For those following the long, agonizing story of the Minnesota Orchestra, Thursday’s news was a thunderbolt: Osmo Vänskä had his old job back. The Minnesota Orchestral Association board, or enough of the board, had voted to reinstate him as music director.
Doug Wright, the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal trombone and a member of the musicians’ negotiating committee, was as surprised as the rest of us. “I did not know this was coming,” he told MinnPost later that day. “I knew the vote was coming, and I was hopeful, but I really didn’t know where it was heading.
“The last two years have been a hell of a roller-coaster ride,” Wright said, “with lots of ups and downs. Over the past couple of months, that has intensified to some degree. But I was always hopeful this day was going to come.”
Under the terms of a new two-year agreement, Vänskä will begin May 1. He will lead at least 10 weeks of concerts during each of the next two seasons, 2014-15 and 2015-16, which are now in the planning stages. He’ll accept the same 15 percent reduction in compensation the musicians agreed to.
Musicians ‘truly excited,’ MOA ‘delighted’
The musicians issued their statement shortly before the MOA did: “The musicians are truly excited by the board’s decision to bring back Osmo as Music Director. This is a major step in rebuilding the trust and collaborative spirit within our organization as well as with our community. We very much look forward to further collaboration with Osmo, our Board, and our community to continue to build upon the Minnesota Orchestra’s 110-year legacy of artistic excellence.”
Speaking through the MOA’s official statement, board chair Gordon Sprenger said, “Osmo Vänskä led the Minnesota Orchestra to great heights during his previous tenure as music director, and we are happy to be able to reunite Osmo and the Orchestra to deliver outstanding musical performances for our community and to extend their celebrated musical partnership. We are delighted he is back.”
Vänskä said, “I am very pleased to have this chance to rebuild the Vänskä/Minnesota Orchestra partnership, and I look forward to getting back to music-making with the players and together re-establishing our worldwide reputation for artistic excellence.”
Wright and Vänskä texted back-and-forth on Thursday. “I believe he’s thrilled,” Wright said of Vänskä. “I think he’s really excited and ready to get to work immediately.”
It’s a bit early for reflection, but we asked Wright what he thought had made this outcome possible. There were many times – during the 16-month lockout and after, as board members battled, several resigned, and the Symphony Ball was canceled – when it seemed that matters could only get worse.
“I’m guessing that the board ultimately saw this as the best, if not the only, avenue toward success,” Wright mused. “Osmo is our artistic leader. He is clearly sought after by the community. The entire music world has been clamoring for this day. He’s our biggest ticket seller and one of our greatest fundraisers. All of these things add up to – this is what we’ve got to do.”
SOSMN calls for community contributions
The citizens’ group Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN), a steadfast, articulate supporter of the orchestra and originator of the “Finnish It!” campaign that brought Finnish flag-waving audiences to Orchestra Hall in recent weeks, also issued a statement Thursday afternoon:
We believe that the return of Maestro Vänskä as Music Director will foster healing of the organization’s relationship with its constituencies, will increase ticket sales and donations, and will help restore the orchestra’s international reputation. SOSMN looks forward to working with MOA on this restoration and calls upon the audience, donors and community to support the Minnesota Orchestra through the challenges ahead.
MinnPost spoke with SOSMN’s Mariellen Jacobson. “Restoring Osmo to his position as music director was essential,” she said. “We’re very happy that has taken place, and we’re expressing our thanks to the board for approving this move today. We are also calling upon our constituents – audience and donors – to make their appreciation known by making a contribution right away.”
By 5:30 Thursday afternoon, this status was posted on SOSMN’s Facebook page:
Remember how we flooded the MOA’s ticketing system back in January when the lockout was ended? Let’s flood their ‘giving’ system now to express our thanks to the Board for rehiring Osmo Vanska! If all 11,765 of us gave only $10 the impact would be mighty. But some of us can give $50 or $100 or $500 or more. Join the groundswell already started by SOSMN Leaders this afternoon! And be sure to add a personal message of thanks on the ‘checkout’ page at the end of your transaction.
Two years is a very short time to repair an orchestra that has been badly damaged. So SOSMN isn’t shutting down anytime soon.
More to be done
“We’re continuing,” Jacobson said, “and we want to help fix things that need to be fixed. Governance changes still need to be made. Rebuilding the audience, rebuilding the donor base, getting tickets sold – all of those things are important. We’re here to help out in any way we can. We can’t be in the same financial crisis two years from now, or it has all been in vain.”
Donations, ticket sales, listeners in seats. That’s what the orchestra needs from the community, starting now. For Vänskä, who clearly considers the Minnesota Orchestra his own — anyone who attended his farewell concerts in October 2013 saw the pain on his face and heard it in his voice, when he asked the audience for silence — reinstatement must feel like victory tempered by sorrow. Like returning home after a hurricane, or a terrible fire. Your house needs major repairs, but it’s solid and standing. The neighborhood is mostly still there. You’re relieved and a bit giddy. Then you roll up your sleeves and, as the Maestro would say, get to verk.