Minnesota Orchestra’s conductor returns…for now

Gordon Sprenger, chairman of the orchestra’s board of directors, confirms that “conversations are taking place”.

This week’s concerts, from Thursday to Saturday, celebrate the Grammy awarded to Mr. Vanska and the orchestra in January for a recording of Sibelius’s First and Fourth Symphonies. This is Mr Vanska’s first official appearance with the orchestra since July 2012, two months before management imposed a lockout on the musicians for their refusal to accept a draconian new contract. The dispute was to drag on for 16 resentful months. (Mr. Vanska also conducted a concert in February 2013, celebrating a Grammy nomination for a recording of Sibelius’ second and fifth symphonies, but that was organized by the musicians themselves.)

Since the players agreed to a contract on softening terms in January, there has been considerable public outcry for Mr Vanska’s return as music director. And the announcement last week that Michael Henson, the orchestra’s chairman and chief executive, whose ouster Mr Vanska has publicly advocated, will leave in August, appeared to pave the way for that return. (Mr Henson’s announcement follows the departure of former board chairman Jon Campbell, alongside the contract settlement in January.)

There have been reports of divisions among board members, with some still angry at the ultimatum Mr Vanska issued last year saying the players should be back in action by September, to properly prepare for the fall season, including two concerts. at Carnegie Hall, otherwise he would resign. He resigned. There is also a residual anger about these informal inflammatory remarks about Mr Henson, which, however private they may have been intended, quickly became public. Some board members would suggest a principal conductor position, common in Europe, which dispenses with the administrative duties typical of an American music director. Others would oppose Mr. Vanska’s return in any capacity.

Considerable urgency attaches to the situation, as this is the time of year when most major orchestras announce their upcoming seasons, and where the Minnesota Orchestra would normally do so. Gwen Pappas, the orchestra’s spokeswoman, said a draft of the 2014-2015 programs exists, obviously riddled with uncertainties.

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