Category Archives: Osmo Vanska

Here’s a sneak peek at the Minnesota Orchestra’s New Year’s concert

No tuxedos, formal gowns or bouquets of flowers — this video is an unfettered look at musicians hard at work.

Ahead of its New Year’s Day concert featuring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra released this video of Osmo Vänskä leading a Dec. 31 rehearsal. Watch the intense movements of conductor and musicians as they practice the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth.

It’s a sneak preview of the Minnesota Orchestra’s concert that takes place Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Classical MPR will broadcast this live concert; Brian Newhouse hosts.

Osmo Vanska plays clarinet with Cuban ensemble

Osmo Vänskä joined a jazz ensemble, playing his clarinet.

The eyes of much of the world were on Cuba as the Minnesota Orchestra performed two historic concerts in Havana. In addition to playing the spotlight concerts, orchestra musicians — including Music Director Osmo Vänskä — ventured out to perform Cuban music in a smaller venue.

MPR photographer Nate Ryan’s images from Cuba are truly captivating, but Nate explains he was not alone in covering the Minnesota Orhcestra’s historic visit to the island nation. In and around the musical activities in Havana, Nate saw teams from Al-Jazeera America, from BBC World (which produced this video) and from Chinese media. As one might expect, Nate also met a photographer from Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Osmo Vänskä’s native Finland.

Helsingin Sanomat’s Vesa Sirén covered the concerts at the Teatro Nacional, but Sirén and his colleague Juhani Niiranen also reported on and captured video of Vänskä and other Minnesota Orchestra musicians playing with a Cuban jazz ensemble. Minnesota Public Radio’s Toni Karlsson provided this translation of what Sirén wrote in Helsingin Sanomat:

As expected, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra Osmo Vänskä played jazz in a nightclub on Saturday night in Havana. The first visit of a U.S. orchestra in this century ended up in the Habana Café nightclub, where the orchestra players who are skilled in jazz jammed with the traditional Cuban ensemble, Orquesta Aragón.

Before his conducting career, Vänskä was first-chair clarinet in both the Turku and Helsinki orchestras. On this evening in at the Habana Café, Vänskä plays clarinet on many of the numbers [watch video here]. The audience consisted mostly of people from the Minnesota Orchestra or from the U.S. delegation; Habana Café is too expensive for local Cubans. On the other hand, the Minnesota Orchestra concert tickets were affordable to Cubans, who filled the Teatro Nacional twice.

The audience, saturated as they are with the Castro brothers’ socialist rhetoric, weren’t bothered by the U.S. national anthem when the orchestra played it alongside the Cuban national anthem on Saturday.

The Saturday-night concert was not quite as good as the previous night’s supernatural Beethoven concert. The Minnesotans sought to achieve Cuban rhythms in the Alejandro Garcia Caturian danzón, and in the Bernstein, they achieved the evocations of the musica, West Side Story. The playing was very good, but not quite exceptional.

In bits and pieces of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet music, we heard many bulls-eyes. And matching the Latin rhythms, Vänskä concluded both nights with the Säkkijärven polka.

The Cuban audience was spellbound.

MPR’s Nate Ryan was also at the Habana Café nightclub, where he captured the photos below.

Photos by Nate Ryan

Musicians Kate Nettleman and Manny Laureano talk on the way to Habana Cafe.

Walking up the stairs at Habana Cafe.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians arrive at Habana Cafe.

Osmo Vänskä playing clarinet on stage at Habana Cafe

Osmo Vänskä performs with a Cuban jazz ensemble. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

The Habana Cafe.

Dancers on stage

Cuban performers at the Habanera Cafe

More coverage available at

Photos: Minnesota Orchestra’s final 24 hours in Havana

Osmo Vänksä

The Minnesota Orchestra closed out their whirlwind tour of Havana Saturday night with an awe-inspiring performance of both the Cuban and American national anthems. Classical MPR’s Brian Newhouse writes, “‘Burst into song’ is cliché, but that is exactly what happened, a mix of shock and joy on those faces. An American orchestra playing the Cuban National Anthem? While the roar of applause afterward was still going, the Orchestra went right into the Star-Spangled Banner. That’s when the tears began. The Cubans didn’t know the words, of course, but they instantly knew the music, and the symbolism of playing the two anthems back-to-back.”

