The dispute between musicians and the board of the Minnesota Orchestra deepened Thursday as the orchestra canceled all concerts through the end of the year.
The 21 canceled shows include holiday and pops concerts that routinely draw large crowds and produce sizable revenues. The next scheduled concerts would be Jan. 11.
The announcement means the orchestra has canceled the first 2 1/2 months of its season -- longer than any of the other large U.S. orchestras struggling with contract disputes this fall -- and rhetoric between the two sides has become hotter.
For Twin Cities music lovers, it means that both the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra will be silent during the holiday season. Musicians of both orchestras are locked out.
"We make this decision with heavy hearts and once again ask our musicians to return to the negotiating table with a substantive proposal so our concert schedule can resume as soon as possible," Minnesota Orchestra board chairman Jon Campbell said in a statement.
"Blaming us is akin to blaming the victim," said Tim Zavadil, head of the musicians' negotiating team. "The audience is the real victim; they're being locked out of concerts. Businesses around town lose revenue, and the musicians and their families lose their health insurance and our salaries. It seems to be a bullying tactic."
Thursday's cancellations will have consequences beyond the orchestra.
The Minneapolis Convention Center had projected income of $274,000 from the fall and holiday orchestra seasons, said spokeswoman Kirsten Montag. And the Minnesota Chorale, which had been scheduled for dates with the orchestra in October, November and December, will lose nearly all of its earned income for the fiscal year, said executive director Bob Peskin.
"We'll have to make up the lost income with further expense cuts and increased donations," Peskin said.
Orchestra president and CEO Michael Henson said the December dates -- which include classical, jazz and presentations in addition to the holiday fare -- were projected to make up 19.3 percent of annual ticket revenue. However, the net impact is a wash because the orchestra won't have to pay rent at the Convention Center or musician salaries and benefits.
"If we felt we were close to any kind of settlement, that would have affected the length of our cancellations," Henson said.
There have been no talks since negotiations broke off Sept. 30. Management locked out musicians the next day.
Orchestra management has said it wants to cut $5 million from labor expenses -- about 33 percent of current costs -- via cuts in base and overscale salaries as well as in benefits and through a pay cut for substitute and extra musicians. The numbers also assume an orchestra size in the mid-80s. Currently, 95 positions are contracted, but because of vacancies and leaves, the ensemble has 81 musicians.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Campbell said in an interview last Friday in which he discussed the talks. "It's very confounding to see where it goes from here."
With both sides publicly dug in and no concerts set for almost two months, the question arises of what would get the two sides back at the negotiating table. Management rejects the musicians' suggestion that concerts continue while the two sides talk. Henson said last Friday that doing so under terms of the old contract would cause the orchestra to lose $500,000 a month.
The board has said it will not meet until the union makes a formal counterproposal. The union contends that it has made three proposals: a request for an independent analysis of orchestra finances; the "play and talk" suggestion, and binding arbitration -- in which an arbitrator chooses between two proposals.
However, John Budd, a labor relations expert at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, said in an interview that the union positions are "structural requests around the parameters of the negotiations and not formal counterproposals."
Rybak talks to both sides
The Minneapolis City Council last Friday passed a resolution encouraging a return to the table. Mayor R.T. Rybak said Thursday he is deeply concerned about the deadlock.
"We're looking for any public or private way to help," Rybak said. "I can't say there is a single brilliant idea, but all of us in the civic and public sphere are looking."
Rybak said he has had conversations with both sides.
Elected officials have no authority to force the parties to meet. Nor does the federal mediator with whom the union and management had been meeting before talks ended.
At both orchestras, musicians rejected contract proposals that would cut minimum pay scales by just more than 30 percent. Boards say labor expenses are eating into endowments. Players point to the construction of a new lobby at Orchestra Hall, and a willingness in St. Paul to fund an early retirement program as signs that both organizations have chosen to spend money on different priorities.
Thursday's announcement cancels such popular annual events as "Chris Botti Christmas," Tonic Sol-Fa, Handel's "Messiah" and "Jingle Bell Doc," with Doc Severinsen. Five of the programs will be rescheduled during the 2013 holiday season. Those include dates with the Celtic Women, "The Tenors" and Chris Botti. "A Scandinavian Christmas" and two performances by Doc Severinsen will also be slotted into December 2013.
Ticketholders will be notified of their options, which are the same as existed for the previous cancellations.
Musicians of the SPCO, who were locked out Oct. 21, met Thursday with management, but made no progress.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299