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Music Laureates of Praemium Imperiale: Reach Out Where Our Artistic Blessings are Required

In the Renaissance there were countless wars, plagues, atrocities, and tragedies. What do we remember? We remember great artists and writers. Long live the arts! (Mitsuko Uchida, UK)

JAPAN Forward

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~When it is finally stopped, I believe people will enthusiastically return to live concerts of all sorts. We love to see and hear people playing music. It’s embedded in our DNA (Steve Reich, USA) ~

(Fifth of 6 parts)

Part one: Praemium Imperiale International Advisors

Part two: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Painting

Part three: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Sculpture

Part four: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Architecture

Among the pleasures of autumn, the annual Praemium Imperiale Awards are among the most highly anticipated in the global world of arts. This year, the 32nd anniversary of the awards ceremonyーinitiated by the Japan Art Association in 1988 to honor the artsーhad to be postponed until October 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

To reaffirm the importance of the arts, the organizers asked previous Praemium Imperiale laureates for their thoughts and reaction to this pandemic. 

Several guide questions were posed: 

  • The impact of the coronavirus on art’s network of social connections, 
  • The  way they view and create art,
  • The role of the arts in these difficult times, and 
  • The important  lessons that they, as artists, have learned from this crisis. 

The wide variety of encouraging messages received from a total of 5 international advisors and 47 laureates in five categories have been compiled into a special issue of the 2020 Praemium Imperiale Yearbook, providing a valuable testimony of this global crisis from the great artists of our time. Their comments are presented in six parts, according to the artist’s form of participation and artistic category. 

Excerpts of the varied and thoughtful comments of the Praemium Imperiale Laureates in Music follow:

2006 Steve Reich (USA) 

When it is finally stopped, I believe people will enthusiastically return to live concerts of all sorts. We love to see and hear people playing music. It’s embedded in our DNA. May this disease end soon so we can resume making live music together.

2008 Zubin Mehta (India) 

Never in our lifetime has a situation enveloped the entire world as we are going through this crisis. Every individual suffers or escapes this universal curse in his or her own way. Those of us who are fortunate, until now, not to have contacted this dreadful illness must deem ourselves extremely fortunate. We should reach out and help the rest of humanity wherever our artistic blessings are required.

2010 Maurizio Pollini (Italy) 

There is still a pandemic raging and we do not know when the situation will normalize. We wonder what the outcome will be, what will happen to all the societies affected by these events. For now, we are unable to make any predictions. The doctors and nurses who, through their work and heroic self-sacrifice, have paid for the help given to the sick with their lives – they truly deserve to be rewarded.

2014 Arvo Pärt (Estonia) 

This tiny corona thing has painfully shown us that we, humans, are a uniform, even a single organism, and that a human existence is only possible in relation to other living beings. The crisis has created a situation in which all kinds of problems and weaknesses will come to the surface more and more. Whether they are political systems or social systems of any kind. The current crisis spares no one, and in the greatest need they all reveal their true ’values’, which can no longer be covered up. Nobody knows how we will get out of this, but we all feel that nothing will remain as it was.“ (Source: ABC, Spain ) 

2015 Mitsuko Uchida (UK)

In the Renaissance there were countless wars, plagues, atrocities, and tragedies. What do we remember? We remember great artists and writers. Long live the arts! 

2018 Riccardo Muti (Italy) 

During the pandemic in Italy, when the infection was at its height and I was not able to conduct any activities, I had the rare opportunity to have the time to study Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis score in great detail. This work was supposed to open the 2020/21 Symphony season in Chicago. For three months, I could focus on it every day for hours, hours and hours; the virus gave me the precious chance to have plenty of time to study this sublime musical score. 

The virus has led to a disastrous economic situation, this autumn the effects will be seen more and more clearly. However, we have to be careful that at some point society has to stop living in fear and we have to make sure that governments in some countries do not take advantage of the situation that has been created by the virus, to become despotism, to impose a form of health dictatorship and  thereby subdue people. We always need to be careful to be free; healthy in body and free in mind.

2019 Anne-Sophie Mutter (Germany) 

I am a musician because I love playing the violin – but ultimately always for the other. And I firmly believe that in the not too distant future this will also be possible in front of a physically present audience. My anticipation of being able to play for you again helps me through these difficult days – and has already grown immeasurably!

About the Praemium Imperiale: 

The Praemium Imperiale was created in 1988 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Japan Art Association and to honor the late Prince Takamatsu, who was the association’s honorary patron for almost six decades. 

The Association chooses the winners based on the recommendations of individual International Advisors in England, France, Italy, Germany, the United States, and Japan. Each advisor is guided by the recommendations of a nominating committee, comprising cultural leaders from his home country. The international advisors are leading figures with a deep interest or involvement in the arts. International advisors to the Praemium Imperiale chair nomination committees and propose candidates for the annual awards. Japan Art Association selection committees make final selections. Selections for the 32nd Praemium Imperiale awards will be presented at a ceremony in October 2021.

(Continues in Part 6)

Author: JAPAN Forward