Union musicians at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on Wednesday formally rejected a contract offer from management.

The unanimous vote means musicians and management must return to the bargaining table if they are to resolve their months-old contract dispute.

Management locked out musicians Oct. 21, and canceled concerts through this weekend. Following Wednesday's vote, management said it also would cancel concerts for Nov. 8-10. Any further cancellations will be determined Thursday, said spokesperson Jessica Etten.

"Our goal is to preserve the artistic excellence of the SPCO in a fiscally responsible way, for our supporters and for this community," said Lynn Erickson, a trumpet player and spokesperson for the musicians. "We want to resume negotiations as soon as possible, and hope that a mutually agreeable solution can be quickly achieved."

SPCO president Dobson West said he was disappointed at the vote.

"We had hoped to quickly be able to resume the season, and we know our audience members had hoped for this, as well," West said.

The SPCO's contract with musicians expired June 30, although a clause extended most of its terms for 90 days. After the last bargaining session, on Oct. 12, management said it wanted a vote on its final offer. It notified players the following week that they would be locked out if they did not agree to terms by Oct. 21.

Many issues remain. Regarding pay, management's proposal would cut the minimum annual salary of $73,732 in fiscal year 2012, to $50,000 -- a reduction of 32 percent. The sides also disagree over a management desire to reduce the size of the orchestra to 28 players from 34, and to offer more favorable salary deals to principal players than to section musicians.

Both sides have proposed dates for further talks, and the federal mediator is in the process of matching schedules.

Wednesday's meeting lasted four hours, during which musicians compared management's proposal with the players' most recent offer and asked questions, Erickson said. She added that musicians are working on a new proposal.

Players at the Minnesota Orchestra were locked out Oct. 1 after the union unanimously voted to reject what management had characterized as its final offer. So for the first time since the SPCO was launched in 1959, neither orchestra is currently playing. The Minnesota Orchestra musicians will rally at Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis at noon Thursday, the one-month anniversary of the lockout.

Contract disputes at both the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO make the Twin Cities unique in that both major orchestras are locked out. Both Atlanta and Indianapolis symphony orchestras endured lockouts this fall. In Chicago, a short strike ended when musicians agreed to small raises. Last weekend, musicians at the Cleveland Orchestra ratified a three-year contract with minimal raises in the second and third years, and with a shift in medical insurance costs.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299