Leonard Cohen wins 2011 Glenn Gould Prize

Leonard Cohen received a new cultural accolade Friday, when he was named the ninth winner of the Glenn Gould Prize.
Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen is the latest winner of the Glenn Gould Prize. ((Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images) )

Leonard Cohen received a new cultural accolade Friday, when he was named the ninth winner of the Glenn Gould Prize.

Dubbed by some as the "Nobel Prize of the Arts," it is presented biennially to "an individual for a unique lifetime contribution that has enriched the human condition through the arts."

The winner receives $50,000 and also chooses an outstanding younger artist to receive a related Protégé Prize worth $15,000.

Cohen learned of his win Thursday evening and was not present at the Toronto announcement Friday, but he sent a message thanking the Glenn Gould Foundation.

"It is a great honour, sweetened by my love of the work of Glenn Gould and our collective appreciation of his invigorating and enduring presence in the world of music and imagination," Cohen said in a statement.

The foundation will work with Cohen to create a program that is "meaningful to him" and that helps introduce his work to younger artists, said foundation executive director Brian Levine. Levine said Cohen will be announcing a protégé in the coming months.

El Sistema coming to Toronto

El Sistema, the respected Venezulan music  education system created by José Antonio Abreu, the 2009 Glenn Gould laureate, is coming to Toronto.

A pilot project will begin in a single Toronto school this September, the Glenn Gould Foundation announced Friday.

El Sistema was created as a way to help poor children in at-risk communities in Venezuela and the Toronto school board is working with Sistema Toronto to identify schools that might benefit.

The program will begin with students in grades 1-4 and will focus on teaching orchestra music, said David Visentin,  executive director of Sistema Toronto. Each child will get an instrument.

A benefactor who saw the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, the remarkable philharmonic created by the Venezuelan El Sistema, during Abreu’s 2009 residency in Toronto  has donated money to kickstart the program.


Cohen, the Montreal-born singer-songwriter, poet and author, was selected by an international panel of judges, which included Toronto filmmaker Atom Egoyan and U.K. actor and filmmaker Stephen Fry.

Fry said Cohen has a particular place in music history because his poetry and music have appealed to two generations of fans.

"One of the most remarkable things about his extraordinary career is how it has become richer and deeper as each decade passed," said Fry, whose most recent documentary series is Last Chance to See.

Gave pop music literary richness

The jury hailed Cohen, a novelist and poet before he made music, for lending literary richness to popular music. Cohen's books include poetry collections Let us Compare Mythologies and Flowers for Hitler, and novels The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers.

He is one of the most covered artists alive today, with his Hallelujah having been recorded by more than 150 entertainers.

Egoyan recalled Cohen's kindness in allowing him to use the song Everybody Knows in the 1994 film Exotica.

"I'd written the song into the script and I didn't know how hard it would be to secure the rights. He personally intervened and I was able to use it," Egoyan said, saying the incident impressed him with Cohen's generosity to younger artists.

Each of the jury members, including Dadawa of China and U.S. musician Gary Graffman, recalled early encounters with Cohen and how they became fans.

"One of the things that is wonderful about an international jury is that you really become aware of the fact that someone with whom you have a personal relationship as a Canadian artist has a huge effect from people all over the world and continues to have a growing influence on young artists as well," Egoyan added.

"I think that's been the remarkable thing about Leonard Cohen's career — it's being reinterpreted and it's growing in unexpected directions."

Past Gould laureates have included Canadian jazz legend Oscar Peterson, Venezuelan conductor and music education champion José Antonio Abreu and French composer Pierre Boulez.