The Rite of Winter: Save Our Minnesota Orchestras, by Andrea Een


A few years ago, I attended a stupendous concert of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” conducted by Osmo Vanska at Orchestra Hall.  It was performed by the combined forces of the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  As we walked up the aisle afterward, my son, a cello student at St. Olaf College, said to me, “What an incredible sound those two orchestras made together.  Isn’t it amazing to have both of them here in the Twin Cities playing for us?”

We had just heard two world-class orchestras, each at the top of their game, conducted by one of the finest conductors on the global circuit, play a 20th-century masterpiece of music in Minneapolis.  Not in New York, not in Chicago or Los Angeles or Boston, but right here on a cold January night in “flyover land.”

This great legacy is now in dire jeopardy if both managements succeed in gutting work rules, salaries and benefit packages of these two irreplaceable organizations.

By locking out the players, by refusing to submit to binding arbitration, by silencing the music, the two symphonic boards of the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra have made it clear that their intent is to thwart the Musicians Union and those protections which have been carefully put into place respectively, for over a century (MO) and a half-century (SPCO).

The labor offers that are on the table from both managements insult the artistic excellence of the two orchestras and are far below comparable salaries and work rules in other American symphonies with which these orchestras compete for the best players, soloists and conductors.

Instead of stonewalling, these two symphonic boards could work WITH the musicians to tackle the real issues facing the preservation of this cultural heritage of classical music. We are an increasingly pluralistic society where mass media makes it harder and harder to convince the public to attend live music.

All performing arts groups struggle to face the following challenges in building new audiences and sources of revenue:  aging audience members, philanthropic competition in a time of decreased foundation and government support, an economic “perfect storm” with drops in endowment and personal income, a demographic tsunami of Americans from non-European roots, cuts to music and arts education in public schools, and the devaluation of historical European high art culture.

More and more conservative programming of music has been a desperate attempt to fill seats in classical venues.  Both of our hometown orchestras have been adventurous and diverse in their repertoire, but they too have failed to sell enough tickets.

I offer these suggestions to both symphonic boards:

Start playing concerts in the New Year as soon as possible.  The longer there is silence, the greater the risk that these wonderful orchestras will lose the core of the audiences they have, and that current musicians will continue to seek work elsewhere.  (I counted 14 string section vacancies in the Minnesota Orchestra at the concert on December 16th of Beethoven’s “Ninth”).

Start talking immediately with the musician negotiating committees to find common ground.  Consider binding arbitration if nothing else yields progress.

Enlist the best allies any symphonic board has: the musicians of the orchestra.  They have thought long and hard; they want their orchestras to survive.  They have marketing ideas and educational outreach ideas.   Instead of imposing artificial concepts from “on high,” use their intellectual and creative gifts to develop a new paradigm for the successful orchestra in the 21st-century.

The power of music is needed like never before–to heal in an age of spiritual angst and to foster the connections experienced in live performance.

The Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra feed our very souls with their artistic achievements, recreating the brilliant color, abstracted design and ineffable beauty of a world musical heritage.

This is a legacy worth fighting to keep alive in Minnesota.

Andrea Een

Professor Emerita of Music, St. Olaf College, member of the Minnesota Opera Orchestra


Joint Statement by the Musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Management of the SPCO

St Paul, MN – The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Society and the Twin Cities Musicians Union Local 30- 73 have agreed to hold negotiations on January 2 and 3, 2013 in an effort to reach a new contract.

These negotiations will be guided by a federal mediator and will allow the parties to informally discuss the very challenging issues that confront them in these negotiations. In an effort to facilitate the process, the parties have agreed not to publicly disclose what transpires in these meetings.

To: The Musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra From: Bruce Ridge, Chairman, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)

TO: The Musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO)

FROM: Bruce Ridge, Chairman
International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)

DATE: December 17, 2012

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Your Orchestra Committee has been keeping me informed on all of the developments surrounding the egregious lockout of the SPCO musicians. I wanted to write to you all to express the support of the ICSOM Governing Board, and to assure you that you have the support of your 4000 colleagues in ICSOM orchestras across the country. I also wanted to share a few thoughts about the atmosphere that surrounds our orchestras during this time when our nation is recovering from the economic downturn.

Prior to the onset of the recession, orchestras were experiencing a renaissance in America. In 2006, the New York Times proclaimed that “This is the golden age for classical music.” Just a short time later, the Wall Street Journal wrote that “Contrary to rumors, orchestras have a bright future.”

While some would have us believe that orchestras everywhere are failing, the facts do not support such assertions. Studies conducted since the recession have shown that:

  • Arts contributions are recovering for the 2008-09 lows twice as fast as other categories of charitable giving
  • Arts giving in America increased by 4.1% in 2011, to a total of $13.12 billion, and this followed an increase of 5.7% in 2010Often lost in the discussion of orchestras in America is the simple fact that the arts are good business. Every dollar that government invests in the arts returns seven dollars to the community. Locally, that figure can be higher. In Minnesota for example, every dollar brings eleven dollars to the community. Every year, the non-profit arts and culture industry generates over $135 billion in economic activity, and provides 4.13 million jobs across America.

