Thomas Søndergård Takes Over The Minnesota Orchestra

Thomas Søndergård. Photo by Chris McDuffie
Thomas Søndergård. Photo by Chris McDuffie

Thomas Søndergård has recently been announced as the Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra for the 2023-24 season. If his name sounds familiar, it is likely because Søndergård had a marvelous run as music director designate at the Minnesota Orchestra last season and he has built an impressive career as a conductor prior to his time here in the Twin Cities.

The upcoming season promises to be a delightful continuation of the strong artistic relationship between Søndergård and the Minnesota Orchestra. We here at Lavender wanted to provide our readers will a brief overview of Søndergård, his relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra, and the 2023-24 season.

Søndergård grew up in a small Danish town that is known for being friendly to the arts. This upbringing allowed him the opportunity to discover his passion for music as a child, but he was also forced to grapple with his sexual orientation when he was still quite young. “I grew up in a smaller city and I knew early on that I was gay,” Søndergård explains, “It was not that easy for me when I was younger.”

Even in musical spaces, Søndergård struggled with his identity. He fought against the perception that sections of the orchestra with “macho” reputations were off-limits (both to himself and his female peers) and watched his fellow youth orchestra members develop thrilling romances while on tour, disappointed by the feeling that this was off-limits to him. Ultimately, he did find love (he recently married his longtime partner, Andreas Landin) and success in his music career, but better representation and more inclusive environments in his youth would have gone a long way.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Søndergård now strives for inclusivity in his artistic spaces. “We need to make sure we include everybody in our work as musicians,“ he says, “It’s a joy to see how far [classical music spaces have] come in the last ten years.”

This shared value of inclusivity is one of the many reasons that Søndergård and the Minnesota Orchestra are such a good fit. “The whole team is so blooming and so inclusive and so welcoming,” says Søndergård, “It’s just the most perfect place to create art.” This inclusivity can be seen in the choices the orchestra makes in conductors, musicians, composers, and more, and is part of why the 2023-24 season is so exciting.

Photo by Chris McDuffie

The Minnesota Orchestra is a fulfilling place for Søndergård. “The people working in the house…feel so attached to the whole organization and I’m very proud to be a part of that. I can feel it when I’m there that the way that the audience supports their orchestra, their concert hall, is really unique. And I don’t just say that. I’ve only experienced that in one other place in the world.”

Søndergård built a strong relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra in the 2022-23 season, in large part due to his collaborative leadership style. “A conductor needs to see the musicians’ potential and…awaken that,” he explains. Although he concedes that one aspect of being in an orchestra means being part of a whole and therefore losing some creative freedom, he also argues that “it doesn’t have to be black and white in that sense. You can actually make the musicians feel or understand that they contribute to something unique and you’re not just a number of many numbers,” he continues, “you need to find a creativity in each of the musicians and see their sparkle.”

This is easy to do with an orchestra like the Minnesota Orchestra. “When I met [the Minnesota Orchestra] for the first time I was just blown away by their focus, their skills, their capability of working across the ensemble. The sheer energy and the sound from this orchestra is so…gathered,” Søndergård stops himself, searching for the right English word to replace something ineffably Danish, “it is so settled and beautiful.”

This feeling is very mutual. “It was just great that they felt the same with me,” says Søndergård, “We knew immediately that we could do something very specific together – something very special.”

While Søndergård is working as the Music Director for the Minnesota Orchestra, he and his husband will continue living overseas due to Landin’s career as a baritone singer. “Singers develop their contacts very much around where they live,” Søndergård explains, which makes it more difficult for Landin to uproot himself than it is for Søndergård. Still, he is looking forward to exploring a bit more of Minnesota when he is in town this season.

One of the few places Søndergård did have time to visit last year was George Floyd Square. “That was very important for me also to understand and to see,” he says.  

Søndergård is hopeful that the familiarity he has with some of the scores for this season will afford him more time to explore Minnesota in the 2023-24 season, “What I really want to do is drive longer distances…I get the chance to see so many corners of the world and am limited to a concert hall and a hotel room,” he says, “I am so serious about I’m doing that I often do work quite a lot. I can still find new depths in it.”

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Orchestra

Søndergård is bringing those depths to the 2023-24 Minnesota Orchestra season. This season is intentionally crafted to appeal to everyone, from complete orchestra novices to the most die-hard classical music fans. This broad appeal is indicative of celebrating specific interests and identities rather than operating under the assumption that the more generic choices will fare best.

The Music and Movies series continues (almost always conducted by the incredibly talented Sarah Hicks) with concerts ranging from the kid-friendly Frozen and Home Alone (this one conducted by Jason Seber) to horror movies like Get Out and Werewolf by Night.

There are also sensory-friendly concerts, yoga and mindfulness performances, and a distinctive array of holiday concerts celebrating New Year’s, the Lunar New Year, Juneteenth, and Pride.

Søndergård will be conducting many concerts over the next season and all of them promise to be an absolute pleasure to experience. If you need a little guidance, though, we recommend the following:

  • Thomas’ two festive opening weeks of concerts in the fall will be on:
    • September 21-23 (Søndergård Conducts Strauss and Mozart)
    • September 28-30 (Daphnis and Chloe with the Minnesota Chorale)
  • And his festive Season Finale will be a Pride celebration:
    • June 20-22, 2024 (Celebrating Pride with Thomas Søndergård)

As of this writing tickets are only available as subscription packages, which requires purchasing three or more concerts. Single tickets will be available as of August 4.

As always, tickets can be purchased online or by phone. Contact information below.


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