GRAMMY Classical Delights

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)

The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards are coming up on Feb. 13, and I'm thrilled to be serving as's community blogger for classical music again this year. Los Angeles, here I come, again!

Last year, I noted that reading through the list of Classical Field GRAMMY nominees made me feel like a kid in a candy store, and this year's list certainly brought that feeling right back to me. Nearly 50 recordings are nominated across 12 categories and if you include everything listed under the Producer Of The Year, Classical category, the number of recordings doubles — it's enough to make a music nerd's head spin!

But as excited as I am, I know of a couple of people who must be even more over the moon. Six-time GRAMMY winner David Frost racked up a Classical Field-leading four nominations, including Producer Of The Year, Classical, an award he won in both 2004 and 2008. He also received a nod for Best Surround Sound Album for Britten's Orchestra.

Composer Michael Daugherty received a nomination for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for "Deus Ex Machina," and his works garnered an additional four nominations, including Best Classical Album for Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony; Deus Ex Machina. Steven Mackey received two nominations for Dreamhouse — a work that combines orchestra with electric guitars and amplified voices — for Best Engineered Album, Classical, and Best Classical Album. The album also garnered a nod in the Best Orchestral Performance category. By the way, I have to cheer my home team, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, who performed on the album.

Porter, Quincy: Complete Viola Works is up for Best Engineered Album, Classical, and also received a nod by way of violist Eliesha Nelson in the Best Chamber Music Performance (with John McLaughlin Williams) and Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (With Orchestra) categories. I'm happy to see the viola in the spotlight, as it is a gorgeous instrument so often consigned to supporting roles.

A few more recordings spawned two nominations each: Verdi: Requiem, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Bruckner Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; and Sacrificium, an exploration of castrati music by mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli.

I'm looking forward to sampling some of the rest of the nominated recordings in the coming month, but for now I'll highlight a few that caught my eye immediately.

As a fan of living composers, last year I was delighted to see that the Best Opera Recording category was dominated by works from the 20th and 21st centuries. This year the nominees cover a broader range, from the baroque period to the most recent turn of the century. My favorite recording is Saariaho: L'Amour De Loin. I'd say a GRAMMY nod is a satisfactory result for one's first opera, wouldn't you? The other nominees are Berg: Lulu, Hasse: Marc' Antonio E Cleopatra, Shchedrin: The Enchanted Wanderer, and Sullivan: Ivanhoe.

The Best Chamber Music Performance category features some crunchy string quartets you can really sink your teeth into. I'm a big fan of Hungarian composer György Ligeti, so I'm glad to see the Parker Quartet's recording of Ligeti: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 nominated (I especially love the second). And then there's the Fred Sherry String Quartet's recording of Schoenberg: String Quartets Nos. 3 & 4 by Arnold Schoenberg, who revolutionized classical music in the early 20th century, for better or worse, depending on who you ask. The category is rounded out by Beethoven: Complete Sonatas For Violin & Piano, Gnattali: Solo & Chamber Works For Guitar and the aforementioned Porter, Quincy: Complete Viola Works.

I had the pleasure of seeing soprano Measha Brueggergosman perform live back when I lived in Detroit, and hung around for a question-and-answer session after the performance. She's a fantastic performer and an engaging speaker, so I'm happy to see her get a nod for Best Classical Vocal Performance for her recording of Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder. The other nominees in this category are Ombre De Mon Amant — French Baroque Arias (Anne Sofie Von Otter), Sacrificium (Bartoli), Turina: Canto A Sevilla (Lucia Duchonová), and Vivaldi: Opera Arias — Pyrotechnics (Brueggergosman).

So there you have it: just a little taste of this year's GRAMMY classical delights. I'm looking forward to digging in repeatedly between now and GRAMMY Sunday, and I hope you'll follow along on my musical journey!


Classical GRAMMY Winners Highlight New Music

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

I was thrilled to be in attendance at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards this year. Although the live television broadcast is the crowning event of GRAMMY Week, most of the awards are given out during the Pre-Telecast Ceremony that takes place before the live show, including the awards in the Classical Field categories.

It was a big year for American classical music, as well as for living composers, who were reflected on winning recordings in five out of seven classical categories.

Best Opera Recording went to Adams: Doctor Atomic, a Metropolitan Opera performance conducted by Alan Gilbert and featuring baritone Gerald Finley in the title role.

Light & Gold, a disc of music composed and conducted by Eric Whitacre, won Best Choral Performance. Performers included the King's Singers, Laudibus, Pavão Quartet, and the Eric Whitacre Singers.

Best Small Ensemble Performance went to Mackey: Lonely Motel  Music From Slide, composed by Steven Mackey and performed by vocalist Rinde Eckert and chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird. This was the second nomination for a collaboration between Mackey and Eckert.

Best Classical Instrumental Solo went to percussionist Christopher Lamb for Schwantner: Concerto For Percussion & Orchestra. Giancarlo Guerrero conducted the Nashville Symphony.

Another American opera, Aldridge, Robert: Elmer Gantry, was selected as Best Contemporary Classical Composition. In their acceptance speech, composer Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein said it took 17 years to get the opera produced! The recording also won Best Engineered Album, Classical for engineers Byeong-Joon Hwang and John Newton, and mastering engineer Jesse Lewis.

Representing traditional classical repertoire, conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic won Best Orchestral Performance for their digital-only release of Brahms: Symphony No. 4. It's the first GRAMMY win for the popular young conductor.

