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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Ice Breaks in Minnesota

The 15-month Minnesota Orchestra lockout is over.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

In a story that broke yesterday, the Minnesota Orchestra has ended its long lockout, putting to rest a labor dispute that turned into a Pyrrhic battle between musicians and management. The battle had a number of casualties, including the orchestra's music director Osmo Vänskä and 17 musicians who left the Twin Cities to play in other orchestras.

The lockout, which began in October of 2012, caused severe damage to the reputation of the 110-year old orchestra, which has long enjoyed a prominent position among American classical music ensembles.

The bitter dispute cancelled the entire 2012-13 season and all of the fall 2013 season as well. The dispute also caused an entire festival series of Sibelius works at Carnegie Hall under Mr. Vänskä to be cancelled, along with planned recordings of that composer's works. A Minnesota Orchestra recording of the First and Fourth Symphonies has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

It is unclear at the time of this writing if Mr. Vänska will return to the position of Music Director. Citing frustration with the lockout, he resigned his position as music director last year.

Yesterday, the musicians signed a three-year contract. The new collective bargaining agreement gives orchestra musicians a 15% cut in base pay and increases their obligation to contribute towards their health care costs. This cut is only half as deep as the salary reduction by 1/3 initially demanded by the board.

The musicians are scheduled to receive small salary increases in the next two years. A report in the New York Times indicated that there is also a "revenue sharing" plan, where returns from the orchestra's endowment may result in further reimbursement for the musicians.

With no access to their home concert venue, members of the Orchestra staged independent concerts, making music even as their own board kept them from playing on the stage of Orchestra Hall.  A visit to the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians' homepage indicated that their planned independent spring concerts will be "folded" into the soon-to-be-released Minnesota Orchestra programming schedule. More detains will follow.

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