Well, there it is. It is with great happiness—and honestly, a fair amount of disbelief—I am happy to proclaim that Osmo Vänskä is returning as Music Director to the Minnesota Orchestra.
This is an astonishing turn of events.
On the one hand, this seemed such an obvious choice. Transparently obvious—I firmly believe that from an objective perspective there was simply no other choice to be made. There are just too many simultaneous challenges happening to the Minnesota Orchestra at once: planning a season, hiring musicians, bringing back donors into the fold, bringing back audiences, re-establishing networks, increasing visibility, creating a new strategic plan, rebuilding ties with government entities… and much, much more. To try and pull all this off without a visible head of the organization? To try and squeeze in a search for a new Music Director into the mix, too?
Good Lord, no. The organization doesn’t have the time and resources.
Osmo’s return just made most of these tasks much easier. Bringing him back provides a face for the organization, and is clearly a way to rebuild ties with ticket buyers, donors, and the public at large. It also demonstrates a good-faith effort by the administration to listen to the community—and respond accordingly. And it provides artistic leadership at a critical time. This is why, to my knowledge, every single outside observer has said this step had to be taken… and expressed bewilderment that it hadn’t happened long before yesterday.
But the fact that the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) had not taken this step up until now—despite its obviousness— had almost convinced me that it would never happen. And as we’ve seen over the last few weeks, a number of board members chose to resign rather than to go down this path. Such strongly-held resistance is difficult to overcome.
And yet somehow… it was.
So to the MOA’s Board of Directors, I say a hearty thank you. Reaching this decision was clearly difficult, and I have no idea what the internal discussions you had leading up to it were like, but in the end you accomplished it. All of you have my deep gratitude. You also have my pledge to work as hard as I can to make this organization thrive, so that you will know you made the right decision.
To Osmo himself, I again say a hearty thank you. I can’t imagine the emotions you felt over the last few months. I can’t imagine the personal pain you felt as events unfolded. You would be more than justified in turning your back on Minnesota forever, returning to Europe and taking a position with any of a bewildering number of ensembles that would fight to have you. I am humbled by your decision to come back, to start anew, and dispel those painful emotions with two more years of glorious music making (and maybe more?). You also have my pledge to work as hard as I can to make the organization thrive, so that you will know you made the right decision.
And let me turn to my readers, and by extension the community at large with a few words.
We almost lost our orchestra.
Despite the rave reviews, the wonderful recordings, and all the awards… we almost lost it all. And I’m not talking about January 2014 when the City of Minneapolis came within a hair’s breadth of taking over Orchestra Hall. I’m not talking about October 2013 when Osmo was forced to step down. And I’m not talking about October 2012 when the MOA locked out the musicians.
The moment we started losing our orchestra happened long before the labor dispute ever began—it was the moment we started taking our Orchestra for granted.
We didn’t do anything particularly wrong… but many of us, myself included, let the Orchestra fall off our radar. That led to a slow decline in ticket sales and donations, sure, but that wasn’t all. Because we weren’t paying attention, a small cadre of individuals was able to stage a quiet takeover so that they could remake the organization in a very different image. Assuming that all was well, we missed the warning signs until it was almost too late. It was only through a huge effort on all our parts that we were able to save our orchestra.
I am struck by a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin, made in 1787 as the Founding Fathers met to hammer out a new government for the fledgling United States of America. Once the deliberations were complete, Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia grabbed Franklin as he was leaving Independence Hall and asked, “What kind of government do we have?” Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
My friends, we have to keep the orchestra we just regained.
And I, for one, am ready to do just that. Having nearly lost this Orchestra, I can’t—and won’t—let it fall into benign neglect. But this isn’t just dutiful obligation here. I appreciate it more than I have in the past, and I think many feel the same way. I love the feel of the concerts now; they were great before, but now they crackle with new life, passion, and conversation. They are much more communal now, which is as it should be.
Concerts are no longer formal, stiff affairs that are vaguely divorced from everyday life—they are the embodiment of life.
And we have to keep that momentum going.
And so I ask you, if you haven’t done so already, to buy tickets at the Orchestra’s online box office here. And I ask that you don’t just buy tickets to hear those ol’ chestnuts you love—consider exploring music you haven’t heard before. I can’t tell you how many times I went to a performance to hear a marquee work, but left having fallen in love with one of the other works on the program. This is the joy of concerts… being taken on unexpected journeys, and experiencing a wonderful sense of discovery. And then… engage! Stay afterwards and talk about your experiences. Talk to the musicians in the lobby post concert. Grab dessert or drinks afterwards. Bring friends, take pictures, post on Facebook. This music—this experience—is meant to be shared.
More than that, I invite you to make a donation to show your gratitude for bringing Osmo back. This is a powerful way of showing that yes, we do support our Orchestra. You can make donations of any size at the website here. And allow me to make another suggestion. If you choose the “tribute gift” function, you have the option of declaring the gift is in honor of someone or something. There, you can tell the Orchestra that you are supporting Osmo’s return. What a powerful message of support, and a tangible way of letting the organization know why you sending in this donation.
And in general… get involved. Follow the Minnesota Orchestra or the Musicians on Facebook, and keep current with what’s going on. Communicate with the organization about what you like and don’t like—let them know. Sign up with one of the audience advocacy groups such as SOS Minnesota, or with the Friends of the Minnesota Orchestra. Take time to volunteer your time, your ideas, your preferences, and your talents.
These things will resonate. Trust me.
Better still, the work we put in will pay ample dividends. I know everyone who has been to a concert will agree—despite the body-blows the Orchestra has received, there has never been a more exciting time to be involved. The more involved you are, the richer your experience will be.
The labor dispute is now… well, “finnished.” But the work—and the fun—of a new era is just beginning.
So come on! Let’s go!