Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Friday Concert, Saturday Gridiron

On Friday evening, Andrew and I shall attend our first concert of the season. We shall hear Edo de Waart lead the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in music of Richard Strauss and Brahms.

It is possible that the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will go on strike after the orchestra’s current contract expires on September 30.

A strike will make little difference to Andrew and me, as there is only one other SPCO concert between now and the New Year that appeals to us.

If the strike continues into 2013, however, that will be another matter entirely. The second half of the SPCO season is uncommonly interesting, and Andrew and I earmarked eleven SPCO concerts to attend from January to June (not that we would actually make it to all eleven, given our schedules).

The Minnesota Orchestra’s current contract also expires on September 30. It is possible that the Minnesota Orchestra, too, will strike.

Andrew and I earmarked only six Minnesota Orchestra concerts for the entire season—and only two before Christmas. Consequently, it will make little difference to us if the Minnesota Orchestra strikes.

The 2012-2013 Minnesota Orchestra season is a throwaway season, perhaps the least interesting Minnesota Orchestra season in recent decades. (Andrew’s parents, who—with reluctance—renewed their subscriptions, say it is the most unappealing season in at least forty years.) Orchestra Hall is currently undergoing renovation, and the Minnesota Orchestra is scheduled to present a shortened—and profoundly uninspired—season in a temporary space at the Convention Center.

Public sentiment in the Twin Cities is sharply against the musicians of both orchestras.

Musicians in both orchestras are considered to be overpaid. This is especially the case with the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, paid more than members of all but a handful of American ensembles.

Musician salaries in the Twin Cities will, inevitably, come down—and come down significantly. Salaries have been artificially elevated for years because of what are, in effect, musician cartels—and market forces, as always, are destined to prevail over cartels within any meaningful period of time.

Whether such salary adjustments occur by strike or by agreement is academic; salaries most assuredly will decline.

The musicians of both ensembles seem to lack a clear grasp of the situation, issuing one bone-headed press announcement after another. With each new announcement, any lingering public sympathy for the musicians dissipates.

To address ongoing deficits, the musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, incomprehensibly, have urged management to raise ticket prices. SPCO musicians apparently suffer from vision problems, and are unable to see the rows and rows of empty seats already on display at The Ordway.

To improve finances, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, amazingly, have urged management to work more diligently in raising charitable contributions. Minnesota Orchestra musicians apparently cannot read newspapers, and missed several recent news stories about local performing arts organizations having raised an amazing $129 million in charitable contributions in 2010, the last year for which such figures are available. A significant portion of that $129 million was raised by officials of the Minnesota Orchestra—but musicians obviously (and wrongly) believe that another $10 million each year can be raised with the snap of a finger.

My instinct tells me that the SPCO will strike, but that the Minnesota Orchestra will not (primarily because members of the Minnesota Orchestra are so lavishly overpaid, it becomes difficult if not impossible for them to argue otherwise)—yet I readily acknowledge that my instinct may be wrong.

Andrew says he doesn’t have a clue what will happen, in large part because the musicians in both organizations have proven themselves to be so thick-headed that it is impossible to assess what is going through their muddled minds.

Andrew’s father predicts that the musicians of both organizations will authorize a strike. This is so, he says, because the musicians of both ensembles are clueless: clueless about economics; clueless about limits to the generosity of donors, which is not unbounded; and clueless about the public’s lack of support for (if not outright hostility toward) the musicians. Further, Andrew’s father says that the strikes, if not settled quickly, will go on for months and months and months—and that managements in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul are fully prepared, patiently, to wait the musicians out.


On Saturday, we will attend our first college football game of the season.

Minnesota will host Western Michigan.

Because Minnesota’s football program is so pathetic, the Big Ten Conference routinely assigns bad start times to Minnesota. Kickoff for Saturday’s game, consequently, is set for 11:00 a.m.

This means, as a practical matter, that Alex, Andrew and I shall have to rise at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, leave our houses at 6:45 a.m. (Alex now lives next door), pick up Andrew’s father at 7:00 a.m., and pick up Alec and Tim at 7:10 a.m.

Once everyone is gathered, we’ll stop somewhere to have breakfast, and be on our way to the stadium no later than 8:15 a.m.

Such an absurd schedule is necessary in order for us to avoid most of the game-day traffic, to fight parking bollixes near the stadium, and to arrive in time for the pre-game festivities (which, along with the halftime show, are generally better than the game itself).

Saturday will be the only football game of the season for Tim. One game a year is enough for him—and he will be ready to leave after the halftime show (and so will we).

