Classical Music: You've Gotta Hear It Live!

  • Joyce DiDonato performs at the GRAMMY Awards Pre-Telecast Ceremony in 2012
    Photo: Jeff Kravitz/
  • Larry Dutton and Philip Setzer of Emerson String Quartet
    Photo: Michael Caulfield/
  • Eric Whitacre
    Photo: Jeff Kravitz/

While the annual GRAMMY Awards highlights excellence in recorded music with a star-studded live telecast that always makes for one of the hottest live shows of the year, The Recording Academy pays tribute to the live music experience in the week leading up to GRAMMY Sunday with a series of events featuring performers from many genres. This year, events will include a tribute concert to 2013 MusiCares Person of the Year Bruce Springsteen, a GRAMMY In The Schools Live! concert and Play It Forward: A Celebration of Music's Evolution And Influencers — the 15th Annual GRAMMY Foundation Music Preservation Project.

Before recording technology existed, music was always live. We're now fortunate to have the technology to hear nearly any music we want, whenever we want. And technology has enabled artists to make fantastic studio-based and electronic music that live instruments can't replicate. But live performance is still an incomparable and irreplaceable part of music.

This is especially true of the classical genre. Too often, classical music is pegged as soothing background music or mistakenly considered boring and stuffy. But in my experience, a live classical performance can be just as thrilling as a rock concert. Sure, the atmosphere is a bit more formal, but when you hear an orchestra play in a hall with great acoustics, the sound will rock you as much as a band in a stadium, and usually without any amplification.

While classical performances come in several flavors, below are a few different types that everyone should experience live at least once, along with examples of past GRAMMY-winning performances.

Orchestra: You may have heard bits and pieces of Beethoven's symphonies in films and commercials, but nothing compares to hearing them live. Conductor Georg Solti won Best Orchestral Recording in 1987 for his performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 In D Minor.

Opera: John Adams' Doctor Atomic won Best Opera Recording in 2011. Not your typical opera, it tells the story of the test of the first atomic bomb, with Robert Oppenheimer as the lead character.

Chamber: The string quartet is one of my favorite chamber ensembles, and the Emerson String Quartet has won GRAMMYs for their recordings of works by Beethoven, Bartók and Shostakovich, among others.

Solo piano: Pianist Vladimir Horowitz won two GRAMMYs in 1987 for Horowitz In Moscow, a live recording of a recital he gave upon returning to his native land for the first time since 1925.

Choral: Light & Gold by Eric Whitacre won Best Choral Performance in 2011 with works for unaccompanied voices. Riccardo Muti's recording of Verdi's Requiem, which won two GRAMMYs in 2010, features soloists and a chorus with orchestra.

In 2012 at the GRAMMY Pre-Telecast Ceremony, GRAMMY winner Joyce DiDonato performed "Non Più Mesta" from Gioachino Rossini's La Cenerentola.

"The invitation to perform at the Pre-Telecast Ceremony came as a complete shock because 'opera' often seems to be viewed as a somewhat dirty word outside of our world of corsets and cadenzas, and our performances are not often granted the coveted spotlight in mainstream events," DiDonato later wrote in a blog post on

While I was afraid that a performance by just one singer with piano accompaniment might not capture the audience's attention, DiDonato's voice filled the entire space and the performance resulted in a standing ovation.

I would like for everyone to experience the sense of awe that filled the room last year when DiDonato sang. Even if you don't think you're a classical fan, when heard live, the right orchestra or opera star might just change your mind.

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