Locked-out Minnesota Orchestra Players Go Rogue with 10-Concert Season

Friday, December 13, 2013 - 11:31 AM

Minnesota Orchestra Minnesota Orchestra (Greg Helgeson)

The locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have announced a series of 10 self-produced concerts for the winter and spring, including programs with classical superstars Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.

The Minnesota musicians have been locked out since October 2012 in what is the longest and perhaps ugliest labor dispute in the history of American orchestras. The Star-Tribune reports that “in addition to playing the concerts, the musicians are handling the complicated details of creating concert programs, securing guest soloists, renting halls, scheduling rehearsals and selling tickets.” The musicians have so far raised $600,000 towards the programs.

Osmo Vänskä, who in October resigned as the orchestra’s music director, will return to conduct four concerts, including two on March 20 and 21, to commemorate the orchestra's recent Grammy nomination with performances of Sibelius Symphonies No. 1 and 4. Bell will perform April 15 with guest conductor Michael Stern; Perlman will appear as conductor and soloist on May 14.

The musicians said that if the lockout ends they would work to merge their concerts with those produced by the orchestra association. 

The program announcement comes at the end of an eventful week in Minneapolis. On Wednesday, Minnesota legislators called for the resignations of the orchestra’s CEO, Michael Henson, and board chairman Jon Campbell. In a letter to the orchestra, the politicians said the current administration was "destroying the Minnesota Orchestra.” The next day, at its annual meeting, the orchestra’s board of directors re-elected both Davis and Campbell.

Almost simultaneously, the Minnesota Orchestral Association reported an operating deficit of $1.1 million for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31. That was down from the $6 million deficit from the previous year, when the orchestra was performing.


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Comments [1]

NYMike from Manhattan

Among management’s most egregious demands was its insistence on controlling musical matters including hiring/firing, seating and repertoire. Now in its 15th month, the lockout’s end is nowhere in sight as former Senator George Mitchell’s attempts at mediation have been unsuccessful even though he was chosen by management and accepted by the musicians. During this time frame, musicians have made 11 concessionary counter-proposals to management – all were rejected.

Founded 110 years ago as the Minneapolis Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra has had illustrious music directors including Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Antal Dorati while recording works of Mahler, Milhaud, Ravel, Schoernberg and Stravinsky. Most recently, its musicians had a 10-year synergistic relationship with conductor Osmo Vänskä, reminiscent of the Szell/Cleveland Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony pairings, that had brought them national and international acclaim including Grammy nominations for their recordings of Sibelius 2nd and 5th, and (just announced) 1st and 4th Symphonies. They were scheduled for Fall and Spring Carnegie Hall appearances this season and a residency at London’s Proms in 2015, the first ever for an American orchestra, in addition to recording the rest of the Sibelius Symphonies for BIS Records. Now, however, the scheduled appearances and recordings are canceled and Vänskä has resigned while several principal players have departed for other orchestras.

The MOA used last season’s lockout to do a $52 million Orchestra Hall renovation (mostly to the lobby) using $14 million in state bonding money, gained by siphoning from their endowment for three years to show balanced budgets. Once the funding was obtained, they then used two succeeding years of “structural deficits” to back up their draconian contract demands. During this period, they also received another $45 million in donations while spending $13 million last season without presenting concerts. It has also surfaced that their CEO was given a $200,000 bonus in addition to his regular $400,000 salary before the lockout began. So far, the Association’s $140 million endowment has not kept pace with the recovery from the 2008 recession benefitting other orchestra endowments, calling into question their board’s financial acumen despite being led by two powerful bankers.

Orchestra Hall is owned by the city of Minneapolis and leased to the MOA without charge. Phyllis Kahn, chair of the Minnesota House Legacy Committee, which is responsible for state arts funding, has proposed introducing a bill establishing community ownership of the Minnesota Orchestra in order to preserve it for the long term. She has cited Green Bay, Wisconsin’s public ownership of the Packers as a precedent for this. Considering all the various “stakeholders” with conflicting agendas, the resolution of this tragedy may still be far away.

Dec. 13 2013 04:48 PM

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