Breaking: Osmo Vänska to conduct Minnesota musicians this weekend

Breaking: Osmo Vänska to conduct Minnesota musicians this weekend


norman lebrecht

October 03, 2013

In a farewell gesture of defiance and scorn to President Michael Henson and his board, the outgoing music director will conduct musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra in a long-planned concert this weekend. the concert had been posted with Emmanuel Ax as soloist and no conductor. Vänska presumably held back to see if a settlement could be reached between the board and musicians. When it failed, he aligned himself decisively on the musicians’ side.

Statement follows.


The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra today announced that Osmo Vänskä will conduct concerts this Friday and Saturday at Ted Mann Concert Hall. The concerts will be Vänksä’s farewell to the community and audience that have supported classical music so passionately. “These concerts are going to be truly special,” said Principal Trombonist, Douglas Wright. “As heartbroken as we are to be saying good-bye, we couldn’t be more honored to have Osmo join us once again on-stage.”


  • Mark Powell says:

    Singularly appropriate.

    Proud to count him as a fellow Panula alumnus.

  • Amy Adams says:

    There will be a rather amazingly long ovation, I would imagine.

  • MpR says:

    BIG mistake. You’ll figure out why later, I guess.

    • Amy says:

      @MpR (“BIG mistake….”)

      “Let’s see. I want to leave a sinister-sounding remark without explaining anything. This should do the job. Hopefully people will come back and ask me what I mean…”

    • Koelnmusik says:

      Why anyone in their right mind at MPR state this is a mistake ? A Maestro who cared so deeply about his Orchestra that he did the RIGHT thing ! Who at MPR did this? Brian Newhouse covered the event and witnessed the tears not only live, but world wide tears! 110 years gone and for what good reason!!

  • princetrumpet says:

    He tore into rehearsal with us like we were a house afire. Many of us forgot how illuminating taking an old standard warhorse apart and putting it back together as he likes it could be. It was a rehearsal where I truly went back and forth between joy and melancholy. We have always worked damned hard for him and he’s always appreciated it. I will miss rehearsing the music of Jean Sibelius with him. He has really made me a convert from just kind of enjoying it to truly loving the harmonies and pacing that makes that music so important to hear.

    The management and board of the MOA has blown it in a manner of epic proportions. Why anyone would want to have as their legacy the destruction of a great musical organization is beyond me. My friends have asked me to explain what the MOA has been think but I can’t explain the inexplicable. It’s all been so unnecessary. Now, it’s just spiteful and nasty since the recent comments from them which clearly indicate they just want to starve us out can lead to no other conclusion other than they wanted this all along. What a shame.

  • MacroV says:

    It is really tragic, at least in the music sense and for the institution, that a conductor and orchestra who clearly have great fondness for each other have been driven apart by this fiasco. Classy move by Osmo, but also saddened by this grossly premature breakup of their terrific relationship.

  • nice to see perserverence in the face of idiocy

  • Stuard Young says:

    Here is a scenario:

    The remaining Minnesota Orchestra musicians resign en masse, and reform as either the “New Minnesota Orchestra” (similarly to the New Philharmonia), or the “Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra”. Possibly some of the fine musicians of the New York City Opera Orchestra would be able to fill some open positions, and be willing to move to a city with a lower cost of living. Ask Stanislaw Skrowacewski for help getting a premiere season off the ground. Grab Gianandrea Noseda immediately to guest conduct. Set up a series of youth/family concerts as soon as possible. other major orchestras might welcome loaning their already developed programs for a venture that would receive such a positive response from the public and press. Schedule a TubaChristmas in the Ted Mann Concert Hall, and have as many of the orchestra musicians participate as can obtain and play reasonably a tuba or euphonium. Advertise their participation, so that all the local secondary school tuba and euphonium players know they will have the opportunity to perform a side-by-side during the most cheerful, giving season of the year. schedule full orchestra side-by-side rehearsals/performances. connect with the established (and from published accounts, very enthusiastic) youth orchestra. At some point, invite Osmo back to finish the Sibelius symphony cycle of recordings. I am sure that other interested parties can offer additional support.

