Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Forgoing Mediocrity for a Time: The 2013 Echo Klassik Award Winners

     Awards for achievements in music are plentiful. There are perhaps none so auspicious and yet openly mocked as the Grammy Awards of the United States, an award which still carries tremendous weight with its bestowment upon many an artist. However, it is rather a more difficult task to find music awards devoted exclusively to classical music. One award bearing a decent amount of prestige in at least recent years has been the Classical Brit Awards. This revered establishment saw its own demise when it embraced crossover ensemble Il Divo as its Artist of the Decade in 2010, and its name was swiftly altered to simply the Classic Brits. However, no facade is powerful enough to change the reality that it is a laughing stock among all who follow classical music.

Joyce DiDonato with her Echo Klassik Award (Image courtesy of
     Despite such a depressing situation in England, Germany presents us with the Echo Klassik Awards, which are to many the classical equivalent of the Grammy Awards. While the Grammy Awards do have categories reserved for classical music, these are threatened to be removed at any time if popularity for them should wane; the Echo Klassik Awards, being an offspring of the German Echo Awards for music that has developed into its own association, deal exclusively in classical music. Governing the awards on both accounts is Germany's music recording industry as the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences does here in the United States for the Grammy Awards. The judges are comprised, according to the Echo Klassik Awards themselves, of distinguished politicians, arts and media personalities, and members of the Bundesverband Musikindustrie, the German equivalent of the aforementioned Academy.

Cecilia Bartoli with an Echo Klassik Award in 2008 (Image courtesy
      Begun in 1994, the Echo Klassik Awards, while they have become a standard for excellence, have not been so throughout the entirety of their history. During the turn of the century when the future of classical music seemed to be turning toward the crossover style with new sorts of performers such as Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman who dabbled in it, and Il Divo, it was the Echo Klassik Awards that also embraced this ambitious, lucrative foray from record companies by awarding their distinguished prize to none other than Filippa Giordano, whose career is probably one of the worst products of this phenomenon. One of her early hits was her debut album she made that included such tracks as O mio babbino caro and Casta diva, and the worst part of it is that she comes from a classical music background. With record sales from Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman, and Andrea Bocelli soaring, the Echo Klassik Awards bestowed one of its honors upon Giordano and allowed her to perform for the awards show in 2001.

     Lest we should fear that the honor has devolved too far to be considered with any esteem, I am pleased to announce that we are not to be so disappointed, for in recent years the Echo Klassik Awards alumni have included such famed performers as Vittorio Grigolo, Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato, and Danielle de Niese. The award winners for the 2013 Echo Klassik Awards were made known to me today, and the roster is interspersed with many glittering achievements. The list of winners is somewhat lengthy, so I shall include the ones for which I am most excited and proffer the most congratulation. The awards ceremony is scheduled for October 6, 2013, at the Konzerthaus Berlin in Berlin, Germany.

Danielle de Niese with her Echo Klassik Award 2008 (Image courtesy
Female Singer of the Year: Joyce DiDonato -- Drama Queens: One of the previous year's most anticipated releases due in part to DiDonato's performances in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, this accolade is well deserved, and I am certain she shall be among the nominations for the Grammy Awards, as well, with this disc. Whether you shall believe it or not, I have still yet to hear this CD. All of you may henceforth disown me as an opera aficionado.

Male Singer of the Year: Jonas Kaufmann -- Wagner: In Kaufmann's final release for Decca prior to signing with Sony Classical, which did not seem a shrewd business maneuver for him to my knowledge of Sony's track record with representing and keeping artists, many were enamored with Kaufmann's foray into Wagner. Often praised by critics for his versatility in both the Italian and German repertoire, this award comes as little surprise to those who follow opera.

Instrumentalist of the Year (Violin): Leonidas Kavakos -- Beethoven: The Complete Violin Concertos: In a field as crowded with exceptional talent as that for the violin is, what sets this performer apart is his ambition to record such masterpieces as Beethoven's violin masterpieces. With an endeavor such as this, it is little wonder that Kavakos was voted to receive this award.

Conductor of the Year: Esa-Pekka Salonen -- Lutoslawski: The Symphonies: Salonen is one of the world's most exciting conductors with his attention to new music, his own compositions, and his expert readings of symphonic scores. Turning his baton to Lutoslawki's compositions proves his adventurous nature, and it is well time that these were recorded. Lutoslawski is also having some excellent hearings at the 2013 BBC Proms. If this composer is new to your ear, there has never been a better time than the present in which to acquaint your ear with it.

Newcomer of the Year (Singer): Julia Lehzneva -- Alleluia!: A release featuring sacred music from Mozart, Vivaldi, and Porpora among others, this debut from Lehzneva is promising. Her voice is round with an excellent lower register that gives her a distinct mezzo quality, but her top notes are joyous to hear, as well. This is a singer that is certainly one to follow with interest.

