In the first half of spring, many important music awards ceremonies took place – both in Lithuania and in the world. After them, as under the wheels of the tractor, dusty, distracting clouds of reflection arose. It is asked what music is good, better, best. Which music is worth what and where does that value germinate in music at all. Lost what people are raised above others. Value tournaments play a success, offering them fame and reputation. While the awards themselves are of no value, their attention to the public and the press, the opening up of new professional opportunities and the rise in the number of online music broadcasts are becoming a powerful cultivator of musicians ’success. In addition, they motivate and encourage the developer to go further in their professional path. In reality, however, things are not so simple. Expectations explode behind the awards, with competition and outrage among those categorized as winners and losers. The relationship between commercial music gifts and classical music is becoming more and more complicated year by year. There are eternal moral dilemmas in the art competition as a world. Satisfied with the results of the awards is simply not the case.
The changes in the cultural institutional system of the last century – the spread of capitalist ideology, technology and economy – driven by globalization – have led to art being often perceived as a game today. The rules are dictated by the global economy of cultural prestige, which raises global competition for musicians and agents for more “monopolistic” positions. The art market and value are becoming increasingly intertwined, deeply intertwined with international chains of political, social and economic power. New music patrons – industrialists, financiers and the media – are beginning to create a new type of popular international event. Prizes and awards become their tool to support the new canon and to instill modern musical traditions and artistic values. The creation of artistic value is also associated with them. Not surprisingly, the number of competitive cultural events has grown disproportionately over the past century.
The spirit of that time is perfectly reflected in the Olympic art competition organized in 1912–1948. The International Olympic Committee thus sought to restore the essence of the ancient Olympic Games, making the exhibition and music festival part of the traditional sports Olympics. Artists were awarded gold, silver and gold medals in various categories of art, architecture, music and literature. Vaccinated by international homology of art and sports, praising victories over competitors as proof of their worth. It has become customary to define musicians by their success and achievements. Even today, the biographies of musicians hung with medals and diplomas are reminiscent of athletes. Developers from abroad build relationships with new audiences through shared signs of success and quality – they are presented as winners of internationally recognized awards. Although the Olympic Art Competition has not been held since 1948, the Grammy Awards, full of American cultural rhythm in the press, are still called “Cultural Olympics.” Before the awards, the press guesses the winners, collects the favorites, analyzes their advantages and disadvantages, calculates the probable reasons for the loss, the probability of victory. The Grammy is followed by complaints of dishonesty, bias and even a non-transparent, corrupt voting system.
These allegations escalated last year when former CEO Deborah Dugan filed a complaint alleging that award review committees bypass the democratic voting structure and select artists with whom they have personal or business relationships. And that she was fired for trying to raise these issues with the board. Grammy denied the allegations, but it must be acknowledged that competitive comparison and evaluation of art hides many dilemmas. After all, the criteria for evaluating “good” music can also be beauty, impact, innovation, performance technique or popularity. And finally, compliance with the value standard of awards can in no way be equated with the artistic value of music. However, the Grammy has the weight to internalize collective social categories by defining, for example, what is sacred, encouraging in music, and what is indecent and inappropriate. Which musician is accepted into the community and which is rejected. As a result, the goal of the Grammy evaluation to recognize the highest quality artwork is compromised by the pressure to reward the success achieved by musicians.
As the composition of the committees is kept confidential in order to protect them from industry lobbying and fan attacks, the decisions of the voting commissions remain secret and not publicly reasoned. If more precise evaluation criteria become clearer, the awards would become an opportunity to raise new public discourses – to present the directions of the art movement and the interests of the authors. Also, Grammy Awards often change the criteria for their judgments in an attempt to catch up
the changing realities of the world of music and shake the etiquette of antiquity. The model of the early music industry, with commercial radio hits and large music publishers, gives way to the principles of the algorithm. Grammy’s monopoly position is slipping due to music broadcasting platforms and their newly established music awards ceremonies. They try Vytis based on statistics provided by algorithms and evaluating new music formats released online.
Music broadcasts have doubled in number in recent years. For a good five years now, according to broadcast statistics created by algorithms, success has been measured – tops are collected, awards are created, etc. Their growing role in creating the value of music raises new dilemmas. Often musicians become hostages to popularity and the work itself becomes curbed by algorithmic standards. Listeners are also curbed – they can choose only from the search results offered by the algorithm and artificially created playlists. Because music directly affects the listener’s self and the meaning of the world, the algorithm acquires the power to manipulate human mood, values, and identity. In addition, under the new rules, the established dictation of listening habits translates music into a commodity and forms a common sound for all. After all, year after year, the most popular tables are dominated by the same names.
