Osmo Vänskä has unfinished business with the Minnesota Orchestra, and he has been negotiating his possible return to the ensemble he led for nine years.
Vänskä is conducting two Sibelius symphonies this week to celebrate the orchestra’s recent Grammy Award.
He resigned as music director last October in the midst of one of the longest and most rancorous labor disputes in the history of U.S. orchestras.
“I don’t think this is the right way to leave here,” Vänskä said during an interview Wednesday at Orchestra Hall. “I would like to do great music with these players.”
He also said that he believes the orchestra will need a year, “maybe two” to rebuild itself to the level it was playing at before the lockout.
“A bad orchestra is almost as expensive as a good orchestra,” he said. He praised the players for their “marvelous attitude” during rehearsals but said that “every other corner of the organization” needs to be cleaned.
“[Musicians] are only part of the organization, but there are other parts,” Vänskä said. “It is like a big house and every room should be cleaned before the house is OK.”
Vänskä, who still lives in a Minneapolis condo, said he has been busier than ever as a guest conductor since the players were locked out in a labor dispute on Oct. 1, 2012. He would not say whether he has entertained overtures from other orchestras.
As for his future with the Minnesota Orchestra, he said he has been approached by members of the board of directors.
He declined to say what the parameters of any position would be. Board sources have indicated that Vänskä could be asked back as full music director, or possibly as a principal conductor.
“We are negotiating,” he said, indicating that he has no deadline. “The orchestra needs a conductor as soon as possible.”
Board chairman Gordon Sprenger confirmed in a statement that conversations are occurring.
Vänskä inserted himself into the labor dispute between the orchestra board and its union musicians when he threatened to resign if an agreement did not return players to the stage last October. He made good on that promise and announced his resignation Oct. 1.
He said Wednesday he has no regrets about that decision.
The former music director has remained popular with audiences, who have loudly demanded his return to the orchestra.
He largely has remained silent on the subject until now. He said would like to be back, if he feels he can make great music.
“That’s a big if,” he said. “I don’t want to jump into something if I don’t see a great future in my mind. It’s all about music.”
His first public comments on the orchestra situation were made on the weekend of Feb. 7 and 8, when musicians returned to Orchestra Hall. In a conversation with MPR music host Brian Newhouse, Vänskä said he believed President and CEO Michael Henson needed to resign before any healing could take place after the 16-month lockout.
Behind the scenes, Vänskä had indicated that he would not entertain a return if Henson were still CEO. Henson stepped down late last week, and will leave his post at the end of August.
Rehearsals invoke memories
Vänskä would not comment on whether Henson’s presence until August would affect his decision. He also declined to discuss his feelings about the board of directors.
Vänskä and the orchestra achieved great international repute over the past several years with recordings and performances at Carnegie Hall and the BBC Proms.
He had intended to record an entire cycle of Sibelius symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra.
The first disc from those recording sessions was nominated for a Grammy and the second won the award in February. There are three more symphonies as yet unrecorded.
Vänskä was terse during his interview, declining to comment on a few occasions and smiling infrequently. Asked where he will put his Grammy Award for the orchestra’s recording of two Sibelius symphonies, he said he had “no reason to think about that.”
Asked if his rehearsals with the orchestra on Tuesday and Wednesday had brought back memories, he said, “I’m just doing my job” although he admitted it was good to be back on stage.
“Rehearsing this orchestra reminds me of all the good music we made in those nine years of work. It’s nice being back on stage and making music with them.”
Just this week, the orchestra released a CD of Beethoven and Mozart piano concertos with soloist Yevgeny Sudbin. Those works were recorded in 2011 and 2012.