On Saturday 10 May, Martin Fröst became the first clarinetist and third Swede to receive the Léonie Sonning Music Prize in Copenhagen.
First awarded in 1959, winners of one of the most prestigious prizes in classical music have included Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Birgit Nilsson, Dmitri Shostakovich, Per Nørgård, Sviatoslav Richter, Cecilia Bartoli and Simon Rattle.
In the spirit of the annual award Martin Fröst participated in a week’s programme of music making in both Copenhagen and Aarhus where he gave chamber music concerts and master-classes before joining the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Thomas Søndergårdon on Saturday night at the Copenhagen Konserthus for a further full programme of music before being presented with the DK 600 000 prize.
In giving the prize the jury paid tribute to Fröst’s “sublimely musical interpretations of both the classical and modern repertoire for his instrument. With his superb musicianship, Martin Fröst has inspired a large number of contemporary composers to create innovative works for the clarinet. By virtue of a quite exceptional stage presence in which auditory and visual impressions are united in a wonderful way, Martin Fröst has shown himself to be one of the most visionary musical artists of our time.”
Reviewing Saturday night’s prize concert in Copenhagen Berlingske national paper commented: “Martin Fröst is 43 years old and one of the eight wonders of the world on the clarinet … And when he delivers a two hour show in this manner at the Concert Hall on Saturday evening, yes: he is the obvious recipient of the Léonie Sonning Music Prize … Fröst plays with a unique feeling for the present. Soulful in the slow parts and unbelievably virtuosic in the quick parts. Marvellous, simply matchless. He embraces it all and masters almost everything.
“Even the marble values of Mozart (Clarinet Concerto) are communicated to everyone and he receives the first of four standing ovations. He underplays the main melodies and gives the smaller strands all the more space, a new embellishment here, a surprising interlude there. The whole fantastic focus on the magic of the moment takes your breath away.”
Politiken agreed: “Nothing at the Sonning prize concert was left to chance. This is a musician with very high and rare demands for intensity, precision and luxury in every single note …
“Raise your hats, ladies and gentlemen, to the clarinet genius of our time.”
Photo © Nikolaj Lund / Léonie Sonning Music Prize