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After locking in its promising new music director over the summer, the Minnesota Orchestra will start its new season Friday with a new four-year musicians union contract that gives its players 2.5% to 3% annual pay increases.

"The musicians are very pleased with this agreement that allows the Minnesota Orchestra to continue serving the community at the highest artistic level," Timothy Zavadil, musicians' negotiating committee chair and a clarinetist/bass clarinetist, said in a statement.

Announced at noon Thursday and effective immediately, the new contract replaces a shorter two-year deal signed during the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020, which required a 25% pay cut for the musicians until audiences returned in full.

With attendance relatively strong again — this weekend's performances with New Orleans legend Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are nearly sold-out — musicians were able to make some modest gains in the new contract, which is good through Aug. 31, 2026. They will see a 2.5% pay increase in the 2022-23 season, followed by 2.76% in 2023-24 and then 3% in both 2024-25 and 2025-26.

The new contract comes eight years after the orchestra ended a headline-making 15-month lockout over contract disputes with musicians. Negotiations this summer seemed to carry a far brighter tone than that dark era for the Minneapolis-based organization.

"These were collegial and productive negotiations," Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Joseph T. Green said in a statement.

"The Orchestra made its way through the deepest challenges of the pandemic with a flexible, creative and collaborative approach, and the same spirit prevailed in these negotiations. We appreciate the solid partnership we have enjoyed with our musicians as we carefully manage the Orchestra's finances at the same time as we maintain our commitment to the highest levels of musical artistry."

News of the contract adds to the hopeful buzz that followed the orchestra's announcement in July of its new music director, Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård. Only the 11th music director in Minnesota Orchestra's 120-year history, the 52-year-old maestro replaces the popular and formidable Osmo Vänskä, who served in the role for 19 years.

Still, the orchestra faces challenges ahead. Before COVID-19 hit, it posted an operating deficit of $8.8 million for fiscal year 2019, the biggest in its history.

The musicians' pay cuts were part of a $5 million in cost reductions for fiscal year 2021, orchestra representatives reported then, but the nonprofit organization still saw an operating loss of $6.3 million last year while coming out of the pandemic.