Aside from the televised presentations during last night’s 61st Annual Grammy Awards ceremony (which you can still relive highlights from on the CBS website), The Recording Academy handed out many other awards yesterday at Los Angeles’s Staples Center. Here are some of the ones we are most excited about.
Terrence Blanchard’s composition Blut Und Boden (Blood and Soil), which is included in the soundtrack for the 2018 Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman, was awarded Best Instrumental Composition, winning over compositions by Alexandre Desplat, Jeremy Kittel, and Alan Silvestri, as well as a co-composition by John Powell and John Williams. Aaron Jay Kernis fetched the award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his Violin Concerto, which was released by Onyx Classics in a performance by James Ehnes with the Seattle Symphony under the direction of Ludovic Morlot, beating out work by Du Yun, Missy Mazzoli, Jake Heggie, and Mason Bates. The Santa Fe Opera recording of Bates’s nominated composition, the opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, did however capture the award for Best Opera Recording, while Ehnes’s performance of Kernis’s concerto earned him the Best Classical Instrumental Solo accolade over soloists who had mostly recorded older repertoire. (Apart from Craig Morris, who was nominated for his rendition of Philip Glass’s early Piece in the Shape of a Square arranged for multi-tracked trumpets, the other nominees were soloists who had recorded Biber, Bruch, and Bartók.) Recordings of works by living American composers also triumphed over older repertoire in the Best Choral Performance and Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance categories. The winners were: innova’s recording of Lansing McLoskey’s Zealot Canticles performed by The Crossing under the direction of Donald Nally; and Nonesuch’s recording of Laurie Anderson’s Landfall performed by the Kronos Quartet.
Best Classical Compendium, a relatively recent Grammy category (established in 2013), was awarded to a JoAnn Falletta/London Symphony Orchestra recording on Naxos American Classics devoted exclusively to the music of Kenneth Fuchs, which includes four works, each of which features a different soloist: Fuchs’s Piano Concerto performed by Jeffrey Biegel; Glacier, a concerto for electric guitar and orchestra with D. J. Sparr; Rush, a concerto for alto saxophone with Timothy McAllister; and Poems of Life, which is a setting of 12 poems by Judith G. Wolf sung by countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. And the award for Producer of the Year, Classical went to Blanton Alspaugh, whose qualifying 2018 recording credits included operas by Jake Heggie (Great Scott), Ricky Ian Gordon (The House Without a Christmas Tree), and Robert Paterson (Three Way) plus the Pentatone compendium Aspects of America, which features Carlos Kalmar-led Oregon Symphony performances of works by Samuel Barber, Kenji Bunch, Sebastian Currier, Christopher Rouse, and Sean Shepherd.
Miami-based composer/arranger/trumpeter John Daversa picked up three honors for his album American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom, an album featuring DACA artists presenting Daversa’s original compositions as well as his arrangements of various standards: e.g. the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim “America,” which originally appeared in the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story; John Philip Sousa’s classic patriotic march Stars and Stripes Forever; Woody Guthrie’s protest song “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)”; and, perhaps most poignantly, Cole Porter’s 1934 “Don’t Fence Me In” (which in our current political climate takes on additional meanings not originally intended by the Montana-based cowboy poet Bob Fletcher, one of whose verses Porter bought and reworked into this song). Aside from receiving the award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album (beating out albums by Orrin Evans, John Hollenbeck, Jim McNeely, and the Count Basie Orchestra directed by Scotty Barnhart), Daversa also beat out Regina Carter, Fred Hersch, Brad Mehldau, and Miguel Zenón to receive the Best Improvised Jazz Solo accolade for his solo on “Don’t Fence Me In” and also was given the Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella award for his version of Stars and Stripes Forever.
The Wayne Shorter Quartet’s disc Emanon received Best Instrumental Jazz Album eking out a victory over recordings led by Tia Fuller, Fred Hersch, Brad Mehldau, and Joshua Redman. All Ashore, a Nonesuch album of nine originals performed and collectively composed by progressive bluegrass stalwarts The Punch Brothers (a quintet featuring Chris Thile) was awarded Best Folk Album; Best Bluegrass Album was given to an eponymous recording by the more traditionally oriented group The Travelin’ McCourys. All in all, awards were given out in a total of 84 categories which are all listed on The Recording Academy’s website.