My thoughts and out loud thoughts on composition, performance, and many things musical.

Orchestral Shutdown

It seems we’re in the autumnal season of losing money, shutting down the government (which I naïvely did know was a thing that could happen), and music and the arts being halted.

When economies decline, the pillars and programs within decline. When those pillars and programs are organizations whose ethical aim is to provide entertainment, solace, and education, they cease to be able to tend to masses needing entertainment, solace, and education.

Music in schools are always on the brink of extinction. Funding for those programs are often the first to be swept aside to defragment the pool of financial support. Community musical entities, like orchestras have been feeling the hurt in the past decade.

Now I’m no individual to get into the nuts and bolts of national economics and financial sensibility, but I can talk about what heartbreak is. And I can speculate about who is to blame when a well-to-do orchestra goes down.

When I think of all the aperçus that contributed to the disgruntlement of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians, I am at first sympathetic. Their career was on the line. Money was an issue. This was their job—to make music. One can’t pay bills by working for free.

The conductor, Osmo Vanska, is included in this. The orchestra was his baby—his vision. He wanted to be another source of musical serenity, expression, relief. He also had bills.

The orchestra’s management, one hopefully assumes, were also in it for the expressive, liberating, musical joy it brought. Also, they had bills.

Who was at fault? According to NPR Classical after contracts were proposed back and forth between the musicians and management team, Maestro Vanska stated that if the Carnegie Hall concerts were canceled (because of the financial strains) he would resign.

They were. He did.

This wasn’t him giving up—this was him accepting the reality that the orchestra just would not go on. In a press statement Maestro Vanska said:

It is a very sad day for me. Over 10 years ago I was honored to be invited to take up this position. I moved from Finland to the Twin Cities. At that time I made clear my belief that the Minnesota Orchestra could become one of the very greatest international ensembles. During the intervening years I have had the privilege of seeing that belief vindicated.

Both parties of musicians and management went back and forth before and after the official shutdown of the orchestra pointing fingers at one another.

Is the management to blame? Were they thinking of their own pockets instead of the musicians? Were they just desperately trying to save the orchestra but, by their number crunching, saw that salary decreases were the only solution to offset the BIG deficits they had?

Could the musicians have ever been convinced to take the deals that they were offered despite the decrease in pay? Why or why not? Certainly they have all gone into this profession because of a higher calling, be it of a deity, be it of a transcendental musical experience, be it of anything. Is it wrong to assume they scoffed at the salary they’d be paid? Shouldn’t they have just been grateful to have a job doing what they love?

That’s a systemic issue in our culture. Yes, I reckon they loved their job. They want to create emotion and share it with others. They were asked to rehearse and prepare themselves as to be the best orchestra out there. The amount of time and precision they put into their craft, individually and collectively, should translate into being paid as musicians of high worth, yes?

Again, culturally, we constantly expect reward for our efforts. And you know, in a perfect world, they should have received every dollar they asked for, in my opinion. But perfect worlds don’t exist. Economies were created by man. They will fail. They will succeed. The accomplishments and consequences that fall therein should not come as a surprise.

We have let money rule us. 

I’m sad the orchestra shutdown. I’m sad when any orchestra or musical entity shuts down. That’s one less source for creating history and emotion.

But as passionately as I am in favor of all the arts, 

I am no chicken with my head cut off.

If the community is not supporting an orchestra’s musical endeavors, if ticket sales are not what they need to be, if the prices being spent on refurbishing the orchestra’s theatre are questionable compared to employee/musician salary, a downhill slide should not be a surprise.

To the members of the Minnesota Orchestra, it did not come as a surprise. They all went down with a fight. Whether the best practices in the fight were taken or not, is not something I can speak to.

I can only speculate.

What I can talk about is heartbreak, why it matters, and why a cultural shift has to take place: not necessarily in favor of the arts, as I am clearly biased for and always in love with.

There must be a cultural shift in how we view what it means to “need” money.

How much do we need? Why do we need it? Why does that so heavily influence our drastic decision-making?

We’re unhealthy. 

It is a difficult balance between doing what you love, and adhering to a communal doctrine that has rules—rules that can dictate how and when you do what you love.

The only thing that I am sure of, is that there are folks who loved the Minnesota Orchestra. The conductor, the musicians, the management team, and the audience.

I charge anyone who read this post to listen to the following clip in it’s entirety. Maestro Vanska explains, on the verge of tears, the last piece the orchestra will play, at their last concert. They play beautifully, and the emotions that come from understanding this Sibelius piece, Valse Triste, mean something new. You hear not only the thoughts and emotions of the guy who wrote it, but also of Vanska, and of every musician on stage, and every audience member.

The audience was asked to not applaud when the piece was done. Everyone stood up and exited the theatre in silence.


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