Will Vänskä return to Minnesota Orchestra?


The Minnesota Orchestra finally solidified a labor agreement between the musicians and management. But there's plenty still up in the air that needs to be decided, including who will be the orchestra's conductor moving forward.

A longtime orchestra observer tells Minnesota Public Radio that management should work on bringing back former music director Osmo Vänskä, who resigned from his position in October after no labor deal was struck.

Vänskä, who was under contract with the orchestra for 2014-15 before his resignation, appears to be embracing the idea of a return.

Citing a report in Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, the Star Tribune says Vänskä is responding to Facebook pleas for his return. According to the paper, the conductor reportedly posted, "I'm going to try! But they have to ask me!"

The paper also notes Vanska's work with Minnesota Orchestra musicians during the lockout as an indication he has an affinity for the group. Vänskä conducted the orchestra last February to celebrate its Grammy nomination for a Sibelius recording.

He also agreed to farewell shows shortly after his resignation, and agreed to lead a concert to re-open the Northrop Auditorium this May.

The bitter, 15-month-long lockout of the musicians ended Tuesday when the union ratified a new three-year contract. The new deal goes into effect Feb. 1 and the orchestra is expected to start playing again sometime that month.

MPR says the orchestra's members have a lot of hard work to do as they prepare to return from the 15-month lockout.

To start, the musicians will be moving back into Orchestra Hall, but the surroundings will be unfamiliar because the facility was renovated since they last played there. Another big obstacle, a musician's public relations representative tells MPR, will be working with the management who locked them out.

"I think it's going to take some deep breaths," said Wendy Williams, a 21-year orchestra veteran. Williams said she's learned a lot during the lockout period, including how to forgive others and herself.

In an editorial Thursday, Star Tribune Publisher and CEO Michael J. Klingensmith – who sits on the orchestra board – says the musicians and management need to form a collaborative partnership moving forward because a "status quo approach is not acceptable" and "artistic excellence is no longer enough."

"It’s now incumbent upon the musicians and the board to work collaboratively to rebuild the orchestra brand while exploring new ways to appeal to potential ticket buyers and donors," Klingensmith wrote. "Those efforts should be based on broader and more consistent statewide outreach."

In return, he says, "We would hope Minnesotans who were outraged by the lockout would channel their passion into ticket buying and donations, or by increasing their support."

According to the paper, the average salary in the first year of the new contract for musicians will be $114,000 – down from $135,000 before the lockout. Musicians will also pay significantly more for health care in the new deal.

MinnPost says one of the biggest casualties of the lockout – the cancellation of the entire 2012-2013 season -- came at great expense to the city of Minneapolis.

According to the publication, the city said it lost $2.9 million in estimated revenues during the period, including $1.7 million in dining business and $414,000 in parking fees.

The city also says $900,000 was lost in anticipated food and beverage rental at the Minneapolis Convention Center, which is down the street from Orchestra Hall.

Speaking of the end of the lockout, Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer told MinnPost, "It's a huge relief to have this behind us."

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