Wednesday night at Staples Center, the 43rd Grammy Awards will present three hours of festive congratulations featuring what the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences considers the brightest and best of pop music. And once again, the wallflowers at this annual concert cum industry pep rally will be from classical music.
The classical awards, along with jazz, folk and world music, will be presented in an earlier ceremony with only the briefest of moments making it to the broadcast. Talk of a separate-but-equal televised show, rife at the academy in the early 1990s, has evaporated, leaving the classical side of the business resigned to a token presence on the prime-time show and dreaming of greater glory.
What if, for example, the classical awards did have its own Big Night, with the honorees present and many of them performing? Imagine Golden Age legend Carlo Bergonzi and soprano Angela Gheorghiu singing the Drinking Song from "La Traviata" with Antonio Pappano conducting the English Chamber Orchestra. Or period-instrument wonder Andrew Manze and harpsichordist Richard Egarr dazzling with a Pandolfi violin sonata. Or Leif Ove Andsnes playing a bit of a Haydn piano concerto, Barbara Bonney singing Grieg accompanied by Pappano at the piano, and Simon Rattle accepting multiple awards.
Such a show, hosted by British actress Honor Blackman, did take place last October. But you had to be in London, at Royal Festival Hall, for the Gramophone Awards 2000.
Launched in 1923, the monthly Gramophone, with a worldwide circulation of 80,000, is the Bentley of classical music magazines: traditionally oriented and expensive--$200 for a basic annual subscription in the U.S., though frequently discounted--but long on prestige and performance.
"The world's best classical music reviews," it boasts on the cover, and in an era of booming competition, that is still probably true, at least for recordings.
Similar prestige accrues to its awards, begun in 1977, largely because they are based on the foundation of those reviews. Unlike the Grammys, which are voted on directly by the 12,000 eligible academy members, most of whom work on the pop side of the musical equation, Gramophone Awards are chosen by critics who live, eat and breathe classical music.
Not surprisingly, such expertise breeds influence.
"Gramophone has been around for so long and is so respected," says Matthew Owen, national sales manager for Harmonia Mundi USA, "ultimately it is the classical award, especially worldwide."
The selection process for the Gramophone Awards starts on the desk of editor James Jolly, who says his magazine receives 3,500 to 4,000 discs to review each year. The Gramophone eligibility period runs from June 1 to May 31. Awards are given in 17 categories, much like Grammy's 11 classical divisions, although Gramophone allots period music its own niches.
Also like the Grammys, the Gramophone categories are constantly evolving. "We had a film music award for a few years," Jolly says, "and we have introduced the recital award because so much of the opera production now seems to go into collections rather than whole operas. A DVD award is highly likely next year--opera looks great on DVD.
"I draw up an enormous list, and I try to take a generous view," Jolly says. "That is, if a recording received a bad review in Gramophone but a good review somewhere else, in it goes. I give our [editors] the list, and that usually adds a few more prospective recordings. That huge list then goes out to our specialist reviewers, who narrow it down to six in each category."
All the reviewers then vote in as many categories as they choose to, which means there are different totals for each. With the idea that opting to vote in a particular category reflects interest, the winner of the category with the most total votes is also named record of the year; in 2000 it was Simon Rattle's account of Mahler's Symphony No. 10 (in Deryck Cooke's performing version) with the Berlin Philharmonic.
"What we are looking for is a combination of things," Jolly says. "Excellence, of course, and a lot of imagination, and originality in choice of repertory or interpretation, shedding light on an old favorite or bringing something new to us. The Mahler 10th, for example, is sort of semi-detached from the core repertory."
For the Grammys, the process begins at the corporate and grass-roots levels, as record companies or academy members enter their favorite projects. These entries are screened by specialists, but only to ensure that they are indeed eligible and in the appropriate category.
Then ballots go out to the entire voting membership, which culls these entries down to five nominees. A second ballot produces the winners, which are not announced until the ceremony.