Now in its 16th year, Germany's Echo Klassik awards go out to musicians who are making waves in the music world. This year's winners include a conductor known for his social activism and the world's fastest violinist.
Conductor Kurt Masur is honored with a liftime achievement award
The Echo Klassik, Germany's most prestigious music prize, is to be awarded Sunday evening in Essen. Young stars are in the spotlight this year, like 28-year-old "Pianist of the Year" Lang Lang and 30-year-old violinist David Garrett.
The prize can make a big difference in young musicians' careers, said Echo jurist Stephanie Haase from the record label EMI Classics.
"I regard this prize as being very significant, both in Germany and internationally," Haase told Deutsche Welle. "Music event managers react positively when they see an Echo prize in an artist's biography, and winning artists are often able to secure concert engagements they wouldn't have gotten otherwise."
But for Lang Lang, securing exciting concert invitations is not a challenge. Hailed in 2007 by the New York Times as "the hottest artist on the classical music planet," he routinely sells out concerts in cities across the world.
David Garrett - who holds the Guinness World Record for being the fastest violinist - has also already enjoyed huge success with albums like his "Classic Romance" from December 2009. That album is this year's winner in Echo's "Bestseller of the Year" category.
The Echo is a great career booster, though pianist Lang Lang hardly needs one
But young artists aren't the only ones set to be honored on Sunday. Eighty-three-year-old conductor Kurt Masur will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for decades of outstanding engagement both musically and socially.
In the last decade, Masur has served as director for both the French National Orchestra in Paris and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Prior to that, he was director of the New York Philharmonic and became the first conductor to be awarded the title of Conductor Emeritus by the ensemble.
Within Germany, Masur is celebrated for his role in the peaceful demonstrations in 1989 that helped bring an end to communist East Germany. Thanks to his prominent role as conductor of Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra, he was able to mediate between officials and demonstrators to help convince protestors to remain peaceful.
Nonetheless, Masur said in an interview this week with German magazine Der Spiegel that "the spirit of those days has pretty much been exhausted. In fact, for many people, [German] reunification has meant more suffering than gain."
Alongside Masur's honor, Estonian conductor Paavo Jarvi will also receive an award as the 2010 "Conductor of the Year." The Grammy Award-winner is currently the music director of both the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.
A few in the industry are still clinging to the CD
Changes in the industry
Since its establishment in 1994, the Echo Klassik prize has already seen significant developments in the music branch, including the move toward digitalization.
"Ultimately, those of us in classical music are still mostly clinging to CDs or even records, but we've noticed that classical recordings are increasingly available online as digital downloads," said Dieter Knoell from the association that awards the Echo Klassik prizes. "Two years ago, we gave an award to a project that made Bach's entire works available for the iPod."
The market for classical music has grown within recent years, which has led to a 15-percent increase in the number of recordings submitted for consideration in this year's Echo Klassik awards. This year's total number of nominees was 570.
Artists like Lang Lang and David Garrett have helped draw younger artists to classical music, as has star tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Kaufmann is the 2010 Echo winner for "Male Singer of the Year," while American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato was honored as "Female Singer of the Year."
The awards are officially presented Sunday, though the winners were announced in July following deliberation by an 11-member jury consisting of music journalists, producers, PR agents and other music industry representatives.
Author: Gudrun Stegen, Greg Wiser
Editor: Kate Bowen