Leaving as the third quarter is about to begin will allow us to miss post-game traffic and to arrive home early in the fourth quarter. If the game is a good one, we can watch the conclusion on television.


  1. Just FYI, the negotiations are about WAY more than just salary. WAY WAY WAY more. Disappointingly, the mainstream media has totally ignored this fact. It's my impression that salary is only the third or fourth most important thing being discussed; I have a gut instinct that if salary was the only thing on the table, they might very well be close to an agreement. The much more important issues are (1) working conditions and (2) where management wants to take the orchestra artistically. You can argue about whether the musicians are overpaid and spoiled and thick-headed (just curious...do you actually know any of them? the ones I know are eminently reasonable, intelligent, generous people), but you simply can't ignore the fact that that the vast majority of those musicians can get much more fulfilling jobs with comparable - if not better salaries - elsewhere in the world, and be much happier and more artistically fulfilled elsewhere. Many musicians are already actively seeking work away from Minnesota, and they have a decent chance of finding it. (These are people, after all, who are capable of winning seats in any of the *world's* great orchestras.) Would you deny those people the right to get better jobs elsewhere? They're not just artists; they're human beings, too, who deserve to make the best most satisfying living they can, wherever they can find it. For an organization with a 10% vacancy rate, the possibility of a mass exodus is not good. http://www.minnesotaorchestramusicians.org/?page_id=1930 Look at how many musicians left/retired in the last season alone. Do you think that's coincidence? Management, by the way, is not particularly interested in replacing those who have left, preferring to employ subs. Would you like to see an orchestra of 30%+ subs? Do you think a world-class orchestra can be sustained with 30% subs? Do you think the orchestra should remain world-class, or only good or (at best) very good? Does it matter to you? And if you think **this** season is uninspired, wait till you see where management would like to take you... I think people are just assuming it's a "safe" season because the orchestra is away from their home. From what I've heard and read, I think "safe" will be the new norm even once they head back to the renovated Orchestra Hall.

    Just playing a little devil's advocate with you.

    And regardless of what you think of the musicians, I wouldn't be so quick to assume that the board has the orchestra's best interests in mind, or that they are particularly competent at their jobs. Being wealthy is wonderful, but it does not in and of itself qualify you to make major decisions about a world-class orchestra. Even if you don't side with the musicians, please don't automatically side with management. Treat everyone equally skeptically. There's been a lot of crap bandied by both sides.

    I invite you to hop over to my blog at songofthelark.wordpress.com to read much, much more about what's happening, with input from all sides of the story. I'm pro-musician (obviously), but I feature input from everywhere, and more links to news stories than you can shake a stick at. There's lots to mull over there. I'd be happy to explain more to you about the situation if you have any questions. Feel free to debate...

    Best, Emily

  2. I always feel free to debate on my own blog. Nevertheless, I thank you for the invitation.

    Only six U.S. orchestras pay more than the Minnesota Orchestra: the Boston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony. All of those orchestras reside in high-cost areas.

    How many Minnesota Orchestra musicians are going to get jobs in those six high-paying ensembles? One? Two? Three?

    Please check out the base and average salaries of other U.S. top-twenty orchestras. You will see instantly that there is no danger of Minnesota Orchestra musicians moving in droves to Saint Louis, Dallas, Houston or elsewhere. No mass exodus is coming.

    I hope that Minnesota Orchestra musicians are not using the prospect of such an exodus as a veiled threat behind the scenes. To do so would insult the intelligence of the Board Of Trustees, never a good idea. Even after inevitable salary reductions here, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will remain one of the best-paid orchestras in the United States—and the world.

    Most U.S. orchestras have already cut salaries at least once because of the current economic downturn. Minnesota is one of but a handful of orchestras that has not done so as of yet.

    Alas, further cutbacks are coming at those other orchestras that already have reduced salaries—and everyone knows this. Why, therefore, would a Minnesota Orchestra musician leave for Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, only to see Cincinnati or Pittsburgh further reduce salaries upon that musician’s arrival? The grass is not greener elsewhere—and I suspect that Minnesota Orchestra musicians are smart enough not to cut off their noses in order to spite their faces.

    I encourage you to look at the complete season schedules of orchestras in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Saint Louis, Seattle and Washington. You would be appalled if you saw the staggering numbers of “Pops” concerts scheduled by those orchestras. They make Minneapolis seem like a serious-music paradise.

    Lastly, Minnesota is not a world-class orchestra. There are only eight world-class orchestras—Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Cleveland, Dresden, Leipzig, Philadelphia and Vienna—and Minnesota is not one of them. It is silly to pretend otherwise.