    – an interested music educator in Philadelphia

  • George London says:

    Perfect idea. Perhaps they can strike off on their own and then spilt whatever revenue received. They can see what the market will truely support with out having to use the charity of those mean boards members and companies that pay 65% of their take home. They can finally become true free artists like jazz and rock musicians . besides they weren’t going to playNYC anyways cause they would have had to go against their brethren 400k a year music stand movers union in their own labor struggle …..the hypocrisy is amazing.

    • Amy says:

      George London…what do you hope to achieve here? Conversion to your way of thinking? (Fully expecting a very condescending reply under one of three names.)

      • meerkat says:

        Perhaps he’s thinking one of the musicians or one of their self-appointed spokespersons will finally see reason and finally bring an end to the mess they helped create. We live in hope.

  • Stereo says:

    Great gesture,it will surely be a wonderful evening and one in the eye for Henson. The sooner he is kicked into touch the better.

  • robcat2075 says:

    If they split off they are walking away from a rather large endowment fund which was raised to help ensure that musicians would be paid. Why should they abandon that?

    • Lawrence says:

      “Why should they abandon that?”

      Because they’d rather not be servants – well paid (OK, not as well if they accepted the MOA’s condescending offer) servants, but servants nonetheless.

      I don’t think the musicians’ position has ever been about just dollars and cents, though of course, nobody likes to take a big pay cut. IF the MOA really were in dire financial straits, and IF the board and management dealt straight with the players without all the duplicity and demeaning new proposed “work rules,” AND IF it really were a choice between the Minnesota Orchestra going out of business or taking a substantial pay cut, I bet most of the players would’ve accepted the pay cut.

      Like a LOT of Americans, they may be figuring out that selling their freedom to the Corporate Behemoth for illusory security is not such a good idea. Geez, did I really write that? Well, that’s how it’s looking from here – the “Minnepocalypse” is about a lot more than just a squabble over wages in the rarified world of classical music.

      BTW, I’ve been a fan of the MO for 30+ years. Eight years ago, when I was considering moving to where I live now in Iowa – about 4 hours from the Twin Cities – I put wrote the pros and cons of the move on a sheet of paper. “Close proximity to the Minnesota Orchestra” was close to the top of the pro column. So I consider these folks my current “home” orchestra – along with the Des Moines Symphony, of course.

      I suspect that economic reality stacks the deck against them forming a full-time, self-governing “New Minnesota Orchestra,” but if they do, I’ll be at the concerts and writing checks for donations.

  • Sarah says:

    There are quite a few fine musicians in the Twin Cities, including several who “retired” from the SPCO, who could play. During the past year there has been a lot of back-and-forthing across the river.

  • Sarah says:

    The endowment is pretty well tied up with strings – no telling how much would/could be used for it. I don’t know how much was raised for musician pay. I have the feeling that such money could be raised for this purpose but not put in control of the board. Myself, I wouldn’t trust those banksters with an expired credit card.

  • Terry says:

    UPDATE: Additional performance added due to high demand for tickets: 2PM Saturday matinee concert. 15% student discounts at this performance only:

    • Terry says:

      Oops, make that “$15 tickets for students” at the 2PM performance on Saturday.

    • Lawrence says:

      Amazing! Message on the website to order tickets for the 2PM concert: “We’re sorry, the server is currently experiencing a large number of requests and you have been placed into a priority queue. You will be automatically redirected as soon as possible.”

      There’s got to be some uneasy folks in back offices of Orchestra Hall this morning. Yep, gotta cut the musicians’ salaries because the audience is, you know, shrinking….

      • Sarah says:

        All sold out. And it had family-friendly pricing – so much for the “audience is getting older” mantra as well.

      • Dave T says:

        I rather doubt that, Lauwrence. Filling all the seats (BTW, do we know how many fit in this hall?) for three iterations of one program IN A YEAR, especially in such a charged atmosphere, shouldn’t be that hard to pull off in a metro the size of the Twin Cities. Whether this scales up to two or three concerts of two dozen programs is another matter entirely.

  • James Brinton says:

    Norman, would you please ban “George London?”

    Not only is he not George London, but he is determined to deliver the maximum discomfort to everyone mourning the loss of a great orchestra at the hands of true barbarians.