Today, musicians are promoted to the same standard by the Grammy Awards. Tooln singer Maynard James Keenan called the Grammy a “giant advertising machine for the music industry. They do not respect art or the artist for what he has created – here the music business celebrates itself. “In fact, after the ceremony, the winners’ music broadcasts and sales increase significantly, actively shaping the cultural environment and people’s listening habits. are even more harmonized.The algorithm is like a traffic light leading everyone to the highway, robbing the listener from a picturesque and experiential suburban road.
Not surprisingly, with each decade, classical music, which is becoming more and more on the fringes of the highway, is having a hard and painful time in the context of commercial music awards. Genre exclusion, especially at the 2021 ceremony, was felt almost physically. Before the evening’s live television show, the remaining awards in the non-popular music categories will be handed out at the Zoom conference in the afternoon. The winners were given half a minute for remote speaking on their laptop camera. It was frustrating when, due to technical glitches, they sounded like robots bursting from under the ground, or fish fluttering, forgetting to turn on the microphones, until their moment of triumph was shortened by the arriving golden screensaver. Most of the winners didn’t show up on the screens at all and the lone presenter on the stage embarrassingly accepted the win for them.
Not surprisingly, the Grammy is not taken seriously by classical musicians – a popular commercial event that awards the most famous names and maintains public opinion, it does not have as much weight here as the Tchaikovsky Competition or the Pulitzer Prize for Music. And yet, classical music gladly borrows Grammy’s quality benchmark from the world of pop music – it has the power to change a musician’s career.
Looking at the winners of the classical music categories, another communion emerges. All international competitions are based on a certain culture. Although the Grammys declare the foundations of cultural internationalism, even today they are often biased in favor of local artists – to attract the press of other countries and to promote local culture on a global scale. Composers of all generations of American classical music – Charles Ives, George Gershwin, Richard Danielpour, Christopher Theofanidis, Jennifer Higdon, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Michael Tilson Thomas, Christopher Rouse – shrug their shoulders in the winning circle.
In the first category of classical music, the recording of Deutsche Gramophone – four symphonies by Charles Ives, conducted by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustav Dudamel, was chosen as the best symphonic performance of the year. “American Original” Charles Ives is one of the first internationally renowned American composers. An experimenter full of ideas, he was the first to use many musical innovations in his work, only later widely applied in music. The recording of his four symphonies can be interpreted as the evolution of American music – the transition from the old European world to the new. Charles Ives explored new combinations of traditional classical forms and American folk music that freed him from the enchanting European standards and traditions of classical music. The golden standard for the performance of the Ives Symphonies was set at the premiere by Leonardo Bernstein. Gustav Dudamel’s interpretation is a bit lighter and more refined, he perfectly identified all the semantic details, and also enriched the work with new insights. Imbued with the restless energy of the composer, it shines with inventive details, the thickness of colors and textures, impulsive mood swings, hints of popular American melodies, pioneering techniques of duality and polyrhythm. The unconventional development of music and the fragmented melodic writing make the piece difficult to predict and allow you to enjoy sonorous anarchy. The Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra played with intense intensity, reminiscent of Bernstein’s recording spirit. No one came to zoom in to pick up the award.
The best recording of the opera is “Porgy and Bess” by another American composer George Gershwin. The award was picked up on behalf of all by Bess, the opera’s prima donna Angel Blue, who presented laurels to the deceased Met opera team. This most popular American opera opened the last pre-pandemic season of 2019–2020, and was also broadcast in cinemas all over the world, including Lithuania. The insightful and sensitive interpretation of conductor David Robertson allows even the most worn-out melodies to sound fresh. The lively performance of the show, the theatrical potential of African-American music, brought to the wave the strong voices of soloists Eric Owens and Angel Blue, masterfully conveying the emotional subtleties and conflicts of the opera. Gershwin’s classics won the awards as another pride of American classical music culture.
The best choral performance was again awarded to the work of the American composer Richard Danielpour – the dramatic oratorio The Passion of Yessuah. In 2019, the piece was first released by Naxos Music Label, recorded by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Choir, UCLA chamber singers and soloists Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J’Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon and James K. Bass. The piece was conducted by JoAn Falletta. This monumental work has been composed for twenty-five years. It is an intimate retelling of the last hours of Christ on Earth, based on a mixture of Hebrew scriptures and Christian Gospel texts in English and Hebrew. At the center of the oratorio are Mary the Mother of Jesus (performed by soprano Hila Plitmann) and Mary Magdalene (performed by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges). These women played a significant role in Jesus ’mission, but were removed from the narrative during the Roman Empire. The goal of composer Danielpour was to return to the original conception of Jesus, free from the later fallacies of the Christian church. While the oratorio tells a story of spiritual anxiety, suffering, love and redemption, the piece sounds dignified and festive, bribing with powerful and intense choral performances in stunning orchestral colors. Written in the style of American Romanticism, the oratorio is easy to listen to and impresses the ears of the general public. No one withdrew the award.
