Léonie Sonning Awards 1987

Heinz Holliger

The oboist Heinz Holliger received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 at a concert held at 7.30pm on Wednesday, 20 May 1987 in Tivoli Concert Hall

The music prize was presented by the head of the Royal Opera House, Poul Jørgensen

The programme

Mozart Symphony KV16a – The Odense Symphony
  Concerto for oboe and orchestra
Bruno Maderna Concerto for oboe and orchestra
Stravinsky Suite from the ballet The Firebird

Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Osmo Vänskä


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize is awarded to the oboist Heinz Holliger in admiration of his masterly co-creative interpretation of works of music literature. With his constant striving to broaden his musical awareness and find new paths for music, Heinz Holliger is an inspiration of wide-ranging significance in the world of music.

You can listen to the speeches from the concert here:

Heinz Holliger and Denmark

Heinz Holliger was known and appreciated in Denmark before he came here in 1987. Around 1970, he gave a master class at The Jutland Academy of Music in Århus, where oboe students from the whole country took part – he gave talks about his own music, he lectured on the practice of performance, and finally he of course gave a concert featuring music for oboe solo.

In 1975 he was the soloist at a Thursday concert in Benedetto Marcello’s oboe concerto, and he has played several times with The Danish National Symphony Orchestra and the Copenhagen Philharmonic. A number of Danish oboists have learnt personally from Heinz Holliger, including Elsebeth Speyer and Ole Henrik Dahl. When Holliger received the music prize, Ole Henrik Dahl was solo oboist in The Royal Danish Orchestra, and in the programme of the prize-giving concert he reminisced on his time as one of Holliger’s pupils:

"In 1967 in the town of Vietznau by the Vierwaldstetter lake Holliger had a summer residence. An attic was his study, and the so-called holiday was clearly used for composing. Everywhere in the room there was manuscript paper that had been pushed slightly on one side, so I could unpack my oboe [...] He could not stand anyone trying to copying him. He expected one to know everything for the lesson by heart. On the other hand, an oboe lesson with Holliger often lasted between three and four hours.

As a soloist Holliger is exceptional. No other living oboist has to the same degree the capacity to go beyond the many limitation of his instrument and convey a musical message so convincingly. He moves with equal naturalness through all musical styles, from the early baroque to new music that breaks new ground."

Holliger gave no less than two concerts with The Danish National Symphony Orchestra. The first took place in Tivoli Concert Hall at 7.30pm on Wednesday, 20 May, the orchestra being conductetd by the Finn Osmo Väsnká – with the handing over of the prize and a speech. Among invited guests there were naturally several Danish oboists, including Ole-Henrik Dahl, Niels Eje and Lars Algot Sørensen.

The day after the prize-giving concert it was Holliger’s 48th birthday, but there was no time for further celebrations as rehearsals now began for a concert with students of the academy of music. For on Sunday, 24 May, Heinz Holliger was soloist with – and conducted – the academy orchestra in Tivoli Concert Hall – chamber music by himself and classical wind works by Mozart, Strauss and Gounod.

The next day – Monday, 25 May – in the morning, rehearsals began for yet another concert (The Danish National Symphony Orchestra) and the same afternoon a reception was squeezed in: Egon Weidekamp welcomed Holliger to the Copenhagen City Hall, with its famous pancakes and all the trimmings.

Two days later, Holliger had the opportunity to show a little more of himself as a composer – at a concert in Radiohusets Koncertsal. He conducted himself – with his colleague Aurèle Nicolet as flute soloist in Holliger’s own Scardanelli cycle for flute, chamber orchestra and chamber choir a capella. After the interval, Aurèle Nicolet played Holliger’s (t)aire for solo flute, after which Heinz and Ursula Holliger played Lutoslawski’s double concerto for oboe, harp and chamber orchestra. 

In the course of eight days in Copenhagen, Holliger also found time for a meeting with students of composition at The Royal Danish Academy of Music, where he had gone through the scores of three students in a friendly but no-holds-barred fashion.

The Danes also experienced him both as composer and conductor, and the young music students who experienced the modest Swiss musician got value for their money that would last a lifetime. The money from the music prize and his own fees he donated to various charities.

Selected Music by Heinz Holliger

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"A sound of indescribable beauty suddenly filled the room. It was alive, self-contained and intensely eloquent at one and the same time. One saw it created on an oboe that looked like any other oboe. But one heard notes that did not sound like other oboe notes. One could feel them flow through one’s body and take possession of one’s soul, and one abandoned oneself to their strength. Poetry was allowed to rule.

[...] ‘If one can sing instrumentally, then one can also play vocally,’ says Holliger, letting loose his oboe in magical melodiousness and glittering coloraturas [...]"

(Teresa Waskowska, Politiken, 22 May 1987)

"In Bruno Madera’s Third Oboe Concerto, Heinz Holliger did away with the sound limitations of his instrument in marvellously intense co-creative playing that had passion and concentration [...] so that Madera’s extremely complex work with its demands on expressive variations in the execution were not formed by mere chance but by a musically competent collaboration between the conductor and the soloist."

(Viggo Sørensen, Jyllands-Posten, 22 May 1987)

"[...] But Holliger has brought the oboe out into the limelight. With formidable technique and an unusual musical intelligence. He masters the entire musical spectrum of expression with the same sovereignty [...]

[...] He is the epitome of self-effacing modesty. But with the oboe to his lips Holliger becomes a completely different person. Here he expresses himself with an authority that spreads out to the other musicians like pure telepathy [...]"

(Jan Andersen, Land og Folk, 2 June 1987)