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The roots of the dispute help explain some of the hard feelings impeding a resolution.
Musicians made concessions in 2009 and then were asked again in 2011. They rejected a proposal for an immediate 10 percent cut in wages followed by a two-year freeze. The proposals, they said, “outline a path toward financial sustainability that is artistically unsustainable.”
When the current contract talks began in April 2012, the board proposed a 32 percent cut in base salaries. Musicians never made an economic counterproposal until Monday.
As the deadline for Vänskä’s decision approached, the board made public two proposals — including a last offer that would have cut wages by 25 percent in the third year but promised a $20,000 bonus for each of 84 musicians. That was rejected by musicians and on Monday the board rebuffed two union proposals that called for much smaller cuts.
At a rally for musicians Tuesday evening outside Orchestra Hall, retired University of Minnesota professor Kim Munholland said he’s been attending orchestra concerts since 1963. The board “has alienated so many longtime season subscribers, they’re going to have a hard time raising money in the future,” he said.
Campbell said Vänskä “will hold a distinguished legacy in the history of the Minnesota Orchestra.”
He led the orchestra on four European tours, including two appearances at the BBC’s Proms, the world’s largest classical festival. The band also won two Grammy nominations for its acclaimed albums on the Sweden-based BIS label.
The label’s CEO, Robert von Bahr, said Vänskä “has brought the orchestra to the very forefront of the world’s best orchestras.” By resigning, Von Bahr said, the conductor “shows that he is a man of his word with a great personal integrity, who looks at music first, and the rest later, if at all.” As for his future job prospects, “we are not at liberty to discuss that. His career is going forward in a big way, that much is certain, because of him and his musicianship.”
Vänskä has guest-conducted around the world with increasing frequency in recent years.
The bigger surprise Tuesday was the resignation of Kernis, who did not pull punches in a letter to the board.
“I have personally never seen two sides that show such unwillingness to sit down together and attempt to tackle the major challenges that confront the orchestra,” he wrote, calling Vänskä’s departure a “heavy penalty for the choices made by both sides this year.”
Kernis is not alone.
“It’s really insane, this intransigence,” said New York-based critic and composer Greg Sandow, who said Vänskä’s resignation in the midst of labor strife is unprecedented.
“They can’t or won’t find a solution,” Sandow said. “They are putting something that is in their heads above the orchestra’s survival.”
Staff writers Kristin Tillotson and Claude Peck contributed to this article.
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