The degenerate gambler’s guide to the 2020 classical GRAMMY Awards

The Hazard Room, Thomas Rowland. Used w/ permission of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The CDA tradition continues: once again, seasoned gamblers and classical aficionados alike can have a crack at predicting the winners of the classical music categories at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards.

It works the same as in past years:

  1. click this link
  2. chose a winner for each of the eight categories

We will tabulate the votes and publish the results in an upcoming mailer. (You’re signed up for the mailer, right?) You may then do what you wish — nudge nudge — with that information. Once the Grammy Awards have passed we’ll bring you full results.


New albums worthy of your attention

Click on the artist name & album title to hear the music in question. (A note: this post first appeared in the CDA mailer, our monthly newsletter. Sign up here.)

Summary: These are concise, pop song-length tunes. Rani relies on ostinato figures swirled around with pedal, and deploys slow and deceptively uncomplicated lines of melody. It’s beautiful, very filmic, and has an unmistakable Philip Glass-ian vibe.

You’ll probably: catch at least one track on some “classical chill” streaming playlist.

Best track(s): SunGlass Esja, and Now, Run.

Meaningful PR blurb: “Recorded at Rani’s apartment in Warsaw […] and at her friend Bergur Þórisson’s studio in Reykjavik, Esja is a series of beautiful melodic vignettes, inspired by, Berlin, Iceland and the wild mountains in Bieszczady as well as a love of art and architecture.”

Summary: Cornish’s new album sounds like Anna Þorvaldsdóttir with a touch less Icelandic bleakness. While listening I pictured a time-lapse scene of social media influencers snapping selfies in front of rhythmic waves, while in the corner of the shot there’s like a decaying fish that nobody notices and you think “whoa. Who knew” at the very end. But maybe you will arrive at a different visual cue. Cornish’s music really takes you somewhere without you being able to say exactly how you got there. It’s quite lovely.

Best track(s): Seascapes I, II & III.

Summary: This project sees Dutch string group Alma Quartet linking up with DJ and composer Henrik Schwarz. Alma Quartet’s tight, nicely structured aesthetic is the cocktail on top of which Schwarz floats an eyedropper of eau-de-synthé. Everything goes down smooth. The writing is club-ready.

Best track(s): CCMYK3 is the most beat-heavy cut here, but CCMYK9 & CCMYK1 find nice grooves, too. Less danceable tracks remind me of Kronos Quartet joints (in a good way), especially Requiem for a Dream-era Kronos.

I’m not going to even: make fun of them for describing their recording process as an “open conversation between piercing intellects” in the album boilerplate. I just won’t do it.

Come for: Andrew Norman, creator of Play, one of the best orchestral works of the 2010s.

Stay for: wavery strings sounding like a drunk church organist playing a Hammond B3. You might also like to know this is the first recording of Sustain, which was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2018.

Summary: Norman swings for the fences in his latest piece, which he wrote after wondering what people would be thinking about & listening to a hundred years from now. Judging anecdotally by a few critics’ reactions on social media, this release came as a bit of a surprise – there wasn’t a lot of fanfare in the lead-up. Sustain is the whole album, and it runs just a touch over a half-hour.

Best track(s): um, Sustain I would say? since it’s the only track.


Still trippin, still dippin: the CDA mailer

Despite the best efforts of tax officials of five separate countries, Interpol, and a host of organizations either offended or specifically targeted by CDA, the Classical Dark Arts mailer continues its circulation amongst a weird, worldwide audience. If you sign up you’ll receive a missive one Saturday every month. In it you’ll find classical goodies that make perfect fodder for cocktail conversation, casual elevator chats, pillow talk, or strained exchanges with your parole officer.

Actors at the highest levels of the classical music world want to see the Classical Dark Arts mailer fail! They’re here to legislate it away, to injunct our business dealings and slander our good name at every turn. (Believe me, our self-defeating behaviors render this completely unnecessary.) However, your subscription to the mailer ensures we’ll continue publishing in perpetuity. Sign up, for free, today.

–Will Roseliep


Street Symphony

Mission statements are a special brand of sadism arts organizations inflict on audiences. They’re as captivating as legalese in a hastily-clicked User Agreement, with all the feeling of a pharmaceutical side effects disclosure. It’s surprising and refreshing, then, when you find a group with a mission that actually means something. Like this:

Street Symphony places social justice at the heart of music making by creating authentic, powerful engagements between professional and emerging artists and communities disenfranchised by homelessness and incarceration in Los Angeles County. Street Symphony operates with the core principle that all people deserve access to a creative and expressive life.

