BREAKING: Minnesota Orchestra President Michael Henson to Step Down on August 31

By Louise Burton on Mar 21, 2014 02:29 PM EDT

The Minnesota Orchestra announced on Thursday evening that controversial President and CEO Michael Henson will step down at the end of the current season, on August 31.

The surprise announcement seemed like an abrupt departure from a recent meeting of the orchestra's board, where sources said the board showed strong support for Henson.

Henson's departure could pave the way for former music director Osmo Vänskä to return, but the orchestra did not address this issue in its announcement.

Vänskä had said that for there to be any healing at the orchestra, he believed Henson would have to leave. Vänskä is scheduled to make another appearance with the orchestra as a guest conductor next week, leading the orchestra in a program of Sibelius symphonies on March 27-29.

Henson said, "It has been my privilege to serve the Minnesota Orchestra for the past seven seasons, working with our talented musicians and artistic leaders, the dedicated Board of Directors, so many donors and concertgoers and, not least, our exceptional staff. It has always been my aim to do what is right for the organization, however great the challenges, and I'm proud of our accomplishments."

He added, "The right thing now is for me to work to ensure continuity during this transition to the next phase in the life of the Minnesota Orchestra, which I believe will be very bright."

During Henson's tenure with the orchestra, he oversaw the $50 million renovation of Orchestra Hall and spearheaded a total of $110 million in fundraising.

Henson also believed it was necessary to ask the orchestra's musicians to accept a substantial pay cut, which led to a grueling 16-month lockout when they refused to accept the reduction in pay.

Throughout the bitter contract dispute, Henson and the board were the target of much criticism from the press, musicians and people in the community for their handling of the situation.

The lockout was the longest in U.S. orchestral history, and finally ended after musicians agreed to a more modest pay cut.

Board chairman Gordon Sprenger said, "Michael has always supported the Orchestra's artistic mission, and when the Board asked him to address the serious financial challenges of the organization, he faced this issue directly, re-organizing administrative staff and helping to deliver a musicians' contract agreement that was difficult but necessary."

Sprenger also said that Henson "leaves the Minnesota Orchestra secure, on more solid financial footing."

Blois Olson, the musicians' spokesman, said in a statment: "In light of today's announcement, we look forward to working with our board and future management to move the Minnesota Orchestra forward."

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TagsMichael Henson, Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, Gordon Sprenger, Blois Olson

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