Yale alumni will be well represented at this month’s upcoming Grammy Awards, boasting 11 nominations across six of the Awards’ seven classical music categories.
In November 2019, the Recording Academy awarded Yalies nominations in the categories of Best Orchestral Performance, Best Opera Recording, Best Choral Performance, Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, Best Classical Compendium and Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
Recording companies submit recordings to the Academy’s voting members, who vote on the submissions to determine the list of nominees. For the classical music categories, a review committee takes a second vote before the list is finalized. For each category, the committee selected five or six nominees.
In the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category, four of the six composers nominated are Yale alumni: Derek Bermel ’89, Andrew Norman MUS ’09, Caroline Shaw MUS ’07 and Julia Wolfe MUS ’86.
“I think our program is a microcosm of the greater compositional world in that we have so many different kinds of voices represented here,” said Christopher Theofanidis MUS ’94 ’97, who chairs the School of Music’s Composition Department and is a two-time Grammy nominee and former voting member of the Recording Academy. “I know for sure that all of these artists would point to that sense of plurality in our program as having given them the confidence to follow their own unique voices as far as they could.”
Bermel — who did not graduate from Yale School of Music, but Yale College — was nominated for his piece “Migration Series for Jazz Ensemble and Orchestra.” Written in 2006, its five movements include “After a Lynching” and “Riots and Moon Shines.” The piece takes influence from musicians including Charlie Parker, Stevie Wonder and Wynton Marsalis.
The works by Norman and Shaw also earned nominations in other categories. The recording of Norman’s piece “Sustain” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel was also nominated for Best Orchestral Performance. Shaw’s album “Orange,” recorded by the Attacca Quartet, received recognition for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. Both composers’ award-winning works were written within the last two years.
Theofanidis described Norman as exhibiting a “detailed sense of exploration into the far nooks and crannies of [music composition]” and Shaw as a “tremendous communicator with a broad stylistic appeal.”
Through “Sustain,” Norman explores music’s relationship to time. He repeats the same motif 10 times in a row, increasing in speed until the music that spanned several minutes at the work’s beginning only spans a second or two.
According to Norman’s program notes, playing with the passage of time places the listeners “in relation to things in nature which are unfathomably bigger and longer than we are. We are not doing enough to sustain this planet that sustains us. We are not preparing our home for those who will inhabit it in the next hundred, thousand or million years.”
Shaw received her degree from Yale in violin performance, not composition. She has contributed to songs by Kanye West and Nas. In 2013, she became the youngest composer to win a Pulitzer Prize. “Orange,” the first album dedicated entirely to Shaw’s work, contains six separate pieces and over an hour of music. Although the album is written for string quartet — a traditional musical ensemble that began with Franz Joseph Haydn almost 300 years ago — she writes in a novel way that upends the listener’s expectation for the ensemble. The album’s second piece, “Valencia,” refers to a type of orange often found in grocery stores.
Wolfe was nominated for her piece “Fire in my mouth,” written for a large ensemble of 146 soprano and alto voices and an orchestra. The number of vocalists represents the number of garment workers who perished in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
“Many composers express their frustration at the status quo by writing ‘angry music,’ but Wolfe instead chooses to tell of under-told tragedies past, leading the audience to closely consider their relevance today,” said Emery Kerekes ’21, who attended the piece’s premiere. “Perhaps New York’s factory conditions have improved, but the dirt-stained children’s chorus and layers of pining Yiddish and Italian folk songs of ‘Fire in my mouth’ remind us that these working conditions are still very much a factor in many peoples’ lives.”
The Yale Glee Club, of which Kerekes is a member, will perform one of Wolfe’s newly commissioned works in April.
Yale alumni were also nominated for performances: opera singers Virginia Warnken MUS ’13 and Andrew Craig Brown MUS ’11 ’12 were nominated in the Best Opera Recording Category. Warnken was a featured soloist in two Charpentier operas as a member of Boston Early Music Festival vocal ensembles. Brown received recognition for Picker’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.
Conductor Craig Hella Johnson MUS ’90 ’95 was nominated in the category Best Choral Performance for “The Hope of Loving,” and composer Christopher Cerrone’s MUS ’09 ’14 work “The Pieces That Fall to Earth,” was awarded a spot among nominees for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. Producer Harold Meltzer MUS ’97 ’00 won a nomination for Best Classical Compendium for his “Songs and Structures” recording, which features Paul Appleby and Natalia Katyukova.
As a member of Third Coast Percussion, a percussion quartet formed in 2005, David Skidmore MUS ’08 received a nomination in Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. Skidmore won a Grammy award in 2016 for the quartet’s performance of a Steve Reich minimalist piece, “Music for 18 Musicians.” Third Coast Percussion was the first percussion group to win a Grammy award in the classical categories.
This year’s nominated album, “Perpetulum,” features music by both Third Coast’s own members and well-known minimalist composers Philip Glass and Gavin Bryars.
“Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities,” a piece Skidmore composed for “Perpetulum,” uses metrical techniques to make the music move at different speeds at the same time.
“You can take the same few measures of music and divide them up, so that different players are emphasizing different speeds of the music at the same time even though it all gels together,” Skidmore said. “It’s a real privilege to help feel like we get to push the whole genre forward.”
The presentation of the 2020 Grammy awards will take place on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Phoebe Liu | firstname.lastname@example.org