Music

Nile Rodgers and Esa-Pekka Salonen Named 2024 Polar Music Prize Laureates

Nile Rodgers, who co-founded Chic and produced hits for a wide variety of artists, including Diana Ross, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Sister Sledge and Madonna, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Finnish-born composer and conductor whose long list of accomplishments include leading symphonies in Los Angeles and San Francisco, have been named the Laureates for the 2024 Polar Music Prize. Both will be honored in the presence of the Swedish Royal Family at a ceremony and banquet on May 21 at Stockholm’s Grand Hotel.

The prestigious Polar Music Prize was created by Stig “Stikkan” Anderson, famed Swedish writer/producer/label owner/publisher and manager of ABBA, and first presented in 1992. This year’s Laureates, who will be in attendance, will each receive a cash prize of one million Swedish kronor (approx. $96,700 U.S.).

Rodgers first came to prominence as co-founder (with Bernard Edwards) of Chic, the band that made its Billboard Hot 100 debut in 1977 with “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” and netted two Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, “Le Freak” and the oft-sampled “Good Times.”

Salonen, born in Finland, has enjoyed global success. He is currently the music director of the San Francisco Symphony and was previously the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Rodgers and Salonen both have numerous connections to Sweden. Rodgers remembers a conversation he had with Prince about the Scandinavian country. “He told me he wanted to move to Sweden because there were so many beautiful girls who drive BMWs,” Rodgers tells Billboard exclusively. “And Chic was the last band to record in the Polar Music studio. They had already closed the studio for good but re-opened it for us.” The Polar Music studio was originally owned by Stig Anderson and is where ABBA recorded many of their hits. Also, Rodgers worked with and was a mentor to Avicii, after they met following the famed DJ’s appearance at Radio City Music Hall in New York in 2012.

Growing up in neighboring Finland, Salonen first traveled to Sweden as a child, on the overnight ferry from Helsinki. “I’ll never forget my first time in Stockholm. My parents took me to a pizzeria. There were no pizzerias in Finland at the time, at least to my knowledge,” Salonen tells Billboard. “I was taken with the sheer beauty of the city. It’s one of the most gorgeous cities, partly because it’s built on a set of islands and there are also beautiful buildings.”

As an adult, Salonen lived in Stockholm for 10 years. When he returns for the Polar Music Prize ceremony and banquet in May, it will not be the first time he will be receiving a prize from the hands of King Carl XVI Gustaf. “I attended the Polar Music Prize dinner in 1996. The Laureates were Pierre Boulez and Joni Mitchell. The next day I received a medal awarded to me when I was stepping down as the chief conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The King gave me the medal and he commented on the tempo that I had chosen the night before for a performance of an overture by Wilhelm Stenhammar called ‘Excelsior!’ The King said to me, ‘You took that piece at quite a lick, didn’t you?’ I told him he was absolutely right. It was perhaps faster than usual. He was very happy. He turned to his aide and said, ‘I told you, didn’t I?’ So that’s a very fond memory. Somehow these things are mysteriously intertwined.”

“In Nile Rodgers, we honor a groundbreaking pioneer whose legacy spans his work as co-founder of Chic and as record producer and creator behind so much of the world’s greatest music,” says Marie Ledin, managing director of the Polar Music Prize. “Nile’s impact in pop culture is incomparable and his timeless songs will continue to delight, uplift and inspire for many years to come.”

Of Salonen, Ledin says that he “is an innovator. His artistic curiosity, creativity and forward-thinking approach to composing and conducting paves the way in classical music. He is a master of tone, perfectly balancing sound and emotion to produce and lead music that deeply moves the listener.”

Rodgers and Salonen join a long list of Laureates that includes Elton John, Ravi Shankar, Metallica, Ennio Morricone, Led Zeppelin, Renée Fleming, Paul McCartney, Grandmaster Flash, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Isaac Stern, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Sonny Rollins, Diane Warren, Gilberto Gil, B.B. King, Emmylou Harris, Yo-Yo Ma, Miriam Makeba, Björk, Wayne Shorter, Patti Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Chris Blackwell, Iggy Pop, Angélique Kidjo, the Kronos Quartet, Youssou N’Dour and Chuck Berry.

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