Minnesota: Michael Henson goes

Minnesota: Michael Henson goes


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2014

The isolated president of the Minnesota Orchestra will leave in August, it was announced last night. His picture in the Star Tribune shows a man worn and weary by two years of incessant conflict in a situation that was not of his making. It is hard not to feel a twitch of sympathy.


michael henson goes

Henson after. photo: Jerry Holt, Star-Tribune

Henson, then manager of the Bournemouth Orchestra in England, was signed in 2007 on a mission to renovate the hall and rationalise the finances after excessive spending by his predecessor. He raised $50 million for the first cause and fell heavily  to that conflict. He managed to alienate  not only the musicians but the media, the community and the wider industry in which he served. At times he seemed barely in control of the musician-free organisation he supposedly ran. He was accused of lying to the State Congress. His handling of the conflict will be taught for years in college as a negative object lesson in arts management.

His departure, however, is not the end of Minnesota’s woes, not even the beginning of the end. The local newspaper believes it could pave the way for the return of Osmo Vänskä as music director, but that is far from a foregone conclusion. Whether Vänskä’s return is in the orchestra’s best interests, or his own, is now a matter for more thoughtful reflection.



Henson before


  • Since it seems that the musicians in Minnesota are keen on continuing giving concerts with Vänskä, I think the most plausible solution would be to make him the principal guest conductor with a generous amount of concert dates to begin with, and start a search for a new music director without hurry. Or the title does not have to be “principal guest” – it couls be something like “Music Director Emeritus” as well if it sounds nicer…

    • sdReader says:

      Why would “the most plausible solution” not be to reappoint him Music Director?

    • Geo. says:

      The most logical title would be more in the European mold, like “chief conductor”, or perhaps to kick that up a notch, “chief conductor and artistic advisor”. In other words, Mr. Vanska could conduct the lions’ share of concert, without having to deal with orchestra personnel responsibilities that would be the provenance of a typical US music director.

      • nyer says:

        Absolutely right. This would enable MO to have the best of both worlds… Osmo to come back, and finish what he started… while taking a brief punt on the search for a new MD in a few years’ time, which would do everyone a great deal of good at that point.

  • Wing-chi Chan says:

    Anyone lying on his testifying statement, that was supposed under oath, at the state assembly, could be subjected to criminal prosecution for obstruction of justices!!

  • MacroV says:

    At least this confirms that the MOA’s meeting a few weeks ago indicates that they were working to give Henson a graceful exit; it’s kind of unfair, since he presumably was implementing a Board strategy, but you can’t fire the entire board, so he’s got to be the one to go if the organization wants to restore some good faith. I can’t see what would be achieved by bringing back Osmo just as principal guest conductor. Better than nothing, of course, but still a loss for a organization reeling from self-inflicted wounds.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Why would the Minnesotans NOT want to restore Vanska to his place as music director, assuming he wanted to return? He’s only one of the top five conductors on the planet and, with Ivan Fischer, certainly the most interesting. It’s probably not a good move for HIM at this point, given the defections from the orchestra’s ranks and the fact that it might take a decade or more to restore the orchestra to the kind of health it was enjoying prior to the Board’s horrific decisions.

    • Pamela Brown says:

      Although it is certainly not the case, Mr. Vanska may have become associated in the mind of MOA with an excess of zeal in moving the MO to the next level when it was not financially sustainable. Hopefully, now everyone can have a fresh start…

  • G Ell says:

    Side note: James Clapper, U.S. Director of National “Intelligence”, lied to the U.S. Congress, to the President, to the American people, and to the world (since his agency’s tentacles are global in reach) and hasn’t been sacked or, even better, prosecuted to the full extent of U.S. criminal law. But back to the MSO: Oh no, not another write up about this baffling and forever tedious fixation !!!

  • PK Miller says:

    Good riddance. He’s certainly a convenient scapegoat. It would be a difficult, even dangerous process to “fire” the entire Board but as their terms expire, there should be a means to do that. I hope the MNO can move forward now, the Board will engage an Executive Director who will LISTEN to his people, not earn such an extravagant salary and remember without an orchestra s/he has nothing to be Executive Director of. Good luck folks. You’ve been through hell & come back again! I hope this paves the way forward.

  • harold braun says:

    Sympathy for him?The only good thing is after this shambolic leadership he for sure will not a get a job anywhere in the orchestra field,except perhaps for cleaning toilets in a concert hall.

    • Pamela Brown says:

      Mr. Henson will want to do something that brings tons of money, so your idea might only fly if he were to have no success trying to going undercover as an orchestra-busting consultant. :-0

      • MWnyc says:

        I was thinking that Campbell and Davis should fund some post – a fellowship or something – for Henson at some right-wing think tank like the Heritage Foundation or the Manhattan Institute. But then why should he stay in the States? If he’s not going to be prosecuted for lying to the Minnesota legislature, the least we can do is revoke his visa, right?

  • Stereo says:

    At last,good riddance. Don’t bother coming back to Bournemouth.

  • Amazing how long this soap opera took to reach its conclusion. No wonder the West is taking so long to respond effectively to Putin if this is the model for appropriate action.

  • William Safford says:

    Good riddance.

    The next question: what to do about the people on the Board who hired Henson and gave him his marching orders?

    The problems extend beyond one man. There is more work to be done.

  • QSV says:

    I have no sympathy for Henson. He was NOT just a fall guy for the board. He was incompetent. His office issued several terribly inaccurate documents before and during the lockout. He cut the PR budget and then complained that ticket sales were down. He moved the ticket office out of orchestra hall to a place that few can find it – making it still difficult to buy tickets in person. And why rehire Osmo? Well, his performances with the Minnesota Orchestra only garnered rave reviews internationally and won a Grammy. The board and management should try actually aggressively marketing that wonderful track record to the public for a change!

  • Wayne A. Benjamin says:

    Henson, the MO board and staff should all be summarily fired. The musicians should file suit to claw back all of Henson’s salary and bonuses as well as all staff salaries during the disgusting lockout.