@MN_Orchestra #GovernanceFail

The Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) board is at it again; the latest news report describes an apparent decision to offer former music director Osmo Vanska a position as principal guest conductor while also retaining President & CEO Michael Henson.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-040aAnd while you can be certain there are some on the MOA board who see this as a legitimate offer to reach some middle ground, conductor Bill Eddins published an article that set aside the niceties to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Essentially the [MOA] board wants to ride on Osmo’s name without giving him any responsibility or say in the artistic future of the organization. If they’re trying to set up a meeting with him to discuss this idea I could save them the trouble and give you his answer right here. Or I could if I knew how to say “*&#$ YOU!” in Finnish. (Since the Finns are very much a part of the Scandahoooovian/Minnesotan passive/aggressive mentality here I would assume that his response would be a tad more politic, but it will essentially amount to the same thing.)

Given the orchestra’s perilous condition, it is folly to waste this much time and energy on efforts that have a snowball’s chance in hell of success.

Granted, in most cases exploring every opportunity for all parties to save face is the prescribed course of action but the MOA is decidedly an exception to this rule.

In the end, the time for deal making was more than a year ago before the institution lost its music director along with a number of key musicians, administrators, and staffers (not to mention credibility among their patron base). Now, ticket sales are reportedly floundering and public support remains decidedly sour so the board’s decision to focus so much effort and squander precious time on nonsensical offers comes across as nothing more than a vain attempt to fiddle away while Rome burns.

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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11 thoughts on “@MN_Orchestra #GovernanceFail

  1. The MOA must go! As suggested a year ago, it is time NOW for the Orch to reorganize and rename – maybe the Minnesota New Philharmoniker, and managed the same way as the Berlin Phil as a Federation/Foundation and where the musicians rule by vote. Mgt can then be hired and fired. Why has nothing been done to go this route and settle everything?? The current situation is hopeless. The true cancer killing this once great orch is the MOA and their political stooges.

    • It would be lovely to see something like that transpire but the difficult hurdle to surmount is funding; the BPO receives substantial government funding and in the absence of that, it becomes increasingly difficult to convince the typical US large donor to buy into that sort of governance model; at least to the point of sustaining an expense structure similar to what the MOA has been over the past decade.

      Unfortunately, none of this lessens the impact of faulty governance so it will be interesting to see what transpires.

  2. Well, Minneapolis is no Rome but fiddling away describes what’s going on. I read Bill’s exegesis and figured he was as usual understating Osmo’s reaction to the board’s offer. I wonder if Stephanie Arago, a “key musician” who left Minnesota to fiddle away here in Michigan last year, will also receive a “welcome back” now that the terminator has let her go after only six months on the job — President Kimpton’s feeling his boardroom Minnesota oats.

  3. One can only hope that this is part of a strategy to gradually bring Osmo back into the fold while planning for Henson’s eventual exit. I could see a scenario where six months from now, the board announces Henson’s pending departure with Osmo getting an upgrade in title to say, “Artistic Advisor.” Then six to twelve months after that, they reappoint him as MD in conjunction with the hiring of the new executive director.

  4. HI, Drew — the MOA Board is definitely dithering, and I suspect they are trying very hard to make Michael Henson happy as well as the community here. Bill Eddins is right on, as usual. Such a slap in the face to offer Osmo a principal guest — my suspicion is that that idea came from Henson also.

    Regarding governance reform, I’ve been writing again about it at my blog, Eyes on Life, as well as about nonprofit governance, and I had published last Friday a proposal for a membership governance structure at the MOA in MinnPost.com. MN State Rep. Phyllis Kahn has introduced a bill into the House, H.R. 1930, that proposes community membership of the MOA that really doesn’t address the governance issues. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks. “Governance is Governance” at http://eyesonlife-ginahunter.blogspot.com/2014/02/governance-is-governance.html
    “Steps to Governance Reform at the Minnesota Orchestral Association” at http://eyesonlife-ginahunter.blogspot.com/2014/03/steps-to-governance-reform-at-minnesota.html

  5. The board has probably committed to Michael Henson for a number of years, They may have to pay him, they way Philly did when they paid no less than four(!) executive directors simultaneously. As Eugene Ormandy said, principle is all well and good, but we are talking about money!
    Ultimately, all of the people who were directly involved in orchestrating the strike in 1996 were drummed out of the business. So managers, it may take a while, but you will pay with your careers.
    Additionally, a real problem with Vanska may be that while he is now a “hero” for (finally) standing with the musicians, he may not have been so well loved before the labor strife, according to people I can’t name here.

  6. In any case, Vanska would be foolish to return unless he gets all the power that he had before. Why would he come back for less? If the Minnesota Orchestra is going to recover, they will need a full-time music director, one who can plan seasons, make hiring decisions he will defend, and commit to fund-raising in the community. My guess is it will not be Osmo Vanska.

  7. Re: David Wetherill’s comment on Vanska being “loved” or not. It would not exactly be shocking if opinions were mixed about Vanska or practically any other top-level conductor among the players they conduct with this orchestra or others. In the Minnesota case there was a lot of negativity at different times going back the past six music directors. As one who has listened to the orchestra for 42 years, I can say that Vanska achieved from his skill and force of personality both a higher level of playing (accuracy, ensemble, dynamic range, etc.), far greater consistency, and also usually very interesting interpretations. This was worth some ruffled feathers. Unfortunately, the remarkable dysfunction with the management and board overwhelms all other issues.

  8. First a few members of the board leak to the Minneapolis Trib that Osmo Vanska may be offered a position as guest conductor. Shortly thereafter we read that principal clarinetist Burt Hara is not returning to Minnesota from California, writing to his former colleagues that “the current leadership does not have the vision to restore the Orchestra to its place among the great orchestras of the world.” Go figure.

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