Minnesota maketh man

Minnesota maketh man


norman lebrecht

July 29, 2022

The Minnesota Orchestra last night named a little-known Dane as its next music director.

That’s par for the course.

Famous batons cut no ice in the Midwest.

Over 120 years, the orchestra has become known as a make-or-break test for Europeans who are prepared to work hard and build a collective ethos away from the international limelight. The list below testifies that most of them went on to greater things.

Ormandy was headhunted by Philadelphia, Mitropoulos by New York, Dorati by the BBC, De Waart by the Dutch.

Almost everyone stayed a decade or more in Minnesota. The outgoing Osmo Vänskä managed almost twice as long.

This is an orchestra that looks for stayers, givers and builders.

Let’s see if they’ve got it right.


Minnesota music directors:
Emil Oberhoffer (1903–1922)
Henri Verbrugghen (1923–1931)
Eugene Ormandy (1931–1936)
Dimitri Mitropoulos (1937–1949)
Antal Doráti (1949–1960)
Stanisław Skrowaczewski (1960–1979)
Neville Marriner (1979–1986)
Edo de Waart (1986–1995)
Eiji Oue (1995–2002)
Osmo Vänskä (pictured, 2003–2022)


  • simon says:

    I strongly dispute your claim that TS is ‘little-known’.

    Once could say the same about you to certain sectors of society (i.e. the majority population that have no interest in: the Jews / Israel, Yuja Wang’s dress sense, Domingo, Russia/Putin/Gergiev, music competition corruption, high art music, low art Mahler, second-rate novels, low distribution films few people saw or polemical books on the music biz).

    • Henry williams says:

      Simon u are correct. Many people have no interest in music. I have spoken to a medical student who has never heard of the Rolling Stones.

  • MacroV says:

    In hindsight Minnesota has had a pretty impressive lineup of MDs. Even if you consider Ormandy over-rated, they had true greats in Dorati, Skrowaczewski, DeWaart, and Vanska. I know you were very fond of Neville Marriner and he and the Academy are legendary, but I’m not sure that was a great hire for Minnesota.

    • J Barcelo says:

      I certainly do not consider Ormandy over-rated. He was a great conductor by any standard. His repertoire was far, far wider than any of the other “true greats”. His recorded legacy second to none. He was a legendary orchestra trainer. There isn’t an orchestra manager out there who wouldn’t sell his/her soul to have someone of Ormandy’s calibre.

      • Nelson says:

        I’ll second the comment about Ormandy as an orchestra trainer. There’s a new Sony release with all of his Minneapolis recordings, and the orchestra’s playing is fabulous. It’s rather noticeable that for whatever virtues Dimitri Mitropoulos’ tenure exhibited (I’m a fan of his records with them as well), he did not maintain the high standards of playing that Ormandy achieved from 1931-36.

      • MacroV says:

        I’m not really trying to diss Ormandy, just to make the point that Minnesota has a history of great conductors, such that even Ormandy probably isn’t at the top of the list.

        But recorded legacy second to none? He made some 400 records in Philly, and you’d be hard pressed to find a one that’s considered a classic. Compare that to just about everything from Reiner/Chicago in their 10 years. Even Martinon/ Chicago in their five.
        Maybe Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

        I’m sure he did a lot of good things, being a very resident conductor and indeed having quite a wide repertoire.

        But I remember a Celibidache quote in a NY Times article: “How could someone so mediocre have succeeded Stokowski?”

        • BigSir says:

          Celibidache; a fake on the podium who could not find the right tempo if he had earphones connected to a metronome.

    • Jobim75 says:

      Ormandy over-rated???he recently got some recognition…. but he used to be considered as a conductor who was ok with every composer but great with none. Remember the beginning of CD era, most of his were budget. Only the recent Sony and BMG edition could help reevaluate his talent, his unique art of orchestral balance, his humongous repertoire.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      A related anecdote:

      About a year ago while at someone else’s house, the radio was turned on to the local classical music station. Unexpectedly I heard the opening notes to Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger. It didn’t take long before I was completely transfixed…because while I recognized all the notes, there was nothing else recognizable about this performance. In the place of the exuberance we’re all used to hearing, it offered neutrality. In the place of the energy that pervades this Prelude/Overture, it offered routine. At times it sounded as if the orchestra was playing the music together for the first time (and collectively marveling that it all came together). No collective spirit enveloped the musicians.

