Vänskä quits in Minnesota Orchestra stalemate

Conductor carries out threat to leave following year-long stand-off

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Osmo VänskäConductor Osmo Vänskä has announced his resignation as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, with immediate effect. The Finn is leaving the leading US ensemble after ten years as a result of a year-long stand-off between management and players over pay and benefits.

Vänskä had explained earlier this year that he would leave his post if the dispute couldn’t be resolved soon, citing a deadline of the orchestra’s two Carnegie Hall, New York, concerts in November – if those engagements had to be cancelled because of the strike, he said, that would signal the end of their relationship.

A meeting between the players and management yesterday (Monday) – their first since January – failed to result in a settlement, and the board consequently called off the New York appearances.

‘It is a very sad day for me,’ says Vänskä in a statement. ‘Over ten years ago I was honoured to be invited to take up this position. I moved from Finland to the Twin Cities. At that time I made clear my belief that the Minnesota Orchestra could become one of the very greatest international ensembles.

‘During the intervening years I have had the privilege of seeing that belief vindicated through the skill, hard work and commitment of this wonderful group of players and with the valued support of the Board of Directors, management and administration team, volunteers, as well as our exceptional community.’

Vänskä’s resignation, while hardly unexpected, will still come as a major disappointment to many. Formerly chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland, his impact in Minneapolis was considerable – their acclaimed cycle of Beethoven Symphonies on the BIS label was evidence of greatly improved playing standards, as were the regular glowing reviews of their concerts across the US. As Alex Ross of the New York Times said about their Sibelius Kullervo at Carnegie Hall in March 2010, ‘for the duration of the evening, the Minnesota Orchestra sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world.’

Given the high regard in which he is held, Vänskä will presumably not have to wait long for a significant new post. The future of the Minnesota Orchestra, however, looks very uncertain. With absolutely no sign of an agreement between players and board, in a dispute that has rarely been less than acrimonious, the chances of regular symphonic performances returning to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis seem desperately remote.

Photo: Greg Helgeson