Monday, September 02, 2013

Minnesota Orchestra: Down to the Wire

We're now a little over a week from Osmo Vänskä's September 9 deadline: if the lockout isn't settled by then, he has said that he plans to resign his post as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Let's review some history here.

Vänskä has been MD of the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003; during that time, the orchestra's reputation has grown; it has made a series of highly-regarded recordings under Vänskä; has toured the US, and generally received a great deal of acclaim. It's not as though this orchestra was ever a slouch; they also made some terrific recordings under Antal Dorati, conductor from 1949 to 1960, when the orchestra was called the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. 

Seriously, the orchestra has had a series of first-class conductors, including Edo de Waart and  Stanisław Skrowaczewsk (Mr. S). By all reports, it's now a world-class ensemble.

Eleven months ago, the orchestra's management locked out the musicians, after the musicians refused to take a 1/3 pay cut and accept significant changes to the work rules. (For details, read the Adaptistration articles on the redline contracts, which are here, here, and here.)

Since then, the orchestra has been bleeding musicians: 27 have resigned, retired, gone on leave, or accepted positions elsewhere. That's around a quarter of the orchestra. (The graphic above, from the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians web site, shows those musicians as ghosts.)

Even if the lockout is settled tomorrow - and it won't be, based on the most recent sham offer from management - the orchestra would be seriously damaged because of those losses. Despite claims in the past that it would be "exciting" or "interesting" to replace an orchestra with recent conservatory grads (and who says that recent conservatory grads want to be underpaid?), it would take years to fill 27 openings, if, of course, management wouldn't happily settle for a smaller number of musicians to pay.

Here's the biggest point you need to keep in mind in thinking about the situation: the management and board trying to cut musician pay are the same management and board that has fund-raised at least $45 million to fund a renovation of the orchestra's hall, but somehow they're not able to fund-raise enough money to keep musician salaries stable.

How is this going to play out? Here's what I wish: that the orchestra and musicians would listen to Alan Fletcher. End the walkout, sit down and talk, resume the orchestra's performance schedule, with management committing to raising the funds necessary to continue with decent salaries.

But I'm sorry to say that I think this situation cannot be healed. The board and management have shown little inclination to negotiate and little understanding of just how damaging this lockout has been. After an eleven-month lockout, I see no way for trust to be restored, although ending the walkout and negotiating in good faith would help. I believe that Osmo Vänskä will resign, that the 2013-14 season will have to be canceled, and that in the end, the musicians and Minnesota will be the big losers. 

It is a crying shame, and I would love to be wrong, but there you have it.

The Minnesota Orchestra cross-blog event is a collection of more than a dozen bloggers, musicians, patrons, and administrators writing about the orchestra's devastating work stoppage. You can find all of the contributions in the following list and the authors encourage everyone to participate by sharing, commenting, or publishing something at your own culture blog. To read a great deal of the history of the lockout, go to Drew McManus's Adaptistration (link is to his tag for the orchestra).


Unknown said...

The Minnesota Orchestra is a microcosm of the bigger philosophical battle: Will the arts be subject to the capitalist dogma that labor is an expense, not an asset - and as such must be reduced to the lowest possible value.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Paul, yeah. Really enjoyed releasing this posting on Labor Day.