Having just completed a historic trip to Cuba, the Minnesota Orchestra announced new contracts Tuesday signaling a bright future for an organization that many had left for dead 18 months ago.
Music director Osmo Vänskä will stay until at least August 2019 while the orchestra’s union musicians — who had been locked out for 16 months in a bitter contract dispute — ratified a deal through the end of the 2020 season.
“This has been a good week,” said clarinetist Tim Zavadil, who headed the musicians’ negotiating committee. “This is a real vote of confidence in this orchestra.”
The total cost of both agreements will be $2.8 million, with most of that going to the musicians, said Kevin Smith, the orchestra’s president and CEO.
“This is a real vote of confidence in this orchestra.”
The musicians’ contract does not modify the January 2014 deal that cut salaries by 15 percent with small increases in subsequent years. The new agreement begins when the current contract — which ended the lockout — expires Feb. 1, 2017. Minimum salaries will increase from $1,967 per week in 2016-17 to $2,127 in mid-2020, an increase of 8.1 percent.
Financial terms of Vänskä’s deal were not released. According to the orchestra’s 2013 tax return, his salary was $936,346 before he resigned in protest over the lockout. He also accepted a 15 percent pay cut in the two-year contract he signed last spring.
Significant fundraising helped achieve the deals, approved Tuesday by the orchestra’s board.
Former board chairman Douglas Leatherdale and his wife, Louise, gave $5 million over the next five years to create the Douglas and Louise Leatherdale Music Director Chair in honor of Vänskä. A gift of $1.5 million from Betty Jayne Dahlberg in memory of her late husband, Kenneth Dahlberg, will support the musicians’ agreement.
Smith pointed out that both gifts are available for operations, rather than going to an endowment. That means the money can be spent on things such as touring and recording.
Vänskä, who was in Amsterdam for a conducting engagement Tuesday, said in a statement that “I feel now more than ever, Minnesota is my musical home.”
A new climate
The climate of comity contrasts with the chill during the lockout, in which both sides were subject to public recriminations and hurt feelings.
In an interview, Zavadil said Smith approached musicians about the contract in February — the same month the CEO announced that the orchestra would be going to Cuba.
No attorneys or board members were involved. Over a number of weeks, conversations dealt with long-term goals as much as negotiating details.
“It’s a great way to negotiate,” said Smith, who has been credited with changing the culture of the orchestra since he took over last fall. “Both of these contracts were interrelated and we are still working our way through financial issues.”
He said attendance has stabilized. Fundraising has easily outstripped expectations.
Zavadil, who also chaired the musicians’ team during the 2012-14 tensions, declined to say whether that experience affected either side this time.
“This was starting over,” he said. “We have a new relationship with the board and CEO. From our perspective, this was our opportunity to see what we could get done in the new environment.”
Musicians, board members, staff and patrons bonded in Havana, as the first major U.S. orchestra to visit the communist country since President Obama said he wanted to normalize relations. Cubans were enthusiastic in two sold-out concerts and also in school visits by Vänskä and his players.
“We knew when we took off that this would be a special trip, but we could not have known that it would be this transformative and inspirational,” Smith said on the flight home Sunday. “We need to build on that.”
In addition to the increases in pay, management agreed to raise the number of full-time musicians to 88 in the final year of the contract, from a complement of 84 in 2016-17. Last week in Cuba, there were 78 full-time musicians. Twenty-two substitutes filled out the ensemble.