Léonie Sonning Prize 2017

Leonidas Kavakos

Photo: Agnete Schlichtkrull

Leonidas Kavakos awarded the Léonie Sonning Musik Prize 2017

The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of EUR 100,000 was awarded to Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos at a concert Thursday, 12 January at the Concert House, DR Byen.

The concert was broadcast directly on DR P2. It was also recorded for later broadcasting on DRK on 19 March and 26 March 2017.


Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Concerto D minor BWV 1052

Alban Berg: Violin Concerto. To the memory of an angel.

Richard Strauss: Don Juan. Symphonic poem.

Brahms: Violin Concerto D major

Leonidas Kavakos, violin
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Fabio Luisi, conductor


Esben Tange, chairman of the board of directors of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation, presented the Prize and held a personal speech, which included the following official motivation:

The Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2017 of EUR 100,000 is awarded to violinist Leonidas Kavakos for his enrichment of a large audience through decades with his radiant interpretations supported by vibrating musical presence and instrumental mastery.

With a tireless will to sound the depth of the classics of violin literature, Leonidas Kavakos has been able to revitalise the musical inheritance of his instrument. With great personal integrity and a sense of originality, where music is always valued above the musician, Leonidas Kavakos is a guarantee that honesty still has a strong voice in the world of music.

Video: DR – Photo: Agnete Schlichtkrull

Leonidas Kavakos in Denmark

Leonidas Kavakos has performed several times in Denmark as a soloist with orchestra and as a court musician. In 2006, he performed for the first time as a soloist in Carl Nielsen's Violin Concerto with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and in 2015 as a soloist in Sibelius' Violin Concerto.

On 29 January 2016, Leonidas Kavakos conducted the Danish National Symphony Orchestra for the first time at a concert where he also performed as a soloist in Mozart's Violin Concerto no. 3.

Mini festival
The Prize Concert at the Concert House, DR Byen, was the main event of a mini festival where Leonidas Kavakos performed at various events in Copenhagen:

10 January, Mogens Dahl Concert Hall
Leonidas Kavakos, violin
Enrico Pace, piano

Leoš Janáček Violin Sonata
Franz Schubert Fantasy
Olivier Messiaen Theme and Variations
Ludwig van Beethoven Sonata no. 10

The concert was broadcast directly on DR P2.

13 January, the Royal Danish Academy of Music
A master class was held with violin students from the Royal Danish Academy of Music. The master class was open to the public.

14 January, the DR Concert House
Leonidas Kavakos performed Brahm's Violin Concerto at a concert with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fabio Luisi.

Photo: Agnete Schlichtkrull

The daily press wrote the following about the prize concert at the DR Concert House

Alban Berg's Violin Concerto
The combination of the orchestra's sounds and Kavakos' pure and delicate violin materialized into outstanding and exceptional music. A fascinating universe of extraordinary harmonies, moving slowly and elaborately through a range of mental states with Kavakos as guide.
"A community in silence without any conditions' was Kavakos' description of a successful concert. And perhaps he referred to the Berg performance of the night.

Some of these states were clinically simple, some quiveringly melancholic, some playful and grotesque. But all quite fantastic. In the second part of the violin concerto, the music thinned and became pure violinistic innovation until the tones thickened in roaring sounds. And where Kavakos abandoned his concentration bubble for the first time and let his trembling jaw underline the vibrations of the music. The moving interpretation ended in thoughtfulness and Kavakos exploring all nuances of his Stradivarius.

Brahm's Violin Concerto
Just to hear the instrument play was an experience ... In the second movement, with no rhythm, in a simple melody like a folk song, Kavakos unfolded music as purely and captivatingly as a silent snowfall before our eyes. Quite perfectly, the festive night ended its tour of music history enthusiastically with dancing music and exuberantly musical joy. It reminded us that it also requires an outstanding orchestra and a great conductor like Luisi to create a great symphonic concert. »The primary target is to strive and live to make society better«, Kavakos said in his final address. We can only be grateful for that.

(Henrik Friis, Politiken)

The bow somehow hovers between heaven and earth. It is only just in contact with the four strings at the bottom and looks like an instrument for the Great Spirit at the top... . All other violinists in this world somehow let the bow play of its own will. Leonidas Kavakos plays with the bow of his own will. The difference resembles that between heaven and earth. And what a left hand! What a level of control of the actual violin! The sound is free of any 'corpulence', free of any unnecessary sentimentality, free of anything but the many composers' great ideas. And there have been quite a few! Only very few laureates have probably played as well as Kavakos did in the past week.

...And, in the end, a breathtaking version of Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto as clear as the horizon on a beautiful winter day and with only very little finery along the way. As if his challenges were not already colossal. A thunderous applause and standing ovations. The guest delivers it all with an unparalleled sense of style. His ear is focused not only on every single musician of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra; he also lets himself be inspired by them.

(Søren Schauser, Berlingske Tidende)

The Greek violinist is a thoughtful critic of society, who believes that we have misunderstood the meaning of freedom. It is not only the right to say whatever we want when we want to. … »It is the chaos we are living in«, he said when Politiken interviewed him a few years ago. … We are under the illusion that we are in this world to fulfil ourselves, create giant careers and live in a state of happiness, when, in reality, we are only here to do one thing: to refine humanity by passing on something of value, to question the existing«.

It was Sibelius' Violin Concerto that made him famous. He played it when he performed as a soloist with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at the DR Concert House in December 2015, and it is typical of the serious violinist that he did not 'wallow' in the juicy solo voice, but played through Sibelius' great, dark work in clear lines with a strikingly pure approach. This is Kavakos. A solemn man pursuing the essence - and expecting the same focus and concentration from his audience.

(Thomas Michelsen, Politiken)

The sound produced on his Stradivarius shines purely and richly coloured with the poet's narrative enthusiasm in each tone. He formed the technically challenging passages of the concert's extreme movements with superhuman precision and brought the audience into a timeless trance in the gentle second movement. Besides playing the violin, Kavakos is an eminent conductor. One could feel the convincing sense of pulse when he steered the orchestra as a spinning musical engine. With the Greek's soft and frosty sounds, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra gave zest to Brahms' singable phrases.

(Christine Christiansen, Jyllands-Posten)

»PLAY the silence a little louder,« Kavakos said later in the week to the academy students attending his master class. The actual Prize Concert ended with Brahms' entirely association-free Violin Concerto in D major. Picturesque in every detail, but still an abstraction. The strokes of the violin are fiercely stray; the orchestra seems to evoke a fairy forest to no avail. In its form, the concert may seem a pendant to Beethoven's Violin Concerto, but there is a substantial difference between strict Empire and proliferating fin de siècle. Kavakos is using the bow as a sword; Luisi transforms the baton into a harpoon. Still, one hears a maelstrom, and music is made with a true Brahms orchestra with a late-summer-acid sound, which is rather unique in our standardised time. 

The week thus ended with the most wonderful perspective.

(Peter Johannes Erichsen, Weekendavisen)

Kavakos demonstrated why he is considered the greatest violinist of our time. His technique is sublime, but it is the expression in his sound which is the actual secret behind his art. We perceive it as if he is playing inwards (listening to the spiritual manifesto of music) and outwards (with a passionate wish to communicate it to us). And it was a marvellous finishing touch to pass on the enormous bouquet of flowers accompanying the Prize to oboist Eva Steinaa, who had delighted the audience with her long solo in the slow second movement.

(Peter Dürrfeld, Kristeligt Dagblad)

For additional information

Bente Legarth, tel. +45 3334 4232, bl@horten.dk


Torsten Hoffmeyer, tel. +45 3334 4231