9 April 2014
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Named as 2014 Recipient of $1 Million Birgit Nilsson Prize
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has been awarded the $1 million Birgit Nilsson Prize for 2014.
Announced today by Rutbert Reisch, president of the Birgit Nilsson Foundation, which was established following the legendary soprano's death in 2005, the prize is the largest of its kind in classical music. Awarded nearly every three years, the honor was created and endowed by the eponymous Swedish soprano to recognize outstanding achievements and major contributions to the fields of opera and concert by a currently active singer, conductor, or institution with an outstanding record in opera or concert, such as an orchestra, a chorus or an opera company.
The selection of the Vienna Philharmonic, founded in 1872, marks the first time that the prize has been given to an institution rather than an individual. The Philharmonic and Nilsson were frequent and happy collaborators during the soprano's heyday, with the band having joined Nilsson on now-legendary recordings of Salome, Elektra, Don Giovanni and Georg Solti's renowned traversal of Wagner's Ring Cycle. In 1999, the orchestra, noting "countless musical high points" in their work with Nilsson, unanimously voted to make the soprano an honorary member.
"The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra exemplifies all the qualities that were so important to Birgit Nilsson — complete dedication, highest artistic standards and great versatility," said Reich. "Birgit Nilsson loved to work with the VPO because of their specific sound and unique ability to breathe with the performers on stage.
Inaugurated in 2009, the first Nilsson Prize was given to Plácido Domingo, whom Nilsson personally chose to be the prize's premiere laureate prior to her death; in 2011, an international panel of classical music experts bestowed the prize on conductor Riccardo Muti.
This year, the 172-year-old Vienna Philharmonic was selected by a panel that included Eva Wagner-Pasquier, co-director of the Bayreuth Festival; Bengt Hall, managing director of Malmö Opera and former general manager of the Royal Swedish Opera; Daily Telegraph opera critic Rupert Christiansen; and former Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins. A statement issued by the Foundation noted that the orchestra is being recognized for its "extraordinary contributions ... in opera and concert, as well as for its enormous worldwide influence in the music world both on and off the stage through live performance, recordings, and other media."
"We at the Vienna Philharmonic revered and loved Birgit Nilsson," stated Vienna Philharmonic president Clemens Hellsberg when informed about the orchestra's selection. "To be honored by a prize which bears her name makes us grateful to have been selected and at the same time wistful as we honor her great memory."
The prize will be awarded to the Orchestra on October 8, 2014, in a ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall that will be attended by H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf and H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden. Hellsberg will reportedly accept the honor on behalf of the Vienna Philharmonic, though the entire orchestra will be present in Stockholm to perform a concert under the baton of Riccardo Muti.
More information can be found at BirgitNilssonPrize.org, and the OPERA NEWS Archives (here, here and here).
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