Dark Horses And Indie Labels: An Eclectic Mix At The Classical Grammys

Cover art for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Grammy-winning CD. i i

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recorded on its own label, won the Grammy for Best Classical Album. Courtesy of Chicago Symphony Orchestra hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Cover art for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Grammy-winning CD.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recorded on its own label, won the Grammy for Best Classical Album.

Courtesy of Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Trust them or trash them, the Grammy Awards rolled out once again last night. And, alas, there was no sign of classical music on the 210-minute telecast, but we've become used to that. All the classical action, such as it was, happened long before the show began in a pre-telecast segment streamed live on the Grammy site.

The classical nominations were all over the musical map this year, and the winners turned out to be a mix of the expected and the surprising. The recording academy's long-term love affair with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra continued. With a nod to its newly installed conductor, Riccardo Muti (a welcome gift for the 69-year-old music director, recovering from surgery after collapsing during a rehearsal Feb. 3), the orchestra picked up awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance in a vibrant recording of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem. Sir George Solti, leader of the CSO from 1969-1991, racked up a record 31 Grammy Awards, including one for his own CSO recording of the Verdi Requiem.

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CSO album cover
Courtesy of CSO

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Also in the expected category is mezzo Cecilia Bartoli, winning her 5th Grammy for her gender-bending album Sacrificium, which pays brilliant homage to the virtuosic castrato singers of the early 18th century. And veteran pianist Mitsuko Uchida prevailed in the Best Instrumental Soloist (with orchestra) category for her album of Mozart piano concertos.

It was a good night for composer Michael Daugherty. The Naxos release of his music performed by the Nashville Symphony was nominated for five awards and took home three, including Best Orchestral Performance and Best Classical Contemporary Composition.

The Grammy Awards are fun for me only when dark horses come out on top. That certainly was the case last night when this year's Best New Artist award (a non-classical category) went to Esperanza Spalding, the 26-year-old jazz bassist-singer-composer who upset more popular artists such as the rapper Drake and the ubiquitous, mop-haired pop phenom Justin Bieber.

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On the classical side, the dark horse was 34-year-old organist Paul Jacobs. A towering figure in the world of organ enthusiasts, Jacobs won the Best Instrumental Soloist (without orchestra) award, toppling better known veterans like pianists Nelson Freire (playing Chopin) and Mark-Andre Hamelin (performing his own compositions) and fresh-faced violinist Julia Fischer (playing Paganini).

Messiaen album cover
Courtesy of Naxos

Jacobs won with a two-disc set of enigmatically dense organ works (Liver du Saint-Sacrement) by the 20th century Frenchman Olivier Messiaen. It's a stunning recording of music that critic Allan Kozinn calls "a hefty dose of idiosyncratic musical mysticism, couched in all the peculiarities of Messiaen's trademark style." Jacobs has performed the complete organ works of Messiaen — a nine-hour test of endurance — in several cities over the past eight years.

Another interesting aspect of this year's awards was the near shutout of the major record labels. EMI and RCA (now owned by Sony) were not even nominated. Sony had a single nod, and of the winners, only Decca (from the Universal Classics family of labels) scored with Bartoli and Uchida. On the other hand, the independent Naxos label earned five awards (11 nominations), along with wins from Harmonia Mundi and Alia Vox, a label run by the masterful viol player Jordi Savall, who won his first Grammy.

And that's probably a good thing. The rise of the Web, downloads and do-it-yourself labels, like the Chicago Symphony's CSO Resound, have leveled the playing field once dominated by larger companies stuffed with the classical elite.

The classical Grammys may not mean so much for jaded critics and baffled fans, but for the artists who won yesterday, they will forever have that descriptor, "Grammy-winning," attached to their name. And that is still a pretty big deal.


Complete Classical Winners' List:

97. Best Classical Album

Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) if other than the Artist.

Verdi: Requiem

Riccardo Muti, conductor; Duain Wolfe, chorus master; Christopher Alder,

producer; David Frost, Tom Lazarus & Christopher Willis, engineers/mixers (Ildar Abdrazakov, Olga Borodina, Barbara Frittoli & Mario Zeffiri; Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Chicago Symphony Chorus)

[CSO Resound]

98. Best Orchestral Performance

Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.

Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony; Deus Ex Machina

Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor (Terrence Wilson; Nashville Symphony)

[Naxos]

99. Best Opera Recording

Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

Saariaho: L'Amour De Loin

Kent Nagano, conductor; Daniel Belcher, Ekaterina Lekhina & Marie-Ange

Todorovitch; Martin Sauer, producer (Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Rundfunkchor Berlin)

[Harmonia Mundi]

100. Best Choral Performance

Award to the Choral Conductor, and to the Orchestra Conductor if an Orchestra is on the recording, and to the Choral Director or Chorus Master if applicable.

Verdi: Requiem

Riccardo Muti, conductor; Duain Wolfe, chorus master (Ildar Abdrazakov, Olga

Borodina, Barbara Frittoli & Mario Zeffiri; Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Chicago Symphony Chorus)

[CSO Resound]

101. Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with Orchestra)

Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor.

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 23 & 24

Mitsuko Uchida (The Cleveland Orchestra)

[Decca]

102. Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra)

Award to the Instrumental Soloist.

Messiaen: Livre Du Saint-Sacrement

Paul Jacobs

[Naxos]

103. Best Chamber Music Performance

Award to the Artists.

Ligeti: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2

Parker Quartet

[Naxos]

104. Best Small Ensemble Performance

Award to the Ensemble (and to the Conductor.)

Dinastia Borja

Jordi Savall, conductor; Hespèrion XXI & La Capella Reial De Catalunya (Pascal

Bertin, Daniele Carnovich, Lior Elmalich, Montserrat Figueras, Driss El Maloumi, Marc Mauillon, Lluís Vilamajó & Furio Zanasi; Pascal Bertin, Daniele Carnovich, Josep Piera & Francisco Rojas)

[Alia Vox]

105. Best Classical Vocal Performance

Award to the Vocal Soloist(s).

Sacrificium

Cecilia Bartoli (Giovanni Antonini; Il Giardino Armonico)

[Decca]

106. Best Classical Contemporary Composition

A Composer's Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.

Daugherty, Michael: Deus Ex Machina

Michael Daugherty (Giancarlo Guerrero)

Track from: Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony

[Naxos]

107. Best Classical Crossover Album

Award to the Artist(s) and/or to the Conductor.

Tin, Christopher: Calling All Dawns

Lucas Richman, conductor (Sussan Deyhim, Lia, Kaori Omura, Dulce Pontes, Jia Ruhan, Aoi Tada & Frederica von Stade; Anonymous 4 & Soweto Gospel Choir; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

[Tin Works Publishing]

95. Best Engineered Album, Classical

An Engineer's Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) A tie between:

Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony; Deus Ex Machina

Mark Donahue, John Hill & Dirk Sobotka, engineers (Giancarlo Guerrero &

Nashville Symphony Orchestra)

[Naxos]

Porter, Quincy: Complete Viola Works

Leslie Ann Jones, Kory Kruckenberg & David Sabee, engineers (Eliesha Nelson &

John McLaughlin Williams)

[Dorian Sono Luminus]

96. Producer Of The Year, Classical

A Producer's Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

David Frost

  • Britten's Orchestra (Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony)
  • Chambers, Evan: The Old Burying Ground (Kenneth Kiesler & The University Of Michigan Symphony Orchestra)
  • Dorman, Avner: Concertos For Mandolin, Piccolo, Piano And Concerto Grosso (Andrew Cyr, Eliran Avni, Mindy Kaufman, Avi Avital & Metropolis Ensemble)
  • The 5 Browns In Hollywood (5 Browns)
  • Mackey, Steven: Dreamhouse (Gil Rose, Rinde Eckert, Catch Electric Guitar Quartet, Synergy Vocals & Boston Modern Orchestra Project)
  • Meeting Of The Spirits (Matt Haimovitz)
  • Two Roads To Exile (ARC Ensemble)

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