The next Birgit Nilsson Prize will take place in October 2018 – the jubilee year! Updates will follow.

The legendary Swedish dramatic soprano Birgit Nilsson established a foundation for a prize to be awarded for outstanding achievement in opera and concert.

Birgit Nilsson

The Birgit Nilsson Prize


The Birgit Nilsson Prize for outstanding achievement in opera, concert, ’Lieder’, or oratorio

Towards the end of her long and distinguished career Birgit Nilsson decided to establish a Foundation with the mission of awarding a Prize of one million U.S. dollars approximately every third year for outstanding achievement by a currently active performing artist or institution. More specifically:

  • a currently active singer in the field of opera, concert, ’Lieder’ or oratorio
  • a currently active conductor in the field of opera or concert
  • an institution with an outstanding record in opera or concert, such as an orchestra, a chorus, or an opera company in recognition of an exceptional production which respects the spirit of the composer.

The Birgit Nilsson Prize is the largest prize in the history of classical music. It may be split between two recipients. It may never be awarded twice to the same artist or institution. The recipient of the Prize is determined by an international panel of highly regarded professionals in the world of classical music and the Foundation Board. The Foundation Board may deviate from the regular period of three years at its own discretion in consideration of special circumstances.

The Prize aims to achieve two major objectives which reflect Birgit Nilsson’s personal and professional experience as an artist over her career spanning almost 40 years:

  • To pay tribute to artists who have achieved and sustained the highest performance standards - documented by a long-standing record of faithful service to the intentions of the composer - and who have made a major contribution to the perpetuation of this art form.
  • To sustain the motivation of young artists and to provide an incentive and inspiration to take a long term perspective in building their careers.

Birgit Nilsson was very concerned with the general decline of cultural values, in particular with the decline of performance standards in opera. High performance standards are a prerequisite for any art form dependent on the re-creative artist to flourish and to do justice to the intentions of the composer. The performer connects the audience with the composer’s work, which otherwise cannot be brought to life. The Prize is thus intended to recognize the key role of the performer and reward those who have made the greatest contribution to keeping the composer’s legacy alive. They have added a chapter to music history and their contribution can be expected to stand the test of time.

Birgit Nilsson encountered much greater difficulties in the early years of her career than is generally known to the public. She believed that overcoming these difficulties motivated her and contributed to her future success. She witnessed how many young colleagues failed to resist the temptation of accepting roles that were not suitable for them often much too early in their career. It was her hope and aim in establishing this Prize to provide an incentive to young artists to sustain their efforts and to reach their full potential by planning their careers over the long term.

The criteria to qualify for the Birgit Nilsson Prize are exclusively artistic. Non-musical aspects are not to be taken into consideration.

Obligatory criteria

Impeccable musicianship and expressiveness, interpretive prowess, unquestionable commitment to serve first and foremost the composer, and, in the case of singers, quality and beauty of voice.

An exceptional performance record, preferably over two decades or more, which implies that the respective candidate will typically be at the top or in the second half of his or her career.

Highest international recognition at the major music centers of the world, especially in Europe and / or in North America.

A distinctive performance style, without which performances would become bland and interchangeable.

Thorough professionalism in observing contracts and keeping commitments.

Desirable criteria

An active interest in young artists, be it through master classes, training opportunities, tutoring or other means of sharing valuable professional experience.

An image consistent with classical music, that is recognition through artistic achievement alone rather than through non-musical activities.

Humanitarian engagement, though not of a political nature.

Precluded criteria

The candidate’s gender, nationality, ethnicity, creed or political conviction. Political considerations of any kind are not admissable in the selection process.

The recipient of the Birgit Nilsson Prize is designated by an international panel of currently five top professionals from the classical music world:

Eva Wagner-Pasquier, Co-Director of the Bayreuth Festival,
Clemens Hellsberg*, President of the Vienna Philharmonic,
Bengt Hall, Managing Director of the Malmö Opera,
Rupert Christiansen, Opera Critic of the “Daily Telegraph“ and Member of the Editorial Board of “OPERA“,
Speight Jenkins, former General Director of the Seattle Opera.

The president of the Foundation, Rutbert Reisch, is a formal member of the Panel.

* Mr. Hellsberg was a member of the 2011 panel but recused himself from the 2014 panel.


The Prize statue was created by Gustav and Ulla Kraitz, two renowned Swedish artists with a strong international presence. The statue was modeled after Birgit Nilsson's appearances as Isolde in the new productions of "Tristan and Isolde" by August Everding at the Vienna States Opera and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, premiered on Dec. 17, 1967 and Nov. 18, 1971 respectively.

Technical details

Material: solid brass (burnished)
Weight: 3,12 kg / 6 pounds and 14,1 ounces
Height: 30 cm / 12 inches




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