Music Director Osmo Vanska conducting the orchestra at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 2010.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Forum looks for solutions to Minnesota Orchestra labor stalemate

  • Article by: Graydon Royce
  • Star Tribune
  • August 22, 2013 - 12:57 PM

We know what the management wants, and we know what musicians want. But what do fans and patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra want?

More than 400 people gathered Tuesday in Minneapolis to voice their ideas about how to move forward a stalemate that has silenced the orchestra for nearly a year.

Orchestrate Excellence, a community coalition, organized the forum at Westminster Presbyterian Church — which coincidentally sits across the street from an Orchestra Hall that appears nearly complete after a yearlong renovation. After a keynote speech from Alan Fletcher, CEO and president of the Aspen Music Festival and School, citizens broke into groups to brainstorm ideas to ensure the orchestra’s future.

“Is it possible to find a way for the Minnesota Orchestra to be artistically excellent and financially secure?” asked Paula DeCosse, a donor and fan of the orchestra and a co-founder of Orchestrate Excellence.

Some people said they would pay more for tickets, or that initiatives should be started to distribute tickets to underserved groups; others argued for musicians on the board of directors or at least a broader community representation; getting government officials involved was a popular idea and one group suggested tapping the expertise of people in the Obama campaign who developed grass roots fundraising.

Lee Henderson, a Minneapolis attorney, asked if Orchestrate Excellence could be a new voice at the ­bargaining table.

In his comments, Fletcher had comfort and cudgel for both sides. He said the 11-month lockout of musicians should end “unconditionally.” That drew applause from a crowd that was generally partisan toward musicians. However, Fletcher also said he believes the orchestra’s financial problems are real and that the management had done nothing underhanded in using endowment funds to balance budgets. The orchestra, Fletcher said, has a structural deficit that needs to be addressed.

He also said the decision to remodel the hall, at a cost of $52 million, may be a good idea and that fundraising for that venture is “clearly different from raising money for annual funds or endowments. It is not a contrivance.”

Aspen does not have a collective bargaining agreement with its musicians. However, Fletcher has had experience with deficits and turmoil. He said the organization agreed on a solution that would chip away at deficits over several years, while trying to increase fundraising. He cautioned against a one-size-fits-all solution. Financial problems at U.S. orchestras are “as unlike as they are like,” he said. “What works in one place does not necessarily work in another.”

DeCosse said the group will produce a report with the ideas that were gathered Tuesday night and make them public within 10 to 15 days. 

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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