The 2002 Polar Music Prize is awarded to Sofia Gubaidulina, whose intensely expressive and deeply personal musical idiom has the ability to speak to an ever-growing audience of listeners all over the world.

Chapter: Childhood and education

Childhood and education

Sofia Gubaidulina was born on October 24, 1931 in Chistopol in what was then the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, a part of the Russian SFSR and the Soviet Union. After instruction in piano and composition at the Kazan Conservatory, she went on to study composition at the Moscow Conservatory first under the guidance of Nikolai Peiko, and later under Vissarion Shebalin.

Nikolai Peiko: "Symphony No. 4"
Chapter: An uncompromising vision

An uncompromising vision

Gubaidulina’s uncompromising dedication to her artistic vision did not always cohere with the rigid guidelines that defined the Soviet musical establishment, but her music was nonetheless championed in Russia by a number of devoted performers, including Vladimir Tonkha, Friedrich Lips, Mark Pekarsky, and Valery Popov.

Sofia Gubaidulina in 1981. Photo by Dmitri N. Smirnov, via Wikimedia Commons.

And with the help and determined advocacy of Gidon Kremer, to whom Gubaidulina’s masterful violin concerto Offertorium was dedicated, the composer gained international attention in the early 1980s.

Sofia Gubaidulina: Offertorium
Chapter: Mixing and experimenting

Mixing influences and experimenting

Gubaidulina is the author of symphonic and choral works, two cello concerti, a viola concerto, four string quartets, a string trio, works for percussion ensemble, and many works for nonstandard instruments and distinctive combinations of instruments.

Edison Denisov, photo by Dmitri Smirnov via Wikimedia Commons

Gubaidulina’s compositional interests have been stimulated by the tactile exploration and improvisation with rare Russian, Caucasian, and Asian folk and ritual instruments collected by the “Astraea” ensemble, of which she was a co-founder, by the rapid absorption and personalization of contemporary Western musical techniques, a characteristic, too, of other Soviet composers of the post-Stalin generation including Edison Denisov and Alfred Schnittke.

Edison Denisov, photo by Dmitri Smirnov via Wikimedia Commons


Russian composer Vyacheslav Artyomov, member of Astraea. (Photo: Photo by Meladina, via Wikimedia Commons)
Russian composer Viktor Suslin, member of Astraea. (Photo: Photo by Dmitri N. Smirnov, via Wikimedia Commons)
Astraea Improvisation

“I am that place where east and west meet”

Sofia Gubaidulina

Her scores frequently explore unconventional techniques of sound production. Gubaidulina’s music is marked by the use of unusual instrumental combinations. Seven Words was composed for the chromatic button accordion bayan, violoncello and strings; Et exspecto (1986), a sonata in five movements, Silenzio (1992) for bayan, violin and violoncello.

Russian Bayan Accordion built in the U.S.S.R. by Jupiter Company. Instrument from the collection of A World of Accordions Museum in Superior, Wisconsin, USA. © Henry Doktorski
Chapter: Re-ligio


Gubaidulina is a deeply devout Christian and has always striven for the spiritual dimension in her music – a dimension revealed through mysticism and Christian symbolism by a deep-rooted belief in the mystical properties of music. Re-ligio symbolizes “the re-tying of a bond and restoring the legato of life” she says. The cross, and crossing then become logical symbols in her composition, in the crossings of artistic expressions, of instruments and of sound vs. silence.

Anne-Sophie Mutter performing Gubaidulina: "In tempus praesens (fragmento de la cadencia)"
Statue of Archangel Michael by August Vogel above the main gate of the church Sankt Michaelis in Hamburg, Germany where St John's passion premiered in 2002.
Sofia Gubaidulina's Seven Words performed in Eurythmy.

The Resurrection part, initially planned as the ending, already influenced the composition of the entire Passion; this formed the basis of the structure, which is determined to a large extent by the succession of Gospel and Revelation texts. While working on the Passion I had to separate thoughts of the Resurrection from the actual Passion.

The passion of St John

A major triumph of the recent past was the premiere in 2002 of the monumental two-part cycle, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ according to St. John, commissioned respectively by the International Bachakademie Stuttgart and the Norddeutschen Rundfunk, Hamburg.

Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra: "Johannes-Ostern" by Sofia Gubaidulina
Vocal soloists and choir of the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir as well as the North German Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Valery Gergiev.
Chapter: Polar Music Prize Ceremony

Stockholm May 2002

Gubaidulina on stage with 2002’s other Laureate Miriam Makeba at the prize ceremony. © Polar Music Prize
Gubaidulina with Crown Princess Victoria, H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf and Miriam Makeba.
Citation for Sofia Gubaidulina read by Karin Rehnqvist.
Flower-shaped CDs with Gubaidulina's and Makeba's music were given out to guests.
Gubaidulina with the Polar Music Prize Diploma. © Polar Music Prize