Patti Smith receives the 2011 Polar Music Prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at the Concert Hall, Stockholm. (Photo: Patrik Österberg / All Over Press Sweden)
Patti Smith will perform live tonight at the Stockholm Concert Hall, the final event in a celebratory week of activity centered around the Polar Music Prize that saw the rock icon and the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet win the prestigious award on Tuesday. The Prize was created and funded in 1989 by Stig Andersson, the manager of Abba (sometimes called Abba’s fifth member) and the founder of two music-publishing companies and a record label as well as the composer of over 3,000 songs.
Smith and the Kronos Quartet are the 20th set of laureates to receive the Polar Music Prize from the hands of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. The Prize, worth one million Swedish Kronor ($158,336), was first presented in 1992 and has gone to pop artists such as Sir Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and classical names such as Isaac Stern, Renée Fleming, José Antonio Abreu and Ennio Morricone.
Smith’s award was presented by one of her favorite authors, Sweden’s Henning Mankell. Speaking without notes, he credited Smith for inspiring women all over the world to write poetry and create music. He then read the citation, which lauded Smith for “devoting her life to art in all its forms” and for demonstrating “how much rock ‘n’ roll there is in poetry and how much poetry there is in rock ‘n’ roll.” Calling Smith “a Rimbaud with Marshall amps,” the citation said that she “has transformed the way an entire generation looks, thinks and dreams.”
In her acceptance, a visibly moved Smith had to stop for a moment to collect herself as she thanked her daughter Jesse Paris and son Jackson, as well as the musicians she has worked with for years, including “Lenny Kaye, who has played guitar by my side for over 40 years.” Smith also acknowledged the late Stig Anderson and “my late husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith,” guitarist for the rock band MC5.
“Receiving the prestigious Polar Music Prize is both humbling and inspiring, for it fills me with pride,” Smith told the audience at the Stockholm Concert Hall. “It also fills me with the desire to continue to prove my worth. I am reminded always how collaborative the music experience is and so I would like to thank the people, for it is the people for whom we create and it is the people who have given me their energy and encouragement for four decades.
Three Out of Four: King Carl XVI Gustaf presents the Polar Music Prize to the Kronos Quartet at the Concert Hall, Stockholm. (Photo: Patrik Österberg / All Over Press Sweden)
David Harrington, who founded the string quartet known as the Kronos Quartet in 1973, accepted the Polar Music Prize on behalf of the four members. He thanked their families for their support “through lean times and lonely nights.” He added, “Since 1973, our goals have been simple. Find the most wonderful music and play it as well as possible.” He received a heavy round of applause when he said, “Music is one of humanity’s most essential resources. The greatest piece has yet to be written, the most perfect note has yet to be played.”
The afternoon ceremony, broadcast live on Swedish television, included performances of Patti Smith’s songs and the Kronos Quartet’s repertoire by Swedish artists. Veronica Maggio, who has one of the best-selling albums of the year in Sweden, sang the Springsteen classic “Because the Night,” a No. 13 hit on the Hot 100 for Smith in 1978. Ola Salo, lead singer of the soon-to-break-up band the Ark, commanded the stage with his interpretation of “People Have the Power.” The Stenhammar Quartet impressed with the Kronos Quartet’s arrangement of the Jimi Hedrix hit “Purple Haze” and excerpts from another Kronos favorite, “Black Angels.”
The ceremony concluded just before 6:30pm local time and the activity then moved to the nearby Grand Hotel where a banquet was held for the laureates, the royal family and the family of Stig Anderson. There were more performances of Patti Smith’s and the Kronos Quartet’s music. The climax of the evening was a surprise performance that elicited gasps and whoops from the normally reserved Swedish audience.
“Patti decided during dinner that she wanted to play,” Marie Ledin, daughter of Stig Anderson and Managing Director of the Polar Music Prize, told Billboard.biz. “It was very unexpected.” A smiling, grateful Smith took the stage with her long-time guitarist, Kaye, and dedicated a song originally written for her daughter Jesse to Crown Princess Victoria and her husband, Prince Daniel. The couple is expecting and Smith said her song was for Victoria and “the future within.”