Latest setback for Minnesota Orchestra dispute

- 19 August 2013

Deadline set: Osmo Vänskä Photo: Ann Marsden

Deadline set: Osmo Vänskä
Photo: Ann Marsden

Proposals aimed at resolving the long-running feud within the Minnesota Orchestra by Senator George Mitchell, the American politician who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland, have been rejected by the orchestra’s board despite its musicians signalling their approval of them.

The news deepens the 11-month-long crisis following management’s decision to lock musicians out of their Orchestra Hall home in October 2012, and comes just weeks before a deadline imposed by principal conductor Osmo Vänskä who has said he will resign if a solution to the dispute has not been found by 9 September.

The impasse over new contractual proposals that originally proposed a 32% reduction in musicians’ salaries led to a no-show by the Minnesota Orchestra for the whole of its 2012/13 season. It has also seen key musicians depart the Minneapolis-based ensemble, most recently assistant concertmaster Stephanie Arado after 21 years and principal horn Michael Gast, who is reported to be joining the New York Philharmonic.

Neither side has commented publicly on the situation except for orchestra president (and former Ulster Orchestra and Bournemouth Symphony chief executive) Michael Henson’s confirmation that ‘we are in a confidential negotiating process’.

On 15 August, the New York Times published a letter signed by 91 leading American composers ‒ Philip Glass, John Corigliano, Augusta Read Thomas and Nico Muhly among them ‒ calling on the orchestra’s board and musicians to ‘be responsible cultural stewards and break through the year-long logjam as a matter of urgency’.

The letter cited the cancellation of the orchestra’s Composer Institute’s 2013 programme ‒ ‘one of the few that afforded young composers the opportunity to have a major orchestra prepare and perform their symphonic works’ ‒ and fears over the threat to events in 2014 which, it claimed, ‘will have a lasting and negative impact on American music’.

Senator Mitchell is believed to have suggested a four-month ‘interim agreement’ with musicians receiving salaries based on their expired contract for the first two months, a six per-cent pay cut for the remaining period in the absence of reaching ‘a formal pact’ with management, and a return to opening positions if no deal had been reached by the end of the year.

In July, musicians rejected a management proposal offering pre-dispute salaries for two months and a 25% reduction in pay if no agreement was reached by the end of October. Events in Minneapolis reflect deepening hardships for orchestras throughout the US, with the Minnesota band becoming the second American orchestra in recent years to lose an entire season following the Louisville Symphony’s absence from performing live in 2011-12.



  • 5 September, 2012: Orchestra management propose 30-50% salary cuts.
  • 1 October: Musicians ‘locked out’ following breakdown in negotiations.
  • 27 November: Musicians vote ‘no confidence’ in Michael Henson.
  • 6 December: Orchestra reports record deficit of $6m (£3.8m).
  • 3 January 2013: Contract negotiation re-start.
  • 8 February: Concerts to 7 April cancelled.
  • 30 April: Principal conductor Osmo Vänskä threatens resignation.
  • 5 May: Musicians publish open letter calling for resignation of board chairman Jon Campbell.
  • 8 May: Management announce cancellation of remaining season concerts.
  • July: Senator George Mitchell appointed as mediator.
  • August: Musicians accept Mitchell proposals; management rejects them.
  • 9 September 2013: Resignation deadline by Osmo Vänskä.


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