Newcomer of the Year (Trumpet): Tine Thing Helseth -- Tine: Taking the classical music world by storm is Norway's newest prodigy, Tine Thing Helseth. Her elegance and incessant charm look as if they are placing her on the track to following the success of Nicola Benedetti with her violin, and her performances are exquisite. Alison Balsom has a companion now in the stratosphere of trumpeters, and Helseth is an excellent champion of many styles of music for her instrument, which broadens her appeal immensely.

Solo Recording of the Year/Voice (Duets/Opera Arias): Elina Garanca -- Romantique: Garanca is well known for her gorgeous voice, and this repertoire is one of her specialties. As one expects, this release includes music by Debussy, Lalo, Tchaikovsky, Gounod, and Berlioz, but the beginning of the album is a piece from Donizetti, which seems out of place in such a program as this. Garanca's voice is, nevertheless, perfect for this repertoire, and I am elated to see her honored for what she performs best.

Opera Recording of the Year (20th/21st Century Work): Ian Bostridge -- Britten: The Rape of Lucretia: While erudite vocalist Ian Bostridge is equally at home in lieder, art song, Baroque music, or modern work, he excels in the music of Benjamin Britten. His voice is very much praised for its interpretative gifts in modern music, and it is not difficult to imagine why this recording was chosen to receive this honor.

Opera Recording of the Year (19th Century): Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev; Nina Stemme -- Die Walkure: In the bicentennial of Wagner's anniversary of birth, it is fitting that one of his works should receive such an accolade as this, and Stemme is one of the foremost Wagnerian sopranos in the world today. She is blessed with an enormous voice, and her prowess as an actress leaves little to be desired. The Mariinsky Orchestra is very capable of producing some of the best readings of opera scores in the world, and Gergiev has proven himself on the podium time and again in Wagner's music. This may not have been a difficult choice for the judges to make, but that makes this recording no less deserving of praise.

World Premiere Recording of the Year: Cecilia Bartoli -- Mision: Ever a performer of exponential levels of excitement and dedication to her work, Bartoli is the reigning champion of world premiere recordings in my opinion. She never allows an opportunity to pass her, and she gives her heart and soul into every recording she creates. Her latest solo release is no exception to this trend, and this album caused quite the stir when it was learned that this world famous mezzo has shaven her head for the album's cover in homage to the fierce adherence that many orders of monks of old held to their beliefs and rites as novitiates of the Catholic church. Her technical skill alone deserves the Echo Klassik honor.

Music Recording DVD of the Year: Bryn Terfel; Jonas Kaufmann; Mojca Erdmann -- Der Ring des Nibelungen: Wagner seems to be sweeping the classical music festivals and awards this season, and here we have another recording to add to the list. This DVD is of the Metropolitan Opera's much heralded production by Robert Lepage. Though it has been fraught with its share of difficulties and cool reception by many critics, it is revolutionary in its concept, and though the cast listed on the announcement as the three performers in the heading are all who appear to be honored, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Stephanie Blythe, Elizabeth Bishop, and Patricia Bardon made these broadcasts and these recordings superlative in their share of talent.

Chmber Music Recording of the Year (19th Century) Mixed Ensemble: Helene Grimaud; Sol Gabetta -- Duo: Ever since Grimaud parted musical company with maestro Claudio Abbado over cadenze, her musical interest seems to have taken her to more intimate settings insofar as music is concerned, and she teamed with cellist Sol Gabetta to record a new album of collaborative works for cello and piano with music from Debussy, Shostakovich, Brahms, and Schumann. Grimaud is one of the world's best talents at the piano, and Gabetta is honored with another award from the Echo Klassik Awards this year, which speaks volumes to her talent, as well. This is not a recording to be missed if it can be helped.

Chamber Music Recording of the Year (17th/18th Century) Mixed Ensemble: Jordi Savall; Hesperion XXI -- Armenian Spirit: If there was one ensemble to which I could listen for the remainder of my life, this early music consort led by the renowned, esteemed interpreter of the genre, Jordi Savall, should be it. They specialize in early music, and often tailor their programs to specific countries or heritages, and I can say without question that this recording is immensely deserving of this laud.

     As you can veritably witness in this shortlist of mine, the Echo Klassik Awards do their best to maintain a high degree of excellence in electing recipients of their trophies. Yes, there are categories in which better candidates might have been chosen, but the variety of tastes in the world of classical music and opera can hardly all coalesce to produce results that shall please everyone in every respect. These artists all represent the best in their fields of classical music and opera, and I am anxious to see what talent the new generations shall bring to the Echo Klassik Awards as their history expands into the future. I proffer my gratitude to all of you for your continued perusal of my posts concerning the world of opera, and I am honored that you should devote your reading to my humble musings.

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