Musicians of the SPCO unanimously reject Management’s contract offer, October 31

Saint Paul, MN- The Musicians of the SPCO have unanimously rejected Management’s “Voting Offer” by secret ballot on the grounds that it would allow the Management to terminate Musicians at any time with no recourse, drastically reduce their salary and benefits, and even more drastically lower the guaranteed salary of musicians yet to join the Orchestra.

Furthermore, the Management has stated their intention to initially reduce the size of the Orchestra from 34 to 28 players as the only way to reach its budget targets of $1.5 million in reductions per year.

On October 25, the Management sent out a public letter that stated that it planned to reduce the pay of some of the highest paid Principal Players significantly less than those who receive the base pay, in an obvious ploy to divide the orchestra.  “Management again fails to realize that an orchestra functions as a team, and that none of us in the SPCO have any interest in selling our present or future colleagues down the river,” says Kyu-Young Kim, Principal Second Violin of the SPCO and a member of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee.

“Our Artistic Partners who have led this Orchestra have written to Management fiercely critical of tampering with its historic makeup, and Management has been unable to identify any qualified artistic consultant who would support the proposed reductions”, said Lynn Erickson, SPCO second trumpet and Spokesperson of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee.

Management’s offer also includes a retirement incentive, which expires on December 31, 2012, to all Musicians over age 55. If that incentive is not accepted, any of those Musicians may be terminated through reduction in the size of the Orchestra and receive a significantly smaller severance payment. Approximately $3 million was solicited by Management to fund this retirement package, and Management has repeatedly stated that those funds are not available to pay the continuing operating expenses of the Orchestra.

“Our goal is to preserve the artistic excellence of the SPCO in a fiscally responsible way, for our supporters and for this community,” Erickson said. “We want to resume negotiations as soon as possible and hope that a mutually agreeable solution can be quickly achieved.”

Letter from Bruce and Maggie McConoughey

To the Musicians of the SPCO,

We have subscribed to the SPCO since moving to Minnesota twenty years ago. Our reaction to your current crisis is one of deep sympathy for your cause, but also distressed and fearful for the future of your wonderful orchestra. These days it seems to be the goal of the profit maker, both public and private, to force workers’ compensation, in all occupations, to the subsistence level.

The SPCO is not an amenity, it is a treasure, and to diminish them, or change our connection to them, would be sad indeed. What other individuals can be hired, ready to work, with an education from the best schools, and be able to contribute so much their first day on the job?

At the last concert we attended, the audience prior to the performance, gave the orchestra a standing ovation, which I think expressed the feeling of everyone there. Our only hope is that management will see the tragedy of the terrible mistake they are making, by breaking the morale and camaraderie of such a wonderful organization.

Bruce and Maggie McConoughey, White Bear Lake

Letter to Mankato Symphony patrons, Sara Buechmann, Executive Director

The Truth About Orchestras in Minnesota


You may have heard that both the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have cancelled parts of their season. They are far from alone; many orchestras in the US are experiencing labor disputes and staring bankruptcy in the face. There are some simple truths that must be faced.

Operating an orchestra is and will always be expensive. Manufacturers are able to build things more cheaply every year due to technological advances. There is no corresponding savings in the orchestral world. It still takes the same number of musicians to play Beethoven as it did back in the 1800s. Nowadays, besides paying our musicians, we also have to pay for advertising, pay for the rights to perform music, maintain an online presence, and record our concerts for radio broadcast.

Being a member of an orchestra is also surprisingly costly. In addition to the time spent playing and practicing, serious musicians continue to improve themselves by taking lessons and attending conferences. Their instruments need to be kept in top condition. Oboists and bassoonists handcraft their own reeds, some of which only last for a few uses. Percussionists spend a small fortune on different kinds of sticks and mallets. String players need to replace their strings regularly; one cellist told me she can expect to spend $600 a year on strings along. Brass players often own more than one instrument and multiple mouthpieces and mutes to create different sounds. Woodwinds need to have parts replaced and the players often swap back and forth between multiple instruments during a concert: flute/piccolo, oboe/English horn, clarinet/alto clarinet/bass clarinet.

It is no surprise that management and players clash. An orchestra that is not financially sound cannot survive, yet cost cutting tactics can ruin the quality of the ensemble. We are lucky here in Mankato where we are not yet forced to choose between our organization’s survival and our artistic integrity. We are safe because our community is proud to have such an extraordinarily talented orchestra and has supported us for over 62 years.

We are asking for your help again. Each year we need to raise $65,000 in order to continue to bring you the best music in the world. Whether you attend every performance faithfully or perhaps only catch us on the radio occasionally, you understand how valuable the MSO is to the community and what a loss it would be if the music stopped. Give today.


