Tag Archives: Osmo Vanska

Thank you, Osmo

Osmo Vanska (courtesy HarrisonParrott)

In the summer of 2007 when I began research for the third Perceval novel, Perceval in Love, I developed research questions about Helsinki and Finland. The beginning of the third novel, I decided, would be in Helsinki, with a rustic side trip somewhere out in the country one weekend. I wondered if Osmo Vanska would be willing to help me. A native Finn, the Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra had lived in Helsinki and performed with the Helsinki Philharmonic as their co-principal clarinetist. I asked my friend, Julie, who was the musicians’ personnel manager at the time, and she helped me arrange an interview with Osmo through his Executive Assistant. In preparation, I narrowed my Finland questions down to those I could not otherwise find through reading and websites, e.g. details that only someone who’d lived there would know. I also spent a lot of time researching Finlandia Hall in Helsinki where Evan Quinn would conduct. The internet can be an amazing research tool, but nothing like talking to a person who knows the place intimately.

I sent my list of questions the week before my scheduled interview to give Osmo an idea of what I needed. The day of the interview, I remained calm until I was approaching the stage door at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. It doesn’t matter whom I’m interviewing, I am always nervous. I checked in at the stage door and since I already knew where the Conductor’s Suite was, I was sent on my way. Osmo’s Executive Assistant, Michael Pelton, was waiting for me, and ushered me into the office, introducing me.

Osmo came out from behind his desk, windows looking out on a portion of Peavey Plaza behind him, and extended his hand. I remember telling him that I’d just heard a recording he’d done on the clarinet, a clarinet quartet by Bernhard Crusell. I confessed that I’d not heard of the composer before, but that I’d loved the music and the performance. He was dressed for summer in casual khaki, olive green shirt and sandals. We settled on the white sofa facing the desk and I gave Osmo an idea of the Perceval series — the protagonist Evan Quinn who is a young orchestra conductor and music director of the Minneapolis State Symphony (formerly Minnesota Orchestra) — and that the third novel begins in Helsinki. I’m glad I sent him the questions the week before. He was totally prepared and full of lots of really good details and tidbits about Helsinki, Finlandia Hall, the countryside in Finland. I knew already that Minnesota reminded him a lot of Finland, and hearing him describe Finland, I could understand why. He suggested places for Evan and his girlfriend to spend a weekend, to spend a romantic afternoon, hotels in Helsinki Evan would most likely stay at (with a side story about Sibelius and one particular hotel — I hadn’t known Sibelius liked to drink), places where Evan could run, the layout of Finlandia Hall and especially the conductor’s dressing room and if the stage door opened in or out.

Helsinki, Finland

I told Osmo about my 24-hour visit to Helsinki on my way to Russia (then Soviet Union) and my impressions of the city because I would be drawing on my own experience as well. We had talked for almost 50 minutes, and I’d requested only 30 minutes. I learned long ago, however, that if an interviewee wants to talk, let them. I was about to wrap it up, however, when Osmo interrupted me with a comment about concert programming. I had included Evan’s all Brahms programs with the Helsinki Philharmonic in the material I’d sent Osmo the week before. He told me that he could understand the reason I’d used the order of the symphonies that I had, but he said there was a more accepted order based on their timings. He then got up and retrieved a thick blue hardcover book that contained the timings of music performed on symphonic programs. I can see the book in my mind, but for the life of me, I can’t recall its title. Osmo showed me the timings and then rearranged the programs for Evan’s concerts. Osmo’s concern that I get the concert programming right surprised and moved me.

When I stood to leave, I had one last question, an important question for any interviewer to ask. Could I follow up with him if I had any additional questions? He nodded with a smile and said that I should work through his Executive Assistant, email him with any additional questions. As I left his office, I found a crowd of people waiting to talk to him — both musicians and staff. A few weeks later, as I began work on Perceval in Love, I had more questions for Osmo, this time how to say certain things in Finnish. He responded much faster than I expected, giving me exactly what I needed.

I completed the first draft of Perceval in Love in June 2020. When I look at the Finland chapters now, Osmo is everywhere. So I gave him a cameo appearance in the Finland chapters. Thank you, Osmo!

(courtesy Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

They’re Back!

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

September has arrived and with it a new concert season for the Minnesota Orchestra.  They have begun with a jaw-dropping, sold-out gala concert last night at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis.  Unfortunately, because I am still recovering from major surgery, I was unable to attend.  However, thanks to Classical MPR, I was able to “attend” by listening to the radio broadcast.

