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Twin Cities orchestras both declaring deficits

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Manny Laureano
Minnesota Orchestra principal trumpeter Manny Laureano (center in fringed jacket) at a rally for locked-out musicians Tuesday, November 20, 2012. Laureano, who is also co-music director of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies says he has had to miss sessions with the youth symphonies because he has had to travel to other cities for work during the lockout.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

With Minnesota Orchestra musicians locked out for two months and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra players locked out for six weeks, both organizations are announcing budget deficits at their annual meetings this week.

At its meeting Tuesday, the SPCO board announced a deficit of $895,080 for the 2011-2012 season. The amount was not unexpected as management last year had projected a shortfall of up to a $1 million. The deficit has been a major element in the ongoing contract dispute with SPCO musicians which led to the lockout on Oct. 21.

Interim SPCO President Dobson West said the audited figure just confirms the need to create a new financial model for the orchestra, which includes reducing musicians' salaries.

"There should be no question that we have a major financial problem that needs to be addressed, and we have made a proposal that we believe addresses that financial challenge in a way that is reasonable and that respects our musicians," West said.

The musicians say management's contract proposal, which would cut the guaranteed salary of current musicians to $62,500 a year and new musicians to $50,000, is not respectful and will lead to the demise of the orchestra.

The musicians posit that the SPCO has saved about $1.5 million as a result of the lock out. The players have said it is time for them to come back both to the negotiating table and the concert hall, musician negotiating committee member Lynn Erickson said.

"We would love to be able to play and talk," Erickson said. "We would love to be able to come back in January and start playing concerts again."

Union meeting
Locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra gather Oct. 18, 2012 at Macalester College to discuss tactics and strategy in advance of their upcoming concert.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Even though the last contract expired at the end of September, the SPCO continued playing for three weeks under what's called "play and talk," that is, performing under the auspices of the old contract as they negotiate a new one.

However, late Tuesday SPCO management said that they cannot afford to resume play and talk. They still want musicians to offer a counterproposal and with no negotiations scheduled are beginning to consider canceling concerts in the new year.

The Minnesota Orchestra Board meets Thursday in Minneapolis and it is already known that it will announce a deficit of about $6 million.

Here, there are also no negotiations scheduled between players and management. Management said it is awaiting a counterproposal from musicians. Musicians say they cannot do that until there is an independent financial analysis of the orchestra's finances. The board will release its audit at its meeting.

Acrimony is growing online about the situation. Some bloggers who support the musicians are calling for major change at the leadership of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians rallied Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, outside the Ordway Center in an attempt to forestall a feared lock out by the orchestra's management.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

The Sticks and Drones blog, written by a former Minnesota Orchestra associate conductor Bill Eddins, this week suggested in order to preserve the orchestra its board should either fire Executive Director Michael Henson and re-open negotiation, or resign en masse. He then gives this advice to the musicians:

 "If neither of the above actions happen then I fear that your careers as true artists with this particular organization are over.  Those of you who can leave, leave, whether by retirement, audition, or whatever other method is open to you." 

He also advised Music Director Osmo Vanska to leave should the board not take the suggested action. Finally he urged audience members to get more involved in the debate, saying he does believe the situation is salvageable.

With Board member Doug Kelley recently stating Henson enjoys its unanimous support, it is unlikelyHenson will be going anywhere. But with many musicians taking subbing jobs at other orchestras and possibility auditioning for others, there is a risk that some musicians will not return. 

• Follow Euan Kerr on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/euankerr

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the comments posted by Bill Eddins in his Sticks and Drones blog. The current version is correct.