This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us

The Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) may be back to the business of presenting concerts, but that doesn’t mean the drama has abated. At the first concerts since the work stoppage, shouts from the audience to “bring back Osmo” and “Fire Henson” reportedly punctuated remarks from musician and board representatives.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-017Unlike the traditional chicken or egg quandary, the issue of whether or not Vanska returns has at least one firm prerequisite: president and CEO Michael Henson must leave the institution. This is precisely what the conductor told Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), which reported the news in an article by Marianne Combs on 2/8/2014.

For now, the musicians have remained mute about Vanska’s pronouncement as has Henson; however, the MOA did respond.

“We are surprised Osmo chose to register his comments with the news media when those conversations belong within the Orchestral Association.”

Unknown at this point is whether or not the MOA has engaged formal discussions with Vanska and/or the musicians, the latter of which unanimously voted No Confidence in Henson on 11/27/2012.

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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14 thoughts on “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”

  1. Re: MOA pronouncent.
    Osmo, having resigned, is no longer an employee of the MOA, and, as a citizen, can say pretty much as he damn well pleases. It’s no surprise anywhere in orchestra circles around the world, that Henson has been indicated as a major stumbling block to “normalization,” whatever that may come to mean. Personally, I find Maestro Vanska’s candor refreshing.

  2. Gordon Sprenger, the new M.O. board chair, has his work cut out for him on several fronts, including probably dealing with factions on his board.

    Osmo’s position regarding Henson has not been a deep secret, nor has Henson’s view of Osmo. Osmo’s being public and in only a slightly more direct way than Henson was earlier further upset a decorum that was not in great shape anyway. Getting too bent out of shape about Osmo’s statement at this point would indicate a much too-delicate temperament for people in leadership at the orchestra.

    I am wondering as a practical matter what happens assuming Henson leaves soon, in that someone has to mind the store. Finding a CEO with the appropriate vision and skills will take quite a bit of time, especially given the circumstances. I thought of Donald Hyslop, a former Minnesota Orchestra CEO as a possible interim, but he has just taken an interim job elsewhere for at least several months. Whoever is running things will have a lot of administrative and support positions to fill, not to mention quite a lot of artistic planning. Getting Osmo back as music director would simplify the classical music planning and the needed marketing effort considerably.

  3. I find it rich that the MOA voices surprise at someone speaking through the media about matters they want left behind closed doors. How many times during the lockout did the MOA choose to negotiate contract terms through the media rather than at the bargaining table? One could argue those were conversations that should have been left behind closed doors too. This strikes me as a bit of the MOA getting a taste of its own medicine, so to speak, and they don’t like it.

    I was in attendance Saturday night and the printed comments are mild compared to some of the things being said by audience members around me. There is very real palpable anger amongst the audience. This is all (including my own comments) emblematic of the deep divisions and wounds that will have to be overcome and I genuinely hope they are able to find a way to do it.

  4. It fascinates me how someone’s words get twisted to fit assumptions. Osmo Vanska did NOT tie his return to Henson’s departure in what he said to Brian Newhouse at MPR. What he said was that in order for the healing to begin, Michael Henson would have to leave. That’s different from “in order for Osmo to return, Henson must leave.” It doesn’t surprise me that Mr. Vanska is thinking of healing first, wanting the best for the musicians and staff first. He’s a good guy, and has been treated abysmally by the MOA, specifically Henson, Campbell and Davis, in my opinion. I’m glad to see William Stahl comment on who would replace Henson — this is a HUGE issue right now. I remind people that the Chicago Symphony is also looking so there’s big competition for the leadership talent out there. Despite a common refrain during the lockout that arts administrators were easier to replace than top notch musicians, replacing Henson will be difficult. The anger in the community has been building for months. And it is disingenous for the MOA to say what they said about Mr. Vanska’s comments — he doesn’t work for them right now and can say anything he wants, although I would hope that he would think carefully before opening his mouth. Gina

    • Alex Ross beat you to the pun many years back:

      That aside, as others here have noted, as loathed as Henson is by many in Minneapolis, finding a replacement would be extremely difficult even if the Chicago Symphony weren’t looking at the same time. Plus, given the mess in Minnesota recently, what sane person would want to be the new executive director there? Of course, all this discussion is academic, since Henson is still there and evidently isn’t going away any time soon.

      While it was rather impolitic of Mr. Vanska to speak out so openly, it’s almost as if he’s telling the board: “I don’t need you. You need me.” On an emotional level, that would be quite understandable.

  5. Osmo did not say Henson had to leave for him to return. He said it was required for the organization to heal. What he thinks or what we think he would want is a different topic- don’t misquote him and misrepresent his words- even our lackluster local press got that part right.

  6. Right. Here’s the exact quote from Brian Newhouse’s article: “For any healing to begin at the orchestra, Michael Henson must go.”

    The entire issue seems misleading in the way it is put. The bad blood isn’t between Osma and Henson as much as it is between the musicians and the Minnesota Orchestral Association board–as personified in Henson. Also, it’s plain to see that there is even more bad blood between the audience and the board–again, as personified in Henson. It is the audience that is speaking out most loudly whenever they get a chance to be heard, even though they have no recognized decision making role. The board would be well advised to pay attention to the wants and desires of the ticket buying public, which pays a huge percentage of operating costs.

  7. I don’t think anyone is disputing his right to say what he wants. However, his former position puts him at an advantageous ‘higher podium’ to speak from, and that comes with a responsibility I feel he neglected with such a statement. I know it shouldn’t matter what Vänskä says — only because he’s no longer a member of the organisation. But the comments have been proved damaging to relations within the orchestra, as they are echoed by a rather easily-lead audience like Minnesota.

    • “Echoed by a rather easily-lead [sic] audience…” — Vanska’s not leading anyone. The audience has been and will continue to be way out in front in calling for Henson’s resignation. The question is, will the board ever listen to the audience? If not, a new governance model is needed.

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