Isaac Stern

léonie sonning music prize 1982

The American violinist Isaac Stern received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 100,000 Danish kroner at a concert on 3 June 1982 at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen. The second half of the concert was broadcast live on the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s P2 radio channel and on television. The concert was attended by Queen Ingrid.

The prize was presented by Professor Poul Birkelund, the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s chairman. In his personal speech, he included the following comments:

‘You are one of the warmest and most sincere people on the global music scene. Since your first concert here in Denmark, you have imprinted yourself on the consciousness of all music lovers. Personally, I will never forget the first time you performed as a soloist with my old orchestra, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, where in 1949 you played the Brahms Violin Concerto with Thomas Jensen as conductor. The following year, in 1950, the Orchestra played some concerts at the Edinburgh Festival and at one of those you congenially played Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with the great Fritz Busch. As an interpreter of the great composers’ music and as a human communicator, you have helped our understanding of Western music along with the best musicians of our time.’



The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 100,000 Danish kroner is hereby awarded to Isaac Stern in recognition of his outstanding efforts as an artistically and technically superb interpreter of the older and newer violin literature and for the importance of his inspiring work on the international music scene.’

In his speech of thanks, Stern included the following comments:

‘It is hard to say thank you in a simple and straightforward way. Music is not a profession, music is a belief in something that is so beautiful it lies above ourselves. You work for years, you try to slip free from the natural thought of your own limitations. And you travel from city to city and work with colleagues with whom you develop a particularly deep understanding. Then an act of love arises between the audience and the stage. So I say thank you and hope that for many years to come we will meet in good health. We have to hope for a bit of peace – we have to discuss whether to play a little slower or a little faster, and in love, not arms.’


The programme

Johannes Brahms Academic Festival Overture
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Symphony no. 5, Reformation
Béla Bartók Violin Concerto no. 1
Max Bruch Violin Concerto no. 1

Soloist: Isaac Stern
The Tivoli Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Leonard Slatkin

Isaac Stern and Denmark

Isaac Stern was no stranger to Denmark. He gave his first concert with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in 1949 and often returned, in the first years to some lesser concert venues including the Svendborg Chamber Music Association. Otherwise it was at the Radio House Concert Hall and especially the Tivoli Concert Hall that he most faithfully appeared as a soloist and chamber musician for the Danish audience. In 1984, two years after the prize concert, Stern gave a special concert when he performed for the Mosaic Faith Association’s 300th anniversary at the Odd Fellow Palace. On that occasion he was the soloist in music by Bach and Mozart, which he performed with musicians from the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. He also played a violin sonata by Mozart.

Stern’s last concert in Denmark was in May 1994, when he played violin sonatas with pianist Robert McDonald at the Tivoli Concert Hall. Berlingske Tidende’s reviewer wrote: ‘The word “culture” has been so debased that it can now be used about anything. If you want to experience what quality culture can be, you have to go to a concert with Isaac Stern. He naturally cultivates the art of music on his violin, but does so in a way that brings culture to life. And it gets clearer the older he gets. The all-round, outgoing violin virtuoso who seemed like he can overcome anything has grown old in a beautiful way. He has become fragile in form, but the radiance of authority and human friendliness is the same – as is his obvious joy in making contact with the audience.’

The daily press wrote, among other things:

On his violin, Stern gave thanks with two major concertos. First the earlier Bartók concerto from 1908, which only saw the light of day half a century later. It was an intense and magnificent performance of the two, highly contrasting movements, which are actually two portraits. In intensity, in its enormous tonal nuance, it was Stern on top. Then followed the old, affectionate Max Bruch Concerto in G minor, which was adorably played in the finest understanding between the soloist and Slatkin on the conductor’s podium. Yes, it was a party night.

(Robert Naur, Politiken 5 June 1982)


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