While the trip was so intently focused on music — both in terms of outreach and education — as well as performance, it’s important to get a final tour of the surrounding area. Photographer Nate Ryan captured the scenes, the performances, and the after-hours fun before the members of the Orchestra boarded their charter back home.

Saturday morning around Havana

Residents of Havana on the street as a pedicab goes by.

Mural of Che Guevara. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

Broadcast engineer Johnny Vince Evans riding in a Desoto convertible.

The Havana skyline.

Desoto convertible dashboard.

Driving down the Malecón.

A woman smokes outside of a small restaurant.

Banyan tree.

Palm trees line the road in Havana.

Havana apartment building.

Hotel Cohiba outdoor lunch.

Motorcycles and travel cases.

Havana street scene.

A coconut drink on a sunny Saturday in Havana, Cuba.

Live performance at Teatro Nacional de Cuba

Featuring performances of the Cuban national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, and pieces by Caturla, Bernstein and Prokofiev.

A musician reviews the score before the May 16th performance

Trombonist warming up

Anthony Ross applies rosin to his bow.

View from the Teatro Nacional de Cuba

Sculptures outside the plaza

Guests dropped off in front of the theater.

A quick candid snap of rehearsal.

Osmo Vänskä takes a bow.

The audience, already standing for the Cuban national anthem, applauds.

The Minnesota Orchestra perform The Star Spangled Banner

A view from the strings section.

Tubaist Steven Campbell.

Trumpet player Manny Laureano.

The woodwinds section of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Osmo Vänskä viewed from behind the harps.

Osmo Vänksä

The audience rises to their feet for the first of several ovations.

Osmo Vänskä reacts to the audience's applause.

The Minnesota Orchestra bows as the audience gives them another standing ovation.

Post-concert at Café Habana

Musicians Kate Nettleman and Manny Laureano talk on the way to Habana Cafe.

Walking up the stairs at Habana Cafe.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians arrive at Habana Cafe.

Osmo Vänskä joined a jazz ensemble, playing his clarinet.

Osmo Vänskä playing clarinet on stage at Habana Cafe

Osmo Vänskä performs with a Cuban jazz ensemble. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

The Habana Cafe.

Dancers on stage

The trip home

Minnesota Orchestra board the Delta charter back to Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Family and fans await the return of the Minnesota Orchestra and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The musicians arrive through customs.

A warm welcome from fans at MSP.

Complete coverage can be found at

Photos: Minnesota Orchestra takes flight to Havana, Cuba

The Minnesota Orchestra's departure to Havana Cuba. Minneapolis Saint Paul Airport. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The members of the Minnesota Orchestra — and our friends in the media — got an early start for the Minnesota Orchestra’s landmark trip to Cuba today. After months of preparation, the musicians enjoyed a champagne toast aboard the plane before touching down and getting their first glimpse of Havana.

Classical Minnesota Public Radio will broadcast two distinct, live historic performances by Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra from Havana, Cuba, on May 15 and 16 at 7 p.m. CDT both nights. (Details)

Channel  45 TV reporting on MN Orchestra's departure to Havana, Cuba from the Minneapolis Saint Paul Airport. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The Minnesota Orchestra's departure to Havana Cuba. Minneapolis Saint Paul Airport. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Waiting to board the chartered flight to Havana Cuba. Minneapolis Saint Paul Airport. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

The Minnesota Orchestra's flight was a direct charter to Havana, Cuba. May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

On board the Minnesota Orchestra's chartered flight to Havana Cuba.  May 13th, 2015. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

