He started his musical career as an orchestral clarinetist with the Turku Philharmonic (1971–76). He then became the principal clarinet of the Helsinki Philharmonic from 1977 to 1982. During this time, he started to study conducting with Jorma Panula at the Sibelius Academy, where his classmates included Esa-Pekka Salonen and Jukka-Pekka Saraste. In 1982, he won the Besançon Young Conductor's Competition.
Vänskä became principal guest conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in 1985, and chief conductor in 1988. He concluded his tenure with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in 2008 and is now the orchestra's Conductor Laureate. His complete set of Sibelius symphonies with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, also on the BIS label, has garnered widespread acclaim. He has recorded extensively with his Lahti orchestra for the BIS label, including music of Kalevi Aho, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Bernhard Crusell, Uuno Klami, Tauno Marttinen, Robert Kajanus, Sofia Gubaidulina, Joonas Kokkonen, Jan Sandström, Jean Sibelius, and Fredrik Pacius.
Vänskä was chief conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra from 1993–1996. In 1996, he was appointed chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBCSSO), and served in that capacity until 2002. With the BBCSSO, he made recordings of the complete Carl Nielsen symphonies for the BIS label.
In 2003, he became the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra. Vänskä and the orchestra have received critical praise, and he is generally regarded as having enhanced the quality of the orchestra. In 2004, Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra began a five-year project to record the complete Beethoven symphonies on the BIS label. In 2005, Vänskä signed a contract extension with the Minnesota Orchestra through at least 2011. In September 2009, the orchestra announced the extension of Vänskä's contract through the 2014–2015 season. He announced his resignation on October 1, 2013, one year after management locked out the musicians in a longstanding labor dispute.
In May 2008, an orchestral piece composed by Vänskä titled "The Bridge" was premiered by the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, led by William Schrickel, assistant-principal bassist of the Minnesota Orchestra. Vänskä himself attended the world premiere.
In January 2014 Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra won a Grammy for best orchestral performance for the album of Sibelius' Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4.
Vänskä and his wife Pirkko, a freelance drama critic, have three grown children, one of whom, Olli, plays violin in the Finnish folk metal band Turisas. On 20 March 2009, the couple announced that they were filing for divorce. He maintains a residence in Minneapolis. In private life, one of his hobbies is riding motorcycles.
- David Patrick Stearns, "Making His Mark: Osmo Vänskä". andante.com (overall site now defunct), February 2004.
- Andrew Clements (15 April 2005). "'For my next trick...'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2007-01-28.
- Jay Nordlinger (15 February 2007). "A Glorious Dawn, in Sound & Spirit". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2007-02-24.
- James R. Oestreich (17 December 2006). "A Most Audacious Dare Reverberates". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-24.
- "Music Director Osmo Vänskä Extends Contract With Minnesota Orchestra" (Press release). Minnesota Orchestra. 24 September 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-29.
- Kerr, Euan, Conductor Vanska resigns from Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Public Radio (October 1, 2013)
- Jon Bream (24 January 2014). "Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä score a Grammy". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2014-01-27.
- Graydon Royce (20 March 2009). "Vanska, wife to end 35-year marriage". Star-Tribune (Minneapolis).
- Alex Ross (14 February 2005). "Osmosis". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
- Michael Anthony: Osmo Vänskä: Orchestra Builder. Kirk House Publishers. ISBN 978-1-933794-20-4
- Osmo Vänskä at thisisFINLAND
- Osmo Vänskä at Hyperion Records
- Osmo Vänskä at Minnesota Orchestra
- Anthony Tommasini, "Surprising And Bold, Even if Not In the Club". New York Times, 11 February 2004 (review of Carnegie Hall concert)
- Interview with Osmo Vanska from InDigest Magazine.
|Chief Conductor, Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Jukka-Pekka Saraste (artistic advisor)
|Chief Conductor, Iceland Symphony Orchestra
|Chief Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra