Why the classical Grammys don’t matter

Well, maybe they give their winners bragging rights, or a small — tiny? — commercial boost.

Who is this man?

But in any larger musical, cultural, or commercial sense they don’t matter at all. Not because awards shows might be silly, or because winning an award might be no guarantee of artistic strength, or because (as some people might think) classical music itself might not matter.

No, the classical Grammys don’t matter because hardly anyone — including classical music fans — hears most of the recordings that are nominated, so there’s no context in which winning could mean very much.

Compare pop. Adele was nominated for six awards, and — this doesn’t happen often — won all of them. Which means quite a lot. She’s a huge star, of course. But to be nominated this many times, and then to sweep her nominations, represents a rare tidal surge, a confluence of popularity, critical acclaim, and professional respect. (This last matters a lot in the Grammys, because the voters who decide the awards are music professionals.)

Likewise for Kanye West winning all four hiphop  Grammys (even though, as critics noted, he should have also been nominated for record and album of the year). His album was praised, honored, loved, talked about. No way you could follow pop music, and not know that he and Adele would, very likely, be top Grammy contenders.

Now back to classical music. Here are the nominees for Best Orchestral Performance:

  • Brahms: Symphony No. 4, conducted by Dudamel
  • York Bowen: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, conducted by Andrew Davis
  • Haydn: Symphonies 104, 88 & 101, conducted by Nicholas McGegan
  • Henze: Symphonies Nos. 3-5, conducted by Marek Janowski
  • Martinu: The Six Symphonies, conducted by Jirí Belohlávek,

Dudamel, of course, is huge. But classical recordings don’t sell very well. so it’s more than possible that many classical fans didn’t know this recording existed. And very likely not many bought it.

A thought experiment. Picture the top 20 orchestras in the US, playing night after night in their very large halls, Symphony Hall in Boston, Powell Hall in St. Louis, Disney Hall in LA, the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

Thousands and thousands of people. Suppose a mere 100 people who hear each orchestra bought one of these Best Orchestral Performance nominees. That would mean 2000 sales for that album, gigantic for a classical release.

And maybe, just maybe, Dudamel’s Brahms sold that well. But Henze? Martinu? Bowen? Not likely.

In fact, if you went to Symphony Hall, Powell Hall, Disney Hall, or the Meyerson — or anywhere else that classical music is played — and randomly asked people if they’d even heard of these recordings (let alone listened to them), wouldn’t the answer be “No!”

So what does it mean if one of these records wins? For most classical listeners, nothing at all. It touches nothing they know, not even anything in their musical lives.

And if that’s true of the orchestral recordings, what should we say about the Best Contemporary Classical Composition nominees? Robert Aldridge’s opera Elmer Gantry beat out, among other recordings, Jefferson Friedman’s String Quartet No. 3. How many people care?

Well, I do — Friedman’s quartet (from a CD that  sat around for years, unreleased) is very hot, one of the most striking classical pieces I’ve heard in the past few years, while Elmer Gantry doesn’t do much for me. But go back to Powell Hall. Or, for a new music crowd, the thousands who flock to Bang on a Can’s annual marathon. How many people at either place know these recordings exist?

(Go here to see the other nominees in this category, works by George Crumb, Steven Mackey, and Poul Ruders.)

One of this year’s classical Grammys most likely did resonate — Eric Whitacre’s Light & Gold, which won for Best Choral Performance. Whitacre is a phenomenon, someone with quite a large following.

And it’s not as if classical records never make waves, at least in the classical world. Thinking back over my long life in classical music, I might name Toscanini’s Beethoven Symphonies, Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations, the first Callas recording of Tosa, Leonard Bernstein’s Mahler, Van Cliburn’s Tchaikovsky (which got on the pop charts), and Georg Solti’s Das Rheingold, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung.

(Solti’s Walkūre wasn’t news, even though it finished his Ring. There had been two fine commercial recordings of Walkūre earlier, but none of Rheingold and Siegfried, and no competentrelease of Götterdämmerung.)

Plus the first Three Tenors CD, a Gregorian chant release in the ‘early 90s, and, maybe, Simone Dinnerstein’s Goldberg Variations. Or maybe, these days, anything she records, since her last album got on the pop charts.

And I’m sure I’ve neglected some notable records — the first Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantatas, maybe. And, to go back again to the past, when Solti won classical Grammys just about every year, that — whether or not he deserved to win so often — really did reflect his enormous fame as music director of the Chicago Symphony.

But most classical Grammy winners? It’s hard to see where their winning might resonate.

(The photo shows York Bowen, whose symphonies, conducted by Andrew Davis, were nominated for Best Orchestral Performance.)

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  1. says

    Awards shows don’t mean that much in general anymore. Or are meaning less and less, and really, the Grammys are practically irrelevent. I doubt many Americans could name any of the winners of Eurovision (or the Children’s Eurovision). But I often have wonderful conversations with many of the hundreds of the immigrants I often play events for about any number of artists and countries that appear on it.

    Most of the hundreds of local musicians (not the classical musicians but the ones in bands) have a general disdain for the Grammys that would make even the most elitist Experimental or Classical musician proud. Certain segments of the Country music community eschew the new country pop that dominates the CMA awards.

    Had I not watched some of the Grammys Sunday night after Classical Revolution Louisville, I might never have heard about Adele much less heard any of her songs and were it not for Kanye West’s outburst, I probably wouldn’t have known much about his career either (though I still haven’t listened to any of his music).

    Let’s face it, musical tastes are fragmented. And that’s a good thing, in my opinion. If that means even fewer folks can become superstars in any one particularly dominant genre, then so much the better. Given the diminishing returns on the careers of American Idol winners and on pop superstardom in general I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The Grammys is just one of the last vestiges of pop music elitism and most of us musicians making a living doing music don’t find much worth in it or may of the “winners” on it.

  2. Chris says

    Well, I know Joyce DiDonato won Best Classical Vocalist, because I suscribe to her Twitter feed and follow her on Facebook, but I have zero interest in the album, a compilation of works from composers (aside from Mozart) I don’t really care about. I know and love Joyce solely for her Handel recordings, which brings us to the real problem of Classical music recording today: the utter fragmentation of an already small audience into even smaller subsections. Critics may have an encyclopedic knowledge of the music world, but most Classical listeners are securely nestled in their niches. This may also be true of pop music, but at least there each niche is gigantic.

    • says

      “This may also be true of pop music, but at least there each niche is gigantic.” Yes, exactly. To give a concrete example of this: I’m a fan of the post-rock genre, a genre that is very minor within the overall popular music universe and relatively minor even within the “indie music” sub-universe. It also has some affinities with contemporary classical, focusing primarily on long-form instrumental music (albeit with rock instrumentation) outside the conventional verse-chorus-verse mold. (There are even hybrids; for example, I’d consider itsnotyouitsme on the New Amsterdam label as sort of a post-rock group.)

      To compare the two: Wikipedia lists 80 contemporary classical ensembles, which is a fair amount more than I would have thought existed. However it lists 244 post-rock groups, over three times as many. In terms of popularity the major post-rock groups (e.g., Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai) are several times as popular as Yo-Yo Ma, as measured by NextBigSound. I had to look hard to find a post-rock group that I’ve listened to and has popularity comparable to a contemporary classical ensemble; the closest I found was Lymbyc Systym, which I’d consider a third-tier post-rock group but nonetheless is over three times as popular as Bang on a Can.

      This gets to the point (I think) Greg is making about the opportunity for audience expansion. The good news is, there’s nowhere to go but up.

  3. DES_Toronto says

    I don’t care much for pop music except in the most casual way, but I hear it all the time, everywhere, whether I want to or not. I tried Bowen once, I’ve listened to some Martinu, and I’ve decided I won’t bother with them again. I might never hear them again. My environment won’t force them on me, as with pop music. So, yes, classical Grammys are irrelevant, even though almost all my voluntary listening is to classical music.

    You could add Swtiched-On Bach to your list.

