The Grammy Awards for classical music were handed out on Sunday in Los Angeles, the first time since the Recording Academy instituted sweeping changes that cut the number of classical categories from eleven to seven. Among those eliminated was the award for best classical album.
In its place, the most high-profile category was arguably that of best orchestral performance, which went to Gustavo Dudamel’s live performance of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Deutsche Grammophon released it only as an iTunes download. It marked the first Grammy win in Dudamel's career.
Joyce DiDonato’s "Diva Divo,” a collection of “trouser” and “skirt” arias won for best classical vocal solo. DiDonato used her acceptance speech to preach for more arts education in schools. "There's a war on in our country against the arts right now," she said. "We need more Whitney Houstons."
There was also an unusual amount of new music among the winners. The award for best opera recording went to Doctor Atomic, the John Adams opera about the Manhattan Project. The recording was a DVD of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2008 production conducted by Alan Gilbert.
Eric Whitacre’s "Light and Gold" picked up the best choral performance honor, and the ensemble Eighth Blackbird won for best small ensemble performance for its recording of Steven Mackey's Lonely Motel.
The classical instrumental solo award went to Joseph Schwantner's Percussion Concerto in a performance featuring New York Philharmonic principal percussionist Christopher Lamb with the Nashville Symphony under Giancarlo Guerrero.
Best contemporary classical composition went to composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein for their opera Elmer Gantry, based on the Sinclair Lewis novel. That same recording won the award for best engineered classical album, for the work of engineer Jesse Lewis.
In the department of no surprises, Judith Sherman took home the award for classical producer of the year. Sherman is a ten-time Grammy nominee and the winner in that category in 1993 and 2007.
The classical awards were handed out at a ceremony before the telecast.
Last spring, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which administers the Grammys, narrowed the number of award categories from 109 to 78. The decision was part of a controversial effort to reduce a bloated list that organizers said was reaching an unmanageable length and diminished merit.
Among the deletions were best classical album and best classical crossover album. There were also two mergers: of best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra and best instrumental soloist performance without orchestra into best classical instrumental solo; and best chamber music performance and best small ensemble performance.