2018 Music Prize

Joel Annmo

Jury motivation: "A beautiful sounding tenor voice combined with obvious musicality and a proven ability to continually develop. Joel has great potential for a fine career as an opera singer."

About Joel Annmo

Joel Annmo holds a bachelor's degree from the University College of Opera in Stockholm and has previously studied at the Music Conservatory in Falun. At the age of 19, in 2007, he made his debut as Pastore and Spirito in L'Orfeo at Drottningholm Palace Theatre. After completing his training, he moved to Germany for private study and soon after received his first engagements there. After a few years in Europe, he made his debut at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, where he sang several leading roles and performed in world premieres. He has also performed Don Giovanni at the Malmö Opera.

Joel Annmo won the Luciano Pavarotti Award" for best male voice at the Italian Viotti Music Competition in 2014 and second prize at the Gösta Winbergh Competition at Confidencen in 2007. He has also received a scholarship from the Christina Nilsson Fund, administered by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, as well as a scholarship from Anders Wall.

Intense silence as a cure for loneliness

Despite difficult dog years in Bavaria and a shocking loneliness, Joel Annmo still wears rose-tinted glasses when it comes to his job as an opera tenor. The intense, silent moments on stage make it all worthwhile, he says. Perhaps they even save lives.

“When I decided to give it my all to become a tenor, my dad had a talk with me. As an opera singer, he wanted to make sure that I wasn’t building a castle in the air, but was truly prepared for what a hard and lonely business it is. "If that's okay with you, then go for it,", he said.”

Joel Annmo was 16 when he was given a CD with Jussi Björling, and that was it – he would work in opera. By chance, he played the famous aria Che gelida manina from Puccini’s La Boheme, and was spellbound.

“It is such a difficult aria, and yet his voice, in all its simplicity, is “just Jussi”. He does this little glissando on a consonant, which is rarely done. I sat on the edge of my bed and thought that this was the best I had ever heard,” Joel says.

“I’ll show them”

 Joel Annmo kept his fantasies about the opera industry, although he is grateful to have been prepared.

“It was a shock to realise how right my father was. For the first few years, I had no place to call home, anywhere. I was single and just moved around, living out of a suitcase, renting basement rooms from an acquaintance of an acquaintance, and so on... It was certainly not a life of luxury.”

At the beginning of his career, he made do with the jobs he could get, primarily in Germany.

“One of my first jobs was a contract where you had to give several months’ notice, or the contract was automatically renewed at the end of the term. I got good roles, but my mental health suffered.”

Joel resigned from the contract, but suffered the consequences for as long as he worked at the same place. The boss had a reputation for ruining careers and made sure that all colleagues turned their backs on Joel for the rest of his employment.

“I was just alone, alone, alone, alone. And stubborn too. I knew I deserved better than my employer at the time, and I was determined to prove it. I counted the days, did my job, acted professional, and just carried on without showing how upset and angry I was,” Joel says.

Fuel for difficult times

In such a demanding industry, especially at the beginning, how do you make it? Much earlier, during Joel’s first year at the Stockholm University of the Arts, Birgitta Svendén was the principal. Something she said stuck with Joel, though it took some time to fully sink in:

“You will have many difficult moments in your career, bad performances, and lost jobs. But every once in a while, you’ll have that truly golden moment, that outweighs all the negativity and hardship. You have to savour them, because those moments are what keep you going.”

“I’ve often thought about Birgitta’s words since then, because they are so true. There are moments when I’ve stopped singing, the orchestra has stopped playing, and there is a moment of complete silence. The atmosphere emanating from the audience is so thick that you can touch it – it’s a magical moment experienced collectively. It makes the body release an “oh, thank you!”, and those moments are everything.”

Would we accept a life deprived of the arts?

The debate about classical music and the arts is often focused on the budget savings, Joel feels. He wishes that the societal benefits were given more space.

“Culture is part of what makes us human. I am one hundred percent certain that if we took all culture away from everyone for a whole year, no one would be able to cope. No one would even accept it!”

Humans have always evolved through the arts, as a way of storytelling and learning, Joel says. We did not invent culture for fun, but rather because it was necessary.

“There is a reason why even the Neanderthals had culture. Why did we start making music? Why did we start painting stones and making petroglyphs? We need it in our lives, otherwise we have nothing.”

Perhaps this is why Joel Annmo never tires of working as an opera singer, and why he ultimately managed to get through the first rough years. It is the audience's reaction that tells him how important his, and the whole ensemble’s, work is. Sometimes in the form of personal feedback.

“The most precious thing I’ve received is from a woman I’ve never met, but who saw one of my performances and wrote me the following:

“I’ve suffered from depressions for years, and I haven’t felt anything for so long. I've thought about whether I want to go on living – because why should I if I can’t feel anything? Everything is just grey and dead. But after hearing your performance, I felt something for the first time in years. I thought that if I can still feel something, I can go on living.”

“How can you even estimate the value of such a thing? It’s impossible. All I can do is to continue working, and it’s with pleasure I do so.”