Contemporary music gets extra loving from classical Grammys

(Nicholas Whitman )
January 27, 2014|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Scrolling through the classical winners of the 2014 Grammys, I was struck by the tilt toward the contemporary, or at least off-the-well-worn-path repertoire. I have no penetrating insight into this. I don't even know if it's a trend in recent years, since I rarely remember who wins and I'm too lazy to go back and look at the archives. But this year's list of winners seems pretty cool.

The most old-time, mainstream music to get the nod was in the Best Orchestral Performance category, won by the Minnesota Orchestra for its highly valued recordings on BIS Records of the First Symphony and the much less frequently encountered Fourth Symphony by Sibelius with conductor Osmo Vanska.

This award is all the more bittersweet given that the orchestra looked like it was heading for extinction, done in by management's long, long lockout of musicians over a contract dispute. Vanska resigned as music director during the crisis.

Things were patched up recently and a season hastily assembled. No word on whether Vanska might return to the post, but he has not severed ties to the players, so maybe something can be worked out. At least the Grammy brings some warming cheer to the Minnesota Orchestra this winter.

Best Classical Compendium was given to a disc of works by a 20th-century composer who is hardly modern anymore, but might as well be, given how infrequently his works are programmed these days -- Paul Hindemith.

Conductor Christoph Eschenbach, who is a great presence on our local scene as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, conducts this Ondine recording of the Violin Concerto (with Midori), "Symphonic Metamorphosis," and "Konzertmusik" with the NDR Symphony Orchestra. 

As for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, that's Maria Schneider's "Winter Morning Walks" with soprano Dawn Upshaw, which also earned Best Classical Vocal Solo (beating out recordings of more mainstream fare featuring such stellar singers as Joyce DiDonato, Cecilia Bartoli and Jonas Kaufmann).

Note how these next categories also have a decidedly contemporary spin (the same can be said for most of the nominees in each category, by the way):

Best Opera Recording: Thomas Ades, "The Tempest" (Deutsche Grammophon)

Best Choral Performance: Arvo Part, "Adam's Lament" (ECM New Music Series)

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance: "Roomful Of Teeth" by the vocal ensemble of that name (New Amsterdam Records)

Best Classical Instrumental Solo: John Corigliano, "Conjurer - Concerto For Percussionist and String Orchestra" (Naxos)

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