Minn. Orchestra's Vanska pleads: 'Find a way, talk together'

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 2012 - 10:42 AM

In a letter to musicians and board members, the orchestra's music director expressed deep anxiety over the lockout's damaging effects.

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Osmo Vanska

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Music Director Osmo Vänskä has taken the extraordinary step of breaking his silence on the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. In a letter to board members and musicians, Vänskä pleaded for a return to negotiations and said he is "desperately anxious" about the future of the orchestra.

"Please, do what it takes, find a way, talk together, listen to each other and come to a resolution of this dreadful situation," Vänskä wrote in the letter that he delivered to board chairman Jon Campbell and president Michael Henson on Monday. The letter also was sent to musicians.

Vänskä has not been involved in negotiations, and has refused all media requests for comment in the past six weeks. This is typical for a music director during a labor dispute.

Vänskä is the organization's highest paid person and its artistic leader. Yet his work is intrinsically linked to that of the musicians, creating something of a dual citizenship for him. His letter conveys a deep and passionate concern.

"I urge the Board and the players of the MO, from the bottom of my heart, to seek new and creative ways -- without insulting or demeaning -- to pursue these negotiations, to re-establish a common vision, to identify a path forward, in partnership, to a financially and artistically sustainable future," Vänskä wrote.

Diminished performance

Principal trombonist Doug Wright, a member of the musicians' negotiating team, said Vänskä's letter was a bold statement.

"One of the things he's calling for is to let the orchestra play again," Wright said. "The longer we stay out, the greater the potential for the work to diminish because we're not playing together. It's going to take a long time for this orchestra to re-find itself."

Chairman Campbell said he empathizes with Vänskä's concern.

"Clearly, we have no intention to push forward a diminished orchestra for any audience," Campbell said. "I certainly appreciate his interest in getting the orchestral association and the musicians back to the table."

Recordings threatened

Since becoming music director in 2003, Vänskä has been credited widely with burnishing the orchestra's reputation. He has pushed a busy recording schedule that has included universally praised CDs with music of Beethoven, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.

In order to preserve the orchestra's reputation, he might let go of remaining recording projects because he fears the band could be damaged by the loss of players, Vänskä wrote.

The orchestra received rave reviews at Carnegie Hall and at the BBC Proms in London. There, too, Vänskä said that minus a quick resolution, he may have to rethink overseas touring and bringing "a diminished or compromised orchestra to Carnegie Hall" for dates in 2013-14.

"Will anyone -- either the Board or the Musicians -- be able to reflect back with pride at what was accomplished during this season?" he wrote.

Long lockout

The musicians' contract expired Sept. 30, and they were locked out the next day. Concerts have been canceled through Dec. 23. Citing an eroding endowment, management has proposed cuts of about 30 percent in minimum base salaries, which the musicians have rejected. Vänskä is under contract through 2015. During the lockout he has guest-conducted in Chicago and London.

Campbell said he was not surprised that Vänskä's letter was released to news media in a labor dispute that has become increasingly public. "But I'm certainly disappointed that we're not sitting down in private trying to find a solution," he said.

When asked if he saw Vänskä's letter as an incentive to return to bargaining, trombonist Wright said he hopes so.

"The hardest thing for us is that the [board] proposal is so destructive of the orchestra that if they are not willing to move off it, we have nowhere to go," Wright said.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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