No Decision On Henson

It is difficult to imagine a clearer sign that the dysfunction within the Minnesota Orchestra Association’s (MOA) board is far from over and the reported divisiveness, not to mention resulting inaction, over whether or not to retain President and CEO Michael Henson is about as dire of an omen one could imagine at this point.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-027Simply put, if the MOA were a publicly traded company, we would see finance talking heads like Jim Cramer screaming SELL! SELL! SELL! accompanied by a host of cartoonish sound effects.

But the MOA isn’t a stock, it is a nonprofit performing arts organization so the once firmly united board we saw during the lockout is now apparently averse to making the genuinely tough decisions needed to get the orchestra moving forward.

Failing to remove Henson only promotes continued agitation between the MOA and its musicians, who have publicly called for Henson’s ouster, not to mention alienating organized and vocal patron stakeholder groups. Short of having literally developed the capability to lay golden eggs, whatever value board members see in Henson is certainly counterbalanced by the mountain of disadvantages associated with his continued retention.

According to an article in the 2/28/2014 edition of the Star Tribune by Graydon Royce, the MOA board failed to arrive at any decisions on whether it was in the institution’s best interests to remove Henson and invite Vanska back as music director.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is none of it comes as much of a surprise to anyone who has been following this metaphorical opera in one tragic, not to mention excruciatingly long, act.

If nothing else, you can brighten up your day with the latest entry in Nick Canellakis series of videos which features none other than one of the figureheads at the center of the MOA drama, former music director Osmo Vanska. Just in case there’s any confusion; yes, Canellakis’ videos are satirical portraits poking fun at the stereotypical stuffiness of classical music. And in Vanska’s case, it demonstrates that he’s a very good sport.

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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10 thoughts on “No Decision On Henson

  1. I am a bit more optimistic, despite everything. The M.O. chair said the board was in agreement regarding the leadership going forward but wasn’t in a position to announce anything further just yet. This could take several forms, including rehiring Osmo while removing Henson, or kicking Henson upstairs (e.g., “special consultant for corporate fund raising,” or some such). They would actually have to reach agreements with these parties before making such an announcement. Or they could have decided to hire interims for both Osmo and Henson or both, I suppose, but then they would have to find them. But then, of course, one mustn’t underestimate their ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat.

  2. Cellist Canellakis is on the artist roster of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society as is MN Orchestra’s concertmaster Erin Keefe. Hearing them play is a delight.

  3. You may have been thrown off by the bad Star Tribune headline. No decisions were reported, but it appears that a decision or some decisions were made. Expect something in the next couple of weeks.

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