A current snapshot of the Minnesota Orchestra, by the numbers

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra
We’ve seen the photograph of “Minnesota’s ghost orchestra” on the musicians’ website and Facebook page. On the website, the spectral figures represent 24 “musicians lost to the lockout.” Management sees it differently.

On the heels of this week’s news that peace envoy and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell will help (or try) to bring an end to the Minnesota Orchestra labor dispute, let’s take a look at the orchestra — by the numbers.

During the 10-month lockout, it hasn’t been easy to grasp the actual size of the orchestra — how many musicians are still here, how many have left or are leaving. We’ve seen the photograph of “Minnesota’s ghost orchestra” on the musicians’ website and Facebook page. On the website, the spectral figures represent 24 “musicians lost to the lockout.”

After a May 31 concert by locked-out musicians, we reported that “the orchestra’s complement has fallen to 74 musicians, down from 98.” The orchestra management called this an “erroneous claim.” (In retrospect, we should have treated this as a quotation, which it was, by Minnesota Orchestra principal cellist Tony Ross from his comments to the audience that night.)

Numbers don’t lie, but numbers can differ, depending on who’s adding them up and how. In any conflict, each side is likely to arrive at a sum that reflects most favorably on its own position.

The musicians’ numbers

The musicians count 24 “musicians lost to the lockout,” or open positions: 

  1. Associate Concertmaster: Sarah Kwak, resigned, now with Oregon Symphony
  2. 1st Violin: Vali Phillips, resigned, now with Oregon Symphony
  3. 1st Violin: Peter McGuire, leave of absence, now with Tonhalle Orchester of Zurich
  4. 1st Violin: Chou-hei Min, retired
  5. Principal 2nd Violin: Gina DiBello, resigned, now with Chicago Symphony
  6. Assistant Principal 2nd Violin: Julie Ayer, retired
  7. 2nd Violin: Yun-Ting Lee, never offered a contract despite winning audition, now with Cleveland Orchestra
  8. 2nd Violin: Edward Stack, retired
  9. 2nd Violin: David Wright, retired
  10. 2nd Violin: Kristin Kemper, resigned
  11. Principal Viola: Thomas Turner, leave of absence, now with San Diego Symphony
  12. Viola: Matt Young, resigned, now with San Francisco Symphony
  13. Viola: Ken Freed, leave of absence, now residing in Seattle
  14. Viola: Ben Ullery, resigned, now with Los Angeles Philharmonic
  15. Viola: Gareth Zehngut, never offered a contract despite winning audition, now with San Diego Symphony
  16. Associate Principal Cello: Janet Horvath, resigned for medical reasons
  17. Cello: Mina Fisher, resigned for medical reasons
  18. Principal Bass: Peter Lloyd, resigned many years ago, position never filled
  19. Associate Principal Bass: Fora Baltacigil, resigned, now with New York Philharmonic
  20. Principal Oboe: Basil Reeve, retired
  21. Principal Clarinet: Burt Hara, leave of absence, now with Los Angeles Philharmonic
  22. Bass Trombone: David Herring, resigned
  23. Piano/Harpsichord: Vladimir Levitski, retired many years ago, position never filled
  24. Assistant principal Librarian: Jennifer Johnson, resigned four years ago, now with Metropolitan Opera, position never filled

In fact, there are 25. Clarinetist David Pharris requested leave after this list was compiled. That he’s not on the list is “an oversight,” said musicians’ spokesman Blois Olson.

According to the musicians’ website, “This list represents all current vacancies in the Minnesota Orchestra, including a few musicians whose departures occurred years before the lockout began. Some of these departing musicians were never replaced because of MOA’s reluctance and occasional outright refusal to schedule auditions to replace them.”

Management’s numbers

We spoke earlier this month with orchestra spokesperson Gwen Pappas, who had objected to our claim that the orchestra’s complement had shrunk by so many.

“The reality is that since Oct. 1, when the lockout began, two musicians have outright resigned and five have requested leaves of absence,” Pappas said. “Other than those seven positions, the complement of the orchestra is exactly what it was and has remained unchanged from last summer, when the orchestra played the last concert of the [2011-12] season.”

Seven positions recently became eight with a new request for leave from trumpeter Robert Dorer. 

What is the actual complement of the Minnesota Orchestra? According to the previous contract, now expired: 98 (95 musicians, 3 librarians).

“The contract proposal on the table right now suggests a complement of 84,” Pappas said. “That doesn’t include librarians.”

