An early-evening rain squall perfectly suited the mood around Orchestra Hall on Friday as more than 500 patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra gathered for the Symphony Ball. Out on the sidewalk, musicians and their supporters greeted the patrons with calls to end a lockout that is nearly a year old.
“This is a solemn night,” said attorney Doug Kelley, a member of the Minnesota Orchestral Association board and a negotiator in the labor dispute with musicians. “Never before in the history of the orchestra has there been labor strife during the ball. The people who attend have great love for this orchestra.”
The Symphony Ball was expected to raise $1 million, which would go to musicians’ salaries and education initiatives, said spokeswoman Gwen Pappas. She said the funds will not be used until a contract is in place. The event is by far the largest single fundraising event for the organization. Pappas said board members and their corporations have contributed $60 million over the past five years to annual operations, the hall renovation and a new endowment fund.
Tony Ross, principal cellist and a member of the musicians’ negotiating team, said the crowds on the sidewalk and in adjacent Peavey Plaza wanted to thank those at the ball for their patronage and donations.
“We appreciate that they still support the orchestra,” Ross said.
Musicians and the board face a Sept. 30 deadline, the date that music director Osmo Vänskä has said he needs the players rehearsing to get ready for two Carnegie Hall concerts in November.
“If we didn’t trust that there was any hope, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” Ross said, when asked about the contract dispute.
Kelley said the board doesn’t want to cancel Carnegie.
“We hope to open the hall with the musicians in here very soon,” he said. “The musicians hold the key to those events.”
Ben Jaffray, a retired Cargill executive who has attended the Symphony Ball since 1974, said he is frustrated that musicians have challenged whether the orchestra faces severe financial problems.
“What’s not in dispute is that we have a great orchestra, a great music director and great musicians,” Jaffray said Friday. “But there are also the financial facts, that we had a $6 million deficit last year.”
The ball, long considered one of the social events of the Twin Cities’ year, originated in 1956 after a series of earlier annual fundraisers. The first ball raised $14,000.