Léonie Sonning Awards 2008

Arvo Pärt


The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 600,000 at a concert held on Thursday, 22 May in Radiohusets Koncertsal, where the prize was presented by Esben Tange, committee member of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation.

The programme

Arvo Pärt: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.
For string orchestra and bell (1977/1980)

Arvo Pärt: L’Abbé Agathon.
For cello octet and soprano (2004)

Arvo Pärt: These Words…
For string orchestra and percussion (first performance)


J.S. Bach: Singet dem Herrn.
Motet for eight-voice choir

Arvo Pärt: In principio.
For choir and orchestra


The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
The Danish National Vocal Ensemble/Danish National Radio Choir
Soloist: Patricia Rozario
Conductor: Tõnu Kaljuste


The 2008 Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 600,000 is awarded to the composer Arvo Pärt for having created works of exceptional beauty and strong spiritual strength over the past decades.

Arvo Pärt has to a unique degree managed to compose contemporary music that strikes a deep chord with the religious universe of the orthodox church, and that builds on the musical experiences of the ancient masters. Through his music, Arvo Pärt has reached a large audience and demonstrated that sonorous art is still capable of communicating magic moments.

Listen to the speeches from the concert

Arvo Pärt in Denmark

Pärt was known and loved in Denmark long before he received the Sonning Music Prize. He had, for example, been here in 2005, when his Lamentate for piano and orchestra (from 2002) was performed by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. After it had been announced that Pärt was the prize-winner, Athelas Sinfonietta organised a Pärt event in September 2007 that went beyond the boundaries of normal interest in contemporary music: 400 people queued along Bredgade so as to be able to watch in Frederikskirken the film Passio by Paolo Cherchi Usai with Pärt’s music for soloists, choir and orchestra – played ‘live’ by Athelas Sinfonietta.

Garnisons Kirke nearby was just as packed for a concert linked to the prize-giving concert (see below), where Arvo Pärt was greeted like an American rock star.
In connection with the handing-over of the prize, Henrik Marstal’s book on Pärt, The Longing for the White Keys, was published. Dansk Musik Tidskrift also had a special number on Arvo Pärt. And Dansk Danseteater put on Tim Rushton’s performance of Labyrinth, which included Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel.

Pärt had originally declined to contribute to the festive occasion with a new work, but a few months before the prize-giving concert he had nevertheless composed a work commissioned by the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation – orchestral music with the title These Words...

Concert in connection with the prize-giving concert

Garnisons Kirke, 20 May 2008


Arvo Pärt: Fratres for viola and piano (1977)
Summa for choir (1977)
Psalom for string quartet (1985/91/97)
Solfeggio for choir (1964)
Da pacem Domine for string quartet (2004/06)
Nunc dimittis for choir (2001)
Spiegel im Spiegel for clarinet and piano (1978)
Miserere for soloists, choir, ensemble and organ (1989/92). First Danish performance.


Soloists: Else Torp, Iris Oja, Risto Joost, Adam Riis, Jacob Bloch Jespersen
Ars Nova Copenhagen
Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen
Conductor: Paul Hillier

Selected Music by Arvo Pärt

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"A clearly moved Pärt went onto the stage to receive the Sonning Music Prize. With quivering voice, he thanked the prize committee for choosing him, and placed himself behind his music: ‘A composer is unfortunately not the exceptional being you perhaps believe. The work is always greater. Magic takes place when the work lifts itself up above the composer and liberates itself,’ he said, humbly but proudly."

(Christine Christiansen, Information)

"People who otherwise are enthusiasts of electronic music, rock music or Mozart have rushed to record shops and churches to have Pärt’s music soothe their minds. Björk, who has been one of Pärt’s best-known fans for years, has put it this way – that you can move into Pärt’s music and live there."

(Thomas Michelsen, Politiken)

"Perhaps people simply love his quiet, calm manner. He himself has referred to silence as ‘more perfect than music’ – and his music normally moved at the pace of holy scripture – slowly, soberly, word for word. In fact, his music is slightly reminiscent of fantastic locations in Rome: they seem to have been built according to some secret fraction. All the relative sizes fit the individual. Life does not seem to keep pace with the swiftness of thought but with the slowness of emotions.
People have clapped and risen to their feet for the last time. The famous Estonian no longer seems as monk-like any more. No longer as strange. And maybe his music is a bit like our own – the new simplicity of the sixties, only with a spiritual twist. It reveals itself to the listener. Unadorned, unboasting, un-German.
So the choice of Arvo Pärt runs parallel with the policy of the foundation until now. And with fine support from all quarters the rest of the goal has been reached."

(Søren Hallundbæk Schauser, Berlingske Tidende)