Music director Osmo Vänskä did not want to talk about labor negotiations or lockouts or his conversations with Minnesota Orchestra management. On Friday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Vänskä simply was happy to be back performing with his home orchestra.

He and his musicians played the Sibelius Symphonies 2 and 5, their CD of which has been nominated for a Grammy Award.

"It is my biggest dream that people see this as an opportunity to come together," Vänskä said after a rehearsal Friday afternoon. "Finally, it is all about the music."

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and orchestra benefactor Judy Dayton organized the event as a respite from the labor strife that has consumed the organization. Friday marked four months that musicians have been locked out. When he first announced that he had invited the musicians and Vänskä to celebrate the nomination, the mayor insisted that the event be considered "neutral ground." There were to be no signs, leafletting, T-shirts, buttons or other merchandise sold -- other than the celebrated Sibelius recording on the BIS label. Rybak and Dayton gave brief remarks before the concert, which started late because of snow.

"Tonight we choose to celebrate," Rybak told the crowd. "We ask you to do all we can to rededicate ourselves to ensuring this institution."

Rybak said before the concert that putting the event together was "complex but necessary," citing the sensibilities of musicians and management.

"Everyone has good intentions, and nobody here is an enemy of the Minnesota Orchestra," he said in an interview. "We have to make sure both sides survive."

According to Rybak spokesman John Stiles, any revenue from the concert -- after expenses at the convention center -- "will go into an escrow account that the musicians will use to pay for educational concerts."

Friday's concert marked the first time Vänskä has led the orchestra since last July. Musicians have been locked out since Oct. 1 after talks on a new contract broke down.

"It was very emotional [to get in front of the orchestra again], because we recorded those symphonies two summers ago and we know that people are liking them so much," he said.

This is the second Grammy nomination for the orchestra under Vänskä's leadership. In 2008, its recording of Beethoven's Ninth was beaten by Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony. Winners will be announced Feb. 10.

First remarks since lockout

Vänskä has been on a busy guest schedule, and Friday was the first time he had spoken to reporters about the Minnesota Orchestra dispute -- though he was politic in his remarks.

"The situation is what it is right now," he said.

He recently conducted concerts on the Chicago Symphony's tour of Asia. He also has been in London, Kansas City, the Netherlands and with the CSO in Chicago. As much as he enjoys those orchestras, he said, he feels an affinity to this ensemble, even though there were reportedly 21 substitutes sitting in Friday night.

"The Minnesota Orchestra is playing so well -- that is the thing I am missing," he said. "I would like to see everybody from the orchestra family there tonight."

Asked if he would get involved in contract negotiations if both union musicians and management asked him, Vänskä said quickly, "No, I have enough headaches without that."

He continues to meet regularly with Michael Henson, the orchestra's president and CEO. He declined to comment on those conversations.

"We say 'good morning' to each other and then 'goodbye' at the end, but I'm not going to say what we talk about," he said.

A letter from Vänskä last November was made public; in it he urged both sides to do whatever it takes to reach a settlement. On Friday afternoon, he likened an orchestra to a sports team that loses its quality if it doesn't practice and play together.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299