Going Beyond the Headlines from the 65th Annual Grammy Awards

The big headlines from the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, which were announced yesterday in Los Angeles, are mostly either about Beyoncé now being the recipient of the greatest number of awards in Grammy history (a total of 32) or the surprise win of Harry Styles (beating out Beyoncé) for “Album of the Year.” But there are many other significant wins from last night.

Written By

Frank J. Oteri

Frank J. Oteri is an ASCAP-award winning composer and music journalist. Among his compositions are Already Yesterday or Still Tomorrow for orchestra, the "performance oratorio" MACHUNAS, the 1/4-tone sax quartet Fair and Balanced?, and the 1/6-tone rock band suite Imagined Overtures. His compositions are represented by Black Tea Music. Oteri is the Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and is Composer Advocate at New Music USA where he has been the Editor of its web magazine, NewMusicBox.org, since its founding in 1999.

The big headlines from the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, which were announced yesterday in Los Angeles, are mostly either about Beyoncé now being the recipient of the greatest number of awards in Grammy history (a total of 32) or the surprise win of Harry Styles (beating out Beyoncé) for “Album of the Year.” But there are many other significant wins from last night, many of which, frustratingly, were given before the televised portion of the ceremony began.

Over at New Music USA, we are particularly happy that composer/percussionist/bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington, the artistic director of our Next Jazz Legacy program, received the award for “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” for New Standards Vol. 1 on which she is joined by pianist Kris Davis, bassist Linda May Han Oh, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and guitarist Matthew Stevens in interpretations of 11 compositions from Carrington’s pioneering collection of 101 lead sheets by women composers published by Berklee Press last year. (Click here to listen to and or read a 2021 conversation with Carrington recorded for NewMusicBox’s SoundLives podcast.) Interestingly, Carrington was competing against herself for the “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” award since she also appears on a nominated live quartet set from the Detroit Jazz Festival alongside Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, and Leo Genovese. The other nominees in that category were albums by the Peter Erskine Trio, The Joshua Redman Quartet, and the Yellowjackets. Spalding, who famously received the 2011 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, beating out Justin Bieber, seems to have set a very welcome trend: another jazz artist, vocalist Samara Joy, won the 2023 Best New Artist award.

We were also thrilled to see that the New York Youth Symphony’s recording of works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, and Valerie Coleman (the latter two of whom are part of New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices program) received the award for “Best Orchestral Performance.” It seems that the days when all the classical awards went to the umpteeth recording of music by a long-dead European composer from the past are finally over. As a result, thankfully these awards are now as relevant to the present moment as the awards in all the pop music genres generally are. To wit, the winner for “Best Opera Recording” was for the Metropolitan Opera’s extraordinary performance of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones, the first opera by a Black composer ever staged at the Met. (What’s perhaps even more amazing is that both of the other nominees in this category were also contemporary American operas: Matthew Aucoin‘s Eurydice and Anthony Davis‘s X.) The Attacca Quartet received “Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance” for their performances of three hefty instrumental works by Caroline Shaw as well as a few of Shaw’s songs for which she joined them as vocalist. The winner of “Best Choral Performance” went to the Philadelphia-based chorus The Crossing, under the direction of Donald Nally, for Born, a disc featuring a 13-movement choral cycle by Edie Hill and two somewhat shorter works by Michael Gilbertson. “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” was awarded to the polystylistic string trio Time for Three for their album Letters For the Future containing two concertos written expressly for them by Jennifer Higdon and Kevin Puts which they performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Xian Zhang. “Best Classical Compendium” was awarded to An Adoption Story, a collection of pieces by Oklahoma-based composer Kitt Wakeley. Admittedly, the recipient of the award for “Best Classical Solo Vocal Album,” an album of art songs performed by soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Yannick Nézet-Séguin called Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene, is primarily devoted to mélodies by Gabriel Fauré and Reynaldo Hahn. But it also contains some more recent fare by, again, Caroline Shaw and Kevin Puts, as well as Nico Muhly.

An award that is always of great significance to the composer community is the award for “Best Contemporary Classical Composition.” And this year, as per usual, the stakes were high. The nominees were Andy Akiho (for his Ligneous Suite for marimba and string quartet), Derek Bermel (for his string quartet Intonations), New Music USA Program Council member Carlos Simon (for his 45-minute hip-hop oratorio Requiem for the Enslaved), 91-year-old Russian émigré Sofia Gubaidulina (the one non-American, for her orchestral work The Wrath Of God), and Kevin Puts, who was the winner, for the triple concerto Contact recorded by Time for Three on their aforementioned “Best Classical Instrumental Solo”-winning album. This has been an extraordinary year for Puts whose most recent opera The Hours received its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera earlier this season. (Puts is the guest on our next episode of SoundLives, which is currently in production, and in our conversation he talked about how during the pandemic he was working on Contact and The Hours at the same time even though his usual method in the past was to focus on one piece at a time.)

There are actually two composition awards among the categories. There’s additionally an award called “Best Instrumental Composition” for which apparently so-called contemporary classical composers are not eligible (and vice versa). Considering the multiple genres that informed this year’s “classical” nominees as well as the “non-classical” ones, siloing the composition award seems anachronistic. Still, it is great that two composers were honored in this year’s proceedings and it would not benefit anyone to reduce awards for composers down to only one. The honor for “Best Instrumental Composition” went to jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer for the somewhat “classical”-influenced Refuge, from his album Playdate, which combines his septet with a 17-member string orchestra plus harp and French horn.  The other composers nominated in this category, though also nominally categorized as jazz artists, mix a great variety of styles in their work as well: Paquito D’Rivera (for African Tales), New Music USA Advisory Council member Miguel Zenón (for El País Invisible), Danilo Pérez (for “Al-Musafir Blues” from his Fronteras (Borders) Suite), and Pascal Le Boeuf (for Snapshots).

The 2022 revival cast album of the late Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 musical Into The Woods received the nod for Best Musical Theater Album. (The original cast album of the show picked up the award back in 1989.) But what is perhaps of greater historic significance is that Germaine Franco, who was the first woman to score a Disney animated feature film in 2021 with Encanto, received “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media” for her efforts.

All in all a total of 91 awards were given last night, far too many to enumerate here, so apologies that this essay written in haste inevitably missed some important ones. You can explore the complete list of nominees and winners here.