Forum tonight on the MN Orchestra as conductor's possible resignation looms

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Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra
The Minnesota Orchestra -- which Alex Ross of The New Yorker once praised for its "uncanny, wrenching power, the kind you hear once or twice a decade" -- could soon lose its celebrated conductor.

SEE ALSO: MN Orchestra locks out musicians after they reject 34 percent pay cut

In April, Osmo Vanska sent a letter to orchestra chairman Jon Campbell and CEO Michael Henson threatening to resign as music director if the lockout wasn't settled by this fall. He pointed to upcoming recording obligations and a performance at Carnegie Hall in November, which could be canceled because the musicians haven't practiced together in almost a year.

Vanskas couldn't be reached for an update, but his potential departure will get no shortage of play tonight. A forum on the future of symphony music in the Twin Cities is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, one block from Orchestral Hall.

SEE ALSO: Minnesota Orchestra shares Orchestra Hall renovation plans

"Do we want a world-class orchestra or not?" said the Rev. Bill Teska, an organizer with Save Our Symphony Minnesota who's worried that Vanskas's departure will have a domino effect. "Our position is that we have one. The question is whether we want to lose one."

The trumpets, tubas, and cellos have been silent since October 1, 2012, because of stalled contract negotiations. Gwen Pappas, the orchestra's director of public relations, said seven musicians have submitted requests for a one-year leave and another three have resigned since the lockout began. A photo on the musicians' website has 26 whited-out members who've left in recent years.

Under the management's new contract proposal, the average musician's salary would be cut by more than 30 percent. The musicians have not made an official counter proposal but have asked for an independent financial audit of the institution's standing.

In April, the board announced that it would do just that, and has promised to share the results with the musicians at the bargaining table.

Ken Huber, an executive board member of Orchestrate Excellence, which is hosting tonight's event, said a conversation at the community level is long overdue. Rather than point fingers, he hopes to record the thoughts of the orchestras' other silent stakeholders -- its listeners.

"We have a voice," Huber said, "and we want to weigh in on what we will do in the future to support the orchestra."

Richard Carlbom, director of Minnesotans United, will moderate a conversation with keynote speaker Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School. Attendees will then be asked to break into small discussion groups.

Huber said a summary of those discussions will be compiled into a document that will be available to the public.

Pappas, the orchestra spokeswoman, said some board members and staff are planning to attend, but others are due at a private fundraising event. "The community really does have a role in this dispute," she said, "so tonight's forum is a chance for some of those ideas to be voiced."

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Westminster Presbyterian Church

1200 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Category: General

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