The Week In Arts: When B.B. King sat next to the Queen of Sweden

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The Independent Online

Awards ceremonies are many, too many, but this week I attended one which stood out from the crowd. For a start, the two prizes were handed out by a king, which doesn't happen too often. And the main course at the awards dinner was not the usual lukewarm chicken, but a tender fillet of reindeer. That was preceded by a series of toasts to the prize winners with waiters refilling glasses of Schnapps as a male voice choir sang heartily.

Awards ceremonies are many, too many, but this week I attended one which stood out from the crowd. For a start, the two prizes were handed out by a king, which doesn't happen too often. And the main course at the awards dinner was not the usual lukewarm chicken, but a tender fillet of reindeer. That was preceded by a series of toasts to the prize winners with waiters refilling glasses of Schnapps as a male voice choir sang heartily.

Yes, I shall remember the Polar Music Prize, even if I do remember it through an alcoholic haze. The awards ceremony, which took place in Stockholm last Monday and was presided over by the King of Sweden, is not well known in the world of culture, even though the two prizes - at $100,000 each - are among the largest anywhere.

It is one of the few music prizes which honours luminaries of both pop and classical music. On Monday the two winners were the evergreen bluesman B.B. King and the modernist composer Ligeti. It made for a table plan to die for, with the Queen of Sweden sitting next to Mr King. Even President Bush sent a message remarking that "the music B.B. King plays on his guitar, Lucille, speaks to every heart".

It's serious stuff. The judges held a series of seminars to decide the winners, and earnest discussions were held on how B.B. King had influenced Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and others. Jimmy Page, who made a speech in King's honour at the ceremony, certainly approved of the pop/classical mix. He told me afterwards how impressed he was that the Swedes had scheduled concerts in the city, one by King and one of Ligeti's music, on days around the awards. He was, he said, now a "convert to Ligeti".

At Monday's banquet the truism that all great music defies labels and boxes was proved yet again. A top Swedish pianist played a selection of Ligeti études. And then B.B. King and his seven-piece band played a joyous 20-minute set. The 79-year-old ended with "When the Saints Go Marching In". He loved playing it, he confided, because at his age he never knew if he would play it again. Then he got up from his chair and began to dance as he played guitar and sang. He clearly wanted to come back and play an encore, but someone, maybe manager, maybe doctor, led him firmly off the stage in the centre of the room, and brought the curtain down as the ovation continued.

Somehow, we don't do awards ceremonies like that over here. And when we try, the reindeer is always cold.

Surely Marlene Dietrich deserves better

Gwyneth Paltrow is to play Marlene Dietrich in a new film. It's been widely reported - clearly with the blessing of the studio - that the casting has found favour with the grandson of the late singer and actress. But, actually, who cares? I assume Ms Paltrow does not take the surviving relatives' views into account, or she would have pulled out of her role as Sylvia Plath. The poet's daughter made it quite clear that she did not want a film made about her dead mother, but Gwyneth went ahead anyway.

In the case of Dietrich, the remarks of her grandson, Peter Riva, are strikingly odd. He says: "Like Marlene, [Paltrow] has the kind of body designers love to hang clothes on. And while Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald taught Marlene to maximise her limited vocal range, Gwyneth is a much better singer."

There's a nice way to talk about your grandmother, one of the most celebrated singers in history. She was just a clothes horse and couldn't sing as well as Gwyneth Paltrow. Charming!

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