Polar Music Prize

Polar Music Prize
A crown made of music notes and signs
Awarded forInternational recognition of excellence in the world of music
Presented byStig Anderson Music Award Foundation
Reward(s)1 million Swedish krona
First awarded1992

The Polar Music Prize (Often called the Nobel Prize of Music) is a Swedish international award founded in 1989 by Stig Anderson, best known as the manager of the Swedish band ABBA, with a donation to the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. The award is annually given to one contemporary musician and one classical musician. Exceptions were made in 2001, when it was awarded to three musicians (one composer, one contemporary musician and one inventor), and 2003, when it was awarded only to one musician. Without any restrictions of nationality, the prize is to be "awarded for significant achievements in music and/or musical activity, or for achievements which are found to be of great potential importance for music or musical activity, and it shall be referable to all fields within or closely connected with music". The prize has been called the "Nobel Prize of Music" in Sweden.

The awards were first presented in 1992. The recipients were Sir Paul McCartney and the three Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Each of these four Laureates were awarded 1 million kr (approximately US$120,000 at 2016 rates, US$106,000 in 2019) presented by HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at a ceremony at Stockholm Concert Hall in June every year. The Polar Music Prize is regarded as Sweden's foremost musical honour. The prize is overseen by the Stig Anderson Music Award Foundation, which includes members of Anderson's family and representatives of SKAP – the Swedish Society of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and the Swedish Performing Rights Society. A committee of musicians, other experienced members of the music industry, and members of Anderson's family selects the prize recipients from nominations submitted by representatives of several international music industry organizations, such as the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance. The prize amount is raised from revenue from the donation, while the ceremony is funded by sponsors. In June, 2018 it was reported by Swedish public service radio that the Polar Prize organization has made large financial losses for several years.

The current CEO of the Polar Music Prize is Marie Ledin. Prior CEOs include Stuart Ward and Hélène Carendi.


Year Recipient Nationality Reason Ref
1992 Paul McCartney United Kingdom

"...for his creativity and imagination as a composer and artist which has revitalised popular music worldwide over the last 30 years."

Baltic states the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)

"...to support their national music culture, as a nucleus for the formation of performing rights societies in international co-operation."

1993 Dizzy Gillespie United States

"...Closely familiar with the origins and roots of jazz, and perceiving its fertile development out of a variety of musical cultures, Dizzy Gillespie came on the scene, almost half a century ago, as a revolutionary innovator."

Witold Lutosławski Poland

"...one of the pioneers of contemporary European art music."

1994 Quincy Jones United States

"...a boundary-transcending musical magician"

Nikolaus Harnoncourt Austria

"...ranks today as a pioneer of the revival of interest, ... But he is also an independent ground-breaker who is constantly discovering new dimensions of the classics."

1995 Elton John United Kingdom

"...a central figure in the popular music crucible of the 70s and 80s and, eventually, an eccentric mega-star with a big output of successful hits with a worldwide response from a broadbased public."

Mstislav Rostropovich Russia

"...for a unique artistic achievement distinguished by originality, independence, fluency and vigour of interpretation and instrumental mastery."

1996 Joni Mitchell Canada

"...In a long career of prolific and many-sided artistry, she has combined the roles of composer, lyric writer, vocal artist and musician with an impressive array of 'first instruments'."

Pierre Boulez France

"...His profound musicality, clear intelligence and unusual farsightedness have enabled him to act in a wider field than the great majority. Thus he has occupied the forefront as composer, interpreter/conductor and eminent theorist, and he has made unique contributions as a debater and source of ideas."

1997 Bruce Springsteen United States

"...for an outstanding career as singer and stage performer."

Eric Ericson Sweden

"...for pioneering achievements as a conductor, teacher, artistic originator and inspirer in Swedish and international choral music."

1998 Ray Charles United States

"...one of the leading figures of soul music and an important stylistic innovator with an unusual diversity of musical roots ... a man whose presence, ever since the 1950s, has been perceptible behind generations of innumerable pop musicians and singers."

Ravi Shankar India

"...for nearly six decades of achievement as a brilliant performer and explorer of his country's art music and at the same time a leading representative and communicator to western civilisation of the musical traditions of the Orient."

1999 Stevie Wonder United States

"...for a unique career as a singer, composer and stage artist."

Iannis Xenakis Greece

"...for a long succession of forceful works, charged with sensitivity, commitment and passion, ... exercising within its various fields an influence which cannot be readily overstated."

2000 Bob Dylan United States

"...his achievements encompass almost four decades of constantly changing modes of creativity, always innovative, but always based on American musical traditions and roots."

