The legislative auditor will proceed “cautiously” with a look at the Minnesota Orchestra’s finances.

James Nobles wrote to legislators who had requested an audit on March 7 that his office will examine the orchestra’s use of state money — routine grants and bonding money that is helping to fund a building project.

Significantly, though, Nobles wrote, “It would be inappropriate for [his office] to become involved in issues related to the current dispute between members of the Orchestra and the Orchestra’s board and management.”

Won’t analyze strategic plan

Musicians, who have been locked out since Oct. 1, have questioned whether the orchestra needs to cut base salaries by 32 percent. Management claims it needs to cut $5 million in musician expenses because of declines in endowments, donations and earned revenue. Nobles wrote that his office will not “analyze and make judgments about the Orchestra’s strategic plan.”

In 2010, the orchestra received $14 million in bonding money to help fund its renovation of Orchestra Hall. In addition, the orchestra receives grants from the general fund and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. About 100 DFL legislators had requested Nobles’ audit and said the ongoing lockout “threatens the value” of the state’s investment.

The investigation has no timetable, said Nobles, who noted that his staff is occupied with previously scheduled high-priority audits.

“Conducting an audit of the Minnesota Orchestra will require staff reassignments that may delay or even require [the office] to cancel some of these previously scheduled audits,” he wrote to legislators.

Michael Henson, orchestra CEO and president, said the organization was eager to move forward with the audit. “Our accounts are audited,” he said. “We have used funds in the way in which they were intended and followed every requirement. The project is on budget and on schedule.”

Henson has said previously that the orchestra would sequester grant money and not use the funds so long as the lockout continues.

The legislative audit would not affect a financial analysis that management and musicians have agreed to undertake. The two sides have not announced who will perform that analysis.