After five months of silence, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra may soon be playing again. A management proposal, forged under pressure from Mayor Chris Coleman, will be voted on by musicians if one key issue can be resolved.
“We want it to happen as fast as possible,” said Carole Mason Smith, head of the musicians’ bargaining team. “[The proposal] is an improvement, but it’s still a big pay cut.”
Negotiators in St. Paul have been inching toward agreement during the last two months. Coleman stepped in last week and told both sides forcefully that failure to resolve the dispute would have serious consequences for the orchestra and the city, according to a statement from Dobson West, the SPCO board chairman.
“After some very frank discussion with the mayor and some of our major donors, we have been convinced that we must take some additional financial risk in order to avoid the devastating consequences that could ensue from the cancellation of the balance of the season,” West wrote.
Management raised its offer on annual minimum salaries — to $60,000 from $56,000. That new figure still represents a cut of 18.6 percent from the fiscal 2012 minimum of $73,732. The proposal includes a $3,000 signing bonus for current musicians not on leave.
Also in the proposal, management guaranteed that no musician would receive less than 80 percent of his or her current overscale — up from 50 percent. There is also provision for a 28-player orchestra, down from 34, but with no current musician losing his or her job.
The hangup concerns the use of electronic media. The American Federation of Musicians, a national group, contends that it alone may negotiate those rights with SPCO management.
“No ratification vote can be taken while these issues remain in their proposal,” Mason Smith said in a statement.
In an interview, Mason Smith said she felt the issue, “could be solved very quickly.”
The SPCO’s contract expired last June 30, but was extended to the end of September last year. Musicians were locked out Oct. 21 after failing to accept an offer. Talks re-started earlier this year and had stalled before Coleman’s recent entry into the process — a move that both sides praised.
Meanwhile, two well-known musicians have said they will leave the Minnesota Orchestra, which remains in a protracted lockout with no negotiations in sight. Violinist Gina DiBello is headed for the Boston Symphony and violist Kenneth Freed will move to Seattle.
Several other musicians also have officially resigned, although their departures have been in the works for some time. Generally, when a musician seeks a job with another orchestra, he or she takes a one-year leave to try out with the new ensemble.
DiBello, principal second violinist since 2008, has won a section violin position with the Boston Symphony. She came to Minnesota after three years with the Detroit Symphony.
Freed has been a longtime mainstay in the viola section. He will move to Seattle to pursue other opportunities. His wife, Gwendolyn, who was executive director of Wallin Education Partners in Minneapolis, has found a new job in Seattle. Freed will continue as music director of the Mankato Symphony.
Another violist, Matthew Young, had taken a leave last Jan. 17 and has now been granted tenure at the San Francisco Symphony — which, ironically, recently went on strike.
Kyu-Young Kim left the SPCO for the New York Philharmonic last month, and now his wife, Minnesota cellist Pitnarry Shin, is joining him. She has announced that she will move, although it is not known whether she has resigned.
Sarah Kwak had asked for a leave a year ago to become concertmaster at the Oregon Symphony. Her husband, violinist Vali Phillips, went with Kwak.