St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians announced Monday a vote of no confidence in Jon Limbacher, the orchestra's managing director and president, warning that "the community is at risk of losing the SPCO."

The 28 members of the musicians union at the Chamber Orchestra voted unanimously against Limbacher last week after learning that violinist Kyu-Young Kim was stepping down from his position June 30 as artistic director, citing "recent organizational decisions and shifts in priorities."

The union is negotiating its contract, which expires this summer.

Musicians said that Limbacher has been cutting concerts and venues without consulting musicians. While they're working to negotiate better salaries, their concerns are largely artistic, said Daria T. Adams, a violinist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra since 1987.

They'd been discussing a vote of no confidence since last fall, Adams said. "Kyu was the final straw."

Adams said that while Kim was on sabbatical last summer, Limbacher proposed slicing the weeks of concerts a season from the typical 35 to 19. (In the end, the season landed at 28 weeks.) Under that proposal, musicians' pay wouldn't have been affected, Adams said. A laborer would be pleased: fewer hours for equal pay, she said.

"But there wasn't a single person in the orchestra that was not completely appalled at the idea. Artists need to perform."

In a statement Monday, Deborah Palmer, the SPCO's board chair, said that the board "unequivocally supports Jon Limbacher as he leads the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra into the future.

"We will continue to negotiate with the musicians for an agreement that provides a pathway to structural balance and sustains the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for the community well into the future," Palmer said.

Kim will step down as artistic director at the end of the season, but will continue as principal violin, the Chamber Orchestra announced Friday.

The SPCO's leadership model — with Limbacher as president and Kim as artistic director — began in 2016 as the nonprofit was building itself back from a bruising labor/management dispute and lockout that ended in 2013.

Before becoming the organization's artistic leader, Kim, then a rising star, had turned down a position with the New York Philharmonic to stay in St. Paul as a senior artistic adviser. Limbacher, a former SPCO executive, returned to the organization after time with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Since the lockout, the SPCO has balanced its budget. But like other performing arts organizations across the country, it is struggling with lower attendance since the pandemic hit, shuttering stages.

In December, the nonprofit announced an operating surplus of $77,600 on operating expenses of about $10.6 million for the year that ended June 30. Overall attendance was down 30% compared with the last full year before COVID-19.

In a statement on Monday, SPCO leaders said that "we are working to regain our financial health in the aftermath of the pandemic," drawing from its rainy day fund to balance decreased revenues.

"Musicians are the heart and soul of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra," the statement said, "and we can all agree that we would like to see compensation increases for them."

But it notes that "since 2013, musician compensation has steadily increased." During the pandemic, the organization maintained the musicians' compensation, one of the few orchestras to do so. "We are committed to responsible and sustainable increases in compensation for our musicians during these negotiations," the statement said.

Blois Olson, a spokesman for the musicians, questioned that statement, noting that musicians had taken a 23% cut in 2013, then had a five-year salary freeze. "Inflation has also steadily increased, and CEO Limbacher's compensation has steadily increased, both at a higher rate than musicians' salaries," he said via email. A musician's base salary is $71,440.

Adams, who is retiring at the end of this season, acknowledged that performing arts organizations are grappling with difficult times.

"But there are different approaches to it," she said. "You can run and hide and try to cut your way to greatness. Or you can be bold and come up with some new ideas and some exciting projects."

Limbacher has chosen to cut, and musicians are leaving, Adams said. Hiring is harder, too. With retirements and sabbaticals, the SPCO will count just four violinists next season, when a healthy number would be nine, Adams said. "It just feels like we're dying."