Max Martin & Cecilia Bartoli Win Sweden's Polar Music Prize

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Max Martin and Cecilia Bartoli, the 2016 Polar Music Prize 2016 winners, arrive to the award ceremony in the Concert Hall in Stockholm on June 16, 2016.

Pop songwriter and producer Max Martin and Italian mezzo-soprano opera singer Cecilia Bartoli were presented with the 2016 Polar Music Prize on Thursday afternoon (June 16) in Stockholm, Sweden, by His Majesty King Carl XVI of Sweden. The presentation at the Stockholm Concert House -- followed by a Royal Banquet at the Grand Hotel's Winter Garden room, where guests dined on duck breast and duck confit and sage sausage -- brought to a close two days of Polar Music Prize activity (well, aside from an afterparty currently in full swing at the Grand Hotel).

Martin -- who has earned 22 No. 1s on the Billboard Hot 100, more than any other writers besides John Lennon and Paul McCartney -- was introduced Thursday by three American artists who were flown to Stockholm at the very beginning of their career to work with Martin. Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough and Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys all acknowledged the Laureate for shaping their sound in 1995 and changing their lives. "In the last 20 years, no composer in the world has written melodies as sustainable or as widespread as those of Max Martin," their introduction read, in part. "...With his ear for song melodies, his musical precision and craftsmanship, he has refined and developed the world’s popular music.”

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In his acceptance speech, Martin acknowledged his mentor, the late Swedish musician Denniz PoP, as well as the team he has worked with for the last 20 years. “You are the definition of loyalty.” Then he revealed his two secrets for creating “the perfect pop song.” “The first one: Steal from the best," he said. "I confess, over the years I’ve ripped off giants like ABBA, Kiss and the late, amazing Prince. The second most important secret is love.” Martin then acknowledged his wife and daughter, who were in the audience. “You really make me a better person.” Martin concluded by saying as a writer of pop songs, he always felt like he belonged at the “children’s table.” But then he admitted when he found out he was winning the Polar Music Prize, he thought, “I was invited to come and sit with the adults. ... But don’t worry: Tomorrow I’ll be back in hiding at the kids’ table.”

Bartoli’s citation was read by Sweden’s Minister for Culture and Democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke, an admitted devoted fan of the opera singer. “With a vocal range of three octaves and a unique ability to live a role with fullness of expression, Cecilia Bartoli has developed song as an art form," the citation read, in part. "Cecilia Bartoli has spellbound audiences in the world’s great opera houses, but is not content with the well-known repertoire. She has also dug deeply into the history of music and presented long-lost music from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that is completely new to today’s audiences.”

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Bartoli expressed her thanks and excitement. “I’m deeply honored. … I strongly believe in the power of music and I’m here to share my belief. … Grazie!”

At the evening banquet, Marie Ledin, managing director of the prize and daughter of the prize’s founder, ABBA manager Stig “Stikkan” Anderson, thanked her late father and mother for their “brilliant and generous idea that is the Polar Music Prize.” The Polar Music Prize was founded and funded in 1989 by Anderson. A well-known lyricist, he also was the co-writer on many of ABBA’s early hits. The prize was first presented in 1992. Anderson died in 1997; his family has taken up the mantle. The long list of previous laureates includes Paul McCartney, Elton John, B.B. King, Joni Mitchell, Renée Fleming, Stevie Wonder, Ennio Morricone, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Isaac Stern, Björk, Led Zeppelin, Miriam Makeba, Patti Smith, Yo-Yo Ma, Ravi Shankar, Dizzy Gillespie, Emmylou Harris, Peter Gabriel, Paul SimonBurt Bacharach, Bruce Springsteen and 1994 laureate Quincy Jones, who returned to Stockholm to attend the 2016 Polar Music Prize. The evening banquet concluded with a rendition of a song he once composed in Sweden: “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set.”