Sara Buechmann

Executive Director

Mankato Symphony Orchestra

October 24, 2012 Open letter to Mr. Dobson West, SPCO Board of Directors and our community: Why is Mr. West SPCO President, Managing Director AND Board Chair?

Dear Mr. West,I have served on a variety of non-profit boards, often as board chair in difficult and challenging times for an organization. Can someone please explain to me why it is a good idea to have one person function as both the Administrative CEO and the Board Chair of a non-profit organization such as the SPCO? I was struck by a an excerpt from an article I recently read in Ezine, Issue #002 Board Chair and CEO working together productively (Conscious Governance | Ezine, Issue #002 Board Chair and CEO working together productively | e-Zine Article Archive | Nonprofit Executive Articles | Nonprofit Strategic Planning):

“The relationship between the nonprofit Board Chair and the CEO is arguably the most important relationship in the organization. There have been many instances, both public and anecdotal, where this relationship has broken down, usually with either the CEO resigning (literally or “euphemistically”), or the Chair resigning or not being re-elected. Our experience is usually the nonprofit CEO suffers the fallout. In turn, this whole issue can be debilitating for the organization, its reputation, and the loss of focus at a strategic and operational level.”

Is this what happened in February 2012 when Sarah Lutman stepped down as SPCO President and Managing Director, to be replaced by you, Mr. West, who now hold all the major titles….President, Managing Director AND Board Chair? Was there a search for her replacement? Perhaps someone with specific expertise in managing a world class orchestra? Or, has the organization now lost all effective board oversight of SPCO management through lack of objective and realistic assessments by the board. After all, management and the board of directors could be viewed as dangerously merged at this point. Please re-read the excerpted paragraph above, especially the part about how an organization can be debilitated, damage its reputation, and loose its focus at a strategic and operational level. Is that not exactly what is happening to the SPCO right now?

In the for-profit world, which is your professional background, it is not uncommon for a person to be both CEO and Board Chair of a corporation. To assume one can transport that model to the non- profit world easily and successfully is an error in judgement for which the SPCO and the community it serves are paying dearly.


Mary Lois Hall, MD
SPCO Season Tickets for 30 Years

Letter from Donald & Olivia Gault

To  all SPCO Musicians, and Mr. West and the SPCO Board and Management

Thank you for your continuing courage and advocacy for the beauty and integrity of music and light.

The current situation is heartbreaking.  It seems to me that Mr. West and SPCO “management” have lost sight of the reason they became involved in working with the Orchestra in the first place – to advocate for and bring the world’s most beautiful music to the community – and are now instead intent on “winning” – which means breaking your spirits and union.  The saddest aspect of this is that unless course is changed, management will “win” – with their institutional power they will break the musical spirit and beauty of the SPCO –  and all of us, including management and Mr. West, will lose.

So much has been said about this tragedy, so I only have 2 small items to add:

1.  The business model the SPCO is built upon does not work.  I have heard over and over how “cheap” it is to hear the SPCO – I saw Mr. West and other Board members stand on stage last season and over and over speak to how great it is that we in the audience could hear you play for so little money.  I agree affordability is nice, but this is absurd – as “members” we pay $5.00 per month and for that cost can see as many performances as we wish – meaning in the last month when we heard you play twice, we paid $2.50 per ticket.  That is insane and unsustainable.

2.  As they say in many sports, the best defense is a good offense.  There are numerous instances of the Board and management putting in writing that they want to reduce the size and expense of the orchestra by getting rid of older players.  I am not a lawyer, but I believe that there are federal age discrimination laws in this country.  I suggest you find a lawyer among the many loving listeners of your music and file suit  to end this flagrant disrespect of your art and wisdom, which again I believe is also illegal.

Finally, my deepest wish is that Mr. West and the Board would stop seeing this as an us vs. them, and instead would remember why they were drawn to the SPCO in the first place – the utter beauty and integrity of your music.  The irony is that a $1 million deficit is, to use a crass term, chump change that could likely be raised fairly easily if we were to all work together.  Here is a start: my family would GLADLY write a check for $1,000 today to help save the orchestra.  Find 1,000 more people and the deficit is gone.  Further, we would GLADLY pay more than $2.50 per performance to hear and experience the beauty of your music.  Double the cost of the membership from $5 to $10 per month, and charge SOMETHING – $10 per ticket, and we would still be able to experience your music for about the cost of a bad movie ticket.   I am neither particularly wealthy nor a business person, but I think these 2 suggestions would start us on a path of erasing the deficit both short and long term, and erasing the assault on the SPCO for us all.  Put Mr. West and the Board’s heads and hearts together with the orchestra, and we can solve this quickly and easily.


