In the newly remodeled Orchestra Hall, black is the new orange.

An auditorium long known for its sea of 1970s orange now has seats and balconies in a near-black color called "thundercloud." A glassy new lobby is twice the size of the original.

But the $50 million, 15-month project, unveiled to the media Thursday, coincides with one of the longest, bitterest labor disputes in the history of American orchestras.

"It's unfortunate that the media got to see the hall before the musicians," said Blois Olson, musicians' spokesman. "After all, the musicians lobbied for and supported the renovation. They look forward to playing world-class music there someday."

There will not be much music played in the hall until the two sides agree on a new contract.

General manager Robert Neu said the orchestra will not present any artists in the hall until the contract issues are resolved. This includes the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Bill Cosby, whose dates later this month are being rescheduled, orchestra spokeswoman Gwen Pappas said.

However, Neu said, groups will rent the space for fall concerts.

VocalEssence is scheduled to open its season at Orchestra Hall on Oct. 27. Director Philip Brunelle said, "We are going ahead as planned." The Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies confirmed its Nov. 19 concert.

The renovation sought to expand and streamline the lobby, add meeting rooms and open up the building visually to adjacent Peavey Plaza and the downtown Minneapolis skyline.

The lobby has been doubled in size. It features a gray-and-white color scheme, granite floors, glassy staircases between various levels, new bars and added windows. Other elements in the design are accessibility and fire suppression (for the first time).

The remodeled concert hall has 2,085 seats, 365 fewer than before. Besides being black, the seats are a bit wider, with more legroom. There is a cross aisle in the middle of the house.

A key addition is a large glass-enclosed atrium to be used for preshow talks and intermission mingling. It's also been acoustically treated to accommodate chamber or jazz ensembles and vocalists.

A second-tier terrace allows patrons to get fresh air and a view of the plaza. The spaces also will be made available for rent.

There already have been a few events, including a graduation ceremony by the University of Phoenix. Neu said he estimates that the new hall will generate about $300,000 in added annual revenue through rentals.

Neu said the color scheme was the choice of KPMB Architects, the Toronto firm hired to head the project. New white-oak floors are used in the auditorium, and the stage floor and the signature acoustical "tumbling dice" remain in place on the back wall of the stage and the ceiling.

Less visible changes include new rehearsal rooms for musicians. An expanded women's locker room reflects the change since the hall was built in 1974 and 70 percent of musicians were men.

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison issued a letter urging the orchestra board to accept a proposal to immediately end the lockout and negotiate for a four-month period. The proposal was put forward by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell as an interim agreement to allow musicians to play while the two sides negotiate, with Mitchell as a mediator. That call was echoed by Betsy Hodges, a Minneapolis City Council member who is running for mayor.

Musicians accepted the proposal; management rejected it.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299