Isaac Stern United States

"...for a unique and consummate artistry distinguished by a personal musicianship without compare for over half a century, for his pioneering achievement on behalf of young people the world over, for his patient and energetic commitment to preserving and developing places where music is played, and for his uncompromising attitude concerning the humanistic power of music."

2001 Burt Bacharach United States

"...Bacharach has been a principal player on the international music scene since his debut in the late 1950s, producing a host of timeless classics stemming from his infallible feeling for powerful, memorable and unmistakably personal melodies and for brilliantly designed harmony."

Robert Moog United States

"...for his design of the MiniMoog, the first compact, easy-to-use synthesizer, which paved the way to the realm of electronic sounds that has revolutionised all genres of music during the past half-century."

Karlheinz Stockhausen Germany

"...for a career as a composer that has been characterized by impeccable integrity and never-ceasing creativity, and for having stood at the forefront of musical development for fifty years."

2002 Miriam Makeba South Africa

"...Miriam Makeba embodied the concept of world music long before the term even existed on the musical map. In the 1960s, her expressive voice drew attention to the musical riches of the African continent."

Sofia Gubaidulina Russia

"...whose intensely expressive and deeply personal musical idiom has the ability to speak to an ever-growing audience of listeners all over the world."

2003 Keith Jarrett United States

"...for his outstanding musical contributions in fields as diverse as classical interpretation and jazz improvisation."

2004 B.B. King United States

"...for his significant contributions to the blues."

György Ligeti Hungary

"...for stretching the boundaries of the musically conceivable, from mind-expanding sounds to new astounding processes, in a thoroughly personal style that embodies both inquisitiveness and imagination."

2005 Gilberto Gil Brazil

"...for his unflinching creative engagement in bringing to the world the heart and soul of the rich music of Brazil."

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Germany

"...for his unique artistry in every area of classical singing and for his unparalleled achievements as a penetrating and innovative interpreter of art songs in the German language."

2006 Led Zeppelin United Kingdom

"...one of the great pioneers of rock."

Valery Gergiev Russia

"...for the way his unique, electrifying musical skills have deepened and renewed our relationship with the grand tradition; and for how he has managed to develop and amplify the importance of artistic music in these modern, changing times."

2007 Sonny Rollins United States

"...Sonny Rollins has elevated the unaccompanied solo to the highest artistic level – all characterised by a distinctive and powerful sound, irresistible swing and an individual musical sense of humour."

Steve Reich United States

"...The award recognises his unique ability to use repeats, canon technique and minimal variation of patterns to develop an entire universe of evocative music, endowed with immediate tonal beauty."

2008 Pink Floyd United Kingdom

"...for their monumental contribution over the decades to the fusion of art and music in the development of popular culture."

Renée Fleming United States

"...in recognition of her sublime unparalleled voice and unique stylistic versatility. [People] have been dazzled by the beauty of her soft and natural voice."

2009 Peter Gabriel United Kingdom

"...for his ground-breaking, outward-looking and boundary-busting artistry."

José Antonio Abreu & El Sistema Venezuela

"... Abreu created the music network El Sistema, which has given hundreds of thousands the tools to leave poverty. José Antonio Abreu's successful creation has promoted traditional values, like respect, fellowship and humanity."

2010 Björk Iceland

"...With her deeply personal music and lyrics, her precise arrangements and her unique voice, Björk has already made an indelible mark on pop music and modern culture at large [...]."

Ennio Morricone Italy

"...Ennio Morricone's congenial compositions and arrangements lift our existence to another plane, making the mundane feel like dramatic scenes in full Cinemascope."

2011 Kronos Quartet United States

"...For almost 40 years, the Kronos Quartet has been revolutionising the potential of the string quartet genre when it comes to both style and content."

Patti Smith United States

"...Patti Smith has demonstrated how much rock'n'roll there is in poetry and how much poetry there is in rock'n'roll."

2012 Paul Simon United States

"...Nobody else is more deserving of the epithet of "world-class songwriter." For five decades, Paul Simon has built bridges not only over troubled waters but over entire oceans by (re)joining the world's continents with his music."

Yo-Yo Ma United States

"...Yo-Yo Ma has dedicated his virtuosity and his heart to journeys of musical exploration and discovery around the world."

2013 Youssou N'Dour Senegal

"...Youssou N’Dour is maintaining the griot tradition and has shown that it can also be changed into a narrative about the entire world. ... His voice encompasses an entire continent’s history and future, blood and love, dreams and power."

