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Continued: After bitter labor battle, Minnesota Orchestra seeks harmony

  • Article by: KRISTIN TILLOTSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 5, 2014 - 12:35 PM

Labor expert John Budd, an economist at the University of Minnesota, said that for management, “It would be a mistake not to show respect for what the musicians accomplished during the lockout, and build on their attempts to connect with the ­community.”

As to buzz in the community that Vänskä may be unwilling to work with Henson again, “if that implication is true, it’s an easy choice,” Ross said. “Osmo is our best ticket seller and biggest fundraiser. If you look at it from a strategic point of view, him coming back only makes us stronger.”

Henson skirted the question of whether Vänskä has been invited to return permanently, saying only that the board has not yet discussed it beyond asking him back to conduct some concerts in the coming season.

The musicians are behind Vänskä’s return “10,000 percent,” Peck said, “but if it’s not him, it’s got to be someone of his stature who can infuse everyone from the board to the janitors with his vision, if we are to regain our reputation. Music directors do not grow on trees, and they book themselves five years in advance. We have to hire new musicians, and that’s next to impossible without a music director in place.”

The new contract stipulates hiring seven musicians over the next three years.

Lessons from elsewhere

After its six-month lockout ended last April, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra embraced more musician involvement in programming and other decisions.

A 26-week strike by Detroit Symphony musicians ended in April 2011 with a pay concession of more than 20 percent. Yet in January, the players ­ratified a new contract eight months ahead of schedule.

New board chair Phillip Fisher impressed musicians when he met with them in small groups and asked them what they wanted, said Ken Tompkins, principal trombone for the Detroit Symphony. Getting back on stage and performing turned out to be the best therapy.

“We just concentrated on making the best music we could; that’s our calling, it’s how we relate to the world,” Tompkins said. “Whatever frustrations you need to work out, putting it into your craft goes a long way.”

The musicians’ voice

Both sides in the SPCO dispute agree that a key factor in getting back on a positive track was putting musicians in new management posts. Kyu-Young Kim, principal second violin, was named senior director of artistic planning. “The musicians’ voice is now present in every discussion,” Kim said. “It’s really been encouraging.”

Open communication and power-sharing have been crucial to progress, said Bruce Coppock, who returned as SPCO president last year.

“I’ve probably had more meetings with musicians over the last several months than during the years I was president before,” he said.

Having more seats at the management table doesn’t appear to be a high priority for the Minnesota Orchestra musicians, however. Although more musician influence over programming had been a talking point during negotiations, it didn’t figure prominently in their new settlement. Ross said that while the musicians appreciated contributing to this weekend’s homecoming concert programming, “if management is really good at doing it, we’re happy to let them.”

Right now, he said, what’s more important for the musicians is regaining “the respect we feel has been lost” from management.

Coppock said it’s important to acknowledge that people overcome past discord at different paces.

“There are people in the orchestra, on the staff and on the board who aren’t yet ready to engage in as robust a way as others. We’re trying to give space to those who need it.”

  • related content

  • Feb. 1, 2013: Locked out musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra, led by conductor Osmo Vanska, center, played a concert at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

  • Tony Ross

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