The 2020 classical music GRAMMY prediction pool: how did CDA readers do?

Still Life with Crystal Ball Reflecting, Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne I

If you’re a close follower of Classical Dark Arts — specifically, a subscriber to a monthly mailer — you know we take the GRAMMYs seriously. At least, we take them seriously as a wagering event. Every year we ask CDA readers to pick winners for eight classical music-specific GRAMMY categories. Readers may then use live poll results to turn a crumpled tenner into a cash phone.

Now that the dust has settled I’m happy to note that you predicted three out of eight categories correctly: Best Orchestral Performance, Best Opera Recording, and Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. In two categories (Best Contemporary Classical Composition, and Best Classical Instrumental Solo) only a few prescient readers picked winners, while the crowd went in another direction. Predictions in three other categories were wrong, but trended closer to actual winners.

Best Orchestral Performance

  • CDA predicted winner: NORMAN: SUSTAIN. Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • Actual winner: (same)

Best Opera Recording

  • Predicted winner: PICKER: FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Gil Rose, conductor; John Brancy, Andrew Craig Brown, Gabriel Preisser, Krista River & Edwin Vega; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Boston Children’s Chorus)
  • Actual winner: (same)

Best Choral Performance

  • Predicted winner: SMITH, K.: THE ARC IN THE SKY Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
  • Actual winner: DURUFLÉ: COMPLETE CHORAL WORKS. Robert Simpson, conductor (Ken Cowan; Houston Chamber Choir)

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

  • Predicted winner: CERRONE: THE PIECES THAT FALL TO EARTH. Christopher Rountree & Wild Up
  • Actual winner: SHAW: ORANGE. Attacca Quartet

Best Classical Instrumental Solo

  • Predicted winner: TORKE: SKY, CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN. Tessa Lark; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)
  • Actual winner: MARSALIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO; FIDDLE DANCE SUITE. Nicola Benedetti; Cristian Măcelaru, conductor (Philadelphia Orchestra)

Best Classical Solo Vocal Album

  • Predicted winner: SONGPLAY. Joyce DiDonato; Chuck Israels, Jimmy Madison, Charlie Porter & Craig Terry, accompanists (Steve Barnett & Lautaro Greco)
  • Actual winner: (same)

Best Classical Compendium

  • Predicted winner: (tie, polled equally) AMERICAN ORIGINALS. 1918 John Morris Russell, conductor; Elaine Martone, producer; and SAARIAHO: TRUE FIRE; TRANS; CIEL D’HIVER Hannu Lintu, conductor; Laura Heikinheimo, producer
  • Actual winner: THE POETRY OF PLACES. Nadia Shpachenko; Marina A. Ledin & Victor Ledin, producers

Best Contemporary Classical Composition

  • Predicated winner: NORMAN: SUSTAIN. Andrew Norman, composer (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • Actual winner: HIGDON: HARP CONCERTO. Jennifer Higdon, composer (Yolanda Kondonassis, Ward Stare & The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)

That’s it for now. Tune in later in the year when the next batch of GRAMMY winners is announced.

Resisting the list

2019 was not the year to obsess over new releases. It’s actually the first year I’ve managed anything resembling a healthy balance of new and old: more repeat listening, more old and obscure things, and (much) more radio (shouts to RBB Kulturradio). It was a charmed twelve months.

In that spirit I’m sharing with you only a few new things I enjoyed in 2019. Click album titles for more info.

Quality classical releases

Kullervo Op. 7, Jean Sibelius, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu. A work unknown to me. This and Sibelius’ Pelléas et Mélisande were the soundtrack for many of my fall mornings.

Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, Harmonie Universelle, Florian Deuter, Monica Waisman. I thought I misread HIFvB’s birth and death dates the first time I looked him up. His is music immune to the vagaries of time and taste.

Weinberg: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 21, Mieczysław Weinberg, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Gidon Kremer, Kremerata Baltica, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Mieczysław Weinberg’s family was torn apart by war and ethnic killing in his native Poland and neighboring Russia. (I’m reading Bloodlands right now — can’t imagine a better soundtrack than this.) Weinberg was a close associate of Shostakovich’s. His music might not be as well-known as the latter’s, but this disc rectifies this somewhat. Gražinytė-Tyla, the CBSO, and Weinberg aficionado Gidon Kremer worked magic with this one.

Sneaky projects you might’ve missed

Al Otro Lado, Liza Wallace, Lily Press, Simon Linn-Gerstein. Recommended this in the last mailer. Did you listen yet? Support good music.

The Sacrificial Code, Kali Malone. Kali Malone is a Swedish organist who finds a different gear for the pipe organ — in slow, meditative, drawn-out tones that echo across this work. It’s not clear who the audience for this is, which is to say that it’s perfect for CDA readers.

These live up to the hype

Become Desert, John Luther Adams, Seattle Symphony. The logical follow-up to JLA’s smash and CDA favorite Become Ocean.

Concurrence, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Daníel Bjarnason, Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Haukur Tómasson, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Páll Ragnar Pálsson. Iceland : modern orchestra music :: Atlanta : trap music. I’ve written about my undisguised admiration for Anna Thorvaldsdóttir. Here you get Thorvaldsdóttir’s Metacosmos, plus installments of tingly, dense, well-matched music from three fellow Icelanders.

At the risk of oversharing and bungling this whole premise, here’s some non-classical music that blew me out of my seat

Morbid Stuff by PUP. Hidden History of the Human Race by Blood Incantation. Did I say I wasn’t going to do a big list? Megan Thee Stallion’s Fever. Don’t miss Midnight by Stef Chura. Rema’s self-titled EP goes and goes. I especially recommend Mahur Club by Maral. Cut & Stitch by the Petrol Girls is an AOTY contender. Control Top just batter listeners on Covert Contracts. Ahh damn it I’m still listing. I can’t physically stop myself from making lists. WWCD by Griselda. Jaime by Brittany Howard (“Short and Sweet” slayed me). Okay, done.

Many of the above are affiliate links, i.e. a fraction of the sale benefits probably your twenty-third-favorite classical music outfit. Just deal with it.

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