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Osmo Vanska
Osmo Vanska
(Minnesota Orchestra)

Last year at about this time, unable to reach a contract agreement with the Minnesota Orchestra’s musicians, the orchestra’s board took extraordinary measures: they locked out the players and cancelled the 2012-13 season.

As the 2013-14 season looms, the two sides are no closer to a resolution, making Minnesota’s the longest labor dispute in US orchestral history. With the upcoming season now in doubt, many music lovers fear for the Minnesota Orchestra’s future.

On Tuesday (1 October 2013), the musicians voted to reject the board’s fourth contract offer. The board promptly cancelled this Friday’s season-opening concert, and two Sibelius programs set for Carnegie Hall in November.

In 2003, noted Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska moved from Finland to the Twin Cities to take the helm of the Minnesota Orchestra. Over the last decade, Vanska has raised the orchestra’s status worldwide and has helped them win Grammy nominations for recordings of Beethoven and Sibelius.

"The Carnegie Hall project represents for me one of the most significant goals of my entire Minnesota Orchestra tenure," Vanska said in a letter to the orchestra’s board in April. He said he would resign if the Carnegie concerts were cancelled. Tuesday he made good on that vow, casting a still darker cloud over the orchestra’s future.

Last summer, former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell tried to mediate the dispute between the orchestra’s management and the musicians. He proposed a compromise which would have kept the music flowing while negotiations continued. However, the orchestra’s management rejected his proposal.

According to the musicians’ union, the board’s fourth contract offer Tuesday (1 October 2013) bypassed the mediation process altogether. Their proposal called for pay cuts spread over 3 years, from the former contract’s $135,000 to an average of $104,500. (Earlier proposals from the orchestra had included salary reductions of 30%.) The musicians said "No thanks."

In addition to the regular season and the Carnegie Hall concerts, Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra were scheduled to record for the Swedish label BIS next spring. That’s now in doubt.

Orchestra Hall may be dark, but Minneapolis won’t be musically muted – at least not yet. The orchestra’s musicians will play their season opener as scheduled, this Friday and Saturday – but not at Orchestra Hall. They’ll perform at the University of Minnesota’s Ted Mann Concert Hall. Pianist Emanuel Ax will solo in Mozart and Beethoven, just as originally planned. Who will be at the podium? That’s not yet clear, but rumors point to Vanska as a strong possibility.

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