Léonie Sonning Awards 2007

Lars Ulrik Mortensen

2007 Lars Ulrik Mortensen


Lars Ulrik Mortensen received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 600,000 at a concert held at 9pm on Saturday, 2 June on the Main Stage of The Royal Danish Theatre. Prince Henrik was present. The prize was presented by the pianist Amalie Malling, who said:

“In 1968, the prize-winner was Benjamin Britten. During that season, The Royal Danish Theatre put on his opera ‘The Turn of the Screw’, and Britten received the prize in this very building in connection with one of the performances. And the little 12-year-old boy who had been carefully selected from the Danish Radio Boys’ Choir to sing the main role as the boy Miles was: Lars Ulrik Mortensen. So it is no exaggeration to say that one can feel the pulse of history in the sense that now – almost 40 years later – it has become your turn to receive the prize. But in actual fact it was also that experience as a soloist in Britten’s opera that made it clear to you that you wanted to become a musician.

Through your musicological studies at the University of Copenhagen you came into contact with early music, and when you and the harpsichord found each other, it was as if your musical universe suddenly fell into place. You have yourself told of how you were struck with great force by this new sound, how you were enchanted by this magical, unknown sound-world that you quite literally experienced as ‘going beyond’ your previous musical life. At the same time you became increasingly engrossed in early music, and you realised just how unconventional, how radical and innovative this music in reality is.

The unique thing about you is that even though these watershed experiences now lie more than 30 years back in time, nothing in your basic attitude has really changed since. You are still just as fascinated by your harpsichord and just as obsessed with exploring and communicating early music. Apart from having lifted the harpsichord up to a level the like of which we had not previously heard, you have worked as a conductor for various orchestras at home and abroad. But the field of tension between the sound ideal of traditional symphony orchestras and your own consistent attitude to performance practice of early music became too great for you, so some years ago you decided to concentrate on working specialised baroque ensembles.

Dear Lars Ulrik, with your great artistic authority, your stylistic insight and knowledge and your intense commitment you have managed to lift Concerto Copenhagen up to an incredibly high level. Your ability to communicate directly with your audience has an infectious effect on everything and everyone, so that the music becomes a here-and-now experience. For you possess the rare gift of being able to make us feel that we are present in the process where music is created.”

You can listen to the entire speech in Danish here:

In his speech of thanks Lars Ulrik Mortensen said:

“Amalie forgot one thing if we are to describe my musical commitment. You forgot to mention the playful element – to playfully bring out the music, to play it with the aim of telling stories, to play music not only with the aim of avoiding anything going wrong, but to risk a great deal in the moment that something goes right [...] Music as a game, music as a gift, music as [...] increasingly important in a society where the non-measurable, the non-concrete, the spontaneous-abstract that has no other aim than itself are having an increasingly hard time of it. [...] If the music prize is to have a wider, long-lasting importance, then I hope it will be that which I can contribute with in the years ahead: music as playfulness, music not as an escape from life, but perhaps an escape to life. Thank you all so much!”

You can listen to Lars Ulrik Mortensens speech in Danish here:

The programme

Georg Friedrich Händel: Water Music, Suite no. 1
Georg Friedrich Händel: Organ Concerto op. 4 no. 1 in G minor
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Suite from the opera Platée

Performed by

Concerto Copenhagen
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, soloist and conductor


The 2007 Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 600,000 is awarded to the harpsichordist and conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen for, with his ardent, uncompromising commitment, to have opened the ears and minds of a whole generation to early music. Lars Ulrik Mortensen is an ardent musician, blessed with limitless curiosity and a great artistic authority and imagination. His fabulous stylistic awareness and insight couple with his superb mastery of the harpsichord have made him one of the world’s leading lights within his field.

In connection with the prize-giving concert

the Music Foundation had organised a series of concerts featuring the prize-winner:

Monday, 4 June at 7.30pm in Vor Frue Kirke, Svendborg
Baroque music on the harpsichord. Lars Ulrik Mortensen solo

Tuesday, 5 June at 7.30pm in Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, Ålborg
Baroque music on the harpsichord. Lars Ulrik Mortensen solo

Wednesday, 6 June at 7.30pm at Louisiana Kunstmuseum
Baroque music on the harpsichord. Lars Ulrik Mortensen solo

Sunday, 10 June at 7pm in the banqueting hall at Kronborg Castle
Buxtehude: Seven sonatas, op. 1.
For violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo

Lars Ulrik Mortensen, harpsichord
John Holloway, violin
Jaap ter Linden, cello

Selected Music by Lars Ulrik Mortensen

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

“It is with the facial gestures of the tragic silent film, modern dance gestures and linguistic comparisons that start out and develop in strange, convoluted directions that Lars Ulrik Mortensen urges on his orchestra to some interpretations of baroque music that turn the polite music of the French court into a plastic, living, organic and pulsating dramatic statement. And when Mortensen wants ‘a...gothic...floating...type of rhythm’, they (the orchestra) know precisely what his goal is. Just as when he says I don’t necessarily have to hear the first note, but it is important that I notice a movement begin to flow immediately.”

(Michael Bo, review in Politiken)

“So once again one experienced how Lars Ulrik Mortensen joyfully and convulsively conducts his beloved baroque music as if he had eight arms or legs, which, as is known, nature has only equipped web-weaving spiders with. And one can hear that the image is not misplaced, for the gossamer-thin sound produced by CoCo is unmistakable, and every cough from the audience [...] is felt to be a bluebottle that has gone astray.”

(Peter Johannes Erichsen, review in Weekendavisen)

“In his eloquent and culture-critical speech of thanks, Lars Ulrik Mortensen emphasised the playful aspect of music. Music pays homage to the non-measurable and non-useful, the spontaneous, he feels, and he concluded by saying that music is not to be an escape from life but an escape to life [...]”

(Jakob Holm, review in Kristeligt Dagblad)