Locked out musicians bring in more big guns for December concerts

The locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra today announced former music director Edo de Waart, and former concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis will join them for two concerts in mid-December.

The news comes one day after management cancelled all concerts through December 23rd citing lack of progress in concert talks.

Meanwhile the similarly locked out players at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra are bringing in former music director Pinchas Zukerman who will lead them in an all Mozart program.

Standing before Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis Minnesota Orchestra Principal Cellist Tony Ross said having de Waart and Fleezanis is a big boost to the musicians.

"Maestro de Waart, it means the world to us that he is coming and supporting our cause," Ross said. "And supporting our cause of great music in the Twin Cities. His stint as music director here, starting about 24 years ago was really the beginning of the great times for this orchestra and we will be thrilled to have him back."

Ross also welcomed the news about the return of Fleezanis. "We all love Jorja, the community loves Jorja. Jorja is for the music also," he said.

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.

Fleezanis will perform with her successor Erin Keefe in the Bach Double Violin Concerto. The two soloists will also perform in the evenings other work, Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Both concerts on December 15th and 16th at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the U of M campus will also feature a large chorus. Ross says everyone will be donating their time and skills.

The musicians of the SPCO announced the Zukerman concert slightly later in the afternoon . Trumpet player Lynn Erickson says Zukerman contacted the musicians himself and asked if there was anything he could do to help. She says they will perform at the Wayzata Community Church on the afternoon of Sunday December 2nd.

"I think it says a lot about the quality of the orchestras that people are willing to come back and donate their time and their talent to help the musicians out," said Erickson.

However at the offices of the Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson says concerts are great, but they do not resolve the underlying financial problems facing the Minnesota Orchestra. He says he is still waiting to hear a contract counter proposal from the musicians.

"This does nothing to alter the fundamental situation that we remain with very severe financial challenges," he said. "And it doesn't stop the process of wanting our players to get back with the union and us to the table to actually have substantive conversations so we can actually find a long term resolution as to how we actually make ourselves financially secure over a long period."

Management has proposed cutting musicians pay from an average of $135,000 a year to $89,000.

There have been no negotiating sessions between management and players at the Minnesota Orchestra since September 30th, when the last contract ran out.

Musicians say they cannot respond with a counter-offer to a proposal set before them in April until there is an independent analysis of the orchestra's finances. They also argue the ball is in the management's court because it imposed the lock out.

The deadlock in Minneapolis is now being replicated in Saint Paul. Management and players met Thursday to discuss what musicians called a framework for future discussions.

On October 31st the musicians rejected a four year deal which would have cut current player's guaranteed salaries to $62,500, reduced the size of the orchestra and offered buy-outs to musicians aged 55 and older.

In the Thursday meeting they told management negotiators they will not accept a reduction in the cost of the contract compared with the old one. Nor will they accept a reduction in the size of the orchestra from 34 to 28 as management desires, although they are willing to hold off filling some seats which are currently vacant.

The framework was immediately rejected by SPCO Interim President Dobson West who has been pushing for savings of $1.4 million a year over the old contract. In a statement sent out after the meeting he was blunt.

"We told the Negotiating Committee that while the need for a significant reduction in the cost of the contract will not change, we have been and remain willing to discuss how to best accomplish this reduction.

At this time there are no additional meeting dates set. If and when the Union has a counterproposal they will advise the Federal Mediator."

Musician Lynn Erickson described the rejection as frustrating.

"They really haven't moved off their first proposal," she said.

She says the musicians negotiating team has been meeting to try to come up with other cost-saving alternatives, and will continue that effort next week.