Best Classical Vocal Solo went to mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, who dazzled the Pre-Telecast Ceremony audience with her live performance of "Non Più mesta" from the opera "La Cenerentola" by Gioachino Rossini. Her winning recording Diva Divo is a collection of opera arias from both "trouser" roles (where a female singer plays a male character) and "skirt" roles. She was accompanied on the recording by Kazushi Ono conducting the Orchestre de L'Opéra National de Lyon and Choeur de L'Opéra National de Lyon.

Producer Judith Sherman took home the award for Producer Of The Year, Classical for her work on 11 recordings. It was her seventh GRAMMY win and second Producer Of The Year, Classical trophy.

Even as we are living in a challenging time for the arts, classical musicians continue to do heroic work. In less than a year, the 55th GRAMMY Awards nominees will be announced, and I'm looking forward to another fabulous group of recordings in the classical categories!


Classical GRAMMY Finale

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

While the excitement of GRAMMY Week focused on the live telecast of the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, for classical music fans like me the Pre-Telecast Ceremony was the place to be. The list of nominated recordings is always an embarrassment of riches, and the experience of seeing the winners revealed was bittersweet, because every nominee was worthy.

Several recordings received multiple nominations, and two of these scored multiple wins. Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance went to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus' recording of Verdi: Requiem. Best Orchestral Performance went to Terrence Wilson and the Nashville Symphony for Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony; Deus Ex Machina. The composer of both works, Michael Daugherty, won Best Classical Contemporary Composition for Deus Ex Machina.

Opera has a reputation of being old and stuffy, so I loved seeing newer works nominated in the Best Opera Recording category. The winning work, Saariaho: L'Amour De Loin, was composer Kaija Saariaho's first opera.

Traditional repertoire was well represented, too, with Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (With Orchestra) going to Mitsuko Uchida for Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 23 & 24 with the Cleveland Orchestra. Cecilia Bartoli won Best Classical Vocal Performance for Sacrificium, her exploration of the 18th century castrato repertoire.

Fans of 20th century music rejoiced for two of the awards. Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra) went to pianist Paul Jacobs for his recording of Messiaen: Livre Du Saint-Sacrement, and Best Chamber Music Performance went to the Parker Quartet for Ligeti: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2.

Best Small Ensemble Performance went to a fascinating and edifying multi-disc set, Dinastia Borja (the Borja Dynasty), by Hespèrion XXI and La Capella Reial De Catalunya. Subtitled Church And Power In The Renaissance, the set contains works by various composers spanning nearly five centuries of the history of the Borja family, whose history of corruption and criminality is perhaps somewhat counterbalanced by their generous patronage of the arts.

I'm already looking forward to finding out what kind of classical musical feast awaits when nominations for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards are announced. In a time when many arts organizations are struggling, it's encouraging to see how much excellent work is still being done in the Classical Field, and to see the artists receive such well-deserved recognition.


Classical Highlights In 2010

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)

We are living in a tremendously exciting time for classical music. The range of what's possible and the creative energy and inventiveness to be found in our field — it's just dazzling. Whatever your tastes and preferences, there's something out there to delight you. Of course, there are challenges. Funding is always a concern, and a difficult economy has made things even harder for many organizations, but I believe these challenges are outnumbered by exciting developments.

Now, I'm only one music nerd, so I can't summarize everything that went on in classical music in 2010, but I'll present a few highlights from my musical journey, along with a few interesting and quirky things that made classical music news.

My year started off with a bang as I made my first trip to the GRAMMYs last January! I met GRAMMY Salute To Classical Music honoree Plácido Domingo and heard Sharon Isbin perform live at the GRAMMY Pre-Telecast, among other exciting things. I can't wait to see who I might run into at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards next week!

I'm still a relative newcomer to Boston, so I spent 2010 getting to know the local classical scene, which is extensive and thriving. Among the ensembles I've been following are Cantata Singers, who have adopted the approach of focusing primarily on one composer each season. They choose composers whose work merits attention, but aren't commonly in the spotlight. German composer Heinrich Schütz was featured in 2009–2010, and English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is being featured in the current season.

Another one of my "home teams" is the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. BMOP is a tireless champion of recently composed music, and their in-house label, BMOP/sound, scored three nominations this year via Mackey, Steven: Dreamhouse.

And then, of course, there's the Boston Symphony Orchestra. One of the most enjoyable events of the year was Project Tchaikovsky, a fashion contest in conjunction with the BSO's Tchaikovsky concert series last April that paired music with evening-wear fashion, and gave young fashion design students a chance to shine.

But you don't have to wear an evening gown to hear classical music, as demonstrated by the New York-based Remarkable Theater Brigade's Opera Shorts, which features on evening of 10-minute operas by a variety of composers. They had my favorite promotional graphic of the year, but then I'm easily amused!

On the downside, St. Louis lost its classical music radio station when KFUO was sold last March. (Happily, you can still listen online.) The musicians in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra have been on strike since last October, locked in a dispute with management over proposed pay cuts and workload increases. I'm particularly saddened by this, as I used to live a few blocks from their home in Detroit, and I enjoyed many wonderful performances there.

As much as I love going to the symphony, I'm also always happy to see classical music come out of the concert hall and into daily life. Backed by funding from the Knight Foundation, a group named Random Acts of Culture has been spreading some classical-themed fun in surprising ways, notably via a hallelujah chorus flash mob that delighted shoppers in a Philadelphia mall last October.

Every so often, classical music is declared dead or dying, but the genre typifies the old Mark Twain quote. Year after year, the classical world keeps on keepin' on, keepin' long-term, loyal audiences, and new fans alike, happy.

Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook