Sofia Gubaidulina

léonie sonning music prize 1999

The Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 300,000 Danish kroner at a concert on 6 May at the Radio House Concert Hall. The concert was broadcast live on the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s P2 radio channel. Two days later, on 8 May 1999, the corporation broadcast a TV interview with Gubaidulina that included footage from the prize concert’s rehearsal.

The prize was presented by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s Head of Music, Steen Frederiksen, also the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s chairman. He made the following comments:

‘Your music can seem like an island one would like to flee to in these times, which are becoming more and more fickle and superficial – times in which we miss the calm contemplation, fervour and discovery that your music offers. But when on this island, one would also find it very well connected. Because your music has deep roots and the spiritual journeys you take us on are as long and significant as those of the greatest composers. Their music makes demands on all of us. It is apparently simple, but requires an open mind before it can be fully understood.’


The 1999 Léonie Sonning Music Prize is awarded to Sofia Gubaidulina in recognition of her consistent, clear music, born of deep sincerity and always containing a human message; music that unites tradition and innovation, and that with meditation, colour, mystery and expression creates a symbiosis between the cultures of East and West – a symbiosis that advances the language of European music. Gubaidulina’s musical expression is strongly personal and at the same time international, speaking to people all over the world. Her music is among the most significant of our time.’

In her speech of thanks, Gubaidulina said the following: ‘It is a great honour to receive an award of this rank. This day has been one of the happiest in my life.’

The programme

Sofia Gubaidulina Canticle of the Sun for cello, percussion and chamber choir (1997)

Shostakovich Symphony No 10


David Geringas, cello

Gert Sørensen, percussion

Tom Nybye, percussion

DR Radio Choir

Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Stefan Parkman, conductor (Canticle of the Sun)

Alexander Lazarev, conductor (Symphony No 10)


Sofia Gubaidulina in Denmark

The first performances of Gubaidulina’s works in Denmark took place in the mid 1980s. In 1988 her symphony, Stimmen…Verstummen (1986), was performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at one of its subscription concerts. In 1990 the violinist Christina Åstrand made her solo breakthrough when she jumped in at short notice to play Gubaidulina’s violin concerto Offertorium at a festival concert with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. That same year, the association Women in Music performed works by Gubaidulina at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, and in 1994 her music was the main feature at the year’s Lerchenborg Music Days.

The day before the prize concert in 1999, Gubaidulina met the composers Per Nørgård, Edina Hadžiselimović and Lars Bisgaard at a public discussion event in front of an audience of composers and musicians. The event began with a performance of Gubaidulina’s Garten von Freuden, played by a group of students (Mads Johansen, Martin and Marie Boelsgård). Following the talk, Gubaidulina’s Duo Sonata for two baritone saxophones was played by Jeanette Balland and Peter Navarro Alonso.

In the days after the prize concert, Gubaidulina’s Canticle of the Sun was recorded by the label Chandos, together with the vocal work Hommage à Marina Tsvetayeva. With support from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation, the director Lone Alstrup created the documentary film The Essential Time, focusing on Gubaidulina’s artistic universe. The film premiered in 2002.

The daily press wrote, among other things:

Over Francis of Assisi’s famous Canticle of the Sun, the music moves from fervent praise sung over a climax of turbulent and sonorous sound to a point of deep humility – a shift in musical consciousness from the highly strung to the forgiving. On the one hand, we heard the introductory bass song as a reminder of the Orthodox Church singing tradition. On the other, we heard groundbreaking, clear experimentation reminiscent of George Crumb – as when the cellist exceeds the limits of the instrument and has to resort to percussion, or when the percussionist in the final, highly vibratory phrase, produces the overtone sound of a crystal glass being stroked around its rim.

(Eva Hvidt, Kristeligt Dagblad, 11 May 1999)

Gubaidulina’s music is not easily shaken off once it has taken hold. It will not fade. It will continue to sound inside the body, where sensory impressions gather and settle as lasting impressions. Maybe that is because the music’s enigmatic, apocryphal character is so alluring. It never reveals its innermost secrets.

(Anders Beyer, Information, 5 May 1999)

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