The Minnesota Orchestra and Thomas Søndergård today announced plans for Søndergård’s inaugural season as the Orchestra’s music director.
The season opens with two festive weeks of programming in September 2023—the first of which spotlights Principal Oboe Nathan Hughes as soloist—and culminates in June 2024 with a Celebrating Pride program that features works by composers from the LGBTQ+ community, ranging from Dame Ethel Smyth to Benjamin Britten.
Regarding his anticipation in assuming his music director role, Søndergård said, “It is an enormous luxury for me to take over an ensemble that is in such great shape and in such great spirit. It actually feels to me as if it is just about finding the right way to place my arm around the shoulders of this Orchestra, and we will continue the journey that is already so well on its way.”
The season encompasses programming designed for concertgoers of all ages and interests, including Classical, Live at Orchestra Hall, Holiday, Chamber Music, Symphony in 60, Wellness, Young People’s Concerts, Relaxed Family Concerts and Sensory-Friendly Concert offerings. New to audiences this year are “Choose Your Price” tickets for select seating sections during most Saturday Classical concerts, with concertgoers invited to choose a ticket price that reflects what the Orchestra means to them. Additionally, all Saturday evening concerts will have an earlier start time at 7 p.m.; a Saturday matinee series will present select concerts at 2 p.m. and feature post-concert conversations with Thomas Søndergård.
“My colleagues and I on the Artistic Advisory Committee look forward to presenting an upcoming season of engaging and diversified programming,” said Valerie Little, chair of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Artistic Advisory Committee and assistant principal librarian. “This new season brings both old favorites and new pieces to our audiences, with long-cherished pieces like George Frideric Handel’s Messiah and Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations sharing our stage with seldom-heard pieces like Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” and John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony.”
Søndergård’s Inaugural Season
Thomas Søndergård was appointed as the Minnesota Orchestra’s 11th music director in July 2022. The Danish conductor is initially serving as the Orchestra’s music director designate during the 2022-23 season; he will officially begin his tenure during season-opening concerts, taking place across two weeks in September, with a special open-to-the-community Open House taking place on Saturday, September 30.
In his first set of concerts September 21 to 23, Søndergård will lead two epic works by Richard Strauss, Don Juan and “An Alpine Symphony,” and Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s Oboe Concerto featuring the Orchestra’s newest section leader, Principal Oboe Nathan Hughes. “The first time I conducted the Minnesota Orchestra we played Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben” together, and it was an unforgettable connection. I want to pay tribute to that moment in this first concert,” says Søndergård. “This program is also my tribute to the star musicians of this Orchestra. I really value the talent I’m hearing throughout the Orchestra, and I am so happy Nathan will be our soloist for this occasion. This feels to me like the right way to begin.”
Søndergård’s second set of concerts, September 28 to 30, will be an exploration of mythology, romance and imagination. Opening with a 2006 symphonic poem called “Icarus” by Lera Auerbach, the program also presents Samuel Barber’s riveting “Medea’s Dance of Vengeance,” and two seminal French works of the 20th century: Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and Maurice Ravel’s intricate ballet “Daphnis and Chloe,” the latter of which will feature the Minnesota Chorale—Søndergård’s first collaboration with the Orchestra’s principal chorus. “There is a wonderful quality to French music that I am really excited to explore with the Minnesota Orchestra,” he says.
Celebrated by musicians and critics alike for his collaborative approach to music-making, Søndergård will display his chemistry with the Orchestra throughout the season. Concertmaster Erin Keefe will perform Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in concerts that Søndergård conducts in April 2024. Additionally, in November 2023, Keefe will lead a conductorless Orchestra Spotlight program from her concertmaster chair; though not featuring Søndergård, the performances signify his trust in the talents of the Orchestra’s musicians. “Musicians have long educations and loads of ideas about how music-making can be done,” he says. “This concert will present them in a new light.”
Søndergård’s discography covers a broad range of contemporary and mainstream repertoire—expansive interests encapsulated in his musical selections for the 2023-24 season. In April 2024, he will conduct the U.S. premiere of Eleanor Alberga’s “Rise up, O Sun!,” a piece the Minnesota Orchestra co-commissioned. Exemplifying composers that have long been in Søndergård’s repertoire, a January 2024 concert centered around Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations will feature Grammy Award-winner Augustin Hadelich performing Britten’s Violin Concerto; in May 2024, Kirill Gerstein will return to Orchestra Hall to play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 under Søndergård’s baton.
