Archive for August, 2013

Minnesota Orchestra Lockout: – A Sorry Tale Steeped in Duplicity and Dishonor

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

In the beginning I was prepared to give you, the directors of the MOA, the benefit of the doubt.  After all, I understand the financial perils of deficit funding.  However, you have now worsened the financial base of the Minnesota Orchestra with your duplicity and lack of ethics.  You have deprived the musicians of a living  and denied them health insurance for almost a year.

Even at this last Tuesday evenings meeting on the advice of our eminent guest, Alan Fletcher, I was in a mind to grant you some further indulgence.  Now it appears you bought thirteen domain names on such as: – “”  These purchases were made May 24 of 2012.  These purchases are intended to frustrate the advocacy of citizen groups.  They are absolute proof of your lack of integrity and indicate malice aforethought.

The Minnesota Orchestra did not build its worldwide reputation in recent years.  At the dawn of the stereo era in 1958/59 I was 10-11 years old.  At that age I was already an avid music and audio enthusiast.  In those years in the UK we used to gather at the Grand Old Hotel Russell, on beautiful Russell Square in London, every April for the annual Audio Fair.  The fine recordings of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the Mercury Living Presence label recorded by Robert Fine, were at the top of the demonstration discs.  Its reputation was worldwide then as it is now.  Now you have caused financial loss and problems across the oceans frustrating the BIS recording, and completing the Grammy nominated Sibelius symphony cycle under Osmo Vanska.  This coupled with appearances of the Orchestra at the BBC Proms and Carnegie Hall, it should comes as no surprise that the eyes of the nation and the world are on you.  A mighty chorus is rising up questioning your actions and judgement.

Worse, at the time you were drawing up your infamous plans, the musicians of our orchestra were involved with A.C.M.E to bring El Sistema to the children of North Minneapolis.  In addition to frustrating attempts to replace guns with instruments in North Minneapolis, your actions denied your organization funds from philanthropists looking for a social justice element in their donations.  This is now a big consideration in direction of philanthropic donations.  Since the chair and vice chair belong to a cadre of individuals whose collective moral turpitude and lack of probity visited untold misery on billions around the world from the events that unfolded in 2008 this comes as no surprise.

Your only recourse to salvage any personal honor, is for you all to sincerely apologize and resign.  If you think there are not competent individuals of probity and integrity to replace you, then you are additionally guilty of monumental conceit.

Your actions are far more likely than not to end in the destruction of the much beloved Minnesota Orchestra, whom you have a sacred obligation to protect and nurture.  In the event of the destruction of this Orchestra, all your names will live in infamy down the ages.


Minnesota Orchestra: – Return to Business as Usual will not Return Financial Health

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

The Minnesota Orchestra lockout drags, and there is increasing focus on personalities, particularly of board members and administration.

The real problem is dangerously outmoded thinking from both sides of the dispute.

I have now read literally hundreds of articles on this problem.

However this research Brief from the Rand Corporation hits all the points that are fundamental to the root cause of the problem.

This brief is worthy of study by anyone with in interest in this calamitous dispute, that threatens the existence of the MO.

Of particular note is their analysis of the changing patterns of philanthropy and their advice on not ignoring the rapid changes being brought about advances in Internet technology.

Form this and other sources I have gleaned a number of salient points.

There is no evidence of a reduction on philanthropic funding.  However there are huge changes in how these funds are being dispersed.

Philanthropy is going corporate with specific goals.  The obvious example of this is Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

Philanthropy has an increasingly global outlook.

Arts funding is becoming more local, diverse and less Eurocentric.

This relates to the changing demographics.  The new wealthy are reflecting the changing ethnicity of the country and giving to arts groups of the culture to which they identify.

The social justice movement is having a big impact on how projects are chosen.  Giving to large symphony orchestras is a poor match.

However if the MO for instance, were to make the major part of their mission El Sistema and put an instrument in the hands of every child especially in areas like the North End of Minneapolis instead of guns, this might change the balance significantly, as well as attract government support.  This would require a major change in the job description of the musicians.  However judging by what has happened in South America this would be the surest way to assure the long term survival of the MO and classical music in the Twin Cities.

Now to music distribution.

In a previous post I alluded to a recent Nielsen survey which, showed the striking change in viewing habits, especially the under 35 generation.

