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Musicians: Osmo Vänskä’s continued leadership is vital

Perhaps most notably, with Osmo, the Minnesota Orchestra has developed a unique, signature sound. This is a rare quality among orchestras anywhere in the world today.

Under Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota Orchestra has developed a unique, signature sound.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Orchestra

The authors, all members of the Minnesota Orchestra, submitted this commentary on behalf of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.

It is a universally acknowledged truth that every orchestra in possession of a time-honored reputation achieved that reputation through an astonishing chemistry between the musicians and one galvanizing conductor. The Cleveland Orchestra had this with George Szell. In Philadelphia it was Leopold Stokowski. It was Leonard Bernstein in New York, Serge Koussevitzky in Boston and Georg Solti in Chicago. We know these orchestras today by what they achieved during these fertile partnerships.

The Minnesota Orchestra can boast having had many renowned music directors over the last century: Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Antal Doráti, to name just a few. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who still makes Minnesota his home when he is not conducting all over the world, embedded great music deeply into the fabric of Minnesota culture. When Sir Neville Marriner became music director, he was the most recorded conductor in the world. Eiji Oue brought an exuberance that made it possible for us to be the first American orchestra ever to play at Hiroshima. Edo de Waart put into place many of the vital pieces that made the Minnesota Orchestra the remarkable instrument that it is today, the instrument that Osmo Vänskä has since been able to tap to full advantage.

That brings us to the present and the marriage between Osmo and the current musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. It has taken decades for all the elements of greatness to come together: a culture of constant striving, an uncompromising work ethic, the right people in the right positions, and a conductor at the helm with the temperament and charisma to make all the elements coalesce.

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In short, something clicked with Osmo.

Osmo’s disciplined approach to artistry has focused our ensemble in many ways. At this point in his tenure, we have gotten to know him well. After living and working with each other for nearly a decade, we have achieved a rapport that enables us to anticipate each other, to work quickly and accurately to produce tremendous results that have received rave reviews both here at home and from around the world.

A unique, signature sound

But perhaps most notably, with Osmo, the Minnesota Orchestra has developed a unique, signature sound. This is a rare quality among orchestras anywhere in the world today. With Edo, we excelled at the large, complex Viennese repertoire. With Eiji, we honed our chamber music skills. Both are assets that have stood us in good stead, to be sure. But, a signature sound is a coveted distinction rarely achieved.

The recordings we have made together — the complete symphonies of Beethoven and the as-yet incomplete Sibelius cycle of symphonies for which we received our most recent Grammy nomination — are the most sustained, credible and widely recognized recording projects ever undertaken by the Minnesota Orchestra. And we have recorded extensively since the 1950s. Our unprecedented invitation to do four Carnegie Hall concerts in a given year, as well as the international profile of our appearances at numerous European festivals, have brought recognition to our community that would be impossible without Osmo.

His is the face of our orchestra. Patrons who have been attending concerts for decades recognize that the orchestra, under Osmo, is playing at its highest level ever. 

Obviously if Osmo resigns, all this goes with him. Allowing a winning coach to leave his winning team makes no sense and will not lead to further success. Of course, the Minnesota Orchestra will continue on, but it will be different. Vastly different. Put simply, it will be greatly diminished.

The Cleveland-Szell “sound” is still much revered throughout the world so many years later, helping to sustain that orchestra and culturally inspire its community. That kind of renown only happens after years of building and the foresight to sustain it. We are just now achieving this same renown with Osmo. His premature departure would obviously bring that recognition to an abrupt halt just at the height of its potential.

Would lose ability to rebuild what’s been lost

While the MOA board leadership has stated publicly that they would be OK with Osmo’s resignation, it should be clear that the musicians would not. With his resignation, we would lose the ability to rebuild any of what we have lost over the course of this last tragic year. What qualified musician would choose to come to Minnesota with the knowledge that the musicians are viewed as interchangeable parts? What prospective, world-class conductor would be willing to lead the Minnesota Orchestra now, after seeing it demonstrated that the MOA’s commitment has veered from that of artistic excellence, grounded in works of genius, toward a mishmash of “entertainment” and increased beverage sales?

The orchestra we are fighting for is an orchestra of a quality and stature able to compete for the next great conductor, and the next one after that. For the sake of the community we serve, we need board and management leaders who understand that Osmo’s departure now would shatter the future reputation of the orchestra. We need the MOA to bring us back to the stage, together with Osmo, so that good-faith negotiations with our preeminent mediator can take place.

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The musicians believe that Minnesotans want and deserve a great orchestra to be their cultural representative at home and abroad. We believe that it is fundamentally a financial win for Minnesota to maintain an orchestra capable of bringing to our state well-deserved recognition for being the farsighted, cultural mecca it has always been. It is the musicians’ profound dream that all Minnesotans have the opportunity to discover what is magnificent about the sound of the symphony orchestra and why it is essential to the richness of their lives.

Osmo Vänskä’s continued leadership is vital to the well-being of the orchestra, the cultural standing of our state, and the music we love. 

This commentary was written on behalf of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra by Minnesota Orchestra players Erin Keefe, Adam Kuenzel, Marcia Peck and Tony Ross.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)