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Vänskä to return as music director of Minnesota Orchestra May 1

Vänskä’s return offers hope that an institution that was pulled apart might have a chance at being put back together.

The return of Vänskä offers hope that an institution that was pulled apart might have a chance at being put back together.
Photo by Greg Helgeson

Osmo Vänskä will return as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra on May 1.

On one hand, the word today that the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s board of directors and Vänskä have reached agreement on a two-year deal ends the long labor saga that started Oct. 1, 2012, when the board locked out musicians.

It ends with musicians receiving half the pay cut that was being demanded by the board. It ends with chief executive Michael Henson out the door (at the end of the summer). It ends with Vänskä back.

A new series of challenges

But it’s far too early to determine winners and losers. All parties face a whole new series of challenges.

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Clearly, the fan base supported Vänskä and will be cheered by his return. But will those fans, who waved Finnish flags when he was the “guest conductor” for a concert in late March, buy tickets into the future?

Even more important, the board  has been split over the lightning rod of this whole labor dispute, Henson. Several members of the board left when Henson was forced out on March 20 by a majority of the board. Board members are the big revenue producers for the orchestra. Presumably, the departure of several board members  means the loss of big dollars.

Hard work ahead

Can new donors be found? Will other donors, who supported the hard line once so enthusiastically espoused by Henson, stop writing big checks?

Finally, it will be hard for the orchestra to return to its position of excellence. Key musicians have left. The new contract calls for a smaller body. With Vänskä back, expectations may prove absurdly high.

Still, the return of Vänskä offers hope that an institution that was pulled apart might have a chance at being put back together.