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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra musicians and management gear up for extra concerts after negotiating a five-year contract
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Cantrell: Fiscal transparency was key.
Cantrell: Fiscal transparency was key.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the American Federation of Musicians Local 166 have signed a new, five-year collective bargaining agreement that will go into effect in September.

The new contract allows the WCO to continue signature programs like Concerts on the Square, its popular summer series of outdoor pops concerts, and Masterworks, its classical concert series in Overture Center's Capitol Theater.

The contract also adds more programs to this summer's lineup, which is good news for longtime conductor and music director Andrew Sewell.

"With the newly signed five-year musicians' contract, I am delighted to be firing on all cylinders, with additional summer performances this year," he says.

The new shows are open to the public and take place at such venues as Blackhawk Country Club in Shorewood Hills (July 4), Henry Vilas Zoo (July 18), American Players Theatre in Spring Green (Aug. 18) and Circus World Museum in Baraboo (Aug. 22).

WCO executive director Mark Cantrell says that the negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement began in January of this year.

"We concluded with a memorandum of agreement in early April and official signing thereafter," he says.

But negotiating a collective bargaining agreement can be a long and arduous process even in the best of times. The work has to begin long before negotiations start. Cantrell says the organization's board of directors laid important groundwork for the 2014 contract discussion last year.

"The process was begun in 2013 with the board reaching out to the musicians and establishing a positive relationship by building trust through meaningful and thoughtful dialogue and openness," he says. "When the actual negotiations began, the WCO demonstrated complete transparency with our finances and with our planning and outlook for the future of the WCO, coupled with how we could include the musicians in the process along the way."

Contract negotiations between orchestras and management often make headlines when they aren't going well. The Minnesota Orchestra's failed negotiations resulted in a historic 16-month lockout and the resignation of music director Osmo Vänskä last October. But Vänskä was reinstated in April, and the orchestra recently announced an ambitious 2014-2015 season, so things may be looking up.

The WCO went through its own drama in 2008, when a labor agreement couldn't be reached. Musicians went on strike in October of that year, and the 2008-09 Masterworks series was nearly derailed. An agreement was finally reached in April 2009.

This year's negotiations went much differently, in part because the WCO spent months preparing for the labor talks. Cantrell says the process was "very smooth and amicable" from start to finish.

"My hat [goes] off to the musicians of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and to Local [166] of the AFM," he says. "Together we have demonstrated what is possible in labor relations... when both sides come together and realize that the work we do is ultimately for the good or betterment of our community."

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