On the Time Signature of Love: Thomas Søndergård in His Own Words
Music brings us together.
As an Orchestra that deeply values collaboration—from the musicians onstage to the dedicated staff working behind the scenes—and strives to share the power of music inside and outside of our Hall, we know this to be true.
From the moment Thomas Søndergård arrived in Minneapolis, it became clear that this was a conductor with whom the Orchestra shares a philosophy. After giving the initial downbeat during his first rehearsal Søndergård recalls that he nearly fell off the podium. “There was so much energy and focus from the Orchestra, and it was just there from the beginning. I immediately felt a connection. It was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Early in his career, Søndergård played in the Royal Danish Orchestra. For a decade, he worked as both a member of the orchestra and a conductor. But a turning point came in 2005 when he was invited to prepare his orchestral colleagues in rehearsals leading up to the debut of a new opera called Kafka’s Trial by Danish composer Poul Ruders. (Søndergård would end up leading the opera’s entire world premiere production.)
"Imagine the day I had to run the first rehearsal, standing in front of all my colleagues," said Søndergård. "I could have focused on the fact that I am suddenly guiding my friends. I could have questioned myself too. ‘Do I have the experience or gravity?’ All these thoughts are important in some ways, but if you think too much about these things, you can easily become too nervous. So my major focus was to guide the score that I knew so well and I had a clear rehearsal plan from Monday to Thursday."
The major thing is to focus on the job. That job is the music itself.”
Those early years as an orchestral player inform his leadership style to this day. “What I discovered…when I was playing in an orchestra is that when things really click between a conductor and an orchestra it is because the conductor has a healthy way of thinking about his or her role that is focused on making music cooperatively.”
The most important role of a conductor is to listen carefully.”
Listening has proven an essential skill for Søndergård’s approach to cooperative music-making, and one he has honed over a lifetime in music. "What is important is to capture what is needed in the moment. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of the ears. It’s not about how I talk, how I look, what I show, and what I do not show. The most important role of a conductor is to listen carefully and to quickly decide what is needed."
Starting with Love and Respect
“I don’t think that I can get to a good result with anyone in front of me if I don’t start with love and respect. I know that I am the one in control [of the rehearsal] and musicians want someone to guide them. That I have no problem with, but it is always with the time signature that is called love.”
And so the foundation is set for a new partnership between a conductor and Orchestra that is founded on love and respect. Not surprisingly, Søndergård is optimistic about what lies ahead: "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."
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