Thomas Søndergård

Music Director, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

credit: Martin Bubandt


Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård is Music Director of Royal Scottish National Orchestra, after six seasons as Principal Guest Conductor. He served as Principal Conductor of BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBCNOW) from September 2012 – August 2018, and prior to this, as Principal Conductor and Musical Advisor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra for three seasons.

The 2018/19 season includes his debuts with Chicago Symphony Orchestra joined by Alexander Gavrylyuk, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre National de France and Tapiola Sinfonietta. He makes return visits to Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra of the Royal Danish Academy Copenhagen, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bayerische Staatsoper (Turandot) and Deutsche Oper Berlin (Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet). Plans with RSNO include tours to China and the United States, premieres of new commissions and Marsalis’ Violin Concerto with Nicola Benedetti.


Video & Audio

DVORAK - Symphony No. 8 from Göteborgs Symfoniker on Vimeo.

Søndergård/GSO Dvorak 8 14 Jul 2014

Recorded live at his recent long-awaited debut with Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (May 2014), Thomas Søndergård […]

Performance Schedule

From The Green Room


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    Sibelius: Finlandia

    Label: LINN Records

    Release Date: 22 Jun 18

    A fitting finale to Thomas Søndergård and BBCNOW’s Sibelius Series, featuring some of Sibelius’ most celebrated works, shining a light on his tone poems and theatre music including Finlandia, Valse Triste and the King Christian II Suite.

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    Sibelius: Symphonies 1 & 6

    Label: LINN Records

    Release Date: 19 May 17

    In this eagerly awaited recording Thomas Søndergård and BBC National Orchestra of Wales continue their Sibelius journey with his Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6.

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    LINN: Sibelius Symphonies No. 2 & 7

    Label: LINN Records

    Release Date: 14 Apr 15

    In their debut commercial recording together, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Søndergård delight with Sibelius’ Symphonies No. 2 and 7 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the composer.

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    Poul Ruders Vol. 6 (Piano Concerto No. 2)

    Label: Bridge Records

    Release Date: 01 Mar 12

    Volume 6 of Bridge’s Poul Ruders series presents the premiere recordings of recent solo, chamber and orchestral compositions. The newest work is Ruders’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a brilliant 24-minute composition in three movements. This disc was short-listed in the 2011 Gramophone Awards.

    Vassily Primakov

    Norwegian Radio Orchestra

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    Vilde Frang / WDR Cologne

    Label: EMI Classics

    Release Date: 01 Jun 10

    Thomas collaborates regularly with renowned violinist Vilde Frang, and for her debut disc on EMI (2010) they recorded Sibelius and Prokofiev 1 Violin Concerti, and Sibelius Humoresques.

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    22 Jul 18 Mahler Symphony No. 8 BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Proms
    Royal Albert Hall


    “Bowing out in style”

    “This was Thomas Søndergård’s last concert as the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’s principal conductor and he bowed out in style with Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, in a performance of cogency and splendour. Many would consider the Albert Hall to be the ideal venue for this work, with the size of the building matching the immensity of the music. Yet the hall’s notorious echo can rob Mahler’s soundscape of much of its detail if the score is imperfectly handled, and the strength of Søndergård’s interpretation lay as much in its clarity as its weight.”

    “He refused to rush the first movement, allowing Mahler’s vocal and orchestral counterpoint to register fully, while the taut structure that both contains and offsets the great choral shouts of affirmation was forcefully underscored throughout. In the long, almost operatic second movement, he pressed forward with urgency, avoiding the usual trap of slowing the music almost to a standstill at the Mater Gloriosa’s first appearance, and sweeping into Doctor Marianus’s Blicket Auf with heady abandon. Volume is not everything, and though the climaxes hit home with considerable force, it’s the moments of quiet reflection that linger most in the memory.”

    Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 23 July 2018


    “One of the most impressive features of this highly accomplished performance from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which saw Thomas Søndergård bid farewell as its Principal Conductor, was the way in which the togetherness of all of the disparate performers was felt right across the hall. The final Chorus Mysticus of Part II, like the end of Part I, saw a second conductor stand by the organ to aid everyone in watching. The sight of his and Søndergård’s arms moving as one represented visually what was achieved by orchestra, brass choir, choirs and soloists alike across the evening, as they moved together like a smooth machine to achieve an ending that was as brilliantly precise as it was truly overwhelming.”

    Sam Smith, Music OMH, 25 July 2018


    ”Prom 11: A Mahlerian leaving party” “Søndergård’s ability to highlight the subtlest details in Mahler’s idiosyncratic moments of chamber writing were expertly realised by his orchestra, and in the tutti passages he drew out some horn playing of blazing intensity. The strings brought the themes of redemption to life in their elegantly soft legato, and the floor shook as the Danish conductor forged breathlessly ahead through the epic last minutes of the symphony.”

