Léonie Sonning Prize 1995

Yuri Bashmet

The viola player Yuri Bashmet received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 250,000 at a concert held at 8pm on Friday, 21 April 1995 in Radiohusets Koncertsal.

The music prize was presented by Tivoli’s head of music, Lars Grunth.

The programme

Carl Nielsen Helios. Overture
Poul Ruders Laudate. Concerto for Viola and Orchestra. First performance. Commissioned work
Bela Bartók Concerto for Orchestra

The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize is awarded to the viola player Yuri Bashmet for his exceptional musical imagination, rare sense of sound and masterly technique, for his artistic-pedagogical work for young musicians and for his indefatigable contribution to modern music, which has inspired numerous composers to write new works for the viola. As one of the great musical personalities of the age, Yuri Bashmet has brought forward an instrument that is otherwise often neglected as a solo instrument.

Yuri Bashmet and Denmark

Yuri Bashmet had often been in Denmark prior to receiving the Sonning Music Prize. As a soloist he had performed with The Royal Danish Orchestra and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra – in April 1992 he played Alfred Schnittke’s viola concerto with the symphony orchestra. On several occasions he also gave concerts in Tivoli Concert Hall with his Russian ensemble The Moscow Soloists, in June 1994 for example.

In connection with the prize-giving ceremony, Bashmet held a master class for viola players at The Royal Danish Academy of Music two days before the concert, where six young Danish viola students played Bartók’s viola concerto and Brahms’ Sonata in Eb major: Katrine Bundgaard, Stine Hasbirk, Eva Katrine Dalsgaard, Rasmus Nørby Hansen, Rita-Maria Olsen and Ida Speyer Grøn.

Poul Ruder’s note on the viola concerto Laudate

"The almost thirty-minute-long single-movement concerto for viola and orchestra was commissioned for Yuri Bashmet by the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation. The piece is based on a single melody, a vine of notes that constantly regenerates itself via a new form of alternating ringing principle, a technique I have given the name of ‘mini-morphosis’. It comprises four independent polyphonic layers that develop not only on the basis of the above-mentioned principle but also with the aid of the ancient techniques called ‘augmentation’ and ‘diminuation’ (the lengthening and shortening of note values).

The concerto develops via a patiently rising ‘bow’ sequence. The music is not particularly virtuoso (even though it is a ‘concerto’), the piece rather being an introspective tribute to the capacity – and right – of music to be itself, raised above the fashion tyranny of time and the unhealthy ‘zapper’ culture."

"The viola concerto is the second part of an unnamed ‘Concerto Trilogy’ composed between 1993 and 1994: The first Anima (for cello and orchestra, composed for Heinrich Schiff) is a kind of ‘younger sister’ to the viola concerto – even more modest and without a solo cadenza – the viola concerto does, in spite of everything, contain two brilliant cadenzas. The last part of the trilogy is a piano concerto, written for the Englishman Rolf Hind and The London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Another characteristic shared by the three concertos is the quite puritan orchestration: no percussion, electronics, harp, etc. The form of the viola concerto develops gradually, as mentioned, towards the first solo cadenza, and the climax of the piece is reached in the final orchestral interlude just after the second, longer (and more difficult) cadenza. The piece comes to rest via a muted coda: the final chord being a so-called minor-sixth cord with the third uppermost – a kind of ‘watermark’ in literally all my works since 1981."

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"[…] and it was particularly in these [solo cadenzas] one sensed why Yuri Bashmet has been awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize: so subtle and sophisticated in his treatment of sound and so concentrated on the independent life of each note is something granted to very few musicians [...]"

(Steen Chr. Steensen, Berlingske Tidende, 23 April 1995)

"[…] The weak profile of the solo viola contributed to the feeling of lack of fruition. And this may very well be due to the fact that this is the first time the concerto has been performed. Bashmet played with his gaze fixed on the score, without the intensity an eloquence we have heard from him in other works. He contributed with his marrow-rich viola sound and with well-formed phrases, but did not otherwise invest much of himself in the work [...]"

(Peter Woetmann, Politiken, 23 April 1995)

"In his viola concerto, Poul Ruders has pared down all outer effects. After Gong [...] stillness has taken over. Only the absence of percussion places its limitations on the power of the orchestra. But typical of the new concerto is also how in an almost unbroken sequence of half an hour it twists and turns inwards towards the musical material. Partly via simply and extremely beautiful shadow effects – such as the introductory viola solo being followed by the violas of the orchestra – and partly by the economising with means, which typifies the entire concerto. In a close-knit weaving of voices and often with a kind of contrapuntal effect Poul Ruders creates a musical intimacy that is reminiscent of a kind of still life painting, where every shade of colour has significance. In musical terms, this is expressed via small solos from the orchestra. Just as Ruders works highly consciously with displaced layers in terms of time, where the material in a distinctive, insistent way yields new utterances. [...]"

(Steen Chr. Steensen, Berlingske Tidende, 23 April 1995)