Soprano Renee Fleming was the guest soloist, and she has a voice that can make me cry as well as stun and amaze.  (She sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl last year.)  Her breath and pitch control made for some of the most beautiful moments in the concert.  She began with a new work, a song cycle, written specifically for her by a Swedish composer named Anders Hillborg.  He set poems by Paul Strand to astonishing music that reminded me a lot of game music — evocative, expansive with open intervals as well as strings sounding like insect wings rubbing together — and Ms. Fleming’s voice pierced through it, floated above, and fleshed it out.  What a journey.  I really want to hear this work again and again.  This performance was only its second.  Will Ms. Fleming record it?  I hope so.

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Renee Fleming with Minnesota Orchestra (Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry)

Next up for Ms. Fleming were two opera arias, one extremely famous and the second not.  The first was Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi.  The second aria Ms. Fleming described as “Carmen on steroids,”  “Ier della fabrica a Triana” from Riccardo Zandonai’s Conchita.  She followed the arias with three songs by Leonard Bernstein — two from West Side Story and one from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  For me, these songs were the least successful of the evening.  Ms. Fleming’s voice was a bit too heavy, and her technique too operatic.  But she made me cry during “Somewhere.”  And the tears continued when she told the audience that she would sing “Take care of this House” in honor of all of us who treasure our Minnesota Orchestra and worked so hard to save it.

Osmo Vanska conducted the Orchestra last night and chose the Overture to Maskarade by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.  Between the Hillborg and the opera arias, Vanska and the Orchestra continued the opera theme of the evening with the sweet, peaceful Intermezzo from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana,” and the powerful, dramatic Overture to Verdi’s “La forza del destino.”  While I totally enjoyed these opera selections, I craved more symphonic music that would spotlight the Minnesota Orchestra.

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Osmo Vanska conducting the MN Orchestra at Gala Concert (Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry)

It came in the final work on the program: Ottorino Resphigi’s The Pines of Rome.  Ah, the precise ensemble playing, the discipline, the true ppp and the controlled fffs.  I felt like I had arrived home to the most beautiful, most familiar and beloved voice there is.  This Orchestra remains at a high level of artistic excellence that I’m certain Osmo will hone until it has reached a height far above where it was before the lockout.  We are in for a truly wonderful 2014-15 classical music season with the Minnesota Orchestra.

I was sorry not to be able to attend the concert last evening, but my surgery was far more extensive than any of us had anticipated (even the surgeon), and my recovery has suffered one major setback, slowing it to slower than a snail’s pace.  I am inching back to my former writing schedule, starting here.  As I haven’t written about the MN Orchestra for a long time,  I thought it would be fun to return with it — we are both returning to our “normal” lives…..



The Week That Was

This past week has definitely been a big one in the cultural life here in Minnesota, especially for Twin Cities music lovers.  First, Michael Henson resigned his position as President and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestral Association.  Next Osmo Vanska arrived in town to conduct the Grammy Celebration concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on March 27, 28 and 29.  Rehearsal photos posted by musicians showed up on Facebook

Thanks to Musicians of Minnesota Orchestra for photo

Thanks to Musicians of Minnesota Orchestra for photo

showing the MO’s former Music Director hard at “verk.”  Mr. Vanska also gave two interviews, one to Graydon Royce of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the other to Brian Newhouse of Minnesota Public Radio.  In each, he made it abundantly clear what his priority is regarding under what conditions he’d return to the MO as Music Director and it had nothing to do with money.  No, he wants to be able to work with the Orchestra as he did before, as he wants to work.  This is called “artistic integrity” and “striving for artistic excellence.” He also announced that he and the MOA are in negotiations about his return to his old job.  The celebratory concerts began on Thursday morning with concertgoers waving the flag of Finland or wearing the colors of the Finnish flag to show their support of Mr. Vanska and the Orchestra.  Next came the announcement on Friday by the Minneapolis Star Tribune online that eight members of the MOA Board had resigned because of Michael Henson’s resignation.  Good grief.  What more could possibly happen?

