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End of the Road for Minnesota Orchestra?

October 1, 2013

Osmo Vänskä: resignation After a year's struggle and last weekend's events, it is highly unlikely that the Minnesota Orchestra — a major organization with the promise of greatness — will survive in its present form. The musicians, locked out by management for a year as of today, have rejected the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s fourth proposal over the weekend.

This is the last week Music Director Osmo Vänskä has set as deadline for the orchestra to be in rehearsals for scheduled performances in Carnegie Hall on Nov. 2 and 3. In a letter last spring, Vänskä said that he would resign from the orchestra if these concerts were to be canceled.

Management says it has offered annual salary of $104,500 over the life of a three-year contract, a revenue-sharing opportunity, and a $20,000 signing bonus for each musician; made possible through one-time special funding from Minnesota foundations and community support entities. While the musicians' website only marks the lockout's anniversary, their Facebook posting stated:

Today the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra made two counter-proposals to management. The first was a one-year modification to the Mitchell proposal with a deeper cut, the second was a three-year proposal that would have returned Musicians costs for the Orchestra to 2007 levels. Management rejected both proposals, and refused to offer any new counter-proposals or negotiate. The management and board have chosen this path. The Musicians remain committed to find a compromise and meet throughout the night.

They unilaterally canceled the Carnegie concerts. The Musicians will work tirelessly to maintain world-class orchestral music in Minnesota.

At a press conference Saturday, the musicians announced they had unanimously rejected management's latest contract offer as "artistically unsustainable," but they would present one or two proposals to mediator George Mitchell to end the year-long lockout. (This is George Mitchell, former Senator and Majority Leader, who had successfully negotiated agreements in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East, and in major-league baseball's drug crisis; nothing so far in Minnesota.)

Management representatives also said the Association received its first counter-proposals from union musicians on Monday: "The eleventh-hour proposals from the union included one with an average annual salary reduction per musician of 4.7% over a three year period with a revision back to 2012 contract levels and another with a 6.7% reduction for one year. This contrasts with the board’s most recent proposal of an average 17.7% reduction over three years including a one-time signing bonus of $20,000 to address three years of significant deficits and a projected depletion of the orchestra’s endowment by 2018."

"We have done our very best to try to reach a compromise agreement by September 30," said Richard Davis, chief negotiator for the board.

We have worked with the mediator, consulted with the Governor, collaborated with community leaders, issued two new proposals in the last two weeks and held a last minute meeting with musician negotiators. In our last proposal, a coalition of funding partners from our community rose to the occasion to offer an improved package so that we might reach an agreement in time to allow these Carnegie Hall concerts to proceed. We regret that the musicians have rejected our efforts. For this reason, we are left with no choice but to withdraw from the Carnegie Hall performances in November.

Davis said he hopes Vänskä will "choose to remain with the Minnesota Orchestra and fulfill his contract," which runs through September 2015.

However, just as he had promised if the situation reached this stage, Vänskä resigned Tuesday morning, effective immediately, saying: "It is a very sad day for me."

It is that also for the orchestra and Minnesota.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].