A champagne toast. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Orchestra president Kevin Smith (left), guests of the orchestra and musicians enjoy a champagne toast en route to Havana. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Orchestra musicians celebrate months of preparation with a champagne toast. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Orchestra president Kevin Smith and Classical Movements tour company director Johan van Zyl. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Music Director Osmo Vanska settling down for the flight to Havana Cuba.  MPR photo by Nate Ryan

View from the sky. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Landing in Havana. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Deplaning. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Minnesota Orchestra on the ground in Havana, Cuba. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Osmo Vanska, Erin Keefe and the Minnesota Orchestra pose for a photo on the tarmac. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Airport arrivals. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

José Martí International Airport. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Boarding the bus to the hotel. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Motorcycles at the airport exit. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Classic cars in Cuba. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Cars in Cuba. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Music Director Osmo Vanska and MPR's Brian Newhouse. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Che Guevara sculpture on building edifice. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Cuban flag. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Classic cars are everywhere. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Streets of Havana. MPR photo by Nate Ryan

Osmo Vänskä: Man of a thousand faces, thanks to a new mosaic

Osmo Vanska mosaic

On Feb. 20, Orchestrate Excellence plans to unveil a 12-foot mosaic in which head shots of over 1,300 Minnesota Orchestra musicians, board, staff, and audience members combine to form an image of Osmo Vänskä conducting. The mural is meant to celebrate “the Minnesota Orchestra and its whole connected community.”

The unveiling will take place during intermission at one of the orchestra’s Shakespeare Winterfest concerts, featuring selections from Sibelius’s The Tempest with narration by Guthrie Theater artistic director Joe Dowling.

The previous night, Feb. 19, will be the first in a new “Symphony, Suds and Cider” performances at Sociable Ciderwerks, with a brass quintet performing “flights” of musical selections. The program will be repeated on Feb. 26. Read more about this program, intended “to entice microbrewery patrons to attend an orchestra concert at Orchestra Hall,” at

Vanska and Keefe announce engagement

Erin Keefe and Osmo Vänskä (photos by Lisa Marie Mazzucco and Eric Moore)

Heartwarming news for the holidays from two members of the Minnesota Orchestra: According to their personal Facebook accounts, Music Director Osmo Vänskä and Concertmaster Erin Keefe are engaged to be married.

We look forward to hearing more beautiful music from the Minnesota Orchestra in the coming year. Our next Minnesota Orchestra broadcast is Friday, Jan. 16, at 8 p.m., when Vänskä conducts a Future Classics concert.

Osmo Vanska to be a welcome guest in Reykjavik

Osmo Vänskä (photo by Kaapo Kamu)

We’re not sure if Osmo Vänskä is a member of the Icelandair frequent flyer club, but he may soon be.

This week, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra announced it had appointed Vänskä its principal guest conductor starting in the 2014 – 15 season.

Founded in 1950, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra consists of 90 full-time members and gives approximately 60 concerts each season, a number that includes its concerts at home in Reykjavik as well as its international tour dates. The music director and chief conductor of Iceland Symphony Orchestra is Ilan Volkov.

According to Vänskä’s management agency HarrisonParrott, Osmo is no stranger to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra; he was its chief conductor from 1993 to 1996, and he conducted its Carnegie Hall debut in 1996. Vänskä has made annual guest-conductor appearances with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra since 2010.

Vänskä’s first appearance in Iceland under his new title is scheduled for February 2015, in a concert featuring music by Bruckner and Sibelius.

Beloved as he is in Minnesota, Osmo Vanska still needs a job

It’s fair to infer Osmo Vänskä is earning plenty of frequent-flyer points.

In January alone, the former music director of the Minnesota Orchestra conducted the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv, and the Orchestra National de Lyon in its eponymous city in France. A little more than a week ago, Vänskä was in Amsterdam to conduct the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. And this week, as the Washington Post‘s Anne Midgette reports, Vänskä is in Washington, D.C., to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra.

