Rafael Kubelík

léonie sonning music prize 1983

The Czech-Swiss conductor Rafael Kubelik received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 100,000 Danish kroner at a concert on 17 June 1983 at the Radio House Concert Hall. The concert was broadcast live on the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s P2 radio channel. The second half of he concert, including the prize ceremony, was televised live.

The prize was presented by Professor Poul Birkelund, a member of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s board.


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 100,000 Danish kroner is hereby presented to Rafael Kubelik in recognition of his efforts as a versatile musician and of his international work as a conductor at the highest level.’


The programme

Antonin Dvorak In Nature’s Realm. Overture, op. 91
Leos Janácek Taras Bulba
Carl Nielsen Symphony no. 5, op. 50

Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Rafael Kubelik

Rafael Kubelik and Denmark

The world-famous conductor Rafael Kubelik had a close and long-lasting relationship with Denmark. In 1948 at the age of 35, he fled Czechoslovakia and over the course of a long career became a well-known and beloved guest of Denmark’s musical institutions. He conducted the Danish National Symphony Orchestra for the first time in 1953, and in the following three decades returned several times.

Many times, the orchestra’s management tried to persuade Kubelik to become the orchestra’s chief conductor and the press weighed in: ’10-12 concerts a year with Kubelik would bring this our best symphony orchestra to the forefront,’ wrote the critic Jürgen Baltzer. It was not to be, even though in the peak of the relationship, during the 1960s, Kubelik conducted the orchestra a couple of times a year and was even named a Knight of the Dannebrog. Instead, Kubelik accepted the chief conductorship of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1961, a position he held until 1979.

In connection with the prize concert in 1983, Kubelik participated in a seminar with the joint orchestra of Denmark’s conservatories. He rehearsed works by Smetana, Nielsen and Dvořák with the young musicians, ending with a concert at the Tivoli Concert Hall on 20 June 1983.

The newspaper Politiken wrote about the concert: ‘That concert breathed happiness. We know from many previous concerts with the Music Conservatories’ Joint Orchestra that talented conductors can encourage young people to very fine performance. The meeting between the 69-year-old Kubelik and an orchestra staffed fully by musicians of his grandchildren’s generation reached such extraordinary heights because the young people had the chance to make music with an artist of such rare abilities. […]. Incidentally, the Maestro must have been pleased too: because of this short collaboration he has aired the idea of taking the Music Conservatories’ Joint Orchestra on tour.’

The two concerts in 1983 were the last Kubelik conducted in Denmark. In 1985, due to ill health, he was forced to suspend his full-time conducting career and from then only performed on special occasions, most memorably at a concert marking the reunion concert in Prague, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the Czech Philharmonic.

The daily press wrote, among other things:

Soul-stirring must be the phrase to describe Kubelik’s performance of Nielsen’s Symphony No 5 with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at the Radio House on Friday, when the Czech-born conductor received the Sonning Music Prize from the hand of Professor Poul Birkelund. This was the fourth time Kubelik had conducted Nielsen’s symphony at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and his engagement with the work is utterly captivating. I sense his attitude towards this work of pure genius clarifying architecturally. The symphony contains the wildest contrasts we encounter in Nielsen’s oeuvre, and it is astonishing how Kubelik manages to calculate the high points of this universe of pain and joy – the humanist Nielsen’s response to the experiences of a world war. At this special concert, the orchestra raised its game for the master and its strings sounded with a rare beauty. […] A moving evening. Kubelik, who has lived in exile in the West since the coup of ’48, is a Czech patriot at heart. On his special evening, he began with music from the lost homeland: Dvořák’s In Nature’s Realm. […] Kubelik was hailed throughout the evening as one of the artists who for many years has taken us to places we rarely visit, and from whose concers we remember minutes as lifetimes.

(Robert Naur, Politiken, 18 June 1983)

Somehow time stood still at this concert. It was not something you witnessed, but an event – and one in which everything abounded in warm humanity and noble music. It was reminiscent of Furtwängler. If the Sonning Prize deserves a motto, it would simply be: musical devotion, above all. Against this background, it was the right person who got the award.

(Erik Damberg, Jyllands-Posten, 19 June 1983)


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