A rally, with a smidgen of protest, outside the Minnesota Orchestra’s Symphony Ball

About 250 protesters rally outside the Symphony Ball at Orchestra Hall Friday night. The event is the single largest fundraiser for the Minnesota Orchestra each year. People at the rally called on attendees to join them in opposing the almost year long lock out.(MPR photo/Euan Kerr)

As the last notes of a tune by the Copper Street Brass Band faded into the light rain of a September evening and the audience of some 250 people outside Orchestra Hall applauded, the drummer waved his sticks and howled.

“Yes! We’re playing music!  We played music!” he yelled. “The lobby does not play music!” The crowd applauded its approval.

Organizers stressed this was a rally not a protest.

“What we are here to do is celebrate the music and the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra,” said organized Mariellen Jacobson of Save Our Symphony Minnesota. “We are not here to vilify the people who are coming to the Symphony Ball or the Crash the Ball event later on. Rather we are here to welcome them to encourage them to use their influence to help us get this lock out ended and to come out and join us on the sidewalk if they’d like.”

But with a line of security folks who politely, firmly, and repeatedly reminded participants not to block entryways, there didn’t seem to be a huge amount of exchange going on.

Tony Ross, the Orchestra’s principal cello, and a member of the negotiating committee looked on in disbelief.

“You have to ask yourself, well, Symphony Ball? No symphony? Let’s celebrate this horrendous year? Let’s celebrate without the Orchestra? The Symphony Ball should be about a great orchestra. I don’t get it.” Ross says he doesn’t trust the leadership to do the right thing for the organization

Organizers of the Ball say they strongly considered canceling the event given the almost year-long lock out. But said board member Doug Kelley, the organization needs the money. The Symphony Ball raises about a million dollars in one night. It’s the largest single fundraiser of the year, and Kelly says, the organization really needs the money right now.

“It is a solemn night,” said Kelley, who is also on the management negotiating committee. “We have never in the history of the symphony had labor strife going on at the time of the symphony. But what people also ought to know is that the people  who are inside the Symphony Hall are people who care deeply about the orchestra.”

Song of the Lark blogger Emily Hogstad (in long skirt) addresses the rally outside the Symphony Ball at Orchestra Hall (MPR photo/Euan Kerr)

Kelley was seated in the new Green Room, overlooking Peavey Plaza, where the rally below.  “They are all great people,” said Ben Jaffray, standing nearby looking splendid in his tuxedo for the ball.  He says he believes there will be an orchestra in Minneapolis, but he doesn’t think the musicians union has acknowledged the true financial difficulties of the Minnesota Orchestra, which includes a $6 million deficit.  When asked about whether he thinks the current situation can be resolved he’s blunt.

“I am a little less than 50-50,” he said. “And I think it would be a tragedy. I believes there is some musicians leadership out there that is serious recognizes the problem,  but also recognizes the potential we have for the orchestra, for the conductor we have, for the community we have, for the hall we have.” He says however there is no way the orchestra can generate the revenue it needs if it has a musicians contract which he describes as a losing proposition.

As the Ball and the rally continued within yards of each other, the two sides in the dispute say they are exchanging information through the mediator George Mitchell. As Mitchell has requested, neither side will say any more as they work towards finding a way back to the negotiating table. Looming just around the corner is the deadline set by Music Director Osmo Vanska that he wants to be rehearsing with musicians by the week of Sept. 30th for November concerts at Carnegie Hall. He has said if those concerts are cancelled, he will resign. It’s an outcome no-one wants.