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Reunited Orchestra and Vänskä: Post-settlement concert seemed just like old times

MinnPost photo by Doug Grow
Osmo Vänskä signing CDs following Thursday's performance at Orchestra Hall.

All was as it used to be. The Minnesota Orchestra, under the direction of Osmo Vänskä, performed in Orchestra Hall Thursday.

The orchestra, playing the Sibelius symphonies that led to a Grammy Award, was wonderful. The audience — it appeared to be a full house — was thrilled.

Vänskä did not speak to the audience, but he bowed his appreciation and he hugged every musician in sight and later signed autographs on CDs for a long line of  music lovers.

Everybody who sought an autograph, had essentially the same comment.

“Please come back,’’ they’d say.

“We’ll see,’’ Vänskä would respond.

But it seems clear he wants to come back.

What surprised Vänskä

After the emotionally charged concert, after the autographs, Vänskä was in his studio, talking about what surprised him. It wasn’t the concert itself; it wasn’t even the warm welcome.

What surprised him most was an event earlier in the week. The players and Vänskä were starting rehearsals for the performances that will run through the weekend. Nobody really knew what to expect.

“What surprised me  was the attitude [of the musicians],’’ Vänskä said. “So much had happened over the last 16 months but to come to that first rehearsal and be ready to work, that was wonderful.’’

That let’s-get-to-work attitude is what created the unique chemistry between Vänskä and the musicians. It was that attitude and a lot of talented people that combined to create an orchestra that was considered among the elite in the U.S. and beyond, before the lockout.

No one was sure if that could be replicated after all the emotion that came with the lockout.

But the rehearsal, Vänskä said, was a hopeful sign that overcoming the loss of some key musicians and anger surrounding the lockout is possible.

“None of the other things [from the lockout] was there,’’ he said of that rehearsal. “The players and me — we’re one unit.’’

Tony Ross, the principal cellist, was making similar comments as he walked through the lobby after the concert. There’s something unique about the fit of Vänskä and the musicians.

“I’m not talking about love or even like,’’ said Ross of the musicians’ relationship with Vänskä. “I’m talking about how we work together. There’s a special respect.’’

Fate of superstar Ross

Ross is a key part of the future. By mid-April, he will decide whether to stay with the orchestra or move to become principal cellist of Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

Ross is a special sort of superstar. 

When, during the lockout, the musicians put together a series of concerts, Ross took to wandering through the lobbies of the various venues, greeting those coming to the concerts and then wandering among the patrons after concerts to shake hands and to chat.

He was at it again Thursday. Ross and a handful of other musicians wandered through the newly renovated Orchestra Hall foyer before the concert, thanking people for coming. Ross returned post-concert for more time with people who buy the tickets. It’s a habit he plans to continue.

musicians of the minnesota orchestra
MinnPost file photo by John Whiting
Tony Ross, the principal cellist, playing a sold-out concert at John’s Episcopal Church in June 2013.

“This was an emotionally charged concert,’’ Ross said after the concert. “We knew it would be.’’

Ross wasn’t talking about the emotion of the audience, which was powerful.

He was talking about the emotions of the musicians. For at least the start of one weekend, everything was as it had been.  Rehearsals, stepping onto the stage and finally, performing.

“We put everything we have into every concert,’’ said Ross.

He doesn’t know if all orchestras have that sort of professional attitude. But this orchestra does, he said. It’s what has made it special.

Much work left to do

Off stage, of course, much remains to be done.

Leaders of the organization Save Our Symphony Minnesota were at the concert, saying this is a crucial time for the Minnesota Orchestral Association to move aggressively.

“The orchestra has a huge opportunity,’’ said Jon Eisenberg, vice president of the fan-based organization that began with the lockout. “The community is energized around the orchestra in a way that it hadn’t been for years.’‘

In the eyes of SOS leaders, Step One has happened. Michael Henson, CEO of the Orchestral Association, will be leaving officially in August, although it’s presumed he’s already a non-factor in decisions about the future.

Second step, of course, is the rehiring of Vänskä.

“That he’s been talking [to the media] is a good sign,’’ said Maryellen Jacobson, treasurer of SOS. “We need him to come back for a productive period of time.’’

Third is making sure such musicians as Ross remain.

Fourth, a number of administrative positions need to be filled.

