As a matter of course, I don't pay much attention to these. The whole nomination process reeks of high-school politics, and the most deserving artists are nearly always ignored in favor of radio-friendly unit shifters.
However, the classical awards can be surprising. Last year saw the ensemble Eighth Blackbird receive the attention they deserve, and there's been a decided shift towards rewarding the work of living composers and independent labels. Maria Schneider's Winter Morning Walks may be the biggest news. It took four awards, one of which went quite deservedly to Dawn Upshaw.
For a project commanding that level of talent, one would assume it was bankrolled and released by a major label, right? Nope. It was entirely crowd-funded. That's no mean feat considering the logistics of hiring, rehearsal, and recording.
A quick look down this year's list shows that the classical industry is much closer to the ground than most would think. Sure, Deutsche Grammophon was represented by a few works, including yet another Wagner cycle, but most of the acclaim went to independent labels like Naxos, New Amsterdam, Naïve, and BIS.
Likewise, the slavish recycling of standard repertoire is fading in favor of modern music. There's still room for new interpretations of Bartók, Ligeti, and Messiaen, but most encouraging is the presence of so many living composers on the roster. Along with Ms. Schneider, John Corigliano, Magnus Lindberg, and Esa-Pekka Salonen received nominations.
Women are also represented more than ever before. Caroline Shaw (who recently won a Pulitzer at 31) won for her album with Roomful of Teeth, and the magnificent Kaija Saariaho got a nomination for an album of chamber works with the Calder Quartet.
While the Grammys may often represent complacency in most genres, they really do have some credibility in the classical industry lately. If the aim is to reward excellence and merit, this is what they need to be doing.