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Vänskä says MN Orchestra's Cuba trip will show 'we are back'

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Osmo Vanska
Nate Ryan | MPR News file

The Minnesota Orchestra will travel this month to Cuba, a significant milestone on its journey back from near-oblivion a year and a half ago.

The 16-month lockout imposed by orchestra management in a contract dispute, and the resignation (temporary, as it turned out) of its music director, Osmo Vänskä, seemed to court disaster for the organization's artistic and economic viability.

  Now the orchestra is back, Vänskä is back, and the Cuba visit promises to make a bit of history. In an interview with Tom Crann, Vänskä said the orchestra has managed to benefit from its recent turmoil and emerge stronger than ever.

"There is always a chance to learn something, even from the very bad things which have happened," he said. 

Asked whether the orchestra was ready for the short-notice, high-stakes trip to Cuba, Vänskä replied, "I think we are ready to take any challenge in the world and go wherever. ... I know the concerts are going to be something really exceptional."

The interview will air Friday afternoon on All Things Considered. Some highlights:

'We are back'

"The orchestra is doing really well. We have heard so [much] bad news, so [much] dark-sided news about the lockout and all those kind of things ... I think the news about the new trip to Cuba with the Minnesota Orchestra might be the best possible chance for us to show to the music business that we are back, and we are playing really well. And we are going to be the ambassadors, going to Havana and playing as the first North American orchestra since President Obama changed the rules."

Music as a diplomatic force

"If we give music a chance to take care of us, it could heal many bad things and it could make some new ideas, and it could make up some new minds, and people might be able to come out from their holes and corners where they have locked themselves."

On the orchestra's recovery from the lockout

"It is back to that [pre-lockout] level, and I think it is not going to stop at that level. I have a feeling there is such united vision about what we are willing to do, and the orchestra is playing really well, and we are going to show everybody that it's a great orchestra and it's time to forget all the bad things which have happened, and let's just think about all the possibilities in the future. ... There is a fresh new sense of how to do things in the future, and we are all going in the same direction. Players are much more involved [in planning], and it's giving us a great result. ... It's extremely important that the players are taking care of their own future. Because that's the way everybody is more committed, that's the way everybody is thinking about how we can do better. A lot of new ideas are on the table, and I think that's making the orchestra much stronger."

Editor's note (May 4, 2015): An earlier version of this story referred to the Minnesota Orchestra lockout as having lasted 15 months. Although the agreement that ended the lockout came after 15½ months, the lockout did not officially end until Feb. 1, 2014, 16 months after it began.