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SPCO Players Ratify Contract; Concerts Resume May 9

Musicians agreed to salary cuts, and the orchestra will be reduced in size; players are now calling for the appointment of a new leader for the orchestra’s management organization, one that would replace its interim president.

SPCO Players Ratify Contract; Concerts Resume May 9

Musicians from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) said Monday that they ratified a three-year contract with orchestra management, marking the end of a sixth-month lockout.

The vote comes a couple of weeks after SPCO management and the union representing its musicians reached a tentative deal under which musicians agreed to hold a vote on management’s latest offer. The deal hinged on management reaching a separate agreement with a national union regarding electronic media rights, which it did on April 18.

The musicians’ new contract includes annual minimum salaries of $60,000, representing a reduction of about 18 percent from the $73,732 salary they received for the 2011 to 2012 season. “Overscale”—additional compensation awarded to certain musicians beyond their base salaries—will be reduced by up to 20 percent under the terms of the new contract.

The size of the orchestra, meanwhile, will be reduced from 34 to 28 musicians, although the downsizing is expected to come through incentivized retirements and attrition, rather than through job cuts. (Eligible musicians are being offered a package of up to $200,000 for retiring.) New musicians will be paid the same salary as existing members.

The orchestra’s management said that concerts will resume May 9, allowing the orchestra to return to the stage this performance season, which is scheduled to conclude in mid-June.

“We believe this agreement will allow for the preservation of artistic quality while ensuring financial sustainability,” SPCO Interim President Dobson West said in a statement. “The musicians have agreed to take significant financial concessions as part of our organization-wide effort to align our expenses with our sustainable revenues.”

SPCO musicians said Monday that the savings experienced during the lockout, coupled with the new salary reductions, will reduce management’s costs by more than $5 million by 2016, when the newly ratified contract concludes.

Jessica Etten, spokeswoman for the orchestra’s management, told Twin Cities Business on Monday that specific savings are difficult to calculate prior to working out individual contracts and factoring in overscale, but she agreed that savings from the contract “are significant, and they will position us to balance our budget going forward.”

The musicians said Monday, however, that they remain “deeply concerned” about the future of the SPCO, and they asked that a search begin for a new leader for the organization, one “with proven orchestra management experience, and the vision and skill to substantially increase revenues and to maintain and enhance the SPCO’s status as one of the world’s leading chamber orchestras.”

Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, said that if revenues aren’t significantly increased in the next three years, “the artistic quality of this orchestra will not be preserved.”

Etten said that West has held the title of interim president since replacing the organization’s previous leader more than a year ago, and a search for a new leader had already begun but was suspended amid contract negotiations. Given that the lockout has ended, it is the “appropriate time” to resume that search, she added.

“After more than six months of silence, music will once again fill the halls of the Ordway as the world’s best chamber orchestra returns to Minnesota’s premier concert hall,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who helped broker the deal between players and management, said in a statement.

Coleman thanked both sides for making “significant compromises that allowed for today’s vote and ended the lockout.”

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