Hard work for the Minnesota Orchestra is just beginning

Renovated Orchestra Hall
The renovations on Orchestra Hall were completed in September 2013. It will be used for the first time by the orchestra next month.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

While the settlement between Minnesota Orchestra musicians and management is being greeted with excitement and relief, returning the orchestra to top form after the 15-month lockout will not be easy.

In many ways the hard work is just beginning.

For the orchestra's musicians, there are huge logistical issues to overcome. Among them is moving back into Orchestra Hall which has been renovated since they were last were in there. Another task will be unpacking the music library which is essential for concert preparation.

But with the settlement in place, and some of the changes it includes, musicians are ready to go back to work even though they must resume working with the people who locked them out, said Wendy Williams, who has played with the Minnesota Orchestra for 21 years.

Normally Williams plays second flute. But for the last year and a half she has been handling public relations for its musicians. When she imagines going back to work after the acrimony of the dispute, it gives her pause.

"I think it's going to take some deep breaths," she said. "But we've learned a lot in the lockout and I can say personally I've learned how to live with not knowing. I have learned to ask for and accept help. I've had to learn how to forgive others, learn to forgive myself.

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"How we work together going forward, I think it's going to be new, and exciting," she said. "And we are looking forward to that."

The musicians say they are heartened by expected changes in board leadership. Board Chair Jon Campbell, who held the line on calling for major salary cuts, will step down now a settlement has been reached.

Campbell and CEO and President Michael Henson took months of heavy criticism from musicians' supporters who became a community in themselves.

Alan Fletcher, President of the Aspen Music Festival said the board change is an opportunity for the orchestra.

"It will be great to see if they have very conciliatory people who take over leadership of the board," he said.

Fletcher said it's remarkable how energized members of the public became during the dispute, followed with interest by the classical music community around the world.

"I think it would be very smart if the orchestral association invited those people in to some kind of new community council, some kind of ongoing input into what is happening with the orchestra because there is a lot of positive energy shown there," he said.

Fletcher also challenges community members to flood the halls to support the musicians as concerts resume.

It's clear the audience organizations set up during the lockout, including Save Our Symphony Minnesota and Orchestrate Excellence intend to stick around. Orchestrate Excellence co-chair Laurie Greeno said she hopes the orchestra will take the opportunity to reach out "to not only solicit community investment in dollars, but community investment in ideas."

While the focus is on restarting the music, the overriding issue may be how to fill the vacant music director position left by the resignation of Osmo Vanska.

At a time when the orchestra is rebuilding, management's number one priority should be to bring Vanska back, said Randall Davidson, administrative director of the National Lutheran Choir, and a long time observer of the Minnesota arts scene.

"I think he can play an incredibly important role in drawing together all of the folks, management, the board, the musicians and the broader community," Davidson said of Vanska. "I think the community looks to him."

Orchestra management said it wanted to get the settlement finalized before taking on the music director question, but Board member Doug Kelley didn't rule out a Vanska return.

Downtown business owners also are happy with the settlement.

"I think folks who come to the Orchestra tend to be really good downtown supporters," said Steve Cramer, CEO of the Downtown Council. "They are familiar with Orchestra Hall and they pair up a visit to a performance with a night out and a dinner at a nearby restaurant."