Osmo Vänskä, 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 Orchestra on five major European tours, most recently drawing rave reviews in 2016 for concerts in England, Denmark, The Netherlands and his native Finland. In 2015 he and the Orchestra embarked on a historic tour to Havana, Cuba, where it became the first American orchestra to perform in the island nation since the thaw in Cuban-American diplomatic relations. He has also conducted the Orchestra on regular tour performances in communities across Minnesota.
During the 2017-18 season, Vänskä will guide the Orchestra’s flagship classical series that includes a Tchaikovsky festival; concerts marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Finland’s centennial, the 50th anniversary of Minnesota Public Radio and the 15th anniversary of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute; and world premieres of music by Jeff Beal, Sebastian Currier and James Stephenson. Vänskä and the Orchestra will record Mahler’s First and Fourth Symphonies, the latter with soprano Carolyn Sampson, continuing a Mahler symphonies recording project. In January 2018 he will lead the Orchestra on a Chicago tour—the ensemble’s first in nearly four decades—during which it will be the only American orchestra to perform this season on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony Center Presents series. That month he and the Orchestra will also stop at several Midwestern universities and community venues for residencies and concerts.
The initial disc in the Orchestra’s new Mahler symphonies project, featuring the Fifth Symphony, was released in summer 2017 to immediate acclaim. Vänskä’s earlier recording projects with the Orchestra have also met with great success, most notably a three-disc cycle of the complete Sibelius symphonies, of which the second disc, featuring Sibelius’ First and Fourth Symphonies, won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance. The cycle’s first album, Sibelius’ Second and Fifth Symphonies, received a Grammy nomination in the same category. These albums were recorded by BIS Records, as were numerous earlier CDs: a live in-concert recording of Sibelius’ Kullervo and Finlandia and the world premiere recording of Olli Kortekangas’ Migrations; Beethoven and Mozart piano concertos featuring soloist Yevgeny Sudbin; a disc of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony; the oratorio To Be Certain of the Dawn, composed by Stephen Paulus with libretto by Michael Dennis Browne; and a particularly widely-praised cycle of the complete Beethoven symphonies, of which two discs—one of the Ninth Symphony and one of the Second and Seventh—drew Grammy and Classic FM Gramophone award nominations, respectively. Also acclaimed was a two-CD set featuring pianist Stephen Hough in live, in-concert recordings of Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos and Concert Fantasia, on the Hyperion label.
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 2017-18 engagements include debuts with the National Symphony Orchestra in Taipei and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and return visits to the San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestra National de Lyon, SWR Symphonieorchester Stuttgart, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest in Amsterdam, Helsinki Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra, among other ensembles.
Vänskä was appointed principal guest conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Reykjavík, effective in fall 2014; he has since been named the ensemble’s honorary conductor. He is also conductor laureate of the Lahti Symphony, which he served as music director from 1988 to 2008, transforming it into one of Finland’s flagship orchestras during his tenure. 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.
Vänskä has recorded extensively on the BIS and Hyperion labels. His Sibelius albums with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra for BIS have amassed numerous awards. 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 in Wyoming and the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York. He will play clarinet in an octet arrangement of Sibelius’ En Saga at a Minnesota Orchestra NightCap performance in September 2017, and he will also perform this season in a VocalEssence “Finlandia Forever” program and in a program with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.
Vänskä served as Minnesota Orchestra music director from 2003 to 2013, resigned during the organization’s labor dispute, and accepted reappointment to the position in May 2014.
Honors and distinctions awarded to Vänskä include an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow. 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. In September 2016, Vänskä led the Minnesota Orchestra in a halftime show to inaugurate U.S. Bank Stadium, the new home of the Minnesota Vikings, performing selections by Beethoven and Prince for an audience of more than 66,000.