Grammys are accused of fixing classical content

Grammys are accused of fixing classical content


norman lebrecht

January 04, 2022

We have received numerous complaints that this year’s Grammys are muddying the classical award sections with non-classical entries. Complaints to the organisers have drawn no useful explanation.

Classical producer Asgerdur Sigurdardottir writes: Grammy Awards has included two recordings in the classical categories that IMHO are not classical at all. This should concern all of us classical musicians (in the US at least). At issue is “Best Instrumental Solo Performance (Classical)” where Curtis Stewart’s record was included and “Best Contemporary Classical Composition (Classical)” in which Jon Batiste’s recording was included.

I encourage anyone that is concerned about this to write to Julie Smith, Senior Classical Project Manager at the Recording Academy, Departmental Manager, Awards.

From Dr. Apostolos Paraskevas, Professor at Berklee College of Music: I am a voting member of the Recording Academy for several years and I have seen minor inconsistencies over the years in the results but nothing in comparison of what is happening this year. As a classical musician I know what ‘classical music’ is and with respect I do teach it to my students and serve it as an active musician myself. I wanted you to know of what is happening right now.
I am about to vote for the 64th Grammy Awards and I see under the ‘Best Contemporary CLASSICAL Composition’ category the name and the work of Jon Batiste with his recording Movement 11. Furthermore, under the category ‘Best CLASSICAL Instrumental solo’ (this is for solo instrumentalists with or without orchestra) the name of Stewart Curtis with the recording ‘Of Power’ (I have no idea how this ended up here!!). I am sure that the above-mentioned musicians and recordings do deserve the recognition BUT they are totally mis-categorized just because their music is NOT classical neither CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL as the worldwide acceptable definition of the term ‘Classical’. I am not sure what my esteemed colleagues were thinking while voting prior to this but this is a mistake that someone overlooked and unfortunately this jeopardizes the credibility of the Grammy Awards. If this is NOT a mistake then it is better to abolish all categories because then it’s just embarrassing.


  • A.L. says:

    Of course they are, by design. It’s no accident. Another reason why the Grammys are no longer meaningful in any way, shape or form.

  • Bone says:

    The DEI crowd wins again!

  • dalet says:

    “As a classical musician I know what ‘classical music’ is”

    That’s nice, but instead of simply asserting “I know it where I hear it”, how about some arguments as to what your definition of “classical” is, why it ought to prevail over that of your colleagues who are also classical musicians, and why these two artists do not fit your definition of classical?

    (Funny, most people would think “contemporary classical” is an oxymoron through and through.)

    • The Thinker says:

      What I heard when I listened to this was not classical music in any shape. This is as close to Chick Correa as you can get without ripping off Chick Correa. Did Correa’s Crystal Silence album win best Contemporary Classical album? No. When in doubt, call it classical. Loved the recording I heard, however, it wasn’t classical.

    • Jenner says:

      Well said. Requiring a clear definition is a good start.

  • Stuart says:

    Can’t imagine anyone with a serious interest in recorded classical music having any interest in the Grammys – the Grammys have not been on my radar for decades. I guess I understand why a record producer might care, but really there is nothing to see here.

  • Recovering Music Executive says:

    When were the Grammys EVER credible? The only time they ever helped sell recordings was when someone got a chance to perform on the show itself. Which was a rarity particularly for non-crossover projects. It’s all nonsense. But it does mean a lot to the artists. I’m sure it may help a little bit for concert bookings. “Grammy nominated“. There’s a lot of clamoring for votes. And many of the American orchestras vote… The Grammys always annoyed me.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Who would be surprised?

  • drummerman says:

    Grammy nominations are made by the membership, each of whom is allowed to vote in only a certain number of categories. (Can’t remember how many. I let my NARAS membership expire a few years ago.) So “x” number of professional musicians out there voted to nominate these works in the Classical category. How do we explain that?

  • Karl says:

    Batiste has 11 nominations in different categories. He must be super woke.

    • Bone says:

      Or maybe he checks another box…

    • David Rowe says:

      He is a brilliant musician. I agree with those who would not place his Grammy-nominated work under “classical”, but find myself continually delighted by how he integrates classical references and riffs on The Late Show. A genuine treasure.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    As I understand it, all voting members vote in all categories, which is absurd. They’re playing on ignorance and name-recognition, which is why people like Vladimir Horowitz and Sir Georg Solti (and Aretha Franklin) kept winning year after year after year. Not that they didn’t deserve most of the accolades that they both received, but even they would have admitted that some of the things that got them Grammy awards were not deserving of the honor.

    • Mark LeVine says:

      No longer. That was changed recently and members can only vote in a limited number of non-general (album of the year, new artist, etc) categories. The goal was to encourage members to use their few votes wisely, in genres about which they have real interest/expertise. Not perfect, but better than before, and it does make this a bit confusing, as the song, while beautiful, seems like a contemporary jazz song, not classical.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    To quote Gaston from “Gigi”, “it’s a bore”.

