The Minnesota Orchestra today named Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård as its 11th music director.
Søndergård, 52, leads the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and in recent years has guest-conducted acclaimed performances by many of the great European and U.S. 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. Members of the search committee say they were impressed with 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,” he said. “It was really like I was reaching out my hand, and it was met with a warm welcome from their side."
The orchestra’s 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 that will appeal to broader audiences, including people of color.
"Let’s 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."
Principal trombone Doug Wright, who served on the musicians’ search committee, 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, which showed a generosity of spirit that was very much about ‘us’ and what we can do together,” Wright said. “This partnership feels like an exciting new trajectory to build on the accomplishments of the orchestra over the last two decades.”
Søndergård succeeds Osmo Vänskä, who served as music director for almost 20 years before stepping down at the end of the 2021-22 season. Vänskä is credited with molding the ensemble into one of the top orchestras in the world.
Søndergård 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,” Søndergård said.
As music director designate, Søndergård will appear with the orchestra three times in the coming season. He then will assume the full role of music director in September 2023, when he begins a five-year contract.
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