If you’re expecting an announcement about the re-hiring of Mr. Vanska as Music Director this week, please don’t hold your breath.  I imagine those negotiations could be complex and take time.  I was terribly disappointed in the MOA this week.  They made little effort to create a big hoopla around the Grammy celebration in stark contrast to last year’s celebration of the Grammy nomination that R. T. Rybak, Judy Dayton, and the Musicians of the MN Orchestra put on.  Rybak and Ms. Dayton spoke briefly before that concert.  No one from the MOA spoke briefly to congratulate Mr. Vanska and the Musicians at this week’s two concerts (so far).  Wow.  Talk about missed opportunity to mend relationships.  Although Michael Henson has been MIA, rumored to be on a previously (long ago) scheduled vacation.  Mr. Henson would have been the most logical candidate as President and CEO to speak briefly before this week’s concerts.  The MOA should have sent someone to publicly congratulate Mr. Vanska and the Musicians on their Grammy win on behalf of the Board and the staff.  It’s a big deal, after all, and the MOA Marketing Dept. has certainly been quick to create ads and posters using “Grammy-winning” in them.

Regarding the eight MOA Board members that have resigned, I see this development as positive.  So far, the people responsible for the 16-month lockout debacle have left or have one foot out the door: Jon Campbell, Richard Davis, Michael Henson, and now 8 of Mr. Henson’s supporters.  As I read the Star Tribune article (linked above), I was struck by a fact of math reported in it.  The Board had voted on Feb. 28 and showed strong support for Michael Henson.  This article now reveals that vote’s tally: 40 for Henson, 8 against.  But the Board at that time numbered 77 people, not counting Mr. Henson.  Where are the other 29 members?  How did they vote?  Did they abstain?  That would be something that needed to be reported.  This math issue only seems to underline the math problems this Board seems to have, especially regarding money, as it came to light during the lockout.  That is, playing with the numbers with Bryan Ebensteiner’s assistance, in order to show balanced books during the years they wanted to secure funding from the State of Minnesota, and then showing a serious deficit when it came time to negotiate a new contract with the musicians.  Yes, the Board needs to do some housecleaning before they can move forward.

What this Board of Directors needs to truly comprehend and understand is that the Minnesota Orchestra as an organization is about classical music.  They need to understand that their role is to support the Orchestra in its work to fulfill the purpose of the organization.  It is not their job to control the musicians or the music director.  It is not their job to take over artistic decision-making.  It is not their job to manage the MOA but to govern, as Gina Hunter so eloquently points out in her blog post “Governance is Governance,” about Ken Dayton’s article of the same title.  It’s the President and CEO’s job to manage the organization,  seeking guidance from the Board as well as their fundraising expertise.

Enough.  I need to write a few words about the extraordinary Grammy Celebration concert I attended which was sold out.  The music: Sibelius’ Symphonies 1 and 4.  It was a profound joy to see Mr. Vanska back on the podium conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, to witness the special musical connection he has with the musicians.  They all play their hearts out when they play together for the music and for the audience.  Broad range of dynamics, precise ensemble playing, depth of sound and dynamic tempos all have become hallmarks of this orchestra and were on display in the concert, as well as a high level of artistic excellence. There was an electric energy, too, fed I’m sure by the audience’s excitement and love.  The musicians have united in a way that’s rare to find among professional orchestras.  Listening to them play, all worldly concerns fell away, the aches and pains of physical existence disappeared, and I felt one with the music, the sound, the emotion.

Evan Quinn would have loved it….


Photo by Jeff Wheeler

Photo by Jeff Wheeler

A week or so ago, the MOA Board floated an idea to bring back Osmo Vänskä as Principal Guest Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra. They would give him 8-10 weeks for conducting and no administrative responsibilities. My first thought was geez, that’s a corporate trick. Hire someone to do most if not all of a manager’s duties and responsibilities but don’t give him the title or the pay. My second thought: who’d they have in mind for Music Director? Then my anger kicked in. This Principal Guest Conductor idea is essentially a slap in the face for Mr. Vänskä, who had been the Music Director for ten years before resigning October 1, 2013 when the Board and musicians could not reach an agreement, and truly an insidious, cruel move on the part of the MOA Board if they were serious about it.

I thought it might be interesting to compare the two positions so you can get an idea of what the Board’s offer truly means. When I researched conductors, one area I needed to learn about for Evan Quinn in the Perceval novels is the job of music director and if it was something Evan would want. First it means he’d have his own orchestra, his own musical instrument. But along with that comes duties and responsibilities that he might not want for a while as he settles in Vienna, Austria.






