Sergiu Celibidache

léonie sonning music prize 1970

The Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 60,000 Danish kroner at a concert on 12 December 1970 at the Radio House Concert Hall in Copenhagen. The concert was recorded by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and broadcast later on both television and radio. Part of the concert was issued by the record label EMI in 2004.

The prize was presented by Børge Friis, chairman of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s board.

The programme

Joseph Strauss and Johann Strauss Overture to The Bat
Emperor Waltz
Annen Polka
Pizzicato Polka
Radetsky March
Peter Tchaikovsky Capriccio Italien
Maurice Ravel Bolero
Carl Nielsen Masquerade overture (encore)


The prize was presented by Børge Friis, chairman of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s board.

The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 60,000 Danish kroner is hereby awarded to Sergiu Celibidache in admiration of his epoch-making efforts as a music director and conductor. Celibidache’s work with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Danish Orchestra will stand as an expression of the highest artistic ideals in the field of orchestral music.


Celibidache and Denmark

Sergiu Celibidache appeared in Denmark for the first time in 1961, when he conducted the Royal Danish Orchestra. The mood in the orchestra was euphoric, and in 1963 Celibidache returned to lead the orchestra once more, but a single critical review in a Danish newspaper allegedly led him to swear he would never conduct in Copenhagen again. It did not turn out that way. After a few years away, Celibidache built up a close collaboration with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and in the period 1968-76 they gave a total of 30 concerts, many of which were carefully rehearsed and allotted extra preparatory time. Thanks to many radio and television broadcasts of concerts, and provocative statements in many interviews, Celibidache became one of the most famous names in classical music in Denmark.

As a teacher and role model, Celibidache also had a significant influence on two of Denmark’s leading musicians, the bassoonist Peter Bastian and the conductor Francesco Cristofoli. Otherwise, he was rather sarcastic about the level of music-making in Denmark. In an interview with the journalist Barbara Gram from the BT on Sunday, he stated: ‘Danish musicians? They are good enough. There are some real talents here and there. But the Danes are too self-sufficient. They enjoy themselves. One cannot combine art with drinking coffee and calling home to the wife during the break. That’s the kind of thing I try to lift them out of.’

The daily press wrote, among other things:

Celibidache is in tune with the spirits as he ignites the most infernal rhythmic and tempo crescendos heard in music. A whisper, a greeting from the flute, the shadow of a rhythm and a tune wandering through 100 musical soloists while Ringmaster Celibidache masters its rich artistry on the podium like a Dionysian orgy. […] But first we visited the Strausses in Vienna, where the overture to Die Fledermaus appeared to contain the whole operetta, played with Rosalinde, Adele, Eisenstein and all the others in a tingling, coquettish musical picture where each phrase was served as if from a silver platter. In the dances – the Emperor Waltz, Radetzky March, Tritsch-Tratsch Polka – equal parts of Vienna and Celibidache were on display, so you sometimes had to laugh out loud during his antics, of which there were a lot to see but also a lot to hear, making the children in the audience beside themselves with delight. And we all became like children again. For admittedly, Celibidache is a devil, a seducer, a charmer, a coquette and more. But inside he burns for it and can pass it on – a great artist.

(Frede Schandorf, Politiken, 13 December 1970)

You feel as though you’ve been on 10 or 15 rides on a rollercoaster after a concert with Sergiu Celibidache. It is as if the man possesses a magical radiance that not only radiates to the musicians, but all the way up to the back rows of audience. He plays Strauss, so the sky hangs full of violins, and plays Ravel’s Bolero so you gasp for breath.

(Johannes Nørgaard, Kristeligt Dagblad, 14 December 1970)

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