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Yet statements that have become public put him squarely in the middle of the orchestra’s mess. Last November, he implored musicians and the board to “find a way, talk together, listen to each other and come to a resolution of this dreadful situation.” On April 30, he dropped the bombshell about Carnegie in a letter to the board.
“In the case Carnegie Hall chooses to cancel the Minnesota Orchestra’s concerts this November ... then I will be forced to resign my position as Music Director,” he wrote.
Unusual to go public
It is rare but not unprecedented for a music director to get publicly involved in a labor dispute. During the six-month strike at the Detroit Symphony in 2010-11, Leonard Slatkin kept his public remarks circumspect, although he was active behind the scenes trying to bring people together, said Mark Stryker, music critic for the Detroit Free Press.
One of the more dramatic incidents occurred in Houston, in 1977, when music director Lawrence Foster told musicians during a lockout that he was “100 percent behind them,” said Jim Medvitz, a retired orchestra administrator who was a librarian at Houston. Foster was dismissed and has since worked almost exclusively out of the United States.
“This has happened before when music directors get antsy and insert themselves,” Medvitz said. “Boards don’t like to be pressured like that.”
Greg Sandow, a critic and composer who writes on the future of classical music, is more forgiving considering the circumstances in Minnesota. “I can’t imagine why he would want to stay,” Sandow said. “It’s not unreasonable for him to think, ‘Let me put my weight on the scales.’ ”
Sandow said he believes Vänskä would not lack for work if he did leave Minnesota.
“Conductors are a commodity beyond price,” Sandow said. “Orchestras schedule years in advance and most of the gigs will be taken, but stuff will certainly come up.”
The repercussions of a Vänskä resignation probably would last for years.
“It’s not easy to hire a musical director who has such a musical impact,” Horowitz said, referring to Minnesota and Vänskä. “And it’s not easy to do it twice.”
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299