Primary conductor and artistic leader of symphony orchestra. He or she has three main areas of duties and responsibilities: Primary guest conductor of a symphony orchestra. He or she has one main area of duties and responsibilities:


1) CONDUCTOR: responsible for conducting the orchestra, developing programs for the orchestra, hiring musicians for the orchestra (or letting them go).  The Music Director must have the technical skills regarding the orchestra’s instruments, musical analysis, mastery of musical styles, and advanced aural skills.  He must also have advanced conducting skills including baton technique, rehearsal technique, podium presence, the ability to communicate with the musicians and lead them effectively and gain their respect. She must also have extensive and insightful knowledge of music as well as the arts and humanities in general including a comprehensive knowledge of repertoire, the history of music, language skills and knowledge of visual arts, literature and drama.


1) CONDUCTOR: responsible for suggesting her program(s) to conduct and to work with the Music Director and orchestra staff to finalize the program(s). Lead rehearsals and conduct the concerts.  In addition, since guest conductors could be candidates for a Music Directorship, they also must be able to be responsible for everything the Music Director is responsible for under all three areas of duties and responsibilities.
2) ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: as the artistic leader of the organization, he needs to possess qualities of personal discipline and integrity, and the ability to advance the orchestra’s and community’s needs over his own. He must be able to establish an artistic vision for the entire organization.  He must also possess the necessary administrative skills to be able to work with all departments and the musicians, the knowledge necessary about governance, unions, etc., and a thorough grounding in professional ethics.


3) COMMUNITY ARTISTIC LEADER: must understand how the organization works as an institution in the wider community, serve as an influential community advocate for music and music education, and have an aptitude for good public and personal relations.  


For a more detailed description of the duties, responsibilities, traits and skills necessary for a Music Director, please visit the League of American Orchestras website and the article there entitled “Traits and Skills of a Music Director.”  I have not listed everything here, only the major duties and responsibilities.

Now, Mr. Vänskä has already worked for the MOA for ten years as the Music Director.  He exceeded expectations in his performance of this job. He is, without a doubt, qualified to once again serve as the Minnesota Orchestra’s Music Director.  Why offer him anything else?

The only reasons I can think of would be 1) money and 2) another Music Director candidate.  I would add another reason if Michael Henson were remaining as President and CEO of the MOA, but he’s leaving in August 2014; i.e. a difficult working relationship between Mr. Henson and Mr. Vänskä, since that has been mentioned at times in the media.  Regarding that last point, the two men would have far less contact if Mr. Vänskä were a Principal Guest Conductor.

So, money.  The MOA paid Mr. Vänskä a little over $1 million per year before his resignation.  I think it’s reasonable to expect the MOA Board to balk at paying him the same amount considering the financial situation that they have.  The Board will want to save money wherever they can.  I am not privy to any discussions of pay and shouldn’t be.  But I would speculate that the Music Director’s salary will be an important consideration in whether or not the Board rehires Mr. Vänskä or not.

Is there someone else?  Rumors swirled for a while that there was someone else that the Board was considering, someone Mr. Henson favored, but I don’t know who that candidate might be.  Any candidate, at any time, needs to take a hard look at the organization’s governance, the people who serve on the Board and in executive management positions, as well as the musicians in the orchestra he would lead.  There could be three or four candidates who are wonderful musicians and conductors, but their personalities also need to fit the organization and the community.  I think Mr. Vänskä has shown during his tenure as Music Director that he fits the orchestra and the community.  I am not privy to his relationships with Board members or even with Mr. Henson.  As with any job, the people involved need to be able to work together.

In conclusion, to offer Mr. Vänskä the job of Principal Guest Conductor at this time would be a good way to offend and insult him professionally and personally after he has served the MOA as Music Director for ten years.  I hope the MOA Board realizes this, and they work with Mr. Vänskä to find a way for him to return as Music Director that meets both the MOA’s financial and artistic needs as well as Mr. Vänskä’s….

Osmo Vanska and MO, Nov. 2011

Osmo Vanska and MO, Nov. 2011

Dancing Joy!

Such exciting news!  The Minnesota Orchestra’s recording of the Sibelius Symphonies 1 and 4 conducted by Osmo Vanska has won a Grammy for best orchestral performance!  Congratulations!  So happy for them!

Osmo Vanska and MO, Nov. 2011

Osmo Vanska and MO, Nov. 2011