Seven Minutes To Midnight On The Minnesota Orchestra Doomsday Clock

Although James R. Oestreich’s article in the 2/6/2013 edition of the New York Times doesn’t provide any new information to those already up to speed with the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) labor dispute, it does provide a somber reminder that the entire debacle is wearing thin.

It has grown increasingly clear that this dispute has become more about the fight than the mission (which, ironically, is one of the disputed contract items); every time a bit of potentially positive news emerges, it turns out that it was nothing more than the latest round of brinkmanship.

Minnesota Orchestra Doomsday Clock

Unfortunately for the MOA, brinkmanship isn’t a zero-sum game and the more they drag out the tactics of attrition warfare, the closer they move toward midnight on their very own doomsday clock. In this instance, doomsday is marked by organizational collapse and subsequent liquidation bankruptcy.

The recent Grammy nomination celebration concert was well received but what should have been a profound waypoint in the standoff, not to mention an opportune vehicle for both sides to save face, doesn’t appear to have had much impact on facilitating resolution.

Having followed the situation since before hostilities went public, this event is enough to move the clock up to seven minutes before midnight, which marks the first time since hostilities began where the organization is closer to doomsday than not. And unlike regular clocks, this one moves faster the longer this labor dispute continues.

IMPORTANT UPDATE 2/8/2013, 2:10pm CT

The Minnesota Orchestra Association released a statement this morning announcing additional event cancellations through April 7, 2013. Four programs are completely cancelled while four will possibly be rescheduled; the former are all masterworks level concert events:

  • Beethoven’s Eroica,  February 27 and 28, March 1 and 2
  • The Gershwins’ Here to Stay, March 9 and 10
  • Strauss: Four Last Songs, March 14-16
  • Josefowicz Plays Stravinsky, March 21-23

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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16 thoughts on “Seven Minutes To Midnight On The Minnesota Orchestra Doomsday Clock

  1. Carnegie Hall’s 2013-2014 season is scheduled to include all 7 Sibelius symphonies played by the MN Orchestra. The question now arises – will they be there and if so, how good will they be. Meanwhile, the Grammy concert just played included some 20 subs as regular players were elsewhere, including China with the Chicago Symphony.

  2. And if not seen yet, concerts now cancelled through April 7 as of today. Unfortunately, hardly a surprise. At this point, I doubt even a Grammy win will have any impact on this chain of events….

  3. If concerts don’t use the orchestra, why have they been re-assigned to different presenters? Is it the nature of a lockout that the employer can’t/won’t employ any musicians, even those not under the CBA? Or is it because the artists don’t want to work for the locking-out employer? Or just because it would look “unseemly” – either for the artists or the Association?

  4. Does the Minnesota Orchestra Association have union stagehands? That could create a problem for presenting any other concerts. Union stagehands are unlikely to cross a AFM picket line.

  5. Drew, can you elaborate on the bankruptcy speculation above? Is it from a specific source in Minnesota, or is it a more general guess from your industry experience?

  6. As an arts administrator at a chamber music organization, I suspect the concerts that are rescheduled instead of canceled involve artists whose contracts stipulate rescheduling at a mutually agreeable time should it be canceled/postponed. This is a common clause in pops contracts or contracts for special appearances. I would imagine though of course have no way of knowing, that the soloists and guest conductors whose appearances were canceled will likely be invited back in forthcoming seasons when the orchestra is back to work.

  7. I wonder if it goes deeper than that. Many guest artist contracts contain a “no-compete” clause precluding them from appearing at venues or with other organizations within a certain area. To that end, they might also negotiate a “kill fee” in the event of, well, what we’re seeing here. The MOA get may get stuck paying artists whether they play or don’t.

  8. Be it the MOA or Orchestra Hall or whoever writes the checks and signs the actual contract, union stagehands are employed. It should be noted that stagehands would cross a picket line IF and only if it is an informational picket line. There is no strike taking place, therefore there is no line being crossed.

  9. Those are good points in addition to what Becky mentioned. In the end, it really depends on the representation agent and what they negotiated in the respective artist’s/act’s agreement. They can certainly run the gambit. With an act like a big name comedian, I would be surprised if the contract didn’t include language that protected the act more than the presenter.

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