Saying he is "maybe a little bit smarter than I was 10 years ago," Osmo Vanska said Tuesday he is optimistic that the Minnesota Orchestra can return to the level of artistry it had reached before a crippling 16-month lockout.
"We want to go to the level where it was before the lockout started," Vanska said in interviews at MPR.
But he warned that the leadership, the board and other parts of the organization must come together in recognition that the orchestra itself "is the star ... and I want to see the whole organization proud of the music the orchestra is making."
Vanska resumes his role as music director this Thursday, and he returns to the podium Friday to conduct the orchestra at the grand reopening of the renovated Northrop hall at the University of Minnesota.
Some members of the orchestra board reportedly wanted Vanska to assume a lesser position upon his return. Vanska said pointedly that he wouldn't have been interested. "I wanted to have my job as music director," he said, "not principal conductor or anything like that."
Friends and colleagues had cautioned him, he said, that returning to a damaged orchestra would be an unnecessary risk for his career.
Vanska countered that the orchestra is "like my child. ... This is the right thing to do. This is my orchestra." He said that having resigned during a labor dispute was "totally the wrong way ... to close my tenure here."
"We need each other, that's the thing," he said.
Vanska appeared with the orchestra's players several times during the lockout. Through that experience, he said, he has seen the players exhibit an attitude unlike any he's seen in an orchestra anywhere else. He said it is as if the players are committed to proving that they are "still good."
"I have to say, the orchestra has every time played better than I would have thought," he said. "All these concerts I have done with the players since I resigned have been great experiences. ... Everybody was ready to give everything that was needed."
As much as he praised the players, Vanska made clear that he thinks they must become more involved in working to secure their own future. Orchestra management, he said, will need to become more collaborative and transparent. "These are hard times, not only in America but all over the world," he said. In response, orchestras "must adjust."
And he had harsh words for management's role in the lockout that ended in February.
"I never thought that ... it's possible to handle an orchestra as badly as the Minnesota Orchestra was handled," he said. "There are people who can really make crimes against music, crimes against art, and they don't recognize it themselves."
"I have had a very hard time to understand why, and what is the goal?"
As for Vanska's goals, he named three:
• Rebuild the quality of the orchestra.
• If the quality returns, record the three Sibelius symphonies that Vanska had planned before the lockout: Three, Six and Seven.
• Then, if time permits, set other goals.
Restoring the orchestra's international reputation might be an extended process. Vanska has a two-year contract with an option on a third year.
"I think that there are people who believe that I just come back and then I do the recordings and then we go back to Carnegie Hall and then go back to proms and then Osmo can go," he said. "It's not so simple."
The process, though, has already begun. In the next two weeks, he'll settle on choices for the orchestra's coming season. "I can promise you, there will be some really nice things," he said.
At MPR, Vanska gave separate interviews to Euan Kerr of MPR News and Brian Newhouse of Classical MPR. Vanska's interview with Newhouse will be aired in its entirety during Friday night's broadcast of the Northrop performance, beginning at 8 p.m. on Classical MPR.