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Thomas Søndergård chosen as Minnesota Orchestra’s next music director

The Minnesota Orchestra announced the appointment of Thomas Søndergård as its next music director.

Courtesy of Martin Bubandt

The Minnesota Orchestra Thursday named Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård as its 11th music director.

Søndergård, 52, currently leads the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and in recent years has guest conducted acclaimed performances by many of the great European and US orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Gewandhaus Orchestra, Houston Symphony, London Philharmonic and symphonies of London , Montreal and Toronto.

Søndergård has made three recent appearances with the Minnesota Orchestra including one in April this year, and members of the search committee say they were impressed with both his approach to the music and the immediate connection he made with the musicians.

In an interview with MPR News Søndergård said he felt that bond, too.

“The immediate love that I felt from the Orchestra was so wonderful, so I thought this is a great starting point. It really was like I was reaching out my hand and it was met with a warm welcome from their side,” he said.

A conductor stands in front of an orchestra.

The Minnesota Orchestra announced the appointment of Thomas Søndergård as its next music director. He performed with the Orchestra most recently in April 2022

Courtesy of Greg Helgeson

In a statement Orchestra President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns said “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.”

Søndergård said he wants to build audiences through a mixture of the great music of the past and great new music which will appeal to broader audiences, including people of color.

“Lets make sure classical music speaks to everybody,” he said. “And it can only speak to everybody if they are included in what we are doing.”

Musicians search committee member and principal trombone Doug Wright said the musicians were excited by Søndergård’s approach to the music during a recent performance of Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben”

“We connected with his conducting style,” Wright said in a statement. “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.”

Søndergård succeeds Osmo Vanska who served as music director for almost 20 years before stepping down aft the end of the 2021-22 season. Vanska is credited with molding the ensemble into one of the top orchestras in the world.

The Music Director Designate told MPR News that Vänskä had reached out to him and offered his help in the transition.

“A more beautiful and respectful handover I cannot imagine than the one he has done” said Søndergård.

On Thursday, Søndergård also spoke with Tom Crann of All Things Considered about stepping into his new role. Søndergård said he would like to continue the work of previous director, Osmo Vänskä, who he deeply admires.

“I have no doubt that this could be possible because the immediate love that I felt from the orchestra was so wonderful,” he said.

Søndergård, 52 years old, says he feels like his experience has shown that the more people involved in the process, the better it is, the audience included. And while classical music is seen as less inclusive than other genres, he is hoping to further create an orchestra that speaks to all Minnesotans.

“I want our audience to hear music that puts them on the edge and makes them excited about what we are doing,” Søndergård said. “I want to make sure classical music speaks to everybody and it can only speak to everybody if they have a feeling that everybody is included in what we are doing.”

As Music Director Designate, Søndergård will appear with the Orchestra three times in the coming season, and then will assume the full role of music director in September 2023, when he begins a five year contract.


What follows is a transcript of Søndergård’s conversation with MPR News host Tom Crann. It has been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the conversation, click the audio player above.

What are your thoughts on how you see the role and what you see the role of the Minnesota Orchestra is in this time and place?

I would love if we can continue the great work that the organization with Osmo as the music director over so many beautiful years, if we can continue that beautiful work. And I’m in no doubt that this could be possible because the immediate love that I felt from the Orchestra was so wonderful. So I thought this is a great starting point. It really was like I was reaching out my hand and it was met with a warm welcome from their side.

Osmo Vänskä said that the collaborative model here in Minnesota is often referred to as the Minnesota model, that the musicians are very much a part of the future. Do you see that Minnesota model? How do you see it working?

It couldn’t fit better, really to my way of thinking. I’m 52 years old now and the experience I have so far is that the best result you get is if you involve as many people in the process as possible. So when I say that, I want our audience to hear music from an example that is on their edge and excited about what we’re doing. That needs to be that we together. The ensemble, the organization and I find a repertoire that we know will be exciting for our audience.

A lot of people look at classical music and say that it’s not necessarily inclusive enough, that it doesn’t represent people of color, younger, more diverse audiences. So what’s your message to those people?

It really is. I can only agree. Let’s really get away from all the traditional way of looking at this art form. Let’s make sure that classical music speaks to everybody. And it can only speak to everybody if they have a feeling that everybody is included in what we’re doing.

To underline the Orchestra’s commitment to diversity that you said is along the lines of yours as well, what will we see? What will we hear? How will we know what will be the evidence of that in the future coming seasons?

We’ll keep making sure we’re on top of that. But I don’t see any ensemble in the world being that aware of this, than this place?

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