Street Symphony is a group founded by former LA Phil violinist Vijay Gupta. They play shows in jails and shelters, ministering to Los Angelenos who are poor, homeless, or suffering from mental illness. In other words, they bring classical music to people it usually doesn’t reach. If you’re thinking “What a great idea!” you’re not the only one: this year the MacArthur Foundation chose Vijay Gupta as one of its 2018 Fellows.

The point isn’t to show how nice of a concept Street Symphony is, because that’s self-evident. The point is to highlight an “artistic” premise that is replicable and modifiable in any city, at any scale. Head here to read an interview with Gupta, and then start thinking about how this could work in your city.


How the ‘Big Five’ American Orchestras Crawled onto the World Wide Web


The early nineties were a magical time to be online. You could never predict what you’d come across: dancing text, indecipherable fonts, busted links, page elements all the colors of the rainbow, and grainy photos loading pixel by painstaking pixel. That is, if you were able to get there at all. After the agonizing desktop start-up ritual — a procession of clicks and whirs, the labored whining of vent fans and spinning disk drives, mysterious bloops and beeps — you’d mash the internet icon with too many clicks, await the inimitable sound of a dial-up modem as it called down the line, and then, no small miracle, you’d be online.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 as a way to formalize gathering places, websites, on the internet. But what began as a charming haven for coders and explorers morphed into a commercial feeding frenzy for brands and hucksters. The web was particularly well-suited for classical music fans, but like other pursuits it worked even better for marketing and sales. While diehard collectors traded bits of classical ephemera on message boards, every big classical music outfit jumped online to flog tickets, subscriptions, and CDs.

Below you’ll see the first forays onto the web for the so-called “Big Five” US orchestras: the first websites for the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. These are maybe not the very first images of their sites — the majority come from 1996 onward, and certainly none exist from the web’s inception in 1989. However, they are the oldest remaining snapshots available on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. They are artifacts that remind us, at least from the commercial side, how this all began.

Let’s roll the tape.


Women composers, from Anahita Abbasi to Ellen Taafe Zwilich

Rob Deemer is an assistant professor and head of composition at SUNY-Fredonia. Deemer is also creator of the Women Composers Database, an impressive project whose stated purpose is to provide a one-stop resource for the types of composers who often (truthfully: always) get short shrift in the great concert halls of the world: women.

I traded emails with Deemer to ask him about the project. His goals for it are modest and sensible:

It is my hope that this database will allow for each programmer to discover their own pool of favored composers rather than relying on journalists or friends or “experts”. I also hope that organizations will use the database to find composers in their area that they might not be aware of; the more their programming reflects their audiences, the more successful their interactions with their communities will be.

Deemer said he’s been surprised at the volume of submissions he’s received, “hundreds and hundreds” so far to bring the running total to 3,100. If you’d like to do the same head to the Women Composer Database submission page to submit your favorites. You can add in biographical info like genres each composed for, ethnicity, and city of residence. I asked him about other under-represented groups in classical music, and Deemer said he’s already thinking about it:

I have actually already begun work on a Composers of Color Database to fill that void. Since the Women Composers Database already had a great number of composers of color in it, I’ve started with that and will be working with my team of students at the State University of New York at Fredonia to bring that second database up to speed by the summer of 2018.

All right! Add your favorite women composers to the list, and follow him on Twitter for updates.


The degenerate gambler’s guide to handicapping the 2018 classical GRAMMY Awards

Remedios Varo Uranga. (Wikipedia)

Seasoned gamblers know that this marvelous thing we call the internet allows one to wager money on almost any event in the world for which the outcome is not guaranteed. You can bet on the next Pope, the winner of The Voice, the length of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, and many more things.

You can also gamble on the GRAMMYs.


CDA’s best classical albums of 2017 (so far)


Welcome to the halfway point of the year.

Typically critics and fans announce their favorite albums at the end of each year. It’s a fine tradition, but wouldn’t it be nice to get a head start? By looking at the best classical albums released thus far we can preempt some of our December binge-listening.


If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem, pt. 79

Image by William Kentridge, courtesy Guggenheim Museum.

Mohammed Fairouz wrote an essay for NPR’s Deceptive Cadence called “Don’t Hire Me. Hire a Female Composer Instead.” While his request is self-explanatory, Fairouz also digs into the data underlying big orchestras’ performances of women composers, and it is depressing. To wit: only 1.8% of pieces played in 2014-15 season were penned by women.


Out in orbit


The newest installment in our ongoing playlist series is here, and it’s called Out in Orbit. It’s chockablock with good-ass releases mostly from this year or last. It features throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Schoenberg, Bartók, Caroline Shaw, Brian Eno, and many more.

Here are not one but two previous installments in the series in case you want more. We all want more.