Rebounding Minnesota Orchestra is 'Still Mad at Itself'

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Former music director Osmo Vänskä (center) at his farewell concert with the Minnesota Orchestra at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 4, 2013 Former music director Osmo Vänskä (center) at his farewell concert with the Minnesota Orchestra at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 4, 2013 (Kyndell Harkness)

So, what comes next for the Minnesota Orchestra in the wake of the contract agreement that ended the bitter 15-month lockout and returns the musicians to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis on Feb. 7?

Short answer: a considerable amount of work.

Settling the lockout is only the first mountain in a series of precarious peaks that the Minnesota Orchestra has to climb on its way to a healthy future, says Graydon Royce, classical music critic of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“Somehow the social fabric between the management and musicians has to be repaired and that’s a big, big question here of whether that can happen,” Royce tells Naomi Lewin.

“There are still people who write letters to the editor who say, 'We'll come and see the players because I like the players but I’m not donating to the orchestra anymore,’” added Royce, who has chronicled the labor dispute since it began in October 2012.

Relations between players, management, donors and audiences are such that “you have an orchestra that is still mad at itself.”

At the heart of the lockout was a dispute over the size of pay cuts aimed at reversing a multi-million-dollar deficit that had peaked at $6 million in 2012. After musicians refused to accept pay cuts of up to 40 percent, and the two sides failed to agree on on new contract terms, management locked the musicians out on Oct. 1, 2012. The new contract cuts base pay by 15 percent.

Minnesota announced its 2014 season on Friday, one that includes 39 classical concerts, plus educational and family programming. A series of guest conductors are to take the podium including Yan Pascal Tortelier, Mark Wigglesworth and Eric Whitacre. Osmo Vänska, who resigned as music director in October, will return to conduct an all-Sibelius program in March, followed by a single performance with soloist Joshua Bell in April.

Despite the new season plans, the lockout has taken an enormous toll, said Royce. Not only did the orchestra lose millions in ticket income with more than a season cancelled, but each musician lost over a year's salary.

Whether Vänska will return full-time is a long shot. “There are certainly board members who feel that Vänska was not a perfect soldier – that he should not have made a public ruckus that he would quit if there was not a deal by October 1,” said Royce. "At the same time, I think that he felt really personally hurt by that, and felt he was a put in that position where he felt he had to stand up and say something.”

It could take a long time to woo back alienated audiences and donors; other orchestras that have lived through debilitating strikes have found that recovery can be frustratingly slow. Yet there is a model to be found: in the Detroit Symphony. Three years after its six-month strike, it has been on a roll, performing at Carnegie Hall last season, streaming its concerts online, and balancing its budget for the first time in six years. Last week, the musicians ratified a three-year contract.

"I think Detroit is actually really instructive,” said Royce. “They got out into the communities and did a lot of concerts basically intended to repair the personal capital."

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Comments [5]

Brunnhilde from nyc

Mr. Chisholm, your comment regarding the MO administration's interest in the physical building rather than the artistic building, is right on!

Jan. 28 2014 12:42 PM
Elizabeth Erickson from Minneapolis, MN

I appreciate the interest that so many people have concerning our Minnesota Orchestra. I wish our city and state leaders had shown half that level of interest. If you are really interested in the full story of this disaster, you won't find it in the Star and Tribune or Graydon Royce. Their coverage is a true embarrassment to this state. MNpost, two blogs,and a patron's advocacy group called SOSMN (Save Our Symphony Minnesota) helped save the orchestra. That's where the real story lies. The musicians did not wimp out. They fought against 250 proposed changes to the contract that would have completely destroyed the orchestra and ended up agreeing to somewhere around 15 of them. The pay cut proposals were as high as 50 percent for top players and they agreed to a 15 percent cut with pay increases over the next couple of years. So in no way, did they roll over. You had to have been here to understand how hard those who love this orchestra were fighting.

Jan. 24 2014 05:24 PM
Robert P. Cohen from Port Washington, NY

The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra may well be angry at themselves for giving in to a lockout and a bad contract. As a member of labor organizations I have learned the bitter lesson that giving in to this sort of management has within it the seeds of disaster. Until the wealthy citizens of Minnesota realize that a first class professional symphonic musician is as talented, dedicated and well trained as the most talented engineer or scientist who made Minneapolis a world wide tech center then those with the purse strings will always regard the musicians in question in the same way an 18th Century despotic monarch would. Tough and brave labor negotiations can open these ignorant millionaires' eyes to the fact that in today;s world, dedicated trained artists deserve the same high standard of life as they have. With them, you can have a vibrant and creative city and state; without them, all they have worked for can turn to dust, in spite of 3M, Honeywell, The Guthrie Theatre and all those things on the plus side of the ledger. This orchestra is a long way from the days of Antal Dorati and its well deserved fame.One hopes it can be repaired.

Jan. 24 2014 10:57 AM
Richard Lawson from Westport, CT

Minneapolis, and the state of Minnesota have demonstrated their utter lack of
regard for this outstanding orchestra and it's musicians. That Minneapolis has
forced a lock out, and finally an "agreement" that places a massive financial
burden on the orchestra's musicians, is nothing short of shameful. I once had
a very high regard for your city; however, I now know it to be a backward mid-
western community. You don't deserve an orchestra of that caliber!
R.D. Lawson - NYC Ballet Orchestra (retired)

Jan. 23 2014 10:18 PM
Robert Chisholm from Tuckahoe, NY

Before my retirement, I was a multi-decade MN resident and season subscriber to the MN Symphony concerts. I had valued personal friends amongst the musicians. It was a virtual kick in the stomach to learn of the lockout and ensuing discord. I valued attending and listening to the concerts. The architecture etc. of Orchestra Hall made no difference to me as long as one chose appropriate seats for viewing and listening. The apparent priority of management and the Board of Directors to chase remodeling over and above musical art fits my definition of artistic suicide. Let us hope the music and the musicians will survive, and that management turnover will mend its broken ways.

Jan. 23 2014 07:37 PM

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