The award for best chamber music performance went to the Pacifica Quartet’s latest album, Contemporary Voices, which features tracks written specifically for the quartet by three Pulitzer Prize winners – Shulamit Ran, Jennifer Higdon, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Compositions of different character form the image of the composers and show the flexibility of the quartet musicians, the versatility of their repertoire. The quartet in this recording is characterized by clear interpretation, excellent playing, exceptional sound, virtuoso, energetic playing, joy of making music. All three tracks reveal music from very different angles. Shulamit Ran’s third string quartet, entitled “Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory”, is an emotionally influenced musical memory that gives dignity to the victims of the Holocaust, and in particular the memory of the late Auschwitz artist Felix Nussbaum. Jennifer Higdon’s three-part composition Voices ripples from excitement to calm, technically recreating different internal states. The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1983, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, dedicated a saxophone quintet to the album. Saxophonist Otis Murphy, a professor at Indiana University, joined the Pacifica Quartet here. The confused timbres of strings and saxophone create a changeable mood here, combining energetic passages and calm melancholy. The Grammy has virtually taken over half of the quartet, an energetic violinist and a silent cellist.
Violinist Richard O’Neil, receiving the award for best classical instrumental solo, noted that “a great day for viola” had dawned. The award went to Christopher Theofanid’s Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra, which he recorded with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Alan Miller. Theofanidio’s music is pleasing to the ear, romantically lyrical, subtle, rich in texture. Richard O’Neil’s solo is impeccably flexible and virtuoso.
Another energetic woman took home the award for best solo vocal album. Sarah Brailey and Dashon Burton by composer Ethel Smyth in 1930. The Prison symphony was accompanied by the Experiential Choir and Orchestra, conducted by James Blachly. It is one of Smyth’s best late works, full of creative risk and performance challenges. The scene features a conversation between an incorrectly convicted dying prisoner and his own soul. D. Burton’s bass baritone sounds firm, sincere, temperamental. S. Brailey’s soprano has a soft sheen. As a soul, it embodies the very existence, not some fantastic being that has nothing to do with reality. Both on stage, they curb the loud, mesmerizing energy of the music and dare to sound the charged flow of dialogue. The provocative, challenging work seems to have inner strengths, hides a great deal of creative power.
The record celebrating the last 25 years of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas working with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra was chosen as the best compendium of classical music. On that occasion, the musician puts on the composer’s shoes and presents his work album, which includes recordings of compositions such as “From the Diary of Anne Frank” and “Meditations on Rilke”. The first is a dramatic work for the narrator and orchestra – symphonic variations divided into four parts, in which are excerpts from the diary of a young German Anne Frank, drawing a painful and menacing portrait of the Nazis during World War II. The narrative accompanying the narrative is sensitively expressed by soprano Isabel Leonard. This piece became a breakthrough in Michael Tilson Thomas ’career. More than three decades later, Michael Tilson Thomas has created a series of songs “Meditations on Rilkė”. The piece takes listeners on an emotional and exciting journey based on lyrical poems by German modernist Rainer Maria Rilkė. They are revived by soloists – mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass baritone Ryan McKinny.
The best contemporary classical composition of this year was chosen by the composer, who unexpectedly lost the world of American music last year, Christopher Rouse’s Fifth Symphony, performed by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero. The composer is considered a successor to the American Symphony Line, with some even calling him the greatest American symphonist of all time. Christopher Rous was inspired to become a composer by the legendary Beethoven Fifth Symphony, which is why he did not avoid the famous four-note rhythm quotes and other melodic, structural influences when composing his fifth. Although one part, the piece is clearly structured, moving through slow and fast-paced movements. Tradition here meets provocation. The second play on the album, Supplica, creates yet another lyrical, gentle prayer mood. During the third work – a concert for orchestra – the composer in his eloquent musical language hopes to evoke the listener into many emotional states – from turbulence to serenity. Undoubtedly, the composer’s work is worth being immortalized and sound long in the future. The award was withdrawn by his widow.