On October 8th, the Vienna Philharmonic was awarded the 2014 Birgit Nilsson Prize in the presence of H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and H.M. Queen Silvia at a festive ceremony of celebration held at the Concert Hall in Stockholm. At the awards ceremony, the orchestra performed compositions by Liszt and Wagner under the baton of the previous Birgit Nilsson Prize winner, Maestro Riccardo Muti. The Birgit Nilsson Prize of one million dollars, established by Birgit Nilsson herself, is the most generous prize in the world of classical music. The Vienna Philharmonic was chosen as the 2014 laureate by an international panel of four music experts from the countries where Birgit Nilsson was most active during her career (see list of names and countries at end of release).
Rutbert Reisch, President of the Birgit Nilsson Foundation, said, “We are so pleased to be honoring the great Vienna Philharmonic as the first institution to receive the Birgit Nilsson Prize. Birgit Nilsson loved working with this orchestra, and we know that this choice would have pleased her greatly. We are also very happy to have the entire Vienna Philharmonic and Maestro Riccardo Muti, our 2011 Prize Laureate, here with us today.”
Prize Money to be used for the Historical Archives
Andreas Grossbauer, President of the Vienna Philharmonic, stated, “The Vienna Philharmonic believes that we ensure the future by remembering and documenting the past. Given the historic significance of the Vienna Philharmonic in music history and the historic significance of Birgit Nilsson herself, the Vienna Philharmonic has unanimously voted to use the entire one million dollar Birgit Nilsson Prize to expand its Historical Archives and to make them more easily accessible.”
Grossbauer continued, “It has long been a dream of the Philharmonic to have a transparent archive which is more accessible and more readily open to the public, to entice young people to view and study this history of almost two centuries, and to provide an environment conducive to scholarly research. This prize will enable the Philharmonic to establish a permanent home for its vast archives, which have grown appreciably over the past decades. As the Philharmonic moves forward into the next century, its historic context and legacy will now be assured.”
The extraordinary Birgit Nilsson Prize of one million dollars, the largest given in the world of classical music, is awarded approximately every 3 years for outstanding achievements and major contributions to the field of opera/concert to a currently active singer (in the field of opera, concert, oratorio, or lieder); a currently active conductor (in the field of opera or concert); an institution with an outstanding record in opera or concert, such as an orchestra, a chorus, or an opera company (in the case of an opera company, specifically in recognition of an exceptional production that respects the spirit of the composer).
This is the third time that the Prize will be given. Before her death, Birgit Nilsson personally chose the first laureate, Plácido Domingo, who received the award in 2009. In 2011, the second laureate, conductor Riccardo Muti, was selected by a distinguished international panel of classical music experts from the major countries where Birgit Nilsson was most active during her career. The panel members, who are appointed by and work with the Foundation’s board and who serve for three year cycles, have remained the same for 2011 and 2014.
History of the Vienna Philharmonic Historical Archives
The Historical Archives of the Vienna Philharmonic have existed since the orchestra’s inception in 1842. In 1979, Clemens Hellsberg was appointed the first historical archivist (he is also a violinist in and former president of the Vienna Philharmonic). The original setting was in a small section of the Philharmonic library in the Musikverein. As the collection grew, the Archives were moved to a separate room in the Musikverein, and in the year 2000 was moved into the Haus der Musik in Vienna, where the Vienna Philharmonic Museum is housed. Currently this space is too small and cramped, allowing no room for growth. The Birgit Nilsson Prize gives the Philharmonic the opportunity to affirm years of work in preserving the orchestra's rich history and to expand. The dream of properly uniting the Archives with the Philharmonic Museum now has the possibility of being realized with more space and more possibilities for documentation and research.