Osmo Vänskä, back at Minnesota Orchestra: 'We are terribly behind'

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  • April 29, 2014 - 3:43 PM

Vanska conducts the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall in March. Photo by Tim Gruber/New York Times

Osmo Vänskä is back in town and rolling up his sleeves.

On Tuesday, just before attending his first artistic planning meeting since returning as the orchestra’s artistic director, Vänskä spoke of his affection for this particular orchestra and his hopes for its immediate future.

Vänskä’s two-year contract calls for at least 10 subscription concerts to be conducted by him each season, so the committee, which consists mostly of orchestra musicians, must scramble to recast the 2014-15 schedule, which under normal circumstances would have been announced well before now.

“We are terribly behind and must do our job as quickly as possible to try to get a very good season,” he said, adding that it was premature to speculate about any programming. "This is like a thousand-piece puzzle we all must put together."

He said that he hopes to complete the Sibelius recordings that were put on hold by the 16-month labor lockout, but that it will wait until the orchestra has more time playing together again. The orchestra won its first Grammy, for Orchestral Performance, in February for its recording on the BIS label of the second disc in the planned set, of Symphonies nos.1 and 4.

Though some orchestra supporters have called the acoustic alterations made during Orchestra Hall’s renovation into question, Vänskä said that for the most part, he approves.

“I’ve been sitting in different places and the sound is great,” he said. “There is a chance to fine tune some small things which could be even better. The main goal was a symphony that can play like a chamber orchestra, with everyone able to hear each other, to be able to play more with the ear than the eye, and I think we got what we asked for.”

Vänskä remains in such high demand as a guest conductor around the world that he could easily do just that. He acknowledged in a recent interview that a music director has to deal with “headaches” a guest conductor does not.  But he decided to return to Minnesota full time because, he said, “I love this orchestra. I think it’s not too much to say it’s like my child. It was definitely the wrong way to go out, to go away. So yes, there is unfinished business.”

Asked about the musicians’ current morale, he said, “I’ve never seen better attitudes in any corner of the world. We might have had almost 30 substitute players in the concerts earlier  this spring, but they are really great and ready to give all they have.”

The key to getting the players back in top form, he said, is what he has always prescribed – practice, practice, practice.

“These musicians don’t need anything else," he said. "They will play better and better. That’s our job to do.”

Vänskä had nothing to say about revelations, which surfaced last weekend, of his personal relationship with orchestra concertmaster Erin Keefe, other than "it has not made any problems."

On Sunday, Minnesota Orchestra trombonist Doug Wright, who also was a member of the musicians’ negotiating committee during the lockout, said he thinks the recent re-hiring of Vänskä  as music director is “the best road to success for this organization, for us to go forward.”

The orchestra, led by Vänskä, performs May 2 and 4 at Northrop Auditorium in a program that recreates the first concert ever played there, in 1929. 

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