There is, as managing director Marie Ledin points out, no award quite like the Polar Music Prize. Awarded to two laureates each year – one from the classical world, and one more contemporary – its focus is broad, with everyone from Bob Dylan to the Baltic states, Björk to Burt Bacharach, receiving it in previous years.
“In the first years that we did this,” Ledin tells Music Week, “it was very strange for the music industry. It was different worlds. Today, the music industry has grown much more intimate; everyone is working together much more than they were in ‘92. It’s grown in the public eye, but also in the music industry, especially the classical world.”
She adds: “In the beginning, everyone thought it was strange to give a classical prize and a pop prize at the same time. But nowadays, maybe because people are used to it - at least in Sweden, but I also think the music industry has become more international or cross-bordering.
That’s one of the ideas: to cross borders within music, and have these artists meeting and discussing music.”
The Polar Music Prize was founded by Ledin’s father, Stig Anderson – better known as the manager of ABBA – in 1989, with the first recipients named in 1992: Paul McCartney and the previously mentioned Baltic states.
Anderson wanted to create a Nobel Prize for music – and in all but name, he has certainly achieved it.
Ledin says: “It is a musical prize, but it also investigates what the future is. What is happening in the music business?”
This year’s Laureates, who were celebrated in a lavish ceremony on June 16, are producer Max Martin and Italian opera singer Cecilia Bartoli. Martin is actually only the second Swedish artist to receive the accolade (after choral conductor Eric Ericson in 1997).
“It’s really special this year, because of Max Martin,” says Ledin. “He’s Swedish, so you’re proud to be Swedish because of him. I’ve been doing this for nine or 10 years now; it’s very special to have a Laureate that’s Swedish.”
The UK has seen six artists receive the Polar Music Prize, while the US has had a whopping 21, including Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesiser. So it’s not always artists – but it is always people who have had an impact on music.
Ledin explains: “It’s an international award. You have to have a footprint in the industry to get the prize. We have an award committee, and they have long discussions and lots of meetings to figure out who’s going to be the next Poet Laureate.”
She adds: “It’s Swedish, but it goes to well-known international artists.
“Usually they are a little bit older, except for Björk or Max Martin, but you’ve been in the business for many
years before you get the prize.”
Surprsingly, Ledin admits that when she took over, she didn’t see the Polar Music Prize lasting forever. “When I took over as managing director, I thought we were going to end this in the next 10 years,” she says. “But you always manage to find really interesting people that really deserve the prize. So I don’t think that’s a problem.
“When we chose Max Martin, he’s a producer and a songwriter. No-one has received the prize before that’s like Max Martin, in that category of the music industry. I have no doubt that we can find Laureates for the next 50 years.”
As managing director, Ledin has had a hand in expanding the Polar Music Prize to an international audience, in part via its Polar Music Talks programme. Its first London event took place in April this year, with Heston Blumenthal, Lord Winston and Eurovision’s Christer Björkman all speaking, and Jamie Cullum performing a mash-up of Max Martin hits.
“I was the one starting that seven or eight years ago. We’re trying to do a TED talk for music, where we discuss the importance of music. What it can do to your brain.
“There is a Netflix movie I saw last summer, Alive Inside, about music and memory. The two people behind that are coming over to Stockholm to tell us about what music is doing to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“People change when they listen to music. Music is communication. Everyone knows a Britney Spears song. And if everyone sings the song at the same time, all of us, more or less, in the world can sing it together.
Music travels so fast, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in England, the US or Zimbabwe. You listen to the same track. It unites people.”
She adds: “What we’re trying to do with Polar Talks is express how important music is, for students, for the human race.
“Music is the fundamental thing, and it’s so important to everyone. Nigel Osborne, the Scottish professor, was here some years ago, and he said that before we could talk, music was the communication we had.
“I hope to export [Polar Talks] much more. We’ve been to Copenhagen, New York, London and Olso. And it would be lovely to do it in London again next year.”