The Minnesota Orchestra’s Dance of Death

by Sedgwick Clark 


Moments after posting this blog I received a press release announcing that “The Minnesota Orchestra Board Negotiating Committee has issued a revised contract proposal in the ongoing labor dispute with the Musicians’ Union that would lift the musician lockout and significantly modify both the proposed wage reduction and the number of work rule changes sought.” While the news is encouraging, we await a response from the Musicians’ Union. My general comments still apply.


It has the makings of Shakespearean tragedy. If orchestra musicians believe they can make a comparable living as freelance chamber-music players in today’s economy, they should hold their course and believe that managements will eventually cave in. If Boards of Directors cease believing in the reason for their existence, they should stick to their union-busting guns and allow the orchestra to die. If a prideful music director believes more in the music than in the music-making, he should resign his position.

We watch aghast as one of the most distinguished American orchestras, a tea party Board of Directors, and one of the foremost conductors of our time march toward Armageddon. A press release arrived yesterday, and my heart skipped a beat in hope of a sanity sunrise. But, no, Minneapolis music lovers had not lynched the president of the board, the orchestra union remained in untenable lockstep, and Music Director Osmo Vänskä clung to “the week of” September 30 as the deadline for rehearsals to begin after a year-long strike and still perform adequately in his career dream—four concerts devoted to his countryman Sibelius’s seven symphonies at Carnegie Hall, beginning on November 2. Trumping that date, management stated that “the Minnesota Orchestra management and musicians will need to reach a contract agreement by Sunday, September 15,  . . . in order to give musicians appropriate notice to return to work by the end of the month.”

No one comes out of this disaster with a good odor. It took bankruptcy to convince the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians that times had changed. Fact: The Minnesota Orchestra has a brilliant history of accomplishment over its 110 years, and in recent seasons at Carnegie Hall has challenged the best in the land. Fact: Many American orchestras’ audiences today will no longer support a 52-week season. Fact: The organization may not be able to continue with the budget and season of pre-recession times. Fact: If all factions of the Minnesota Orchestra cannot drop their rancor and point-making to get back to work and salvage the performance level instilled by Maestro Vänskä, its orchestra will be artistically irrelevant.

Ominously, or perhaps realistically, Carnegie Hall’s latest subscription brochure does not mention the Minnesota concerts.

Comments are closed.