it is, indeed, a disaster.

There is no shortage of editorial fallout from the events over the last year, especially since Maestro Osmo Vanska announced his resignation from Minnesota Orchestra early Tuesday morning.

One such article surfaced overnight Wednesday, from Ivan Hewett, a writer for The Telegraph. The title alone, "US orchestras are greedy and overpaid", is incendiary.

Now let me tell you why, even if Ivan Hewett is right, he is wrong.

A quote from Hewett: "none of the commentary in the US points to a single overwhelming fact that to an outsider appears blinding obvious: the top tier of American orchestras overpays its players."

It does not matter if it's true. It just doesn't. We've created a culture in America where musicians have the potential to be rewarded well for their tens of thousands of hours in a practice room. And at that, it's a small, hand-picked number of musicians who are rewarded as such, in a small number of orchestras in the country.

These players are the best of the best. And all most of us want is to be paid, or compensated, for our skills and talents. Yet we never miss a chance to freak out whenever someone gets paid a lot of money.

There are plenty of job fields where people are rewarded more for less. Executives and managers all around the world are grossly overpaid, probably in your own place of work. And what, exactly, does the public receive from their over-compensation? Not much. Yet, when I hear the Minnesota Orchestra, I'm treated to aural magic.

I used to be, anyway.

Similarly, there are just as many occupations in which people are paid far too little for doing so much, like nursing, teaching or social work. Even veterinarians earn far less than human doctors. And vets save a whole lotta lives, too.

It defeats the purpose to point fingers and say, "You make too much," which roughly translates to "You do not deserve this."

Can we stop quibbling about how much these folks make, or used to make, or might potentially make? The fact remains that this is the orchestral culture of America. Just because it's different in the UK doesn't mean it's wrong. It just is.


Comments (17)

Hewitt also did not mention the fact that musicians' compensation includes healthcare, which is paid for in the UK, along with other benefits. Thus, apples to oranges. But hey, why let facts get in the way?

Posted by Sarah | October 4, 2013 10:21 AM


BTW will MPR be broadcasting one of the farewell concerts? It's the least they could do.

Posted by Sarah | October 4, 2013 10:22 AM


Hi Sarah-
Thank you for your comments. At this very moment, Classical MPR is looking into the rights permissions for such a broadcast. We will keep you posted. Stay tuned to Classical MPR and keep watching classicalmpr.org for updates. Thanks again!

Posted by Luke Taylor | October 4, 2013 10:31 AM


If it is broadcast live, will it also be recorded and can this last gasp of the orchestra and its leader be made available to those who will not be there? In at least a small way, this could be a historic concert.

Posted by Dan Wascoe | October 4, 2013 2:07 PM


Wouldn't it be wonderful if the concert were recorded and made in to a C.D. to sell with proceeds going to the Musicians of the MN Orchestra ?

Posted by Michelle | October 4, 2013 2:44 PM


You can find details about Saturday's live broadcast on this feature page. We'll also add concert photos as we have them.

In addition to radio, you can use Classical MPR's media player to stream the concert online.

Posted by Luke Taylor | October 4, 2013 5:25 PM


Ironic that it's ok to pay professional athletes millions and build them billion dollar stadiums every 10 years, yet $150K to a musician is considered gross over-payment.

To all the musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra, you will always be the sort of role models I want for my boys. Thank you!

To the Board, you should be embarrassed by your behavior. Your job is to run the business not destroy and exploit it. Get to the table and put these community icons back to work. This IS about them, not you. You should be like children at an adult dinner -- you may be seen, but not heard.

Posted by Jeff Scheel | October 5, 2013 8:28 PM


It is 8:40PM Saturday, Oct. 5th, and my wife and I are sitting in our St. Louis home of 34 years, listening to the final concert of the Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of Osmo Vanska. The same house where,27 years ago, our son "honked" on a instrument half his height. As he played, we asked him why he wanted to play the clarinet, to which he said, "I want to play in the orchestra!" This was the fifth grade mind you. We supported his efforts,knowing he was bright and would be successful at whatever he did. Well, we watched and listened and paid for lessons, drove all over the country, dragged his poor brother along, too. Our son suffered through grad school, piling up debt and being away from friends and family. After other positions and more auditions, he called to say he was finally "making it in Minnesota." It is breaking his heart and the heart of his wife, a wonderful oboe player, also on stage, knowing what has happened in the last year. The small group of board members who are responsible for this debacle must be thrown out! Thrown out before their attitudes take them down to the library and they start burning books or destroying other wonders of art. A part of us is dying in this house this evening. Please, someone, stand up and defeat these attitudes or they will spread!!!!

Posted by Tom and Linda | October 5, 2013 9:17 PM


I agree with Jeff Scheel's comments wholeheartedly. The fact that Osmo Vanska (one of the greatest conductors that this orchestra has ever had, that helped the orchestra reach a pinnacle of music-making) is leaving because he is a man of his word and has musical and artistic standards is a tragedy for our orchestra and the community, and could have been avoided if the board had listened to the mediators and the public. The other tragedy is that the stupid board stood by and watched as great players left the orchestra. Of course the musicians are replaceable, just as if the doctor that was going to be operating on your heart was replaced by a first year medical student. It can happen, but you don't want it to happen.

Posted by Charles | October 5, 2013 9:39 PM


Is there no movement of the Musicians to simple start their own orchestral organization and leave the MOA in their dust?? Of, for and by musicians!

Posted by Paul | October 5, 2013 10:54 PM


Thanks to MPR for broadcasting Osmo's final concert with the Minnesota Orchestra! He will be gone but not forgotten.

