Orchestra CEO, musician lock horns in studio faceoff

Osmo Vanska
During lockout negotiations, Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vanska said rehearsals need to begin in the week of Sept. 30 for the Carnegie shows.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Opposing sides in the Minnesota Orchestra lockout had a rare face-to-face meeting Friday on The Daily Circuit, and the result was a contentious conversation that left little hope for a resolution anytime soon.

Michael Henson, president and CEO, said repeatedly that management would be willing to meet over the weekend to try to end the dispute. Kevin Watkins, a negotiator on the musicians' side, emphasized that only a meeting with the mediator held any prospect for success. Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell has been working to mediate the negotiations.

The pressure to reach a deal to the nearly year-long lockout is intense this weekend because of a series of deadlines leading to scheduled performances this November at Carnegie Hall. Music Director Osmo Vanska has warned that he will resign if the orchestra fails to keep that engagement.

Watkins and Henson were able to agree on virtually nothing during the confrontation, save for a grudging acknowledgment that each side wanted to get back to making music.

State of the Arts: Tense double monologue on Minnesota Orchestra dispute

Among the points on which the two failed to agree:

• The musicians' counteroffer. Henson said the musicians had failed to make one; Watkins said that the musicians' proposal for binding arbitration was exactly that.

• The cost of the mediator's proposal. Henson said a reported proposal to resume performances under the terms of the old contract would cost the orchestra $3 million. Watkins called that "simply misleading and untrue," and said the actual figure would be closer to $1.4 million.

During the period when Orchestra Hall was closed for remodeling, "They were going to put forward a season in the Convention Center," Watkins said. "They would have lost millions in the Convention Center in lower revenue and increased costs. They were willing to lose millions in the Convention Center last year, but now they're not willing to spend somewhere around $1.4 ... to save the music director, to save Carnegie Hall, to save the recording series, to save the orchestra."

• The state of the orchestra's finances. Watkins said the musicians cannot trust management because of its lack of transparency about its numbers. "There is no trust in the leadership of this orchestra. It's not that we don't trust the unqualified audits. It's that we don't trust that those deficits needed to be achieved, that there wasn't a better way to run the orchestra over the last two years. It's apparent that there was a recovery, and the recovery happened everywhere else in America, apparently, except for Minneapolis."

"The reason we don't trust these numbers is we've heard so many different things all along," he said.

Henson countered, "We are probably the most financially analyzed orchestra in the history of America." He cited the orchestra's own audit, an investigation by the state auditor and an independent analysis. "We have these problems. We produced these figures and if the musicians don't like these figures, we produced 1,500 pages of information to them through many, many months."

"We now need to put any of the hurt behind us ... sit down over the weekend, get this resolved and move forward. The big truth is, we have a huge financial problem. The musicians need to accept this."

• The reason for the lockout. "Our members have been locked out," Watkins said, "and the lockout, to them, has been seen as a convenience, in that the hall was under construction. The orchestra was going to lose millions putting on a season ... and so this was a win-win. Break the musicians, and save a lot of money."

Henson said, "We took that lockout very seriously ... We tried to negotiate. We had multiple meetings. We put forward a proposal right at the start, realizing we were looking at concessions, and how do we negotiate? The reason the lockout occurred was because we saw no intent to negotiate at that stage.

"If we'd actually seen some movement, some willingness to actually negotiate, put a proposal on the table, the lockout would never have happened. We took that with a very heavy heart, but we took it because we actually wanted to try and move the situation forward."

• Management's representations to the state Legislature while seeking bonding for Orchestra Hall. Watkins told Henson, "You went before the state Legislature and deliberately misled them as to the state of our finances." Henson replied, "The state auditor came in and investigated us, spent six weeks with his accounts department looking at us, and he found that we had behaved completely appropriately."

Henson suggested that the two sides should meet at 9 a.m. Saturday. Outside the studio, a musicians' representative said no such proposal had been received.


Sept. 13: Without Osmo Vanska, some say Minnesota Orchestra could lose its way
Without a successful resolution, internationally acclaimed Music Director Osmo Vanska may soon resign. The question of whether Vanska stays or leaves has become a central concern in the contract dispute and almost year-long lockout of musicians by orchestra management. Without him, many say, the orchestra could lose its way. (MPR News)

Sept. 12: A new Orchestra Hall is ready -- and waiting
Orchestra officials took media on a tour Thursday morning to show off the results of the year-long $52 million renovation project. (MPR News)

Sept. 11: Rep. Ellison urges Minn. Orchestra to accept mediator's plan
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison today called upon the board of the Minnesota Orchestra to accept a proposal put forward by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who is acting as a mediator in the ongoing dispute with musicians. The deal included ending the 11-month long lockout and having musicians return to work for two months under the terms of their old contract while talks continued towards finding a new contract. (MPR News)

MnOrch Musicians reveal counterproposal; management critical of request for higher pay
The musicians are trying to take the steam out of management protests that musicians have not put forward a counterproposal to the contract orchestra officials offered in April, 2012. (MPR News)

Sept. 10: Vanska eases deadline in orchestra contract talks
In a letter in May, Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vanska set a Sept. 9 deadline for a start of rehearsals for both a recording session for a new disc and to prepare for November concerts at Carnegie Hall. Calling on management and musicians to resolve the ongoing contract dispute, Vanska said if the orchestra was not prepared for the Carnegie concerts he would be forced to resign. The recording session has now been postponed until the spring, and in a written statement presented to a Minnesota Orchestra Board meeting, Vanska said rehearsals need to begin in the week of Sept. 30 for the Carnegie shows. Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson says that, for logistical reasons, this means there needs to be an agreement with musicians by Sept. 15. (MPR News)

Sept: 5: In Minn. Orchestra dispute, both sides say 'ball is in their court'
The offer was for two months of play and talk — that is, an end to the lockout that allows the musicians work under the terms of the old contract while talks continued to try to reach a new contract. However, under the offer, if there was no agreement after two months, a two-year contract would go into effect that would include a 25-percent pay cut. (MPR News)

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