The Orchestra’s youngest concertgoers will also have a chance to meet the new music director when Søndergård leads his first Relaxed Family Concert, Classics with Thomas Søndergård, on the afternoon of January 7. The one-hour program will feature a curated collection of music that Søndergård wants to share with young listeners, including selections from “The Nutcracker.” Fun and educational activities will take place in the lobby before the concert.
In the final program of the 2023-24 season, Søndergård will bring Pride Month festivities to Orchestra Hall in concerts with music by composers from the LGBTQ+ community. A longtime collaborator of Søndergård, pianist Francesco Piemontesi will perform both Britten’s “Young Apollo” and Karol Szymanowski’s Symphonie concertante for Piano and Orchestra. The program will also feature Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and “On the Cliffs of Cornwall” by Dame Ethel Smyth, the British composer and early leader of the English suffragette movement (June 2024).
Guest Artists and Conductors
The 2023-24 season includes much-anticipated returns and debut performances from many leading artists in classical music. Continuing an emphasis on star pianists, concerts in March 2024 will feature “Musical America’s” 2017 Artist of the Year Yuja Wang in performances of Béla Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2; in June 2024, Yefim Bronfman—who last played with the Minnesota Orchestra in 2005—will again take the stage for a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Beginning the slate of star pianists will be Bertrand Chamayou, presenting Camille Saint-Saëns’ Fifth Piano Concerto under the baton of fellow Frenchman Fabien Gabel in November 2023.
An assortment of string soloists will punctuate the season: Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov will make his Orchestra Hall debut as he performs Samuel Barber’s lyrical Violin Concerto (October 2023); Minnesota audiences will again hear from Benjamin Beilman who will interpret Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s cinematic Violin Concerto (May 2024); Christian Tetzlaff, a frequent presence at Orchestra Hall since his debut in 1996, will return to offer Brahms’ immensely challenging yet deeply expressive Violin Concerto (May 2024). Cellist Sterling Elliott, recipient of the 2021 Avery Fisher Career Grant, is among the fastest-rising stars in classical music, arriving in Minneapolis for colorful concerts conducted by Kristiina Poska (April 2024); at the start of 2024, the Minnesota Orchestra’s own Principal Cello Anthony Ross will portray Antonín Dvořák’s passionate Cello Concerto.
Three instruments that are less frequently featured in concertos will also figure prominently in the Orchestra’s upcoming programming, with accomplished guest artists introducing works that have never before been shared with Minnesota audiences. First, Jörgen van Rijen, principal trombone of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, will deliver the Minnesota Orchestra’s first performance of James MacMillan’s Trombone Concerto (October 2023). Then, together with guest conductor Ruth Reinhardt and saxophonist Steven Banks—a 2022 Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient—the Orchestra will showcase composer Billy Childs’ recently premiered Saxophone Concerto; Child’s concerto was co-commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra, and explores Black experiences in America (February 2024). Finally, trumpeter Pacho Flores will perform Pablo de Sarasate’s “Gypsy Airs” and Arturo Márquez’s “Concierto de Otoño,” a work Flores premiered in 2018 (March 2024).
Numerous esteemed conductors will return to Orchestra Hall’s podium over the course of the season, including Juraj Valčuha, Thomas Wilkins, Christopher Warren-Green, Jun Märkl, Hannu Lintu, David Afkham and David Robertson. Among the conductors making their debuts with the ensemble are Eun Sun Kim—named a 2021 Breakout Star in Classical Music by The New York Times—chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Domingo Hindoyan and Elim Chan, chief conductor of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra.
Artistic pillars of the Minnesota Orchestra for decades, the Minnesota Chorale and Osmo Vänskä will both headline concerts during the 2023-24 season. In addition to its season-opening performances with Thomas Søndergård, the Chorale will present George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” alongside a host of vocal soloists in December 2023. And, in February 2024, Vänskä—who became the Orchestra’s conductor laureate in September 2022 after a 19-year tenure as music director—will again take the podium for concerts that include Orchestra commissions by Anders Hillborg and Kevin Puts.
