Exploring The GRAMMYs' Classical Field Nominees

Go inside the nominations in the Classical Field categories for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards
  • Photo: Mathew Imaging/WireImage.com
    Gustavo Dudamel
  • Photo: Jeff Fusco/Getty Images
    Renée Fleming
  • Photo: Gustavo Caballero/WireImage.com
    Alan Gilbert
  • Photo: Mark Allan/Getty Images
    Andrew Davis
  • Photo: Roberto Serra/Getty Images
    Antonio Pappano
  • Photo: Rick Diamond/WireImage.com
    Giancarlo Guerrero
February 05, 2012 -- 3:55 am PST

You've seen the list of nominees, now take a closer look at the artists nominated in the Classical Field for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

The nominations in the Classical Field feature music from several centuries and continents, but a few dominant patterns emerge. American composers are strongly represented, as is music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Several entries have a Scandinavian connection, whether through traditional folk music or works by living composers from the region. A few nominees make their return to the GRAMMY ballot, including pianist Yuja Wang, the collaborative duo of composer Steven Mackey and vocalist Rinde Eckert and five-time GRAMMY-winning composer John Adams.

Best Orchestral Performance

This category features both staples of the traditional repertoire as well as more recent works. Conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are nominated for Brahms: Symphony No. 4, and conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra earned a nomination for Haydn: Symphonies 104, 88 & 101. Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic are represented for their recording of Bowen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 by the late English composer York Bowen. For the second consecutive year, music by German composer Hans Werner Henze appears on a nominated recording. This year's entry is Henze: Symphonies Nos. 3–5, recorded by Marek Janowski and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. The BBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor Jirí Belohlávek brings a third 20th-century composer into the category with their recording of Martinu: The Six Symphonies, highlighting the work of Bohuslav Martinu.

Best Opera Recording

This category takes us from Greek mythology to Los Alamos, N.M., with nominated music spanning the 18th to 21st centuries. The oldest work is Antonio Vivaldi's Ercole Sul Termodonte, performed by Europa Galante and Coro Da Camera Santa Cecilia Di Borgo San Lorenzo, under conductor Fabio Biondi, with a cast led by Joyce DiDonato and Rolando Villazón. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and Royal Opera Chorus bring the lone 19th-century work to the category: Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, with conductor Antonio Pappano and soloists Joseph Calleja, Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson. Two nominated works come from the 20th century: Benjamin Britten's maritime tragedy, Billy Budd, featuring John Mark Ainsley, Phillip Ens and Jacques Imbrailo, with conductor Mark Elder and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Glyndebourne Chorus; and Kaivos, by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. The piece was conducted by Hannu Lintu with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and Kaivos Chorus. The newest work is John Adams' Doctor Atomic, which takes place in 1945 at the Manhattan Project laboratory in Los Alamos, in the days leading up to the first testing of the atomic bomb. The recording features Gerald Finley with Alan Gilbert conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera Chorus.

Best Choral Performance

English collective the Choir Of Trinity College Cambridge performs American music on Beyond All Mortal Dreams — American A Cappella under conductor Stephen Layton. Another recording of American music in this category is Light & Gold, a collection of works composed and conducted by Eric Whitacre, performed by the Eric Whitacre Singers, Laudibus, Christopher Glynn and Hila Plitmann, the King's Singers and the Pavão Quartet. Florida-based choral group Seraphic Fire is nominated for their unconventional version of Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45, in which the traditional orchestral accompaniment is replaced by Johannes Brahms' transcription for four-hand piano. Patrick Dupré Quigley conducts with soloists Teresa Wakim and Paul Max Tipton, and pianists Justin Blackwell and Scott Allen Jarrett. The two remaining entries in this category highlight the music of Scandinavia. Kind is a collection of music for and about children, and contains both traditional folk songs and modern works by Finish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Per Nørgård (Denmark) and Marcus Paus (Norway). The performers are chamber choir Ensemble 96 and the Nidaros String Quartet under conductor Kjetil Almenning. The Natural World Of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen focuses on the works of this Danish composer, performed by Ars Nova Copenhagen with conductor Paul Hillier.

