Three Categories to Watch in the Classical Grammy Race

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The 2014 Grammy Award nominations were announced on Friday night, resulting (of course) in much second-guessing and prognosticating. Of the 81 categories, eight are devoted exclusively to classical music. Here are three to watch in advance of the awards, which are given out in Los Angeles on January 26.

Best Orchestral Performance:

Will this be the Minnesota Orchestra's year? Last year, the embattled ensemble, which has been embroiled in a musician lockout since October 2012, lost in this category to the San Francisco Symphony. Now, the Minnesotans are nominated again, this time for a recording of Sibelius’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 on the BIS label. But the orchestra faces some tough competition from the Berlin Philharmonic’s recording of The Rite of Spring under Simon Rattle (EMI), which has garnered strong reviews in the Rite 100th anniversary year. Rattle and the Berliners have long been favorites of Grammy voters; their recording of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony took the top honor in 2001. Still, a Minnesota win could send a strong message in the ongoing labor dispute.

Other nominees: Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony: Atterberg: Orchestral Works Vol. 1 (Chandos); Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic: Lutosławski: Symphony No. 1 (Sony); Claudio Abbado and the Orchestra Mozart: Schumann: Symphony No. 2 (DG).


Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance:

This highly competitive category pits major labels against indies, with Leonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace’s well-received recording of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas (Kavakos's Decca debut) being a particularly solid contender. The New York vocal octet Roomful of Teeth has momentum, however, since 30-year-old member/composer Caroline Shaw became the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for her Partita in April (her piece is nominated in the category of Best Contemporary Composition). An award would also be a coup for the small, Red Hook-based New Amsterdam label. But not to be underestimated is “Times Go By Turns,” a collection of Renaissance and modern music by another local vocal ensemble, New York Polyphony. The quartet previewed the material from the album in the WQXR Cafe:

Other nominees: Cage: The 10,000 Things (Vicki Ray, William Winant, Aron Kallay & Tom Peters); Duo: Hélène Grimaud & Sol Gabetta

Best Classical Vocal Solo

Joyce DiDonato is the critical darling in this race. Her album “Drama Queens" (Virgin Classics), a collection of arias by composers famous (Handel, Haydn) and obscure (Keiser, Orlandini) depicting royal women on the verge, has received high marks. The late Marion Lignana Rosenberg wrote on Operavore, "DiDonato takes listeners on a harrowing journey, deploying her limpid, lit-from-within voice like a knife inflicting so many stabs of pain.” But DiDonato won a Grammy just two years ago for “Diva Divo" and she is up against Cecilia Bartoli, a perennial industry favorite. Bartoli’s “Mission” (Decca) is a multimedia revival of music by the long-forgotten Baroque composer Agostino Steffani. And don’t count Jonas Kaufmann out, whose collection of Wagner scenes (Decca) rode the wave of Wagner bicentennial momentum.

Other nominees: Schubert: Winterreise - Christoph Prégardien (Michael Gees); Winter Morning Walks: Dawn Upshaw (Maria Schneider; Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough & Scott Robinson; Australian Chamber Orchestra & St. Paul Chamber Orchestra)

Also worth watching:

Will Colin Davis, who died earlier this year, take a posthumous Grammy for his recording of Berlioz's Grande Messe Des Morts (Best Choral Performance)? Can Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic pull off a win for Magnus Lindberg's Piano Concerto No. 2 in either the Best Contemporary Composition or the Best Classical Instrumental Solo categories? View the complete list of nominees.