Minnesota Orchestra Association Offers ‘Artistic’ Report On Orchestra Hall Lease

Under terms of the Orchestra Hall lease, the Minnesota Orchestral Association is required to show how the facility is being used—and will be used—to promote the arts in Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Orchestral Association has filed a report with the city of Minneapolis that can best be described as artistic.

The report is required in the MOA's lease arrangement with the city to operate Orchestra Hall. Under terms of that lease, the MOA is required to show how the facility is being used—and will be used—to promote the arts in Minneapolis.

Given that the entertainment centerpiece of the Hall, the Minnesota Orchestra, has been locked out for 14 months, there has been curiosity about how the MOA would file the report.

But the MOA seemed to have no problem. The report to the city consists of a letter from Michael Henson [PDF], the MOA’s chief executive officer, and a letter from a lawyer, explaining that the MOA didn’t really have to file a report at all [PDF].

The report, and accompanying letter, were filled with legalese, finger-pointing and vague promises of bringing any number of concerts to Orchestra Hall even if the lockout continues.

The city, under the terms of the lease, now has 45 days to ponder the MOA report.

If it finds that the MOA is fulfilling both its financial and artistic obligations, the state will be notified of city approval. (The state is involved because $14 million in public bonds were for renovation of the Hall. The money was channeled from the state to the city, which owns the Hall.)

If the city decides the MOA is not fulfilling lease agreements, a legal mess would follow.

First would come “cure” time, in which the MOA would have time to resolve any problems. If that failed, the city would need to get state permission to sell its lease with the MOA or find a new operator for the building.

All of this suggests that it would be difficult for the musicians to re-organize under a different management structure and end up with a lease to Orchestra Hall. 

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who once upon a time tried to bring the MOA and the musicians together, issued a statement that was more like a dance in regard to all that is happening around the Hall, if not in the Hall.

“Orchestra Hall is a gem of a building and it’s in everyone’s interest to see it live up to its potential as one of the premier concert halls in the country,’’ the mayor said in the statement. “The city will take the next few weeks to do our due diligence, however, our end goal is the same as it’s been all along: We want the Minnesota Orchestra back home making music. No one likes the other long-term options, and none of them are simple. It’s time for Minnesotans to start enjoying the music at Orchestra Hall again.’’

But agreement never has seemed so far away.

In his letter, Henson talks about a schedule of events assuming that agreement with the musicians can’t be reached.

“MOA’s primary goal for the past many months has been to reach a contract settlement with the musicians that allows us to present the already-programmed 2013-14 season . . . But as negotiations have continued and a mutual settlement has not been forthcoming, MOA has begun to create a new series of concerts designed to keep music  alive in Orchestra Hall.’’

What isn’t clear is just who would walk onto the Orchestra Hall stage as long as the musicians are locked out.

Musicians say they have the support of virtually every entertainment union in the land and that no union entertainer or orchestra will perform at the Hall until there is a settlement.

Henson is vague in his “report” about the groups that might perform in Orchestra Hall.

In the letter to the city, he writes: “MOA is in discussions for a prominent music group to perform a five-concert series during F2014. It is also making arrangements for the Hall to be available for performances by other music groups, including professional, community and school orchestras and youth groups.’’ 

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But in the side letter, attorney John Herman writes that even bringing in school choirs might prove difficult.

“Actions by musicians and other third parties have also interfered with MOA’s efforts to present arts programming in the Hall,’’ Herman wrote.

(It should be noted that orchestra musicians would be unlikely to picket a high school orchestra if it opted to play at Orchestra Hall.)

It appears to be Herman’s contention that the MOA isn’t obligated to fulfill lease obligations because of clauses in the lease regarding “unavoidable delays.”

The lease says that “strikes and other similar labor troubles’’ are unavoidable delays. Herman argues that there is really no difference between a strike and a lockout.

“Although the term 'lockout' is not specifically used in the Lease, strikes and lockouts are parallel rights of parties to a labor negotiation and are undoubtedly ‘similar labor troubles,’ ’’ Herman wrote.

While Henson seems to be talking about bringing high school orchestras to the renovated Hall, orchestra musicians next week are going to unveil their plans for the future “with or without the MOA.’’

More and more, there are indications that the orchestra musicians are at least taking steps toward creating a new management structure.

Musicians have not only played a sold-out series of concerts at various venues but they also say they have formed a 501-3C, which has raised more than $300,000 since August.