Léonie Sonning Awards 1989

Gidon Kremer

The violinist Gidon Kremer received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 200,000 at a concert held at 7.30pm on 28 April 1989 in Tivoli Concert Hall.
The music prize was presented by Head of the Royal Opera House Poul Jørgensen.

The programme

Veljo Tormis: Overture
Alfred Schnittke: Violin Concerto no. 4 (composed for Gidon Kremer in 1984)
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

The Royal Danish Orchestra
Conductor: Eri Klas


Gidon Kremer is incontestably one of the great virtuosos of the present age, but he has steered clear of the attitude of a commercial virtuoso. With great curiosity he has used his rare talent to test the outer boundaries of his instrument and of music, and with his utterly personal interpretation of both earlier and contemporary works helped to oppose the stagnation and superficiality that threatens the tradition of classical music.

You can listen to the speeches from the ceremony here:

Gidon Kremer and Denmark

Kremer wished to play Schnittke’s violin concerto at the prize concert– it was he who made Schnittke known west of the iron curtain when he played the composer’s Concerto Grosso no. 1 from 1977. It was also part of the reason why Kremer was chosen to receive the prize that he did something for music that was not all that popular.

In Copenhagen, Gidon Kremer gave a master class with students at the academy of music and he played a chamber music concert with his own Lockenhaus ensemble.

Danes knew Gidon Kremer in advance, for in 1979 he played with the Royal Danish Orchestra; the year after and in 1986 with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra – and in 1986 he also took part in a memorable chamber music evening with the pianist Andras Schiff. That year he also performed Sibelius’ violin concerto in Aalborghallen with the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, but there were many empty seats!

Kremer had sold his fine old Stradivarius sixth months before the prize-giving ceremony, where he played on another of his three violins – one he had just bought, built by Guarnerius del Gesu in 1734 in Cremona. On this instrument he played Schnittke’s Violin Concerto no. 4, which the composer had written for him in 1984. To my dear friend Gidon Kremer it says on the front page of the score.

Jan Jacoby described the violin concerto as follows in Politiken: "As with Mahler, one senses everywhere a raw, existential programme behind the notes, and here too it is a question of the relation between past and present, only pushed further than back at the turn of the century. The desperation becomes highly evident at the end of the cadenza, when the violinist is apparently drowned by the orchestra [...] The carpet is pulled away from under the listener’s feet when it becomes obvious that the violinist has in fact not played a single note! Here the borderline between music and theatre is broken. The effect – both comical and pathetic – is intensified later in the work, when the dumb show is stylised into a desperate pantomime."

Thunderous applause, whistling, wildly enthusiastic shouts, rhythmical clapping delayed the prize-giving speech and handing-over ceremony. The audience simply insisted that Kremer should give an encore – and it turned out to be one of the 50 Capricce Variations by George Rochberg from 1970 – a virtuoso showpiece in many different styles, explosions and humour that finally land in Paganini’s famous variation theme.

Selected Music by Gidon Kremer

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"Gidon Kremer is a researcher and a philosopher on his instrument. He can be irresistible as a musician, but also seem just as dangerous when he explores the perimeters of music. Dare one follow him, does one have the courage to let go of ”terra firma”? One can laugh, at any rate. As in the encore [...] Why did we laugh? Because it was so improbable. Because we heard something one cannot hear: a violin cannot sound like that. It cannot play notes that high. One cannot swap right and left hand, so that it is the stroke that determines the pitch and the string that gives the colour. There is so much in general that is impossible, but that Kremer goes ahead and does despite this [...]

Schnittke’s music, with its at times fragilely questioning, at time bombastically asserting, at times parodying, experimenting, distracting – in short constantly stimulating nature offers Kremer every opportunity to set out on the musical voyage of discovery that is his passion and his calling. An honour for us that he accepted the Sonning Music Prize."

(Bjørn Bredal, Weekendavisen, 5 May 1989)

"[…] And Kremer did so in urgent fashion in his conflict-laden interpretation that so well understood the sense of the music. Rawly insistent in its search down to the smallest detail, with all the known nuances in his formidable, virtuoso technical skill. Exploring and interpreting like a Fischer-Dieskau of the violin."

(Bo Rasmussen, Information, 1 May 1989)