ST. PAUL, Minn. - A lockout of musicians is now in effect for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which canceled its concerts through Nov. 4.
SPCO President and Chair Dobson West announced with "great sorrow" the first work stoppage in the SPCO's 53-year history, posting a letter to the orchestra website Sunday.
Dobson says the SPCO faces major financial challenges and has had to make difficult choices like many orchestras across the country, citing similar situations in Indianapolis, Chicago and Atlanta recently. He says salary concessions from the musicians must be part of the solution.
Carole Mason Smith, a bassoonist with the SPCO for 32 years, said this was a "dark week" with many fellow musicians taking work in Europe, New York in Chicago with no programming scheduled this week. She says she is perplexed the SPCO would demand October 21st as a contract negotiation deadline, knowing many musicians were scheduled off with an inability to vote.
"Disappointed, frustrated," said Mason Smith. "We have made the offer, a 10.5 percent reduction to salary, to keep playing and talking - that is of no interest to SPCO management. We asked them what it would take; still, it was not of interest. This makes it more challenging to continue on. We are sorry to the public, we don't want to cancel concerts. This is the decision of the management."
West offered a response, citing a deficit growing by the day, after cutting 1.5 million in annual expenses by reducing staff by 17 percent.
"We did make a proposal to play and talk. The musicians rejected it. Their play and talk proposal did not reduce cost of contract by any amount," he said. "We have continued to play and talk since September 30 because we have wanted to keep the music going, but every day that we have continued under the terms of the current contract we have added to our deficit. With no sign of a settlement in the near future, we cannot continue operating this way and exacerbating what is already a very serious deficit."
West said the SPCO is looking for dates to get together with musicians, hopefully in the beginning of November.
"We believe our latest contract proposal would provide a long- term solution to the Management by giving them the time needed to run an effective endowment drive. Instead, they want to buy out the most experienced musicians, cut the size of the ensemble and decrease base salaries by 33% across the board. It will be impossible to retain and recruit talented musicians under this model. In addition they want complete artistic control, including putting the power to re-configure the ensemble in the hands of a task force containing a majority of non musicians" said Mason Smith.
Ticket holders for canceled concerts will be receiving emails about their options, including exchanges and refunds.
The move means both major orchestras in the Twin Cities are now locked out. The Minnesota Orchestra canceled its first six weeks of concerts Oct. 1 after the two sides failed to reach agreement.
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