Forum rallies Minnesota Orchestra fans to end lockout

With the lockout at Orchestra Hall now in its 11th month, Orchestrate Excellence, a community group that supports a swift return to business as usual at the hall, packed the lower sanctuary at Westminster Presbyterian Church last night at a community forum to ask the question, “Does Minnesota want a world-class orchestra?”

The resounding answer was “Yes.”

From the moment Kenneth Huber, an executive board member with Orchestrate Excellence, took to the microphone to begin the community forum, the event took on the feel of a pep rally.

“I wish we weren’t here tonight,” Huber said, to applause. “I wish we were all across the street at Orchestra Hall,” he continued, before being drowned out by the crowd.

Following Huber, Paula DeCosse, co-chair of Orchestrate Excellence, further rallied the crowd, asking for “creative ideas and positive solutions” to the lockout.

“We are the audience and we miss our orchestra,” she said. “ We want to bring the music back.”

Dr. Alan Fletcher, the president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School, was the forum’s keynote speaker. Fletcher recently weathered a labor dispute in Aspen and had spoken out as of late about the state’s labor issues involving the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, calling the breakdowns the “worst” or their kind.

Fletcher tempered his remarks early on, and told the crowd, “If you hear something you really like, you’ll probably hear something you don’t like, next.”

However, he was quick to say that he was firmly of mind with Orchestrate Excellence, in that he was all for a speedy resolution to the lockout.

“One thing I believe, is the current lockout of the musicians should end and it should end unconditionally,” he said.

Fletcher said the Minnesota Orchestra lockout has “worldwide significance,” because if such a labor conflict can afflict a world-class orchestra in such a way, “it can happen anywhere.”

Fletcher’s remarks centered on a clear-headed resumption of labor talks; he said musicians need to “come in earnest to the table and deal with who is at the table,” while much of the “unreality about orchestra finances” needs to be addressed.

He said the Minnesota Orchestra needs to rethink its business model, expect to continue to run at a deficit for a short time after a new contract is signed and look forward to fixing the fissures created between it and donors — the audience — because of the lockout.

Following Fletcher’s remarks, he answered questions from the crowd.

Lee Henderson, an attorney from Minneapolis, asked Fletcher what role the orchestra’s audience has in ending the lockout process. Fletcher responded that while it has no official role in it, between management and musicians, it should be considered the “third leg of the stool.”

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-60B) used the time to make a statement, and said government on all levels, city, county and state should step in to help end the lockout.

“We’ve seen a lot of government involvement on behalf of professional sports and I’d say the orchestra is a more important part of the community,” Kahn said.

Tuvia Abramson, also of Minneapolis, asked Fletcher how the orchestra could broaden its audience, through diversification and reaching a younger crowd.

“You look around and I see all the gray hair, but I don’t see young people and I don’t see minorities,” Abramson said, to the loudest applause of the evening.

Fletcher agreed with Abramson, noting his own gray hair, that orchestras would be well served by widening their appeal, but said that most people find their way to supporting an orchestra at 60, 70 or 80 years old.

“I’m not sorry about that,” Fletcher said.

Following the question and answer session, the audience formed breakout groups to discuss the question of the night and to discuss how they will support the orchestra in ending the lockout and in the future.

After a short time, the audience re-formed and reported back the small group findings. Forum attendees, as one put it, were ready to “take ownership” of their possible roll in ending the lockout.

The Minnesota Orchestra lockout began Oct. 1, 2012, and has resulted in the cancellation of concerts through this summer. Most recently, a recording session with a Swedish company that was scheduled for September was postponed, because the orchestra has sat idle for so long.