Minnesota Orchestra rushes to re-start season, fill seats

Renovated Orchestra Hall
The $50 million renovation of Orchestra Hall, which features new and expanded spaces, wider seating and updated safety features, was completed last year.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson, File

Minneapolis officials on Thursday asked the Minnesota Orchestra to submit a new report required under the lease of Orchestra Hall.

The action, which extended a crucial deadline, followed Tuesday's settlement of a 15-month dispute between orchestra managers and musicians that brought performances to a halt.

Critics of the orchestra's management had pressured the city in recent months to terminate the orchestra's lease, which gave the state a way to maintain control over the $14 million of bonding money it gave the orchestra through Minneapolis for the renovation of Orchestra Hall.

As part of the agreement the orchestra must report annually to the city by Dec. 1 on how it is meeting the requirements of the lease to use the hall as an arts venue. The city then must inform state officials within 45 days if the orchestra is in compliance with the lease.

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As no concerts were held during the lockout, a number of lawmakers and musician supporters called for the city to take control of the hall. Some went as far as to say the city should take over the orchestra's $145-million-dollar endowment.

The city's report was due Thursday. However, the settlement changed everything, said Jeremy Hanson Willis, director of the city's Community Planning and Economic Development.

"We're very excited about the potential of the agreement that the orchestra and the musicians have come to," he said. "I think there's a lot more optimism that the orchestra's going to be able to live up to both its fiduciary responsibilities and its performing arts obligation to the city and the state."

With the settlement in place Hanson Willis has sent a letter to the orchestra asking for a revised report. He said the clock is reset, so it will be another 45 days until the city reports to the state.

State Rep. Alice Hausman, chair of the Minnesota House Bonding Committee, was surprised by the development. Hausman, who has been critical of board management in the past, said the city and the state should have intervened in the labor dispute earlier.

She thinks the possibility of losing the lease put pressure on the board to come to an agreement with musicians and if no agreement had been reached, the Legislature would have stepped in during the next session.

"I think there was beginning to be some conversation about the role of the Attorney General in the issue of the endowment of a non-profit so we were certainly at that level of conversation," said Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.

Hausman said research shows the city is probably within its rights to delay the report deadline, and it's unlikely the Legislature will get involved now.

Orchestra officials said a new concert season schedule will be released soon.

President and CEO Michael Henson said staff members met with musicians this afternoon to discuss programs.

"We will have 12 weeks of subscription concerts with 37 concerts taking place in that," Henson said, adding the orchestra will have to overcome huge logistical challenges of performances during such a short period.

"Normally you would sell a subscription season in nine months and our aim is to do that in a three week period," he said.

Henson said the orchestra will first announce a series of weekend concerts that will be available on a single-ticket basis, followed by the subscription season. He said 3,700 households banked subscription tickets they couldn't use during the lockout, and that is a healthy foundation for them as they begin to sell the season.

Osmo Vanska and  musicians
Conductor Osmo Vanska conducts at a one of three farewell concerts held in October 2013.
Judy Griesedieck / For MPR News

A big question on the minds of many in the Twin Cities is whether former music director Osmo Vanska will return. Vanska resigned during the lockout but many orchestra fans believe his return is essential if the orchestra is to successfully rebuild.

In a Facebook post this week, Vanska said he would try to return but is waiting to be asked.

Henson said the orchestra's board has focused on the settlement and has not considered the music director position. He declined to say whether anyone from the board had been in touch with Vanska.