If you’ve turned on a computer in the past 24-hours, you’ve likely been unable to avoid seeing the hype about the 2012 Grammy Awards plastered to every site. Sunday, February 12th, marked the celebration of the 54th annual Grammy Awards, held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Classical music fans will no doubt already know that the awards show has almost nothing to do with the classical music scene, despite the fact that there are indeed classical music categories. These awards are reminiscent of the technical awards with the Oscars–the classical music awards are handed out before the prime time event starts, to leave more time for pop music and all of the pyrotechnics that come with it.
This year, classical music found itself even further out in the margins as the Grammys followed the zeitgeist for downsizing. The award categories this year were whittled down from 109 to 78, and classical categories went from few (11) to even fewer (7). The changes serve to highlight how little the musical-industrial complex really understands the idea of classical music, making strange bedfellows out of albums that, to the classical music lover, have very little to do with each other. In the eyes of the Grammy establishment, though, they’re close enough–after all, they’re all classical, right?
Some changes are logical: best chamber music performance and best performance by a small ensemble have been merged into a single category (descriptively titled, “best performance by a small ensemble”). Since it’s not totally clear when chamber music morphs into a “small ensemble,” the change isn’t an earthshaking one. The other changes aren’t exactly earthshaking, either, but they do create some opportunities for some serious oversights on the way to honoring the best classical music being made today. Two categories have been eliminated altogether: best classical album and best classical crossover album. With all of the buzz about the classical-bluegrass superstar collaboration “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” it seems that the album would have been a plausible best classical crossover album winner. In the absence of an appropriate category for it, the album fell through the cracks and didn’t get a nomination for the only category for which it would have been eligible: best bluegrass/American album. That shoe doesn’t entirely fit the album–while the group did make their debut at House of Blues, they also are comprised of some of classical music’s heaviest hitters. Classical music today is replete with projects that zigzag around traditional boundaries. These projects are often the best and most interesting music on the classical music scene, and they’re often the ones to push the limits of classical music as we know it–and likely, after these changes, they will never win a Grammy as recognition for their work, since there are no categories for these crossover albums to call home.
Another, larger issue is the combination of best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra and best instrumental soloist performance without orchestra into best classical instrumental solo means that recitals now have to compete with concerto performances. To a person not well-versed in classical music, this handy condensation seems to make sense, but these same people would likely kick up a pretty large stink if the Grammys tried to merge best R&B and best rap album. The subtle differences in the Grammy categories seem to be given more weight for the music that sells millions of records, but not in classical music.
Perhaps the biggest issue of all is the elimination of the best classical album of the year. If an album wants to be recognized as best of the year in the Grammys’ eyes, it has to jump in the pool with the pop megahits, and it doesn’t take a classical music expert to realize that this means the end of Grammy-recognized best classical albums. No classical album has nearly the heft or exposure of the three-minute hits on the Top 40 stations, and there are likely to be no classical album of the year nominees, let alone winners.
It’s not all doom and gloom on the Grammy scene, though. Small labels and lower-profile records dominated the nominations and winners this year. For example, Seraphic Fire Media had as many nominations as Deutsche Grammophon (both clocked in at two), and Cedille Records’ four beat out EMI Classics’ three.
Maybe the Grammys are not the big deal for the classical music world that they are for the pop scene–we have our own awards, too, and they’re bursting at the seams with categories for everything. That being said, though, a Grammy is a Grammy, and it is undeniably the award of music awards to win. After all…it’s a Grammy. It’s too bad that classical music isn’t getting a bigger, or at least better-fitting, slice of the pie.