Michael Henson will step down as president and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra on August 31. Orchestra management announced the move Thursday night, saying the decision was by "mutual agreement."
Henson became a polarizing figure during the 16-month lockout of musicians that ended last month. Detractors who have been calling for Henson's ouster for months welcomed the news, but admit it does not guarantee the return for former music director -- and Henson critic -- Osmo Vanska.
• More: Vanska says Henson must go
In a statement announcing the move, Minnesota Orchestral Association Board Chair Gordon Sprenger praised Henson for his willingness to directly address the serious financial issues facing the organization. Describing Henson as "an agent of change," Sprenger said the departing president and CEO leaves the Minnesota Orchestra secure and on a more solid financial footing.
"It has always been my aim to do what is right for the organization, however great the challenges, and I'm proud of our accomplishments," Henson said in a statement released by the orchestra. "The right thing now is for me to work to ensure continuity during this transition to the next phase in the life of the Minnesota Orchestra, which I believe will be very bright."
Audience groups who supported the musicians during the lockout are welcoming the news.
"We are excited that the leadership question has been settled and the rebuilding can begin in earnest," said Laurie Greeno, co-chair of the audience group Orchestrate Excellence, one of the audience groups which sprang up during the 16-month lockout. She said that as the public face of the Minnesota Orchestra management, Henson became the focus of criticism as the lockout dragged on.
"I think he has a very tough job," she said. " He was responsible for executing the strategy the board put in place."
Mariellen Jacobson of the Save Our Symphony Minnesota group said Henson became a symbol for the board's refusal to listen to audience opinions on the dispute.
"I am really happy that both he and the board have realized that it's time now, and that he'll be moving on," said Jacobson. "I kind of wish it was a little sooner, but I think it's the right move."
"It didn't appear that he had the interests of the community at heart," Greeno said. "He might have but it certainly didn't appear that way. So he was widely viewed as really the agent of the difficulties that we went through."
After the lockout ended, Vanska turned up the heat on Henson by saying there could never be healing at the orchestra with Henson still in charge. Vanska resigned a year into the lockout, and both audience groups and the musicians have called for the board to bring him back, saying he is singularly qualified to rebuild the organization he molded into a world class orchestra.
Vanska was not immediately available for comment.
Jacobson said rehiring Vanska would bring the return of audiences -- and also big financial contributions. She said its clear some of the board may not want Vanska back because of his actions, but believes they need to get that job done for the sake of the orchestra's future.
"If it's pride that needs to be swallowed, if it's a new kind of working relationship that needs to be set up, whatever it is, you people are smart and lets make it happen," Jacobson said.
The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have been keeping a low profile in the Vanska versus Henson tussle. They issued a statement saying in light of the announcement they "look forward to working with our Board and future management to move the Minnesota Orchestra forward in a positive direction."
Neither musicians nor management mentioned Vanska by name. But with the conductor due to take the podium next week to lead the orchestra in a celebration of the Grammy it won earlier this year, it seems some decision about his future in Minnesota has to come soon.