Léonie Sonning Awards 1981

Mstislav Rostropovitj

The cellist Mstislav Rostropovich received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 at a concert held at 7.50pm on Tuesday 9 June 1981 in Fyns Forsamlingshus, Odense.
The music prize was presented by Professor Poul Birkelund.

The programme

Michail Glinka Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla
Dmitri Shostakovich Concerto no. 1 for cello and orchestra
Carl Nielsen Symphony no. 1
Peter Tchaikovsky Variations on a rococo theme for cello and orchestra

Odense Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Karol Stryja


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 is hereby award to Mstislav Rostropovich in admiration of his versatile musicianship and his personal and technically masterful interpretation of the earlier and contemporary works of international cello literature.

You can listen to the speech from the ceremony here:

Rostropovich and Denmark

Just for once, the awarding of the music prize and the concert did not take place in Copenhagen but in Odense, not far from Egeskov Castle, where Rostropovich was appropriately staying – for he always had his dog Puck with him.

Before the concert, Rostropovich held a master class for Danish music students during Whitsun – from 4 to 7 June – at Egeskov Castle, and the day before the concert was not by chance 9 June – Carl Nielsen’s birthday, so naturally something by Carl Nielsen was also played at the concert. The expectation actually was that Rostropovich would conduct a Nielsen symphony and the whole concert would take place in the Carl Nielsen Hall in Nørre Lyndelse, but things turned out otherwise.

On 9 June, then – and in Fyns Forsamlingshus in Odense – the prize-giving concert took place, with Queen Ingrid among the audience.

Mstislav Rostropovich returned to Denmark on several occasions. When he gave a master class at Egeskov Castle in 1981, Queen Ingrid was among those present, and her interest and insight made such a strong impression on Rostropovich that he offered the royal family a concert where the proceeds would go to charity – Jens Brincker wrote in Berlingske Tidende on 31 May 1985.

So when Rostropovich next came, he was Queen Ingrid’s private guest at Amalienborg. At the concert for charity with The Royal Danish Orchestra he played Dvorak’s cello concerto and had no one less than Prince Henrik at the piano for the concert encore.

In 1985 he returned to Copenhagen once more, and this time both as a soloist and as conductor of the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra. He conducted Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and was soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a rococo theme (with Flemming Vistisen as conductor). This concert was also in aid of the King Frederik and Queen Ingrid Foundation, a concert with joy and sparkle, kissing and clapping, the reviewers record.

Selected Music by Mstislav Rostropovitj

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"[…] it was Rostropovich’s evening, and he demonstrated yet again that he is a highly gifted musician, one who plays with a wonderful intensity and a power of expression that cannot fail to capture his audience. One listens entranced by the beautiful, nuanced sound of his cello, but first and foremost to the richness of expression and vitality he entices out of it."

(John Christiansen, Jyllands-Posten, 11 June 1981)

"[…] And then Rostropovich paid back for the enthusiasm of the audience with [...] the Sarabande from Bach’s second solo suite in D minor, with a bow that seemed to grow several metres long, and an eternity of time that seemed to address infinity, prayer and thanksgiving in one totality, suspended from the dimensions of time and space, it flowed as a lone voice to its farthest reaches and bewitched the silence around it, after it. Bach [...] revealing himself precisely as something beyond through the vision of a great artist, with him as an instrument over and above the one on which he is playing. Bach’s music interpreted at eye level with its creator [...]"

(Hansgeorg Lenz, Information, 11 June 1981)