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 August 2016 for performances at festivals in Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, plus a special concert in Lahti, Finland, where for 20 years he was music director of the Lahti Symphony. In May 2015 he led the Orchestra 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 regular tours to communities across Minnesota, including a 2014 performance in Bemidji as part of the Orchestra’s Common Chords initiative.
During the 2016-17 season, Vänskä and the Orchestra will record Mahler’s Sixth and Second Symphonies, continuing a project to record Mahler symphonies that began in June 2016 with a recording of the Fifth Symphony. The season will see the release of a live in-concert recording of Sibelius’ Kullervo with vocal soloists and the YL Male Voice Choir of Finland; this disc also features Sibelius’ Finlandia and the world premiere recording of Olli Kortekangas’ Migrations. Vänskä’s earlier recording projects with the Orchestra have met with great success, including a newly-completed three-disc cycle of the complete Sibelius symphonies. The recording of Sibelius’ First and Fourth Symphonies won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance; a year earlier the first album, Sibelius’ Second and Fifth Symphonies, received a Grammy nomination in the same category. Each album was recorded by BIS Records, as were numerous earlier CDs: 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 2016-17 engagements include concerts with the London Philharmonic—where he leads five separate programs in two weeks, including the complete Sibelius symphonies—and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, National Taiwan Philharmonic Orchestra, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Lahti Symphony, Turku Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic, New World Symphony and, on a tour of Europe, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra.
Vänskä was appointed principal guest conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Reykjavík, effective in fall 2014; his tenure has since been extended through the 2019-20 season. 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, 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 in Wyoming and the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York. He will play clarinet in Schubert’s Octet at a Minnesota Orchestra Chamber Music Serenade performance in April 2017.
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.
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, 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. In September 2016, Vänskä led the Minnesota Orchestra in a halftime show to inaugurate the Minnesota Vikings new stadium, performing selections by Beethoven and Prince for an audience of more than 66,000.