MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA (JULY 28, 2022)—The Minnesota Orchestra announced today that Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård will succeed Osmo Vänskä to become the 11th music director to lead the Orchestra in its 120-year history. Described as a conductor whose “flawless feel for the music’s shape and drama galvanized musicians to give of their very best” (The Times, London), Søndergård will initially serve as music director designate in the 2022-23 season before beginning his new role in Minnesota in September 2023. Under the terms of a five-year contract beginning in the 2023-24 season, Søndergård will lead the Orchestra in at least 12 weeks of concerts and activities a year.
“Our Search Committee sat up and took notice of the captivating concerts that Thomas Søndergård conducted with the Minnesota Orchestra last December, and his return performance this spring proved similarly electric,” said Board Chair Joseph T. Green. “Here was a conductor of the highest caliber who invited the musicians to make music with him, and the result was thrilling. We believe he will be a powerful advocate for our music and musicians in the years ahead. His humanity, artistry and collaborative approach are a great match for the Orchestra and our community.”
“My impression of the Minnesota Orchestra is that it is an ensemble with tremendous heart,” said Thomas Søndergård. “After my first rehearsal in Minnesota I remember thinking that it was one of the best experiences that I have ever had in a first meeting with an orchestra. There is a warmth, an openness and a cooperative spirit among the musicians that fits very well into the way that I like to make music. This is an organization with a long and wonderful history, and I’m honored to now be part of its future. I look forward to deepening my relationship with the broader community. My mind is full of possibilities for where we’ll start and what we’ll do together—I cannot wait to begin.”
Søndergård has led major European and North American orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Gewandhaus Orchestra, Houston Symphony, London Philharmonic and symphonies of London, Montreal, and Toronto. He was appointed music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) in 2018 after six seasons as its principal guest conductor and will continue this role alongside his Minnesota appointment. Prior to joining the RSNO, he served as principal conductor and musical advisor to the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and then as principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW). In 2005 he led the Royal Danish Opera in the premiere of Poul Ruders’ Kafka’s Trial to wide acclaim and subsequently returned many times to the Royal Danish Opera to lead works by Rossini, Mozart, Puccini, and Janáček. Søndergård began his music career as a timpanist, joining the Royal Danish Orchestra after graduating from the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
“We were deeply impressed by the connections Thomas has made and the commitment he has shown to the orchestras that he has previously led,” said President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns. “He understands the many dimensions of being a music director, including the need to curate imaginative seasons for wide audiences, to bring out the best in musicians and to galvanize the community with an artistic vision. He showed really keen interest in Minnesota and the ways in which we are broadening our programming to include more diversity in composers, creators and artists. His approach is a good fit for our collaborative leadership model. He has the qualities of a great musical leader.”
Earning a reputation for incisive interpretations of orchestral works by composers from his native Denmark, Søndergård has also demonstrated a great versatility in a broad range of repertoire, including music by Thomas Adès, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Wynton Marsalis, Maurice Ravel, Dmitri Shostakovich, and others. He has recorded for multiple labels, including Linn Records, EMI and Dacapo, with albums featuring the music of Sergei Prokofiev, Poul Ruders, Jean Sibelius, and Richard Strauss, among others.
“Thomas has a very warm, magnanimous presence on the podium that brings the musicians together and gives the Orchestra license to make music with a lot of joy,” said Concertmaster Erin Keefe. “He is a leader who has a vision for what music can accomplish on a global scale and fundamentally understands the importance of investing in our home community, connecting with audiences and committing himself to taking care of the whole organization.”
He next conducts the Minnesota Orchestra in three performances, October 20-22, 2022, with a program that includes Lili Boulanger’s Of a Spring Morning and two ballet scores: Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The performance on Friday, October 21, will be livestreamed on the Orchestra’s website and social media channels.
Søndergård first led the Minnesota Orchestra in December 2021 performances that included Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade for Orchestra, Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 featuring guest soloist Ingrid Fliter. He returned in April 2022 to conduct Debussy’s La Mer and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements.
“It was the best performance of Ein Heldenleben that I’ve ever been part of,” said Principal Trombone R. Douglas Wright, a musician representative on the Search Committee, of those December concerts. “His interpretation was exciting, and he trusted the musicians to do our job in a way that gave us great freedom. We connected with his conducting style—which showed a generosity of spirit that was very much about ‘us’ and what we can do together. This partnership feels like an exciting new trajectory to build on the accomplishments of the Orchestra over the last two decades.”
Said Board of Directors member Doug Baker, who chaired the 16-member Search Committee, “Our global search process was rigorous, thorough, and inclusive. We are thrilled to have identified a musical visionary of the highest international standards who has both the conducting and human skills to lead the Minnesota Orchestra in realizing our next big musical dreams.”
