Rebounding Minnesota Orchestra is 'Still Mad at Itself'

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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."