The Minnesota Orchestra Board of Directors has elected Gordon Sprenger, former president and CEO of Allina Health System, as its new chair.
Board members chose Sprenger this morning after a phone meeting that reportedly lasted only 20 minutes. Afterwards, Sprenger said his first job will be to rebuild trust between the orchestra’s board, musicians, administration and audience.
“I was asked to do it,” he told MPR host Tom Crann shortly after the election. “And I was told one of the reasons I was asked to do it was because I have had a style of management that is based on collaboration, and they felt that was what was needed at this point.”
Since reaching a settlement to a rancorous 16-month contract dispute with the orchestra’s musicians, board representatives have deflected questions from the public about the organization’s artistic and administrative leadership. They said those questions needed to wait until after the board elected new leaders.
Many people in the Twin Cities, have bluntly said they want Osmo Vanska back as music director and Michael Henson gone as President and CEO.
Sprenger chose his words carefully when asked about both situations but said he has a great deal of confidence in Henson.
“I think what has happened in just the last two weeks should give people confidence that he is a very, very good, outstanding leadership for the orchestra,” Sprenger said.
Sprenger pointed to the way orchestra staff under Henson’s leadership was able to put together an entire season just 10 days after the settlement was announced. Sprenger said he is sure he will hear the musicians opinion on Henson when he meets with them next week.
“But I think it’s important that right now we focus on getting the orchestra up and going,” he said. “We obviously need strong management as well as we need outstanding musicians, and I think we have both of those.”
Board members also learned that Henson is honoring his pledge made during the lockout to take the same pay cut as the musicians and will take a 15 percent reduction in his overall compensation.
As for Vanska, Sprenger noted that the acclaimed director “did resign during this time.”
“There are people who have said that we should consider bringing him back,” Sprenger said. “Frankly, where we are right now is we are focused on ensuring that we do have artistic excellence in the orchestra, and with a contract now settled and a new board leadership team in place, frankly the board will now turn its attention with appropriate deliberation to examining this whole issue of artistic leadership for the orchestra. And that will include anybody that has thoughts about Osmo.”
The board also elected Vice Chairs Karen Himle, Nancy Lindahl and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, in addition to Treasurer Patrick Bowe and Secretary James Melville.
Orchestra musicians said they are “optimistic that the new leadership of the Orchestra board has a commitment to world-class music and a deeper connection to our community.” Musicians representative Tim Zavadil said the musicians are looking forward to working with Sprenger.
“We’ve got a couple of meetings scheduled with him already in the very near future,” he said, ”And we look to a very open dialogue about the future of the orchestra.”
Zavadil said artistic leadership is the musicians top priority. He said he doesn’t know how the board may be thinking about whether to bring back Vanska.
“But I would say as evidence by our Grammy win of last weekend, we had an excellent musical relationship with Osmo,” Zavadil said. “So obviously that will be a very important conversation to have quickly.”