The KFE cited Somtow for his services to the spirit of international diversity, as a cultural ambassador between East and West, overcoming national borders and cultural-historical barriers, and establishing meaningful cultural connections between Thailand and Europe.
The President of the KFE will travel to Thailand and present the award to Somtow in person on December 18, the UN International Migrants Day, at a concert in the Thailand Cultural Centre at which Somtow will conduct Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
“I’m thrilled and humbled by this award,” said Somtow, noting that the only composer ever to win the award in the past is Hans Werner Henze, one of Germany’s most celebrated twentieth century musicians. Other laureates include actor Georges du Fresne, American writer Dough Wright, Dmitris Tsatsos, Mayor of Athens, and Elzbietta Penderecka, creator of the Krakow Beethoven Festival. Winners have included theatre directors, politicians, and choreographers. The first person to win the award was Annemarie Renger, the first woman to serve as president of a German Parliament and the first woman to be nominated for President by a major party in Germany.
Since 2005, the KFE has also awarded a European Tolerance Prize, which in 2009 went to German physician Dr Dirk Weeber-Arayatumsopon, for his work in Thailand with disabled children and in preventing HIV.
Somtow credits the widespread attention in the international media for his DasJati project, a series of 10 linked music dramas based on the iconic last 10 lives of the Buddha, which when completed will constitute the “largest classical work of all time” in the words of London’s Opera Now. Part of the work toured in Europe last year, and was an eye-opener for European audiences, positioning Thailand in the cultural limelight.
Somtow is the first Thai and the first East Asian to receive the European Award for Cultural Achievement.
“It’s important to me that the KFE’s website’s headline is ‘2017 Award to Thailand.’” Somtow added. “Exciting things are happening here artistically. I firmly believe that we are heading toward a realignment of the world’s cultural map and that Thailand is going to be a regional centre of such a map. This is why, after a half-century of a career in the west, I came back to Thailand. This is where it is truly happening now. I am gratified to be a small part of this revolution. I am proud to accept the award on behalf of all the artists and the people of this country.”