Bent Sørensen wins the Grawemeyer Award, worth $100,000

Martin Cullingford Gramophone

Danish composer given award
for his triple concerto L’isola della Città

This recipient of this year’s Grawemeyer Award – one of the most prestigious awards given for composition – is Danish composer Bent Sørensen. The prize was given for his triple concerto L’isola della Città (The Island in the City), for violin, cello and piano. The five movement work (played through continuously) was written for the Danish ensemble Trio Con Brio and The Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered in Copenhagen in January 2016.

Describing the work, the composer – who will receive $100,000 as part of the prize – said: ‘In all five movements the “island” (the trio) tries to escape the shadows of the orchestra. This is most evident in the last movement, in which the trio ever so silently and without attracting any attention, simply glides away from the orchestra’s noisy shadows.’

Gramophone critic Andrew Mellor reflected on the work as part of his profile of Sørensen for the our Contemporary Composer feature in the August 2016 edition. ‘L’isola della città , for huge orchestra and piano trio, is deafeningly quiet,’ he wrote. ‘Sørensen hallmarks are all over the piece: a Beethoven fugue drifts in like a ghost passing a window; the entire wind section is asked to play secondary instruments (in this case, ‘ticking’ woodblocks); he’s happy to repeat a single pitch at length, forcing his audience to focus on what’s to come; and his textures are distilled, perhaps reaching new heights of windblown refinement, in fact.

‘In a musicological sense, you might say Sørensen’s counterpoint in the concerto is more sure, original and (paradoxically) neo-classical than ever. But there’s something extraordinary about the control of the score, too – the presence of a huge orchestra lying mostly dormant, making such little noise but being utilised with relish nonetheless.’

Click here to read Andrew Mellor’s full feature about Bent Sørensen, including recommended recordings.

The Grawemeyer Awards are given annually by the University of Louisville, and as well as composition there are also awards for ideas improving world order, psychology, education, and religion (the latter jointly awarded with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary).