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Leonard Cohen wins international Glenn Gould Prize

Leonard Cohen in December 2010

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Legendary Canadian troubadour and poet Leonard Cohen has won the ninth Glenn Gould Prize for lifetime achievement in the arts and communication, it was announced Friday at a ceremony in Toronto.

Cohen, 76, is the third Canadian to take the $50,000 international honour, established in 1987 to commemorate the life and work of pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) and sometimes called "the Nobel Prize of the arts." He is famous for such songs as Suzanne, Bird on a Wire and Hallelujah and books such as The Spice-Box of Earth and Let Us Compare Mythologies.

Although juror Stephen Fry quipped, "I thought we agreed on Justin Bieber!" at the press conference, Cohen was the unanimous choice of the prize's seven jurors, jury chair Paul Hoffert said: "His poetry and music transcend national boundaries and cultures by touching our common humanity. His unique voice is nonetheless the common voice of people around the globe telling our stories, expressing our emotions, reaching deeply into our psyches. Like Glenn Gould, his work touches audiences far outside his main genre. Hallelujah!"

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The Montreal-born Cohen, who has a home in Los Angeles, did not attend Friday's announcement. But in a prepared statement he said, "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."

Besides the $50,000, the Gould prize winner gets to choose an outstanding young artist as the recipient of the $15,000 Glenn Gould Protégé Prize.

Cohen is expected to release a recording of new songs later this year, his first studio album since 2004's Dear Heather. He's been performing concerts on tour virtually non-stop for the past three years, having lost most of his life's savings as a result of poor management earlier in the decade. A favourite of critics and fans alike, Cohen has won numerous Canadian and international awards since the publication of his first book in 1956 and the release of his debut album 11 years later. He was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, followed two years later by his installation in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Gould, a biennial prize, was originally awarded every three years, with Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer the inaugural honoree. Jazz pianist-composer Oscar Peterson was the second Canadian named as laureate, in 1993. The other winners, all musicians, have been Yehudi Menuhin (1990), Toru Takemitsu (1996), Yo-Yo Ma (1999), Pierre Boulez (2002), André Previn (2005) and Jose Antonio Abreu (2008).

This year's jury gathered in Toronto Thursday for a day of deliberations. Included in the international panel were British actor, screenwriter, director and author Fry; Canadian filmmaker and opera director Atom Egoyan; and Chinese musician Dadawa, UN Goodwill Ambassador. Other jurors were Montreal film producer and founder of the DHC/Art Foundation Phoebe Greenberg; Toronto singer-vocal producer Elaine Overholt; Costa Pilavachi, vice-president, classical artists and repertoire, for Universal Music International; and New York pianist, teacher and administrator Gary Graffman.

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