A Frozen Orchestra in Minnesota

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The Minnesota Orchestra seemed to have it all: well-paid, world class musicians; a star conductor, Osmo Vänskä; a devoted audience in one of the most philanthropic cities in America. But last year, contract negotiations brought the orchestra to a screeching halt and management locked the players out of Orchestra Hall. An entire season of performances was cancelled, and the conductor quit. Fifteen months later, the situation remains at an impasse. Star Tribune critic Graydon Royce, who has reported on it extensively, tells Kurt Andersen, “without hyperbole, this is the most serious labor dispute in the last 40-50 years in the American symphonic world.”

The dispute is complicated (excellent sources of information are here, here, and here.) At the center of it are steep cuts to the players’ compensation; base pay under the old contract started at around $115,000 per year.

But Royce says the conflict has recently taken on a different tenor, in which “one side [doesn’t want] to be seen as though we’re giving into the other side. It gets beyond money.” At one point, management bought up domain names such as “SaveOurMinnesotaOrchestra” that might be used by the musicians and their supporters — a tactic that surprises Kurt, belying the stereotype of “Minnesota nice.”  “You just got to cut deeper, Kurt, and you can find the ugly side inside us,” Royce tells him.

Meanwhile, the Grammy-nominated musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have raised $650,000 to fund a winter-spring season of 10 concerts of their own. That season kicks off this weekend with performances of Beethoven, Britten, and Mozart’s Requiem at the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota.


→ Management’s last offer included an average salary of $104,500 for musicians. Do you think the musicians should have accepted it? Tell us in a Comment below.


UPDATE 1/14: Management and players have reached an agreement ending the lockout.
The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra accepted a new contract that reduces their pay by 15% from 2012 levels. The musicians will be back in Orchestra Hall by February 1. It is not yet known whether Osma Vänska will return as Music Director.


Music Playlist

  1. Sibelius Symphonies

    Artist: Minnesota Orchestra
    Album: Sibelius Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 4
    Label: BIS
  2. Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, "Choral": IV. Finale: Presto - Allegro assai

    Artist: Minnesota Orchestra
    Album: Beethoven, L. Van: Symphonies Nos. 1-9
    Label: BIS