    “There can’t be many better ways to bow out of a principal conductorship, though, as the capacity audience seemed to agree in a prolonged ovation.”

    Rohan Shotton, Bachtrack, 25 July 2018

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    20 Jul 18 Schumann Symphony No. 4 BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Proms
    Royal Albert Hall

    “Søndergård emphasised mood and colour, capturing Schumann’s bright palette and drawing perky, vivacious playing from the brass, now very much on top form.”

    Dominic Lowe, Bachtrack, 22 July 2018

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    12 May 18 Strauss & Brahms Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Usher Hall

    “Sparkling Strauss and brilliant Brahms from Søndergård”

    Brahms First Symphony:

    “The orchestral texture was beautifully constructed, with noble string tone, clean winds and substantial brass tone underpinning the whole. Søndergård embraced the symphony for the majestic statement that it is, keeping something in store for the exhilarating coda and creating a conclusion of proper triumph. The next time he appears on a podium with the RSNO he will be their Music Director. I can’t wait.”

    Simon Thompson, Bachtrack, 12 May 2018

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    17 Mar 18 Brahms & Strauss Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

    “With the RSNO announcing its 2018-19 season – its first under incoming music director Thomas Søndergård – just days earlier, it was hard not to see Søndergård’s concert as something of a prelude to the main event next year. With that in mind, it looks like we’ve got plenty to look forward to.”

    “Such a rich programme – Brahms’s epic Second Piano Concerto, followed by Richard Strauss’s almost hour-long celebration of his own musical heroism, Ein Heldenleben – could have made for a rather dense, demanding evening. But Søndergård brought a brilliant clarity to both pieces, picking apart and balancing their textures expertly, driving them on with eager energy and conveying their moods and stories vividly. In his introduction, he spoke of his own memories of performing in Heldenleben as a nervous young percussionist, and his strong personal connection was evident. From the swaggering confidence of Strauss’s bounding heroic theme to the gleefully grotesque carpings of his critics, Søndergård delivered a bold, utterly committed account – this is clearly music that matters to him.”

    David Kettle, The Scotsman, 20 March 2018

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    18 Nov 17 Poulenc, Saint-Saëns, Rimsky-Korsakov Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Glasgow Royal Concert Hall


    “You know that moment, buying a new car, when you fire up the ignition, press your foot on the accelerator and the connection is immediate, the steering instantly responsive, the decision made? The experience was similar on Saturday when music director designate Thomas Søndergård took the RSNO, and us, on a thrill-a-minute journey.”

    “First up, Poulenc’s edgy Suite from Les Biches: a bad-ass dance score in the mode of neo-classical Stravinsky, oozing saucy energy, softened by those typically gauche Poulenc melodies and peppered harmonies, which – under Søndergård’s precise baton – had the RSNO playing at the top of its game. No awkward starts; no rolling bends; just a natural momentum that let the music’s inner fire ebb and flow.”

    “The concert ended on another high, the sensuous, multi-coloured masterpiece that is Rimsky Korsakov’s Sheherezade. Again, Søndergård’s panoramic vision was instantly embraced by the orchestra, gratifyingly cohesive, yet effervescent at every turn.”

    Ken Walton, Scotsman, 20 November 2017

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    20 Jan 17 Mahler: Symphony No. 6 BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    St David’s Hall, Cardiff


    “Søndergård’s controlled sustaining of the long finale made it unremitting, with the two fateful hammer-blows and the trombone and tuba’s funerary tones sounding all the more nihilistic. The orchestra played out of their skins.”

    Rian Evans, The Guardian, Monday 23 January 2017  

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    22 Oct 16 Mahler, Sibelius, Beethoven Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Glasgow Royal Concert Hall


    “Thomas Søndergård bring(s) a massive sense of purpose to music-making, and he certainly galvanises the RSNO into some extraordinary playing at all extremes of expression: their opening Mahler performances of Blumine, a gorgeous piece, and What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, from the Third Symphony, brought remarkably stylish and utterly seductive playing from the RSNO; on this form they are a gobsmacking band.”


    “Søndergård walloped Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony into a fast, ultra-virile masterpiece of sheer energy, delivered almost as a continuum by the RSNO playing with a concentration and drive that were both gripping and breath-taking.”

    Michael Tumelty, Herald Scotland, 23 October 2016 

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    08 Oct 16 Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 London Philharmonic Orchestra *Debut*
    Royal Festival Hall


    “Søndergard has a clean and precise manner on the podium and it’s blatantly obvious that the musicians in the LPO hold him in high regard…. they came into their own with Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 5 in D minor…. The dynamic control was impeccable, imparting force to the harmonic shifts in the first movement, and the individual harp chords which announce tension-filled key changes rang through with clarity.”

