Analysis: Grammy spreads the love among classical nominees, and sets the stage for a sympathy vote

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, photographed in 2007. The baritone, who died this month at age 55, is nominated for a Grammy in the solo vocal category.
(Shiho Fukada / AP )
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Who can fathom the inscrutable ways of Grammy when it comes to classical nominations? If there is any pattern in this bunch of nods, it may be the predominance of American composers and organizations in some categories.

The orchestral performance nominations are monopolized by Americans, with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony being the only entry from the West for their alluring Debussy Super Audio CD. The Osmo Vänskä/Minnesota Orchestra performance of Mahler Symphony No. 5 is rather dull, though its disc has been praised for its sonics. Also nominated are Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony for Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony for Copland’s Symphony No. 3 and “Three Latin American Sketches,” and a collection of three concertos for orchestra commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony led by Louis Langrée.

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Each of the nominees for contemporary composition — Adam Schoenberg (“Picture Studies”), Tigran Mansurian (Requiem), Richard Danielpour (“Songs of Solitude”), Zhou Tian (Concerto for Orchestra) and Jennifer Higdon (Viola Concerto) — received an additional nomination in another category for the same recording. Schoenberg and Danielpour picked up theirs in the category of engineered album, Mansurian for choral performance, Zhou as part of the Cincinnati’s Symphony’s orchestral performance nomination, and Higdon in the ever-mysterious classical compendium category.

Alban Berg figures in the opera sweepstakes with two nominations: “Lulu” in a fascinating William Kentridge production at the Metropolitan Opera with Marlis Petersen in the title role on DVD, and “Wozzeck” in a good concert performance with Roman Trekel singing the title role and Hans Graf leading the Houston Symphony on CD. The other nominees are another DVD from the Met, Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers”; Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Golden Cockerel” with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus on DVD; and Handel’s “Ottone” with George Petrou leading Il Pomo d’Oro on CD.

The next two Ojai Music Festival music directors — violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja (2018) and singer-conductor Barbara Hannigan (2019) — received nominations. Kopatchinskaja’s came in the chamber music/small ensemble performance category for her string orchestra arrangements of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet and other pieces with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Hannigan was nominated for classical solo vocal for “Crazy Girl Crazy” (a title perhaps inspired by Bill Haley’s rockabilly record “Crazy Man Crazy”), which contains Berio’s Sequenza III, Berg’s “Lulu” Suite and a suite from, yes, Gershwin’s “Girl Crazy.”

But in that solo vocal category, Grammy’s proclivity for sympathy will favor the charismatic Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who died of brain cancer this month at age 55. He is nominated for his recording of songs by Georgy Sviridov (“Russia Cast Adrift”) with Constantine Orbelian and the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra.

Perhaps the most surprising clutch of nominations went to a CD of two solemn, sonorous Masses by Marcel Tyberg, a virtually unknown Viennese composer who died in the Holocaust in 1944 and whose music has been revived only in the last decade. This release racked up three nominations (choral, engineered, surround sound) for Sioux Falls’ South Dakota Chorale.

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