Minnesota Orchestra lockout is over

After 15 months of an acrimonious labor dispute that cost the orchestra an entire season and a host of musicians, including its music director, Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota Orchestra will resume concerts at Orchestra Hall in February.

Musicians and management sent out press releases on Tuesday night announcing that the players had approved a new three-year contract, to take effect February 1.

The contract reduces the musicians’ pay by 15% from 2012 levels, which is a concession, but considerably better for the players than the 30 to 40% that the orchestra’s management originally proposed. Too, some positions will remain vacant, although the agreement calls for 7 musicians to be hired over the contract’s three-year term. The orchestra has shrunk to 77 players; 95, according to both sides, is the optimal number.

The contract also includes a number of work rule modifications to the last contract, meaning, among other things, changes in the way that outreach and chamber concerts, weekend rehearsals, and overtime are calculated. There are, however, fewer such modifications than management had originally requested. While many orchestra musicians around the country are excited about playing outreach and other non-traditional performances, there has been a certain amount of nervousness, not only in Minnesota, about how many performances of this nature can be contractually required, rather than taken on, as they traditionally have been, for extra pay.

After what seemed to be an insoluble standoff, the contract represents something that was starting to seem impossible in the increasingly hostile environment: a genuine compromise from both sides.

Despite cuts, the orchestra will remain one of the ten highest-paid orchestras in America, with a minimum base salary of $96,824 in the first year of the contract, going up to $102,284 by the third year. “Keeping our salaries in the top ten was a critical issue for us,” the cellist Marcia Peck, one of the musicians on the negotiating team, said in a statement in the press release, “as it allows us to attract and retain the finest musicians in the country.”

In the same release, the orchestra’s board chair, Jon Campbell — who had remained in office throughout the negotiations, and who will step down now that the situation is resolved, called on the public to help keep the orchestra afloat. “Now more than ever,” he said, “we will need members of our community who voiced strong support for world-class orchestral music in our state to help us achieve long-term fiscal responsibility through increased concert attendance and financial support.”

This could be construed as a tacit appeal to members of the community who had sided with the musicians, who had started to form, in effect, an organization of their own during the lockout. As “the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra,” they raised some $600,000 during the lockout and gave a number of concerts in the community — including two under Osmo Vänskä, last October.

Vänskä will remain one of the greatest losses as the orchestra tries to rebuild. In his 10 years as music director, he kept the 111-year-old orchestra squarely on the radar of the classical music world with vital, engaging performances and a string of recordings. He resigned in October, after the orchestra’s inability to reach a contract settlement meant the cancellation of its long-planned trip to Carnegie Hall. Another casualty was the head of the orchestra’s Composer Institute, Aaron Jay Kernis, who resigned — after a 15-year tenure — shortly after Vänskä did. A whole string of the orchestra’s prominent players — among them the clarinetist Burt Hara, violinists Peter McGuire and Sarah Kwak, and violist Thomas Turner — also departed for other jobs during the lockout.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is likely to be frequently cited in the coming days and weeks as a hopeful model; after a six-month strike in the 2010-11 season, the orchestra has managed to stay on a positive course. The scars in Minnesota may run deeper, but the relief that this long tragedy has ended will, one hopes, buoy musicians and audiences for some time to come.

 

 

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. She blogs at The Classical Beat.
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