Osmo says Henson must go

Osmo says Henson must go


norman lebrecht

February 09, 2014

With the directness of a Finn, Osmo Vänskä has announced that the Minnesota Orchestra president Michael Henson must leave if he is to return as music director.

‘For any healing to begin at the orchestra, Michael Henson must go,’ he announced on Minnesota Classical Radio.

It is unusual, not to say exceptional, for a conductor to demand the head of an organisation that employs him as a condition for future performance. But Osmo is uttering no more than the obvious and the necessary.

Michael Henson has been the executor of a 15-month lockout of the musicians. He has been accused of misleading the public and its legislature and he has never once come out from behind his desk to provide a moral defence of his actions.

Osmo’s right. He must go.

Out of orchestral management altogether.



  • david says:

    wouldnt it be glorious if this signalled the line in the sand the entire musical world is dying for….

    • James David Walley says:

      It would be, but…considering that the musicians already gave in to the demands of management for sizeable concessions in pay and benefits, it’s hard to see how the dismissal of Henson would be seen as a “line in the sand” after a standoff in which, as much as some of us may hate to admit it, his side prevailed and the only comfort the musicians could take, after more than a year of their livelihood being taken away from them, is that those concessions were a little less draconian than those originally demanded. How can that be considered anything but an ultimate defeat?

      • Cztph says:


        It is hard to see how Hensen’s side prevailed if indeed the artistic part of the contract was generally left intact. All that is left for healing to begin, as Vanska says, is the utter disappearance of Mr Henson. It could be the beginning of a slow but glorious return for Vansak and his musicians.

      • Terry says:

        James: Sizeable concessions in medical benefits is practically a “given” in any contract negotiation these days, and I don’t agree that a 10% cut in pay (over the three years of the new contract) is at all sizeable. Additionally, the only “ultimate defeat” will be if Henson remains, so that remains to be seen. After Friday night’s concert, Mr. Henson stood alone (with a companion) at one of the champagne bars in the lobby; nobody seemed very interested in talking with him, not even a board member. Hmmm …

        • SVM says:

          Actually, I think Mr Walley has a point. No serious negotiator intent on a 15% cut would have commenced by simply proposing a 15% cut: rather, they propose something far more drastic, such that when 15% is the eventually settled-upon figure (and 15% is the more pertinent figure here, since that represents the change from the end of the last contract to the start of the current one), it comes across as a relief, or even a partial victory. Of course, it is clear that the Henson and his cronies were genuinely intent upon stymying the artistic pedigree of the orchestra in favour of creating a “country club pops band” for a very small clique of influential donors, but Walley is right to note that it is only the knowledge that it could have been worse (personally, I think Walley understates how much worse it could have been) that renders the settlement something other than a defeat from the musicians’ perspective.

          This negotiating tactic (on the part of management) has a long tradition in many areas of employment, and on both sides of the Atlantic; here is an example in the context of British academia:


      • David says:

        James, if Henson goes then “his side” doesn’t exist anymore as “he” will not be in the equation. Not only should they boot him, but every arts organization in the world needs to steer clear of him.

  • Vänskä did not issue an ultimatum against Henson. He said that for healing in the orchestra to take place, Henson must go, which isn’t quite the same the same as saying he would only return if Henson leaves. Perhaps there’s a strong implication, but not an ultimatum. Orchestras can go decades without wounds healing, and conductors often work in such atmospheres – which are almost the norm. It’s also important to note that an ultimatum, if one were given, would enhance Henson’s bargaining position in a severance package.

  • CA says:

    Goodbye and good riddance and hopefully soon. And out of orchestra work altogether as another has posted. And how can anyone live within their skin drawing full salary and huge bonuses when the musicians were not working? Unfortunately, the board approves the CEO contract so isn’t that convenient? Many of them need to move on as well.

  • That’s the mantra locally. Everyone I speak to who is at all concerned with the Minnesota Orchestra says exactly this. If Henson has any self- respect at all, he’ll quietly negotiate a severance deal and leave – ideally by end of March when Osmo returns to conduct the Sibelius symphonies for which the Grammy was awarded.

