Printer-friendly version

Minnesota Orchestra Lockout Is Over

Laurie Niles

Written by
Published: January 15, 2014 at 6:56 PM [UTC]

At long last, the Minnesota Orchestra lockout has ended, and musicians will go back to work on Feb. 1.

On Tuesday, musicians, represented by Twin Cities Musicians’ Union (American Federation of Musicians Local 30-73), and the Minnesota Orchestra Board of Directors ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement that will cut musician salaries 15 percent from 2012 levels in the first year, according to the Minnesota Orchestra. This puts minimum base salaries at $96,824 for year one. Salaries will increase 2 percent to $99,008 for year two, then increase 3 percent to $102,284 in year three. This keeps Minnesota Orchestra in the top ten U.S. orchestras for salaries.

Minnesota Orchestra

"Keeping salaries in the top ten was a critical issue, as it allows the orchestra to attract and retain the finest musicians in the country, building on the tradition of excellence that has been cultivated by the community over many generations. The agreement achieves this priority," said a statement from the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, posted yesterday.

Musicians had been locked out for 15 months after rejecting October 2012 proposal by management for 35 percent salary cuts. As the lockout dragged on, vacancies in the orchestra went unfilled and many of the orchestra's best musicians left for jobs elsewhere, leaving nearly 30 empty positions in the orchestra. The orchestra's conductor, Osmo Vänskä, resigned on Oct. 1 after having to cancel two Minnesota Orchestra concerts at Carnegie Hall.

Though Minnesota Orchestra Association Chief Executive Officer Michael Hensen has been widely criticized for his strategy in locking out the musicians and also for the massive bonuses he awarded himself in the run-up to the work stoppage, he will remain on as CEO, according to an article in Chairman of the Board Jon Campbell will step down.

The vote to ratify the contract was not unanimous, according to another MinnPost article. The same article speculates that perhaps the Minnesota Orchestra Association was feeling some pressure, facing the possible termination of its lease with the city of Minneapolis.

I think we all wish the Minnesota Orchestra well in the task of rebuilding its orchestra -- a considerable endeavor. The orchestra will need to convince musicians who endured more than a year of great financial hardship to come back to the orchestra that brought it upon them, or recruit new musicians into an orchestra with a reputation for disregarding its musicians. It will have to find a conductor. It will have to regain the trust of symphony donors. It will have to regain the trust of supporters and concertgoers who saw so many concerts canceled. It will have to rebuild its national and international reputation. It will have to shore up its board of directors.

Judging from the current state of the organization, the lockout-as-businessategy was disastrous. But at least it's over.

One person who can be thanked for her tireless advocacy on behalf of the Minnesota Orchestra is Emily Hogstad, whose blog, Song of the Lark, helped build the groundswell of support for the symphony's musicians and for its continuation as a top-quality musical organization. At least one musician involved in the negotiations told me privately that her blog was "so accurate, it's scary."

What was her assessment, at the end of the day?

"We saved the Minnesota Orchestra and we saved it together," Emily wrote. "Because of our work, the Minnesota Orchestra will not die. However, the new business model did. We killed it, and we killed it together."

Let's hope. And let's shoot high, let's hope this orchestra redeems itself by building a new business model: a strong organization that is a beacon of leadership, artistic excellence, fiscal responsibility and community strength.

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 12:09 AM
I'm glad the musicians finally settled. There is one issue that I have a quibble with. The musicians come off sounding elitist. The idea that unless they are in the top ten in terms of salary the quality of the music will falter is ridiculous. By saying this they are disparaging scores of orchestras of similar quality whose members earn less through no fault of their own. The difference in quality and talent is minuscule. There is a glut of talented musicians looking for orchestra jobs and with competition the way it is today anyone that is hired by a full time orchestra is immensely qualified. What might make one orchestra sound better than another is the conductor they are able to afford. Gustavo Dudamel can make any orchestra sound great as witnessed by what he did in Venezuela. MTT gets the New World Symphony to sound world class. There is a big difference in most orchestras when assistants or inferior conducts take the baton. Another point is that many musicians in so called first tier orchestras have tenure and no interest in finding another job because they feel secure. Many of these hight paid musicians lose their chops and just go through the motions. More musicians in the so called lesser tier orchestras stay on top of their game because they have aspirations to win jobs in higher paying orchestras. I doubt if many on this website when blindfolded could tell the difference between Kansas City, Chicago, or New World.
Posted on January 16, 2014 at 6:46 PM
Think of "top 10" as a marketing strength for the attraction and retention of high quality musicians. Minnesota should be a destination orchestra not a stepping stone and being "top 10" helps confirm that.
Posted on January 16, 2014 at 7:34 PM
My time as a member of the NWS provided me with some of the treasured musical highlights of my life. I've also been privileged to hear top-tier orchestras playing at the top of their game, including Minnesota, SPCO, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. They are the elite because they are the best. Their individual and combined talents have a chemistry that produces Art that transcends talent, salary, and reputation, in a way that would be eye-opening to a blindfolded amateur or connoisseur. I seriously doubt I will hear concerts that surpass what I heard in the past year from the locked-out players of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO. It doesn't denigrate the talents and abilities of so-called second-tier orchestras to celebrate and support excellence wherever it's found. The great oboist John de Lancie noted that the average level of playing is much higher now, but there still seems to be the same limited number of players and orchestras that reach the exemplary pinnacle of the profession. Admire and aspire to their greatness! It is truly extraordinary.

Posted on January 17, 2014 at 2:18 AM
I've heard eyeopening performances from many orchestras. I've heard uninspired performances from the so called top ten. Minnesota reached a level of success that is mostly attributed to the talents of Osmo Vanska. Being paid the most doesn't guarantee greatness. Music isn't a sport which quantifies levels of achieve through competition. There is no way to tell which orchestras belong in the top ten because it is purely subjective. High remuneration doesn't guarantee success. not even in sports. I'm happy that the Minnesota orchestra inspires and enriches and that their audience loves them. But I still contend it has little to do with the musicians income and a lot to do with the interpretive and leadership skills of their leader.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine