Brian Newhouse interviews Osmo Vanska

by Brian Newhouse, Minnesota Public Radio
March 27, 2014

St. Paul, Minn. — By now, you've seen the MPR News and maybe the Star Tribune and New York Times articles on Osmo Vänskä's return this week with the Minnesota Orchestra. There are no real headlines coming; we know that Osmo is in negotiation to return, and not much else.

I got about 25 minutes to interview him this week. Vänskä told me several days ago there would be no headlines. Other than him stating flatly that, yes, indeed, he does want to come back to lead the Orchestra, "If I can work with the orchestra the way I used to do, and I want to do, then I want to come back." He would give no more details on the record than that.

I asked him if he had it to do over again, would he make the declaration that CEO Michael Henson had to go before any healing in the Orchestra could take place? Vänskä didn't miss a beat, and said he definitely would do that again. Then he just sat there for a moment with a jaw set like I have never seen in the man before. To me, he looked furious and absolutely resolute.

Beyond that stony moment, Vänskä was warm and open. We talked at length about what his life was like after his October resignation. He used the word "grief" probably three times to describe his feelings; he said sometimes he would find himself crying one minute and then, the next, relieved that he was out of this difficult situation. He said when he first rose to speak to the musicians in rehearsal this week, tears came to him again, so he started conducting as soon as he could!

Vänskä was full of praise for the Orchestra he's leading this week; he was so passionate about his feeling that this ensemble, here in downtown Minneapolis, is almost unique in its hunger to work, in its passion to do its best all the time. For him, who's been busier than ever guest-conducting all over the world this last year and a half, it seems remarkable when he says, "Do you know how rare that is?"

I was so struck, as ever, by this man's integrity and humanity. That mix of vulnerability and enormous ego-strength. To find all that in one person … remarkable. Ineffably so.

Friday will be a raucous night. I can't wait.

Interview produced by Mike Pengra.

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