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Minnesota Orchestra lockout: Several signs point to possible breakthrough

Photo by Greg Helgeson
Neither MOA management nor musicians have responded to repeated queries over several days about whether a settlement is in the works.

It appears that the long lockout of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra may be on the verge of ending — or at least reaching another significant turning point.

A memo obtained by MinnPost — sent last week to board members from Minnesota Orchestral Association leadership — indicated that members of the board are planning to meet Tuesday to vote on a possible tentative agreement with musicians.

It said in part: “At this meeting we will discuss and hold a confidential vote on a settlement with the musicians, which was tentatively reached Tuesday night following intensive and lengthy negotiations. You may join in person or via phone; location is being finalized, but we wanted to let you know as soon as possible so you can get it on your calendars.”

Neither MOA management nor musicians have responded to repeated queries over several days about whether a settlement is in the works, or whether musicians have yet voted on any deal.

But the memo to the board is evidence that an end to the lockout, which began 474 days ago (Oct. 1, 2012) may be nearing an end. The memo was signed by Michael Henson, the MOA’s  chief executive officer, as well as board chairman Jon Campbell and former board chair Richard Davis, who has headed negotiations.

Silence around the lockout in the last few days has been greater than usual. No details of a tentative settlement — if one exists — have been leaked. Nor is any information available at this time about the fates of two key figures, Michael Henson, and conductor Osmo Vänskä. 

Henson has been a lightning rod in these negotiations from the beginning. Some question whether the MOA could regain trust of the musicians and those who empathize with them if Henson remains at the helm.

Meantime, Vänskä, the highly regarded conductor, has been considered one of the casualties of the lockout. He resigned his position on Oct. 1.

But Vänskä, who is credited with building the reputation of the orchestra to elite status, remains in the area. He is scheduled to conduct the orchestra at the May grand opening of the renovated Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus.

There are reasons, beyond the memo, to believe the lockout could be reaching an end.

Political pressure, especially from the city of Minneapolis, which is involved in a complex lease arrangement with the MOA, could ratchet up significantly later this week. Under terms of the lease, a key deadline arrives Thursday.

That deadline requires the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Department to give a thumbs up or down on whether the MOA has fulfilled — and will fulfill — its public obligations required when the MOA received state bonding money for the remodeling of Orchestra Hall.

A “thumbs up” on the MOA report would mean Community Planning would be, more or less, a  rubber-stamp process in which the city would approve the MOA’s operation and file a report with the state that would allow the MOA to continue business as usual.

But a “thumbs down” on the MOA’s report would mean the Community Planning Department would send a report to the city council and the state. That could begin the process of terminating the MOA’s lease. (Depending on whom you talk to, lease termination could prove costly and complex for the city — or not.)

Members of one organization, Save Our Symphony Minnesota, have sent a letter to the city attorney arguing that the MOA is in breach of its lease.

Certainly, political pressure could be a bigger factor than it has been throughout the lockout.

There are other, smaller hints that a settlement could be near.

For example, at the musicians’ two Mozart Requiem concerts last weekend, there was no mention of the lockout from the stage, as usually has occurred just after intermission at these concerts.

And on the musicians’ website, tickets for a Feb. 20 concert at the Ted Mann Concert Hall initially were to have gone on sale Monday. That site now says there will be an announcement “soon” as to when those tickets will be on sale.

Those who hold on to hopes that a settlement is near are hopeful that means the Feb. 20 concert could actually be held in long-empty Orchestra Hall.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 01/14/2014 - 02:49 pm.


    No Hiram Foster comments.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/14/2014 - 03:10 pm.


    I wish them well in their attempts to resolve this dispute.

  3. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 01/14/2014 - 11:19 pm.

    Who sez an old guy can’t still break news?

    Having heard an MPR story of a possible settlement, attributed to Minnpost, Tuesday afternoon, it appears that you had this story first, Doug. Congratulatons!

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