But there will remain heavy lifting, surrounding future governance of the board.

Jon Eisenberg, left, and Maryellen Jacobson
MinnPost photo by Doug Grow
“The orchestra has a huge opportunity,’’ said Jon Eisenberg, left, with SOS treasurer Maryellen Jacobson.

“I’m most concerned about two and three years from now,’’ said  Eisenberg. “The financial health of the organization is critical.’’

Eisenberg and Jacobson believe that means a different sort of “governance’’ from the massive, 80-member board of directors.

The board, as currently constituted, is filled with rain-makers.

“Let me be clear,’’ said Eisenberg. “We love big donors. The organization needs them to survive.’’

But SOS members doubt that such a massive board can be effective in actually governing an organization or reaching out to the new audiences that must be discovered if the orchestra is to survive.

Those, though, are challenges for another day.

Mostly Thursday was a day of celebration of the return of something special.

After the concert, musicians and Vänskä seemed both tired and pleased.

It should be noted, however, Vänskä didn’t have much time to rest on his laurels. Following the concert, the maestro was in his Orchestra Hall study, working with his clarinet.

He’s performing as a “special guest’’ at a concert at Ted Mann Concert Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday with the Artymiw-Keefe-Smith Trio. He’s obviously nervous about the performance.

And then, of course, there’s his status with the Minnesota Orchestra.

“I have no announcements to make,’’  he said.

Does that mean that there are ongoing negotiations, he was asked.

“Yep,’’ he said.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Mark Carter on 03/28/2014 - 10:44 pm.

    Beutifully put

    Thanks Doug for perfect summation of the stats quo. I have just heard the concert on KCRB Bemidji. I can’t believe what Osmo Vanska has achieved in one week of rehearsals. We absolutely must persuade the board to do what it takes to get out Music Director back. I’m actually very optimistic about the future if that happens. The along with great music we can create a new more sustainable business plan by presenting this great institution to the world.

  2. Submitted by David Markle on 03/29/2014 - 11:40 am.

    Distorted Relations

    The lockout has left a wake of distortion in relations between the orchestra board, the players, the administration and the public. (And probably in relations between board members.) I feel very strongly that Osmo should be rehired, that it would be the best course of action for everyone. I think it fairly likely to happen. But the lockout and principled stand of the musicians has tended to create a “St. Osmo,” a kind of distorted relation or perception that would forestall constructive criticism of–for example–programming, or ways to effectively present new and recent American music, concerns that are more the responsibility of the music director than of the board or administration.

  3. Submitted by george jaquith on 03/30/2014 - 01:00 pm.

    I was 12 when Maestro Stan came from Poland to Minneapolis, and have been a dedicated supporter of the ORCHESTRA since then. All of the conductors have brought their own unique stamp and greatness to us, but it is OSMO who has perhaps done the most to excite, inspire and motivate us. May we press the MOA Board to swiftly appoint OSMO as our director. As it takes the whole community to raise a child, according to the African saying, it will take all of Minnesota to secure the future of the ORCHESTRA. In the process may we see a growth of music education and a love for all the arts in Minnesota.

    Thank you to those in the MOA who opposed the lockout. It must have been difficult to express onself in a repressive atmosphere. A new day is coming with Vanska and the dedicated musicians. Thanks also to reporters like Doug Grow who love the arts and go behind the scenes.

  4. Submitted by Steve Mayer on 04/01/2014 - 12:34 pm.

    New governance for the Orchestra

    A few months ago I thought the only resolution to the crisis would be if 1) Henson would be fired, 2) Osmo would be brought back, and 3) the Board would resign and be replaced with people of a completely different sensibility. We’re making progress! It’s unforgivable that the Board, allegedly the best and the brightest of the community, cannot figure out how to govern this nonprofit organization. They seem to think that it should be governed like a business! So naturally, bankruptcy is an option, just as it is in the business world. Slashing salaries and benefits is an option, just as it is in the business world. Making decisions in an authoritarian manner disrespectful of the employees and the communities is the mode, just as it is in the business world. The crime of the last 100 years is the belief, foisted on all of us by the business community, that only the business sector knows how to do things successfully, and the solution to society’s problems can be solved only if one approaches them in a business-like manner. This is totally bogus, and 180 degrees from the truth. A different governance model is called for.

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