  • Kathleen E King says:

    ONE more example of perversion of classical and classy music in order to prove how “diverse” we all are. First that mess at MET in order to “debut” a “black” new opera with an all black cast despite the fact that a really GOOD and established classical piece (albeit by a Jewish composer who nonetheless by contract demanded an all black cast to the detriment of the finest chorus in opera, the MET’s) being already in rep. “Fire Shut Up in my Bones” has not proven itself yet was placed in rep ahead of many other far better works. Now these two instances. They may be very fine musicians and the works good, but they are NOT “classical” and should not be included.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      In viewing such comments as these (and many others on this site), one could be forgiven for thinking they’d accidently entered an online KKK rally.

    • Krunoslav says:

      What nonsense. PORGY AND BESS is already in the Met repertory. By your seriously flawed logic, no new operas would ever be done there.

  • Monsoon says:

    “As a classical musician I know what ‘classical music’ is…”

    At moments like this, I wish Leonard Bernstein was still around, because he’d tell this guy to go to hell

  • Gil Gross says:

    In the department of no one cares about the Grammys:

  • Plush says:

    This year The Recording Academy (NARAS) abandoned the use of oversight committees with classical knowledge. No wonder these errant miscategorized tracks crept in. There are few at “NAY-RASS” (or do you say “NAIR-ASS?”) who know anything about classical music. NARAS is a rap music organization.

  • sabrinensis says:

    It’s been heading this way for some time. In the past, when the classical committee received something that seemed out of place, the release would be played for the committee, then there would be an open discussion followed by a decision to send it to the committee devoted to the genre that was thought most applicable to that particular release. There was a very experienced committee chair who went to great pains in trying to keep the classical genre identifiably classical. He kept things at bay for a long time.

    Changes in and elimination of certain categories exacerbated the problem. Another issue lies in the submission process. Artists and companies will routinely enter their product in as many categories as possible no matter how tenuous a connection their release may have to its primary genre. The goal is to have multiple shots at the apple.

    That’s because at the end of the day, the Grammys do matter. It’s a professional award given by professionals in the industry and to be recognized for exceptional work by your peers is a very special thing. I’ve seen people who consistently talked dirt about the Grammys just lose their shit when they got nominated and won.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    Absolutely hilarious that anyone still thinks the Grammys – as they relate to classical music – have any relevance or that the results have ever been determined in a fair manner.

  • japecake says:

    Not much different than awarding the Pulitzer Prize to a rap album because “We’ll show ’em!”

  • Rob Barker says:

    Reparations a plenty here

  • Garry says:

    With no disrespect towards the artists and musicians, however, the Grammys are a joke.

  • Ed in Texas says:

    It’s very likely Jon Batiste should be disqualified from consideration for any award. The Grammys are being show on CBS Television here in the states. That’s the network that happens to employ him as bandleader and musical director on The Late Show With Steven Colbert, so I detect a conflict of interest there.

    • V. Lind says:

      Well, that’s a nonsense. CBS has no vote in nominations or winners. A working musician should hardly be disqualified on those grounds.

      But get him in the right category. The rationale for these nominations is clear, coupled with the ignorance of those who think anything other than hip-hop or country is closing in on classical.

  • Larry W says:

    Asgerdur Sigurdardottir writes: At issue is “Best Instrumental Solo Performance (Classical)” where Curtis Stewart’s record was included and “Best Contemporary Classical Composition (Classical)” in which Jon Batiste’s recording was included.

    These are categories #81 and #84 out of 86 total, which seems to show the Grammy Awards don’t give much importance to the “classical music” categories. The two contested recordings will most likely sell more than the others in their respective categories. Even so, their inclusion is highly questionable.

    • sabrinensis says:

      There used to be more than one hundred categories. Some categories were eliminated and others were combined, like Best Instrumental Solo and Best Instrumental Solo with Orchestra. That pits, say, a solo Beethoven piano sonata recording against a Tchaikovsky piano concerto recording. These are apples and oranges, so to speak. Makes it very tough for a violin sonata album to win.

      Many, many recent changes instituted by NARAS are highly questionable and have reaped well deserved withering criticism. The elimination of specialist committees is an especially execrable one.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Frankly, the Grammy Awards are meaningless nowadays. In an earlier time when magazines like Stereo Review, High Fidelity and even Time regularly carried record reviews, and we had actual record stores, the Grammy’s carried some weight. But all those things are gone and so is any value of the Grammy. Of course, The Gramophone records of the year are pretty meaningless, too. Sad times.

  • PS says:

    A few weeks ago I checked Billboard to see what the top “classical album” was, and it was Josh Groban’s Noel. (Again!)

