Concert caps Sanderling’s 15-year run with the Toledo Symphony

Published Sunday, April 30, 2017


Stefan Sanderling will stand before the Toledo Symphony Orchestra as principal conductor for last time Saturday, ending a 15-year tenure with grace, gratitude, and the knowledge that both are artistically better for the time they spent together.

Sanderling took the baton of the organization in 2002, and in his own words, “I owed it all to Bob Bell,” then CEO and president of the TSO. “He had such vision for what he wished the group to become. I thought, ‘It would be excellent to be a part of that journey.’ The artistic world is so lucky to have men such as Bell, who are willing to reach and strive for what they dream possible.”

He was born in East Berlin in 1964, the son of the late conducting legend Kurt Sanderling. He became one of Germany’s bright young stars, taking the position of general music director at the Brandenburgische Philhamonie at the Potsdam Opera in 1990.

From there he continued as music director of several highly recognized ensembles: the Philharmonic Orchestra and Staatstheater in Mainz, the Orchestre de Bretagne in France, the Florida Orchestra, and the Chautauqua Symphony.

Currently he holds the principal conductorship of the Symphony Orchestra of the Principality of Liechtenstein, a position he assumed in January, 2016.

It is not uncommon for conductors to hold multiple positions simultaneously.

“This is how the world of conducting works,” Sanderling explained. “You always travel around. One orchestra is your home base — where you spend more time — but you are always flying to other places.

“So for an orchestra and for conductors, it is always good that change exists. … This is the new way of the world, new blood, new experiences, new conductors. It keeps us all growing artistically.”

Even so, spending a decade and a half in Toledo allowed him to forge powerful ties.

“After 15 years with an organization, you never just leave it. It always remains a part of you, and you remain a part of them. There is a legacy of artistic growth that remains; it just means that someone else will be directing the music after you are gone. My time with the Toledo Symphony is the longest I have ever spent with a single orchestra, and that has had a profound impact on my career.

“I am hoping that my moving on will be a celebration. We have come such a significant long way together in my time. I hope that my departure gives the orchestra a chance to breathe some fresh new artistic air.”

Since announcing his departure two years ago, the maestro has had much time to reflect on his Toledo accomplishments.

“I have been thinking about this concept very much, the high points I have had while in Toledo,” he said. “I would guess that people would expect me to say the Carnegie Hall performance or the Bruckner Cycle, where we performed all of his symphonies, but I find myself saying that the program of Strauss waltzes we did was just as important.

“It’s like having six children and saying ‘Well, which one is your favorite?’ or, ‘Which one is most important?’ The answer is: They all are. I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Even though there were conflicts and differences of artistic opinions, together we always moved forward in the cause, the artistic goal: making the best music possible.”

To Sanderling’s mind, one achievement stands as most important. “The TSO is still here, still in Toledo, and I was a part of making that amazing feat happen,” he said. “That is my most significant contribution!”

He believes the keys to the orchestra’s continued health include better planning (“No longer to live from year to year, but rather to have a 10-year plan”) and increased attention to accoustics in the venues it plays (“This has a clear impact on audience attendance in this age of YouTube and Spotify, where music can be crystal clear and loud and in your face”).

“The organization as a whole needs to address the relevance of a symphony orchestra in today’s world; to continue to figure how to reach an audience and keep it growing,” he said. “I think they are already under way with a new president who has brought fresh ideas to the table. This will continue as well with whomever takes up the baton.”

For his final program, Sanderling has chosen three very traditional works: Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 13 in C Major, K.415 with Martina Filjak as soloist, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90.

“All three of these pieces end softly. They are not about the standing ovation, rather they are personal and intimate. They are about the music, not about the show,” he said. “I also feel that each represents the best of what these composers have written. This is a very, very special program to me; I felt that this was artistically the best way to say goodbye.”

Stefan Sanderling will conduct his final two concerts, “Sanderling: A Perfect Cadence,” 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Peristyle, Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monore St., Toledo. Tickets and more information are available at 419-246-8000 or

Contact Wayne F. Anthony at:

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