  4. says

    When I was at Borders, the classical Grammy winners did get a bit of a sales boost. Much of that may have been due to our endcaps, though. A friend had a theory that brought the winners down to simple math: the recording that had the largest number of people from California involved, and thus voting for their own participation or for their home team, would win.

    Speaking of Borders, it’s namechecked in Kanye West’s award-winning track. Opinions differ as to whether that’s a grand goodbye, a final ignominy, or just shows how quickly commercial references go obsolete.

  5. says

    “How many people at either place know these recordings exist?” Well, I knew about the Jefferson Friedman / Chiara String Quartet release, since I follow the New Amsterdam label and buy most of what they put out (discounted on eMusic). Nevertheless I think the answer to your question “How many people care” is surely “extremely few”.

    Here’s an interesting exercise if you want to waste 10 or 15 minutes: Go to nextbigsound.com, a new web site tracking fan engagement with bands online, e.g., via plays at Last.fm, Pandora, etc., mentions and likes on Facebook, downloading via filesharing services, and so on. It’s a paid service but they offer some sample data to the general public. Using the NextBigSound measure of “combined fans”, a mainstream pop star (e.g., Adele) will clock at tens of millions “combined fans”, a niche pop star (e.g., Bjork) will have a few million, a popular mainstream classical artist (e.g., Yo-Yo Ma) will have a few hundred thousand, and a popular contemporary classical ensemble (e.g., Bang on a Can) will have a few tens of thousands. Here’s a link to a side-by-side comparison: http://nextbigsound.com/15281/stats-Adele#15281-267938-16227-24521-fans

    • says

      Thanks, Frank. It’s wonderful to have some numbers — a way to quantify subjective impressions. Now we know that (at least by this measure) Bang on a Can has .08% the fan base of Adele.

  6. Academy Member says

    Some of us have suggested it, but at the moment the Grammy ballot contains no links to the recordings. In many, many cases the members voting are voting for names with no reference to the actual recordings that have been nominated.

    Celebrity names tend to prevail…

    • says

      Actually, all of the nominated recordings are accessible to voting members for online streaming at Grammy365.com from the time the nominees are announced. It’s true that not every voting member does their due diligence, but that’s going to be an issue no matter how the recordings are made available.

  7. says

    Barbra Streisand once said that the awards were not the be all and end all. It was whether or not a new film would stand the test of time. Some films which did not win the Academy Award were still watched decades later, while the winning film was not. Same with music. We can’t predict what will be ‘hot’ in 50 years. New works which don’t take the world by storm, often become popular and performed regularly 50-100 years later. Many legendary works prove this case, having been negatively received upon their premieres. We just have to do what we think is best as a contribution to our craft at the time, and hope it stands the test of time–beyond our lifetime. On a lighter note–there’s not Best Christmas Album category–aww, shucks! (My friends know what I mean~)

    • says

      Good point, Jeffrey. And to be fair, the standards for measurement by the Grammys, Academy awards, Tony Awards, Emmys are for American Industries.

      One of my favorite music stores to shop at is the International Bazaar in Indianapolis which is technically an Indian Grocery Store which happens to have music store (about the size of a typical standalone music store) attached to the front of the Grocery. There are many thousands of recordings there. Mostly Bollywood, with a smattering of Indian Classical music and crossover Desi recordings. Well over half of the albums sold there are obviously bootlegs (Asia in general is well documented to have a huge bootleg economy for movies and music and video games) which obviously presents a difficulty for deciding the impact, popularity, and sales for albums by popular Indian artists.

      The difficulty for measuring the impact can be simply illustrated by a couple of examples in the Guinness Book of World Records. Until recently Lata Mangeshkar was listed as the artist with the most songs recorded in a studio. The number has jumped wildly over the years though the last entry for her listed 25,000 songs recorded in the 2010 edition. Guinness finally amended the category to reflect Asha Bhosle (Lata Mangeshkar’s sister) as the playback singer with the most studio recorded songs (listed at 11,000).

      The other example: for many years, Christopher Lee was listed as the actor who has starred in the most films in the world (around 300 films at the last date of his entry). That was until Guinness realized that many bollywood actors have easily starred in as many movies as that and I believe they settled on the late, Adoor Bhasi (at 549 films) to supplant Lee. Most recently (I believe 2008) the late, Sultan Rahi at (at 700 films). Both of their musical careers started in the early 40s and they are still the top playback singers today more than 60 years later.

      Bollywood is one of those industries Americans and Europeans just can’t appreciate the scope of. The industry, on average, makes more movies than the rest of the combined nations of the world, per year (the record, I believe, is 948 films in 1990; cf approximately 200 films released in the US in 1990). And as is the case with Bollywood, these are all “semi-musicals” –and this industry isn’t the only one as many of the major 27 official langauges of India and their regions have their own movie/musical industries that dwarf any western nation’s output. Tollywood (Telugu langauge films) and Pollywood (Punjabi langauge films).

      What exactly is “popularity” anyway–having tens of millions of fans, or having hundreds of millions of fans over a 60+ year career that’s showing no signs of decline? The relative popularity of artists working primarily in an industry in decline (the American recording industry) through the mouthpiece of the Grammys can be better appreciated in a worldwide context.

  8. Judd Greenstein says

    Two points, one bigger, one smaller:

    Small: 2000 is not “gigantic for a classical release”. For most medium-to-large-label orchestral recordings, that would be a disappointing return. The numbers change significantly when you’re talking about new music, but even a small label like ours (New Amsterdam) wouldn’t come close to calling 2000 “gigantic”.

    Big: I think you’re dramatically underestimating the impact that a Grammy nomination or win can have for a touring artist.

    In general, it’s a mistake to look at the commercial benefit of an album only, or even primarily, in terms of the sales of the album itself. The benefit comes from exposure to new fans and from what accolades the record receives, essentially as a proxy for your live performance. Gaining a Grammy or even a nomination is a huge piece of recognition from a very well-known source. Whatever one thinks of the Grammys (and I don’t personally think all that much of them, or any awards, really), they are a name that everyone knows, and can help touring artists stand out from the crowded fields in which we all operate.

    Saying that the classical Grammys don’t “matter” is both true and untrue. They don’t “matter” in terms of the number of people who care about them. But they can matter a great deal to the artists who might receive them. And they can make the difference between an artist from within a smaller, underrepresented genre of music (like classical) having access to a wider audience, outside of their niche, or not.

    You’re actually making the same mistake that the NARAS Board did, itself, when it eliminated 30 Grammy categories. Read this article — http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/latino-grammys-categories-eliminated_n_1276372.html — which contains a number of quotes from musicians whose categories were combined/eliminated (same thing, in this case) and who are in similar positions as touring classical musicians in terms of how a small Grammy award (like classical, or like jazz, or like the eliminated categories) can help their careers.

    Would I rather live in a world in which curators took more chances on artists, and didn’t need the validation of NARAS to book an artist that they thought was outstanding? Of course. I’m not saying that it’s a good thing that the Grammys matter — just that, in fact, they do. So as to your ending point, where the Grammys might resonate is in these artists coming to your attention at all — not through the Grammy process itself, but because of the increased opportunities afforded by that process.

    • says

      Judd, I know how important the Grammys can be to those who win them, especially from niche genres. Just as the people quoted in your link say. One town over from me in Orange County, NY, lives Jimmy Sturr, the reigning polka king of the US (yes, he lives in New York!), who won the polka Grammy 18 times, if my memory serves.

      And now the polka category was eliminated. Jimmy Sturr was relegated to some catch-all roots music category, and, no surprise, didn’t win.

      But I think, Judd, you and I are talking about different things. You’re talking about success within an accepted niche, which of course a Grammy can boost. I was talking about larger cultural resonance, and pointing out what seems pretty obvious, which is that the classical Grammy winners don’t have that, even within classical music.

      This might not matter to anyone who’s doing well enough in their classical niche. But I think the niches could be much, much larger, and that some new music stars (Maya Beiser, to name an obvious example) could break out and sell tens of thousands of recordings. And tour to commercial venues (though of course not the largest ones).

      That’s only going to happen when those artists — and all of us in classical music (in all its flavors) — stop being satisfied with our niches. My Grammy post was meant to call attention to the disparity between the tiny niche we too readily accept, and the larger world we ought to be part of.

      All that said, I’d love to know — completely off the record — some sales figures for New Amsterdam. I’ll never talk about them publicly, except (if you’d agree) to cite ballpark numbers. But if you’re selling more than big-label orchestral releases, I’d be thrilled to know that.

      • Judd Greenstein says

        When you describe “us” as “satisfied with one’s niche”, who are you talking about? I personally don’t know anyone who’s not actively trying to broaden the audience for their music, from orchestras to new music ensembles. The problem isn’t that people are “accepting” the niche — it’s much, much more complicated than that, and has nothing to do with the Grammys or any other award. The only people who might plausibly be satisfied with their niche are the people who stand to benefit from insularity; the only way to get them to change their minds is to stop tipping the financial scales in their favor. But that’s happening anyway, for better or for worse….

        Also, I don’t think we’re talking about different things — or, at least, we shouldn’t be. (I may not have been totally clear in what I was suggesting in my earlier comment.) It’s not just that a Grammy can help boost an artist’s career within that artist’s niche, it’s that since the Grammy is a known award by people outside of that niche, it allows for the possibility of those artists having broader traction in a wider range of venues.

        If you’re booking a series, you need to have a way to market the artists you book to your audience. A Grammy has meaning to a very wide swath of potential audience members. How much easier is it to justify a spot for Jimmy Sturr if you can say “Grammy winner” rather than “Polka Legend”? Or, more likely, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra? It’s a way of saying, in shorthand and with an imprimatur behind it, “this is the best in the field”. If you want to see people break out of their niches, a goal that of course, I share, then these labels are valuable.

        Look at how Darcy was marketed on the BAM site:


        That’s a case of an artist trying to break out of his niche — and succeeding. “Grammy-nominated” will follow him around wherever he goes, opening different doors than would otherwise be possible. It can’t do all the work, but it amplifies the message, strongly.

        • says

          Judd, I run into people throughout classical music, in all areas of the field, who don’t believe their audience could be much bigger than it is. That doesn’t mean that these same people aren’t trying to expand their audience. I mean that, in case after case, I find that they don’t conceive how large that expansion could be.

          At one major music school, for instance, I once suggested that students — some of them, anyway — could develop fans in and around the city the school is in, so that they’d have 200 people at their recitals instead of 20. Obviously not all students could do that, and in fact not many could. But some could. And some could do more modestly well, and get 50 people.

          At the meeting where I suggested this, it didn’t get much traction. Or much response of any kind. The idea, I think, seemed so outlandish that no one thought it was even remotely possible to make into a reality. Even though I know an NEC student who got 400 people to his graduation recital.

          We could make this tangible. You could tell me what your sales goals are for the terrific recordings New Amsterdam makes, and I could say what numbers might be possible, in my view (speaking in the most general way, about the kind(s) of music you record). How large do you think your personal audience could be, for your music? Can you see yourself presenting your music in 300-seat theaters, for a run of two or three performances, in several different cities? I mean presenting concerts of only your music, for an audience entirely your own, which you’ve cultivated. Maybe you do that, in which case I’m thrilled. But I don’t know many people in classical music who do anything remotely similar. Apart, of course, from the obvious examples — Philip Glass, for instance.

          I was discussing this question with someone from a big and very enterprising performing arts center, and she — who deals with artists every day, in all genres of classical music, new music included — could only think of one example, of someone who cultivates an audience entirely his own. As distinct from a few others, who have big and enthusiastic audiences that have somehow developed, without anyone doing anything to cultivate them.

          And of course “Grammy winner” is an effective promotional line. One reason it works is that many people who book concerts don’t, I fear, really know how to market or promote, and will seize on something that seems to give them something to talk about. “Pulitzer Prize winner” works the same way. But it’s rare to find someone really taking one of these promotional lines, and really going somewhere with it. As my friend Delta David Gier did, in his first season as music director of the South Dakota Symphony. He wanted to do new music, a lot of it, but, no surprise, the board and audience didn’t love the idea.

          So he thought of using the Pulitzer Prize as a promotional hook. At each concert, he programmed a piece by a Pulitzer Prize winner. He figured — and correctly, it turned out — that people in the audience would treat the Pulitzer Prize with respect, and be willing at least to give the music a hearing.

          But this only worked because the Pulitzer theme ran through the entire season. David also talked about the pieces from the stage, and made himself available in the lobby after performances to speak to anyone who wanted to talk to him about the Pulitzer pieces.

          In that way, he turned “Pulitzer Prize winner” into more than a line on a poster, or in a press release. He built it into something truly notable. But I can’t say I see much of that.

          As for Jimmy Sturr — go online and listen to some of his music, and I think you’ll see that “polka legend” is about the only way he could successfully be promoted. First, because at some point you have to say “polka” in your promotion, and that’s a very particular (and, for many people, rightly or wrongly) a laughable niche.

          And second, because he’s an especially hokey kind of polka musician. Crack musicianship, for sure. But if you don’t love polkas, you won’t go far in listening to him. I can’t believe that his appeal as “Grammy winner” would survive even five minutes of one of his shows.

          (And, sadly, Ye Jolly Onion, the restaurant in Pine Island, NY, that had a shrine to Jimmy Sturr in its bar area, closed down. So no more Jimmy Sturr shrine. We’ll have to settle for the sign pointing out his birthplace — I think I have this right — in Florida, NY.)

  9. William Florescu says

    I will admit to some prejudice here since my company was the performing ensemble on the two Grammy winning Elmer Gantry recording. I quite agree with the author that record sales are not boosted that much and that most of us don’t know the other records being nominated. But really, does anyone think that the hip hop afficianados in the audience care about Taylor Swift or Adele or even know their recordings? And the reverse would hold true as well. One can argue that all awards, regardless of numbers of people following are silly. But in a world where we do have them, it would be interesting to look at the all of the popular music category winners over the span of time that Sir Georg Solti won his (I believe this number is right) 21 Grammys. I am sure that among the Bruce Springsteens and Beatles, there are many pop names that have now been forgotten by a lot of people – so, what do we ultimately use as the ultimate barometer of “meaning”?
    The author doesn’t think much of Elmer Gantry, but I know that those of us who took part in this project in Nashville, Milwaukee, New Jersey, New York and Boston care deeply about it, and are proud of the fact that this work, which took twenty years to come to label, was recognized by the industry. I was thrilled to be there for it, and as a side note, was thrilled that the one standing ovation for a performance in the afternoon was given to an opera singer, the proud torch bearer of classical music – that to me has meaning far beyond record sales for the year 2012.

    • Strangelove says

      Yes, many people who listen to hip hop also do know and listen to Adele, etc. She’s essentially singing soul music. There are countless threads linking her music to various strands of popular music (rock & roll, pop, hip hop, soul, neo-soul, alt rock, etc.) of the last 50 years. If you don’t see it or hear it, you might want to listen more carefully.

  10. Lisa Petrie says

    I absolutely don’t agree that these awards are futile, and in fact they go a long way to raise the profile of these recordings and make sure people do know they exist! How many people know the research of the Nobel Prize winners in physics or biology, yet those prizes laud the accomplishments of genius, and bring some much needed publicity to their work. Bringing classical recordings or physicists into the popular media, therefore giving them this cultural context is exactly the value of the awards.

  11. Elizabeth Stanford says

    Greg, Your comments are proof that more classical music lovers need to read and support the weekly reviews from MusicWeb International. One may not agree with every review, but at least one will know of the existence of the recordings. Subscription is free but donations are needed to keep this vital service in operation.

  12. Elizabeth Stanford says

    P.S. I knew about all of the nominated recordings except the York Bowen because I read the MusicWeb reviews regularly.

  13. Brian says

    Greg–I agree with you on this but…what exactly is your point here? Some awards within any genre are significant or not, depending your viewpoint. For instance, YOU thought that Friedman deserved one of these ‘irrelevant’ awards because you thought it was a very striking piece. You didn’t like the Aldridge opera that one another one of the same awards. Did you know there was a native american music category? I bet you didn’t. I also bet that most native americans don’t know that either….but what’s the point of writing this? Classical music stands the test of time. We go back to our favorite recordings made 50 years ago because we can. Maybe pop will achieve the same thing one day, as the art of producing music grows more complex. Will the awards grow irrelevant for pop music 100 years from when most fans listen to the Kanye and Adele standards made today? Who knows? Awards are inherently superficial. There is no de facto ‘winner’ in art. ever. Ok I’m done.

  14. says


    An interesting point made by Norman Lebrecht regarding the recent LA/Dudamel/Brahms. Apparently you can’t even purchase it yet, except possibly by streaming. So, I am left to wonder how it got any traction at all. And of course the age-old question must rear its head: do we really need another recording of Brahms 4? Or Haydn 88, 101 and 104 for that matter? Is anyone “saying anything” that hasn’t been said before?

    • says

      You may be surprised to see me saying this, Brian, but I think we do need more recordings of Brahms. Not as many as we’re getting. But someone might take a fresh view of these pieces. And what does it mean for these works to be pillars of our culture — I mean that seriously — if there isn’t something to be gotten from them?

      I heard Dudamel conduct the Pathetique with the LA Phil in Washington a couple of years ago, and it was riveting. Went deep into my soul. I’d be a poorer person if I hadn’t heard that. And a poorer musician.

    • Strangelove says

      I agree with Greg. I will also say, though, that Henze’s first five symphonies are quite beautiful, so I’m glad to see that a trio of them are being redone.

      Ask yourself, though, how often can you go to a concert hall in the United States and here anything by Henze? Or any of the many hundreds of other very engaging composers who produced wonderful music between 1950 and 2012?

      Brahms you can hear at every symphony everywhere, over and over and over….

  15. Peter Rutenberg says

    I think you miss the point. The Grammys aren’t a popularity contest. They’re not about commercial success. Those are born out by sales and all the charts that track them. A Grammy award is for artistic and technical excellence. In the pop, rock and other large-audience fields, popularity and excellence often overlap. Sometimes market hype masks one with the other. But In the Classical Field it is entirely possible to have a sleeper (or several) surge to the fore and deserve the attention. That doesn’t make it irrelevant. It makes it a revelation. So many wonderful projects reach the market only to vanish under the din of rock dominance. Classical production is up and so are sales over recent years. But there is only a fraction the number of reviewers in a fraction the number of outlets as there used to be 25 years ago. The Grammys can’t right the entire industry malaise, but they can bring attention to unknown projects that deserve wider recognition for the simple reason that they are important to the field in and of themselves.
    Peter Rutenberg
    Grammy Winner in 2007 as Conductor and Producer of “Padilla: Sun of Justice” (RCM 12006)
    Grammy Nominee in 2012 as Classical Producer of the Year

  16. wendy says

    Agree with all the points in your commentary.
    BUT, maybe, just maybe, Joyce DiDonato’s performance caught the ear of someone who had no acquaintance with opera, or actual disdain, and is now interested.

    • says

      Yes, of course that can happen. Now, and in the past, when (in a past Grammy show) Gil Shaham played Prokofiev. The Grammys do have their benefits, sometimes large, sometimes small, for most everyone involved. Which doesn’t erase the weirdness of having almost no constituency for the recordings nominated for classical Grammys.

  17. Sean Hickey says

    Though I can’t read through all of these comments, I’m glad that someone thought to share the Next Big Sound site. It’s a valuable tool but it can make one mad when making comparisons of classical music to pop superstars. My company takes the Grammys very seriously and we’re the beneficiaries of many of the awards mentioned here. We take them seriously for one reason: they help sales. Peter Rutenberg is right when he says that the Grammys aren’t a popularity contest. One only had to glance at the nominees to determine that, especially this year.

    First, Grammy wins usually mean that public, school and research libraries across the US will purchase circulation copies of Elmer Gantry and the rest. What could be more empowering to the classical music fan than to know his local library has a copy of the Grammy winning release he heard about? What a way to satisfy one’s curiosity toward a new recording. The same is true across the landscape of record retail: suddenly people stock what they overlooked before. This week is extremely busy for for us.

    A far more pertinent question would be: why is there no Record of the Year, as Judd mentions in his post re NARAS’ elimination of categories? Imagine both Spain and The Netherlands as World Cup champions. And the most pertinent question is: why doesn’t the American print media cover the Grammys as before? It wasn’t all that long ago that daily newspapers printed ALL of the winners on a massive page. Now there’s a ton of talk of Adele, but the classical Grammys are covered in the blogosphere and the usual-suspect sites for readers like me only. And there doesn’t seem to be any intrepid critic who has mentioned that one of the winning recordings is pretty damn hard to find. Anywhere.

    I’m of a mind that they matter and don’t matter, but I come down heavily on the former. It’s a badge of honor that several composers and artists will carry with them for life. I’ve spent time with them, including in LA last week, and it’s obvious that many of them carry a great deal of pride at this kind of recognition.

    • says

      Sean, hi, and I respect everything you’re saying. But remember that you’re saying it as an insider — as someone with a high position at a record label. So of course you and the artists you work with feel a thrill of pride when you’re recognized within your industry. And of course some of that translates to sales and recognition from outsiders. (Meaning music fans who aren’t music professionals.)

      But we also have to look at this from the outside — from the point of view of nonprofessional music fans, and of the general public. You ask: “What could be more empowering to the classical music fan than to know his local library has a copy of the Grammy winning release he heard about?” And surely the answer is, “A lot of things.” Lower ticket prices for her local orchestra and opera company, chamber music concerts in her neighborhood, a tremendous outpouring of community activity and recognition involving her local orchestra, a superb orchestra playing classical music at her kids’ high school, which her kids play in.

      We could extend that list. But I’d go further, and say that our classical music fan may not even know where her local library is. I haven’t been inside a public library in decades, apart from the music research library at Lincoln Center. And you yourself say that newspapers now don’t print the names of all the Grammy winners, so very likely your classical music fan doesn’t know who won the classical Grammys — which was exactly my point.

      And about newspapers not printing that info — I doubt that many papers ever did. The NY Times, for sure. But not printing this goes along with other trends in newspaperland, such as not printing stock tables. And, in the case of the Times, no longer being the “newspaper of record,” as they used to call themselves, and therefore not printing complete texts of diplomatic notes received or sent by the US government. Newspapers are engaged in intense competition for readers’ attention, and so increasingly they print feature stories. And even — the Times is a stellar example — report the news in feature-writing style.

      Which means that to get your label’s Grammy wins reported, you have to create some news beyond the Grammy victory. Which would be good to do in any case! We have to adapt to the many changes in our culture, and this is one of them.

  18. John P says

    Can’t say I thought they EVER mattered. I remember going to Orchestra Hall in Chicago where all the Grammy Award winning CSO albums were displayed and shrugging my shoulders. And did classical albums ever garner a hundred words in news accounts of annual award ceremonies? Rightly or wrongly, I’ve never regarded classical albums or classical music as a good basis for some kind of annual beauty contest. As a consumer, I’m more interested in reviews written by credible reviewers, and — if truth be told — brand loyalties to my favorite musicians, to guide my buying.

    If classical music enters some kind of new mainstream in the future, will Grammys matter more? Who knows. I’m not a big follower of this event, but I did notice some story or stories about there being considerable outrage over categories that were being eliminated. If that’s actually the case, what does that say about the chances for some hot new string quartet?

  19. Tone says

    Dude, Like everything sacred to each generation ya’ gotta teach the next one about these things and teach it well.

    Most of the young ones I work with start out basically clueless about classical music, but when you play a piece for them like Barber’s Adagio or Beethoven’s 7th, 2d mvt, and show it from the King’s Speech they kinda get this is significant, that something to do with their lives is also a part of this whole we call our lives. And when you show straight-from-the-heart enthusiasm about this and how cool it is they really, really get it. They might not know how to articulate this verbally, but each kid “gets” music, naturally–hip hop, classical, jazz, or whichever type.