Russian-born conductor Thomas Sanderling is closely associated with the music of Dmitry Shostakovich. He has conducted a mixture of orchestras worldwide, generally to critical acclaim, and made a number of successful recordings. He has developed an equally respected reputation in opera, particularly for performances in the most important operatic centers in Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia. Despite his identity with Shostakovich, his repertory is broad, encompassing Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, and Dvorák, as well as moderns like Karl Weigl and Americans Menotti, Barber, and Tobias Picker.
Sanderling was born in Leningrad on October 2, 1942. His father, conductor Kurt Sanderling, was forced to flee Germany in 1936. Young Thomas studied first at the Leningrad Conservatory, then at the Hochschule für Musik in East Berlin. His first important post came at 24, when he was appointed director of the Hallé Opera. Throughout his early career, he centered his activity mostly in East Berlin, often leading orchestras in Dresden and Leipzig.
In the 1970s he developed a friendship with the declining Shostakovich, who presented Sanderling with scores to his Thirteenth and Fourteenth symphonies. Sanderling later led the German premieres of those controversial works.
After serving as guest conductor at the Berlin Staatskapelle (1978-1983), he began conducting in Western European opera houses, notably at the Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper in Berlin, the Royal Danish Opera, and Finnish National Opera. Now he also began branching out in his orchestral activity, conducting orchestras throughout Europe and the United States.
In 1992 he was appointed music director of Japan's Osaka Symphony Orchestra. Sanderling's reputation grew as the new century approached, especially from critically successful recordings like his Mahler Sixth Symphony on the Real Sound label, and the complete symphonies of Albéric Magnard, released in 1999-2000 on BIS Records. Sanderling's success in the recording studio continued with the acclaimed Chandos issue in 2000 of works by contemporary American composer Steve Gerber, and in 2002 with a recording of the Karl Weigl Symphony No. 5 on BIS, which received a Cannes Classical Award in 2003, the conductor's second.
In 2004 Sanderling accepted the post of principal guest conductor of the Russian National Philharmonic Orchestra. He was active in several festivals honoring Shostakovich in 2006, and among his later recordings was a 2006 DG release of the rarely performed Shostakovich work The Tale of the Priest and His Servant, Balda.
In 2007, he conducted with the MDR Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonie and also managed to record the complete works of Taneyev for Naxos.