    David Karlin, Bachtrack, 09 October 2016

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    22 Jan 16 Dutilleux: Metaboles & Sur la meme accord BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    St David's Hall, Cardiff


    “The eloquence and characteristic finesse of the Dutilleux pieces were communicated well here, and his fastidious concern for timbre and a sound-world of ordered perfection never unduly challenged the listener. In Métaboles, conductor Thomas Søndergård allowed the orchestra to luxuriate in every note without undermining the music’s growing organic momentum, and tension ratcheted up in the final Flamboyant.”

    Rian Evans, The Guardian , 24 January 2016 

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    03 Oct 15 Stravinsky: Fireworks BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    St David's Hall, Cardiff

    “Under principal conductor Thomas Søndergård, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales opened their new season with a showcase affair, beginning with a glittering display of Stravinsky’s Fireworks.”

    Rian Evans, The Guardian, 04 October 2015 

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    25 Apr 15 Sibelius, Beethoven, Nielsen Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

    “NOW THAT, on Saturday night, was an RSNO concert for the memory banks. It was a concert with everything….spearheaded by two consistently-reliable, imaginative, top-drawer musicians in the presence of Thomas Sondergard, who has not put a foot wrong since the day and hour he took up his Principal Guest conductorship of the RSNO, and Canadian violin James Ehnes… A superb concert.”

    Michael Tumelty, The Herald Scotland, 26 April 2015

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    03 May 14 Britten: Violin Concerto Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

    “A transcendent performance of Britten’s Violin Concerto with [Vilde Frang] the RSNO and the endlessly-perceptive conductor Thomas Sondergard, a performance which revealed all the pain, conscience and beauty in this great concerto, which is woefully underplayed. In the closing pages, where, for me, the music reaches a dimension of spirituality, my breathing went on hold, my heart swelled, and I was emotionally devastated and uplifted, both at the same time.”

    Michael Tumelty, The Herald Scotland, 3 May 2014

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    14 Mar 14 Messiaen: Turangalîla Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Usher Hall Edinburgh

    “Søndergård gave a bright and brisk account, full of vivid colours and vigorous tempos, and tempered with as much buoyancy as can be achieved with the vast orchestra Messiaen calls for.”

    David Kettle, The Telegraph, 15 March 2014 


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    02 Feb 14 Mahler: Symphony No. 9 BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    St. Davids Hall, Cardiff

    “….quite simply a magnificent representation of Mahler’s clearly expressed intentions, delivered by an orchestra at the top of their current excellent form under a conductor whose respect and love of the score shone through in every bar. The full audience were clearly enraptured, and responded at the end with ringing cheers.”

    Paul Corfield Godfrey, Seen and Heard International, 10 February 2014

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    20 Dec 13 Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
    De Doelen, Rotterdam

    “Thomas Søndergård – remember that name and go and see him. The veracity with which he conducts is reminiscent of the purity of Carlos Kleiber, who used the baton as a brush with equal beauty.”

    Anna Grebenchtchikova, The Post Online, 23 December 2013 

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    26 Oct 13 Brahms: Symphony No. 4 Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Glasgow Royal Concert hall

    “The ensuing Brahms Fourth Symphony was airborne, brisk and full of sparkle. Søndergård’s knitting together of the Andante’s lengthy melodic strands was sublime”

    Ken Walton, The Scotsman, October 2013


    “Søndergård’s Brahms was magnificent: not because of any overblown heft, but for its clarity and its brave, unguarded expressiveness”

    Kate Molleson, The Herald, October 2013

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    29 Jul 13 Shostakovich: Symphony No.11, Matthews: Turning Point BBC Proms, BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    Royal Albert Hall


    “Søndergård seemingly sees the piece in terms of how fanaticism breeds from violence: after the horror of massacres and the intensity of formal lamentation, the finale, far from being eruptive, had the steady tread and weight of a juggernaut obliterating everything opposing its path. The BBCNOW played it as though possessed.”

    Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 30 July 2013 


    “The marvel of this performance… was undoubtedly the fierceness and trenchancy of its rhythmic impulse with Søndergård urging and getting fantastic edge and depth from the BBCNOW strings. The infamous massacre itself had the entire percussion battery quite literally (well, aurally speaking) mowing us down… and when the bass clarinet signalled dissent in the final pages how thrilling it was to have actual upturned bells (the only option) clanging out the alarm. The final resonance was, of course, cut short by the cheering – not quite what Shostakovitch might have hoped for but testament to this visceral music’s ability to go straight for the solar plexus.”