Only 34 % of the population attend any live artistic event in any given year.  So we have to reach them out of the concert hall.

Now classical music historically has driven audio technology excellence and not the pop culture.

Now, as the digital age progresses the technology is becoming increasingly pop geared.  This issue will be ignored by the classical music organizations at their peril.  They need to understand that audio and video are indelibly linked via one interconnect. (HDMI)

There are a multitude of technical issues that have arisen, that make excellence in classical music distribution a challenge.  One occurs with downloading.  Pop music in general has discrete compositions of a few minutes in length, where a pause between track is generally present and desirable.  However sections of classical works are frequently continuous and if tracked to aid in navigation, are inclined to have pauses and or pops, ruining the piece.  To avoid this, requires the synching of a cue file, which can not be done in a data file, so that this problem is solved.  Generally this does not happen, except on a lot of UK sites.  This was a problem I was challenged to solve seven years or so ago.

So this has made streaming pre eminent for the distribution of classical music and opera.  This helps with digital rights management, in other words copyright issues.

There are demographic barriers by age also, as I pointed out in a previous blog.  Only The BPO have the equivalent of a Netflix or YouTube icon in TVs receivers and BD players.  This is proof of the success of the BPO approach.  Manufacturers have been falling over themselves to add the BPO icon to their devices, and now includes Sony, LG, Samsung and Panasonic.

For other sites for classical music you need to be able to open a web browser on the screen of your AV system.  As I pointed out in a previous blog, many 35 and under can do this, but only about 5% of 60 year old and up demographic.

Things are slipping backwards, as Sony have now discontinued their Google TV player and their new TVs are no longer able to open a web browser.

So this leaves Boxee by D-Link, just recently bought by Samsung and the Vizio TV Player.  It remains to be seen what changes Samsung will make to Boxee.

For catching what is on offer world wide, which is now a lot, in my main residence I use and HTPC of my design and construction.  It is very fast and bests any currently available commercial device by a mile.  At our small Twin Cities town home, I use the now discontinued Sony Google TV unit with excellent results, and it gets me to the BPO without opening a web browser.

Now as pointed out in the Rand Report, the quality available in the home is now stunning and rivals or exceed most seats in the concert Hall.  I can attest to that.  I must now make a confession.  I have not missed the MO during the lockout.  The lockout last fall spurred me to develop an alternative.  I have had the best concert season ever, from my own home.  I have watched the BPO, Medici TV, streams from the DSO, Met Player and some very high quality streams from YouTube.  I have also through a VPN tunnel with software created my eldest son, been listening to high quality audio stream and TV broadcasts of the Proms.  In short my cup over flows.  It should not been lost on any one, that this is a global experience.  This fact is highly significant.

Although a senior citizen and retired, I like the under 35 demographic, like to watch and listen to what I want, when I want.  I can be infinitely more eclectic in my choices than attending live concerts in the Twin Cities.  The point of this statement is that all orchestras, need to see themselves as global and not local entities.  They need to add to the choices available.  If every orchestra programs the same works a huge advantage of the Internet is lost.

This leads me into the next point.  The Internet opens up lots of potential revenue streams.  The DSO already have advertizing on their streams, that one is obvious.  However, the Internet is interactive, the way old hard media is not.  So members can interact with artists, and could pre subscribe programs they are interested in.  The is precedent for this,  Paul McCreesh’s recording of Mendelsshon’s Elijah, was funded by Internet donations.

Now consider this. Suppose a composer has an outline of a new work and plays the general idea on an Orchestra site and gets discussion going.  It is easy to imagine how interest could build and subscriptions come in.  All would be involved at the point of creation.

Orchestra members could use the Internet to garner students world wide.

There really are virtually unlimited scenarios and possibilities not yet thought of.

There are encouraging signs.  CDs have become an endangered species, and apart from the exotic high end, stand alone CD players have all but vanished.  DVD and BD players require a screen for set up and full operation.  Many are finding watching anything on mobiles and computers, even with fairly decent computer speakers getting old fast.  I wonder what took so long!  For the first time in a long while we are seeing an uptick and AV systems and respectable Hi-Fi speaker systems.

I have been obsessed with improving audio since a young child.  I was there for the wide spread adoption of the LP, stereo LP and FM, tape, CD, DVD, SACD, BD and now the advancing of Internet AV streaming and downloading.

