After settling a bitter lockout of musicians two weeks ago, the Minnesota Orchestra found a reason to smile Sunday: its first Grammy for best orchestral performance.
"We're thrilled and delighted. It's wonderful news for the orchestra," Michael Henson, the orchestra's president and CEO, said Sunday from New York, where he was attending meetings. "There's been a lot of attention on us and now it's for all the right reasons — artistic excellence."
Neither conductor Osmo Vänskä nor any orchestra representative was in Los Angeles to pick up the prize for "Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4," presented during the pre-telecast portion of the Grammys. The Minnesota Orchestra will be getting its Grammy in the mail.
On a big night for classical music in the Twin Cities, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was connected to four Grammy winners on Sunday related to "Winter Morning Walks," its project with soprano Dawn Upshaw and composer Maria Schneider. But the SPCO itself didn't receive the trophies.
"We're all thrilled," Minnesota Orchestra principal cellist Tony Ross said Sunday afternoon.
"I've received 35 texts in the last half-hour from all over the world. It confirms where we were pre-lockout and the special relationship we had with Osmo Vänskä. That's why we need him to return."
The orchestra resumes work next week after a 16-month lockout. The future of Vänskä, who resigned as music director Oct. 1 after contract talks stalled, is uncertain. But he will return to Orchestra Hall March 27-29 to conduct the two Sibelius symphonies in a Grammy celebration.
The album is the second in a planned series devoted to all seven of the Finnish composer's symphonies. The first garnered the orchestra a Grammy nomination in this same category a year ago. Recording sessions for the latest album, conducted in May and June 2012, were the final ones at Orchestra Hall before its renovation. The orchestra had been scheduled to record two more Sibelius symphonies in the renovated hall last fall, but those sessions were scrapped because of the lockout.
Asked whether he felt the orchestra may have triumphed because of sympathy votes, Henson said it was "an outstanding recording" that received good reviews and prevailed on artistic merit.
Ross, however, felt that the lockout brought heightened awareness of the orchestra that may have prompted voters in the Recording Academy to listen to the album.
"It's very difficult to win as a Midwestern orchestra," Ross said. "Most of the voters live in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Nashville. This [win] was for orchestral performance — it's about quality onstage — and nothing else," Ross said.
Indeed, the San Francisco Symphony beat the Minnesota Orchestra last year. Rivals for the award this year included the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Free CDs at Orchestra Hall
Patrons who attend the orchestra's return to the concert stage Feb. 7-8 and Feb. 14-15 will receive a complimentary copy of the album.
This was the orchestra's third Grammy nomination for orchestral performance, all under Vänskä's baton. The first was for a 2007 album of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
Other Minnesota Orchestra recordings have had ties to Grammys: a 2002 disc of works by Minnesota composer Dominick Argento earned him an award for best classical contemporary composition in 2004; and three historic albums from the 1940s and '50s by the then-Minneapolis Symphony are in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Not to be outdone by the musicians across the river, the SPCO was connected to trophies for Upshaw (best classical vocal solo), Windom, Minn., native Schneider (best contemporary classical composition), best engineered recording and best classical engineer (David Frost).
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719