Vänskä to lead Minnesota Orchestra for first time in months

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2013 - 9:16 AM

Music Director Osmo Vänskä, musicians accept invitation to play concert that celebrates orchestra's Grammy nomination.

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Music Director Osmo Vänskä has indicated he will conduct the locked-out Minnesota Orchestra on Feb. 1 to celebrate the group’s Grammy nomination.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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They're getting the band together again, for one night.

The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have agreed to play a Feb. 1 concert at the Minneapolis Convention Center to celebrate the ensemble's Grammy nomination.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä has signaled that he will conduct.

The event was dreamed up by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Judy Dayton, a longtime orchestra benefactor.

"We are obviously in a complicated labor issue right now," Rybak said Wednesday, referring to the contract stalemate between locked-out musicians and management. "But it would be a tragedy in my mind if the dispute prevented this community from celebrating the fact that we have an institution that is up for a Grammy."

Rybak and Dayton asked the players and Vänskä to perform the Sibelius Symphonies No. 2 and 5 at the Feb. 1 concert. The orchestra's recording of those two works has been nominated for Best Orchestral Performance. The Grammy winner will be announced Feb. 10.

Late Wednesday, the musicians said they would play, and the Star Tribune obtained a copy of an e-mail in which Vänskä said, "My answer is yes, I am ready to conduct the celebration concert on February 1."

Rybak insisted in an interview that the concert be seen outside the scope of a labor dispute that has brought four months of canceled concerts and musicians being locked out since Oct. 1.

Musicians have played three concerts on their own since then, aimed at generating support and publicity for their position.

"We thought it was important to create a neutral setting," Rybak said. "It is being hosted by the mayor and a longtime benefactor who are not on either side of this but want to get the community focused on where we have to be. We ask everyone to put down the dispute for a night and come together to celebrate the accomplishment."

The music director's position in labor issues is delicate. Vänskä, who has conducted in Chicago and London, has been silent, other than a letter he sent to board members and musicians in November urging them, "From the bottom of my heart, to seek new and creative ways to pursue these negotiations."

Michael Henson, the orchestra's president and CEO, released a statement Wednesday that said, "We share pride in this Grammy nomination and appreciate that the mayor understands the importance of this cultural institution and the need for it to be financially sustainable in the future."

Rybak, who has expressed concern several times recently about the labor difficulty, said he hopes the concert could help convince a broader base of people to support the orchestra.

"As a community leader, many of us haven't done enough," he said. "This orchestra has been held together for generations by relatively few people and if we care about this institution, more of us need to put our money where our mouth is."

Musicians and management this week are exploring options aimed at completing a financial analysis of the orchestra. It is one part of an agenda the two sides agreed upon last week to restart negotiations that had been stalled for more than 12 weeks. The two sides met for talks on Jan. 2.

"Following this review, we are hopeful that the musicians will put forward a counterproposal to help us resolve these challenges," Henson said.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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