Osmo Vänskä quickly imprinted the Minnesota Orchestra with his personality and precision upon arriving in 2003 as the orchestra's 10th music director. In the ensuing seven years, he has taken a very good ensemble and drawn from it an excellence of sound and performance. Whether he joins Ormandy, Mitropolous, Dorati and Skrowaczewski in the upper tier of Minnesota conductors will require the retrospection of time.
Michael Anthony, former longtime music critic for the Star Tribune, has taken the journalist's first cut at writing that history with "Osmo Vänskä: Orchestra Builder." He writes with the earnest immediacy of a reporter -- often reviewing a particular evening with Vänskä on the podium -- and does well to loop in Vänskä's Finnish heritage, his recording projects with the Minnesota Orchestra and his musings on composers. Anthony has done exhaustive work -- perhaps too much so -- and his editor has let it run. What the book cries out for is the historian's ear for finding Vänskä's mythic narrative -- the cool analysis and perspective on why he is worth this book in the first place. I'm willing to agree that he is worth it, but was not persuaded by this volume.
With photography by Greg Helgeson and Ann Marsden, this is touted as a coffee-table book, though it doesn't quite provide the dazzling size and impact of such a work. Fewer words, more measured, and more aggressive photography would elevate what is an enjoyable browser to an essential keepsake.