Osmo Vänskä announced plans today at the Minnesota Orchestra’s annual meeting to conclude his tenure as Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra in August 2022.
The 2021-22 season, his final as music director, will mark his 19th year at the helm of the Minnesota Orchestra, capping what is widely considered one of the great musical partnerships in Minnesota Orchestra history. Beyond 2022, Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra will maintain their musical relationship, with Vänskä returning for ongoing concert engagements.
Vänskä became the Minnesota Orchestra’s 10th music director in September 2003 and, as one Helsinki critic described, it quickly became evident that “Minnesota Orchestra fits Osmo Vänskä like a glove.” Over the course of his tenure, Vänskä has consistently led the Minnesota Orchestra in performances of rare insight and virtuosity, whether in its acclaimed concerts at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, through its celebrated recording initiatives or via its five international tours to Europe. In recent years, Vänskä has redefined traditional roles and approaches at the Minnesota Orchestra, embracing a new programming model that expands the leadership of musicians in artistic programming, and championing a new touring model—centered on musical diplomacy and exchanges—that has led to historic tours of Cuba and South Africa.
“I feel more than ever that the Minnesota Orchestra is my orchestra,” said Vänskä. “As I’ve been thinking about how best to take care of the Orchestra’s future, it has felt very natural to me that the end of my current contract is the right time for different leadership and new directions for both the Orchestra and for me. We have explored so much together, and I cannot begin to say what the Minnesota Orchestra and this community mean to me. The Orchestra musicians always give of themselves totally, and making music here is a great, deep joy. This is what we will continue to do over the next three seasons—and then I look forward to continuing our partnership in a different way.”
In upcoming seasons, Vänskä and the Orchestra will complete their recorded cycle of Mahler symphonies for BIS; embark on signature local, national and international touring projects; and undertake a 2021-22 season that celebrates Vänskä’s impact in the community.
“Osmo Vänskä is a leader of great integrity,” said Board Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson. “His work ethic, his commitment to excellence, his humility and humanity have always aligned with the things we value most in our community, and that is why this is a partnership for the ages. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Osmo in new ways going forward.”
Co-Principal Viola Richard Marshall said, “Osmo has found the heart and soul of the Minnesota Orchestra. Whether performing in a high school auditorium in Greater Minnesota or the Musikverein in Vienna, he gives the same commitment to his art and asks for excellence every time. I have been in the Orchestra for over 30 years, and the Orchestra today is the best it has ever been in my experience. Osmo has engraved his mark on the Minnesota Orchestra, and we are better musicians and people because of it.”
In 2022, Vänskä will join founding Music Director Emil Oberhoffer and sixth Music Director Stanisław Skrowaczewski as the longest-tenured music directors in Minnesota Orchestra history; each led the ensemble for 19 seasons.
“Osmo has been shaping the Minnesota Orchestra for nearly two decades—its sound, musician membership, programming, visibility—and the result is an orchestra that is performing at the peak of excellence on international stages and with a profound commitment to its Minnesota community,” said President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns. “This is a remarkable impact, and we look forward to celebrating it in the seasons ahead and then to developing a new relationship with Osmo in the years beyond 2022.”
Vänskä and Concertmaster Erin Keefe, his wife, will continue to make their home in the Twin Cities. A committee has been formed by the Minnesota Orchestra to begin the search for his successor.
“When Osmo became music director he implored us to dig deep, work hard and make our dreams a reality,” said Ellen Dinwiddie Smith, horn player and chair of the Musicians’ Artistic Advisory Committee. “His belief in the Minnesota Orchestra sustained us and led us back to our place as one of the most productive and storied orchestras in the world. The recording cycles we’ve undertaken cement our names together in history. We are heartened that is this not goodbye and that we will continue to share the stage with him in years to come.”
Milestones of Vänskä’s Minnesota tenure include:
- Launching the Minnesota Orchestra into a new era of high-profile recording activity. Among the most acclaimed of these recording projects are complete cycles of symphonies by Sibelius and Beethoven on the BIS Records label, with the second album in the Sibelius collection winning the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance. In 2017 BIS launched a Vänskä/Minnesota Orchestra cycle of the Mahler symphonies; Symphonies No. 5 and 6 have already been released, with the Fifth receiving a Grammy nomination, and four additional Mahler symphonies have been recorded. BIS and the Orchestra plan to record all ten Mahler symphonies by 2022. To date, Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra have recorded 16 albums together.
