Israel bars another soloist, so Vänskä pipes up

Israel bars another soloist, so Vänskä pipes up


norman lebrecht

March 06, 2020

The percissionist Martin Grubinger was supposed to perform Kalevi Aho’s concerto with the IsraelPhilharmonic until the Ministry of Hedalth stepped in and barred all entrants from several Asian and European countries from entering the country.


No panic, said guest conductor Osmo Vänskä, getting out his clarinet and playing the Mozart concerto instead.

Those Finns can do anyfinn.

UPDATE: Lufthansa and its partners have suspended flights to Israel.



  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I did not even know he was a clarinettist. At least I was amused enough by this discovery and the accompanied picture to lighten up my rage against our wimpish times.

    • MacroV says:

      He was co-principal in the Helsinki Philharmonic before he turned to conducting. I haven’t heard him play but clearly he had to be pretty good to get that job.

  • sam says:

    “Israel on Wednesday barred entry to almost all non-residents of the Jewish state arriving from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland.

    Earlier that day, it had already ordered citizens and Israeli residents from the same countries into quarantine.”

    Oh well, so much for Israel as “the National Home of the Jewish people” in times of international crises, when it really counts.

    • Corona Nonna says:

      You have no understanding of the situation whatsoever… Israel never banned Israeli citizens from entering the country (including Jews, Christians, Muslims etc.). As long as you have an Israeli passport you can enter the country at any time. If you DO NOT have one and never lived here, do you really think it’s fair asking another country to let you in when you are putting all its citizens at risk??? It looks like you have access to the internet and to a computer / smartphone, so I’m guessing you are not living in a third-world country where they have no hospitals, medicines and enough food / water supplies in case of a national emergency. You are comparing the Coronavirus situation with some sort of a 2nd Holocaust and trying to imply that Israel left you to suffer and die in a ghetto or something. Give us a break…
      Also – Israel is doing the right thing by ordering its own citizens who flew in from European and Asian countries (where there has been a serious outbreak of Coronavirus) to stay at a home-quarantine. This is the only way to prevent mass infection within Israel and I’m sure the Italian, Swiss, German and Austrian authorities wish they would have ordered their citizens and visitors to do the same before things got so out of control.

      • sam says:

        “If you DO NOT have an Israeli passport and never lived here, do you really think it’s fair asking another country to let you in when you are putting all its citizens at risk???”

        YES, if you are a Jew going to Israel!!!

        That is the whole raison d’être for the existence of Israel, home for the diaspora no matter what passport, or no passport, that a Jew holds.

        • Corona Nonna says:

          You are completely wrong. The raison d’être for the existence of Israel is not to save Jewish people around the world form health hazards, financial instability or the lack of good life quality. Israel was established in order to guarantee one thing and one thing only – to make sure no Jew in the world will have to suffer from persecution, antisemitism and racism ever again. So that Jews will never be deported, jailed, tortured or murdered again because of their religion. I’m sorry, but Israel wasn’t established in order to keep Mr. Sam safe from the Coronavirus. Just like every Jew in the world, you have had and still have the right to be granted with an Israeli citizenship (according to the Law of Return), but you didn’t seem to care much about it till now. Well, I do not support Jews who are reminded of Israel and the Jewish people only during times of international crises (that has nothing to do with racism or antisemitism). Still – I wish you all the best and hope you stay safe and healthy wherever you are. Shabat Shalom.

  • anon says:

    Way to go to hog the limelight, he could’ve at least had the grace to have the principal clarinet of the IPO play that concerto.

    However much I like the Mozart, I’d be pretty miffed if I came for Aho percussion and had to listen to Mozart clarinet. The principal percussion of the IPO wasn’t up to the task either?

    • MacroV says:

      I sort of agree with you, but I’m impressed that he’s actually practicing regularly enough that he’d have the confidence to go out and play it on short notice.

      I suspect the IPO percussionists don’t have the Aho securely in their rep.

      • MacroV says:

        BTW, I believe I saw an IPO concert within the last couple years where their principal clarinet (not sure if it would be the same one as today) played the Mozart with Zubin. So that might have been a factor.

    • From Minnesota says:

      The Aho concerto is a big piece–35 minutes or so–with the soloist jumping around playing many instruments. Not something to be sight-read on 2 days notice.

    • Pamela Brown says:

      I agree. That was grandstanding in my book. Vanska will hopefully apologize to the principal clarinet of the IPO. Also true that Mozart is not Aho. I can’t imagine what Mr. Vanska was thinking….

  • RW2013 says:

    Finally a conductor who can actually do something, even if it’s only playing the clarinet.

  • Monsoon says:

    He plays the Mozart Clarinet Concerto quite a bit, and has a fairly robust side-gig playing chamber music.

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    Blimey, Vänskä is brave. It’s one thing turning up at, say Bournemouth Symphony Orch and saving the day with some Mozart. But doing it at one of the world’s greatest orchestra with insanely high talent levels is another thing. IPO principal clarinetist is a true master !

    It would have been in the spirit of the cancelled piece at least to do something written in the last 100 years.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Yep, Osmo plays the clarinet! He’d stopped for a while, as his conducting career took off, then got the clarinet out and started practicing to take part in some chamber concerts in Minneapolis.

    On a Minnesota Orchestra broadcast a few years ago, the told a funny story of how his first concert as a member of the Helsinki Philharmonic started with Sibelius’s First Symphony….on a national broadcast. Talk about a baptism by fire for a clarinettist!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    “Those Finns can do anyfinn” . . . How ’bout Hugo Alfinn? He was a Swede.

  • Miguel Cervantes says:

    Why the surprise? Jimmy Levine played piano way into his conducting years and so does Barenboim.

  • fflambeau says:

    Osmo Vänskä is a world treasure. I expect that he will get a huge position soon (in addition to Korea).

  • Doublereed3rdparty says:

    To address a point that has come up a few times, programming something written in the last 100 years within a span of of a few days due to unforeseen circumstances would potentially be a challenge for the orchestra, the conductor, the artistic staff, and the library. That music almost always requires much more preparation by all of those parties, as well as potentially more players or extra instruments (although the Aho orchestration probably allowed for that) and in the interest of maintaining a consistently high standard of performance across all the pieces, the natural choice is to pick repertoire that all of them know well, with a soloist the conductor knows that they can work with.

    With regard to someone’s comment that the principal percussion step up to play the Aho, Aho’s music is not able to be learned in such a short amount of time- especially because the solo part requires a huge battery of instruments arranged in a very particular setup, and developing the familiarity and physical agility needed to navigate this setup to play the music requires months of extremely dedicated practice, and can largely only be practiced with this particular setup.

    All in all, to maintain consistent and high standards of artistic quality over the course of a season, professional organizations will rarely take a huge risk when making last minute changes. The orchestra musicians are also certainly competent soloists, although I wouldn’t be surprised if there are contractual elements in play that would impact this type of situation, as they usually have 6-15 months advance notice of any concerto appearances with their orchestra. Vanska is a very competent soloist, and the understandable novelty for an audience of seeing the conductor as soloist will hopefully outweigh any disappointment at not hearing what I am sure is an excellent concerto. Regardless, it will no doubt be just as striking to hear Vanska and the orchestra share Sibelius 5 after intermission, as Vanska’s work with Sibelius is one of the defining aspects of his career.