A GRAMMY Classical Prelude
Academy launches GRAMMY Week with a classical salute to Sir Neville Marriner and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Kicking off the weeklong prelude of special events culminating with Sunday's 51st Annual GRAMMY Awards, the GRAMMY Salute To Classical Music commenced GRAMMY Week to the resonant, live music of Beethoven and Mozart at Walt Disney Concert Hall Monday evening.
This year's recipients of The Recording Academy's President's Merit Award were the globally acclaimed Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, represented by current music director Jeffrey Kahane, and classical conductor and former Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra music director Sir Neville Marriner. They join previous honorees including Esa-Pekka Salonen and Zubin Mehta — the present outgoing maestro of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and one of its conductors from an earlier era, respectively — veteran pianist Van Cliburn, the Kronos Quartet, and last year's pianist honorees Lang Lang and Earl Wild, among others.
Monday's ceremony and mini-concert represented the 13th annual GRAMMY Salute To Classical Music event. Traditionally an afternoon event, Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow remarked, "For the first time, we're delighted to make a night of it."
Opening this year's salute, master of ceremonies and classical aficionado John Lithgow commented, "We're gathered here today to pay tribute to one of the world's most accomplished conductors and a tremendous orchestra from right here in Los Angeles."
During his tenure dating back to 1997, Kahane — an accomplished pianist and conductor — has helped bring the orchestra into the ranks of an international sensation. Appropriately, Kahane led his ensemble from the piano, acting as a compelling soloist during an eloquent performance of Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 1 In C Major, Op. 15."
Kahane, in accepting the award on behalf of the orchestra, noted with a smile that when "the orchestra played its very first concerts under Sir Neville Marriner — well, then, you were Neville Marriner." He continued, "There was a 12-year-old boy in the audience who aspired to be a concert pianist. That was I, and I never in a million years dreamed I would grow up and become the music director of this most amazing orchestra.
"I think one of the most important and precious things about this orchestra, in addition to all the opportunities we've had to travel around the world and bring the voice of Los Angeles to the world at-large, is what we do for other young people. Thousands of them never have an opportunity to hear this amazing music. I'm hoping that maybe out there somewhere in one of those groups of kids, there's another 12-year-old who will grow up to be a conductor of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra or something else equally wonderful."
Marriner's esteemed career includes founding the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 1958 and serving as the first music director of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra from 1969–1978, before segueing into performing and recording.
After leading the orchestra for a brisk run-through of Mozart's "The Marriage Of Figaro Overture," Marriner graciously accepted his President's Merit Award.
Marriner then eased into an engaging, brief history of his career and the evolution of recording. "I think my affair with the gramophone started in the days when they still had wax impressions. I seriously remember the very first record we tried to make. It was in a house in the depths of the English countryside and we had to abandon it because a cuckoo invaded us.
"My next encounter with wax recording was when we were recording with [composer Wilhelm] Furtwängler at Abbey Road [Studios] in London. After about a half hour, the producer of the record very bravely came into the studio and said, 'Maestro, could you go a little bit quicker?' That's not the sort of thing you say to Furtwängler, but he said, 'The problem is that we only have four minutes on the wax record, and you're taking four minutes and 10 seconds.'
"Now, of course, we've reached CDs, which are immensely glossy and really a challenge to us. The problem with CDs is that everyone in the world nowadays has heard you recording on CDs made under ideal conditions. You get onstage in a town somewhere which has a concert hall like a blanket factory or a barn. There's no comparison.
"But what has happened, and for this I thank the recording industry, is that the standard for orchestral playing has, in fact, risen considerably, really because of this comparison between what can be made in the studio and what happens in the concert hall. So I'm personally very grateful to the record industry.
"But mostly I'm grateful for the hundreds and hundreds of musicians who have tolerated my presence among them — usually uncomplainingly. They are the most important parts of my recording career. Of course, I also thank the engineers and producers, some of whom are brave or rude enough to tell me to 'play it again.' But they have made my career very healthy."
During his remarks, Portnow also announced this year's classical additions to the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame and a classical-based recipient of The Academy's Trustees Award.
New classical recordings added to the GRAMMY Hall include Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" featuring Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man" featuring Copland leading the London Symphony Orchestra, and the 1932 recording of Sergei Prokofiev's "Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 26."
Portnow described Trustees Award recipient Elliott Carter as "an American composer who has achieved greatness in the modern classical world, winning Pulitzer Prizes in 1960 and 1973. Still going strong at 100 years old, he's nominated for a GRAMMY Award this year in the Best Chamber Music Performance category [with] the Pacific String Quartet. We wish him the best of luck and continued success."
Saluting greatness in the classical world proved to be a recurring theme throughout the evening and the GRAMMY Salute To Classical Music proved not only a fitting tribute to Marriner and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, but an appropriate first movement for The Academy's GRAMMY Week festivities.
(Read our GRAMMY Week event blogs.)