Unsuk Chin

Unsuk Chin awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2021

The composer Unsuk Chin received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2021 at a concert on June 5, 2021 at the DR Concert Hall

Unsuk Chin is the 17th composer who is awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize.

programme for the prize concert

subito con forza (2020)

Piano Concerto (1996-97)


Puzzles and Games from Alice in Wonderland (2017)

Soprano and orchestra

Siobhan Stagg (soprano), Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Fabio Luisi


Katrine Ganer Skaug, who is the vice-chairman of the board of Léonie Sonnings Musikfonds gave a personal speech, which also included the official motivation:

Unsuk Chin is awarded the 2021 Léonie Sonning Music Prize of a million Danish kroner in recognition of her visionary work as a composer. With her entirely individual approach to music, she draws drama, humour and clarity from a complex world of sounds.

In her works, Unsuk Chin communicates a distinctive power that overwhelms us with curiosity, forces us to discover the unexpected and expands our musical universe.” 


Unsuk chin in Denmark

Unsuk China’s music was first performed in Denmark in 2000, when the DR Symphony Orchestra together with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic commissioned the work Kalá for soprano, bass singers, mixed choir and orchestra. In the work, Unsuk Chin composed music for poems by Inger Christensen, Arthur Rimbaud, Gunnar Ekelöf, Gerhard Rühm, Unica Zürn and Paavo Haavikko.

In 2018, Unsuk Chin was a composer-in-residence at the PULSAR festival, which the Royal Danish Academy of Music is behind. At the festival, Unsuk Chin’s music included represented by two Danish first performances. For the opening concert, the DR Symphony Orchestra performed i.a. Chin’s work Tableux vivants for orchestra (2015).



Can you really compose better? As a contemporary composer in the classical field? More fascinating? More clear, yet complex? More curious, but so the music is still easy to listen to? Composer Unsuk Chin has cracked the code for how to win the respect of the avant-garde at the same time and get the big assignments from the European and American top orchestras that have to sell tickets.

When she wrote an opera a few years ago, it was about Alice from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and that was smart. Thus, Unsuk Chin was able to unite the immediately entertaining with the philosophically intricate. The directly tantalizing with the sophisticated contemporary musical in the depictions of all the surreal that happens after Alice has taken the trip down through the rabbit hole. form of the suite ‘Puzzles and Games from Alice in Wonderland’ – and no one, I think, sat and thought that for half an hour we listened to complicated contemporary music. Friendly woodwinds struck the pastoral English mood. And then it was otherwise just to have fun with Lewis Carroll’s nonsense-wise words and admire how perfectly Unsuk Chin masters writing for orchestra with all the extra means. From delicate harp and sampler to hissing wind machine and full brass pull-out.

(Thomas Michelsen, Politiken)

Korean Unsuk Chin is a cosmopolitan composer, her music is played in concert halls all over the world, and it is often immediately accessible with its strong light effects and diverse colors. It was illustrated in full measure at the award concert in the Concert Hall. With the composer Unsuk Chin, one has to resort to the

English word play with the double meaning: to play and to play. Her music is complicated enough, but in its essence it sounds accessible and life-giving. When she received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize on Saturday, she touched on her heroes and role models who have previously received the prize – including Russian Igor Stravinsky, Frenchman Olivier Messiaen and Hungarian György Ligeti. The 59-year-old composer Unsuk Chin was born and raised in South Korea but has lived in Germany since 1985. Thus ended a week in which Unsuk Chin had taken over Copenhagen with concerts and workshops during the ongoing Klang Festival. It was a great idea to get the actors of the music life to play together about such a push, and based on the speech of thanks, it seemed that the slightly shy main character had felt welcome in the company. 

(Valdemar Lønsted, Information)

This year, however, no one had expected that this week 22 would be such an overwhelming tsunami of exciting music, as was the case with the magnificent cavalcade of Chin works, which culminated in the prize concert on Sunday, but before that had unfolded in the Conservatory’s Concert Hall, in the Concert Church and in The Black Diamond. The latter place united Athelas Sinfonietta and Esbjerg Ensemble on the work Graffiti from 201213, which with its three movements, »Palimpsest«, »Notturno urbano« and »Passacaglia«, creates a whole new dimension by being music that seems to promise in a promising way away from the listener, as one stood and let a sparkling illuminated train pass with an insatiable number of carriages. 

(Peter Johannes Erichsen, Weekendavisen)



Sunday 30 May at 16.00-17.30

Royal Danish Academy of Music (RDAM), Studiescenen

Artist talk and workshop

Unsuk Chin, receiver of Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2021, in conversation with Søren Schauser

Piano Etudes – Ramez Mhaanna, piano.

Double Bind? – Djumash Poulsen, violin.

Monday 31 May at 19.30Royal Danish Academy of Music: Concert Hall

Chamber music by Unsuk Chin

Double Bind? (2007)

Piano Etudes (1995-2003)                                        

Gougalon (Scenes from a Street Theater) (2009/2011)                              

Djumash Poulsen (violin), Ramez Mhaanna (piano) & Sinfonietta, Royal Danish Academy of Music. Conductor: Jean Thorel


Tuesday 1 June at 20.00

Koncertkirken: String Quartet concert

Klang Festival

Unsuk Chin: ParaMetaString (1996) String Quartet and electronic

Ji-Sung Yang: melody, notes, five (2011/2017)

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen: String Quartet no. 4 (1967)

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen: String Quartet no. 9 ”Last Ground” (2006)

Nordic String Quartet


Friday 4 June at 20.00

Royal Danish Library: Dronningesalen

Unsuk Chin Festive Concert. Klang Festival

Allegro ma non troppo (1994/1998)

Unsuk Chin: Xi (1998)

Unsuk Chin: Grafitti (2012-13)

Athelas Sinfonietta (Xi and Grafitti)

Esbjerg Ensemble (Allegro ma non troppo and Grafitti)


Saturday 5 June 2021 at 19.30

DR Koncerthuset: Léonie Sonning Music Prize Concert 2021

 subito con forza (2020)

Piano Concerto (1996-97)


Puzzles and Games from Alice in Wonderland (2017)

Soprano and orchestra

Siobhan Stagg (soprano), Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Fabio Luisi


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Other recipients

Barbara Hannigan

Due to the Danish government’s efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus in 2020, the DR Concert Hall has to cancel the prize concert

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