Conductor Vanska discusses orchestra worries before celebration concert

Osmo Vanska
Osmo Vanska conducts a rehearsal of the Minnesota Orchestra Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in the Minneapolis Convention Center Auditorium. Vanska has led and shaped the orchestra for over nine years. This is the first time he has worked with the orchestra since management locked-out the musicians Oct. 1 in a contract dispute.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

A celebration of the Minnesota Orchestra's Grammy nomination is sold out for Friday's performance at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Organized by Mayor R.T. Rybak and orchestra patron Judy Dayton, the performance is been billed as a chance for the parties in the Orchestra's four-month old lock-out to set aside differences for at least one evening.

It also marks the first time since the lockout began that music director Osmo Vanska has appeared with the orchestra he is credited with developing into one of the world's best.

Vanska is a blur as he stands atop the podium in the convention center auditorium. He twists and bends, reaches and grimaces, points and almost twirls as he leads the Minnesota Orchestra through a rehearsal of the Sibelius program for which it received its Grammy nomination for best orchestral performance.

Osmo Vanska
Osmo Vanska said the Minnesota Orchestra is playing very well, which makes him miss working with the musicians even more. The orchestra practices its final rehearsal Friday, Feb. 1 2013 before tonight's performance.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"It's great to come together and play, play again," Vanska said. "Of course it's very emotional because the situation is what it is right now."

In his dressing room after the rehearsal, Vanska, dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, talks about the joys of playing again.

"I have to say that the Minnesota Orchestra is playing so well, that that's the thing that I am missing mostly," Vanska said.

But arising from the lock-out is a sadness that prevents him from performing with the orchestra.

"Just sad about this situation that we cannot play together," Vanska said. "If someone is going to tell me that the lock-out is going to be over tomorrow, I start to scream as the happiest guy in the world."

Other than a letter Vanksa sent in November to the two sides, he has been silent in public about the contract dispute until now. He says he isn't involved in the negotiations, nor would he get involved even if asked by the two parties. He is worried though.

"The orchestra is like a sport team," he said. "If it doesn't play together, if it doesn't practice together, it is going to lose its quality."

Eriko Matsukawa
Eriko Matsukawa traveled from Japan to hear the celebration concert. A resident of Miyagi, Japan, she sent musicians a folded paper crane for each member of the orchestra. As thanks, the musicians invited Matsukawa to sit amongst the musicians during the final rehearsal, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Maintaining that quality is one of the central issues of the contract dispute. Orchestra management says it needs to reduce its budget by $6 million a year if it is to survive and maintain its world-renowned sound. Musicians argue the large salary cuts proposed will lead to the best players leaving the orchestra and destroy its international reputation.

While tonight's concert is described as a celebration, Vanska holds out hope that maybe it can be something a little more.

"That we could come together because finally it's all about music," he said.

Rybak invited Minnesota Orchestra management, including the entire board, to the concert. There has been no official statement as to whether senior leadership such as orchestra President Michael Henson or Board Chair Jon Campbell will attend.

Vanska said everyone should be there to celebrate.

"I would like to see everybody of the orchestra family there because that is a celebration, and everybody — doesn't matter what they are doing in this organization — everybody is involved and connected to this nomination," Vanska said.

The sold-out concert has attracted audience members from all over. One fan traveled from Japan to hear the orchestra and was invited to sit in the clarinet section during the final rehearsal.

Amy Adams traveled from Oregon. She has been following the labor dispute carefully. She supports the musicians and also worries about the orchestra's future. She says there is poignancy to the event, and even calls it "one last concert."

"Well, I don't know, I mean under these auspices one wonders if it can ever go on like it was before," Adams said. "But it's just: here they are now and they are making this music and everyone should come together to celebrate it."

The Grammy Awards are Feb. 10. Vanska said he loves the recording of the Sibelius' 2nd and 5th symphonies for which the Minnesota Orchestra is nominated. However, he says the orchestra's next release, Sibelius 1 and 4, is much better.