« Sonata sketch by Robert Schumann brought to light by Frederick Moyer and the Web | Main | Houston Symphony takes its recession hits, too »

August 4, 2009

Minnesota Orchestra joins growing list of recession victims

A few days after the Baltimore Symphony musicians agreed to more pay cuts and other concessions to help the orchestra deal with economy-related pressures, members of the Minnesota Orchestra took similar measures. From the press release:

The musicians and management of the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) announced today that they have reached an agreement to modify certain terms of the musicians’ contract to help alleviate the financial pressures of the current economy. In total, the contract alterations will result in about $4.2 million dollars of cost savings—from salary and pension reductions and frozen positions—over the remaining three years of the five-year contract, which expires September 30, 2012.

The contract modifications involve salary reductions totaling $1.8 million—including a wage freeze in fiscal 2010—which equates to a 6 percent reduction in wage increases over the course of the agreement; a delay in filling open positions within the Orchestra, which allows for savings of approximately $1.8 million over the next three years; and a reduction in the MOA’s pension funding obligation that will save $600,000 over the course of the agreement ...


President and CEO Michael Henson said, “We’ve taken many preemptive steps over the last nine months to reduce our expenses in the economic downturn, and we are very appreciative that our musicians are part of these efforts. It is critical our company band together in this extraordinary economy to ensure our long-term financial viability. We thank our musicians for their helpful contributions.”

Principal Harp Kathy Kienzle, a member of the musicians’ negotiating team, said, “Although we had a binding contract through 2012, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra recognize that these are unusually challenging times, and we wanted to offer our help to minimize the negative impact of the recession and support our organization through this uncertain period.”  

... Earlier in the year, the MOA announced administrative staff and budget cuts that resulted in $2.3 million in savings for the Association’s 2009-10 budget. Those reductions included eliminating four full-time staff positions and reducing part-time staffing, instituting salary reductions or wage freezes for all staff, and reducing employer contributions to staff retirement plans. Music Director Osmo Vänskä and President and CEO Michael Henson reduced their salaries by, respectively, 10 percent and 7 percent.

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:03 PM | | Comments (6)


Survival by any means necessary is going to be a theme for the arts community for at _least_ the next decade. Our economies, both national and local, are in largely _hideous_ shape, and the federal government isn't going to be able to (nor really _should_, except as a last resort) lob vast sums of money at our problems forever. (I think that what's been done with the "bad banks" so far isn't really doing Main Street a lot of good.) I can't afford to make _any_ donations, to the arts or otherwise, at the moment; I'm just lucky to still have my job! A reduction in salary is the _least_ of a musician's worries in this economy.

Doug may not be concerned about silly little musicians' worries about their salaries, but what about the cities they live in? Should they worry that their cultural gems are in jeopardy? Should we just all not donate and let orchestras, museums, and newspapers disappear into oblivion? The best players will leave orchestras that reduce their salaries for ones that pay better. Have a look at Ilya Finkelshteyn's previously dubbed "lateral" move, for example.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Twin Cities has a healthier and more stable arts scene than Baltimore--not just in terms of larger ensembles, but the wealth of smaller performance venues and arts series. Then again, their combined metropolitan size is larger than the Baltimore metro by roughly 170,000 which helps with a larger local potential audience pool. Plus the potential audience pool that can regularly afford to see productions is larger in the TC than here.

The Twin Cities have also gone through some other arts upheaval in the past decade, with major theater venues moving location and at least one well-regarded company (Theatre de la Jeune Lune) shutting its doors last year.

There are legitimate concerns within the Cities, as in every city of every size that hosts performance companies. I think the real question coming out of the latest turmoil (some of the initial effects reaching companies 3-4 years prior to the Wall Street meltdown) is the survival of the current company business model in the U.S. After watching the planning meltdowns at other major companies (NYC Opera as poster child), there are serious questions to be addressed about sustainability. Even in great financial times, company finances are tenuous. On the other hand, this latest recession is described as the worst event since the Depression, so if companies can come out the other side in one piece, I think we have some reason to celebrate.

I haven't heard any earth-shattering news from Minnesota Opera, but am visiting friends up there on vacation next week. I'm assuming/hoping that all is well, all things considered.

Thanks for commenting. How right you are that, even in the best of times, the arts tend to be fragile. That's why I think some heavy-duty re-thinking of everything will be widespread. TIM

Graydon Royce of the Star-Tribune has this article on the situation with the Minnesota Orchestra, much of which is covered in the press release already mentioned, but expanding a little on it. The common thread all over seems to be the reliance on endowment as a generator of income for the orchestra, from the interest on the endowments. Of course, with Wall Street tanking and the housing market implosion, the model may have to shift short-term to a more "hand-to-mouth" existence, kind of what's often described as the existence of the self-governing orchestras in London.

I haven't seen the whole arts scene in the Twin Cities, but I had the same general impression as Laura that it is pretty vibrant there, although susceptible to downsizing as anywhere else.

Thanks for the link and comments. TIM

A sobering article, but the organizations that will survive will be those that come up with new and inventive programs. Too many are trying to sell their patrons the same shows every year.

John S. Meade
Publisher, The Phil: Behind Closed Doors

The fact that, in spite of some vacancies not being filled, the position of concertmaster will actually be filled, gives me hope that things aren't beyond hope.

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected