The future of Osmo Vänskä with the Minnesota Orchestra continues to be a moving target.
Vänskä might be asked to take a limited role as a principal guest conductor, leading perhaps eight to 10 concerts a season, but without administrative duties, two sources within the orchestra’s board of directors said Monday.
Another board source, however, said the notion of Vänskä returning as music director “is still not off the table.” It’s not known if Vänskä would accept a role as a guest conductor.
The sources provide a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes machinations over the fate of the man who led the orchestra to international prominence, then quit last October in frustration over a lockout of musicians that ended in January after 16 months.
Indicating a split in the board, sources disagreed over the position of embattled president and CEO Michael Henson, who has become a lightning rod of criticism for musicians and their public supporters. The board voted strongly in favor of Henson at a Feb. 28 meeting, according to the sources, but one said he did not consider that decision final.
The fates of Vänskä and Henson have been conflated in the public’s mind, largely because Vänskä has said that for the orchestra to begin healing, Henson must go — the implication being that he would not return if the president stayed.
‘Bring Osmo back’
Musicians have said they support Vänskä’s return and that position has garnered vocal support. Patrons at the opening weekend of concerts, following the lockout, shouted out to the orchestra’s new board chairman, Gordon Sprenger, to “bring Osmo back.”
Sprenger reportedly is seeking a meeting with Vänskä to determine whether the former music director would consider a different role that would include program selection and conducting.
That should not be taken as a reflection on Vänskä’s statements during the lockout or after, the sources said. There is still a strong appreciation on the board for Vänskä’s musical ability and the work he has done with the orchestra, said one.
“This is not between Osmo and Henson,” said this source. “This is between Osmo and the board.”
Sprenger and Vänskä did not comment on Monday. Following the Feb. 28 board meeting, Sprenger issued a statement that said only: “We held a productive board meeting today and the board came to very strong agreement on leadership and a positive direction for the organization.”
During the labor dispute, Vänskä released several public statements that called on the board and musicians to make a deal. Last September, he said he would quit as music director if there was not a deal in place to return musicians to the stage by Sept. 30. Despite that deadline, the two sides could not reach a deal and Vänskä left on Oct. 1. After the contract was settled in January, Vänskä hinted in a social media post that he would consider returning to the orchestra, if asked.
However, he made plain in a conversation with Minnesota Public Radio music host Brian Newhouse on Feb. 8 that he felt Henson should leave.