Now it is time for the classical music and opera companies to take hold of these developments.  This will require pooling of resources, the development of new software and websites.   Technical excellence needs to be the banner to which all rally.  Alliances will need to be formed with manufacturers and retailers.  Getting an Icon for American musical arts will be a priority.  The BPO have shown that this is possible.

An important leg of this will be consumer education.  I suspect this will be especially important for our demographic.

Set up is a lot more complicated than in the days of the LP and CD.  I see leadership in this area is vital.

A new game plan needs to be developed.  I see a bright future for the musical arts world wide with the maturing of the digital age.  We all need to be key players shaping things to come, or else be buried in pop culture.  Historically we have led with the banner of technical excellence, the pop culture has led with the poorest quality they can get away with and its dreadful.

Minnesota Orchestra Lockout. Philanthropy will no longer fund the Minnesota arts scene and others.

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

The Minnesota Orchestra lockout continues and the damage to the Orchestra’s artistic integrity continues, to say nothing of the risk of its ultimate demise.

Minnesota is interesting, as it has traditionally had a vibrant arts scene, with two professional orchestras, an Opera company, a baroque orchestra, choral ensembles, theater companies, especially the Guthrie and dance organizations.  In addition we have Minnesota Public Radio and its closely associated American Public Media.  These all compete for audience and above all philanthropic funds.  So it is not surprising to find the funding situation should be so acute in Minnesota given the down turn in corporate and philanthropic giving.  The major arts groups are particularly addicted to this form of revenue.

In 1999, Boston had eight arts organizations with grants totally more than half a million dollars and the Twin Cities had 17.

Further only about 1/3 of the revenue of the Minnesota Orchestra is earned, while 50 to 70% seems more typical.

So there should be no surprise that we have come to this acute impasse here.

Things are difficult in Europe.  There is continuous erosion from traditional government funding sources.  This coupled with a tradition of less philanthropy than in the US has caused difficulties.  However this has been the impetus for innovation on a scale not seen in the US.  More about this later.

In an article Saving American Symphony Orchestras in Four Movements, Ted Gavin gives some stern if fairly typical advice.

His first item of advice, to produce less of the product, is bound to only slow the demise.  The ultimate way out has to be more product and not less.

His second solutions as to how musicians should be paid makes more sense.  However enough income needs to be generated to give musicians a decent living.  This latter is will require innovation and harnessing the Internet to significantly increase revenue.

His point number three about using programming to help keep musician cost in line makes sense.

The author expands on his view of board responsibilities.  He largely blames the boards for the current sorry state of affairs.  He elaborates on these issues in a further article: – Four Steps to Saving a Nonprofit from its own Board of Directors.

My view is that if you have to hand of large chunks of change at regular intervals and shoulder that much responsibility and stress, a sensible individual would probably run a mile.

This leads me to my most important conclusion that reliance on this type of philanthropy is now long past its sell by date.  The musicians should not want it either, as it reduces them to level of indentured  servants, however much they object to this characterization.  In Minneapolis I think this is the elephant in the room garnering a lot of the angst.

Alan Fletcher, CEO of Aspen in his address, Music Is The Mission, Not Money, he takes are more concillatory tone, a necessary step to getting the noise level down.  However there are no new solutions to circumstances changing permanently, which I believe they are.  His festival is expensive and requires travel to Colorado.  I see no attempt to reach a world wide audience, like the Verbier festival currently running.

In the Twin Cities this problem is highly acute due to the large number of arts groups to be funded, and in this I include MPR, which is largely funded by Minnesotans.  I believe MPRs business and funding model will also fail and I suspect sooner than they think.  In this MPR through American Public media have an opportunity to be part of the solution.

In Europe, there is no hope of replacing reductions in state support from philanthropy, I don’t believe.  This has created much greater innovation than in the US.

The LPO has long had its own record label and so have individual artists and performing groups.  The Royal Opera House bought Opus Arte, which was a brilliant move.  However the game changer here is harnessing the power of the Internet to sell seats outside the concert hall.  In this the Berlin Philharmonic are setting the standard for excellent production, presentation, audio and video quality.  I have had a season ticket to the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert  Hall since December 2012 and I have just renewed it at a 10% discount.  This organization is easy to contact and unlike the Minnesota Orchestra answers Emails, in a way that leads to thoughtful discussion.  These concerts are available without opening a web browser on new BD players and other devices from Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsung.  Sony were the first to join.  The fact that these huge corporations think it worth installing the software to receive the BPO Digital Concert Hall speaks volumes.