Please know that whatever happens, the beauty and love shared in your music has forever changed our lives.


Olivia and Donald Gault


Letter to SPCO Management, Kevin Kooiker, 10/18

Message: I sent this e-mail today via my SPCO liaison, after she forwarded the e-mail from management I’d already received:


As my  liaison, I hope you will pass on my anger at the SPCO management at the situation they have forced on us as patrons and donors. If we had been approached with the idea that, unless we increase our donation rates, the SPCO management will be forced to take drastic action, we might have responded. Instead, the SPCO management has decided to take actions which threaten to turn the organization into a nice little part-time semi-professional group. If I wanted to go to the St Cloud Symphony Orchestra, I would be doing that already. When I go to hear the SPCO, I expect to hear a world-class ensemble. The SPCO will not remain a world-class organization paying artists starting salaries of $50,000. This is an appalling joke. The management needs to rethink its approach to fundraising and negotiations, or it needs to be replaced, starting from the top.

Thank you,

Kevin Kooiker


Letter of Support, Jennifer Kennard, October 18th

October 18, 2012


To the management of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra:

I am writing to express my frustration and outrage over the looming lock-out of SPCO musicians.  The issues surrounding these negotiations seem to fall into three broad areas: reputation and status of the orchestra, financial viability, and trust.


REPUTATION Without the current roster of musicians in the orchestra, you lose the exceptionality that is the SCPO.  There are many good orchestras in the area.  The SPCO is not good; it goes well beyond good.  This organization is an aesthetic ideal, populated with artists of the highest caliber presenting incomparable repertoire that is not being programmed in its variety in any other orchestra in the country.  To lose our musicians, especially the older, experienced musical giants of the ensemble, would reduce the SPCO to just another orchestra.  What is the point of that?


FINANCIAL VIABILITY Everyone involved acknowledges that financial viability and responsibility is paramount to the continuance of this fine organization.  There are many factors that contribute to the financial stability of the organization and I certainly am not qualified to address every factor, but one matter is clear: you must address ticket prices.  It is absolutely ridiculous that one can have unlimited access to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for $5 a month.  I doubt Fine Line or First Avenue would even consider such a program.

The SPCO’s dedication to expanding audiences is laudable, but it is possible to raise prices while still retaining financial accessibility for all.  A valid student ID could entitle you to a $10 ticket (a price that is still cheaper than most ticket prices to other artistic and athletic events).  Family pricing could be devised (for example, $40 for a family of 4 or something in that vein).  As a personal example, I used to pay around $40 for a ticket to the SPCO.  Now when I attend I never pay more than $10.  In this scenario, three additional people need to attend a concert to make up the revenue you lost on me.


TRUST As a member of the public that supports this exceptional group of artists, and specifically as a highly trained musician who looks to this ensemble for inspiration and education, I want to know that management is being honest and trustworthy in its dealings with the orchestra and with the public.  This past spring, the public received an email painting an optimistic picture of the SPCO’s current and future health.  Now we are told that the sky is falling.  One of two things seems to have happened.  Either management misread the SPCO’s financial situation (in the past or currently), or they interpreted both situations correctly and mismanaged the orchestra so egregiously that we now find ourselves in this current predicament.  Neither scenario makes it easy to trust the management’s position, and trust is paramount for successful negotiations.  I want to know that the management and the musicians are working together honestly for the good of the entire organization and I do not get that feeling right now.


Admittedly, financial stability is crucial to the future success of this extraordinary ensemble.  But in your quest to cut expenses do not forget that without a product—the current, highly-trained and experienced musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra— you have nothing to sell.



Jennifer Kennard


Letter of support from Virginia Campbell

Dear Mr. West,

The phenomenal artists that are the SPCO musicians, are not only part of our community, they help sustain us in a deeply essential way; through our hearts, touching a place that needs to be fed in the particular form they provide.  They are vital to our being.  The music they share are not just the notes on the page, they share themselves, singularly and as a masterful group.  Clearly the orchestra is a living organism that will suffer tremendously if dissected.

I would like to register my disappointment in the fact that you were unable to rally enough support and/or plan properly enough to sustain our wonderful orchestra.

To have not appropriately projected the musicians salary needs is not only fiscally irresponsible, it is offensive to the integrity of the musicians and the quality of music they provide.  To expect the musicians to “pick up the slack” is wrong.

It is sadly beyond belief that the mission of music suffer because you cannot retain those musicians who in every way deserve to be sustained themselves, and that you may potentially replace some of them with inferiorly paid musicians.

You may be interested that my husband and I have been season ticket holders for at least 8 years.  I would like to donate the amount of money lost from my cancelled concert seats directly to the musicians.  Someone may contact me.

Virginia Campbell