Bring Osmo Back

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.




10 thoughts on “Bring Osmo Back

  1. What a fitting birthday present for Osmo! Let’s hope that the Board decides to do the right thing, the best thing, and ask him to return. And thanks, Scott, for all of your thoughtful and insightful commentary during the long months of this saga.


  2. I’ve been wondering about the Board’s reasoning. Are they just “in flux,” trying to decide what to do? Are they piqued at Osmo? Do they want him back next year, not this year to save money on his salary and on permanent musician replacements? What does everyone think?


    • No, they (1/2 of the board, it seems) do not want Osmo back, but in the end, they will be forced to do so.

      Go look at the number of tickets available (none) for the March 27-28-29 concerts to be conducted by Osmo — all of them SOLD OUT! Now look at the number of tickets available for this weekend’s concerts with Andrew Litton (hundreds and hundreds available) and Mark Wigglesworth (hundreds and hundreds available). No disrespect to those fine conductors; they are simply caught in the middle of this debacle. But ticket-buyers are speaking and the board — surprise, surprise — is not listening.


  3. This states it best, “…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.”


  4. I just learned that Rep. Kahn is dropping the bill for the changing the governance structure of the Orchestra. We had hoped to legislation to create a true community owned orchestra, typical of many of the finest world wide. She cited that the crisis is over and the bill would not have a chance. From what we see, the crisis is far from over as the MOA is deeply divided and as dysfunctional as ever. The CEO/President Henson has a vote of no confidence from the musicians and the favor of some board members. I was thinking of returning to live in Minneapolis, but without OSMO, it would be a ¨¨cold Omaha¨. Please Mr. Sprenger, place music above politics and economics to help restore a once magnificent orchestra.


  5. I forgot to thank all the great bloggers, like Scott, who have kept us in the know and given us a true understanding of what is happening. Your letter on MR. HENSON is compelling and I understand that your comments have attracted national attention. May I ask who the MOA has responded to your posts?


  6. Pingback: A Stunningly Bad Idea, Handled Badly | Mask of the Flower Prince

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