    Edward Seckerson, The Arts Desk, 30 July 2013 


    “Awash with energy and ideas, the piece [Matthew’s Turning Point] scored a palpable hit. Having set the tone, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under its principal conductor, Thomas Søndergård, provided a glittering accompaniment to the expressive soloist, Daniel Hope, in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 and attacked Shostakovich’s Symphony No.11, “The Year 1905″, with revolutionary ardour.”

    Richard Fairman, The Financial Times, 31 July 2013

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    18 Jul 13 Strauss: An Alpine Symphony BBC Proms *Debut* , BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    Royal Albert Hall


    “Thomas Søndergard created a sense of majesty without sentimentality, by keeping taut the great stretches of Strauss’s musical muscle.”

    Hilary Finch, The Times, 21 July 2013



    “Thomas Søndergård led an energetic and bracing account of Strauss’ Alpine tone poem. As was by now evident, he is a conductor that has a flair for the grand statement and big musical moments. His players might be more cognisant of the environs of Snowdonia, yet under Søndergård’s baton they proved unafraid of scaling Strauss’s Bavarian peaks in style.”

    Evan Dickerson, Music OMH, 18 July 2013


    “Søndergård seemed…in his element in Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. His platform manner, impassioned, flamboyant, endlessly enthusiastic, could be tailor-made for gargantuan scores like this. He managed it pretty faultlessly, too, with off-stage horns and cowbells echoing from around the Albert Hall arena, the organ-reinforced climaxes given full weight in such a space, and the BBCNOW players clearly relishing the opportunity as much as their conductor was.”

    Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 19 July 2013 


    “A magnificent sunrise and other natural wonders, including Surround Sound hunting-horns and cowbells: all admirably handled by Søndergård, with stunning top Cs on trumpets…. Uplifting in every sense.”

    Barry Millington, Evening Standard, 19 July 2013 


    “A thrilling Alpine Symphony crowned a typically diverse week at the Proms…

    The most straightforwardly thrilling experience of the week for me was Thomas Sondergard and his BBC National Orchestra of Wales’s spatially enhanced rendering (horns and cowbells distributed throughout the hall) of Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony, that nonpareil of musical weather-reporting.”

    Paul Driver, The Times, 28 July 2013

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    28 Jun 13 Mahler: Symphony No.5 BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    St David's Hall, Cardiff


    “Mahler was in his early 40s when he wrote his Fifth Symphony; Thomas Søndergård is the same age, and displayed an intrinsic sympathy for the work’s epic contracts. At the end of his first season as principal conductor, Søndergård showed just what a rapport he already has with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Principals responded with freedom and flair to the big solos, while each section revealed how it has gained in depth of tone. Søndergård ensured that the music’s progression – through despair, to great tenderness in the celebrated Adagietto, and ultimately to joy – had a natural flow, mirroring the proximity of pain and exhilaration in life itself”

    Rian Evans, The Guardian, 1 July 2013

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    25 May 13 Sibelius: Scenes Historiques Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

    “When the Dane came back on stage for last Saturday’s encore, the wave of high-voltage intensity that swept around the hall as the band got their Sibelian teeth into one of the composer’s Historical Scenes was spine-tingling and tangible.”
    Michael Tumelty, The Herald Scotland, 01 June 2013

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    12 Apr 13 Nielsen BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    St David's Hall, Cardiff


    “Sondergard was animated as he commanded the orchestra in a performance that took us to the edge of the abyss, withdrew, and left us with a life-affirming sense of hope”
    Peter Collins, The Western Mail, April 2013

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    15 Apr 12 Sibelius BBC Symphony Orchestra *Debut*
    Barbican Centre


    “In the concert’s opener, En Saga, Søndergård’s easy command of the BBC musicians brought out their expertise: they defined texture and balance while remaining committed to the character of individual ideas. A symphonic poem that conjures up the world of ancient sagas, its dynamism and colouristic variety were thrillingly projected. So, too, was the state of Sibelius’s Second Symphony, whose structure is rarely so impressively delivered and whose final apotheosis achieved unalloyed grandeur.”

    George Hall, The Guardian, 16 April 2012

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    24 Feb 12 Nielsen: Symphony No. 5, Sibelius: En Saga Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

    “With the sound of a Vienna Philharmonic programme fresh in the memory anything else could seem pallid. But Thomas Søndergård and the Swedish Radio Orchestra played Sibelius’s En Saga brilliantly, with a palette of colours that was more southern than Nordic, as if Sibelius was trying to out-Strauss Richard Strauss….. In a masterly performance of Nielsen’s fifth symphony, Søndergård made every orchestral detail come over – not what one generally expects in performances of Nielsen. He held the difficult last movement together in a most convincing fashion and showed himself the equal of the great pioneers of Nielsen interpretation, with driving tempi and an unfailing sense of form. It is hard to imagine a finer performance of this remarkable symphony.”

    Thomas Anderberg, Dagens Nyheter, 25 February 2012