Unfortunately, we still have Management to deal with. I remain optimistic that former Governor Carlson can make progress. As a politician, he'll most certainly recognize games and half truths. However, I hope he doesn't forget his parenting skills as he just might have to send Management to their room without supper, if for nothing more than to remind them that of their childish ways.

In the meantime, let's continue to show our support for the musicians because this doesn't end until everyone recognizes that the musicians ARE the orchestra. Without them, Management, Orchestra Hall, and the beloved endowment are meaningless.

Thank you Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra for making these past two evenings special. My family and I will be at your next concert.

Posted by Jeff Scheel | October 5, 2013 10:55 PM


We just listened to the final concert of the Musicians of the FORMER Minnesota Orchestra from our new home in Tucson. What a terrible loss for Minnesota and many of us who have moved from Minnesota. The Board seems to be brainless and totally incompetent. Well they won this one while millions of people have lost, especially the musicians. I hope that the musicians can recover from the loss of such a sensitive and competent conductor. They presented a wonderful concert tonight under the direction of Osmo. BUT THE BOARD MEMBERS PROBABLY DO NOT HAVE THE MUSICAL COMPETENCE AND APPRECIATION TO UNDERSTAND THEIR OWN BLUNDERS AND LACK OF COMPETENCE.

I wish the musicians well as the make the career change plans. As for the Board, may the float quietly down the Mississippi River in search of another orchestra to destroy. They are fools. Just plain fools.

Posted by Jon Shallop | October 5, 2013 10:56 PM


i am weeping and am shaken after this concert. how profoundly sad that this treasure of an orchestra and institution is corrupted by the 1% interests that convolute all of society and demand we earn less while they grab more. off with their heads.. henson and campbell must go.

Posted by Sven | October 5, 2013 11:26 PM


I heard Governor Carlson interviewed on MPR after Osmo tendered his resignation. He had many substantive suggestions as to how to provide funding necessary to support the orchestra; one, specifically, was to apply for money from the Minnesota Arts Fund. Certainly the orchestra qualifies as an artistic endeavor, better, perhaps, than many. Why did the Govenor wait until the last minute to come up with his suggestions? Too little, too late.

The Minnesota Orchestral Association spent tens of millions to renovate the hall, yet couldn't mount a campaign to save the orchestra? Mismanagement compounded.

What kind of community can rally around construction of numerous athletic facilities involving astronomical expense yet sit idly by and watch as a world-class orchestra is destroyed? Perhaps they are not as sophisticated as they would like us to believe.

We have lost a treasure of incalculable value, not just here, but in the entire world of music. How short-sighted; how sad.

Posted by Marilyn F. Hayman | October 6, 2013 1:38 PM


Will there be any reporting on the law firm apparently involved in so many of the nation's orchestral labor disputes, including our own?
Board, it is time to move forward.

Posted by Bea | October 7, 2013 1:07 PM


With Osmo Vanska leaving the Minnesota Orchestra, no doubt many of the fine orchestra players will soon leave as they find other opportunities in other cities or countries. And then who would want to come here? No first rate orchestra conductor would be foolish to consider taking the Minneapolis position and dealing with the current orchestra board. And future players? Who would want to play for a lesser known conductor and a board that would be likely to make more salary cuts down the road. If the board wants a transient orchestra, revolving conductors, and a low quality product that doesn't bring in revenue, they'll get it. But Minnesota patrons don't want nor deserve lower quality standards. Patrons should demand the immediate resignation of the current board, post haste. Or quit supporting the current organization and begin supporting a new one!

Posted by Scott Werdahl | October 7, 2013 4:18 PM


Though currently retired full time in Mexico, the Mn Orchestra remains close to my heart. From the age of 12, in 1960, to the present, I have followed the orchestra closely. For years I was a Guarantor and had planned on including the Orchestra in my will. How can one forget all the peak musical experiences at Orchestra Hall?

Mayor Rybak and Arne Carlson couldn't be more correct in their assessments. I do fault both sides, the musicans and management, for the lack of communication, understanding and accomodation. We could also have seen more leadership from the community. I would like to suggest we cast our fate to the wind and seek a miracle:

1. Ask the musicians to accept the latest contract offer they rejected if Osmo would be willing to return this year, or ask him to come back in 2014. Sweeten the pie by including higher salary to musicians in two years after extensive fund raising at all levels, even with the school children. (in the 1930's Mpls. kids contributed pennies and nickels to Symphony in a SOS campagin.)
2. Perhaps the Carneige Hall dates could be recovered or rescheduled if we gain a contract this month.
3. To cut the projected deficit and make a new contract more palatable to the musicians, eliminate any concerts, such as midweek events, which are poorly attended. If the musicans perform less, they should expect to accept less. For many years at Northrup the Mpls. Symphony only gave concerts on Friday nights and limited Sunday matinees, from a season running from mid October to the end of April. Later they added a modest Thursday night series
4. Cut overhead by having WAMSO and other volunteers do more tasks such as ushering.
5. Give the musicians some participation in management and a few positions on the Board to avoid the us against them mentality.

I don't agree with Jon Campbell's comment that probably nothing more would happen for three months. We need deeper effort, vision and mission, not less. He also maintained incorrectly that we are the only big city with two professional orchestras. Doesn't the presence of two great ensembles help grow a richer culture? Isn't it time to redouble efforts before losing more momentum and prestige? Our 110 year legacy is worth nothing if the hall remains dark and silent. The NY Times reported today that the MN Orch. was on the edge of true greatness. We dare not fail.

Posted by george jaquith | October 9, 2013 5:43 AM