Osmo Vänskä has been seeing his fair share of airports lately (MPR file photo/Minnesota Orchestra)

Freelancing has its benefits. “There is a temptation to think about doing only guest conducting, because you don’t need to take all the headaches that the music director has to,” Vänskä told Midgette.

But there was a suggestion the man would prefer a full-time job. “I have always had an orchestra,” Vänskä said to Midgette, “let’s call it my own orchestra, since ’85.”

In Midgette’s article, Minnesota Orchestra Principal Trombonist Doug Wright describes Vänskä as “a good fit” and says life would be “easier and better all around” if Vänskä did return to his former post in Minneapolis. But Wright acknowledges, “Obviously, if he doesn’t come back, we will go find a new music director.”

Add to this speculation the recent news reported in The Guardian that the Royal Concertgebouw’s current director, Mariss Jansons, announced he will resign his position as chief conductor of that orchestra after its 2014-15 season.

Could the prestige of the Royal Concertgebouw, the excellent quality of life in the Netherlands, and the shorter trip back to his native Finland be enticements to Vänskä?

“It’s obvious that I am still living with many question marks,” Vänskä told the Washington Post‘s Midgette. “I need to get more answers to those questions. When I get those answers, then it’s time to make decisions.”

Osmo Fever gets its own clothing line

Osmo Vanska tshirt.jpg

With Michael Henson’s departure from the Minnesota Orchestra confirmed and Osmo Vänskä slated to return to Orchestra Hall for a series of concerts this weekend, music fans who have been clamoring for the return of Vänskä as the orchestra’s artistic director — or at least his return in some long-term capacity — are at a fever pitch of excitement, hoping that Vänskä’s return to the orchestra might be announced as soon as this week. In the meantime, many are looking to make their voices heard loud and clear: they want Osmo back.

Now, Vänskä fans can wear that message as well. An entity calling itself “MN Arts” is promoting t-shirts and sweatshirts reading “Bring Back Osmo!” and (in a reference to Vänskä’s country of origin) “Finnish it!” The shirts are being advertised via sponsored posts on Facebook.

I wrote to MN Arts on Facebook, asking who was behind the organization, and received this reply from the group’s Chip Martin. “We’re some parents and students seeing if we can raise some funds for MN Arts. Our kids have been heavily involved with [Minnesota Youth Symphony], the MN Boychoir, and lots of dance programs in the past. For our efforts to bring back Mr. Vänskä, at the request of my daughter who is a violist at Luther College now, we plan to contribute to [Save Our Symphony Minnesota] as we know they are active with the effort to bring back Mr. Vänskä.”

Clarifying that the group is independent of both Save Our Symphony and the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, Martin continues, “As this is our first crowd-funding effort, we do not have any history but intend to have an ‘open book’ policy for those interested. We are not a non-profit, nor are we an organization. Just trying to raise some funds for MN Arts. If successful with this initial campaign, we plan to do more in the future with various arts.”

The shirts are being sold through Teespring, a company that only puts shirts into production if a minimum number of orders are met. If at least 20 orders are placed for any of these designs, then no matter what happens between Vänskä and his once-and-perhaps-future employer, some local music fans will become owners of a poignant, wearable souvenir of this tumultuous season.

Does Osmo Vänskä have a sense of humor? Was Sibelius Finnish?

Finally, Osmo Vänskä has broken his silence and given a full, on-the-record interview about his relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra. Of course, he didn’t answer every single question the interviewer had: Vänskä declined to comment when asked, quite explicitly, whether returning to serve as a guest conductor with the orchestra would be like sex with an ex.

Vänskä’s interlocutor, in a video interview just published on YouTube, is Nick Cannellakis, a cellist who satirically “interviews” the likes of Leon Fleisher; the Emerson String Quartet; and David Finckel and Wu Han.

In his interview with Vänskä, Cannellakis ascertains whether “Osmo” is short for anything (it’s not) and confirms that Sibelius wasn’t actually Norwegian.

Vänskä: “Don’t try to tell me that he wasn’t Finnish.”

Cannellakis: “He wasn’t finished with what?”