Prize in honour of the late Wagnerian soprano goes to the orchestra at her old stomping ground.

The Birgit Nilsson Prize of $1,000,000 has been awarded to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, it was announced at a press conference yesterday.

The prize, endowed by the legendary Swedish Wagnerian soprano before her death in 2005, is the largest in the classical music world and, according to the terms of the fund, is “awarded approximately every three years to an active singer, conductor or institution for outstanding achievements in the field of opera or concert”.

The award has already raised a few eyebrows in the classical music world with Norman Lebrecht commenting that the money “has gone to a woman-averse orchestra the diva used to admire. Not the most sensitive of selections.” Other remarks on his Slipped Disc site include one that says “For the life of me I cannot imagine why Madame Nilsson would even want to leave her money only to those at the very top of the profession. What on earth is the point of making already mega rich performers and musical ensembles even richer? A larger number of hugely beneficial scholarships for younger, less established artists would surely have made for a far ‘richer’ legacy!”

In defending the award, the prize committee point out that Nilsson’s object was to award artists who have “achieved and maintained the highest performance standards throughout their career and thus made a major contribution to the continuation of this art form”. It was also her hope to provide an incentive to young artists to sustain their efforts and to reach their full potential by planning their careers over the long term.

Clemens Hellsberg and Rutbert Reisch, President of Birgit Nilsson Foundation

“We at the Vienna Philharmonic revered and loved Birgit Nilsson,” said the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra President, Clemens Hellsberg on accepting the award. “To be honoured by a Prize which bears her name makes us grateful to have been selected and at the same time wistful as we honour her great memory”.

What the apparently wealthy orchestra will do with the money is unclear as yet. “More news of how we will use this Prize will be revealed in October,” said Hellsberg. “The entire Vienna Philharmonic will be in Stockholm where the presence of Their Majesties The King and Queen of Sweden will make this particular occasion even more significant.”

The award ceremony will take place on October 8.