Léonie Sonning Awards 1982

Isaac Stern

Isaac Stern

The violinist Isaac Stern received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 at a concert held at 7.30pm on 3 June 1982 in Tivoli Concert Hall.
The music prize was presented by Professor Poul Birkelund

The programme

Johannes Brahms Academic Festival Overture
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Symphony no. 5, Reformation
Béla Bartók Violin Concerto no. 1
Max Bruch Violin Concerto no. 1

Soloist: Isaac Stern
The Tivoli Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Leonard Slatkin


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 is hereby awarded to Isaac Stern in admiration of his magnificent contribution as an artistically and technically superb interpreter of earlier and contemporary violin literature and for the importance his inspiring work has had for international musical life.

Isaac Stern and Denmark

It was not the first time Stern was in Denmark. He had been in the country as early as 1949, when he was soloist with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and on several subsequent occasions, including a chamber concert in Svendborg Music Association, where for a fee of Kr. 2,000 he played such composers as Beethoven, Bach, Prokofiev and Vieuxtemps (Violin Concerto no. 4).

Now in 1982, he was at the pinnacle of his musical career and was able to receive the prize at precisely the right moment. The prize-giving concert was unforgettable for all those present – a summer concert on 3 June in a sold-out Tivoli Concert Hall, with Queen Ingrid representing the musical interest of the royal family.

The Tivoli Symphony Orchestra had a completely new American conductor for the occasion – it was Leonard Slatkin’s first concert in Denmark – ‘the so clearly gifted young American conductor’, as Robert Naur wrote.

In his speech in English, the chairman of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation, Poul Birkelund, was even more personal than he usually was – because he had met Isaac Stern as a young man. He said, among other things:

 "You are one of the warmest and most upright musical personalities in the musical life of this planet. Here in Denmark, ever since your first concert, you have left an indelible mark on the consciousness of all lovers of music. Personally, I will never forget the first time you performed as a soloist with my old orchestra, the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, with whom you played in 1949 the Brahms violin concerto with Thomas Jensen as conductor [Poul Birkelund was in the flute section of the orchestra at the time]. The following year, the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra played several concerts at the Edinburgh Festival and at one of those concerts you played brilliantly the Sibelius violin concerto, with the famous conductor Fritz Busch."

Birkelund also mentioned Isaac Stern’s importance for Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlmann, saying:

"As an interpreter of music’s great composers and as a human communicator, you have everywhere created a deep understanding for Western culture, along with other highly inspirational figures of our time."

After having received the diploma and cheque, and after the applause had finally died down, the American violinist – small in size but great in stature – expressed his thanks in these words:

"It is difficult to say ‘thank you’ in a simple, direct way. Music is not a profession, music is a faith in something that lies above us in its beauty and truth. One works for years, one attempts and one rejects on the basis of an instinct for one’s own limitations. And one travels from city to city and works with colleagues with whom one has gained a particularly deep understanding. And then a love relationship is established between the concert hall and the stage. So I say thank you, and hope that for many more years we will meet again with good health. We must hope for a little peace, we must discuss whether to play a bit more slowly or a bit faster, in love – not with weapons."

Selected Music by Isaac Stern

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"[...] It was a quivering, wonderful performance of the two strongly contrasting movements of this concerto [Bartók’s], which are actually two portraits. With his enormous capacity for delicate shadings of sound, this was Stern at his best. Then came the old, cherished Max Bruch concerto in G minor, that was played enchantingly, with the finest understanding between the soloist and Slatkin on the conductor’s rostrum. Indeed, a truly festive occasion."

(Robert Naur, Politiken, 5 June 1982)

"[…] He could at one time singly-handedly engaged in a real duel with an entire orchestra, larger than the Tivoli orchestra, and get the better of it. This time he attacked his instrument so fiercely one got the impression he needed a new one each evening. Now, though, his playing is more subdued. He still brings the horse-hair down onto the strings [...] but it is no longer as challenging to cross swords with the orchestra [...]

[…] Stern did not want us to feel he was playing the piece {Bruch} for the first time. But he made us believe yet again that he lives and plays up to it at every moment. He charmed his way to it. Like a exceedingly sensitive highly routined player. That is his forte [...]"

(Hansgeorg Lenz, Information, 5 June 1982)