Then we come to Medici TV, to which I also have a subscription.  Medici TV is an Internet TV company based in Cannes France.  They are rapidly becoming the “Netflix” of classical music and opera.  They have a vast number of concerts opera and films to view and cover some musical festivals in depth.  I have been enjoying their coverage of the currently running Verbier festival.  The DSO, which also suffered a recent lockout, is the only American Orchestra carried in Medici TV, although the New York Phil have one concert, so they must be thinking about it.

I have also enjoyed the BBC, especially the BBC Proms currently running.  The BBC is funded by UK license fees.  In the US only BBC radio iPlayer is available at 180 kbs AC3.  In the UK TV broadcasts and radio in an HD stream at 320 kbs AC3 is available.  However setting up a VPN tunnel can get you a UK IP address.  So this year I have been enjoying the Proms on TV and true HD radio.  Three Proms per week are broadcast on TV, all on radio.  I have offered to buy a license, but the BBC tell me it not possible.  This is all due to contracting, and again unions are interfering and actually preventing musicians adding revenue streams.

I also have a subscription the Metropolitan Met Player, but the audio quality is significantly below European standards.  Only European broadcasters stream classical music above 120 kbs mp3 which is what is on offer in the US.  Such streams are of such low quality that they are more likely to put people off classical music and opera rather than become fans.  This is something that MPR as a leader in classical music broadcaster in the US should put right immediately.  And there is every reason to ask for a subscription to the stream.

Now this brings me to the last issue.  I think most classical music lovers have heard far more music in LP, radio, CD and now DVD, BD and streaming.  I would bet that for most classical music and opera lovers have only heard a small fraction of what they know and love in the concert hall and opera house.  In my view it has been true for a long time that orchestras and opera companies have reached their audience in far, far greater numbers through electronic media than the concert hall and the opera house.  It is this aspect that has been fatally absent in these musical arts funding disputes.  For starters, only a small fraction of the repertory is available live in even large cities over extended periods of time, may be with the exception of London.  Certainly that is true in Minnesota and now the turn around experts are advising that even less be available.  This makes no sense whatever.

It is my view that any major orchestra that does not have high quality AV material for purchase or subscription on the Internet is destined for bankruptcy and oblivion.

This means in fact that one of the root causes of the problem here in Minnesota and elsewhere is actually due to globalization.  I don’t see this discussed anywhere.  The Internet is global and all the above organizations need to take on a global mentality.  MPR partially have via streaming, but the stream is audio only and miserable, so it does not cut the mustard.

The new technologies offer a super picture and audio.  Sir Simon Rattle is a huge advocate of providing a picture with the audio.

In a Proms intermission a couple of days ago, Sir Antonio Papano was talking of the importance of seeing as well as hearing the orchestra.  He felt it really added to the experience to see the bowing and a lot else besides.  I could not agree more.  I have had a chance to demonstrate the new technologies to quite a number of regular concert and opera attendees now.  Almost exclusively, when they get over their astonishment, they give the opinion that it is a better experience than the live concert.  This is especially true of good opera productions.  To back this up reviews of the Robert Leparge production at the Met, have met with mixed reviews from the concert hall, but rave reviews from the BD set.  I would bet that that production works much better in a good viewing room than the opera house.  It seems to me it was just made for the screen and works very well in a good home theater.

In Minnesota I think serious leadership from MPR is required.  They need to be talking to arts groups about how to bring their productions to a world wide audience.  And yes, this will mean MPR becoming a video as well as an audio based institution.  MPR needs to really reinvent itself fast, or I predict stormy waters ahead.  Some new brooms may be required.  I barely listen to MPR now, as I have far more attractive options by the month it seems.  I wrote this recent blog on the future of terrestrial broadcasting.

The forces are working faster in Europe as state funds are disappearing faster than US philanthropic support, which I think is driving the faster technological embrace.

The same winds of change are blowing here, even if from a slightly different direction.  All of the parties I have referenced need to take heed.  Ignoring the winds of globalization, even in the refined halls of our orchestras and opera houses, will fast lead to oblivion.