MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Orchestra was called the world's greatest not long ago, welcome recognition for musicians outside a top cultural center. Now its members are locked out of Orchestra Hall, stuck in the same kind of labor-management battle recently afflicting teachers and football referees.
Across the country, symphony and chamber orchestra executives have cited flat ticket sales and slumping private support as they seek major pay concessions from musicians, who warn about a loss of talent and reputation. In Minneapolis, the Minnesota Orchestra has already cancelled concerts through Nov. 25 as negotiators argue over a proposal to trim the average musicians' salary by $46,000 a year.
A similar standoff is underway across the Mississippi River at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has canceled the first month of its season in a labor impasse, and labor troubles are also rumbling at orchestras in Richmond, Va., Jacksonville, Fla., and San Antonio, Texas.
"It breaks my heart," said Christal Steele, a violinist and assistant concertmaster in Indianapolis, where she and fellow musicians have gone without pay and benefits for almost a month. "This is my 40th season, and in that time, I have seen nothing but this orchestra rise in quality and in stature. Now in one fell swoop, they're trying to erase the last 30 years."
Last week, musicians and management at the symphony orchestras in both Chicago and Atlanta reached new contracts after contentious negotiations. Atlanta's musicians went without pay for a month before accepting $5.2 million in compensation cuts over two years, plus reductions in their ranks. The Chicago deal came after a two-day strike that forced the cancellations of the season's first Saturday night show, with musicians wrangling salary increases but agreeing to pay higher health care costs.
"It's shaking up a lot of organizations right now," said Drew McManus, a Chicago-based consultant to orchestras and other arts organizations. "This world of orchestras is one that's always been defined by well-established strata — the best orchestras in the country, the second tier and so on — and that is very much in flux at the moment."
The Minnesota Orchestra has seen its reputation grow in recent years under conductor Osmo Vanska. The Finnish-born Vanska has become something of a celebrity in a state that treasures its Scandinavian heritage, and he's won international acclaim for pushing the orchestra to new heights.
After seeing the Minnesota Orchestra play at Carnegie Hall in 2010, The New Yorker's classical music critic Alex Ross wrote that they "sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world."
But the orchestra's leaders have said even as its reputation grows they've seen flat attendance, declining corporate and individual support, and poor results from investments. Meanwhile, salaries grew by 3 to 4 percent annually under the previous contract.
"You couple that with one of the worst financial markets of the last 100 years, and obviously you have to reset our orchestra and our organization in terms of looking to a future that's sustainable," said Michael Henson, the orchestra's president. He said the orchestra has been forced to draw too deeply from its endowment to stay in the black.
"A very significant part of our expenses are musicians' salaries, and that's a logical area for us to address to find a solution for long-term stability," Henson said. Management's proposal would trim average annual salaries for orchestra members from $135,000 to $89,000.
Doug Wright, the Minnesota Orchestra's principal trombonist and a member of the musicians' negotiating team, said the wages reflect the skill involved in reaching the top level and big salary cuts would result in a loss of talent.
"The musicians of a major American symphony orchestra live in a global marketplace," Wright said. "And if we're going to continue to attract and retain the best of the best, our competition is not, you know, the local marching band. Our competition is Boston, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco."
McManus, the arts consultant, said the Detroit Symphony Orchestra took a big blow to its reputation after a six-month musicians' strike in 2010, during which many musicians quit.
Musicians have demanded an open audit of the orchestras' finances, complaining about a $50 million renovation of Orchestra Hall's lobby now underway. Henson said renovation funds come from dedicated donations and are needed to keep drawing audiences and big donors.
Jesse Rosen, president and chief executive officer of the League of American Orchestras, which doesn't take sides in labor-management disputes, said orchestras are struggling with the economy like many other businesses that depend on discretionary spending.
"These are big cultural trends that are affecting the movie business, and professional sports, and the way our culture operates now," he said. "So it's not surprising that we're likely to see a period of visible
experimentation in American orchestras and the way they operate."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Employees at some Indianapolis fast food restaurants took part in a 100-city strike Thursday morning.
According to police, the callers in this phone scam target elderly people. The caller pretends to be the victim's grandson and says he is in trouble and needs money wired.
A bank robbery in Hoagland led to a high-speed car chase and ended with the apprehension of three people.
Police arrested a woman after she pulled a gun out on a Walmart employee and beat her with it. She told police she left the store without paying for several items because the employee was "treating her like a shoplifter."
An officer accused of coercing a drunk woman to have sex with him while she was in his custody during OWI patrol now faces felony rape charges as well as the sexual misconduct charges he was arrested for in September.
The Fort Wayne GM plant is one of two company facilities that have been chosen for a multi-million dollar investment by the automaker to turn gas generated from landfills into electricity.
Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries plans to run for the District 15 Indiana State Senate seat, which has been held by Republican Tom Wyss since 1985. Wyss announced earlier in the year he would not be seeking re-election.
From December 20 through Christmas Eve, Kohl's stores will remain open for more than 100 hours straight.
Some legal experts see potential problems with a prosecutor's proposal to hold a single trial before separate juries for the three people charged with causing a deadly explosion that devastated an Indianapolis neighborhood.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will seek to expand the nation's broadest school voucher program to disadvantaged preschool-age children and increase access to charter schools in his second year as governor.
The 2013 homicide total in Allen County of 44 has tied the all-time record set in 1997 with the year not yet over. Paul Helmke, who was Fort Wayne's mayor in 1997, said it got so bad that he began taking the violence as a personal attack.
Greater Fort Wayne Inc. showed off its new home on Wednesday.
The Allen County Juvenile Center has signed a new food service contract that could save taxpayers as much as $50,000 a year.
While some people who live on Oliver Street said they want to move, many others said they are staying put and aren't afraid of the crime.
Officials have been attributing the rise in violent crime to gangs, guns, and drugs. There's about a dozen known gangs. Many members teenagers.