Minnesota Orchestra: Will September 15 Be The Day The Music Died?

A vintage LP recording of The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (ca. 1959) under the baton of conductor Antal Dorati. After more than a century of distinguished musicmaking, the Minnesota Orchestra may be on the brink of collapse. Click photo to see video from last month's community attempt to save the orchestra.

Staff report for The UpTake/Video by Bill Sorem

The clock is ticking like a metronome set on “presto” as time runs out on the labor dispute between the Minnesota Orchestra and its musicians, who were locked out by the orchestra’s management almost a year ago. Several deadlines seem to be in motion, with management insisting the musicians accept an 11th-hour offer made last week and return to practice by Sept. 30, and conductor Osmo Vanska threatening to resign his position if practice does not resume by then.

The musicians’ union unanimously rejected management’s last offer, but responded with a “counter-offer” that would allow practice, and performances, to go forward. Management, however, dismissed the offer and derided it by saying it didn’t even amount to a counter-offer. In these contentious circumstances, music lovers and fans of the orchestra are left on the sidelines, watching a beloved cultural organization hurtle towards what could be the end of a distinguished institution’s 110-year life.

Orchestrate Excellence, a group of citizens concerned about the orchestra’s fate, has held public meetings to try to rescue the situation and issued a plea to the governor and other public officials. “As leaders of our city, state and nation, we call for you to act now to ensure that great music will again flourish in our great city. Bring together the MOA and Musicians now to reach an interim agreement no later than September 15th, 2013.”

It was not a happy moment when the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra were told on September 5, 2012, to take a 30% to 50% cut in salary. By October 1, 2012 no agreement was reached, a lockout by the symphony board began. Concerts were cancelled.This impasse has continued to the present day.

Ticket holders and other symphony supporters stood by helplessly as the hope for a musical season and a series of Carnegie Hall Concerts seemed to be fading away. There was also a possibility of losing conductor Osmo Vanska. Orchestrate Excellence grew out of this frustration and they inserted themselves into the negotiations. They agreed that the Minnesota Orchestra was a public asset just like professional sports teams and the general culture of the state. They said, “We have a stake in this dispute and we want it resolved.” A community forum was held on August 20 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. TheUptake Livestreamed the meeting Some 400 concerned citizens participated in the evening’s discussion.

The attendees broke out in separate groups to discuss and propose possible actions. The video accompanying this story is a summary of the reports from the various groups. The suggestions included urging ticket holders to buy an extra ticket to be given away in an outreach program, involving government officials, provide a means for ticket holders to communicate with the orchestra management. ” We need a world-class orchestra because we are a world-class city,” reported one of the groups. Several groups saw the need for a world-class orchestra in the same league as major sports teams, major universities and world known health care.

Another suggestion was to fund raise among the ticket holders, and to keep reminding citizens of the importance of the orchestra as major part of the cultural ecosystem. Further outreach was recommended to urge people to assume “ownership” of the orchestra and its place in the community. They requested involvement by state, local, legislative and other elected representatives.

But the clock is ticking. The historic Minnesota Orchestra might belong only to history within a matter of days.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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