- Appointing 37 new musicians to the Orchestra since the 2003-04 season—more than 40 percent of the Orchestra, including 20 principal and titled positions.
- Leading the Orchestra on five major European tours, including three appearances at the BBC Proms in London, and solidifying the ensemble’s global reputation for artistic excellence. In addition to regular appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Vänskä has made touring Minnesota an institutional priority, and he has personally led the Orchestra on four tours across the state, performing in cities including Bemidji, Cokato, Duluth, Hibbing, Marshall, Willmar and Windom.
- Embarking on historic tours to Cuba and South Africa. The tour to Cuba in 2015 was the first by an American orchestra following the 2014 thaw in Cuban-American diplomatic relations. The tour to South Africa in 2018 was the first ever by a U.S. orchestra. Advocating the concept of “musical diplomacy” through touring and exchanges, Vänskä has broadened the Orchestra’s reach and role in both its home and global communities.
- Championing musicians’ voices across the institution. In the wake of the Orchestra’s lockout (October 2012-February 2014), Vänskä helped to create a new, more collaborative model of governance. He particularly expanded the presence of musicians within the Minnesota Orchestra’s artistic planning process, with musicians now playing an ongoing role in creating and curating seasonal programming.
- Advocating for the commissioning and performance of music of our time. Creating the Future Classics concert initiative in 2006 as part of the Orchestra’s annual Composer Institute, Vänskä dedicated himself to leading this new music program each season and to serving as mentor to the dozens of participating emerging composers. He has additionally led the Minnesota Orchestra in world premieres by composers including Kalevi Aho, John Harbison, Jennifer Higdon, Olli Kortekangas, Stephen Paulus, Einojuhani Rautavaara and Christopher Rouse, among others. Under his leadership, the Orchestra has performed some 26 Minnesota Orchestra commissions, 64 world premieres and a total of 113 new works, to date.
- Leading educational concerts that reflect his commitment to future generations. Vänskä has led Minnesota Orchestra educational performances of every variety, including Young People’s Concerts for elementary students, Symphonic Adventures for high school students, and Side-by-Side rehearsals with youth, high school and college orchestras in Minnesota, Cuba, Finland and South Africa, among others.
Osmo Vänskä also serves as honorary conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Lahti Symphony, which he led for two decades as music director. He was named 2005 “Conductor of the Year” by Musical America and is the subject of a 2009 biography Osmo Vänskä: Orchestra Builder by Michael Anthony. Additional awards and distinctions include honorary doctorates from the University of Glasgow and the University of Minnesota, a Champion of New Music Award from the American Composers Forum, and Columbia University’s Ditson Award for Services to American Music.
About the Minnesota Orchestra
The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra ranks among America’s top symphonic ensembles, with a distinguished history of acclaimed performances in its home state and around the world. It is known for award-winning recordings, as well as for notable educational engagement programs and a commitment to new orchestral repertoire. Founded as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble gave its inaugural performance on November 5, 1903, six weeks before the Wright brothers made their unprecedented airplane flight. The ensemble typically presents nearly 175 programs annually, primarily at its home venue of Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. Its programs are heard nationally and internationally in award-winning broadcasts produced by Minnesota Public Radio. Previous Music Directors include Emil Oberhoffer (1903-1922), Henri Verbrugghen (1923-1931), Eugene Ormandy (1931-1936), Dimitri Mitropoulos (1937-1949), Antal Dorati (1949-1960), Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (1960-1979), Sir Neville Marriner (1979-1986), Edo de Waart (1986-1995) and Eiji Oue (1995-2002).
The Minnesota Orchestra gratefully acknowledges funding support from the Douglas and Louise Leatherdale Music Director Chair in honor of Osmo Vänskä.
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Gwen Pappas, Director of Public Relations
Emma Plehal, Communications Manager and Assistant Editor