Polar Music Prize
The first year the Polar Prize was awarded - 1992 - it went to Paul McCartney, which was both logical and ironic at the same time. Logical due to the fact that when Stikkan Anderson announced the institution of the prize at a press conference in his house on the island of Djurgården, he said that he could imagine the Beatles as possible winners, if only they were still around.
It was therefore ironic that, some thirty years earlier, he had had the opportunity to buy the Nordic rights to the Beatles' song catalogue, but declined. It was undoubtedly Stikkan Anderson's greatest professional error.
Apart from that just about everything went his way. Stikkan Anderson rose from humble origins to rapidly become a slapstick artist and a reviewer of music. Although he was quick to perceive how lucrative it would be to put Swedish texts onto popular foreign songs, he initially combined his job as a lyricist with a school teaching post. His wife finally persuaded him to take the risk of resigning from his teacher's job to pursue his music ambitions.
Stikkan Anderson set up Sweden Music, and subsequently Polar Records, discovered Abba and became exceptionally successful in a country where wealth was regarded as a dubious kind of success. The fact that the Polar Prize still - after fifteen years - doesn't have the status that Stikkan Anderson had hoped for stems from precisely this problem.
The Polar Prize is presented by the Swedish King under ceremonial conditions.Two prize winners are selected each year, one in the classical genre and one from the world of popular music. They receive one million kronor each. A number of representatives from the Royal Academy of Music, various industry organisations and members of Stikkan Andersson's family constitute the jury that chooses the winners. Stikkan Anderson had great expectations when he made his donation to the Royal Academy of Music in 1989. He had just sold Polar Music to PolyGram (which was subsequently acquired by Universal Music), and this was the way in which he wanted to create his own posthumous reputation. The Academy received 42 million kronor and the objective was to create ‘a Nobel prize for music’.The presence of the King at the grand award ceremony was naturally a part of that ambition.
Stikkan Anderson always had large ambitions, however, they weren't always as socially respectable as the idea for a royal music prize. Instead, his major achievements took place in the arena of popular culture where his influence was so great that for several decades he was simply known as ‘the industry’.
Stikkan Anderson was a man of the people who understood what people wanted to listen to. When Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 he had already built up a large enough business to handle global marketing and distribution. Abba became one of the highest selling pop groups in the world and Stikkan Anderson became one of the wealthiest men in Sweden.
But he wasn't given an easy ride. Sweden was an innocent country which had never previously perceived music as a commodity, and as he was breaking new ground, he was frequently severely criticised and accused of cynicism. And when investing the Abba-millions, he was accused of being a tax evader. When cornered he was happy to give way and then proclaim his common roots and his scorn for high society, the critics and the cultural elite to which he subsequently came to belong.
Stikkan Anderson passed away in 1997, and since then the Polar Prize has gone its own way.The commotion surrounding the prize varies with the star status of the prize winner. It is unlikely that anyone will ever forget Bob Dylan's sulky expression next to the King on the stage at Berwaldhallen in 2000, or Bruce Springsteen's genuine pride when he received the prize together with the choirmaster Eric Ericsson in 1997. (Ericsson is, by the way, the only Swede thus far to have received the honour.) In 2003 the jury considered the pianist Keith Jarret to be of such stature that he was the only prize winner. As is so often the case with major honours, they usually focus on what the artists have done rather than what they might accomplish in the future.This is also true for the Polar Prize. Nobody can seriously claim that Led Zeppelin, this year's prize winner, do not deserve their prize, but neither could anyone imagine that they will ever do anything remarkable in the future. In many respects, Led Zeppelin is receiving the Polar Prize for the music they created in the early s, the music which heralded the arrival of hard rock.
This year's classical prize winner is actually more current. The Russian conductor Valery Gergiev is still active as leader of the Marlinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and in recent years has attracted attention with a global series of concerts for the victims of the school massacre in Beslan. Gergiev originally comes from the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania.
The strength of the prize is that it is entirely focused on the music and that the jury, in an almost stubborn manner, seems to disregard trends and orders of priority. An interesting question is: Would Abba have been able to receive the prize, or where they too much part of popular culture?