    • Anon says:

      James, that would seem uncharitable at best. There are few enough commenters willing to posit a different point of view to the accepted “musicians are always right” we see here, and we need them to encourage discussion and debate. Otherwise this forum simply becomes a group of people preaching to the choir or reinforcing each other’s view, rather than daring to take the time to consider something different.

  • James Brinton says:

    “London’s” cultural and economic sense is informed by the ability to deal pain anonymously via the Internet. That and discredited right-wing economics. Also perhaps the Tea Party and we know how smart they are, how caring, how compassionate, how charitable.

    And how disgusting to actual human beings.

  • Econ says:

    To a Canadian the Minnesota Orch situation represents the worst of Amurica and the 1% who place value in the Mighty Dollar to the detriment of real value in the arts to society.

  • Paula Royce-Bravo says:

    What is Vänska going to do after he leaves his post in Minnesota? Does he have a new position somewhere else?

    • Sarah says:

      Nothing “permanent” that we know of, but he’s quite in demand (and certainly given the way that conductors fall ill he is a great replacement). My hope is that he will be back conducting frequently here in Minnesota . . .

      • Stuard Young says:

        Is it possible that the orchestra management really wanted Vanska to leave, and this was part of their plan all along? I live in the East, so I have been following this tragedy from afar.

        • Lawrence says:

          In this bizarre situation, *anything* is possible, though orchestrating (oops, pun!) the demise of the orchestra just to get rid of a conductor seems overkill. They could’ve just refrained from renewing his contract, which IIRC, had happened not long before the lockout. I think he was lined up to stay through 2017.

          Plus, the MOA used Osmo’s credibility unrelentingly in their marketing. I used to stay at a hotel kitty-corner from Orchestra Hall when I’d go up for concerts. Arrived one year to see a photo of Osmo plastered across the entire façade of the hall like a billboard.

          As my girlfriend said when I laid out the whole sad history for her on a long walk, there’s something we just don’t know yet about the MOA’s motivation for doing what they’re doing. Until we know that, none of this is going to make complete sense.

          • MWnyc says:

            Lawerence, I don’t think the MOA Board and Henson orchestrated all of this just to get rid of Osmo. That was just one item on the list. (To them, it would be reducing an overly large and overly public expense.)

            As long as they had him, they might as well use his image to sell tickets.

            Osmo’s contract ran to 2015; see my comment just below about how the Board addressed that in their public statements.

            As for the MOA Boards’ motivation for doing what they’re doing?

            Well, when I look at —

            – the demands for much lower pay for musicians,

            – repeated statements from Board members indicating that they think individual musicians are interchangeable,

            – the very many (and insufficiently discussed) work rule changes in the proposed new contract (especially the rule about hiring musicians out to play private events as part of their regular duties),

            – the Board’s stated plans for changed programming (more pops programs and more touring pop acts for which the orchestra would play backup),

            – the Board’s regular references to a new business model, and

            – a comment from an MOA Board supporter on another Slipped Disc post saying that this Board has given lots of money to this orchestra over and over again and “they’re sick of it” —

            — I think the MOA Board is trying to create a symphony orchestra that can support itself entirely through earned income (and thus will stop asking them for money).

            And I think they’re convinced they can pull it off, and that all the opposition to their plans is coming from people who are clinging to old and misguided ways of thinking and doing things.

        • MWnyc says:

          It’s more than possible; it’s likely. At least one board member has been quoted as saying he thinks Osmo is overpaid.

          And note that every management statement of regret about Osmo’s departure, before and after it happened, said that they hoped Osmo would stay “through the end of his contract in 2015.” Not the words of an administration that hopes for a long and fruitful relationship with a conductor.

  • Performing Artist52 says:

    Hey George! The stage hands at Carnegie are “working and talking” so the concerts are now being held. Only one concert was cancelled. However that concert was played back home in Philly and they had a huge turn out that incluced families and young people. Go figure! The MOA wouldn’t agree to “play and talk”.

    The musicians would have perhaps agreed to a resonable pay cut if they would have received the financial information they requested. They don’t want the orchestra to fold. But the MOA did not prove the need for such drastic cuts. Amazing the MOA spent $13.7 million and didn’t produce One concert!

    I believe there are more large donors out there that would be willing to donate to the musicians to keep them going. In addition all those that left would come back.