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Overflow crowd cheers locked-out Orchestra musicians — and plans for more concerts

They mixed some Beethoven and Mozart with what appeared to be a shot across the bow of the Minnesota Orchestral Association at a unique Monday meeting.

Violinist David Brubaker, left, performed in a quartet along with violinist Rebecca Corruccini, cellist Anthony Ross, right, and violist Michael Adams at Monday's meeting.
MinnPost photo by Doug Grow

The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra mixed some Beethoven and Mozart with what appeared to be a shot across the bow of the Minnesota Orchestral Association at a unique Monday morning meeting with the media and the public.

Although there were frequent comments from musician leaders that their No. 1 priority is a contract settlement to end the 14-month-old lockout, they also announced plans for as many as 10 concerts for the winter/spring season.

This news was greeted by big cheers from an overflow crowd — perhaps 200 — who came to hear a status report from the musicians. The gathering was at the Hilton Hotel, which, of course, is only a few steps away from Orchestra Hall.

At the meeting, musicians announced that they had organized into 13 committees, which do everything from raise money — to date, more than $600,000 — to organize concerts. The funds have come from more than 1,200 donors, according to the musicians.

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“We’ve learned so much about each other,’’ said harpist Kathy Kienzle, who heads their members committee. “This is a very smart, multitalented group.”

The musicians’ education committee has arranged a substantial number of orchestra performances at metro-area schools — which always has been part of the orchestra’s mission. Additionally, the orchestra has performed in such unusual venues as a YMCA in north Minneapolis and at a club, the Rodeo, on Lake Street, which is a particular favorite of Hispanics in the Twin Cities. 

At least one MOA board member reportedly was seen at Monday’s meeting, although she was not available for comment. It’s impossible to say whether her attendance shows at least a crack in the unified position of the MOA board. That board, by the way, meets Wednesday.

The MOA responded to the musicians’ meeting with a statement, emphasizing its vast resources:

“We are pleased to hear the musicians referenced today their desire to reach a negotiated settlement. The Minnesota Orchestral Association raises millions of dollars each year to support the musicians’ salaries. It offers hundreds of performances in the community to audiences reaching more than 350,000 people and organizes outreach events for 85,000 music lovers each year. Clearly, we are a stronger organization with much greater reach when we are together. We very much hope the musicians will soon agree to join us at the bargaining table.”

Does the scheduling of a wide variety of school programs and full-blown concerts mean that the musicians are moving toward a complete break-away from the MOA?

“Our No. 1 goal is to come to a contract agreement,” said Tim Zavadil, clarinetist for the orchestra and the head of the musicians’ bargaining committee. “But short of that, we have to have plans.”

The MOA made a similar announcement via its report to the city of Minneapolis last week. The MOA said that it had a Plan B, if a settlement with the musicians is not reached.

Separating from the MOA — starting with a new name — is a huge step. But clearly it has been talked about among musicians, who have been buoyed by support they’ve received locally as well as from symphonies and musicians’ unions around the country.

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Minnesota Orchestra musicians have performed with 80 different symphony orchestras during the lockout, ranging from the Alabama Symphony Orchestra to the New York Philharmonic.

Performing elsewhere, said violinist David Brubaker, has increased his appreciation toward what he described as the special skill and work ethic of the Minnesota Orchestra.

At this meeting, Brubaker performed in a quartet along with violinist Rebecca Corruccini, cellist Anthony Ross and violist Michael Adams. Their performance made this a very unusual public meeting/news conference.

The four had practiced for two hours on Sunday, put in another hour before the meeting and were lights-out spectacular at a time of day and in a pretty unusual performance space for A-team musicians.

Even in this small room with “terrible acoustics” on a cold December morning, Adams admitted to being nervous when the musicians sat down to play, only a couple of feet from where TV cameras were stationed.

What was on Brubaker’s mind when he drove to the Hilton for this performance? Wasn’t he afraid that his fingers would freeze in place making the trip?

“I tell you what I was thinking,’’ said Brubaker. “I can’t imagine how people in construction can work outside. Whatever they’re getting paid, it’s not enough.”

Spoken like a blue-collar union man.

The event not only gave musicians a chance to display their special talents, but more importantly, a chance to get their message out.

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Throughout the negotiation, musicians have been criticized for not coming up with counter-proposals to the deep cuts proposed by the MOA.  Those cuts, the MOA has insisted, are necessary for the orchestra’s long-term sustainability.

At this session, musicians told their most ardent supporters that they’ve made 10 counter-proposals. Most of those proposals, they said, have included pay cuts and other cost-saving measures. All have been rejected, they said.

Cellist Ross, whose public comments have been more militant than those of many musicians, told a story that he believes shows both the musicians’ passion and their desire to resolve the conflict.

“I had a moment of revelation recently,” Ross said. “I was at an event recently and a woman who was about 10 years older than me was looking at me. Finally she said, ‘You’re that angry cello player, aren’t you?”

“My face does not lie. How can we not be angry? But our No. 1 goal is to get back with the MOA and start rebuilding now.”

Still, there has to be an option, he said. And that means concerts.

“What this orchestra is doing is because we love the music and we’re family,” Ross  said. “And you, the people here and in our audiences, are part of that family. We will not let you down. I promise.”