Standing ovations, tears for Vanska as conductor begins waving his baton goodbye

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Orchestra

Emotion floated through the lobby of the Ted Mann Concert Hall Friday night before before Osmo Vanska, who resigned as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra on Tuesday, conducted the first of three farewell concerts in Minneapolis.

Osmo Vanska
Conductor Osmo Vanska receives applause in his the first of three final concerts on at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis on Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. Vanska resigned last week following a year long lockout of the orchestra by management due to a labor dispute. (Judy Griesedieck for MPR)

There was excitement Vanska would lead the musicians he built into a world-class ensemble and sadness that partnership is ending. There was expectation of standing ovations, and a hunger for the crisp sound of the Minnesota Orchestra under Vanska's baton.

Shortly after 8:00 p.m., the lights went down and Vanska walked on stage and the crowd exploded in applause.

It was the first of several standing ovations during the evening. Vanska led the orchestra quickly through the national anthem, and then it turned its attention to Beethoven's Egmont Overture.

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The orchestra played with beauty and skill, but the eyes of the crowd were on Vanska. Wearing one of his collarless dark suits, his conducting was a performance in itself. At times he moved like a dancer, coaxing the notes into the air with his body. Sometimes he spread his arms as if to scoop the music from the instruments before him, and from soloist Emanuel Ax.

During intermission the crowd quietly buzzed about what it heard -- and about orchestral politics. Volunteers collected donations for the locked out musicians, and the anti-management sentiment was clear. College professor Bob Cowgill has been attending the Minnesota orchestra since he was in Junior High. Cowgill blames the orchestra board for Vanska's departure.

"They have made a miscalculation, and it takes a big community to step back and realize they made a mistake, and I hope they can do that."

The audience applauded as Vanska returned to the podium. As the clapping died someone shouted from the back: "We love you, Osmo." The crowd erupted again. Vanska looked out and smiled sadly. He then turned away as if to compose himself for a few moments, then turned back and nodded his thanks.

There was another standing ovation after the Orchestra played Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, and that's when Vanska took the mike and spoke.

"I am going to miss you very, very much, And I am going to miss this fabulous orchestra," he said as the audience applauded again.

He said for the encore he wanted to perform some Sibelius. He said the piece he chose is about a girl who dreams she is dancing with a young man. Then she realizes she's not dreaming, and the man leading her in the dance is Death. Vanska said he wasn't quite sure what to say on this night.

"But for me, those are the feelings," he said

He thanked the audience for their generous applause, but asked that they hold their clapping after the orchestra played the "Valse Triste" by Sibelius.

After the final note ended Vanska stepped off the podium, shook hands with concertmaster Erin Keefe and walked off stage in silence, followed by the musicians.

In the lobby, many people, including Karen Paulsen Rivit, were in tears.

"It was a beautiful concert tonight," she said. "But the ending was pretty tough. Pretty tough."

Osmo Vanska will lead the musicians if the Minnesota Orchestra Saturday afternoon and evening in his final two concerts. Both events are sold out.