Gordon Sprenger elected chair of Minnesota Orchestra Board

The Minnesota Orchestra Board of  Directors has elected Gordon Sprenger, former president and CEO of Allina Health System, as its new chair.

  1. Listen Listen: Gordon Sprenger talks with MPR News’ Tom Crann

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.”


  • 1739camilli

    Is Sprenger equivocating about Vänskä? Henson’s remaining would be a big roadblock to Vänskä’s return.

  • Wanda Finda Jobfor-Henson

    Have a look at the comments about the totally disastrous ticket system.
    It’s as though the Minnesota Orchestra is doing its best to Go Out Of Business.
    Tickets should not be hard to purchase! Box offices should be open for business!
    What has the MOA been doing all this time, when they were presenting no concerts (and spending thirteen million to do it)?!

  • akadams

    One wonders if Michael Henson will ever make a speech in front of or a statement about the Minnesota Orchestra again. Noteworthy: Mr. Sprenger mentions nothing about Henson’s “leadership” during or leading up to the lockout….but praises him for putting together a season in just a few days (that, of course, was largely prepared by the musicians on their own).
    Well. I’ll just stroll over to the website and re-read Henson’s biography to remember what his strengths are. It should be up there still, right? *searching….searching….*

  • ArthurH

    As a full season subscriber and attendee since 1971, a fellow traveler on tours to Japan, Europe. the Proms and Edinburgh as well as a frequent attendee of symphonic concerts states wide and worldwide I think I have discovered the difference between a very good orchestra and a great orchestra. So often the difference maker is a consistent stream of inspired musical leadership.

    We in the Twin Cities have been blessed with astoundingly capable musicians and some outstanding conductors however, Osmo Vanska has transformed our orchestra into a really great orchestra which I would rank not with America’s but the WORLD’S 10 best. It is now time to restore our world standing, but more importantly to reclaim what the short sighted prior MOA board leadership had almost taken away.

    Whatever it takes, Osmo must be brought back. Two of the pivotal board members who thought Osmo dispensable have left their positions of leadership and will hopefully fulfill their pledge to leave the board. The way is almost clear for Osmo’s return. It has been intimated however, that the presumed designer of the “new business plan” that led to the lockout might be an obstacle as well. If this is true, the board must decide whether his inspired leadership, even with a 15% cut in salary, is more desirable than Osmo’s, and act in accordance.

  • Tom Foley

    The surest and quickest way to insure the long term financial viability of the Minnesota Orchestra is for the MOA board to recommit to making it the very best orchestra possible. And the surest and quickest way of achieving that is to reinstate Osmo Vanska immediately, rebuild the orchestra to its rightful component of 95, and then to support the orchestra and Mr. Vanska in the programming they choose to do. To strive to be the best in the nation, even the best in the world, is not a pipe dream. And when all that is achieved, donors and the Minnesota ticket buying public will enthusiastically line up, and the orchestra will have achieved stability.

    • organicblack

      So how much are YOU supporting the Orchestra beyond words? Asking other to support is easy but doing it yourself?? Frankly the number of chorals and orchestra’s and the buildings they need in the twincities is like the number of sporting teams; a few to many.

      • Fan of the Lark and the Mask

        He’s doing a great job, as a matter of fact, “organicblack”…
        So: if you think there’s an embarrassment of musical riches in the area, it seems rather odd that you care enough to comment here.
        Pitching the question back to you: how much are you supporting the orchestra, beyond YOUR words?