Osmo Vänskä (photo by Kaapo Kamu)
We're not sure if Osmo Vänskä is a member of the Icelandair frequent flyer club, but he may soon be.
This week, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra announced it had appointed Vänskä its principal guest conductor starting in the 2014 - 15 season.
Founded in 1950, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra consists of 90 full-time members and gives approximately 60 concerts each season, a number that includes its concerts at home in Reykjavik as well as its international tour dates. The music director and chief conductor of Iceland Symphony Orchestra is Ilan Volkov.
According to Vänskä's management agency HarrisonParrott, Osmo is no stranger to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra; he was its chief conductor from 1993 to 1996, and he conducted its Carnegie Hall debut in 1996. Vänskä has made annual guest-conductor appearances with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra since 2010.
Vänskä's first appearance in Iceland under his new title is scheduled for February 2015, in a concert featuring music by Bruckner and Sibelius.
It's fair to infer Osmo Vänskä is earning plenty of frequent-flyer points.
In January alone, the former music director of the Minnesota Orchestra conducted the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv, and the Orchestra National de Lyon in its eponymous city in France. A little more than a week ago, Vänskä was in Amsterdam to conduct the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. And this week, as the Washington Post's Anne Midgette reports, Vänskä is in Washington, D.C., to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra.
Osmo Vänskä has been seeing his fair share of airports lately (MPR file photo/Minnesota Orchestra)
Freelancing has its benefits. "There is a temptation to think about doing only guest conducting, because you don't need to take all the headaches that the music director has to," Vänskä told Midgette.
But there was a suggestion the man would prefer a full-time job. "I have always had an orchestra," Vänskä said to Midgette, "let's call it my own orchestra, since '85."
In Midgette's article, Minnesota Orchestra Principal Trombonist Doug Wright describes Vänskä as "a good fit" and says life would be "easier and better all around" if Vänskä did return to his former post in Minneapolis. But Wright acknowledges, "Obviously, if he doesn't come back, we will go find a new music director."
Add to this speculation the recent news reported in The Guardian that the Royal Concertgebouw's current director, Mariss Jansons, announced he will resign his position as chief conductor of that orchestra after its 2014-15 season.
Could the prestige of the Royal Concertgebouw, the excellent quality of life in the Netherlands, and the shorter trip back to his native Finland be enticements to Vänskä?
"It's obvious that I am still living with many question marks," Vänskä told the Washington Post's Midgette. "I need to get more answers to those questions. When I get those answers, then it's time to make decisions."
With Michael Henson's departure from the Minnesota Orchestra confirmed and Osmo Vänskä slated to return to Orchestra Hall for a series of concerts this weekend, music fans who have been clamoring for the return of Vänskä as the orchestra's artistic director — or at least his return in some long-term capacity — are at a fever pitch of excitement, hoping that Vänskä's return to the orchestra might be announced as soon as this week. In the meantime, many are looking to make their voices heard loud and clear: they want Osmo back.
Now, Vänskä fans can wear that message as well. An entity calling itself "MN Arts" is promoting t-shirts and sweatshirts reading "Bring Back Osmo!" and (in a reference to Vänskä's country of origin) "Finnish it!" The shirts are being advertised via sponsored posts on Facebook.
I wrote to MN Arts on Facebook, asking who was behind the organization, and received this reply from the group's Chip Martin. "We're some parents and students seeing if we can raise some funds for MN Arts. Our kids have been heavily involved with [Minnesota Youth Symphony], the MN Boychoir, and lots of dance programs in the past. For our efforts to bring back Mr. Vänskä, at the request of my daughter who is a violist at Luther College now, we plan to contribute to [Save Our Symphony Minnesota] as we know they are active with the effort to bring back Mr. Vänskä."
Clarifying that the group is independent of both Save Our Symphony and the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, Martin continues, "As this is our first crowd-funding effort, we do not have any history but intend to have an 'open book' policy for those interested. We are not a non-profit, nor are we an organization. Just trying to raise some funds for MN Arts. If successful with this initial campaign, we plan to do more in the future with various arts."
The shirts are being sold through Teespring, a company that only puts shirts into production if a minimum number of orders are met. If at least 20 orders are placed for any of these designs, then no matter what happens between Vänskä and his once-and-perhaps-future employer, some local music fans will become owners of a poignant, wearable souvenir of this tumultuous season.
Finally, Osmo Vänskä has broken his silence and given a full, on-the-record interview about his relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra. Of course, he didn't answer every single question the interviewer had: Vänskä declined to comment when asked, quite explicitly, whether returning to serve as a guest conductor with the orchestra would be like sex with an ex.
Vänskä's interlocutor, in a video interview just published on YouTube, is Nick Cannellakis, a cellist who satirically "interviews" the likes of Leon Fleisher; the Emerson String Quartet; and David Finckel and Wu Han.
In his interview with Vänskä, Cannellakis ascertains whether "Osmo" is short for anything (it's not) and confirms that Sibelius wasn't actually Norwegian.
Vänskä: "Don't try to tell me that he wasn't Finnish."
Cannellakis: "He wasn't finished with what?"(2 Comments)
Osmo Vänskä. Photo by Eric Moore
I was there Saturday afternoon for the 2:00 performance. It seemed like half of Classical MPR was there. I guess the other half was there that night for the 8:00 show.
These were the final performances of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra with Osmo Vänskä at the helm.
First of all, I have a pretty great job. I get to talk about classical music all the time. On top of that, I get to do a music-appreciation show, and a show about video-game music.
And I used to work regularly with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Before the lockout, Classical MPR broadcast the Minnesota Orchestra subscription concerts live Friday nights.
A major component of those broadcasts included interview clips from the conductor (whether it was Osmo or a guest) and the soloist. Although Brian Newhouse hosted those broadcasts, I did the interviews in advance, usually on Wednesdays or Thursdays.
List any accomplishment of my career, and this was my favorite task. I loved going to Orchestra Hall each week or so. And while it is thrilling to speak to the likes of Andrew Litton, Jean-Yves Thibaudet or Midori, it was always a delight to speak with Osmo.
Every time I pulled up to Orchestra Hall, it felt like Christmas day. I got to walk in the stage door, where some of the best musicians in the world hung out. Sometimes, I got to listen to them rehearse. I never would've made it to Orchestra Hall as a trumpet player, but somehow, I'd managed to get there without my instrument.
The excitement never waned.
The first time I met Osmo, it was clear why he and the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have such a love affair. I could see the fondness and respect he has for them in his eyes, and I could hear it in his voice. He spoke with equal warmth about the music.
And then you saw them onstage together. Conductor and orchestra. They danced the most beautiful dance only an orchestra can create. They played as if they wanted to impress each other, but in the way you want to impress someone you love dearly by making them breakfast in bed or bringing them flowers.
The word 'impress' isn't even the right word it was more like an eagerness to share. The best of friends the kind of friendship that feels like family.
It's why I've wept over this loss. Many of us have. It's unbearable to imagine how the musicians and Osmo feel. For nine years, it was a dream come true.
We'll miss you, Osmo. Thank you for coming here.(1 Comments)