05/07/2012 02:49 EDT | Updated 07/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Leonard Cohen chooses Sistema Toronto as protégé

Leonard Cohen has chosen Sistema Toronto, a program that offers free, intensive music education to children from culturally diverse neighbourhoods, to share in his Glenn Gould Prize.

The Montreal singer, artist, poet and writer will receive the $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize for lifetime achievement next week.

He will also present representatives from Sistema Toronto the corresponding $15,000 Protégé Prize, which is funded by the city of Toronto.

Sistema Toronto began its work in the Toronto school system in 2011, after a group of Canadian music educators were inspired by the El Sistema system created by Venezuelan economist, politician, educator and musician Jose Antonio Abreu.

In 2009, the Glenn Gould Foundation presented Abreu with the Glenn Gould Prize in Toronto, where he spoke about how the system helps poor Venezuelan children escape poverty and violence. One of the system's most prominent graduates is superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel, now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

In Toronto, the music students work with professional artists and teachers for two hours at the end of every school day. Sistema Toronto artistic director David Visentin calls the program a powerful tool to shape young lives.

"There is no telling how powerful this impact will be in future years," he said in a statement.

"By awarding the children of Sistema Toronto the collective honour of being named the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégés, Leonard Cohen is giving much more than a prize. He is instilling hope, awakening dreams and he is challenging talent to reveal itself in the years to come."

Music-filled gala

On May 14, Cohen's accomplishments will be celebrated with a gala at Massey Hall in Toronto. The event will feature performances by musicians such as Basia Bulat, the Cowboy Junkies, James McMurtry, Serena Ryder, Anjani Thomas and Cohen's son Adam. Free events, including an exhibit of Leonard Cohen's artwork, are also taking place this week.

Cohen was named winner of the Glenn Gould Prize in 2011. Dubbed the "Nobel Prize of the Arts" by some, the Gould Prize is awarded biennially to "an individual for a unique lifetime contribution that has enriched the human condition through the arts."

"One of the most remarkable things about his extraordinary career is how it has become richer and deeper as each decade passed," said British writer and filmmaker Stephen Fry, who sat on the international jury that chose Cohen as winner.

Cohen had a bestseller with his 2006 poetry collection Book of Longing and topped music charts throughout Europe earlier this year with his most recent album, Old Ideas.