Just a quick post this morning. As you might have heard, the Minnesota Orchestra has a board meeting this morning, where reportedly some major decisions will be made about the future of the organization. It may be over as I type this post… and it will most certainly be over by the time most people get a chance to read it. But I did want to say something on record.
In regards to Michael Henson staying on as President and CEO, I think I’ve made my opinion clear in a previous post. Well, that may be an understatement, as my post was ultimately covered by Kristin Tillotson of the Star Tribune, Pamela Espeland of MinnPost, and James Oestreich of the New York Times.
But I wanted to say something about why Osmo should be brought back. Something that came to mind while watching the recent winter Olympics.
Some of the most prominent stories of the Olympics are those featuring athletes that are coming back from horrendous injury or disappointing seasons. And why not? These comeback stories celebrating triumph over adversity are gripping, dramatic… and when they work, deeply satisfying. Among the more prominent such stories this year centered on Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, U.S. skier Bode Miller, or U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner. No one doubts the raw talent of these athletes, who previously dominated their sports—indeed, many of these Olympians are able to show flashes of brilliance in training, in individual runs or preliminary programs. The question is whether or not they have the same consistency to compete at the highest level or over the full-length-competition, and if they have that last bit of power, experience, stamina and moxie to win the ultimate prize.
This reminds me of the situation the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are in.
I hope by now they are aware of the deep respect, admiration, and affection I have towards them. And I stand in absolute awe of their talent and commitment to their art. But like the athlete with a blown out knee, they’ve been out of the game for some time. They are performing at an astonishing level, as befits their incredible talent, but they haven’t been playing together for over a year. Several invaluable players are gone, and the acoustics of their home concert hall are now radically different from when they last performed there. The ensemble has suffered the equivalent of several twisted ankles and torn rotator cuffs. (Or, some night argue, getting clubbed by a metal baton on the kneecap.)
And like a player coming off an injured season, they need a great coach that can help them get back into Olympic shape.
And this job description is tailor-made for Osmo Vänskä.
I don’t know if it’s possible to find a conductor more dedicated to hard work (or as he might call it, “verk”) to achieve long-term success. He is famous for focusing on details, truly crafting music, and staying with things until they’re right.
And he has long brought the right attitude needed here. He has said repeatedly that the musicians don’t need his artistic help—they’re too talented for that. He believes they only need logistical help of having a single person weave together a unified sound under a unified vision.
Osmo, by definition, is what the organization needs right now. Or, at least someone with this exact same outlook, philosophy, and skill set.
But he brings another valuable trait in that he knows the musicians. Like a coach who has worked with his or her athletes over many seasons, Osmo has built up the instinctive knowledge about how to push, where to push, and when to push to achieve results. His long familiarity with the group will greatly accelerate the training program, if you will, and make it easier to get the ensemble into proper form. A string of guest conductors won’t have this ability, and even a long-term replacement would need considerable time to build this same rapport.
We need Osmo right now. And let me say something definitive. It is my deeply held belief that if Osmo stays there will be many administrative leaders wanting the top job at the Minnesota Orchestra, despite the dark situation of the last two years, based on Osmo’s reputation. The reverse, however, is not true—if Michael Henson stays on, no conductor will want a job at the Minnesota Orchestra, based on Henson’s reputation.
So. Bring back Osmo. Let him… well, “Finnish” the job.