For three decades, dozens of the world’s most famous musicians have flown to Stockholm at the invitation of the Polar Music Prize Committee to receive this prestigious award from the King of Sweden. To mark the 30th anniversary of the first ceremony in 1992, honoring Paul McCartney and the newly independent Baltic states, Bulletin board spoke with the award’s CEO Marie Ledin and the chair of the awards committee, Alfons Karabuda, about the long and valuable history of the Polar Music Prize, which was founded by Ledin’s father, ABBA CEO Stig “Stikkan” Anderson, 1989.
The long list of winners of pop and classical music includes Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Renée Fleming, Pink Floyd, Yo-Yo Ma, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Emmylou Harris, Sting, Metallica, BB King, Paul Simon, Isaac Stern, Patti Smith, Burt Bacharach, Ennio Morricone, Ray Charles, Ravi Shankar, Quincy Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and many others. The 2022 ceremony, held on Tuesday (May 24), will honor Iggy Pop and the French Ensemble Intercontemporain; 2020 award winner Diane Warren will also be honored after her ceremony was canceled due to covid.
ABBA’s manager Anderson was also a lyricist (on early ABBA hits such as “Dancing Queen”, “Fernando” and “Mamma Mia”), a music publisher and record label owner. His Polar imprint was home to ABBA and many other Swedish artists. Ledin remembers that her father talked about the prize long before it was created. “Stig talked about this for several years,” she says. “He had the vision that music should be seen as important and as valuable to society as science. There are Nobel Prizes for physics, medicine, chemistry, literature but not for music. Stig passionately believed that music would receive a similar recognition, so he decided to start his own foundation and created the Polar Music Prize, named after his record company. “
As mentioned, the prize was created in 1989 and awarded for the first time in 1992. “The three years in between were spent organizing every aspect of the new foundation and also building support from the international music community,” Ledin explains. “Their recognition and support for the Polar Music Prize was crucial to its success, and still is. There was a lot of work to be done for Stig to realize his vision: to set up a awards committee, form a board and talk to and win support and backing. from the media, journalists, the Swedish royal family and companies that could be potential sponsors, he also designed the format for the ceremony and the banquet, it was crucial that every aspect of the Polar Music Prize was carried out to the very highest standards – Stig never lacked ambition, and he was determined that music would have its rightful place. “
It is correct to call the two main events of the prize a “royal ceremony” and a “royal banquet”, since King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden is present for both and appears on stage to present the prize to the prize winners. Ledin says that the king was enthusiastic about the Prize from the beginning. “He loved the idea and the royal family has been very supportive, which we are very happy about. It is a great honor to have them with us at the ceremony and banquet and it means so much to the laureates to receive the prize from the king. The year we honored Grandmaster Flash, I wondered how the king would respond to rap music, but as always, he smiled all the time and enjoyed meeting Grandmaster Flash. “
Ledin did not attend the first ceremony in 1992, but for good reason. “I had just given birth to my youngest son, Theo, so I saw it on TV. My dad was a really big fan of Paul McCartney and my belief is that he was chosen by Stig himself. It was a very smart choice to choose Paul McCartney as first laureate, the most famous musician in the world and a Beatle. In his speech of thanks, Paul said that because the prize was global, it meant a lot to him. The Baltic states had no music societies in 1992, so the Polar Music Prize “STIM and BMI. I remember hearing several years ago that they invested their prize money in IT so that they could start registering composers, song titles and publishers.”
