Cellist Yo-Yo Ma Awarded $1 Million Birgit Nilsson Prize

Ma is the first instrumentalist to receive the prize, which is one of the largest bursaries in the classical music industry

(Photo credit: Jason Bell)


Awarded approximately every 3 years, the Birgit Nilsson Prize honors "active artists and institutions who have made a major contribution to the perpetuation of their art form."

Endowed by the late Swedish Wagnerian soprano Brigit Nilsson, the coveted prize has been previously given to Plácido Domingo, Riccardo Muti, the Vienna Philharmonic, and Nina Stemme.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma was announced as the fifth recipient of the prize on what would have been Nilsson's birthday, May 17, 2022.

Ma will receive the prize at a ceremony in Stockholm on October 18, 2022. The Prize ceremony will feature the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Swedish Radio Choir, in addition to younger artists like Birgit Nilsson Stipendium recipients, soprano Johanna Wallroth and mezzo-soprano Emma Sventelius, and cellist Amalie Stalheim.

Also during his visit to Sweden, Yo-Yo Ma will perform in concert with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Alan Gilbert on October 16.

A UN Messenger of Peace, Yo-Yo Ma was the first artist ever appointed to the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees. Among other philanthropic work, he is a member of the board of Nia Tero, the US-based nonprofit working in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and movements worldwide.

Ma's discography includes over 100 albums, 18 of which were Grammy Award winners, and his countless accolades include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010), Kennedy Center Honors (2011), Polar Music Prize (2012), and the J. Paul Getty Medal Award (2016).

“I wish I could have met Birgit Nilsson in person," Yo-Yo Ma said. "Yet, she is alive for me through the recordings of her legendary voice and the legacy of her great generosity, her sense of humor and a lifetime grounded in cultural values.

"It is a great privilege to receive this honor and to play a small part in the legacy of one of our great musical role models, an artist whose attention was directed outward, toward young people and music’s role in creating a better world."