Léonie Sonning Prize 2015

Thomas Adès

Bertel Krarup presents Thomas Adès with the Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2015 | Photo: Agnete Schlichtkrull | Video: DR

Léonie Sonning Prize-winner 2015 Thomas Adès

The British composer and conductor Thomas Adès received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 600,000 at a concert held on Thursday, 8 October in Koncerthuset, DR Byen. The prize was presented by Bertel Krarup, member of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation executive committee.

The concert was transmitted on DR P2 and streamed live at dr.dk/p2.

The programme

Thomas Adès Asyla, op. 17 (1997)
Thomas Adès America: A Prophecy, op. 19 (1999)
Prize-giving ceremony
Thomas Adès Totentanz (2013). First Danish performance.


Emma Bell, mezzo soprano

Christianne Stotijn, mezzo soprano
Mark Stone, baritone

The Danish National Concert Choir
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Adès, conductor


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2015 of Kr. 600,000 is awarded to the composer Thomas Adès for having created a considerable number of works over a period of more than 20 years which, with powerful emotional expressiveness and dazzling virtuosity, link together tradition and present into essential artistic statements.

Thomas Adès’ works, which cover practically all genres, move effortlessly within a wide field of expression where he, like few others, has opened doors onto modern compositional music for a large audience. He is also a wonderful pianist and conductor.

Hear Bertel Krarup's speech to Thomas Adès

Thomas Adès in Denmark

Thomas Adès’ chamber opera Powder Her Face was first performed in Odense in 2002 at the Musikhøst festival, and in spring 2016 it will be performed at Takelloftet, The Royal Danish Theatre.

In 2004, America had its first performance in Denmark with The Danish National Symphony Orchestra and The Danish National Concert Choir. In 2005, Thomas Adès personally conducted his opera Stormen [The Tempest] at Operaen, The Royal Danish Theatre.

Thomas Adès has recorded Poul Ruder’s piano sonata no. 2 and also given the first performance of his tone poet Abysm.

In the days around the prize-giving concert, music by Thomas Adès will be played at the following events:

4 October at The Royal Danish Academy of Music (RDAM)

Workshop with Thomas Adès and students of composition at RDAM.

On the programme:

Thomas Adès: Excerpts from Lieux Retrouvés
Matias Vestergård Hansen Sturmhelm und Jägerhorn
Martin Stauning The Sandman

Concert with Thomas Adès and Den Danske Strygekvartet (The Danish String Quartet)

On the programme:

Hans Abrahamsen 10 Preludes
Thomas Adès Traced Overhead, Arcadiana, Piano Quintet

6 October at The Black Diamond, The Royal Danish Library
9 October at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Concert with Thomas Adès and Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen

On the programme:

Thomas Adès Chamber Symphony, Three Mazurkas, Living Toys
Poul Ruders Abysm
Harrison Birtwistle Silbury Air

The daily press wrote the following about the prize-giving concert at DR Koncerthuset

“Asyla” … is not a work about the present-day refugee situation, but a kind of symphony that takes the listener along to the discotheque. Here stands the entire enormous orchestra with dark, deep sound colours, so typical of Adès, pumping away like a crowded dance floor on Ecstasy. The fourth movement is the hangover and the searing, pale morning light of the day after. With his tightly packed energy and enormous array of percussion instruments, it is music that almost pushes itself along with all of its many elements and layers. And it is extremely skilfully composed. With a side-glance at what is needed to make the listener give a start.

The same applies to the fateful day-of-judgment work “America – a Prophecy”. Also from the 1990s. Here, old South American Maya prophecies about the destruction of the Spaniards are linked to USA, as it stood reeling, ‘weak from fuck and drink’, shortly before 9/11 struck and brought down much more than two skyscrapers. Precisely as with his colleague Poul Ruders, who also before the turn of the millennium, took over concert halls with gothic orchestral discharges when the solid ground in the music seemed to slip and disappear under one, and where in the orchestral nether regions the grotesque and overwhelming mood of drama and destruction was created.

(Thomas Michelsen, Politiken)

At the Sonning concert last Thursday at Koncerthuset, he composed ... the morbidly amusing Totentanz (2013) for mezzo-soprano, baritone and orchestra (yes!). Never before have I seen a stage so crammed with instruments. Battery upon battery of percussion of almost every conceivable kind, topped by a gigantic, conga-like drum that made the musician look puny beside it. In Asyla, the title of which means both refuge (in the plural) and lunatic asylums, Adès makes a demonstrative virtue out of integrating percussion into the structures. The melodies roam via oil-drum-like sounds, gongs held under water and much more besides with a certain scrapmetal effect, while the more traditional instruments represent a more stable state of mind.

(Per Rask Madsen, Information)

“Asyla” has opus number 17 and dates from 1997. The title of the work, which lasts just over an hour and a half (more like a symphony, really) can mean both “madhouse” and “refuge” – and on the basis of what arose from the heavily manned DRSO, we found ourselves alternately in both locations. In a no less than sumptuous orchestration, Adès demonstrated that he is in full control of the large symphonic apparatus. The amazing thing is the clarity that was manifest in the structure – and in the “refuge” passages one felt that the music acquired a space around itself that could remind one of one of Adès’ greatly admired composers, Jean Sibelius.

(Peter Dürrfeld, Kristeligt Dagblad)

The daily press wrote the following about the concert with the Athelas Ensemble at The Black Diamond on 6 October

Alongside his activities as a composer, which have made the 44-year-old Adès famous on world stages, he is a brilliant pianist. This he demonstrated in ‘Three Mazurkas’, in which his fingers smoothly flew over the keys. Each of the three very different pieces contained poetry and swelling tones. It was a serene, almost tuneful Adès that spoke through the grand piano.

With Adès’ energetic “Living Toys” as a finale, the musicians were pressed to the very limits of the art of playing together. A complex climax to the evening’s journey into the compositional depths of the prize-winner.

(Christine Christiansen, Jyllands-Posten)

But young Adès is a genius that straddles all –isms yet also an incredibly sympathetic prize-winner. In a certain way, the perfect composer. His three pieces at first hearing can sound widely different. “Chamber symphony” from 1990 with its punctualism, “Living Toys” from 1993 with the colours of every kind of instrument, and “Three Mazurkas” with himself at the piano and the romantic echoes of old Chopin – an exceptionally beautiful work. But what is almost best of all is what they share. Thomas Adès is never just modern or just traditional. He constantly balances between new and old, between the unknown and the familiar and secure.

He actually teaches us something quite central about man in the 20th and 21st centuries: That we like the modern age yet at the same time have a longing for what has been lost.

(Søren Schauser, Berlingske Tidende) 

For further information

Contact Bente Legarth
Tel. +45 3334 4232
E-mail: bl@horten.dk


Torsten Hoffmeyer
Tel. +45 3334 4231