Léonie Sonning Awards 2009

Daniel Barenboim


Daniel Barenboim received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 600,000 at a concert held at 4pm on Sunday, 19 April in Koncerthuset, DR byen.
The music prize was presented by the conductor Michael Schønwandt, who said: "Your complete mastery of the music and the necessity of communicating it to others has made you one of the greatest conductors of our time – in front of the greatest orchestras and in the greatest opera houses. Your mental capacity is absolutely unique, but much more important is the fact that you always communicate to us, your audience, why it is completely necessary to listen to this music.

And your deep commitment in the struggle for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of fundamental importance to you. You, who are yourself a citizen of several countries – including both those two – use music as a means: the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which unites musicians from Israel and Palestine is a brilliant example to all the world of what music can and must do for all of us."

The programme

Carl Nielsen Symphony no. 2,The Four Temperaments
Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 3
Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 5 (The Emperor)
Chopin Nocturnein Db major (encore)

The Royal Danish Orchestra
Conductor: Michael Schønwandt


The 2009 Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 600,000 is awarded to the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim for his contribution to classical music. For more than half a century, Daniel Barenboim has vitalised the classical musical heritage and by means of his unique, titanic creative force brought classical music to all the world and been a leading star for coming generation. His courageous efforts to secure music as a common language has built bridges between people irrespective of race, culture and religion.

Barenboim’s speech of thanks

In his speech of thanks after having received the Sonning Music Prize Daniel Barenboim said: "This orchestra – or, more precisely: its predecessor – is in fact responsible for me becoming a conductor. For when, as a small 9-10 year-old boy I came to Europe from Argentina, one of the first orchestras I heard was The Royal Danish Orchestra, with the pianist Edwin Fischer as soloist. Older members of the audience will recall what a wonderful musician he was, and what a close relationship he had to this orchestra and to your king, a man for whom ruling over a country was not enough – he had to feel the power of being a conductor. Or perhaps it was the powerlessness of being a conductor that made him want to be a king. We shall never know. [...] At any rate: The concert I heard with this orchestra in the early or mid 1950s with Edwin Fischer made me want to play and conduct Mozart’s concertos. And I said to Edwin Fischer: This is what I want to do. I want to play Mozart’s piano concertos and conduct from the piano, as you do. And he answered with something highly important – something that some of my piano colleagues have unfortunately not been told: If you want to conduct from the piano, you will have to learn to conduct."

You can listen to the speeches here:

Selected Music by Daniel Barenboim

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"Barenboim was a huge experience was the headline in Politiken. He played precisely like the feline beast of prey that creeps up close to the swift antelope with measured power and elegance in every movement and suddenly mobilises overwhelming strength for the violent culminations of the hunt. The small, white-haired man has an enthralling flair and a technique that gives him reserves of energy to form piano sounds as if the notes were soft clay.

At the prize-giving concert he gave us some quite incredible musical moments with more diverse nuances of sound in two of Beethoven’s piano concertos than one would have thought possible for a brilliant Steinway grand to produce.

His fantastic touch and the small details made it almost irrelevant that the musical totality with the orchestra was only partially successful. In the third piano concerto Barenboim brought time to a standstill with an endless cadenza in the first movement. A completely transparent landscape of completely simply and gently focused notes – and yet with lots of power in spite of this. In the second movement he drew a broad brush across melancholy cathedrals of sound and slowed the tempo right down to a theatrical level that almost called for a box on the ears.

Barenboim placed all his dextrous light weight in every single dark-toned note in a nocturne by Chopin as a fiendishly fascinating small encore. No register of amplitude, no contrasts – just a succession of closely knit, incredibly well-shaped notes."

(Henrik Friis, Politiken)

"Barenboim enters and bows deeply to all parts of the hall, and he could have gone on for ever longer [...] The man has contact with the entire audience from the very first second. Even when he sits down at the piano. Schønwandt sets the orchestra in motion. The star of the afternoon sits with his hands in his lap and his attention everywhere. His ears are like those of a horse. And he clearly likes what he can hear. That the orchestra plays with a modern respect for the ideals at Beethoven’s own time does not bother the self-named king of conservatism.

The first notes from the keyboard are completely overwhelming. ‘That is how he always plays, then,’ one thinks. But no: Barenboim is also a human being. We Danes are getting a keyboard virtuoso at his prime. [...] Or take his improbable clarity. ‘Barenboim communicates not only the music,’ Schønwandt says when awarding the prize afterwards, ‘he also communicates the why.’ One must not be fooled by the fact that these two phenomena are normally referred to as musicality. For they are heard much too rarely [...] he deserved every one of the standing ovations. Barenboim has already moved on. His presence remains."

(Søren Schauser in Berlingske Tidende).

"It is in slow music that Barenboim’s unique musicality has always revealed itself, and in that he shares a spiritual bond with his long-since deceased mentor Edwin Fischer. Beethoven has left what could be called a written-down improvisation in his largo, with walking rows of thirds, scales and broken chords one after the other. It can be played as written. And it can be sung and recited and dramatised, as it was on Sunday afternoon."

(Valdemar Lønsted. Information)

"He phrased the melodic lines intensely and vibrantly. With soft, equal strokes of the finger he made each note sparkle clearly and precisely. At one moment he lingered gently and imaginatively on the long trills. And at the next moment he assumed the role of conductor and, with rhythmical authority, placed himself slightly in advance of the orchestra."

(Christine Christiansen. Jyllands-Posten)

"[...] But before that he has depicted in the slow movement the particular characteristic with which he associates Beethoven. Irreversible loneliness. Rich in sound, saturated, basically not inaccessible but devoid of all sentimentality. Barenboim does not deny that there may well be cryptograms hidden in this music. He illuminates them, but does not interpret them.

[...] Here there is no wish to throw in the towel. On the contrary, during the furious final spurt of the rondo in the Emperor Concerto Barenboim abandons the idea of taking any break to dab away the sweat from his brow and throw his handkerchief up onto the grand piano. He is Daniel and the lions’ den at one and the same time. Courageous and insatiable in one final kehraus."

(Peter Johannes Erichsen. Weekendavisen)