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Dissension at Minnesota Orchestra over new president
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Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä played a significant role in the selection process for a new president. One board member has resigned, implying Vänskä used his position to sway the search committee's recommendation. (Photo by Ann Marsden, courtesy of Minnesota Orchestra)
A significant board member and supporter of the Minnesota Orchestra Association has resigned over the search process for its new president. This week the orchestra announced it has chosen Tony Woodcock to replace outgoing president David Hyslop. The new music director, Osmo Vänskä, appears to have played a controversial role in the selection process.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Gene Sit is chairman and chief investment officer of Sit Investment Associates. He has served on the board of the Minnesota Orchestra for more than 10 years, and has been the board's vice-president for the past three. But with only months left before he was to assume the role of board chair, he resigned.

Sit says he was compelled to leave because of the actions of some members of the committee searching for a new president. He says their actions undercut the authority of the board.

"Certain people's behavior, in my view, undermined the whole process, the governance process -- that's all I want to say," said Sit.

When asked if 'certain people' included the new music director, Osmo Vänskä, Sit replied, "You're on the right track."

Vänskä is about to launch his first season with the Minnesota Orchestra. Gene Sit headed the search committee for the new president, and Vänskä also served on the committee.

"I think we have one of the greatest orchestras, and I have the utmost respect for Osmo's artistic excellence. But there's the other side in terms of the financial integrity and the future of this organization, and selecting the president to me was/is a critical element of it," says Sit. "Certain steps were taken to compromise that, and I think we're jeopardizing our future -- and that's why I resigned."

Sit does not say what exactly those steps were, but it's implied Vänskä used his position to sway the search committee's recommendation. Sit resigned before the final vote to approve new president Tony Woodcock.

Current board chair Doug Leatherdale, who also served on the search committee for the new president, has an altogether different view.

"We had said at the very beginning of the process that although there was an internal candidate, that this would be an open process, that we would look across the world and we'd select the best candidate that was available," said Leatherdale. "I feel very strongly that that's what we did, and when we took this recommendation to the board last week it was overwhelmingly endorsed."

Leatherdale says fewer than half a dozen board members out of 70 opposed the recommendation. He does admit, however, that Music Director Osmo Vänskä's opinions played a significant role in the selection process.

"Osmo had views and he expressed them at the appropriate time. ... It would be impossible to have a president and a music director who were at loggerheads with each other in an organization like that. It would make absolutely no sense, so it was important that Osmo concurred whoever was selected," said Leatherdale.

While resigning board member Gene Sit has problems with how the selection was made, he does not argue with the qualifications of new president Tony Woodcock. Woodcock will take his place at the helm of the Minnesota Orchestra Oct. 6.

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