Lots of Grammy Award Winners from Philadelphia: Classical, Jazz, and Musical Theater!

Jan 29, 2018

When music’s biggest night blasted off Sunday afternoon in The Theater at Madison Square Garden, home— for some contenders—was just a short train ride away. Here are the Philadelphians who won Grammys, and the Philadelphia-based talents who helped the winners along.

Philadelphia composer and Curtis Institute of Music graduate Jennifer Higdon added two Grammys to her growing collection! One for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her Viola Concerto. The recording on which it’s performed features Curtis President and former Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Violist Roberto Díaz.  

Higdon also won a Grammy for Best Classical Compendium for her album Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto & Oboe Concerto with violist Roberto Díaz, Oboist James Button, Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony. Higdon’s time at Curtis is marked by a pivotal step: she gave up the flute and began concentrating on writing music.

Donald Nally is director of The Crossing

Two Philadelphia-based gems came together to win the Grammy for Best Choral Performance. The chamber choir The Crossing, led by conductor Donald Nally, and Philadelphia’s PRISM Quartet took home a Grammy for the album Gavin Bryars: The Fifth Century.

The Crossing commissioned British minimalist Gavin Bryars to write “The Fifth Century” for the choir and the saxophone quartet. The seven-part work is based the poems by Thomas Traherne, a 17th-century mystic and clergyman. More information on The Crossing's website.  You can hear select performances by The Crossing throughout the year on WRTI 90.1.

One of Philadelphia’s favorite sons, bassist, arranger, educator, and now Newport Jazz Festival Artistic Director Christian McBride won a Grammy for the album Bringin’ It, featuring the Christian McBride Big Band. Bringin’ It took the award in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Category.  Although McBride already has multiple Grammys, it’s the second Grammy for his big band endeavor.  In 2011, the band won a Grammy for their debut album The Good Feeling. Born and raised in Philadelphia, McBride lives in New Jersey.    

The 30-something songwriting pair Benj Pasek and Justin Paul created the music for the Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen, which won Best Musical Theater Album in a musical field that included Hello Dolly and Come From Away. Pasek, a graduate of Friends Central School in Wynnewood, PA, teamed up with Justin Paul when they were students at the University of Michigan.

Now Pasek and Paul are one of the hottest duos writing music and lyrics for television, theater and film. Already winners of several Tonys, Golden Globes and an Oscar, the twosome is up for another Academy Award this year for their song “This is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman. Their song “City of Stars” from the movie La La Land won an Academy Award last year. (The soundtrack for La La Land picked up two awards at this year’s Grammys.)    

Nominees and artists with ties to Philadelphia were in also in evidence at this year’s ceremony. Local jazz organist and trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco & The People receive a nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Project Freedom.

Richard Danielpour’s composition “Songs of Solitude” was among those named in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category. Danielpour began the creative journey leading to his piece when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11.   

Finally, Yannick Nézet-Séquin’s DVD of Verdi: Otello with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus, and Curtis professor and pianist Jonathan Biss’s recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol. 6 were two of the nine albums produced by Classical Record Producer of the Year David Frost.