The Swedish choral conductor Eric Ericson is awarded the 1997 Polar Music Prize for pioneering achievements as a conductor, teacher, artistic originator and inspirer in Swedish and international choral music.

Conducting Orphei Drängar in 2011
Chapter: Growing up

Growing up

Eric Ericson was born in 1918 and grew up in Visby on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. His father was the reverend of a local church community and became Ericson’s automatic link with church services, which awakened his interest in music. Through a devoted choir music teacher at school, Ericson entered the cathedral’s boys choir. His higher musical education would then be very broad based. He started at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm (1941-1943) and continued at Basel’s Schola Cantorum during World War II. Additional studies in England, America, and Germany preceded his appointment as cantor in Jakobskyrkan in Stockholm in 1949. In 1953, he was made a professor at Stockholm Conservatory.

Visby, capital of the isle of Gotland, in 1928. The medieval wall around the city is part of UNESCO's world heritage. (Photo: Swedish National Heritage Board/Wikimedia Commons)
Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland (Photo: Mattes/Wikimedia Commons)
Jakobskyrkan, in the centre of Stockholm (Photo: Larske/Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: Choral music

Choral music

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Source: Joesvendsen/Wikimedia Commons

A choir is a musical ensemble of singers. It is perhaps the oldest and most widespread type of musical performance as a group. Choral music is unison or polyphonic, each harmony consists of several persons. Strictly speaking, the typical four-part setting of a chorale, in which the sopranos sing the melody along with three lower voices, is known as a chorale harmonization.

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Stockholm Academic Male Chorus giving a concert on the 6th of June. Sweden’s National Day, 2007. (Photo: Johan Svenungsson)

As an art form the choir is unique, partly because it is a grand musical experience both to listen to as well as to participate in. Sweden is a leading choir nation with over half a million practitioners.

Eric Ericson's Chamber Choir in 2012 (Photo: EEKK, Photo: Jan-Olav Wedin)

Eric Ericson founded the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir (Kammarkören) already in 1945. The choir has taken a central place both on the Swedish and International choir music scenes. Its founder’s great interest to constantly find new music and new works makes the choir’s repertoire very wide: from Renaissance music to the latest avant-garde. The choir is at the very top of professional ensembles, and has received numerous awards such as the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis and the Dutch Edison Award. EEKK annually conducts several foreign tours and has appeared extensively throughout Europe, the USA and Canada. The choir has made numerous recordings of a cappella repertoire and is found in many record company catalogs.

Radiokören, The Swedish National Radio Choir at the Polar Music Prize ceremony in 1997
Fredrik Malmberg, conductor of EEKK since 2012 (Photo: Johan Ljungström)
The Chamber Choir at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 1994 conducted by Eric Ericson
The Eric Ericson Chamber Choir recordings

The Eric Ericson Chamber Choir

The EEKK has taken a central place both on the Swedish and International choir music scene. Its founder’s great interest to constantly find new music and new works makes the choir’s repertoire very wide: from Renaissance music to the latest avant-garde. The Choir is at the very top of professional ensembles, and has received numerous awards such as theDeutsche Schallplattenpreis and the Dutch Edison Award. EEKK annually conducts several foreign tours and has appeared extensively throughout Europe, the USA and Canada. The choir has made numerous recordings of a cappella repertoire and is found in many record company catalogs. In addition to the extensive a cappella works, EEKK continuously collaborates with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and with the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble with which the choir has toured and made ​​recordings of Bach’s Mass in B minor, Christmas Oratorio, St. John Passion and Matthew Passion.

St John Passion by Bach, recorded in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm 1993 (Photo: Proprius)
Christmas Oratorio by Bach, recorded in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm 1993 (Photo: Proprius)
St Matthew Passion by Bach, recorded in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm 1993 (Photo: Proprius)
Chapter: Other engagements

Orphei Drängar

Between 1951 and 1991, Ericson was the head conductor of the prestigious choir Orphei Drängar, OD, an Uppsala based male choir founded in 1853. Ericson’s notoriety opened many doors for OD. He introduced more contemporary, modern composers and focused on the technical skills of the choir, a focus that bear fruit in the development of OD’s characteristics.

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Eric Ericson and OD. (Source: OD’s archive)

OD established itself at the highest international levels, and got well known for its rhythmic precision, precise phrasing and powerful sound. Under Ericson’s time as choir leader, the choir also gained organizational and financial stability. The successful Caprice concept was launched and Ericson had as many opportunities to demonstrate his humor and his skill as a pianist. He also conducted the Swedish Radio Choir (Radiokören) 1951-1982 and has been a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.

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Mozart’s Magic Flute interpreted by director Ingmar Bergman and performed by The Swedish Radio Choir and the The Swedish Radio’s Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eric Ericson. Source: SR Records

One of very few engagements beside the choral activities is the conducting of Mozart’s Magic Flute for the 1974 Ingmar Bergman movie adaptation.

OD's vice conductor Folke Bohlin and Eric Ericson in the 1960s (Photo: OD's archive)
Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm (Photo: Udo Schröter/Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: International Career

International Career

Ericson’s international recognition broadened with the years: he made guest appearances with all the world’s major choirs, such as the Netherlands Chamber Choir, Groupe Vocal de France, BBC Singers, RIAS Chamber Choir and Wiener Staatsoper Choir. In 1991 he was awarded the Danish Sonning Prize and in 1995 the Nordic Council Music Prize. He became an honorary doctorate at Uppsala University in 1983 and at Alberta University, Canada 1996.

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Eric Ericson at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 2012 with one of his daughters (Photo: Patrik Österberg © Polar Music Prize)

Eric Ericson was also a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music and Honorary President of the International Federation for Choral Music. In 2009 the church on Skeppsholmen in the centre of Stockholm was re-inaugurated as “Eric Ericson-hallen” a cultural centre for choir music and an exceptional concert hall.

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The Eric Ericson hall on Skeppsholmen, Stockholm
Choirs that have been conducted by Eric Ericson
Chapter: Polar Music Prize Ceremony

Stockholm May 1998

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Eric Ericson on stage at the Polar Music Prize Ceremony (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Patti Scialfa, Bruce Springsteen, HM the Queen of Sweden and Eric Ericson (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Citation read by Swedish mezzo-soprano Ann Sofie von Otter
Gudrun and Stikkan Anderson, founder of the Polar Music Prize, arriving at Berwaldhallen (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Receiving the prize form the hands of HM the King of Sweden (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Eric Ericson and Bruce Springsteen on stage (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Radiokören performing "September" by W. Stenhammar