Adding Works by Underrepresented Composers to the Repertoire
As part of its organization-wide efforts around confronting systemic racism, the Minnesota Orchestra’s artistic leadership and musicians are committed to intentionally building concert programs that promote works by historically underrepresented composers. Now in its third year, the Listening Project is a concert program with the dual intention of expanding the ensemble’s knowledge of such orchestral works, while performing and recording these scores so that they may become more familiar to audiences and other orchestras. On November 3, Kensho Watanabe will return to lead the ensemble through a new selection of music in concerts hosted by Dr. Louise Toppin, a vocalist, scholar and the founder of the African Diaspora Music Project. Specific repertoire will be announced at a later date.
The 2023-24 season will also see the return of The Sphinx Virtuosi, the flagship ensemble of the Sphinx Organization, dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. In February 2024, the ensemble will share the stage with the Minnesota Orchestra in a program conducted by Tito Muñoz that includes works by a number of Black and Latin composers. Violinist Njioma Chinyere Grevious—winner of both the Robert F. Smith First Prize and the Audience Choice awards in the Senior Division of the 2023 Sphinx Competition—will perform as soloist in selections from Astor Piazzola’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” while bass players Xavier Foley and Kebra-Seyoun Charles present an original composition by Foley, the Concerto for Two Basses.
A global mix of 21st-century compositional voices will be featured throughout the season, with each bringing unique perspectives to bear in their work. French American composer Betsy Jolas describes her “A Little Summer Suite” (October 2023) as “wandering music”; it was premiered by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic in 2016. Based on the Kauyumari, a blue deer that serves as a spiritual guide to Mexico’s Huichol people, Gabriela Ortiz composed “Kauyumari” (October 2023) on a 2021 commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to reflect on a return to the stage following the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspired by “the different meanings of the English word ‘flounce,’” Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski’s “Flounce” (February 2024) premiered on the Last Night of the BBC Proms in 2017. Texu Kim, a 2015 alumnus of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, wrote Dub-Sanjo (March 2024) in 2017—a work that reinterprets traditional Korean music with fresh harmonies and textures.
SYMPHONY IN 60
Symphony in 60 concerts are one hour in duration, and include earlier start times, a pre-concert happy hour and post-concert onstage reception with musicians. The 2023-24 season includes three such programs. The first, on October 4, will include a live-in-concert presentation of Marvel Studios’ “Werewolf by Night,” a film that was released in 2022 on Disney+ and features a score composed by Michael Giacchino, who also directed the film. A concert on April 20 will include conductor Kristiina Poska and cellist Sterling Elliott, presenting the music of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Led by Elim Chan, a final performance on May 11 will feature Unsuk Chin’s subito con forzo and Tchaikvosky’s Second Symphony—a work inspired by Ukrainian folk songs.
Live at Orchestra Hall
Live at Orchestra Hall presents performances and collaborations with great artists from Minnesota and across the world, as well as live performances of film scores while the major motion pictures are screened in high definition above the stage. Most concerts are conducted by Sarah Hicks, the Orchestra’s principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall.
The list of innovative artistic guests collaborating with the Orchestra during the 2023-24 is headlined by Minneapolis-based hip-hop artist Nur-D, who will partner with the Orchestra for a set of energetic debut concerts on April 5 and 6. Singer-songwriter Ben Folds will again offer intimate performances with Orchestra Hall audiences (October 2023); six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald joins the Orchestra to perform her signature mix of pop tunes and Broadway classics (November 2023); a week later, the Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy Glee Club will present patriotic favorites as well as choral and operatic classics, in addition to special arrangements with the Orchestra’s own trumpeter Charles Lazarus (November 2023); and the Los-Angeles based circus-dance-theater group Troupe Vertigo will make their Orchestra Hall debut in visually- and musically-powerful performances (March 2024).
U.S. Bank Movies & Music Series
In addition to the October live-in-concert production of Werewolf by Night, a collection of pioneering and fan-favorite films will be shown throughout the new season. The week before Halloween, the Orchestra will perform Michael Abels’ original score to writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out; on Thanksgiving weekend, the Orchestra will perform Home Alone; and, in four consecutive concerts in December, Frozen In Concert will be presented live at Orchestra Hall for the first time. The next installments of the ever-popular Harry Potter Film Concert Series and Star Wars Film Concert Series will take place in 2024, as both programs feature the penultimate films in the series, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 1 set for January andStar Wars: The Last Jedi for May.
