Vanska deal a 'fresh start'

by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
April 25, 2014

St. Paul, Minn. — Osmo Vänskä will return to his old job as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, the orchestra announced Thursday.

Under the two-year agreement, Vänskä will lead the group for at least ten weeks each year and will take the same pay cut as musicians agreed to earlier this year.

Vänskä quit the orchestra in frustration last fall following a series of failed attempts by management and musicians to negotiate a new contract.

His new agreement finalizes what many people see as the most important issue remaining from the acrimonious labor dispute between management and musicians at the Minnesota Orchestra.

"The musicians are truly excited by the board's decision to bring back Osmo as Music Director," the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra said in a statement. "This is a major step in rebuilding the trust and collaborative spirit within our organization as well as with our community."

The run up to the 16-month lock out began after the MOA Board proposed a contract in April 2012, cutting salaries by 35 percent, and changing hundreds of work rules. Board negotiators argued it would make the orchestra more financially sustainable, and give it more flexibility to deal with the challenges of the highly competitive world of live music.

However the musicians disagreed, and after attempts at arbitration, the board locked the musicians out on October 1, a day after the old contract had expired.

That started a public relations war of nearly two years where musicians and passionate audience groups attacked the board for its lack of vision and heavy-handed concern with the bottom line.

The lockout presented hardships for the musicians, as they were not receiving salary or health benefits from the Orchestra. Several took leaves of absence to work elsewhere, and there was concern many would not come back.

The state Legislature even got involved after accusations that Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson had covered up concerns about the Orchestra's finances while asking for state bonding money to a renovation of Orchestra Hall and an expansion of the lobby. A report from the legislative auditor Jim Nobles later found no wrong-doing.

After many false starts, including an attempt at peace-making by Middle East mediator George Mitchell, the two sides finally reached a settlement in January 2014. The musicians said the deal would mean about a 10 percent cut in salaries over the three years of the contract, but with changes in other benefits such as health care they say they took a 15 percent hit.

The lockout officially ended Feb. 1 and the Orchestra returned to ecstatic audiences on Feb. 6.

Principal trombone player Doug Wright thinks Vänskä's return will help the orchestra move forward.

"This chapter is finally coming to a close and I think a new kind of hard work is ahead of us where we truly begin the healing process within the organization, and we've got to reach out to our community and inspire them in a new and exciting way than we ever have before," Wright said.

Board Chair Gordon Sprenger said the agreement brings stability to the organization as it recovers.

"Now we know who the music director is going to be," Sprenger said. "And now we know who we're going to be collaborating with, and that we can work now with Osmo, and with the musicians and with the community in a whole fresh start."

This story was originally published on the MPR News website.

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