Best Small Ensemble Performance

Seraphic Fire's second nomination this year is for A Seraphic Fire Christmas, an album of a cappella choral favorites conducted by Quigley. Several entries in this category highlight American composers. Sound The Bells! by the Bay Brass features world-premiere recordings of recent works by John Williams, Michael Tilson Thomas, Morten Lauridsen, Bruce Broughton, Kevin Puts, and Scott Hiltzik. Hilos features recordings by Gabriela Lena Frank, performed by the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble. Frank is an American composer with Jewish, Peruvian and Chinese ancestry, and her music reflects her Peruvian heritage, with titles such as Danza De Los Saqsampillos and Quijotadas. Composer Steven Mackey and actor/vocalist Rinde Eckert are nominated together for the second consecutive year, following last year's nod for Dreamhouse. This year's newest work, Lonely Motel — Music From Slide, features the Chicago-based chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird. Rounding out the category is Kingdoms Of Castille, a compendium of recently rediscovered baroque music from Spain and Latin America, performed by chamber group El Mundo and conducted by Richard Savino.

Best Classical Instrumental Solo

This category features one lone piano soloist amid four concerto performances. Pianist Ursula Oppens is nominated for Winging It — Piano Music Of John Corigliano. Two additional pianists are competing with Rachmaninov concertos. Yuja Wang, who received a nod in 2009 for her debut recording, Sonatas & Etudes, is nominated for Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 In C Minor, Op. 18 and Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini, with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Claudio Abbado. Leif Ove Andsnes performs Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4 with Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra. Rounding out the category with non-keyboard instruments are Chinese Recorder Concertos — East Meets West, with Michala Petri and the Copenhagen Philharmonic conducted by Lan Shui; and Schwantner: Concerto For Percussion & Orchestra, featuring percussionist Christopher Lamb with the Nashville Symphony, under conductor Giancarlo Guerrero.

Best Classical Vocal Solo

Baroque music is prominent in this category. On Three Baroque Tenors, present-day tenor Ian Bostridge pays homage to three legendary tenors from the baroque era (Annibale Pio Fabri, Francesco Borosini and John Beard). Handel: Cleopatra features French soprano Natalie Dessay singing arias from Handel's opera, Giulio Cesare, accompanied by conductor/harpsichordist Emmanuelle Haïm and Le Concert D'Astrée. Andreas Scholl sings the music of Henry Purcell on O Solitude, with Stefano Montanari conducting Accademia Bizantina. Diva Divo is the second recording nominated this year featuring mezzo-soprano DiDonato. Here, she sings arias from a variety of operas for female characters as well as so-called "pants roles," where a mezzo soprano plays a male character. She is accompanied by the Orchestre De L'Opéra National De Lyon under Kazushi Ono. The final entry in this category is a Norwegian song cycle, Veslemøy Synsk, based on an epic poem by Arne Garborg, with music by Edvard Grieg and Olav Anton Thommessen. It is performed by Norwegian mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland with pianist Nils Anders Mortensen.

Best Contemporary Classical Composition

American composers dominate the category this year, with works from a variety of genres. Mackey's Lonely Motel — Music From Slide earns a second nomination. Composer Robert Aldridge is nominated for Elmer Gantry, his operatic adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel. George Crumb is nominated for his song cycle, The Ghosts Of Alhambra, based on a text by Federico García Lorca. Jefferson Friedman's String Quartet No. 3 was commissioned by the Chiara String Quartet. Danish composer Poul Ruders rounds out the category with his Piano Concerto No. 2, performed by pianist Vassily Primakov with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and conducted by Thomas Søndergård.

Who will take home the awards in the Classical Field categories? Tune in to the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 12, taking place at Staples Center in Los Angeles and airing live on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). 

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