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Riccardo Muti receives Birgit Nilsson Prize of $1M

Submitted by on Oct 13, 2011 – 2:07 pm

Saluted as “one of history’s greatest conductors and one of the most influential musicians of the 21st century,” Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti was awarded the 2011 Birgit Nilsson Prize Thursday night during ceremonies in Stockholm Sweden.

Muti, 70, received the award for extraordinary contributions in opera and concert, as well as his influence in the music world both on and off the stage. The honor, conferred by King Carl XVII Gustaf of Sweden at the Royal Swedish Opera, comes with a cash award of $1 million, said to be the largest sum given in the classical music world.

“I am truly honoured to receive this distinguished award, especially as it was established by one of the greatest artists in history, Birgit Nilsson,” Muti said.

Named for the celebrated Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005), the prize is awarded every second or third year for outstanding achievement in opera or concert to a currently active singer or a conductor, or to an institution such as an opera house for “an outstanding production that reflects the intentions of the composer, an orchestra or a chorus.”

At a press conference before the award ceremony, Muti expressed his profound admiration for Nilsson as an artist devoted to serving the intentions of a composer. He recalled how, as a young conductor, he once took the train from Florence to Rome to hear the great soprano sing the role of Leonore in a concert performance of Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio” with Leonard Bernstein conducting.

“For a Neapolitan to wake up in the morning very early to take the train is a sacrifice you do just for exceptional things,” Muti said, breaking into a big smile and drawing laughter from the press corps.

The Nilsson Prize recipient is chosen by a panel of five operatic experts from the countries where Birgit Nilsson was most active during her career: Clemens Hellsberg, president of the Vienna Philharmonic (Austria); Eva Wagner-Pasquier, co-director of the Bayreuth Festival (Germany); Rupert Christiansen, opera critic of the London Daily Telegraph (United Kingdom); Speight Jenkins, general director of the Seattle Opera (U.S.), and Bengt Hall, managing director of the Malmö Opera and former general manager of the Royal Swedish Opera (Sweden).

Birgitta Svendén, managing director of the Royal Swedish Opera, called Muti “one of history’s greatest conductors…one of the most influential musicians of the 21st century. He has perfected an expressive style in music that has become his critically acclaimed signature. Muti wants to make ‘the sounds speak.’ In achieving this goal, Muti becomes one with the scores.”

The award ceremony featured soprano Sondra Radvanovsky singing “Tacea la notte placida” from Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” accompanied by the Royal Swedish Orchestra under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda. The Royal Swedish Opera Choir and the Swedish Radio Choir, accompanied by the Royal Swedish Orchestra, performed “Va, pensiero” from Verdi’s “Nabucco.”

Following the ceremony, guests were invited to Stockholm City Hall to dine in the presence of the king and queen. Among the guests were Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, Swedish soprano Nina Stemme and CSO president Deborah Rutter.

Muti, who recently completed his initial weeks for 2011-12 with the CSO, returns for further concerts in late January and February.

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