MN Orchestra unveils first full season since lockout

A view of the renovated Orchestra Hall from the stage Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News
  1. Listen Reporter Euan Kerr talks with MPR News’ Phil Picardi

The Minnesota Orchestra today released a jam-packed 2014-15 season, its first full season since ending a contentious labor-management struggle.

Its next season, which starts Sept. 5, will feature a slew of world-class visiting performers, a number of musical series, and a completion of the Sibelius recording cycle halted by the recent lockout.

The expansive season will be a crowd-pleaser aimed at building on the goodwill towards the orchestra musicians and Music Director Osmo Vanska that grew during the difficult 16-month lockout.

It’s also big in size: 25 weeks of classical concerts topped by a pops season and boasting a series of themed concerts.

There will be a winter festival celebrating music based on the work of Shakespeare, a three-week celebration of the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss, and a multi-week Spirit and Spring series focusing on the music of faith and contemplation, which will occur around Easter.

There will also be the first New Year’s Eve concerts the orchestra has offered since 1998, made possible by changes in the new musicians’ contract. The season also is notable as it marks the first time that a season has been organized by Vanska in direct consultation with a committee of musicians.

Vanska said he’s very happy with how it went.

“So many great ideas coming from the players,” he said. “It is something which I am used to [doing] in Finland, Lahti, everything was done with the players. But it’s finally happening here and I think that the result is excellent.”

The orchestra also rescheduled a planned recording session of the final disc in the Orchestra’s Sibelius cycle that was postponed because of the dispute. Vanska said it is back on the calendar for June. That’s significant because the Orchestra received a Grammy nomination for the first of its Sibelius discs and won the Best Orchestra performance Grammy for the second disc.

Although this is the second season announced since the end of the lockout, it is an important one because the first one, which is coming to an end, was truncated because of the dispute. Also, it came together at a time when Vanska’s future in Minnesota was undecided. He resigned during the dispute, and there was some question as to whether the Orchestra Board would rehire him.

Now that Vanska has returned, he is clearly in control and the season bears his imprint and that of the musicians.

Vanska said he is very happy with the way the orchestra is playing, and also with how the renovated Orchestra Hall sounds. However he is a difficult task master and promises a lot of hard work ahead. He said it’s time for the orchestra to move on from the dispute.

“I think that there was a time to whine, but it’s time to cry and then it’s time to stop crying and start to work again,” Vanska said. “And I think sometimes working is the best therapy for the mind, and I think that is right now happening. We want to make the orchestra as good as possible, as soon as possible.”

The orchestra staff has its work cut out for it. Typically a season is announced before Christmas. However, the planning couldn’t begin until the orchestra had settled the question of who would be its music director, and that didn’t happen until Vanska was rehired on May 1. The staff, which set up and sold the last season quickly, has more time with the next one, but it is much bigger.

Orchestra managers likely will be hoping for capacity crowds at Orchestra Hall. While the labor dispute is over, management did not receive all the concessions from musicians that it said it needed, so it will have to watch the bottom line.