Léonie Sonning Awards 1970

Sergiu Celibidache

The conductor Sergiu Celibidache received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 60,000 at a concert held on Saturday, 12 December 1970 in the concert hall at Radiohuset. 

The music prize was presented by Editor Børge Friis, Dr. Phil.

The programme

Joseph Strauss and Johann Strauss Overture to The Bat
  Emperor Waltz
  Annen Polka
  Pizzicato Polka
  Radetsky March
Peter Tchaikovsky Capriccio Italien
Maurice Ravel Bolero
Carl Nielsen Masquerade overture (encore)

Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Danish National Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Sergiu Celibidache


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 60,000 is hereby awarded to Sergiu Celibidache in profound admiration of his epoch-making contribution as an orchestra instructor and conductor. Sergiu Celibidache’s work with The Royal Danish Orchestra and The Danish National Symphony Orchestra will remain as an expression of the highest artistic ideals within the field of orchestral music.

Celibidache and Denmark

Celibidache was in Denmark for the first time in 1963 – to conduct a concert with The Royal Danish Orchestra. The mood in the orchestra was euphoric, but after the Romanian conductor heard that the reviewer for Information, Hansgeorg Lenz, had criticised him, he vowed never to return to Copenhagen again. Between 1968 and 1973, however, there were no less than 30 concerts with The Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Sergiu Celibidache. From the outset he insisted on many rehearsals, and if he was not given enough time, he refused to play the music – a symphony by Per Nørgård, for example. And the temperamental conductor also demanded a great deal of the musicians in the orchestra – sometimes they broke down, sometimes he wanted them fired – often their nerves were completely on edge in their encounters with the uncompromising conductor, whose ears were as sharp as an eagle’s. Even so, he often managed to get them to perform at the peak of their ability.

Celibidache had a profound impact on Danish musical life – he left behind great artistic experiences first and foremost, but also musicians who had decided to become musicians because they were presented with both insight and demands, as well as nervous musicians who broke down under the notoriously choleric temperament of the conductor. When he was in a friendly, non-explosive mood, he explained it this way: "Gentlemen, a single drop of vinegar is enough to ruin a hundred litres of milk, isn’t it? But that is also the case with just one deviant violin. It has to be absolutely exact."

He also made his mark on the musician Peter Bastian and The Danish Wind Quintet: "every time he was in Copenhagen, he gave us instruction, and we even travelled to Bologna, so that he could tear a strip of us there" Peter Bastian relates, deeply influenced by the conductor’s musical phenomenology and philosophy: "Celibidache edited my goal completely out of sight – only the direction indicated what had become of it, so some incredibly strenuous and marvellous years of learning followed. The earth was suddenly round, whereas we had got used to the idea it was flat. I emerged a convert on the other side, via acquisition of the material I was presented with" states Peter Bastian, who delved so deep into the notes that he wrote the truly fascinating book Into the Music about it.

The Romanian recipient of the Sonning Music Prize also exerted a great influence on an excellent Danish conductor – Francesco Cristofoli – who at three of the then famous summer courses in Siena in Italy had come very close to Celibidache. Cristofoli learnt a great deal, both positive things – baton technique, for example – and negative, such as his ability always to insult the orchestra from whom he makes a living and the attitude that only he knew how the music ought to be played.

Selected Music by Sergiu Celibidache

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"There was a lot to see, so there was also a lot to listen to – the children in the hall in particular were delighted; they hardly knew what to do with themselves out of sheer delight. And all of us became children once again. For admittedly he is a devil, a seducer, a charmer, a coquette and more besides. But inside him he is aflame, and this he is able to pass on – he is a great artist."

(Frede Schandorf, Politiken, 13 December 1970)

"[...] The extremities of his gestures – a transfigured, joyous state of bliss when he gets the piano pianissimo he has fought for so persistently, and a black, contorted, almost bestial rage when he doesn’t get it, makes him reminiscent of a two-headed Greek creature that has both Apollo and Dionysus in him at the same time."

(Robert Naur in Flensborg Avis, no. 290)

"It feels rather like it does after ten-to-fifteen goes on the roller coaster when you’ve been to a concert with Sergiu Celibidache […] it is as if that man possesses a well-nigh magical charisma that not only spreads to the musicians but right to the back row of the hall [...] He plays Strauss so that the sky seems full of violins [...] and Ravel’s Bolero [...] so you are left gasping for breath."

(Johannes Nørgaard, Kristeligt Dagblad, 14 December 1970)

"[…] Danish musicians? They’re all right. There are some really talented ones among them. But the Danes are too self-sufficient. They like things nice and cosy. You can’t combine art with drinking coffee and phoning the wife in the interval. It’s that sort of thing I’m trying to raise them out of [...]."

(Sergiu Celibidache in an interview with Barbara Gram, Søndags BT, 12 December 1971)