Osmo Vänskä
Osmo Vänskä conducting the Minnesota Orchestra on the pathbreaking tour of Cuba | Courtesy of Minnesota Orchestra

Osmo Vänskä has already conducted 300 concerts of Sibelius’s music with his Minnesota Orchestra, and now he is once again featuring works of the Finnish master on his 19th and final season. Some of it will be streamed free.

While he continues to lead the Seoul Philharmonic and guest conduct orchestras around the world, Vänskä’s tenure with the Minnesota Orchestra comes to a close at the end of the 2021–2022 season. The orchestra will celebrate his lasting impact in a number of ways, including performances of Sibelius symphonies and other signature repertory, reconnections with favorite guest soloists, and the continuation of a project to perform and record all ten Mahler symphonies.

In 2014, during the Minnesota Orchestra’s 15-month long lockout, Vänskä took the musicians’ side and resigned as music director in sympathy with them when the labor dispute seemed unsolvable.

Minnesota Orchestra Hall
Home of the Minnesota Orchestra | Credit: Courtney Perry

The Sunday Times’ Hugh Canning, in a review of the final disc in Vänskä’s three-album Sibelius cycle, recorded with the Minnesota Orchestra, writes, “With these recordings, Vänskä confirms his status as our greatest living Sibelian. Irreplaceable.”

Alongside a full slate of concerts for in-person audiences — pandemic permitting — in Orchestra Hall, Vänskä and the orchestra will continue This Is Minnesota Orchestra, an Emmy Award-nominated series of performances for television, radio and online audiences launched during the 2020-21 season that was reimagined as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Erin Keefe  and Osmo Vänskä
Conductor-composer-computer maven (on Sibelius, of course) Osmo Vänskä is also a clarinetist, often performing with his wife, Minnesota Orchestra concertmaster Erin Keefe | Credit: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Vänskä has led the orchestra on five major European tours, as well as a 2018 visit to London’s BBC Proms, and on historic tours to Cuba in 2015 and South Africa in 2018. The Cuba tour was the first by an American orchestra since the thaw in Cuban-American diplomatic relations, while the five-city South Africa tour — part of a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centennial — was the first-ever visit to the country by a professional U.S. orchestra.

Vänskä led concerts with the SF Symphony beginning in 2002 and continuing into recent years, including 2014 and 2017. He has also led the Minnesota Orchestra in appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Chicago’s Symphony Center, and community venues across Minnesota.

Elina Vähälä
Elina Vähälä is soloist in two versions of the Sibelius Violin Concerto | Courtesy of Elina Vähälä

Here are some of the highlights of the upcoming season in Orchestra Hall. Concerts begin at 8 p.m. Central Time (6 p.m. PT), unless otherwise noted.

  • Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve concert, still available to stream, Sibelius Symphonies No. 7 and No. 2, and Humoresques, violinist Stella Chen, soloist. (Move the video progress bar on the bottom to 28:00 where the concert begins.)
  • Jan. 7–8: Sibelius Symphonies No. 1 and No. 6, and the original version of his violin concerto, with Elina Vähälä, soloist (In a preconcert performance, at 7 p.m. Central, pianist Ruusamari Teppo, the great-great-granddaughter of Jean Sibelius, will play the composer’s solo piano pieces)
  • Jan. 13 (11 a.m.) and 14: Sibelius Symphonies No. 3 and No. 4, and the revised version of the Violin Concerto, with Elina Vähälä, soloist
  • Feb. 5: Lunar New Year concert, streamed, with Junping Qian, conductor; Gao Hong, pipa; Zhengang Xie, jing hu master; Mei Hu, yue qin master; Fei Xie, artistic consultant. The program includes:
    • Tan — Internet Symphony Eroica
    • Traditional/Kim — Shin Arirang
    • Chen/He — The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto
    • Son/J. Kuusisto — Circle of Unity
    • Wu — In the Dark Night
    • Tang — Sketches of Singapore
    • Gao — Reminiscences of My Hometown
    • Li — Spring Festival Overture
    • March 17 (11 a.m.), 18–19: Mahler's Symphony No. 9
  • May 6: Musicmakers — A concert featuring works by seven emerging composers, Kevin Puts, Composer Institute director, streamed. The program includes:
    • Henry L. Dorn — Transitions
    • Adeliia Faizullina — Bolghar
    • Bobby Ge — Remember to Have Fun
    • Molly Joyce — Over and Under
    • Yan Lindveit — Close Up at a Distance
    • Nina Shekhar — Lumina
    • Sam Wu — Wind Map
  • June 3: Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings, with Erin Keefe and Juho Pohjonen, soloists; J. Kuusisto Symphony, world premiere, streamed