Day Two: $$$ and the Fine Print

Yesterday, I mentioned the clearly devoted audience present at last night’s Minnesota Orchestra concert here in Minneapolis, which was conveniently scheduled as part of our introduction to the Composer Institute. What I didn’t mention was that this exhuberance—three curtain calls complete with whistles and whoops—seemed to all of us MO concert virgins to be completely justified, by any standard. It may get cold up here, but there are no two ways about it—this band can cook.

The musicians themselves beam with organizational pride. “We like to work hard,” says Tom Turner, principal violist. And as I mentioned yesterday (it was only yesterday?), these pros take their work seriously. I like to judge orchestras by looking at the back of the second violins during a concert. Quite often, more often than one should ever see, people are asleep…or they’re faking, or they’re scared. “That’s how it is,” I hear. “You can’t expect these people to stay interested for 30 years. They get bored.” Fiddlesticks! Poppycock! And other useless euphemisms! The days of hiding in the back are numbered, or so I hope. These jobs are in demand, and they need to be capably filled. Well, this orchestra (quite a fresh one, with two-thirds membership turnover in the last 12 years) passed my cynical little test. They were engaged, passionate, agile, accurate. Before I meet the man on the podium who will conduct my reading on Tuesday, I think I can see that he a big part of this current enthusiasm. As Tom says, “We like to work hard, but luckily for us, so does Osmo.”

I love Finland. I was there this January, and beyond the cold, the dark, and the saunas, it is a land beyond description in a really remote corner of the world. (You don’t have a layover in Helsinki. Ever.) It’s overflowing with national and international treasures, and luckily for us, some of them decide to live here in the U.S. for a while. Osmo Vänskä, Minnesota Orchestra music director since 2002, is one such commodity. By all accounts serious, passionate, and warm, he has jumped into the job with both feet. In this one week alone he will transition from the Mahler 5 program to the Composer Institute (more on that in the upcoming days), and on Friday night, he will play jazz clarinet with a combo made up of orchestra musicians in a bar downtown. When I meet with him tomorrow in prep for my piece, I suspect it will be an intense session. I hope not to counter the calm, waiting, listening, staring-straight-into-the-eyes-sans-blinking mode common among Finns I’ve met with my usual reaction—nervous chatter and a forced chortle at any semblance of humor from either party. If I can calm down enough to properly listen to him, I will probably learn something.

Today, we focused on the nitty-gritty. The basics in terms of law, our rights, and even more, $$$. Well, maybe only $, but we were fortunate enough to have Jim Kendrick, a leading intellectual property attorney who happens to have run more than one of this country’s major music publishers, and Lyn Liston, director of new music information services at the American Music Center. Jim is a composer’s best friend and secret weapon—the man knows everything about what we should know but don’t: commisioning fees and what do to if you are pushing deadlines, and oh so much more. And he had us all riveted, riveted, with his discussion of COPYRIGHT LAW if you can even fathom it. Now, this event was sponsored by the AMC, and I realize what this may look like, but I mean it when I say: There is no reason not to go an event like this. Lyn and Jim travel the country putting on these professional development workshops, and in the case of today’s event, which was held at the University of Minnesota School of Music (thanks to their sponsorship of the event) and open to students and locals alike, attendance was painfully low. Legal issues are a big concern for us, and many of us don’t even know it.

Tomorrow, we return to Orchestra Hall for our own feet-first jump. The composers will meet one-on-one with Institute conductors Osmo Vänskä and David Alan Miller in final prep for the readings. Calm, cool, and collected will be my mantra, ’cause my piece sure ain’t any of those. More on that soon. Readings start on Tuesday!

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