  • Aaron says:

    The fact that he has not left on his own terms signals an utter lack of self awareness required by any leader. He has failed the organization and for many reasons must go. If the board chooses him over Osmo, even more donors will turn their backs and walk away.

  • Modicum says:

    I am so tired of these “orchestra wars”.

  • Spencer Topel says:

    Henson and his henchmen are poster-children for arts organizational MIS-management. He should be barred from running any major arts organization again.

  • Sarah Schmalenberger says:

    Mr. Vanska is no longer employed by the MOA, and during his employment he refrained from making public statements in the press about his opionins. He is free to share his thoughts with anyone he so chooses now. That he addressed only the issue of Henson’s leaving, without an added statement connecting this issue to the matter of his own future, attests to the Maestro’s judicious choice of words and timing.

  • Matthew B. Tepper says:

    There is a simple solution. Let Osmo conduct the Orchestra in any symphony of his choice. Then let Henson conduct the Orchestra in any symphony of his choice. Let the audience applause decide the outcome!

  • Stereo says:

    Henson should definitely go and will hopefully be unemployable.

  • Amy says:

    Osmo said nothing directly against Henson during the lockout …if anything, he was a model of restraint and diplomacy. Having resigned, he is absolutely free to say anything he wants to.

    And being a conductor, with a sense of timing and all that…he chose a powerful moment.

    Hope the board is listening.

  • Pamela Brown says:

    With all due respect to Mr. Vanska’s wish, he looks at the MO from an artistic standpoint: Mr. Henson from a financial one. Should Mr. Henson leave, then what about those who enabled the humbling demands made to the players?

    In addition, Mr. Henson was imo in his own unfortunate way attempting to regain control of the finances of the MO and keep from draining the endowment. What if his reactions were a consequence of other issues as yet unsolved? If these underlying issues are not addressed, who’se to say the MO wouldn’t end up going from the frying pan into the fire, so to speak?

    • Amy says:

      “with all due respect”…Osmo has, or had, an interest in the financial sustainability of the Minnesota Orchestra as well as artistic. And Michael Henson has, or had, an interest in the artistic vision of the institution as well (hence the emphasis on pops, etc.) as well as financial. He sucked at both.

      Nice touch, though, your vaguely sinister plot-twists “What if…??”

      It needs a dramatic soap-opera organ cue, there. That’s how you keep folks tuning in tomorrow.

      • Pamela Brown says:

        With that sort of fuzzy logic, would Amy also have them share the baton and the books? Really. :-0

        Let me rephrase — Mr. Vanska’s star is definitely on the rise at MO and Mr. Henson’s waning. Considering that, one would hope that he would at one point or another insist on dealing with all the underlying causes that resulted in Mr. Henson and MOA’s disrespectful treatment of the players in the first place.

  • MacroV says:

    It is a statement of the obvious. I just hope saying it so publicly doesn’t cause the Board to say that no music director is going to tell them whom to employ as CEO (even though I’m sure many do).

    • Pamela Brown says:

      That does seem to be a curious strategy on the part of Mr. Vanska. If he really wants Mr. Henson to go (and of course he does) why not go directly to MOA and negotiate behind the scenes first rather than putting them in a potentially embarrassing position? I can only surmise that that has already been attempted and was unsuccessful, and the result was a plea to the public.

  • harold braun says:

    Sent Henson packing,as soon as possible.And his next job should be cleaning public toilets,for the next 25 years,for an absolute minimum wage.

  • PK Miller says:

    I think Maestro Vanska is absolutely correct. Mr. Henson is part of the problem he can’t be part of the solution, if you will all pardon a hoary cliché. Henson needs to go for their to be any healing. Out damned spot.

    • Pamela Brown says:

      On the other hand, suppose Mr. Henson has uncovered an unexpected contributing factor to the lockout? If it were not dealt with, what good would come from just getting rid of him?