Q&A With Tim Zavadil

The face of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians speaks up about the lockout, his role as lead negotiator, and what patrons can expect this season.

Lead Musician Negotiator for the Minnesota Orchestra, Tim Zavadil
Photo by Cameron Wittig

It’s good to have the Minnesota Orchestra back after the 15-month lockout. The 110-year-old symphony orchestra performs several dates this month, including a daytime Friends and Family concert March 2 that encourages families to explore the newly renovated Orchestra Hall. Mpls.St.Paul Magazine spoke with Tim Zavadil, clarinetist and lead negotiator for the musicians, days after a contract resolution had been reached.  

Congratulations. A contract resolution has been achieved after a 15-month lockout. That must feel great. 
It was exhausting. We’re pleased that we’re going back to work. We felt that this was a contract that would keep the Minnesota Orchestra as one of the premiere orchestras in the United States, and at the same time, provide the association with some of the financial relief it was seeking. 

What did you do with your time during the lockout? 
We had no salary and no health insurance. I was fortunate to be able to sub to try and make ends meet in different orchestras in the United States. I played in Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis. The industry was very helpful to try and keep us, individual musicians, working. The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra also organized our own concerts so that we could keep the Minnesota Orchestra playing together during the lockout. That took a huge amount of time, too. But we felt it was important. 

Besides playing those concerts together, did the musicians act as a support system for each other throughout the lockout? 
Yes. Unfortunately in our industry, in some orchestras more than others, there can be rivalries and disagreements that last years between people, but we don’t have that. We honestly don’t have that in Minnesota. It’s a tremendous group of musicians that respects the music, respects the conductor, and respects each other. When you have that unified vision and enjoyment of each other, it makes playing the music for the audiences that much more special. And I think the audiences pick up on that as well. 

How did you come to be the lead negotiator for the musicians? 
I have a history in my family of grandparents and uncles who were always involved with negotiations. My grandfather was a negotiator for the Glazers and my uncle was the president of the New York City Musicians Union. So I guess you could say it runs in my blood. 

It seems like music also runs in your blood. How did you end up here? 
The way you join an orchestra is that somebody has to retire. My predecessor started in 1967, and I started in 2007. There is a newspaper, like an industry trade paper, that lists orchestras with openings, and you have to apply and come audition. My audition took place over a series of two or three days in 2007. That’s how I joined. Prior to that, I was in the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky for about nine years, and before that I was in Toledo, Ohio for four years.

Why the Minnesota Orchestra, specifically? We know it’s one of the premiere orchestras in the country, but what was the personal draw for you? 
I’ve always wanted to play in a major American symphony orchestra, a destination orchestra. And that is what the Minnesota Orchestra is. I also fell in love with Minneapolis in 1993. My first time visiting the city, I was a member of the American-Russian Youth Orchestra. It was a fantastic trip. We played a concert at Orchestra Hall, I got to see the city, and I always knew I wanted to come back here. And I got to 14 years later. 

You’ve now been here for seven years, but this is the first year you’ll get to play in the newly renovated Orchestra Hall. Are you excited? 
We have not been inside. We’ve been locked out. Our keys didn’t work. We were literally not allowed in the building. We haven’t been in Orchestra Hall since June of 2012. I think it’s going to be remarkable for all of us when we get back on stage. 

What’s your favorite piece to play? 
It’s really difficult for me to name a favorite piece, especially when different conductors bring different strengths to different composers. I’m open to just about anything, but if I really had to choose, I would say Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Sibelius’s 5th Symphony, or Mahler’s 5th Symphony. 

How many hours a week do you spend practicing the clarinet? 
Between rehearsal and my own practicing, I’m probably playing the clarinet five or six hours a day. 

What are you most looking forward to this season?
We get into this business because we love music and we just want to share it with the audience. For a musician playing in an orchestra like the Minnesota Orchestra, to get back on stage with all of our colleagues and share that with the audience is just going to be a celebration for the whole organization and the community. The entire organization will be working overtime to invite everyone back into Orchestra Hall. You can rest assured that the orchestra is going to play its heart out. We are glad to be back and happy to be performing again for our audiences and our community.