Osmo Vanska says MN Orchestra President Michael Henson must go

Former Minnesota Orchestra conductor and Artistic Director Osmo Vanska says it’s time for President Michael Henson to step down.

Vanska kept quiet for much of the Minnesota Orchestra’s lockout, but perhaps recent calls for his return have emboldened the soft-spoken Finn.

In a conversation Saturday with Brian Newhouse, managing director of Classical Minnesota Public Radio, Vanska said that “For any healing to begin at the orchestra, Michael Henson must go.”

Newhouse relayed the conversation to an MPR News reporter and confirmed with Vanska that he was speaking for the record.

“We are surprised Osmo chose to register his comments with the news media when those conversations belong within the Orchestral Association,” responded Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Gordon Sprenger. “This weekend is a time to celebrate that the Minnesota Orchestra is performing onstage in the renovated Orchestra Hall, and we are sorry to pull any focus from that celebratory event.”

A request for comment from Michael Henson was declined.

When contacted by MPR News, a representative of the musicians said the players had no comment. However at the beginning of the lockout musicians took a vote of no confidence in the orchestra CEO.

Vanska resigned from the orchestra one year into the lockout, after the two sides were unable to resolve their differences in time for a series of planned Carnegie Hall performances.

The Minnesota Orchestra performed Friday at Orchestra Hall for the first time since the 16-month lockout began. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducted.

However, when new board chair Gordon Sprenger took the stage after intermission to address the audience, voices from the crowd demanded Vanska’s return.

“We want Osmo. Bring back Osmo,” they shouted.

Sprenger thanked the audience, then responded “I want you to know we understand that and we are addressing that.”

Sprenger has said in previous interviews that the orchestra needs to work on rebuilding trust, and that Henson has shown outstanding leadership.

  • fletcherwarren

    Yes he must! I saw him last night at the homecoming concert. He looked jumpy and nervous, with a slight tic and forced laughter. He also spent the entire intermission hiding in the Target Atrium in a private event for Laureate society members before ducking back into the hall for the second half. To quote Robert Levine, the man’s toast – the only question is when he’ll pop out of the oven. That time is now.

  • akadams

    No one has come forward and praised Henson’s vision, Henson’s Strategic Business Plan, Henson’s testimony in front of the state legislature….
    Are they that reluctant on the board, to admit they were wrong???

  • 1739camilli

    The board has a choice. Vänskä or Henson. Musicians and audience want Vänskä. The choice shouldn’t be that difficult.

    • Jim Million

      Depending on how parochial the Board wishes to be, it has a choice not recognized:

      Henson goes

      Vänskä remains gone

  • Mark Carter

    I knew this saga was not over. Gordon Sprenger needs to understand that the board have to act fast. The audience and donors have no confidence in Michael Henson, in fact it is worse than that, they have extreme antipathy. On the other hand Osmo Vanska is held in high esteem, by the audience and musicians. 30% of the orchestra is freelance. I can tell you the strings in particular had lost their signature sound this last weekend. A lot of the musicians are completing their contracts with other orchestras. They do have somewhere to go and will. Mr Sprenger I have a serious piece of advice for you: – Get this sorted this week! Otherwise I think there may be a ruckus from the audience this weekend.

  • civicsperson

    Maybe at Allina, Gordon Sprenger could have kept this issue in the closed door boardroom, but this is a public asset and a public issue. Just because there’s been an agreement reached on paper doesn’t mean the underlying wounds are closed. Letting go Hansen and bringing in a bridge-building leader who is confident in meeting with the public might be a critical suture to closing the wounds and rebuilding trust.

  • Sockpuppet

    Henson has shown “outstanding leadership”??? I guess it’s possible, if you consider he’s been leading himself around a vacant concert hall for 16 months. And having no trouble leading himself to the bank.

  • Ultracobalt

    Last night the greatly reduced orchestra put on a pleasant but mediocre performance at higher ticket prices. As a reunion of sides, an appeal to nostalgia, and a tribute to Stanislaw the concert was nice enough. As a product going forward this clearly will not work. Afterward, Gordon Sprenger’s only message was scolding the audience to “fill these seats”, implying this was how to get things back on track. I could only wonder what fantasy land lives in. Any forth grader with a working knowledge of money knows seats will be sold if they’re worth paying for. The only way for that to happen is to rehire the talent, and the only way for that to happen is to get rid of the leadership. Blaming the audience for the current state of affairs is a very bad start, Mr. Sprenger.

    • ArthurH

      Give Mr. Sprenger a chance! Now that two of the three evil doers are gone it is time for the seats to be filled. But the first seats to be filled are those of the musicians on a leave of absence–but they must be refilled with those musicians. Next, Mr Vanska must be brought back, and the third co-conspirator of evil must go. In a way I feel sorry for him, as he has no bank to support him, and I doubt that the will ever serve in a similar administrative position at any musical institution. I did not expect Mr. Sprenger to announce Mr Henson’s departure immediately, but a bit later on. As Osmo has now lowered the boom, so to speak, it looks like a more immediate approach will have to be taken. I believe that Mr. Sprenger and the remaining board members realize that if Henson stays and Vanska does not come back, they will lose about 1/3 of orchestra contributors. Although this may not represent 1/3 of the funds raised annually, it might also more realistically represent a disproportionately large number of concert subscribers and attendees.

