B.B. King wins The Polar Music Prize

Entry to Stockholm Concert Hall

Did you know that Sweden is the third largest exporter of music in the world? Did you know that Stig Anderson (1931 - 1997) the manager of Abba, tried very hard, for a very long time to no avail, to get the Nobel Prize committee to include a prize for music achievement as one of the awards given by the Nobel Committee? Did you know that after being tuned down time and again, twelve years ago he started his own award, the now very prestigious annual Polar Prize? Did you know that the winner or winners of the Polar prize received one million Swedish Crowns an award that is equivalent to approximately $125,000. Did you know that past recipients have been Sir Paul McCartney, Dizzy Gillespie, Witold Lutoslawski, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Quincy Jones, Mstislav Rostropovitch, Sir Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Pierre Boulez, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Ericson, Ray Charles, Ravi Shankar, Iannis Xenakis, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Isaac Stern, Burt Bacharach, Robert Moog, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sofia Gubaidulina, Miriam Makeba, Keith Jarrett, and the Baltic states?

Well, if you knew all of that, you probably didn't know that I was privileged to be the only journalist from the U.S. invited to attend the Royal festivities of the Polar Prize, thanks to the Swedish Travel and Tourism Council.

President Bush sent a letter of congratulation


The definition of the Polar Prize: "The Prize or Prizes shall, with no restriction as to nationality, be awarded for significant achievements in music and/or musical life or for achievements which are believed to be of great potential importance for the advancement of music and/or musical life and shall cover all fields within music or be closely connected with it. Recipients, who can be individuals, groups or institutions, should be working in the international arena." From Stig Anderson's Deed of Covenant in favour of The Royal Swedish Academy of Music


The Polar Music Prize for 2004 has been awarded to two recipients: American born composer, singer and performer Riley B King a.k.a. B.B. King, for his significant contributions to the blues, and Hungarian-born composer Gy? Ligeti, 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.

B.B. King - Photo ? K. Westenberg


B.B. King is known as the "King of the Blues" and for half a century has been one of the absolute foremost figures in his music genre. He has lifted the blues from the confines of the American South and brought it to a huge audience the world over. For more detailed information on B.B. King go to www.bbking.com


Gy? Ligeti


Gy? Ligeti comes from an assimilated Jewish family, and survived both Nazism and Stalinism thanks to a happy string of coincidences. His music both stylizes and distills grand emotions into a tapestry of notes that are felt, smelt and distort perspectives. For more detailed information on Gy? Ligeti go to www.gyoergy-ligeti.de



I arrived in Stockholm on the evening of May 22nd. I was immediately whisked away by my new best friend, Jenny Burman, from the Stockholm Visitors Board, to the Stockholm Concert Hall. There we enjoyed a performance of the musical genius of B.B. King and his band.

B.B. King & band at first concert

The next day, May 23rd, Jenny, Thomas a German journalist, and I, went to a press and public question and answer session where B.B. King was being interviewed. He answered questions and shared stories from his youth to the present day. He was warm, sincere, charismatic, very funny and full of fascinating stories from his life as a musician. I was particularly taken by the story of how he came to name his guitar. The story starts early on in his career, when he was performing a gig in a very cold, very old, wooden building that had no heat. In order to keep people warm, there were barrels around the dance floor filled with burning fuel to generate heat... Click here to hear B.B. King telling the rest of the story. I also enjoyed the story of how he came to have more than one Lucille. Click here to hear more about this from B.B. King. He also performed with his band. Click here to hear the some of the performance.

Ligeti music at Hedwig Eleonora Church

Following the press conference, the three of us went to Hedwig Eleonora Church, where we heard a fabulous choir and organist perform the very unique and difficult assorted works of Ligeti.  The choir had to hit very difficult unusual notes, and the organist had to contort his body and often lay down to use his fingers and feet in very awkward maneuvers.


Guitar Exhibit


That evening, all of us, plus Jenny's associate Eric Lund, an expert on Swedish musicians, attended a fascinating exhibition of dozens of guitars on display at the magnificent Volvo automobile showroom in Kungstradgarden Park. These guitars of all shapes, sizes, colors and design were each displayed along side a photograph, taken by Steff Grandston, of their owner. Most of the owners of these guitars were to perform live, as part of twenty-five of Sweden's best guitarists, that evening at Berns Salonger.


Not your grandma's Volvo!


While at the guitar exhibit, I was able to see the latest Volvo concept model, the YCC, a true 21st century concept car with bells and whistles to match its WOW inspiring good looks, it is definitely not your grandma's Volvo. As we nibbled on wine and cheese, we were briefed by Eric, on the life and history of all the musicians, which was very interesting. 