The Minnesota Orchestra’s holiday offerings in December 2023 feature the Minnesota Chorale’s presentation of Messiah with a cast of vocal soloists, including Grammy-nominated American countertenor Reginald Mobley; trumpeter Charles Lazarus and special guests will mark the holiday season with their annual Merry & Bright program; the Emmy and Tony Award-winning Kristin Chenoweth will make her much-anticipated Minnesota Orchestra return on December 18; a guest of Orchestra Hall for more than four decades, pianist George Winston will perform the following day. The slate of December concerts culminates in a New Year’s Celebration with Thomas Søndergård and pianist Sir Stephen Hough that features selections from Sergei Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and a suite from Tchaikovsky’s beloved The Nutcracker.
In addition to Holiday concerts in December, moments of celebration will welcome community to Orchestra Hall throughout the spring. Now in its third year, the Minnesota Orchestra will celebrate Lunar New Year with another program conducted by Junping Qian (February 2024). And in its second iteration, a concert commemorating Juneteenth will primarily feature music by African American composers (June 2024).
The Orchestra’s Chamber Music series features smaller ensembles of musicians performing in the Target Atrium, an intimate performance space within Orchestra Hall. The 2023-24 season encompasses three Sunday afternoon concerts on January 14, February 25 and April 14. The music selected for these programs include chamber works by well-known classical composers such as Zoltán Kodály’s Serenade, Gioacchino Rossini’s Duo for Cello and Bass and Samuel Barber’s Summer Music, as well as new repertoire by contemporary composers such as Paul Wiancko’s Lift, Wynton Marsalis’ 4 Bassoons Talking and To Mary by Hanna Havrylets, a Ukrainian composer who lost her life in 2022 three days into the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Education and Family Concerts
A tradition since 1911, the Minnesota Orchestra’s Young People’s Concerts are designed for students in grades 1-6; scheduled during the school day, they provide educational field trips for student groups and home school students across Minnesota. Over the course of the 2023-24 season, the Orchestra will present five distinct programs encompassing 23 total performances. These concerts include programs such as Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra (October 2023), Sounds of the Harvest (November 2023), Students Center Stage (January 2024), Music for a Better World (February 2024) and Here, There, Everywhere(April 2024).
In addition to Classics with Thomas Søndergård (January 2024), Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra (October 2023) and Here, There, Everywhere (April 2024) will be presented as Relaxed Family Concerts, programs designed for audiences of all ages, including individuals with autism or sensory sensitivities. Relaxed Family Concerts take place within the main auditorium and include the entire ensemble, while the Orchestra’s Sensory-Friendly Concerts occur in the smaller and more intimate Target Atrium, and feature solo musicians or select ensembles. Sensory-Friendly Concerts are hosted by Lyndie Walker, MT-BC, from Toneworks Music Therapy Services, and invite concertgoers of all ages, including those who are neurodivergent, to be who they are while enjoying music (October 2023, February 2024 and March 2024).
The Orchestra’s Wellness offerings include a series of three yoga classes and three Music & Mindfulness sessions. Initiated in 2018, Yoga Classes are one-hour Sunday morning sessions in the lobby of Orchestra Hall, each led by a certified yoga instructor and featuring live music performed by a Minnesota Orchestra musician or duo (February 2024, March 2024 and June 2024). Created in coordination with the University of Minnesota’s Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, each hour-long Music & Mindfulness session features a musician or small ensemble from the Orchestra, and is led by University of Minnesota mindfulness and wellbeing instructor Mariann Johnson (February 2024, April 2024, May 2024).
This is Minnesota Orchestra
The Orchestra will continue to offer livestreamed concerts as part of its Emmy Award-winning “This Is Minnesota Orchestra” series on its website and social media channels. Most livestreamed concerts will be available to audiences at no cost as they debut live; subsequent on-demand access will be available for purchase through the Orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall. “This Is Minnesota Orchestra” digital programs will include Daphnis and Chloe with the Minnesota Chorale (September 29, 2023), Wilkins, Sokolov and Barber (October 23, 2023), The Sphinx Virtuosi (February 2, 2024), Dvořák Symphony No. 8 (March 22, 2024) and Celebrating Pride with Thomas Søndergård (June 21, 2024), with more dates to be announced this summer.
All programs, artists, dates, times and prices subject to change.