I don’t watch much television. There are some shows I love, (NCIS, I Love Lucy reruns, and Turner Classic Movies) and many I don’t. And it’s my personal policy never to watch celebrity reality shows or awards shows, not even the Grammy awards.
But although I won’t watch the Grammy’s, I do like to know what classical artists and recordings made the nominations list. I thought I would pass on a few of this year’s more unusual nominees that interest me. You can find the Grammy awards list here. (The classical music entries start in the 70’s.)
Harry Partch: Bitter Music
In 1991 I had the opportunity to be part of a landmark recording of Harry Partch’s opera “Revelation in the Courthouse Park.” It was my first exposure to the music of this free-thinking musical pioneer. Partch was no mere composer. He attempted to create a completely new tonal system, devising his own set of instruments, since conventional instruments aren’t capable of playing the tones indicated by his ratio system.
This recording is a diary of Harry Partch’s explorations during the 1930’s, as he was beginning the development of his tonal system, a story told through readings and musical excerpts or fragments, a fascinating revelation about someone who thought outside the classical music box.
Paris Days, Berlin Nights: Ute Lemper
If you ever wanted to experience the cabaret life of Western Europe in the 1930’s, this is a recording that will have you bobbing your hair and reaching for your cigarette holder. Lemper sings a cosmopolitan collection of songs by Piaf and Brel, Kurt Weill, Piazzolla and even some Yiddish songs with amazingly beautiful instrumental accompaniment by Stefan Malzew and the Vogler Quartet. Lemper’s singing is gritty and very stylized, perhaps not to everyone’s taste. But as for me, I’m looking for my fringe flapper dress.
Music for a Time of War: Oregon Symphony
Don’t let the title of this recording turn you off. The music is by Ives, Adams, Britten and Vaughan Williams, and although the subject matter is serious, the music is exciting, evocative and explosive. In the Britten Sinfonia da Requiem, Britten makes the Battle of Britain come to life, complete with musical representations of exploding bombs and airplane noise. The Wound-Dresser by John Adams was not a work I was familiar with, but Ives’ Unanswered Question has long been a favorite. The Oregon Symphony led by Carlos Kalmar presents an all-around great performance.
Profanes et Sacrées: Boston Symphony Chamber Players
I knew this was a recording I would love. It is a collection of French chamber music, including two of my desert-island pieces, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp. There is also a work by Dutilleux for oboe, harpsichord, double bass and percussion that is worth a listen, as well as works by Françaix and Tomasi. And it’s Boston. What’s not to love?