The success story of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony just got more successful. Their extraordinarily vivid Stravinsky CD set of "Firebird," "Rite of Spring" and "Persephone" won a classical Grammy triple-whammy: best classical album, orchestral performance and engineered recording.
Name recognition seems to rule the classical Grammy vote, and this year was no exception. MTT is currently one of the art form's most famous faces, and Stravinsky seems to have the consensus as the 20th century's favored composer. Indeed, all nominated Stravinskys won, including his opera, "The Rake's Progress," starring Bryn Terfel.
Some of the biggest names also won as soloists--deservedly. Martha Argerich, widely held to be the most exciting pianist before the public today, was a victor for her riveting performances of Prokofiev and Bartok piano concertos; Vladimir Ashkenazy's dazzling account of the Shostakovich piano preludes and fugues proved Grammy material, as did the singing of Thomas Quasthoff and Anne Sofie von Otter in Mahler's "Des Knaben Wunderhorn." The ever-popular Anne-Sophie Mutter walked away with best chamber music performance for her distinguished set of Beethoven violin sonatas with pianist Lambert Orkis.
Significantly, all this year's winning music (but for Mutter's Beethoven) was written in the 20th century. Britten's "War Requiem" (performed by the Washington Chorus on its own label) beat out stellar Handel and Schubert; the Bay Area male chorus Chanticleer was selected best small ensemble for a disc of modern love songs.
The other great 20th century name that regularly pops up on the Grammy list is that of Pierre Boulez. This time, none of his many nominations as conductor paid off, but his electronic-music masterpiece, "Repons," was chosen best in the contemporary composition category, which it certainly was.