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Classical honors have an L.A. note

The L.A. Opera garners best classical album and best opera recordings, while pianist Gloria Cheng takes the instrumental soloist prize.

February 09, 2009|MARK SWED | MUSIC CRITIC

It was a very good Grammy year for the home team.

Los Angeles Opera was a big winner with best classical and best opera recordings for its DVD of Kurt Weill's "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny." Gloria Cheng, one of L.A.'s leading pianists, won instrumental soloist (without orchestra) for her CD of contemporary scores, including ones by Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Esa-Pekka Salonen and consulting composer for new music, Steven Stucky. Salonen's name showed up again, this time as conductor (of the Swedish Radio Symphony) for violinist Hilary Hahn, in concertos by Schoenberg and Sibelius, winner of best instrumental soloist with orchestra.

John Corigliano's "Mr. Tambourine Man" was also twice honored -- for the work and for its soloist, soprano Hila Plitmann. The local connection here is Bob Dylan, whose lyrics to seven of his early songs are given surprising new music.

What, if anything, does it all mean? Cheng's disc contains terrific pieces, fabulously played and in great sound -- a very smart choice for Grammyland. Although "Mahagonny" is musically well-performed, it is hampered by a simple-minded production. The Corigliano songs miss the Dylan boat by a mile, serving neither pop nor classical masters.

So, again, what does it all mean? A lot of Grammy voters are locals. And too often the nominees were inexplicably selected. In the orchestra performance category, for instance, the great Chicago Symphony was twice nominated. Its competitors were the considerably less impressive Iceland Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Hollywood Studio Symphony (whatever that is).

The Chicago orchestra won -- for Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4, conducted by Bernard Haitink -- and thankfully saved the Grammys from serious embarrassment.


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