Weird choices for $100k Israel prize

Weird choices for $100k Israel prize


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2021

The $100,000 Wolf Prize, presented at the Israeli Parliament, will be awarded this year to Stevie Wonder and Olga Neuwirth.


Wonder is one pop artist among thousands and Neuwirth (pic), while heavily subsidised in Austria, has hardly set the world alight.

On what criteria would this pair be selected in a year when top Israeli composer Oded Zehavi turns 60 and Bob Dylan is 80?

The board of the Wolf Prize needs to be replaced.



  • henry williams says:

    somebody in israel has little knowledge of the music scene.

  • Rogerio says:

    All the people you mention are united by the quality that none of them should be awarded monetary prizes for their achievements.
    If you want to honour them, weave a crown of laurel leaves, place it on their heads, say “thank you” and give them the honour of awarding 100K of their own to a worthy charity.

  • I’m not sure of the details, but I believe Olga has a Jewish heritage.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Stevie Wonder, too?

      • sam says:

        Stevie and Israel go way back, he sang at Israel’s 50th anniversary gala, Israel was founded on May 14 and Stevie was born on May 13, and together they had that hit song, E-bo-ny and Is-ra-el…

      • Rogerio says:

        According to The Jewish Times article of Nov 27 2012, Wonder is totally kosher.
        But then again, he is also blind as a rock.
        I don’t know.

      • A very contemporary selection: a Jewish woman and a blind man of colour. It’s not who you are but who you know.

      • The Wolf Prize is awarded based on “achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people … irrespective of nationality, race, colour, religion, sex or political views.” Olga often speaks about issues of discrimination (both racial and gendered) in Austria and elsewhere, and also speaks about her Jewish identity in Austria. So it seems she would be a natural selection for the award, especially in regard to Austrian and Israeli relations. The Prize was established by a former diplomat.

      • Doofus1714 says:

        dear Norman and others.

        of course having Stevie W win a prestigious award will bring out the trolls. Irrespective of his religion or color, to refer to him as one of many pop stars while implying Bob Dylan is something other than that is hugely wrong-headed.
        there is a rather high percentage of rather closed-minded, small people on this blog, (this must be admitted) and to feed that flame these stories are posted in the mist click-baity way. your blog has so much fantastic info for musicians, fan and music lovers. couldn’t you consider steering it in a more serious way?

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      More than heritage. She identifies as Jewish.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I’ve hear stories that it’s her neighbours at the left side who are Jewish, which is sufficient for the Israelis.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Bob Dylan? ugh

  • And in Israel, León Schidlowsky is going to turn 90 this year. He deserves it too.

  • John Borstlap says:

    But the connection is clear. Mr Wonder is a pop artist, and Neuwirth is a punk composer. I don’t make this up, she claims it herself:

    “Once a punk, always a punk. This is the Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth’s description of herself.” And of course, that is something greatly praised in these days, because protest is some value in itself, quite separated against what or why or how.

    And she is, like Mr Wonder, not a serious composer – not because she is a woman but because it is sound art what she produces, a sort of ultrafeminist screaming against the establishment which is white, male, authoritarian, and dominating, without the musical concerns which, of course, are on the top of Mrs Neuwirth’s priority list.

    What do you get if sonic art is meant as a political tool? You can’t hear the difference with unpolitical use, but here it is anyway:

    By wrapping her work in feminist and social issues, people without any musical Bildung (as, for instance, existed in Vienna since the 17th century), get the impression that there is something artistic to be heard in this stuff. But it is merely a sorry product of the last century, a late echo of the sixties.

    I bet that Mrs Neuwirth thinks, when her work is rejected, that it is because she is a woman and a punk, and that it can never be because of the nature of her ‘music’. It must be the authoritarian, male, patriarchal etc. etc…..

    If she would take the gamble to delve in her own musical heritage, learn from it, emulate it, and give her personal expression of it, maybe something of true value would result. But of course, the classical repertoire is stuffy, male, authoritarian etc. etc.

