I’ll go ahead and say it- I almost feel bad for Michael Henson and Jon Campbell (CEO and Board Chair of the Minnesota Orchestral Association, respectively). Yes, they’ve presided over one of the biggest cultural disasters in recent memory, ripped off their own musicians and ignored the patrons (and of course any and all blogs), and altered the musical landscape in Minnesota for years to come. True, they are in many ways directly responsible for the immense emotional and financial hardship experienced by the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra for the past year, and most likely for some time to come. And after all those millions raised (and spent), now they’re stuck with no orchestra and a concert hall no one will use and that will probably get picketed. Yet I still find myself sympathizing in some unusual way, probably because I don’t think either of them (or the MOA Board) could’ve possibly envisioned the travesty they unleashed.
Like many outside observers, at first I figured the intransigence of the MOA Board and management was simply a negotiating tactic, something so draconian that they knew it wouldn’t be taken seriously, and eventually they’d come to their senses and find a path forward of shared sacrifice that would meaningfully address the financial concerns while preserving the artistic excellence that had so beautifully flowered over many decades. Detroit and Philadelphia were recent memories with their own issues, but this was different. Clearly this orchestra was at an artistic apex with Osmo Vänskä, at least that was never in dispute. Who would even risk throwing all that away?
Turns out that was the wrong question. Anyone closely following the twists and turns over the last year (and especially recently) can only arrive at one conclusion: despite the very real questions raised involving basic standards of competence and common sense, the MOA and management did seriously prepare to reinvent the wheel, and are now willing to sacrifice the fundamental artistic standards of the institution if necessary. Now it’s just about damage control and saving face. I truly believe that the only reason the substantial efforts of former Sen. George Mitchell and Gov. Mark Dayton haven’t been successful is that somehow Mr. Henson and Mr. Campbell, blinded by industrial-sized ideology, titanic egos, and raw hubris (read- fear and cowardice) now believe that even seriously sitting at the table will be perceived as some sort of failure.
You cannot simulate this sort of ignorance, so blatantly obvious to anyone really paying attention. To many, these two will forever be known first and foremost for this debacle. Is that to be celebrated? Okay, Mr. Campbell will eventually have his millions from Wells Fargo and his corporate perks and whatever, and Mr. Henson will, well, I don’t know what he’ll do when he finally steps down. But I have a feeling that somewhere way down inside they grasp the magnitude of this, and on a purely human level that cannot feel great. I also believe there are MOA board members who deeply regret their blind allegiance and will not remain silent forever.
With the developments last week, I suppose there is a microscopic chance that some superhero will swoop in, conk them all on the head, and some magical agreement will materialize before September 15. Intuition tells me otherwise; I hope I’m wrong. As the weeks went on this summer with no substantial news, I kept thinking of the pivotal questions at this point for anyone in the orchestra business and especially the cultural community in Minneapolis:
After all this, what exactly has been accomplished? Has there been any upside at all? And perhaps most critically, how can other institutions learn from this tragedy? However the next two weeks play out, I sincerely hope those questions will be widely and intensely explored, and that the lessons from this sort of trench warfare will never be forgotten.