Orchestra musicians signal movement in lockout talks

Minnesota Orchestra
The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra perform Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 at the Lake Harriet Band Shell. Principal trumpet player Manny Laureano conducts.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Today may be the day when we learn about the short- and long-term future of the orchestra.

There appears to be shift, however small, in the standoff between musicians and management in the Minnesota Orchestra dispute.

With a management-set midnight deadline for a deal looming last night, both sides said they have been exchanging information with the mediator.

Photo gallery: The Minnesota Orchestra plays the Lake Harriet Band Shell

The first official word of the movement came at a Sunday press conference before a concert by the locked out musicians at the Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis. As a crowd of several thousand people gathered in the late afternoon sun for the concert, musicians representative Blois Olson told journalists things were moving again.

"I am here to report that it appears the other side has returned to the mediator's process," he said. "We view that as a good sign that they have decided to talk to the mediator and through the mediator again."

The announcement came just hours before a deadline set by management for a deal to allow musicians to be back at work by the week of Sept. 30. That's the deadline set by music director Osmo Vanska to be working with musicians to prepare them adequately for two concerts in early November at Carnegie Hall. Vanska has said should those concerts be cancelled he will be forced to resign.

When asked about the management deadline, Olson shrugged it off.

"It was always our understanding that this was not a real deadline. It was a deadline set by management, and we have received a signal in the last 24 hours that they no longer see today as a deadline as well."

Minnesota Orchestra
Manny Laureano, principal trumpet player with the Minnesota Orchestra, conducts the musicians Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 during a free concert at the Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

To anyone who has been following this dispute, it will come as no surprise that management version of events was a little different. Later in the evening it issued the following statement.

"The board has offered a further revision to its compromise proposal that seeks to end the lockout and result in a new multi-year contract, and discussions involving the mediator have been ongoing this weekend. We are currently awaiting word from the musicians regarding the proposal. We will share further news as soon as we are able to do so on Monday," the statement said.

No one from management was available for further comment. However, while there was no reference to the deadline on its statement, there is a reference to sharing news later Monday.

In recent months, management has been willing to grant some leeway in deadlines if progress is being made. However, time is running out on the Carnegie concerts and a final decision on whether the Minnesota Orchestra can go or not will have to be made soon.

Depending on how the musicians respond, talks could continue, or management may pull the plug on Carnegie, which in turn could precipitate the departure of Vanska.

If anyone was uncertain at what is at stake here, they only had to experience the concert at the Lake Harriet Band Shell. Musicians' representatives estimated the crowd at 7,000.

It stretched a long way back from the stage. And standing quietly among the listeners was Osmo Vanska himself. An audience member this time, he did not speak from the stage, but chatted with a few people who recognized him in the crowd.

The musicians also took the opportunity to announce they will be launching a fall season of their own. Principal cellist Tony Ross says the first concerts will be Oct. 4 and 5 at the Ted Mann Hall on the University of Minnesota campus.

"That will be a concert featuring the world famous pianist Emanuel Ax, playing two different concerti each night," Ross revealed, and added that details of other concerts and performers will be forthcoming shortly.

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