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36 Hours in Minneapolis: An Itinerary for Thomas Søndergård

Credit: Caroline Yang

We know that incoming music director Thomas Søndergård is eager to explore his new city, so Minnesota Orchestra musicians and staff put together an itinerary for a late summer visit. With great food, close proximity to water and an emerging sauna culture, Minneapolis may feel like a comfortable leap from the Danish conductor’s current homebase of Copenhagen. But between a fried slice of pie on a stick and a burger patty stuffed with cheese, we’d wager that Thomas will also discover unexpected delights when he ventures outside Orchestra Hall.



2 p.m. | Minnesota State Fair

An outspoken fan of winter bathing—that is, the Scandinavian tradition of submerging oneself in a frozen body of water—Thomas knows a thing or two about immersion. There is perhaps no better way to dive into Minnesotan culture than to begin the weekend at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Or at least that’s what the string-playing sisters Lydia and Sarah Grimes believe. “Travel in a group—about four is ideal—for the purpose of splitting food items,” suggest the Grimes. This way, “you can sample lots of delicious deep-fried delicacies without hitting a food coma.” The delicacies that Lydia and Sarah suggest include a goat cheese and honey grilled peach (The Produce Exchange), a Nashville hot chicken on a stick (Blue Barn), nitro ice cream (Food Building), a lobster roll (New Scenic Cafe), frozen chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick (Key Lime Pie Bar) “and cheese curds, of course.”

It might be best to stop by the Orchestra’s informational booth before embarking on this food odyssey. Other non-edible State Fair highlights can be found in the iconic, octagon-shaped Agriculture Horticulture Building, which includes giant pumpkins, a towering floral display and crop art made form Minnesota-grown seeds. “The seed art is always fantastic,” exclaim the Grimes.

Credit: Minnesota State Fair

8 p.m. | First Avenue Goes to the Fair

While the Grimes sisters’ top suggestion of the 4-H Llama-Alpaca Costume Contest takes place earlier in the week, the weekend sees a variety show of a different kind at the fairgrounds. The annual First Avenue Goes to the Fair is a two-day showcase featuring a breadth of local talent that only First Avenue could bring together. While Grant Meachum, the Orchestra’s director of Live at Orchestra Hall, suggests that Thomas catch a concert at the downtown mainroom—“a building that has played a central role in so many important events in the history of music in Minneapolis”—this year’s genre-spanning lineup at the State Fair exemplifies the mixing and matching that the Twin Cities’ music scene is beloved for. Featured performers include singer-songwriter Becky Kapell, St. Paul-reared hip-hop artist Juice Lord, Minneapolis-based multi-hyphenate composer Laamar and multidisciplinary artist XINA. Another reason to get familiar with First Avenue: the Orchestra is working with the independently-owned institution to construct a new amphitheater at the Upper Harbor Terminal set to open in 2025.

12 a.m. | Unwinding at Hewing Hotel

Ryan Zimmerman, the bar manager at Orchestra Hall, suggests staying at the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood. With sparkling pinot noir, botanical gins and local brews, the hotel’s bar offers the perfect place to unwind (and digest). Ryan advises returning to the Hewing in the wintertime to enjoy the year-round rooftop spa pool and dry sauna.


10 a.m. | Naturally Leavened Goodness

In 2018, Minneapolis was named the most bikeable city in the United States. Kristine Porwoll, the Orchestra’s graphic designer, might bestow another accolade and declare Laune Bread the nation’s best bakery, what with its naturally leavened breads, pastries and cookies made with Midwest-grown ingredients. We suggest a bicycle ride to Laune Bread for a morning activity that might make Minneapolis feel like a parallel-universe-version of Copenhagen. Some critical advice from Kristine: “I always visit Laune thinking I'll get just a couple pastries, only to walk out with a box stuffed with more than I intended, but never regret it.”

Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum. Credit: Peter J. Sieger

11 a.m. | Mausoleum Meandering

The Midtown Greenway is a 5.5-mile-long former railroad corridor turned bike highway in south Minneapolis, connecting the Mississippi River with the city’s chain of lakes. From Laune Bread, the Greenway eventually leads to Lakewood Cemetery, a 250-acre cemetery noted for its chapel which was modeled after Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. Minnesota Orchestra creative director Hannah Pietilä suggests the Lakewood Garden Mausoleum as an additional contemplative space. Minnesota-founded architectural firm HGA describes the mausoleum interior as “a series of spatial experiences, in which the play of light and materials invite contemplation and remembrance.”

1:30 p.m. | Pizza à la Corruccini

A spin up the bicycle boulevard on Bryant Avenue could deliver a hungry cyclist to one of either Black Sheep Pizza or Fire and Nice—violinist Rebecca Corruccini’s preferred pizza spot. At Black Sheep, Rebecca recommends the simple #1 Cheese & Sauce pizza; “ask for extra sauce and pair it with a house salad,” she adds. And at Fire and Nice? “Some of the pizzas have fun local names, and they have an excellent beer list. My family loves the Judy G pizza (olive oil base, Romano, figs, green apple, prosciutto, toasted almond and basil) and the Strawberry Fields salad.”

3 p.m. | Bike Around a Soon-to-be-Frozen Lake

A day uptown seems incomplete without a lake trip. While Lake of the Isles enchants throughout the year, it becomes the hallowed grounds of the unofficially very official Minnesota Orchestra hockey team, of which timpanist Erich Rieppel is thrilled to invite Thomas to goaltend. “We've been looking for a leader for the Minnesota Orchestra hockey team for years and we're so happy that Thomas agreed to be our music director…in order for him to be the goalie of our great team,” says Erich.

Pacita Abad, 2023. Photo by Rik Sferra, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

4 p.m. | See What’s On View at the Walker

With his extracurricular interests in art and design, the Walker Art Center is a natural destination for Thomas. Alongside wide-ranging solo exhibitions of the artists Pacita Abad, Kahlil Robert Irving and Allan Sekula, the museum boasts an extraordinary design studio. Reserving time in the Walker’s library and archives to sift through publications and ephemera is the perfect way to get to know this groundbreaking contemporary art center.

7 p.m. | Start Your Crooning

A particularly Midwestern institution, supper clubs are restaurants that double as social clubs. Located in the northern suburb of Fridley, Crooners Supper Club is a favorite hangout of many Orchestra musicians; truly a musicians’ club, DownBeat Magazine named Crooners one of the best jazz venues in the world earlier this year. Between the 200-person main stage and the 90-person Dunsmore Jazz Room, there is plenty to love about Crooners for a Wynton Marsalis-loving maestro.


11 a.m. | Get Involved in a Local Rivalry

Sometimes in a new city it’s lay low. But Hannah Pietilä is back with a suggestion to stir the pot: enjoying a Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar: “HOME OF THE ORIGINAL JUCY LUCY!” Matt’s Bar is known as one of two establishments—fellow south Minneapolis joint the 5-8 Club being the other—that created the iconic burger with its melted cheese stuffed between two patties. (Of course, the discerning traveler might venture to 5-8 as well, to compare and contrast.)

Credit: syrbs

1 p.m. | Take the Scenic Route to the Airport

Situated less than a 10-minutes away from the airport is Minnehaha Park. Designed in 1883 by famed landscape architect Horace W.S. Cleveland, today’s park welcomes more than 850,000 visitors a year. At its center is Minnehaha Falls, a 53-foot waterfall that descends a limestone bluff. Its name—“mni” meaning “water,” and “gaga” meaning “curling”—originates from the Dakota people, whose ancestral lands include all of present-day Minneapolis. As in modern times, Minnehaha Falls has been a place for work, living and play for Dakota people for centuries. The park represents the kind of reflective but communal space to end a visit to Minneapolis—one of countless to come in the years ahead.

Come greet Thomas yourself in his first concerts as music director, September 21 to 23.

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