Léonie Sonning Awards 2005

John Eliot Gardiner

The British conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 500,000 at a concert held on Thursday, 13 October 2005 in Radiohusets Koncertsal. 

The prize was presented by editor at DR Steen Frederiksen, who gave the speech that Michael Schønwandt, absent owing to illness, was to have given.

The programme

Joseph Haydn from the oratorio The Seasons: Autumn and Winter
Awarding of the Sonning Music Prize
Carl Nielsen Funen Springtime

Performed by:

Camilla Tilling, soprano
Mark Padmore, tenor
Karl-Magnus Frederiksson, baritone
The Danish National Radio Choir
The Danish National Childrens Choir
Members of The Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner


The 2005 Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 500,000 is awarded to the conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner for his revolutionary contribution to the understanding and knowledge of music from the baroque, classical and early Romantic periods.

On the basis of untiring research and with deep insight into the performance practice of the times, Sir John has, via his epoch-making concerts and recordings, brought several centuries of music to life for a large audience all over the world.

You can listen to both the award speech and Sir John Eliot Gardiner's acceptance speech here:

John Eliot Gardiner in Denmark

On Sunday, 9 October Gardiner talked to students and teachers about performance practice in the old buildings of The Royal Danish Academy of Music – especially about how the Romantic world of expression and present-day orchestral sound have distorted our image of, for example, Bach, Mozart and Haydn. Practical advice, such as that he gave to musicians of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra – referred to in Politiken by Michael Bo in the following day: "Try to form a musical phrase as the accumulation of a whole host of smaller units, tiny phrases – instead of striving for the looong, unbroken phrase – the sort of gravy that conductors such as Herbert von Karajan went in for, and that in my opinion obscures the music."

Selected Music by John Eliot Gardiner

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

“That Haydn proved a great experience was expected, but none the less pleasurable for that. But could the British maestro get to grips with Nielsen’s homespun opus in a meaningful way, and did it have anything else to do with Haydn than the fact that spring is the season? ‘Yes’ is the answer to both questions. It was the most cheerful surprise of the evening. In Gardiner’s hands Nielsen’s down-to-earth feeling for nature and robust humour lay close to Haydn’s, and both works were effectively stretched out between elated bluffness and gossamer-fine elegance. Just think how he managed to get so much spring-fresh air to pour through the short orchestral introduction!

[...] Has one ever heard Funen Springtime conducted better? Gardiner’s interpretation was a gem of perfect timing. This was a concert where Sir John Eliot Gardiner showed himself worthy of a Sonning Prize, and where Danmarks Radio’s ensembles showed that they are top-notch when a maestro leads them. This is how a real prize-giving concert should be.”

(Søren Kassebeer, Berlingske Tidende).

“[…] Precisely that richness and precision of expression permeated Gardiner’s interpretation and made the oratorio of Haydn’s best opera an enchanting, vital picture gallery: witty, poetical and coloured by a ‘historically informed’ way of playing which with this orchestra was one of the surprises of the evening. From the very first notes it was revealed what such playing could achieve: The fresh prelude not only danced happily but was also completely declaimed, like a poem with metrical feet, lines and verses. Haydn can also be read like this.”

(Jan Jacoby, review in Politiken)

“Listen to a recording with the Vienna Philharmonic from 1975 and then to one from 2005 [...] The difference is to a high degree Sir John Eliot Gardiner. What the recipient of the Sonning Music Prize has done to classical music can only be compared to what Louis Armstrong has done to rhythmical music. He has change the way half the world plays and sings. He has spearheaded a revolution.”

(Søren H. Schauser, interview in Berlingske Tidende)

“[...] Remind me again what the point is of using old instruments instead of new ones?

‘For me it is a question of using a technique that cleans the lens, that removes the impurities that all sorts of random ways of performing have added to a work over the decades. Of getting a work to sound fresh, as if it was composed yesterday. It is a way of testing validity’ [...]”

(Michael Bo, interview in Politiken)