Léonie Sonning Awards 1999

Sofia Gubaidulina

1999_sofia _gobaidulina

The composer Sofia Gubaidulina received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 300,000 at a concert held at 8pm on Thursday, 6 May 1999 in Radiohusets Koncertsal. 

The music prize was presented by the head of music at Danmarks Radio, Steen Frederiksen, who said:

“Your music can seem like an island one would happily flee to in an age that is becoming increasingly flickering, increasingly superficial – an age that lacks the calmness and contemplation, intensity and exploration found in your music. But when one is there on the island, one quickly discovers that it isn’t an island at all but a continent. For your music has roots that go down deeper – and the mental journeys on which you take us are so long and significant as those only found with the greatest composers. People talk a lot about those who have been your models, but nearly always only in an attempt to find points of orientation in a music that at one and the same time is so personal and so unpredictable.”

You can listen to the speeches here:

The programme

Sofia Gubaidulina Der Sonnengesang des heiligen Franz von Assisifor cello, percussion and chamber choir (1997)
Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony no. 10


David Geringas, cello
Gert Sørensen, percussion
Tom Nybye, percussion

The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Danish National Radio Chamber Choir
Conductors: Alexander Lazarev and Stefan Parkman


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize for 1999 is awarded to Sofia Gubaidulina for her always consistent and clear music, with an underlying deep intensity and always with a human message – a music that unites traditions and innovation, and that via meditation, joy in colour, mysticism and expressiveness creates a symbiosis between the cultures of the East and West – a symbiosis that takes European music one step further. Sofia Gubaidulina’s musical expression is highly personal and at the same time so international that it speaks to people all over the world. Her music is among the most significant being composed at the present time.

Sofia Gubaidulina in Denmark

Sofia Gubaidulina’s music was played, sung and well-known in Denmark before she was awarded the Sonning Music Prize. In 1990 Christina Åstrand had her breakthrough as a soloist when, at very short notice, she agreed to play Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium at a festival week concert with Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. That same year, the association Women in Music performed her music at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. And in 1994 Sofia Gubaidulina was the top name at the Lerchenborg Music Days.

The day before the prize-giving concert a meeting had been arranged with Danish composer colleagues – a small panel that discussed with Gubaidulina in front of an audience of composers and musicians. The event began with a group of students that included Mads Johansen, Martin and Marie Boelsgård playing Gubaidulina’s Garten von Freuden. After this, the round-table discussion began – along with Sofia Gubaidulina were Per Nørgård, Edina Hadziselimovic (a fourth-year student) and Lars Bisgaard, who knew a great deal about East European music and Gubaidulina’s music in particular. After the composer discussion, Jeanette Balland and Peter Navarro played Alonso Gubaidulina’s Duo Sonata for two baritone saxophones.

The great interest in Gubaidulina was also reflected in the 47-minute-long Danish documentary film Essential Time, the full Danish title being Den væsentlige tid – om komponisten Sofia Gubaidulinas kunstneriske univers. The film-producer Lone Alstrup had made the film, with co-funding from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation.

Selected Music by Sofia Gubaidulina

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"Gubaidulina is a wizard with the instruments, with cello, percussion and choir voices fuses into new, surprising and enchanting sounds."

(Thomas Michelsen, Information, 8 May 1999)

"In the lead-up to the prize-giving ceremony there has been a veritable Gubaidulina fever in Danish musical life. And the meeting with her has also given the impression of a highly gifted, live person [...]

With the famous solo song of Francis of Assisi [...] the music moved from solemn praise via a climax of turbulent and sonorous sound to a conclusion in the deepest humility. A musical shift of consciousness from the elevated to the powerless and forgiving. On the one hand, traditional, with the introductory bass song reminiscent of orthodox church singing; on the other hand, completely innovative with an instrumental clarity and experimental aspect reminiscent of the American Georg Crumb. As when the cellist exceeds the boundaries of his instrument and has to resort to percussion, or when the percussionist in the final, loud, vibrating phase produces the overtone-rich sound of a crystal glass that is stroked round its rim [...]"

(Eva Hvidt, Kristeligt Dagblad, 11 May 1999)