Guitarists concert at Berns Salonger

After the reception, we went to the spectacularly beautiful Berns Salonger, We positioned ourselves at a standing round table close to the stage, then ever so slowly and discretely inched our table closer to the stage till Jenny said we had to stop. We were entertained by a host of very talented guitarists/singers including individual members of the B.B. King band.


Sipping champagne through straws


The next evening May 24th  was the actual Polar Prize Award Ceremony. It took place for the first time at the Stockholm Concert Hall. This event was a very elegant black tie affair. The women were beautiful, and the men handsome in their formal wear. Champagne was offered with straws from coke sized bottles, and we waited to be seated.


Polar Music Prize Cermony

After everyone was seated, the Royal Family, His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf, Queen Silvia  and Crown Princess Victoria  arrived. When attending an event at which the Royal Family is present, it is traditional not to to arrive after the Royal Family or leave before the Royal Family. The awarding of the prize was a very moving event. The King himself, as is traditional, presented the award to B.B. King. Unfortunately, Ligeti was unable to attend due to ill-health, but had recorded a message of thanks, and was represented by Dr. Louise Duchesneau.

B. B. King and King Carl XVI Gustaf

B.B. King made a moving speech telling the audience how this Polar Prize was the most special award he had ever received. He acknowledged that although he had received dozens of doctorates, and prizes from four presidents, he was the most nervous and most honored to receive this one, the Polar Prize from King Gustaf.



Britt-Marie Aruhn singing Ligeti

There were many wonderful performances honoring B.B. King and Ligeti. Out of all the outstanding music that evening, the performance of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", honoring B.B. King, was an especially memorable moment to me. Britt-Marie Aruhn operatically preformed, and reenacted brilliantly, a very difficult rendition of Ligeti's "Mysteries of the Macabre". Click here to hear part of this performance.

B.B. King & Dr. Louise Duchesneau (accepting for Ligeti)

Their were also performances of "Tell Riley" and "High Society" as well as the "Fourth Movement, Molto Vivace," from Legiti's "Romanian Concerto" and his "Concerto For Piano and Orchestra, Vivace Cantabile."  Click here to hear some of Legiti's music. The evening was capped off by the performance of "Pappa's In The Groove." 


Trumpets played welcoming us to the Royal Banquet

Following the Awards Ceremony there was a Royal banquet held in the Winter Garden, Royal Entrance of the Grand Hotel. This is the same hotel that accommodates Nobel Laureates, Kings, Dignitaries, and which played host to B.B. King, and yours truly. I had an additional celebrity sighting when I ran into Yoko Ono who was also staying at the hotel.



Grand room with high ceilings, and beautiful hand painted panels

Before the banquet we were escorted into an extremely grand room with high ceilings, and beautiful hand painted panels, where we mingled, talked and drank, while waiting to be led into the dining area. We were then ushered to the Royal dinner where the tables were elegantly set. I was seated in the balcony directly above the Royal Family.



Royal dinner where the tables were elegantly set

Royal decorum dictates that no one is allowed to arrive after the Royal Family, and nothing occurs at anyone's table, until it has occurred at the Royal Family's table. We were not served our salad until the Royal Family was served their salad, our plates were not cleared until their plates were cleared, once they stopped eating we were expected to stop. The banquet had an army of wait staff all of whose eyes were on the waiters taking care of the Royal Family in order to follow their lead. The meal was delicious, the main course, which I had become accustomed and comfortable with, from my previous trip to Kiruna at the Ice Hotel -  see my story about the Ice Hotel  was reindeer. During dinner we were lucky enough to again be entertained by B.B. King and his band. During King Gustaf's speech, he praised the recipients and joked about the fact that there were two Kings at the dinner.

B.B. King and Band at Royal Banquet


After dinner there was an after party at Berns, Berzelii Park. The party featured traditional Hot Dogs, Corona Beer and live entertainment with performances from Shirley Clamp, Sara Dawn Finer, Patrik Kolar & His Funky Friends and others.



Jimmy Page introducing B.B. King at the Polar Prize Awards


We all had a wonderful time and hated to leave. I went back to my wonderful room at the Grand Hotel to prepare for the rest of my trip, The Astrid Lindgren Awards.  To see my story about Astrid Lindgren click here   To learn more about the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and this year's recipient Lygia Bojunga, click here to read my story 

For more information go to www.polarmusicprize.com




All recordings were made from my position in the audience using the Sony ICD BM1 Digital Voice Recorder Click here to go to my review of the Sony ICD-BM1 Digital Voice Recorder. Most of the photographs were taken using: the Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom Digital Camera Click here to go to my review of the Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom Digital Camera and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1 Digital Camera Click here to go to my review of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1 Digital Camera.

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