  • Musicman says:

    I hope you did weren’t advocating for Bob Dylan to get this reward for his singing…lol! As a songwriter, however, he is a legend and deserved to be honored.

  • BruceB says:

    Not super familiar with this prize, but it looks like one of those “prizes for being famous” whose primary reason for existence is so that the foundation can then say “Past recipients include…” followed by a list of famous names (who don’t need the money, and may not have made much of a contribution to anything besides being artists). The $1M Birgit Nilsson prize comes to mind as an example.

    I did like the one — I forget the name of it — where the recipient is awarded a bunch of money, but it’s so they can distribute it to smaller arts organizations they consider worthy. The last time I read about it, the recipient was Itzhak Perlman.

  • violin accordion says:

    In a TV interview, the host said “ how have you dealt with the impossible barriers you faced through your life ? “

    Wonder : “ it could have been worse. I might have been black “

  • Yoav Sadeh says:

    I don’t think Jewish heritage plays much of a factor when deciding the recipients of the prize; countless non-Jewish people won the wolf prize over the years (all of them vastly famous in their field before getting the prize). Unfortunately, no Israeli musician (except for Barenboim, who is also Argentinian) won this prize; it goes to show the little appreciation and interest the committee has in Israeli musicians and Israeli music. Being an Israeli composition student myself, I must say that until Israel nurtures culture and education for culture (professionally or otherwise) as an essential part of Israeli life, it is very likely that no Israeli composer will win the wolf prize. If esteemed composers Like Zehavi, who studied in Israel at a time where there was much more attention and care for culture (and most importantly, better music education), did not get this prize, it’s hard for me to believe that in today’s toxic no-care-for-culture-or-culture-education Israeli mentality younger composers will receive it (unless they study abroad throughout their academic studies, thus getting a much better education for themselves; and obviously becoming famous and important in their field before getting the prize).

    • Yoav Sadeh says:

      I forgot to mention Joseph Tal! The sole Israeli composer to win the wolf prize – Barenboim won it years and years after Tal. So Israelis who won the Wolf prize are only two people in total. Make of that what you will.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The erosion of cultural awareness and interest is a materialist virus that clearly has also infected the Israelis – it began in the West and it’s spreading like wildfire. For Israel it is a bit strange, thinking of the contribution that artists of Jewish descendence have made in the past.

    • Based on the description of the prize, there are other factors besides artistry: “…achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people…” Olga and Barenboim would fit this description. As would Joseph Tal who had a deeply humanistic spirit. He represented Israel at the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) conferences and in other musical events and attended many professional conferences around the world. He was a member of the Berlin Academy of the Arts (Akademie der Künste), and a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin). He brought people together.

  • Roland Schilz says:

    Stevie Wondet one pop artist among thousands??? He is a musical genius, , one of the best composers and performers of the 20th century. In 100 years 99% of the contemporary classical composers will be forgotten because no audience would like to listen to that modern stuff if it doesn’t touch their soul – and usually it doesn’t. music in general is about soul and Stevie Wonders music is full of it.

  • Hilary says:

    Klaus Nomi- who inspired these songs by Neuwirth- did set the world alight. I’m always grateful to Neuwirth for introducing me to this extraordinary talent whose life was cut tragically short by the AIDS virus :

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Just speaking for myself, I would never put Bob Dylan ahead of Stevie Wonder. Pop or not, S.W. is vastly more musical.

  • We privatize your value says:

    In his best years, the 1970s, Stevie Wonder was to pop music what Mozart (Wolfgang, not Leopold) was to classical music in the 1770s – a prolific young genius who could do no wrong. Would Mozart have declined as well, once middle-aged ? That’s another question (my own theory is that he would have gone the Rossini way).

  • FRANCIS says:

    When will you learn to accept that there is world beyond the english channel? Jewish or not, Olga Neuwirth is an extremely well known composer in the rest of Europe.