MINNEAPOLIS (PAI) — Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, locked out of their jobs for the past year, were devastated by the Oct. 1 resignation of its music director, Osmo Vänskä, who quit when management refused to end the lockout in time for rehearsals for a concert at Carnegie Hall.
Vänskä’s departure, which made clear that he sides with his orchestra, came the same day as another major organization, the New York City Opera, announced that a last-ditch month-long $7 million fundraising campaign had failed. The opera said it would shut down and cancel the rest of its season after its current opening production.
The lockout in Minnesota and the closure in New York are the latest developments in almost a decade of tension between musicians and boards of their orchestras. Other noted ensembles, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, have also slammed their union members. That orchestra declared bankruptcy at one point.
In Minneapolis, the director of the orchestra’s Composer Institute, Aaron Jay Kernis, also resigned, saying he was “baffled and dismayed at what has been done to allow the dismemberment of this superb orchestra at the height of its powers.”
Their announcements leave the Minnesota Orchestra, one of the nation’s leading symphonies, in shambles, with many of its most talented artists having left for other venues. The locked out musicians, members of the Twin Cities Musicians Union, are holding their own concerts.
Vänskä resigned just a day after a pro-musician rally drew hundreds of people to downtown Minneapolis. Ray Hair, president of the Minnesota local’s parent American Federation of Musicians, blasted the orchestra board for its demands – topped by a 25% pay cut and imposition of regressive work rules – and refusal to bargain.
“The board decided to use starvation as a weapon against defenseless orchestra musicians to force unjustified contract concessions unparalleled in the workplace of an orchestra of this stature,” Hair told the rally. The board’s lockout also deprived the musicians of health insurance coverage, AFM noted.
“The board has brought shame upon itself, upon the Twin Cities area, upon the state of Minnesota, and upon orchestra managements across the country. It has shown no remorse for the pain inflicted upon these great musicians,” Hair added. He suggested area residents boycott the firms whose representatives sit on the board.
Vänskä’s departure left the very upset musicians to issue an open letter to the city and the subscribers, posting it on their website. “It has been a devastating day for us all,” their letter said, after noting they are “honoring a commitment we had made” to play an educational concert for orchestra and band students at a local high school.
“We know there is tremendous hurt, frustration, and anger in our community right now over the inability of everyone involved in this dispute to come to an agreement and bring the music back to Orchestra Hall. We know there is dismay, even among some who have supported the musicians throughout this ordeal, that we were unable to avert Osmo’s resignation through some last-minute compromise. We have spent the past several weeks, and this past weekend in particular, in dogged pursuit of just such a compromise, but have found ourselves rebuffed at every turn,” their statement said.
The parent AFM said the orchestra’s management had bypassed and rejected mediation efforts by retired U.S. Sen. George Mitchell to solve the dispute.
“There will be a time, and it will be very soon, to begin dissecting the reasons these negotiations have led us to such a terrible pass, but tonight is not that time,” the Minnesota musicians continued. “Tonight is a night to celebrate the remarkable tenure of Osmo Vänskä, to hold all that we accomplished together up to the light, and to reflect on what has been lost today…Thank you, Osmo, for everything.”
Photo: In an undated photo, Osmo Vänskä leads members of the Minnesota Orchestra in practice at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Brian Peterson /The Star Tribune/AP