(l-r) Steven Isserlis, Murray Perahia, Maria Lettberg, Daniil Trifonov, and Frank Peter Zimmermann
2018 GRAMMY Nominations: Best Classical Instrumental Solo Roundup
The 60th GRAMMY Awards class of Best Classical Instrumental Solo nominees spans centuries of classical music, from J.S. Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn through Dmitry Shostakovich, Franz Liszt and Zara Levina, a contemporary composer working through the mid-'70s — all interpreted by pianists, cellists and violinists.
Dive into this year's GRAMMY nominations with a closer look at all the Best Classical Instrumental Solo nominees, the composers they're interpreting, and the ensembles and conductors who are supporting them.
(Editor's Note: Best Classical Instrumental Solo is awarded to the instrumental soloist(s) and to the conductor when applicable.)
Nominated for Bach: The French Suites
American pianist Murray Perahia has taken on Johann Sebastian Bach's French Suites on his first recording under the Deutsche Grammophon label. The six-suite set, composed between 1722 and 1725, ranges from sadness in the first three suites to outright joy in later pieces. Perahia captures the emotional colors of the works with virtuosic clarity, bringing Bach to life in an authentic rendering that will serve many generations of students and aficionados alike.
"The French Suites are great Bach — Bach on the highest level," said Perahia. "I don't think Bach wrote one note that didn't have wider meanings and that wasn't to be tackled with all one's heart and soul."
A three-time GRAMMY winner, Perahia last won at the 45th GRAMMY Awards for Chopin: Études, Op. 10 & Op. 25 for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra). This could be the pianist's second win for a set of Bach's works. At the 41st GRAMMYs, he took home the GRAMMY in the same category for Bach: English Suites Nos. 1, 3 & 6.
Steven Isserlis; Florian Donderer, Conductor (The Deutsch Kammerphilharmonie Bremen)
Nominated for Haydn: Cello Concertos
Playing with the Deutsch Kammerphilharmonie Bremen orchestra conducted by German Florian Donderer, British cellist Steven Isserlis' interpretation of two of the classical era's cello concertos — Haydn's Concerto No. 1 in C Major and Concerto No. 2 in D Major — have resulted in a fresh retouching.
"This one was a bit of a risk, since I recorded the Haydn concertos for RCA some 20 years," Isserlis wrote on his website. "But I wanted to record them again, with the uniquely committed, musicianly orchestra with whom I've had a long association, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie; and this time I directed them myself — in effect, playing the concertos as chamber music on a large scale."
Isserlis, who is seeking his first GRAMMY win, previously earned a nod for his performance of Martinů's Cello Sonatas Nos. 1–3 with pianist Olli Mustonen at the 57th GRAMMY Awards.
Maria Lettberg; Ariane Matiakh, Conductor (Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin)
Nominated for Levina: The Piano Concertos
A first-time GRAMMY nominee, Swedish pianist Maria Lettberg has taken on composer Zara Levina's piano concertos with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin orchestra conducted by France's Ariane Matiakh. While Lettberg is known for her interpretations of Alexander Scriabin's complete solo piano works, this time she has taken on an even more contemporary concerto project.
Composer Levina, a pianist who worked in Russia, wrote only the two piano concertos featured on this recording, in addition to a large body of choral works and a few solo piano works. One concerto was composed in 1942 and the other a year prior to her death in 1976. Lettberg and Matiakh worked with Levina's granddaughter, pianist/composer Katia Tchemberdji, for the interpretation of the scores, which represented a new discovery for Lettberg.
"I had not heard of the composer before," Lettberg said. "I was so enthusiastic about the music, I thought, 'I have to play it. It has to see the light of day.' … It's incredible."
Frank Peter Zimmermann; Alan Gilbert, Conductor (NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester)
Nominated for Shostakovich: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
German-based violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann has taken the Shostakovich Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 to new heights with his recording with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester conducted by Alan Gilbert.
Though he takes a more traditional approach to the second concerto, Zimmermann's performance of the first concerto will "raise eyebrows," according to Gramophone. Why? "It's fast."
His interpretation, for which he used the autograph manuscript with Shostakovich's own metronome markings and bowing instructions, clocks in minutes faster than many other versions, which makes listeners "hear this concerto in a new light."
While Zimmermann is vying for his first career GRAMMY win, Gilbert has earned a previous GRAMMY for Best Opera Recording at the 54th GRAMMY Awards for his conducting on Adams: Doctor Atomic with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
Nominated for Transcendental
Virtuoso Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has taken on Liszt's complete cycle of 12 Transcendental etudes. The Hungarian Liszt initially composed the etudes when he was 15 years old in 1826, and he made two additional revisions to the exercises that made them more difficult. In this recording, Trifonov takes on the wide-ranging and challenging etudes and expertly brings emotional depth and spirit to the compositions.
"Liszt is an absolutely fantastic composer and innovator," said Trifonov. "It requires a lot of your soul, a lot of your full emotional [investment], and that is a very special experience to play and record those pieces."
This marks Trifonov's fourth career GRAMMY nomination, including his third in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category following The Carnegie Recital (2014) and Rachmaninov Variations (2015).
The 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York on Jan. 28, 2018, airing live on CBS from 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT.