March 16, 2011 / 11:05 PM / 8 years ago

Riccardo Muti wins $1 million classical music prize

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Italian conductor Riccardo Muti has won the $1 million Birgit Nilsson prize, the biggest reward in classical music, organizers said on Wednesday.

The prize is given out every two or three years to honor outstanding achievement in singing or conducting opera or concerts, and was established by Swedish soprano Nilsson before she died in 2005.

Muti, who is currently music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is expected to receive the award at the Royal Opera in Stockholm on October 13.

“Maestro Muti is being recognized for his extraordinary contributions in opera and concert, as well as his enormous influence in the music world both on and off the stage,” organizers said in a statement.

The award comes after the 69-year-old suffered a health scare when he fainted and fell on stage during an extended rehearsal in Chicago last month.

He fractured his jaw and other facial bones, requiring surgery that wired his jaw shut for a few weeks and inserted permanent plates in his face. He also was fitted with a pacemaker to treat a heart problem.

The jury for this year’s award comprised Clemens Hellsberg, president of the Vienna Philharmonic, Eva Wagner-Pasquier, co-director of the Bayreuth Festival, Bengt Hall, managing director of the Malmo Opera, Rupert Christiansen, opera critic for Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, and Speight Jenkins, general director of the Seattle Opera.

“It is his absolute dedication that singles him out, underpinned by a musical morality that has won him enemies and detractors as well as friends and admirers,” Christiansen wrote in his newspaper article on the award.

Muti has also been conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and La Scala, Milan.

Spanish tenor Placido Domingo was the first recipient of the Birgit Nilsson Prize in 2009.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White

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