5 February, 2010
The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Contemporary Music category goes in this inaugural edition to Spanish composer and conductor Cristóbal Halffter Jiménez-Encina (Madrid, 1930), whose works “breathe an immense inspiration” in the words of the prize jury. “Through their coherence and the continuity of their commitment, they have greatly contributed to the idea of a European contemporary music.”
“He has made a major contribution to the reintroduction of Spanish music into the world of contemporary music”
“Since the late 1950s and early 1960s” the citation goes on, “Halffter has made a major contribution to the reintroduction of Spanish music into the world of contemporary music.” He is considered one of the leading composers from the “Generation of 1951”, responsible for introducing into Spain the main currents of the European musical avant-garde.
Cristóbal Halffter is widely acknowledged to be a key figure in the European music of the twentieth century. His work was a force for renewal in Spanish contemporary music, which he helped bring within the mainstream of international musical creation. True to his time, he has experimented with numerous contemporary techniques including electroacoustic music and serialism. Internationally, Halffter’s reputation rests on his achievements as both composer and conductor.
Halffter’s first words on hearing of the award were: “The real triumph is that an award family devoted to knowledge has accorded contemporary music the same recognition as physics or ecology. That is truly a fabulous stature to give us.”
The new laureate draws additional satisfaction from the fact that the prize was decided by an international jury meeting in Spain: “Although I have lived abroad and it was there that I won my first recognition, I have never cut myself off from Spain. Not only am I delighted at this prize, but it also binds me more tightly to our shared culture.”
The jury was chaired by Juerg Stenzl, Professor of Musicology at the University of Salzburg (Austria), with Siegfried Mauser, President at Munich University of Music and Performing Arts (Germany), acting as secretary. Remaining members were Hugues Dufourt, composer and Emeritus Research Director at France’s Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS); Ranko Markovic, Artistic Director of the Konservatorium Wien University (Austria); Luis de Pablo, Spanish composer, and Dieter Torkewitz, Professor of Music Theory at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna (Austria).
Halffter was nominated for the award by the Royal San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts (Spain); music publisher Universal Edition (Austria); the Paul Sacher Foundation (Switzerland); and the Prince Pierre of Monaco Foundation.
The Frontiers of Knowledge Laureate honor world-class research and artistic creation. The breadth of disciplines addressed and their monetary amount, an annual 3.2 million euros, place them among the foremost international award families. However their uniqueness lies in their close alignment with the scientific, technological, social and economic challenges of the present century. In this respect, they are the first to reserve dedicated categories for Climate Change; Development Cooperation; Information and Communication Technologies, and Ecology and Conservation Biology, alongside the awards going to outstanding contributions in Economics, Finance and Management; Basic Sciences; Biomedicine, and Contemporary Music.
Contemporary Music is a novelty in this edition, taking over from the generic Arts category of the 2008 awards. The qualities it honors coincide with the defining values of the Frontiers Awards: innovation arising from the cumulative stock of knowledge and curiosity as a spur to exploration, creativity and the utmost excellence.
“We are confusing culture and spectacle”
As well as reasserting the claim of contemporary music as an essential part of human knowledge, Halffter calls for it to receive greater public attention: “Many major works expressive of the culture of the turn of the century have been virtually ignored. That is why I am so pleased to be in the company of scientists in these Frontiers of Knowledge awards. And I stress the word knowledge here, not information. Information is everywhere; it is knowledge we are running short of”.
“Out society tends to confuse culture and spectacle. Culture can be spectacle, but spectacle is often anything but culture”
Halffter also reflects on the idea of culture in our times: “Out society tends to confuse culture and spectacle. Culture can be spectacle, but spectacle is often anything but culture”. And it is here, in his judgment, that innovation encounters most obstacles: “For me, the world’s best tenor performing La Traviata is just not news; what really excites me is the premiere of a string quartet by any of my colleagues.”