We requested confirmations with names, which Pappas provided in follow-up emails:

• Resignations: Gina DiBello (Principal Second Violin) and Yun-Tin Lee (Second Violin)

• Leaves of Absence: Peter McGuire (Acting First Associate Concertmaster), Tom Turner (Principal Viola), Ken Freed (Viola), Burt Hara (Principal Clarinet), David Pharris (Clarinet), Robert Dorer (Trumpet)

In a convention peculiar to the orchestral world, a musician may take a leave of absence for up to one year to try out a position somewhere else. Meanwhile, the orchestra holds the position open. When the leave ends, the musician may return or resign. If the musician resigns, the position can be filled through the audition process.

“In a typical season – going back 10 years – an average of three musicians leave to take jobs in other orchestras,” Pappas said. “We’re sitting a little bit above that average now, which is not surprising. But it’s not about 25 people who have departed the orchestra.”

Except during the lockout, when no auditions are being held, “there’s always an audition process under way,” Pappas says. “On average, we hold three auditions a year. So the orchestra is always in the process of filling positions … The second the dispute is resolved and the orchestra is playing again, there will be a schedule of auditions.”

The most recent auditions, for bass trombone, were held July 18-21, 2012. Two finalists were identified, and each was asked to come back and play with the orchestra. That hasn’t happened because of the lockout.

We were sent the pre-lockout roster of Minnesota Orchestra musicians. Included in the October “Showcase” magazine, it was never made public because the musicians were locked out before the season’s first concert. It lists 82 musicians, seven open positions, and two librarians. (“Over the last several years,” Pappas said, “the orchestra has typically been performing with a complement of between 85 to 87 players.”) Three musicians are marked with a cross (+) as being on leave: Sarah Kwak (First Associate Concertmaster), Vali Phillips (First Violin), and Matthew Young (Viola). All three have since resigned. Hyejin Yune (Second Violin) is marked with an asterisk (*) as a replacement musician; she had a one-year contract and was not offered a position.

The open positions are Assistant Principal Second Violin, Associate Principal Bass, Associate Principal Cello, Bass Trombone, Principal Bass, Principal Oboe, and Piano, Harpsichord, Celesta (the latter three instruments are all one position).

“ ‘Open’ positions do not necessarily mean empty chairs on stage,” Pappas said. “They are typically filled with substitute players, either from within the section or on one-year contracts, until an audition for a permanent position can be held … The majority of current ‘open’ positions in the orchestra are slated to be filled.”

The musicians list two string players, Yun-Ting Lee (Second Violin) and Gareth Zehngut (Viola), as “never offered a contract despite winning audition.” Both signed contracts, but because of the lockout, neither contract took effect. Meanwhile, Lee won another position and resigned from the Minnesota Orchestra. Zehngut “has a guaranteed position when the orchestra plays again,” Pappas said.

Let’s look at the musicians’ list again, this time through management’s eyes: 

  1. Associate Concertmaster: Sarah Kwak, resigned before the lockout
  2. 1st Violin: Vali Phillips, resigned before the lockout (Phillips is Kwak’s husband)
  3. 1st Violin: Peter McGuire, leave of absence
  4. 1st Violin: Chou-hei Min, retired at the end of the 2011-2012 summer season
  5. Principal 2nd Violin: Gina DiBello, resigned during the lockout
  6. Assistant Principal 2nd Violin: Julie Ayer, retired at the end of the 2011-2012 summer season
  7. 2nd Violin: Yun-Ting Lee, resigned during the lockout
  8. 2nd Violin: Edward Stack, retired at the end of the 2011-2012 summer season
  9. 2nd Violin: David Wright, retired at the end of the 2011-2012 summer season
  10. 2nd Violin: Kristin Kemper, resigned before the lockout
  11. Principal Viola: Thomas Turner, leave of absence
  12. Viola: Matt Young, resigned before the lockout
  13. Viola: Ken Freed, leave of absence
  14. Viola: Ben Ullery, resigned before the lockout
  15. Viola: Gareth Zehngut, won audition, contract hasn’t started yet
  16. Associate Principal Cello: Janet Horvath, resigned before the lockout
  17. Cello: Mina Fisher, resigned before the lockout
  18. Principal Bass: Peter Lloyd, resigned before the lockout
  19. Associate Principal Bass: Fora Baltacigil, resigned before the lockout
  20. Principal Oboe: Basil Reeve, retired at the end of the 2011-2012 summer season
  21. Principal Clarinet: Burt Hara, leave of absence
  22. Bass Trombone: David Herring, retired at the end of the 2011-2012 summer season
  23. Piano/Harpsichord: Vladimir Levitski, retired years ago
  24. Assistant principal Librarian: Jennifer Johnson, resigned before the lockout