      • Guest

        One hopes that if Henson finds a job elsewhere, it’s not at an arts institution. Almost ruining one orchestra is enough!

        • ArthurH

          You know he didn’t do it by himself though the two other “Poster Boys” (Davis and Campbell) for the lockout are gone, I suspect that there are still quite a few supporters of the the orchestra’s “New Business Model” still on the board and keeping a low profile. Let’s hope the next administrator hired by the board has a bit more regard for the institution he or she has been hired to administrate!

      • Ultracobalt

        I believe many are willing to give Mr. Sprenger a chance – if only because he’s the current game in town – but he’s got a very narrow time window and so far he’s fumbled the ball. In interviews with MPR he made much of his own CEO skills and bridge-building talents, so at Saturday’s concert I expected him to make a speech which was inspirational, conciliatory, insightful, and self-deprecating. Perhaps the few shouts from the audience threw him off, but he didn’t deliver in the 5 minutes he had. Sprenger’s subsequent catty reaction in the Star Tribune to Osmo’s quote about Henson was another false step. If I were keeping score, which I am, I count two marks against. Finally, I believe 1/3 of the donors have ALREADY pulled away. The trick now is to win them back. If Sprenger doesn’t fix all this by June, there’s significant risk that only a Doc Severinsen pops orchestra will be left in the hall. And that won’t be worth a dime of anyone’s money.

        • ArthurH

          I should have said “I believe that Mr. Sprenger and the remaining board members realize that if (Henson stays and) Vanska does not come back, the 1/3 of orchestra contributors who have ceased to contribute will not return, I amongst them”. None the less, although I am somewhat suspect of Mr. Sprenger’s role in helping to formulate the “New Business Model” that led to the lockout, he is largely untainted in the eyes of the public. From dealing with him in the past, I can assure you he is quite perceptive and has a good idea of the vox populi . He has a delicate balancing act to perform at this point, but I am hopefully optimistic that he will do the right thing and find a way to sign Osmo to a long term deal.

  • lkw326

    Question is – can Vanska rebuild the Orchestra? He was reaching his pinnacle when the business-oriented Board cut him off. Can he trust them with his career?

    • akadams

      I don’t think you’re taking the musicians into account…. their relationship with Osmo is fiercely loyal and vital. They are not passive puppets, waiting for him to do all the magic… they make sure the magic happens.

    • ArthurH

      When Osmo is brought back, he will likely bring back many of our musicians who became scattered around the world trying to earn a living this year, when another lost season seemed imminent. If he doesn’t return, they might not find New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Zurich, etc. such hard places to live, especially since they are no doubt earning considerably more money there.

  • sven

    Henson would be dumber than a rock (apologies to rocks everywhere) to think he can continue. And, absolutely no “golden parachute” – let him wash out urinals until HE RESIGNS and goes to black hole of orchestra administrators in alabama.

  • ArthurH

    Well now that Mr. Vanska has dropped the gauntlet, its time for the board to decide who is of more value to the orchestra, Mr Vanska, one of the ten leading symphonic conductors of our era or Mr. Henson. It is unfortunate that Mr. Henson had tied his star to a board gone astray. But he must now pay the price. I don’t know the amount of time left on his contract, but if necessary, he will have to “bought out”. On the other hand, I would guess if he stays and Osmo is not brought back (hopefully with a long term new contract) I for one will join about 1/3 of the donors who frequent the Green Room at intermission and stop contributing. Unlike others though, I will renew my full season tickets held for more than 40 years.

  • Jimviolin

    Mr. Henson must go. He drank the ill-brew that Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis brewed. Henson is unwanted by the community, unwanted by the musicians, and certainly an embarrassment to the entire cultural atmosphere of Minnesota. He may be a fine person (I don’t know) but he had a mediocre vision for an outstanding orchestra and brought his vision to full effect – a lock-out that the new board chair admitted to the musicians went on much longer than was necessary. When you have the authority to pick the road – you pick the destination and he selected his destination 16 months ago. Time to find a job elsewhere and reflect about the damage he did in Minnesota.

  • gingi7

    Is this what qualifies as outstanding leadership? rush to a
    lockout; misgauge public support for MNO and Vanska; insult audience ability to
    recognize quality when we hear it; fail to garner public trust and
    understanding for the MNO’s financial situation; use fear over the potential
    loss of MNO/Vanska prestige as a bargaining chip; and jeopardize the incredible
    accomplishments the Orchestra and Vanska have achieved! This could have been
    handled so differently by someone with true leadership and a board with real

  • Fan of the Lark and the Mask

    Sure would be nice to hear the man stand up for himself. Or for anyone to stand up for him. You’d think on a board of 80 people, all wealthy, powerful, confident people….you’d think Michael Henson had at least ONE friend able to articulate why he was the right leader for a tough job. *sound of crickets chirping*

    Well, since there might be a little wait: did you know that the letters in “Bonusgate” can be re-arranged to form:
    1. Tubas….Gone!
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    4. Bogus Ante
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    6. No Eat Bugs
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    8. No Get a Bus
    9. A Bogus Ten
    10. Be Nougats