Kaija Saariaho Finland

"...Kaija Saariaho combines acoustic instruments with electronics and computers. She has written chamber music, orchestral works and operas. Kaija Saariaho is a modern maestro who opens up our ears and causes their anvils and stirrups to fall in love."

2014 Chuck Berry United States

"...Chuck Berry was the rock’n’roll pioneer who turned the electric guitar into the main instrument of rock music."

Peter Sellars United States

"...Peter Sellars shows us that classical music is not about dusty sheet music and metronomic precision, but that classical music, with its violent power and complexity, has fundamentally always been and will continue to be a way of reflecting and depicting the world."

2015 Emmylou Harris United States

"The music of Emmylou Harris contains the history and topography of the entire American continent."

Evelyn Glennie United Kingdom

"Evelyn Glennie shows us that the body is a resonance chamber and that we live in a universe of sound."

2016 Max Martin Sweden

"In the last 20 years, no composer in the world has written melodies as sustainable or as widespread as those of Max Martin"

Cecilia Bartoli Italy

"Cecilia Bartoli adds new chapters to the history of music, builds bridges between centuries and deepens our understanding of Europe’s cultural heritage"

2017 Sting United Kingdom

"As a composer, Sting has combined classic pop with virtuoso musicianship and an openness to all genres and sounds from around the world."

Wayne Shorter United States

"[...]he has written a number of the most enduring compositions in the history of jazz. Without the musical explorations of Wayne Shorter, modern music would not have drilled so deep."

2018 Afghanistan National Institute of Music and Ahmad Sarmast Afghanistan

"...in recognition of how this inspirational organisation has used the power of music to transform young people’s lives."

Metallica United States

"Not since Wagner’s emotional turmoil and Tchaikovsky’s cannons has anyone created music that is so physical and furious, and yet still so accessible."

2019 Grandmaster Flash United States

"Grandmaster Flash is a scientist and a virtuoso who has demonstrated that turntables and mixing consoles can be musical instruments. His adventures at the turntables – "the Adventures of the Wheels of Steel" – changed the course of popular music."

Anne-Sophie Mutter Germany

"With her Stradivarius under her chin, Anne-Sophie Mutter is not just one passionate and risk-taking musician – she is also a storyteller. As she herself said, "Music is only touching when it tells a story". With her passionate commitment to justice, Mutter demonstrates the power and key role of music in the world."

Playing for Change United States

"...a global project with 15 music schools and programs around the world that have impacted the lives of over 15,000 children and their surrounding communities. The Playing For Change Foundation shows how music can be used to inspire, build bridges between people, create positive change, and conditions for peace."

2020 Anna Netrebko Russia Austria

"With her magnificent voice and glowing charisma, she is a larger-than-life singer who keeps the classics alive, sells out every performance and also catches the attention of audiences new to opera; Anna Netrebko opens doors. She was the first classical musician to be included in Time Magazine’s 'The Top 100 Most Influential People'."

Diane Warren United States

"Her pop songs embody the rare combination of being catchy and yet complex enough to be heard hundreds of times, and still resonate with the listener. Diane Warren is the founder of Realsongs, the most successful female-owned music publisher in the world. As a singer, to be given a Diane Warren song, is a gift."

2021 Cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic
2022 Iggy Pop United States

"With his era-defining group The Stooges, Iggy Pop created furious rock music by blending together blues and free jazz influences with the roar of the Michigan automotive industry. With his courage, initiative and raw power, Iggy Pop paved the way for punk and post-punk. Groups like the Sex Pistols, Ramones, Blondie, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division and Nick Cave all followed in his footsteps. As a solo artist, Iggy Pop has never slowed down, and has instead pushed this art form forwards for half a century. Iggy Pop is ‘the chairman of the bored’ who portrays alienation in poetic language. A wholly unique artist who personifies and embodies what rock music is about."

Ensemble intercontemporain France

"Ensemble intercontemporain is the Stradivarius of modern music and has inspired the greatest composers of our time to create new masterpieces since the 1970s. Thanks to its openness to new technology and collaborating with other art forms, this groundbreaking ensemble has been enormously important for pushing progress. Ensemble intercontemporain, under the guidance of music director Matthias Pintscher, is made up of 31 soloists and has a repertoire that now includes over 3,000 modern pieces. Thanks to its focus on creativity, innovation and high quality, as well as focusing on engaging with young musicians, the ensemble has helped to advance the entire world of music."

2023 Chris Blackwell United Kingdom
Angélique Kidjo Benin
Arvo Pärt Estonia

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