For an organization that was declared dead by some observers, the Minnesota Orchestra has made a remarkable recovery since settling its contract dispute in February 2014. CEO and President Kevin Smith said in an interview that he has had substantive conversations with the musicians that could lead to a new deal.

"There were a series of discussions; some of those were detailed and some were theoretical," Smith said.

Both sides would likely seek an extension beyond the term of the current deal, set to expire in 2017. That deal cut salary 15 percent initially with small increases in years 2 and 3. Signing a new, longer-term deal would allow all sides the freedom to think strategically and dream big.

Smith said he's also had conversations with music director Osmo Vänskä's manager about a contract extension. The endowment is much healthier, particularly the Building for the Future Fund.

Smith sounds less convincing when he says the audience is coming back. The orchestra lost 30 percent of its subscriber base after Orchestra Hall closed for remodeling in June 2012 — which coincides largely with the term of the lockout.

Capacity this season has run just under 70 percent, which could be seen as good or bad. It's roughly on par with where the orchestra has historically been (though that percentage is now figured on a hall with slightly less capacity).