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Musicians performed Friday at Orchestra Hall./Photos David Joles
The weekend of events at the Minnesota Orchestra proves that healing takes time. Yes, Orchestra Hall was sold out Friday and nearly so on Saturday. And let it be stated unequivocally: everyone was glad to see the musicians back on stage making music in their house.
However, it was easy to see the divisions that linger from the 16-month lockout. Save Our Symphony Minnesota had distributed bright green “Homer Hankies” and patrons waved them furiously inside the hall. Green was the color of the musicians’ buttons, posters, t-shirts, posters and lawn signs during the lockout. This seemed an unmistakable gesture of support for the musicians and at the same time a reminder to the board and administration that they are being watched.
When Gordon Sprenger, the newly elected board chairman, took the stage at intermission with musician Douglas Wright, he was immediately met on Friday night with a few shouts of “Bring Back Osmo!” referring to the former music director Osmo Vanska. On Saturday night, the crowd was more raucous and emphatic with its challenge to Sprenger. In both cases, Sprenger acknowledged the sentiment but made no commitment other than to say, “We’re on it.”
There was at least one shout Saturday of “Fire Henson,” which reveals a deeper drama that is taking place within the organization. The unstated tension that exists between Vanska and CEO Michael Henson came out into the open when Vanska told MPR music host Brian Newhouse in a conversation Saturday that he feels Henson should resign. The statement became public and by the end of the night, Sprenger – who likely had hoped he’d get a chance to preach harmony and collaboration on this first weekend – found himself issuing a statement saying he was disappointed that Vanska had gone public with his opinions. Those comments will have an impact on delicate negotiations that were already going on within the board.
A contingent of fans who supported the musicians during the lockout feel Henson was the villain in the long lockout and want him fired. In large measure, they are drawing on popular support for Vanska (which is undeniably deep and substantial) as a lever to get Henson out the door – based on the notion that the price for Vanska’s return would be Henson’s departure. Vanska’s statement Saturday removed any doubts of where his head is at, even though he did not state it in "Him or Me" terms.
The board, however, clearly does not enjoy having the thinly veiled conflict (actually Osmo removed the veil) between its two most-public figures being turned into an ultimatum. This isn’t said to discount the validity or the sincerity of the opposition, only to state a fact of nonprofit leadership and human nature. The board is made up of volunteers who give large amounts of money to the orchestra, who endured 18 months under the critical public microscope and are now being told, “Fire this guy and hire this guy.”
Supporters of the musicians could legitimately respond, “Tough bounce, you deserve it for what you put your musicians through.”
And with those dynamics, the Minnesota Orchestra appears to be an institution at war with itself. How do you move forward under those circumstances?
Osmo Vänskä, who resigned as music director of Minnesota Orchestra in October of last year, showed up Friday morning at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. This photo (above) from the musicians' Facebook page shows Vanska, right, talking with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who is conducting the orchestra this weekend in two homecoming concerts at the renovated hall. Principal cellist Tony Ross is at left.
Since the long labor dispute was settled last month, speculation has been rampant about whether Vanska would be asked to return to the orchestra. He resigned Oct. 1, 2013, when management and musicians failed to reach agreement on a new contract in time to permit the orchestra to keep two concert dates at Carnegie Hall last fall.
While Vanska gave a hint via Facebook a couple of weeks ago that he would consider coming back if invited, orchestra management has said only that it is considering its music-director options.
Vanska reportedly still has his residence in Minneapolis, but he has been guest-conducting all over, with recent stops in Lyon, France and at the San Francisco Symphony. He won rave reviews for his concerts in San Francisco, and Bay Area radio station KDFC-FM will rebroadcast (and stream) one of those shows (with music of Sibelius, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff) on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. Pacific time.
Here in the Twin Cities, Friday night's concert, including music of Beethoven (Symphony No. 3), Bach (Toccata and Fugue in D minor, orch. Skrowaczewski) and Richard Strauss (Don Juan) will be simulcast
Some musicians will play twice on Saturday (Feb. 8), once at the memorial service for Joan Mondale, and again at the evening homecoming concert at Orchestra Hall.
Watch for full coverage of Friday's concert online at startribune.com and in print on Saturday. A concert review by Larry Fuchsberg will appear in the print edition on Sunday, and online Saturday afternoon.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will bring violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja on board for the 2014-15 season as an artistic partner. The SPCO will be the first American orchestra to present the Moldova native in concert.
In a statement Thursday, SPCO president Bruce Coppock called Kopatchinskaja "the most ravishingly intense and virtuosic musician I have heard in a very long time."
Coppock said the violinist draws from her Eastern European roots, a rigorous traditional training and "a seemingly limitless imagination to create performances that are completely convincing, utterly compelling and downright spectacular."
Kopatchinskaja is now based in Bern, Switzerland, and regularly collaborates with the London Philharmonic. She was recently nominated for a Grammy for solo work of Bartok, Eotvos and Ligeti.
"I am thrilled and eager to make music with the SPCO and look forward to exploring new worlds and frontiers with these wonderful musicians," Kopatchinskaja said in a statement. Her first major project with the SPCO will focus on weaving traditional folk music and classic works that come from Eastern European influences.
You can catch a glimpse of her work here.
Osmo Vanska announced his joy at being part of the Minnesota Orchestra's Grammy win for classical recording. Vanska issued a statement through his London-based manager early Monday morning.
"I am absolutely thrilled that this recording of Sibelius Symphonies 1 and 4 -- works so close to my heart -- has been honored with a Grammy Award. I am immensely happy and proud to have been able to achieve this in partnership with my dear and devoted friends at BIS record label and with the remarkable musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. it is the greatest honor to be presented with such a distinctive award by our peers -- and I convey my genuine thanks to The Recording Academy for this wonderful recognition."
Vanska has been busy lately with guest conducting gigs in Europe and in San Francisco. He quit the Minnesota Orchestra on Oct. 1, to protest the inability to forge a new collective bargaining agreement.
He has not said publicly what his plans are in regards a possible return to Minnesota. A Facebook post was reported to have said he'd like to return but he needs to be asked.
The Grammy-winning disc was the second in what had been intended as a full Sibelius symphony cycle. The first disc was nominated for a Grammy last year.
All doubt that the returning Minnesota Orchestra would generate much interest has been dashed. The organization's web site has been overwhelmed by demand for the Feb. 7-8 and Feb. 14-15 homecoming concerts.
Tickets can also be purchased by phone at 612-371-5656. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski will conduct Beethoven's Third on the 7th and 8th. Yan Pascal Tortelier will lead Holst's The Planets and the Elgar Cello Concerto the following weekend.
Spokeswoman Gwen Pappas said the greatest demand is for the Feb. 7 concert. There are still several hundred tickets available for that night. The remaining concerts are about half sold, Pappas said shortly before 11 a.m.
The orchestra is expected to announce its classical subscription season for the remainder of the year on Friday morning.
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