      The performance totally captured my attention and I could not stop listening. As it limped to the finish line, I had to know who was responsible for this, so I anxiously stood close to the radio to hear the announcer tell us whose performance this was. I said to the others present, “This is not coming from any of the K-conductors (Karajan, Kempe, Knappertsbusch, Klemperer, Keilberth, Kurtwangler, etc.), nor a German orchestra the way they’re playing this. I have no idea who this is.”

      The announcer soon intoned, “That was Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, performed by the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Neville Marriner.”

      I can’t say this was in Florence Foster Jenkins territory. But it wasn’t far from it either.

    • prof says:

      I consider Ormandy over- and under-rated simultaneously.

  • Dave says:

    He’s only little-known to those who have a superficial knowledge of the musical who’s who.

    And his surname is spelt Søndergård, for any others like myself to whom that sort of thing matters.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Some of us haven’t figured how to add those doo-dads. Let’s assume we’re all talking about the same person.

  • Paul Barte says:

    First, why does this story not even name the new conductor?

    As a former Minnesotan, I remmeber well when Marriner was hired. He was certainly no unknown, having made quite a name with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, but MN Orch was new territory for him, since the AoSMitF gig was basically chamber orchestra and very little music from after the Classical era.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    This is an orchestra that commited two big blunders in selecting Music Directors.

    In 1923, their could have had either Bruno Walter and Henri Verbrugghen. They chose Verbrugghen!!!

    In 1979, it was down between Klaus Tennstedt and Neville Marriner. They decides to nominate Marriner as MD, though they did offer Tennstedt a spot as principal guest conductor. It should have been the other way around.

    • Jobim75 says:

      I am curious about some lives from that era, they are rare to say the least … from Marriner or Tennstedt…. the latter was not so famous at the time when Marriner was on every shelf of records shop …..

    • Omar Goddknowe says:

      I would add Oue to that list of mistakes

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    I remember concerts offered through the Civic Music Assosication in the US, which “blew me away.” One was with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the other, with Stanisław Skrowaczewski and Minnesota. To hear these glorious orchestras under such batons was the musical equivalent to being a passenger in a Rolles, compared to sitting in the back seat of a 60s VW Bug.
    Those experiences dated from the 1960s, and they are still vivid to me. Jet-setting conductors have spoiled the musical experience, as they have no deep connection with the musicians they are conducting. It all ends up being quite sterile in comparison.
    Congratulations! Minnesota!

  • Evan Tucker says:

    The only true mistake in a hundred years was Eiji Oue. They could have had David Zinman, who would have done exactly the same.

    It worked out for them in the long run, but it’s a shame the US lost Zinman.

  • pjl says:


  • Mel Cadman says:

    The fact this ‘unknown’ has conducted regularly and successfully in such insignificant countries as Wales and Scotland – the former as principal conductor of NOW and the latter as artistic director of the RSNO – clearly renders him insignificant. It would be churlish to suggest I detect a trace of both snobbery as well as ‘London-centricness’ in your comments …

  • Tamino says:

    I can see Søndergard being just about right for the post. A good fit, long term perspective.
    What Minnesota certainly doesn‘t need is one of the „big“ names showing up once every other month, while the rest of his career jetsetting around between two other chief positions and guesting, „learning“ their scores in airport lounges.

  • Donna Pasquale says:

    Typically bizarre and frankly ignorant headline. And Ormandy died in 85 yet the chat is about a deceased conductor who left the podium 40 years ago!
    Slipped Disc as ever captures the zeitgeist .

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I recall an interview published after Neville Marriner was hired in which he conceded he had never conducted Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

    There was great excitement at landing him, but he seemed not to have similar excitement at having landed the job.

  • James Benson says:

    I have been spending increasing amounts of time over recent years in Edinburgh; I have no particular allegiance for any of the local bands, and these days don’t know anyone who plays in any of them-it’s refreshing to feel neutral.

    Virtually every concert that I have attended has been exceptional -I have already alluded on SD to some astonishingly fine Debussy from the BBCSSO. For what it’s worth the current RSNO under Søndergård are also at the top of their game-sensationally good Strauss and Beethoven in recent months for example. As for Jay Capperauld-wow!

    I recall an outstanding concert given by the Minnesota orchestra in Birmingham some years ago. I wish this new partnership great success, but hope that Scotland doesn’t lose the excellent Mr Søndergård.

    [Lest I be thought to sport rose tinted ears, I would like to suggest that the otherwise impressive Usher Hall try harder to expunge the smell of sausages emanating from the upstairs ventilation from around 8.00 pm onwards].