Aaron Jay Kernis, the distinguished US composer, resigned today after 15 years as director of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute. ‘I admit total bafflement and dismay at what has been done to dismantle this superb orchestra at the height of its powers,’ he told its president, Michael Henson. ‘The tactics of a lock-out have no place in the life of any artistic organisation.’
But, in an equal swipe at the musicians, he added: ‘I have personally never seen two sides that show such unwillingness to sit down together and attempt to tackle the major challenges that confront the orchestra.’ The trigger for his resignation was the decision to quit by music director Osmo Vanska.
It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I submit my resignation as Director of the Composer Institute at the Minnesota Orchestra.
I admit total bafflement and dismay at what has been done to allow the dismemberment of this superb orchestra at the height of its powers. The tactics of a lock-out have no place in the life of any artistic organization. The artistic and economic flourishing of a community of musicians cannot be ensured by essentially destroying it, nor by avoiding significant compromise on both sides.
I have personally never seen two sides that show such unwillingness to sit down together and attempt to tackle the major challenges that confront the orchestra. The collaborative spirit that is the essence of music-making has been completely absent this past year, and little can be forged without a modicum of trust and good will. In all of this, the audience of music-lovers, who most appreciate the orchestra’s extraordinary gifts have been forgotten and their voices disregarded. They have been left bereft.
Throughout this year I continued to hope for a resolution so the performers could return to Orchestra Hall and the Composer Institute program resume. The program has always put artistic education and collaboration above business models and branding, encouraging highly talented young creators in a generous and fulfilling way, with camaraderie and a strong sense of collaboration between artists and administrators being crucial to the effort. I can say confidently that the Institute had grown into one of the jewels of the Minnesota Orchestra’s programs.
But with not a shred of those sentiments left at the Minnesota Orchestra, I see no point in continuing my work there. Minneapolis has been a second musical home to me. The musical relationships and world-class performances I’ve encountered there have altered the course of my own creativity and path in the most transformative ways.
Over the 15 years of my tenure as New Music Advisor and Director of the Institute it has been one of my great pleasures to collaborate with its orchestra members, many of the finest musicians in the world. The program has been fortunate to receive gracious and passionate support of musicians, audiences, board and administration over the years. I also deeply honor the vision of former Artistic Director Asadour Santourian in the initial shaping of the Institute, unwavering dedication of previous co-director Beth Cowart, and recently Lilly Schwartz has been a joy to work with and has continued that deep engagement. The many wonderfully generous partners offered their experience and expertise to hundreds of participants. They offered an inspiring and true vision of a future for music that stands in the starkest contrast to the rancorous behavior shown during the last year.
I will greatly miss working with Osmo Vänskä, whose leadership and extraordinary, galvanizing and deeply inspiring performances raised the level of a superb ensemble to one of world class. I can speak for the nearly one hundred composers who have taken part in the Institute: their lives have been changed through working with the orchestra and this superlative music director. President Michael Henson’s critical support of the Institute has been greatly appreciated, but I cannot in any way condone the actions taken this year by the board and administration toward the musicians, nor can I see the point in the musician’s intransigence and sense of violation. At a certain point one must seek a way to move forward, and now Osmo’s departure is a heavy penalty for the choices made by both sides this year.
This is a great loss for American culture and the Twin Cities. The endgame that has been played out creates a diaspora of musicians and a deafening silence for countless music-lovers. But I will not lose hope that eventually some resolution can be achieved that will allow the Minnesota Orchestra to continue to play a vital role in American arts and culture.