BWW Feature: Intellectual Masturbation (or, The Classical Music Grammy Nominations)
The Grammy nominations are here! It's such a fun awards show, chock-full of accolades for mediocre pop songs sung by artists with nodules bigger than my fist-a true example of folks living the American Dream. Each year I hope for the best, thinking that, maybe, the nominating committee, or the performers, will surprise me-flipping the script on my shockingly low expectations. This year, to see if they'd accomplished that feat, I headed over to the Grammy's website to peruse the list of nominees.
After taking in the nominations for the popular music categories, disappointed yet again-REALLY with all the Despacito love?!?-I picked my jaw up off the floor and kept scrolling, interested to see what was nominated in the classical music categories. I scrolled past Best Reggae album, Best Children's album, etc., when I started to wonder if the classical nominations might be listed on a separate site. I gave it another scroll, or four, and finally arrived, taking note that my categories of interest were listed below Best Album Notes and Best Surround Sound Album...interesting-that's another article for another day. Never the less, it was a good thing I'd finally found them, because, after the endless scrolling, I needed to give my newly developing carpal tunnel a rest.
I massaged my wrist and perused the classical music nominations, quickly realizing an emerging pattern. The nominations, by and large, featured aurally challenging, arguably inaccessible, music-at least when it comes to the general public. This is a problem. When wielded strategically, the Grammy brings with it the power to attract new audiences. So, why is the classical music nominating committee engaging in intellectual masturbation when choosing the honorees? I believe the albums they've chosen to recognize are worthy of adulation, but refuse to accept that they will be able to leverage the power of a Grammy. A 30-something who's never been to an opera will not be turned onto classical music by a recording of Berg's Lulu. Now, the Met's production is very clearly deserving of accolades, but should it be honored with an award like a Grammy, that has the potential to be used as a marketing tool to leverage audience growth? No. That honor should be strategically reserved for albums that have wide-reaching appeal.
The Grammys aren't a celebration of the highest artistic musical expression, and maybe that's ok. The classical community needs to understand the rules of the game they're playing instead of holding fast to their own 'elevated' ideals. The art form needs to start leveraging the awards the way popular artists are, and have been for years. Popular music nominations honor simplistic ear-worms that, while fun for a booty-pop, rarely display the most dynamic compositional language. I mean...Hotline Bling won multiple awards last year-let that sink in for a minute.
Instead of insularly celebrating our intellectual prowess, what if the focus was on leveraging the Grammys as an important marketing tool? A tool that carries with its name universal honor and prestige. If one loves Berg, which, this year, the Grammys are clearly head-over-heels for, Wozzeck winning a Grammy award won't change anything. Because of the intellectual challenge imbedded in his music, I would argue that this win does nothing other than validate existing Berg lovers. It won't ignite new love-not in audiences previously unfamiliar to his work. It's just...not easy to listen to-and I LOVE Berg. But, if you're a new-comer to the world of classical music, his work winning a Grammy won't keep you listening. The Grammy may be powerful, but it's not THAT powerful.
However, if Joyce's In War and Peace - Harmony Through Music won an award, that's an album that could be leveraged into building a new audience base, because the music is easily digestible. I just spent the last 6 minutes booty-dancing around my apartment to the Da tempeste from this album...because, Handel's beats are sick-in fact, more dance inducing than some of the popular nominees this year. But, instead, Dmitir Hvorostovsky's Sviridov: Russia Cast Adrift will win, as a way to honor his life-the same way Bowie was honored last year, and I'm sure Carrie Fisher will be honored in the Spoken Word category this year. It's a beautiful gesture, but a missed opportunity-especially when there are many ways to honor the tragic loss of great talent. Instead, let's use the honor of a Grammy award to expand the reach of the classical music community, honoring the loss of life by perpetuating the art form and celebrating music that will entice and inspire the layman.
2007 was the last time Best Opera Recording wasn't a display of intellectual masturbation and I'm really hoping we can get back there-we are hemorrhaging audiences. We need to look past ourselves and see what's best for perpetuating the art form instead of sitting in a closed off, intellectual circle-jerk. It's time to leverage the power of the awards to help foster new listeners.
Below is the list of recordings I WISH would win because they can be easily leveraged to build a larger classical audience, but, most likely, because of...reasons, will not:
Best Orchestral Performance
Mahler: Symphony No. 5
Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra)
Best Opera Recording
Bizet: Les Pêcheurs De Perles
Best Choral Performance
Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
Death & The Maiden
Patricia Kopatchinskaja & The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Best Classical Instrumental Solo
Haydn: Cello Concertos
Best Classical Solo Vocal Album
In War & Peace - Harmony Through Music
Best Classical Compendium
Best Contemporary Classical Composition
Track From: Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto & Oboe Concerto