Léonie Sonning Prize 1997
The Hungarian pianist András Schiff received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 300,000 Danish kroner at a concert on 30 May 1997 at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen. The concert was broadcast live by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s P2 radio channel.
The prize was presented by the pianist Amalie Malling, a member of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s board, who in her personal speech included the following comments:
‘Here in Denmark, we are proud to have a more than twenty-year relationship with you and your country. In 1976 you played for the first time here in Copenhagen, since when both the orchestras and music associations here have been blessed with visits from you. You have always looked foremost for the meaning in the music you play, while your sense of perfection is consistently subordinate to the music’s message. At the crux of your playing is a close spiritual connection to your audience. For you, music is above all an expression of the soul, a language that conveys emotions and evokes them in the listener. We know that Denmark has a special place in your heart and that you have also won a special place in the hearts of your listeners. Accordingly, it is a great pleasure present you with the Léonie Sonning Music Prize tonight.’
The Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2017 is awarded to pianist András Schiff, one of the great musical personalities of his generation. With his unique artistic overview and vision, and a sure sense of style, imagination and poetry, he manages to captivate his audience in both small individual movements as well as in the great masterpiece of the piano literature.’
András Schiff thanked the Foundation with these words:
‘Just a few words to say how touched and truly deeply honoured I am. I know it’s a great honour to receive this award – I am too young for it! Usually you have to be 70 or 80. But thank you for your faith and trust in me. I hope I will not disappoint you in the years to come if I have the good fortune from above to linger on.’
Schubert Piano Sonata in A minor D537
Schubert Wanderer Fantasy
Schubert Piano Sonata in A major D959
Schubert Impromptu in G flat major D899 (encore)
András Schiff, piano
András Schiff and Denmark
Despite being just 45 when he received the Sonning Prize, over the previous two decades András Schiff had already become a regular part of Danish music life. His first concert in Denmark took place in 1976. He later performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2 and Brahms’s Piano Concerto No 2 at the Tivoli Concert Hall. In the 1990s he appeared in several solo recitals, performing works by Schubert, Beethoven, Janáček and Schumann while also playing chamber music by Dvořák and Smetana. In addition, for a period he toured Denmark with the Hungarian-born violinist Anton Kontra. In 2001, Schiff played all five Beethoven piano concertos over two evenings with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and in the 2010s he began performing as a conductor with the orchestra. At the same time, he developed his solo performances into marathon single-composer concerts, chiefly traversing the solo works of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The daily press wrote, among other things:
One does not need to hesitate to name András Schiff a genius of the piano. His technique is thoroughly cultivated, his feeling for the music’s soul overwhelming. Schiff’s Schubert playing, however, left no doubt that it was musicianship alone that secured him the prize. His Wanderer Fantasy was unusually solid, expressive and yet controlled at the same time. Both Schubert’s doleful and dramatic aspects were illuminated, so that all the freedoms in Schiff’s refined modulations of sound and pulse seemed as if they came only from within the music.
(Thomas Michelsen, Information 2 June 1997)
András Schiff is an entirely unique musician and pianist. If anyone can connect imagination and clarity, he can, as Amalie Malling commented when she quoted the committee’s reasoning. Clarity and imagination were also the watchwords for the evening’s Schubert programme, which in all its simplicity consisted of the Sonata in A minor with its beautiful Allegretto quasi andantino, the dramatic Wanderer Fantasy and finally the A major Sonata D959. Nothing is more Schubertian than this last sonata, and nothing more poignant than its last movement, where the composer cannot let go of his beloved theme so must let it disintegrate. Schiff brings out all the imagery and emotion in Schubert’s music, bringing time almost to a standstill while a stream of small stories and signposts prick the consciousness. A hidden middle voice emerges and steps into character, and one senses, in an imperceptible throwback of consciousness, that it has been there all along. An alternating bass line may become the main event. Light may become shadow with a small shift in the weighting of a chord, where each note is chosen so carefully that the demands placed on a pianists’ technique are great. In Schiff’s hands, they take shape and come to life in a large, sumptuous whole.
(Thorkil Kjems, Jyllands-Posten, 1 June 1997)