Vänskä will conduct Minnesota Orchestra musicians this weekend

Recently resigned Minnesota Orchestra maestro will conduct locked-out musicians once more.

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Osmo Vanska

 Osmo Vänskä has added a dramatic coda to his 10 years as maestro of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Vänskä, who resigned as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra Tuesday, will conduct the locked-out musicians in three concerts this weekend at Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota. The musicians, who have been locked out for a year, are self-producing the concerts featuring pianist Emanuel Ax.

The two evening concerts sold out quickly after the Vänskä announcement. A 2 p.m. Saturday matinee was added and sold out in 30 minutes after tickets went on sale Friday morning.

Ax reportedly was to have played with the orchestra at the newly remodeled Orchestra Hall to open the subscription season this weekend, but those dates were canceled due to the protracted labor dispute that has left management and musicians unable to agree on pay and other issues.

The concerts are Vänskä’s way of saying thank you and farewell to the Twin Cities community that has supported classical music, said musician spokesman Blois Olson.

Rumors had swirled since Vänskä’s resignation that he might conduct this weekend, while others said he was already back in his native Finland.

Michael Henson, Minnesota Orchestra president, said that while management remains “deeply disappointed” by the circumstances that led to Vänskä’s resignation,“we are very glad that audiences will have an opportunity to see Osmo Vänskä conduct in this community this weekend. Our audiences deserve this concert.”

‘Conductors at his level are rare’

Vänskä remained silent during much of the lengthy and bitter labor fight. He conducted a concert of locked-out musicians, billed as nonpartisan, last February. In April, he sent management a letter saying that he would be forced to resign if the dispute were not settled by September, giving him time to rehearse with musicians ahead of two Carnegie Hall concerts in November. In late August, management said they and Vänskä had agreed that Sept. 30 was a drop-dead date to prepare for the New York concerts. When last-minute talks failed to bring accord, the board canceled the Carnegie shows, and Vänskä announced his resignation hours later.

Greg Sandow, a Washington, D.C.-based critic and composer who writes about classical music’s future, said it is unlikely that Vänskä’s career prospects will be hurt by his decision to conduct the musicians while they are still locked out. “Conductors at his level are rare; it’s a seller’s market for them,” Sandow said. “Managements that might want to engage him will likely look at him as a man of principle, not as a loose cannon.”

Cellist Marcia Peck, who also is a member of the musicians’ negotiating committee, predicted the farewell concerts “will be probably the most meaningful” of the orchestra’s 10-year collaboration with Vänskä.

Closed rehearsals were held at Ted Mann Wednesday and Thursday. Remaining rehearsals are closed to the public, Olson said, and Vänskä is not giving interviews.

Asked how the first rehearsal went, principal cellist Tony Ross said, “We haven’t played together enough for a while, but by the end we were playing well.”

The program for the 8 p.m. concerts will include music of Beethoven (Egmont Overture, Op. 84, and Piano Concerto No. 3), Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 27, K. 595) and Stravinsky (Suite from “The Firebird”).

“The Firebird” suite is a poignant choice for the end of the concert, with its theme of rising from the ashes to rebirth.

“I’m hoping to make it through the thing,” said principal trombonist Douglas Wright. “It’s hard to play trombone when you can’t breathe.”

Kristin Tillotson • On Twitter: @StribKristin

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