The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Oct 24, 2012

SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra lock out musicians over contract disputes

Posted by sschouweiler

SPCO musicians played in St. Paul's Rice Park on October 16 as part of  a "Don't Stop the Music" rally -  alas, the music has indeed stopped, at least for now. Photo courtesy of the Musicians of the SPCO Facebook page

It’s official: As of this week, both of the Twin Cities internationally regarded orchestras have cancelled shows and locked their musicians out of the concert halls as a result of increasingly acrimonious, as yet intractable contract negotiations and labor/management disputes. When Minnesota Orchestra’s contract negotiations with its players broke down in late September, after the musicians' union unanimously rejected a so-called final offer from board and management, effective October 1, the orchestra canceled all performances through November and cut off pay and work time for players until a new contract agreement is reached. As of midnight this past Sunday, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (a Knight Arts grantee) likewise locked out its musicians and canceled upcoming shows of their own, albeit just three so far; performances scheduled through November 4 have been called off. (Noted cancellations do not include the separately funded Liquid Music Series appearances by Laurie Anderson, at the Walker Art Center and Minnesota Public Radio UBS Forum.)

In the face of persistent and significant budget deficits, both organizations have insisted their musicians need to agree to substantial cuts in pay (as much as a 33 percent cut in annual pay for many), as well as layoffs and buyouts, in order to help bridge the financial gap. For their part, musicians claim the burden of meeting these financial challenges is falling disproportionately on their shoulders, and that a less draconian cut to their contracts, paired with other revenue-increasing strategies (like raising tickets costs, more aggressive donor development, etc.) represents a more fair solution.

MNuet has an exhaustive list of links to ongoing local and national media coverage about both situations: Matt Peiken, founder of MNuet, talked a few days ago with musicians from both major orchestras about what's going on; listen to that conversation here.

SPCO management’s updates and information are available via; the musicians’ take on contract negotiations, offers and counter-offers are also online, at If you’d like to follow the progress of Minnesota Orchestra’s contract talks, you can find management’s perspective on the situation here, or check in from the musicians’ point of view here.

On a much brighter note: American Composers Forum announced the three local artists selected to receive the 2012 Minnesota Emerging Composer Awards, a program funded by the Jerome Foundation. Each award-winner will receive $3000 to “pursue a new project that will help them take artistic risks and push their careers ahead.”

One award recipient, jazz drummer JT Bates, will use the money to compose and record his first album of original material. Lucas Melchior, a musician and sound designer, will take advantage of the award to create a 13-song serialized album, releasing one track per month for just over a year. Finally, the third award-winner, six-member Balkan dance music band Orkestar Bez Ime, plans to produce a live concert filled with a collection of new folk-influenced compositions written by their members, a selection of which will appear on a live EP. For more information, on the award and this year’s winners:

Back to top