In some ways the price has changed over 30 years and in other basic ways it has not changed. – It has changed less than you think when it comes to the ceremony and banquet, says Ledin. “We still have two winners each year, one in the popular area and one in the classic area. The king gives the prize to the prize winners every year. We eat an elegant black tie dinner and are entertained by mostly Swedish musicians and artists who celebrate each prize winner. The event has been expanded with the help of media such as TV and this year we will for the first time broadcast live via YouTube. We’ve been running Polar Talks for the last ten years or so. This is a one-day conference, held the day before the ceremony, which has as its overarching theme “the power of music.” So many people have told me how much they have missed Polar Talks over the last two years, as well as the awards ceremony, but it was good to hear because I strongly believe in Polar Talks and the impact they can have. “
The 2022 Polar Music Talks are scheduled for Monday (May 23). “This year I’m glad we have fantastic speakers: Lyor Cohen, Global Music Director at YouTube; Diane Warren, winner of 2020; Dr Ahmad Sarmast from ANIM (Afghanistan National Institute of Music) and 2018 winner; and Ensemble Intercontemporain, this year’s laureates who will talk about their incomparable work in modern classical music. It is so fascinating to listen to people who come from different parts of the music world and to hear their stories and experiences. At every Polar Talk, I learn so much and feel inspired. We have also added a pre-Polar party the night before the ceremony with musicians, artists and those interested in food and drink, to meet each other the day before the “big” event. And of course we have an after party at the Grand Hôtel in Stockholm. This year it is supported by YouTube. “
Anderson died on September 12, 1997 and his family has continued what he started. “You will not be surprised to hear that Stig left abundant briefing notes for all of us and we had of course been to the ceremonies so it was very much in our DNA. My brothers Lasse and Anders sit on the award committee which each year nominates the two winners. Anders and I sit on the board for the award. Anders also oversees the budget and I am the CEO, so it is still a family matter in many ways. I would like to believe that Stig and Gudrun, our mother and an important part of the family team, would approve our management of the Polar Music Prize. We are passionate about the award and will always be. It’s hard work but I often reflect on how happy I am to be able to work with something I love and that can really make a difference in people’s lives. I think here on the many laureates who have donated their prize money to charity and the foundation’s charity work. ”
With the award is the fourth decade, Bulletin board Ledin asked what some of the highlights have been for her. “There are so many,” she reflects. “Every year we say ‘yes, it was the best ever, how do we follow it’, and yet year after year magic happens in the room. What’s so wonderful to see is the powerful effect the evening has on the winners. The size of the prize beats them, to have the prize awarded by the King of Sweden and to hear their music played with such passion as a tribute to them; that is often the point when the tears flow. So many laureates have said to me: ‘I have been lucky to get more awards but the Polar Prize is on another level, I did not understand that it would be like this; I feel deeply moved. ‘ Afghanistan National Institute of Music was very special, and in light of what has happened in their country since then, even more so. Polar Music Prize and Polar Talks bring people together. I love to see the connections that are made, the joy of maybe meeting “a hero, the surprise that the public person often does not resemble the personal. And the pure warmth and love of the room – it sounds banal, but it’s true.”
Although everything about the price is carefully planned, the unexpected is welcome. “We try to create musical surprises for the winners. Sting was shocked when Annie Lennox appeared on stage and performed “Fragile”. Max Martin became dumbfounded when his daughter sang. Deep Purple surprised Metallica by reading their quote. “
One of the most frequently asked questions about the prize is how the winners are chosen. “Every year a new process starts for the award committee, where its members present their nominations for the following Polar Music Prize winners,” explains the award committee chairman Karabuda. “To this are added the many nominations received from the public, senior advisers and for some awards we have the support of the International Music Council. Historical statistics are provided and discussions on the many aspects of musical diversity are addressed. With everything in place, the focus will then be full It’s a challenging and inspiring process that results in the award committee being proud to stand by the decisions made. the committee members immediately start thinking about who next year’s laureates will be. “
And how long is the list of artists who are considered future winners? “The award committee has had a continuous discussion over the years with many names recurring,” says Karabuda. “However, there is no fixed waiting list for the Polar Music Prize [make] decisions based on fresh and up-to-date global research, and ensure that each decision is based on the values set by the late Stikkan Anderson to honor extraordinary achievements according to both historical and recent measurements. “
For over 30 years, the prize has been awarded to musicians from all corners of the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland, Afghanistan, Brazil, Senegal and many other countries. – The importance is to show that music is both international and local at the same time, says Ledin. “The prize committee does not grant certain citizenship. If something could be argued for being from the US, it could be an obstacle, having already had so many winners, but the Polar Music Prize ignores this in favor of musical excellence. “
When he created the Polar Music Prize, Anderson also funded it. The budget includes all expenses for producing the ceremony and banquet and the cash awards of one million Swedish kronor (almost 100,000 USD) to each prize winner. – We still have money from Stig’s original donation, but we also have sponsors who help us with money and support us in many ways, Ledin explains.
No one should be surprised that the Polar Music Prize is one of the gifts Sweden gives to the world. Although the Scandinavian country is not the world’s largest music market, it is a nation known for high-quality pop music, along with world-class musicians and songwriters. – Sweden is a small country but we beat our weight with the talent we have, says Ledin. “There are so many talented Swedish composers, artists and smart technicians. I am so proud that the Polar Music Prize is respected around the world and have the power to bring people together here in Stockholm from different music worlds. I think it’s a brilliant legacy to have. What this means for Sweden and the world – I can only hope that it makes people happier, inspires them and comes from a very clean place, the love of music. Music brings us together as human beings; that’s the most important thing here. “