Subtract everyone who retired or resigned before Oct. 1, add Pharris and Dorer, and we’re left with the orchestra’s count of eight: 

  1. 1st Violin: Peter McGuire, leave of absence
  2. Principal 2nd Violin: Gina DiBello, resigned during the lockout
  3. 2nd Violin: Yun-Ting Lee, resigned during the lockout
  4. Principal Viola: Thomas Turner, leave of absence
  5. Viola: Ken Freed, leave of absence
  6. Principal Clarinet: Burt Hara, leave of absence
  7. Clarinet: David Pharris, leave of absence
  8. Trumpet: Robert Dorer, leave of absence

UPDATE: After publication, we learned that while Sarah Kwak, Vali Phillips and Matt Young all requested leaves during the 2011-12 season, before negotiations for a new contract began in April 2012, they resigned in March 2013, after the lockout took effect. Additionally, Mina Fisher (Cello) resigned in November 2012 following a two-year leave. So eight becomes 12.

Did some musicians retire and others request leave because they knew a contract storm was coming? In November, shortly before Peter McGuire left for a position in Switzerland, he told MPR’s Chris Roberts that “there was this kind of ‘the bully’s going to meet you at lunchtime’ feeling for at least a year and a half.” McGuire probably won’t be coming back when his leave ends, but he has that option. 

UPDATE (Aug. 12, 2013): Stephanie Arado, violinist and assistant concertmaster, has resigned to take a teaching position at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Michael Gast, principal horn, has requested a one-year leave of absence; he’ll go to the New York Philharmonic. Twelve becomes 14.

UPDATE (Oct. 17, 2013): Tim Zavadil, clarinet/bass clarinet, has taken a leave of absence until June 2014 to play with the St. Louis Symphony. Fourteen becomes 15.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Emily E Hogstad on 07/25/2013 - 11:20 am.

    Ha ha ha

    “We’re sitting a little bit above that average now”

    Hmm. In the Real World, being nearly 3x over your average is not considered to be “a little bit” above said average…

    In the Real World, this would be considered to be a catastrophe of the first rank. Listen to what the Pittsburgh Symphony CEO recently said: “We lost [violinist Sylvia Kim] to Chicago last year and are losing [violinist Shaun Shaun Yo] to New York. We don’t want to lose any more,” He’s incredibly concerned about TWO open spots.

    Even if it’s “only” eight (only eight! ha!) who have left… There will still need to be auditions for associate concertmaster, principal second violin, associate principal second violin, probably principal viola, associate principal cello, principal bass, associate principal bass, principal oboe, principal clarinet, and likely concertmaster, At The Very Least. Anyone who thinks everything is hunky dory is delusional. And that’s not even counting section players. And not counting sub players that will no longer play with the orchestra because their pay has been cut so dramatically.

    Expect to see more resignations as the months go on, as other positions open up in other orchestras, and after Michael Henson refuses to step down. Then the MOA will REALLY be in la la land. “Oh, but it’s only…twelve players on leaves of absences. Fifteen… Twenty… Only thirty, that’s all…it’s perfectly normal…only a little above the average… It has nothing to do with Henson’s leadership…he is the perfect leader for this challenging time… We have no idea why patrons are protesting outside our hall every weekend.” Actually, scratch that; they won’t even acknowledge the upcoming protests.

    I’d love to know what number of leaves of absences the MOA would have to receive before they think they need to alter their negotiation strategy. Right now I’m thinking 84.

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 07/25/2013 - 11:57 am.

    Somehow I suspect from this casualty list

    that Osmo is a goner.

    Terrible tragedy that will take decades to repair.

  3. Submitted by Amy Adams on 07/25/2013 - 04:20 pm.

    Open Positions

    This management has several incentives to keep these positions open.
    1. When absolutely necessary, those spots can be filled with subs for less pay than a hired full-time musician.
    2. It keeps the regularly playing ensemble smaller, while officially claiming to be larger.
    3. It contributes strongly to an atmosphere of tension between obstinate management and de-valued musicians. (You workers cost us this much…That can’t continue!)

    I love the phrase: “Subtract everyone who retired or resigned before Oct. 1” – it puts me in mind of the Minnpost article by Esther Saarela, to the effect that the musicians were leaving well before the lockout even started. I can well understand why.

  4. Submitted by Amy Adams on 08/01/2013 - 05:22 pm.

    Conflicting information

    I don’t understand how Gwen Pappas can make the statement: “The reality is that since Oct. 1, when the lockout began, two musicians have outright resigned and five have requested leaves of absence,”…when your updated information is so different. Who gave you the updated information, and why is it so different from what Pappas said last week?

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