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The 2012 Gramophone Awards: Some Surprises, Lots Of (Repeated) Familiar Names

Tenor Joseph Calleja, the 2012 <em>Gramophone</em> Artist of the Year.
Mathias Bothor
courtesy of the artist
Tenor Joseph Calleja, the 2012 Gramophone Artist of the Year.

In terms of international prestige, it's hard to think of bigger prizes in the classical community than those given annually by the British classical music magazine Gramophone (where I served as the North America editor for several years). Sure, the Grammys have more general name recognition, but these Eurocentric awards, completely dedicated to classical music, offer far more depth and breadth than their nearest American counterparts, both in terms of artists and repertoire.

As in previous years, the 2012 awards recipients offered a concentrated selection of artists — that is, even though there are so many subgenre awards given, some of the same names tend to pop up over and over again. The Belgian vocal ensemble Vox Luminis, directed by Lionel Meunier, won both Baroque Vocal and Recording of the Year, Gramophone's "best of the best" category. But even elsewhere, some of the same names keep reappearing, like rising 20-year-old British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor — the Young Artist of the Year who also took home the Instrumental award for his album of Chopin, Liszt and Ravel. Meanwhile, conductor Claudio Abbado was cited no less than four times: thrice for current projects (in the Concerto, DVD Performance and Opera categories), but also for the Lifetime Achievement Award, which, despite the hoary frost of its name, tends to go to artists who are very much still performing at the top of their game.

This year, American or even American-based artists were almost entirely absent from the honors, with the exceptions of Murray Perahia, who won the Piano Award and Music Makes A City, a documentary about the Louisville Orchestra, which turned Kentucky into an incubator for new music. (Addendum: Australian conductor and musicologist Michael Noone, who leads the Ensemble Plus Ultra, has been based in Boston for nearly a decade; he and his group won the Early Music award for their impressive survey of Tomas Luis de Victoria's sacred music.)

Among our own Deceptive Cadence records of the year for 2011 was the winner of the winner of the Gramophone Orchestral Award, a set of the complete Bohuslav Martinu symphonies featuring the BBC Symphony and conductor Jiří Bělohlávek. Also on our list was the magazine's Artist of the Year for 2012, Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, who has become a great favorite here at NPR, and with whom we recorded an intimate concert at the New York club (Le) Poisson Rouge last year:

The Gramophone awards themselves also got a slight tweak this year. Gone are both the "Specialist Classical Chart Award" — won last year by guitarist Milos Karadaglic and previously by "waltz king" violinist Andre Rieu — and the "Music in the Community" prize, which put a well-earned spotlight on local ensembles that use music in the cause of social activism.

Here's the complete list of 2012 winners:

  • Artist of the Year: Joseph Calleja
  • Lifetime Achievement: Claudio Abbado
  • Young Artist of the Year: Benjamin Grosvenor
  • Label of the Year: Naïve
  • Piano Award: Murray Perahia
  • Special Historic Award: Václav Talich - Live 1939: Smetana, Má vlast (Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Václav Talich)
  • Recording of the Year & Baroque Vocal: Schütz, Musicalische Exquien (Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier)
  • Baroque Instrumental: Bach, Orchestra Suites (Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Petra Mullejans, Gottfried von der Goltz)
  • Chamber: Schumann, Complete Works for Piano Trio (Christian Tetzlaff, violin; Tanja Tetzlaff, cello; Leif Ove Andsnes, piano)
  • Choral: Howells, Requiem; St. Paul's Magnificat; Nunc dimittis (Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Stephen Layton)
  • Concerto: Beethoven and Berg, Violin Concertos (Isabelle Faust, violin; Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado)
  • Contemporary: Rautavaara, Incantations (Percussion Concerto); Towards the Horizon (Cello Concerto No. 2); Modificata (Colin Currie, percussion; Truls Mørk, cello; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds)
  • DVD Documentary: Music Makes A City (Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler)
  • DVD Performance: Bruckner, Symphony No. 5 (Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado)
  • Early Music: Victoria, Sacred Works (Ensemble Plus Ultra/Michael Noone)
  • Historic: Chopin, Etudes (Maurizio Pollini)
  • Opera: Beethoven, Fidelio (Nina Stemme, soprano; Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado)
  • Orchestral: Martinu, Symphonies (BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jiri Belohlavek)
  • Recital: Arias For Guadagni (Iestyn Davies, countertenor; Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen)
  • Solo Vocal: Songs of War (Simon Keenlyside, baritone; Malcolm Martineau, piano)
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    Anastasia Tsioulcas
    Anastasia Tsioulcas is a correspondent on NPR's Culture desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including the trial and conviction of former R&B superstar R. Kelly; backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; and gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards.