In 2003, Vänskä became the tenth Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra and has since drawn extraordinary reviews for concerts both at home and abroad. Together they have an annual series at New York’s Carnegie Hall and tour regularly both in the US and Europe – including an exceptional pair of concerts at the 2010 BBC Proms. His contract with the Minnesota Orchestra has been extended until 2015.
Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra’s recordings of the complete Beethoven Symphonies on the BIS label have amassed rave reviews - The New York Times hailed the recordings as “the definitive cycle of our time” and the Financial Times called it the “modern Beethoven recording par excellence”, whilst their recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 received a 2008 Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral Performance. Their latest release on BIS features Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, soon to be followed by a cycle of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos with pianist Yevgeny Sudbin. For the Hyperion label they have recently recorded Tchaikovsky’s Complete Piano Concertos with pianist Stephen Hough to critical acclaim.
Vänskä was Music Director of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra from 1988 and now holds the position of Conductor Laureate. During two decades at the helm, Vänskä transformed the regional ensemble into one of Finland’s flagship orchestras. Their partnership received widespread attention through its complete collection of multi-award winning Sibelius recordings (also for BIS) and its international performances at venues in London, Birmingham, Vienna and New York.
Vänskä is internationally in demand as a guest conductor and has worked with many of the world's leading orchestras - including, in the US, the Boston and Chicago Symphonies; The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. In Europe he has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, Münchner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw, Czech Philharmonic and BBC Symphony orchestras. In addition he has developed very regular relationships with several of the most important international ensembles - including in the US the San Francisco, and New World symphonies, The Cleveland Orchestra and Mostly Mozart Festival, New York; in Europe the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig; and in Tokyo the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra.
Vänskä began his music career as a clarinettist. He held the co-principal chair of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (1977-82) and the principal chair of the Turku Philharmonic (1971-76). Following conducting studies under Jorma Panula at Finland’s Sibelius Academy, Vänskä was awarded first prize in the 1982 Besançon International Young Conductor’s Competition. Three years later he began his tenure with the Lahti Symphony as Principal Guest Conductor, while also serving as Music Director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Tapiola Sinfonietta. In addition, Vänskä served as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (1997-2002).
In recent years, Vänskä has enjoyed a return to performing on the clarinet. He made his Twin Cities clarinet performance debut at the Sommerfest in 2005 and has played chamber music with members of the Minnesota Orchestra, and at Napa Valley’s Music in the Vineyards and the Mostly Mozart festivals.
The many honours and distinctions awarded to Vänskä include an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow, a privilege given in recognition of his tenure as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and a Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota’s School of Music in 2008. He was also honoured with a Royal Philharmonic Society Award for his outstanding contribution to classical music. Vänskä was named Musical America Conductor of the Year in 2005 and was honoured by Columbia University with the 2010 Ditson Conductor's Award for the advancement of American music.