It's been nearly a year since the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians began. The lockout forced the cancellation of 200 performances, but the artists said thank you to supporters with a free concert on Sunday night.
The concert at the Lake Harriet bandshell was the 19th the musicians have performed independently of the orchestra in the months since the Orchestra Hall went quiet.
"It's a work about triumph, darkness to light," said Tony Ross, a cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra.
The orchestra performed Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, and many hoped it would become the soundtrack to negotiations going forward. Yet, the musicians acknowledged performances like the one on Sunday are a bittersweet reminder of the lengthy lockout.
"It's terrible," Ross said of the lockout. "It's our lives, it's our livelihood. It's our mission in life to be performing."
After walking away from mediation more than two weeks ago, orchestra management returned to the bargaining table within the past 24 hours -- but only time will tell how long the stalemate may continue.
The Minnesota Orchestra Association's most recent offer still calls for pay cuts of 25-45 percent -- salaries that could fail to attract the kinds of performers to continue a world-class ensemble.
"It's impacted her financially in a horrible way," Maggie Bostrom, neighbor of a performer, told FOX 9 News. "Does she sell her violin, sell her house? She's very much in a struggle."
Aside from hurting the musicians' quality of life, some are also worried about the artistic direction of the orchestra.
"There is absolutely no reason to accept the greed of the bankers who run the orchestra," said Mike Hansen, of Bloomington. "That's the way we feel and that's how most of the people here feel."
Thousands of people packed the bandshell at Lake Harriet to support the musicians; however, it's still unclear whether an agreement will be reached before the Sept. 30 deadline to save the fall schedule.
In a statement, the Minnesota Orchestra says the board has offered revisions to its compromise that seeks to end the lockout with a new, multi-year contract.
"Discussions involving the mediator have been ongoing this weekend," the statement read in part. "We are currently awaiting word from the musicians regarding the proposal."
Meanwhile, the musicians announced on Sunday that they plan to put together their own fall schedule with or without a contract. Their first show, set for Oct. 4 at the Tedd Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota, will feature renowned pianist Emanuel Ax.
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