Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, who in 2003 became the Minnesota Orchestra’s tenth music director, is renowned internationally for his compelling interpretations of the standard, contemporary and Nordic repertoires. He has led the Minnesota Orchestra on four major European tours—drawing rave reviews for performances at European music festivals including the BBC Proms and Edinburgh Festival, and for appearances at London’s Barbican Hall, the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Vienna Musikverein and the Berlin Philharmonie—as well as regular tours to communities across Minnesota.
Vänskä’s recording projects with the Minnesota Orchestra have met with great success. Currently underway are initiatives to record all the Beethoven piano concertos with Yevgeny Sudbin and the complete Sibelius symphonies, both for BIS; the initial disc of the concertos has been released, as have the first two of the Sibelius cycle, with the CD of Sibelius’ Second and Fifth Symphonies being nominated for a Grammy Award. Other recent releases include a BIS album of Bruckner’s Fourth (Romantic) Symphony and a two-CD set from Hyperion featuring pianist Stephen Hough in live, in-concert recordings of Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos and Concert Fantasia. Completed earlier was a cycle of the complete Beethoven symphonies for BIS, with each album drawing superlative praise worldwide, and two—one of the Ninth Symphony and one of the Second and Seventh—receiving Grammy and Classic FM Gramophone award nominations, respectively.
As a guest conductor, Vänskä has led all the major American and European orchestras. He has appeared with the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in this country. Abroad he has led the Berlin Philharmonic, London’s BBC Symphony, London Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Vienna Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra and other major ensembles. His 2012-13 schedule includes engagements from São Paulo to Shanghai, and from Reykjavik to Wellington, where he debuts with the New Zealand Symphony and leads it on a two-week tour.
For two decades Vänskä was music director of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, which he transformed into one of Finland’s flagship orchestras. Under his leadership, the Lahti Symphony received international attention for performances in London, Birmingham and New York and for its award-winning Sibelius recordings on the BIS label. Since May 2008 he has been that ensemble’s conductor laureate.
Vänskä has recorded extensively on the BIS and Hyperion labels. His Sibelius albums with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra for BIS have amassed numerous awards, including a 1996 Gramophone Award and Cannes Classical Award for the original version of the Fifth Symphony. His first-ever complete recording of The Tempest won the 1993 Prix Académie Charles Cros, and his disc of the original version of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos won 1991 Gramophone Awards for Record of the Year and Best Concerto Recording.
Vänskä, who began his music career as a clarinetist, held the co-principal chair of the Helsinki Philharmonic (1977-82) and the principal chair of the Turku Philharmonic (1971-76). Following conducting studies under Jorma Panula at Finland’s Sibelius Academy, he was awarded first prize in the 1982 Besançon International Young Conductor’s Competition. Three years later he began his tenure with the Lahti Symphony as principal guest conductor, while also serving as music director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Tapiola Sinfonietta. In addition, Vänskä served as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra of Glasgow (1997-2002).
Since returning to the clarinet at the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2005 Sommerfest, Vänskä has performed in chamber ensembles at Orchestra Hall, other Twin Cities venues, Napa Valley’s Music in the Vineyards, the Grand Teton Music Festival and the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York.
During his time in Minnesota, Vänskä has explored an interest in composition. The Orchestra performed his first orchestral work, Here!...Beyond? in 2006, and his second work, The Bridge—a response to Minnesota’s I-35W bridge collapse—was heard at a concert in 2008.
The many honors and distinctions awarded to Vänskä include an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow, a privilege given in recognition of his tenure as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony. In May 2002 he was honored with a Royal Philharmonic Society Award for his outstanding contribution to classical music during 2001. Musical America named Vänskä 2005 Conductor of the Year, and in 2008 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Minnesota as well as a Champion of New Music Award from the American Composers Forum. In 2010 he received the Ditson Award from Columbia University, honoring him in particular for his support of American music, and was named by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as its 2010 Artist of the Year.
Vänskä has extended his tenure with the Minnesota Orchestra through 2015.