    The story to be told is not that some orchestras are suffering, but rather how remarkable it is that so many orchestras have done so well. The evidence is a testament to the viability of orchestral music during this time.

  • The Houston Symphony has set records for fundraising in two consecutive years
  • The St. Louis Symphony just announced its most successful financial year in a decade
  • The Cincinnati Symphony has seen increases in ticket sales and attendance
  • The New York Philharmonic has raised $90 million
  • The San Diego Symphony’s ticket sales reached an all-time high in 2011-12
  • The New Jersey Symphony raised $35 million, surpassing its goal
  • The value of our orchestras to their communities has been confirmed time and time again. The Boston Symphony has an economic impact of $166 million annually in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Buffalo Philharmonic has a $25 million annual impact in its city.You are part of one of America’s most important cultural institutions. The negative rhetoric permeating from your board serves only as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the inspirational unit of the SPCO musicians during this lockout is a positive demonstration to your community of just how important and relevant the SPCO remains.

Michael Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center, published a book titled The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations. Mr. Kaiser has been an extraordinarily successful manager, and one of his rules for surviving in difficult times is that you cannot cut your way to health. He writes:

“…I realized that most organizations in trouble get that way because they react to an initial financial problem inappropriately. When any financial problem emerges, the first reaction of most boards and staff is to reduce expenditures. The easiest expenses to cut are the most discretionary areas of spending: artistic ventures and marketing….However, when arts organizations cancel artistic and marketing initiatives, they begin to lose the interest of their supporters, both donors and audience members. As a result, less revenue is received and further cut backs are made. This begins a vicious spiral that cripples arts organizations.”

In this time of economic difficulty, we have seen some boards and managements make efforts to permanently reduce the size of their organizations, stating that the recession marked “A New Economic Reality” for our field. I call it “The New Apocalypticism.” What I mean by that is simply that we have heard this all before:

  • A Board Chair of the Chicago Symphony wrote firmly that the business model of that great orchestra is not sustainable. This would be alarming, had it not been written in 1940.
  • Time Magazine wrote in 1969 that America would lose 1/3 to 1⁄2 of its orchestras during the 1970s.
  • A United Press International article published in 1970 proclaimed “25 Symphonies Doomed to Die.” The orchestras listed survive today, and some have thrived to great heights.Yes, we are experiencing difficult times, but a recovery is underway and our artistic organizations must be ready to participate in that recovery. That will not be possible if we allow a reduction in our artistic and community service, and clearly, a board that locks out musicians is not preparing the orchestra for future success.

    In a time when many doubt our orchestras, we will not doubt ourselves. We must respond by being our own advocates. We must respond by spreading the positive message of hope that our music provides to a world that longs for that positive message. Let us not be discouraged, but instead let us be inspired to greater activism. We all must be engaged in advocacy for our art form, for our communities, and for our friends. We must not allow hard times to impair our idealism. Our enemy is apathy, and our enemy is frustration.

    The SPCO is a world renowned orchestra. The organization is fortunate to have dedicated musicians who serve their community in ways too numerous to count as its most important asset. As you have shown your dedication to your organization, the board must now show its dedication to you. I believe you can achieve the future you deserve, and I believe that the musicians have the answers that can lead the SPCO to a new period of success. The ICSOM Governing Board and I are eager to assist you in any way we can.

    I have enjoyed my conversations with your musician leadership. They are very impressive and completely dedicated to serving their colleagues. You are represented by one of the most capable committees in any ICSOM orchestra, and also by a tremendously respected attorney in Mel Schwarzwald. You are also fortunate to have the great support of our close friend Brad Eggen as President of Local 30-73. I encourage you to stand together in unity, and to support each other during this egregious lockout that has been inflicted upon you. I am confident of your ability to succeed in convincing the SPCO’s Management and its Board, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul area community, of the value of investing in your great orchestra, and I eagerly look forward to traveling to St. Paul to hear you perform and to help celebrate many successes.

In solidarity,

Bruce Ridge
Chairman, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)

The Sound of Silence? – Letter from Jeffrey Stirling, Minnesota music-lover

The Sound of Silence?

The major concert halls in the Twin Cities are conspicuously silent this fall; unless you heard the stage doors slamming shut when management locked out the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO management, with apparent Board approval, have decided that we cannot afford world-class orchestras in our state. They are unwilling to fight for or sustain the quality of our flagship musical intuitions that have been built up by generations of music lovers and civic leaders.  What would current Board members say to the hundreds of past trustees and thousands of individuals who have invested in our orchestras because they believed in the value of bringing high quality performances of the world’s greatest music to Minnesotans?

It is not possible that SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra management are unaware of the very real artistic consequences that will follow as a result of their current salary and personnel proposals.  I wonder if the board members of our orchestras understand this.  Are they getting an honest picture of Minnesota’s musical future from their managers?

Surely, there must be a fiscally responsible way to stay true to the artistic mission of these invaluable institutions without attacking the heart of these great orchestras – the musicians themselves. Let’s hope the public along with cultural, business and civic leaders can stop the potentially fatal experiments being carried out on our Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Sincerely, Jeffrey Stirling
Minnesota music-lover