Peter Schreier

léonie sonning music prize 1987

The German tenor Peter Schreier received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 200,000 Danish kroner at a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Royal Theatre’s Old Stage, during which Schreier sang the role of Don Ottavio. The performance was attended by Queen Margrethe II.

The prize was presented on stage immediately after the performance by Professor Poul Birkelund, the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s chairman, who included the following words in his speech:

‘In the guise of Don Ottavio, we have today been touched by Peter Schreier’s re-creation of Mozart’s spirit, vocally and dramatically based on a noble tradition inherited over centuries. Ever since you came into contact with music in your childhood, you have been able to listen to and feel the great riches of your homeland. Throughout your life, you have developed a divine voice with a deep intelligence and commitment to a great musical legacy. Audiences around the world have appreciated your musical performances with gratitude.’

citation

The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 200,000 Danish kroner is awarded to lieder singer Peter Schreier in admiration of his versatile and artistically multifaceted work in the distinguished classical tradition, and for his rare ability to empathize and interpret the human condition in words and music.’

The programme

Mozart Don Giovanni

Performed by:

Don Ottavio: Peter Schreier
Don Giovanni: Mikael Melbye
Leporello: Sten Byriel
Donna Anna: Eva Johansson
Donna Elvira: Tina Kiberg
The Commendatore: Christian Christiansen

The Royal Danish Orchestra
Conductor: Tadeusz Wojciechowski

Peter Schreier and Denmark

In the 1980s, Schreier performed several times at the Tivoli Concert Hall. In 1982, he sang Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin and in 1986 he gave an all-Mozart concert including arias that allowed glimpses of some of his most important roles: Belmonte (The Abduction from the Seraglio), Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni) and Ferrando (Così fan tutte). Schreier was born and raised in Dresden, and as an East German citizen his appearances in the West were limited during the Cold War. In connection with the prize money, he even told the press in 1988 that the 200,000 Danish kroner would be used for new instruments in the East German orchestras – an acknowledgement of the fact that he, as a citizen of the Eastern Bloc, was not allowed to keep the money himself.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Shreier came to Denmark more often. In 1990 he gave a lieder recital at Tivoli consisting of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Schuman’s Dichterliebe. In 1993 he sang Schubert’s Winterreise at Tivoli, twice in one day, to two sold-out houses. In 1994, he appeared in Denmark for the first time in the double role of evangelist and conductor at a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. ‘In the centre of proceedings, both conductor and evangelist are surrounded by the soloists who bring the evangelist’s story to life. It is precisely the strength of the narrative and human drama that are at the essence of Peter Schreier’s interpretations. His luminous, rich recitation and presence made the words come alive and his empathy, together with a direct and straightforward disposition as conductor, enabled him to bring the entire great apparatus with him while linking everything directly to the meaning of the words,’ wrote Berlingske Tedende.

Later, Schreier also performed at the Danish National Symphony Orchestra’s subscription concerts in the double role of conductor and singer, first in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and later in the St John Passion (1999) which was performed both in the Radio House Concert Hall and in Ribe Cathedral. At the age of 67, Schreier appeared for the last time as a soloist in Denmark at a performance of two Bach cantatas with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. After that, he appeared exclusively as a conductor, and in 2008 conducted the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio Choir for the last time, in a performance of Bach’s B minor Mass in Poland.

The daily press wrote, among other things:

There was something special in the air at the Royal Theatre yesterday. The presence of the famous German tenor Peter Schreier in the house had raised expectations. And it turns out that the genial air he emits when singing lieder including Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin is also felt when talking to him. When he went on stage last night to receive the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 200,000 kroner, he was particularly pleased that the Danes praised him as a musician, not just a singer. Some may not see the difference, but nothing pleased the 53-year-old more now than a singer being recognised as a musician.

(Jørgen Falck, Politiken, 31 May 1988)

An exemplary treatment of text in the recitatives, always expressive. […] He is sympathetic beyond all bounds, as an interpreter and as a musician among singers.

(Michael Bonnesen, Politiken, 1 June 1988)

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