  • Inez Graer says:

    Agree. Life is tough enough for Classical musicians at this time and by interfering in a definitive category is not helping.

  • Nina says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Norman.
    The main injustice of the Grammys in relation to classical music is the lack of normal nominations and categories. “Classical instrumental solo”, for example, is like an amateur festival where everyone plays different instruments. How can we compare a guitarist and a pianist? This is nonsense. This is why talented (and independent) composers and musicians like An Vedi (with strong the Conservatory education) did not receive nominations, but everyone else did.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    What is that guy really playing in the video?

  • Joe says:

    It’s classical alright, classic Chic Corea as someone else stated. I didn’t even hear a hint of classical. However, it’s 10,000 times better than F bombs, digital loops and auto-tune.

  • Dongsok Shin says:

    Classical Grammys have been a joke for decades. Though some effort was made years ago to not let (for example) orchestras buy votes, it still is more about popularity or name-recognition, and not serious classical music selections. There are not enough categories, the whole classical genre is marginalized especially in the TV broadcast (was it last year where they had a stand-up comedian who obviously knew nothing about classical music make bad jokes about the category?), and really, every Yo-Yo Ma recording (I love Yo-Yo, but…)? Every Beethoven Symphony 9? I also get so tired of classical bios which start “Grammy nominated artist, so-and-so…” because so what? There is absolutely no comparison between a Grammy and a Gramophone award, though the Gramophone leans heavily in the direction of British artists and recordings, which is understandable, but often ignores important recordings that ain’t Brit.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    “Grammy” is what I called my grandmother when I was four.

  • Wannaplayguitar says:

    Does anyone write ‘Classical’ music these days? I know people play twinkly minuet and trios and stuff marked Allegro non Troppo but seriously in this post-millennial world does anyone (at all) write recognisably classical music?

    • EastmanEnvy says:

      I would argue we are currently living in one of the best ages of formal art music (classical) with one of the largest pools of great composers that has ever existed. Unless by “recognisably classical” you mean resembling music from the literal classical age, in which case thank goodness no. But in terms of contemporary classical, there are so many and such diverse composers today that I hardly go a week without discovering someone new who’s simply incredible. But then again, my interest in formal music rarely includes composers post-baroque or pre-WWII (with some exceptions), so our ontological horizons might have very different sunrises 😉

      • guest says:

        Not only ontological but also common vocabulary horizons; I’d like so much to call it linguistics but it ain’t, it’s just vocabulary. Why you would paste the “classical” label on post-WWII music beats me. “Contemporary classical” is an oxymoron; this is the whole point of the comments here.
        Methinks you are also using superlatives a tad lavishly. A large pool or whatever is never “incredible”, they’re mediocre par excellence. If there were a cure for mediocrity humanity would have found it before the last ice age.

  • Too bad Mozart died in 1791. If he were alive today he would most probably win Best Composer, Best Performer, Best Improvisation, Best Comedy, and Best Dressed.

  • PS says:

    Canponed and postcelled until further notice.

  • I agree with Panos. I been a member for 30 years and it seems to be a problem

  • opus30 says:

    There are dozens of worthy classical recording labels, but come Grammy time, boutique label Reference Recordings usually has multiple nominees EVERY year. I like the label, but something is off here.

  • In 1979 I had 2 nominations for Best Engineered Recording: Classical, both with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The award went to the OST of “Sweeney Todd” which at the time was still enjoying a popular run on the Broadway stage. With all respect to the winners, I still feel that it should have been entered in the OST category, and not compete with traditional classical engineering.

  • As I look at the list of past nominees I see some awful stuff that was waved in as “classical” like Frank Zappa and then many years where no nominations were made at all.

    It’s late to be complaining about consistency.

    • Mark LeVine says:

      Zappa’s was clearly classical in its form , aesthetic and sound, and was conducted by none other than Pierre Boulez, so, not at all a fair comparison

  • Classicalover says:

    This is some sort of mishmash of jazz and classical music and therefore IMHO not true classical music in the purest sense of the word.Don’t know in what category it really fits……

  • Richard Hertz says:

    They call it the CLASSICAL awards but I’ve also seen a ton of BAROQUE, ROMANTIC, and, CONTEMPORARY works also. Complete nonsense. If it’s not Mozart it’s not good for the Grammys, I say.

  • A Dolfadam says:

    They’ve always been fixed. The standards are just being lowered even further.

  • “As a classical musician I know what ‘classical music’ is…”
    No, I don’t think you do. Classical music is music that lasts. New music may be orchestral music, chamber music, opera, etc. but it has not stood the test of time. This is *contemporary* music. The best shall abide. John Dowland is still with us, and it may be on the mark to predict that, in 200 years, people will still be singing Lennon-McCartney. THEN, their songs will be classical music.