Thomas Søndergård will be introduced to Minnesota Orchestra supporters in an event that will be livestreamed on Facebook and the Orchestra’s YouTube channel on Friday, July 29, at 10:30 a.m. Central.
About Thomas Søndergård
Born in Holstebro, Denmark, in 1969, Thomas Søndergård studied percussion under Gert Mortensen at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen from 1989 to 1992. During those student years, Søndergård served as percussionist in the London-based European Union Youth Orchestra, a training ensemble that regularly tours Europe. In 1992, he joined the Royal Danish Orchestra as timpanist and began studying conducting with Yves Abel, Alexander Polianichko, and Graham Bond.
Following a brief engagement on the faculty of the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Søndergård made his debut in 2005 with the Royal Danish Opera. Leading a newly commissioned work—Poul Ruders’ Kafka’s Trial—that was among the first productions mounted in the then-new home of the Opera, Søndergård was launched into the international spotlight. (“The orchestra played brilliantly for the dynamic conductor Thomas Søndergård,” declared The New York Times.) A recording was subsequently issued to high praise on the Dacapo label in 2006. (“The performances conducted by Thomas Søndergård seem as impressive on disc as they were in the opera house,” said The Guardian.) Søndergård has since returned many times to conduct the Royal Danish Opera and has also enjoyed collaborations with the Norwegian Opera and Royal Swedish Opera, which led to his debut with the Bavarian State Opera. He made his Deutsche Oper Berlin debut in 2017 with the world premiere of Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini’s Edward II and has since returned for Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet.
In 2009, Søndergård became the principal conductor and musical adviser of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (through 2012), and he captured an additional conducting post when he was named principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW, serving 2012-2018). In 2018 he became music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), following six seasons as that orchestra’s principal guest conductor. Over his tenure, he has led the ensemble on tours across Europe, China and the U.S., and conducted numerous premieres of new works and commissions. This September he’ll lead Nicola Benedetti and the RSNO in the BBC Proms premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, alongside works by Britten, Bernstein, and Thomas Adès. He will hold his RSNO post concurrently with his position in Minnesota.
Søndergård has appeared with notable orchestras in leading European centers, such as Berlin (including the Berlin Philharmonic), Leipzig (Gewandhaus Orchestra), Paris (Orchestre National de France), London (London Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, London Symphony, and Philharmonia Orchestra), Amsterdam and Rotterdam (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, and Rotterdam Philharmonic), and he is a familiar figure in Scandinavia. His North American appearances to date have included the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Montreal, Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver.
His discography covers a broad range of contemporary and mainstream repertoire, including Vilde Frang’s debut recording of violin concertos by Sibelius and Prokofiev with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne (on EMI); numerous works by Poul Ruders for Dacapo and Bridge Records; the Lutosławski and Dutilleux concertos with cellist Johannes Moser and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (on Pentatone); Sibelius symphonies and tone poems with BBC NOW (for Linn Records); and works by Prokofiev and Richard Strauss with RSNO (also for Linn Records).
In January 2022, Søndergård was decorated with a Royal Order of Chivalry – the Order of Dannebrog by Her Majesty Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark. His longtime partner is Swedish baritone Andreas Landin, whom he married on July 16, 2022.
About the Minnesota Orchestra
The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra is recognized for distinguished performances in Minneapolis, throughout Minnesota and around the world. In recent decades, the Orchestra has toured to many Minnesota communities; traveled to Cuba, South Africa and Europe; won a 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance; and broadened its reach around the world with a new series of television (Twin Cities PBS) and online broadcasts. It has been heard through live weekly radio broadcasts produced by Minnesota Public Radio for more than 50 years, as well as through its extensive collection of recordings dating back to the 1920s. With numerous commissions and world premieres in its history, the Minnesota Orchestra is committed to the music of our time—and to intentionally building concert programs that feature music by composers who have historically been sidelined due to their race and/or gender. The Orchestra makes its home at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, a modernist venue renowned for its acoustical brilliance.
Under the leadership of ten music directors since 1903—Emil Oberhoffer, Henri Verbrugghen, Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Antal Dorati, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Sir Neville Marriner, Edo de Waart, Eiji Oue, and Osmo Vänskä (who becomes conductor laureate in September)—the ensemble is one of the great American orchestras.
Upcoming Performances with Thomas Søndergård:
Minnesota Orchestra Classical Concerts
SØNDERGÅRD CONDUCTS THE RITE OF SPRING
Thursday, October 20, 2022, 11 a.m. / Orchestra Hall
Friday, October 21, 2022, 8 p.m. / Orchestra Hall *
Saturday, October 22, 2022, 8 p.m. / Orchestra Hall
L. BOULANGER Of a Spring Morning
RAVEL Mother Goose [complete ballet]
STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring
* The Friday evening concert will be livestreamed at minnesotaorchestra.org and on the Orchestra’s social media channels and broadcast live on YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio.