A deaf ear to the new dynamic

Times Staff Writer

HERE we go again. Tonight the Grammys will announce, or at least whisper surreptitiously offstage to a hardly panting press or public, the 2006 classical awards. They won’t mean much.

The Grammys have long suffered a classical credibility gap. The days of know-nothing voters and the Atlanta Symphony block-voting itself honor after honor are long gone.

The Grammys’ tiresome fixation with Georg Solti died with the Hungarian conductor’s death in 1997. And over the last decade, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has been slowly, slowly cleaning up its act, if not exactly keeping up with the changing record business.

But this year’s classical Grammys are seriously irrelevant. The recording business is no longer just changing. It has changed. Yet the Grammys stoically carry on as before.


CDs are on the way out. Opera is massively migrating to DVD. Record stores are dodo birds, while classical downloading is booming. And back to DVDs, they are altering the whole concept of classical recording. Some opera recordings are films of operas; others are staged productions.

There is suddenly a wealth of documentaries and educational programs and new things that we don’t even have a slot for, such as John Cage’s film “One11" with his orchestra piece “103.”

Yet none of this is recognized by the Grammys’ reliance on Grandpa’s media. Indeed, the NARAS is so yesterday -- as the pop critics have also long been complaining -- that it considers only recordings released from Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006.

That means nominees can be more than 16 months old, long gone from the bins of stores themselves long gone. Even the Oscars, no model for anything, manages to include the most recent Christmas releases, for heaven’s sake.

The most talked-about recording of 2006, the one on everybody’s year-end list, was Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing her husband, Peter Lieberson’s, “Neruda Songs.” The untimely death from breast cancer of this magnificent mezzo-soprano last summer touched the classical community deeply. The songs, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Symphony, are a lover’s intensely moving farewell.

The Nonesuch disc of a live performance of “Neruda Songs,” sensually conducted by James Levine in Boston, came out in December. So what to do? A favorite to win best recording of 2006 is a less interesting (worthy to be sure but not as universally appealing Peter Lieberson disc that happens to have Hunt Lieberson on it.

Anyone who cares about love needs to hear the “Neruda Songs.” Anyone who cares about Rilke may want to hear the nominated “Rilke Songs,” one of Lieberson’s less-inspired works -- although his Horn Concerto, also on the disc, is a fine piece.

So I offer at right an alternative classical Grammys, filling in some gaps to include many of the year’s most interesting DVDs and downloads. And since I’m making up my own rules, I’m choosing music released in 2006.