Classical Excellence

(For a complete list of 54th GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)

I have a very vivid memory of one my first experiences after I had the good fortune to be invited to be a GRAMMY.com Community Blogger. It was two years ago, when the nominees were announced for the 52nd GRAMMY Awards. I remember eagerly scanning the nominations list as soon as it came out, feeling elated and slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume (more than 50 recordings in 11 categories!) and variety of classical excellence gathered in one place. Maybe it's just because it was that time of year, but I felt like I had just received a giant virtual Christmas present!

I had the same feeling last year, and this year is no different. With seven categories, the Classical Field is a musical feast that demonstrates just how rich and multifaceted the classical world is.

Because I'm a composer myself, I'm always excited to see plenty of 20th- and 21st- century music on the nominee list. As in previous years, newer music is not only confined to the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category; this year, 18 out of 35 nominated recordings feature music composed after 1900! Among the composers are well-known figures such as John Adams and Benjamin Britten (Best Opera Recording), Eric Whitacre (Best Choral Performance), John Corigliano (Best Classical Instrumental Solo), and George Crumb (Best Contemporary Classical Composition), as well as a few names I hadn't heard before, like York Bowen (Best Orchestral Performance) and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (Best Choral Performance). I was very excited to see music by my friend Gabriela Frank in the Best Small Ensemble Performance category. For the second year in a row, Steven Mackey is nominated for a collaboration with vocalist Rinde Eckert, in both Best Small Ensemble Performance and Best Contemporary Classical Composition categories.

Of course, earlier eras of classical music have not been neglected. The Best Orchestral Performance category includes symphonies by Haydn and Brahms, and Verdi's La Traviata is nominated for Best Opera Recording. There's a wealth of baroque, including a Vivaldi opera, vocal music by Handel and Purcell, and guitar music from Spain and Italy.

Four of the five nominated recordings for Best Classical Instrumental Solo feature a soloist with orchestra, while one is a piano solo. But pianist Ursula Oppens can hold her own against anyone, and I'm happy to see her nominated. This category also has two recordings of Rachmaninov piano concertos in competition: Yuja Wang playing Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 In C Minor, Op. 18 and Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini, and Leif Ove Andsnes playing Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4.

There's even more classical goodness to be found in the Best Engineered Album, Classical and Producer Of The Year, Classical categories — more than I can do justice to in this space!

I'm looking forward to learning more about this stellar group of recordings and artists. My musical Christmas stocking is overflowing!

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