Maria Schneider won 3 Grammy awards in 2014: best classical composition, arrangements and song. Did she deserve all three, in her first recorded outing in the purely classical category?
“Winter Morning Walks” (ArtistShare) is no one-woman show by the slightest stretch of the imagination. At her service is the great American soprano and American music specialist Dawn Upshaw, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and two of our finest poets, Ted Kooser and Carlos Drummond De Andrade.
First the album is unapologetically and almost effortlessly beautiful in its impressionism and spirit, a combination quite rare to achieve In this postmodern age. in the opening piece, uncovers the world of a “perfectly still the solstice morning” and then quickly shifts to a scene of spectral dramatic discovery: “When I switched on a light.” No worry. “Walking by Flashlight” lures us, step by crunching step, back into the sense of ecstatic wonder because we are entering big skies of the American Heartland, the Minnesota-raised composer’s home stomping grounds, frozen in solstice glory.
Littered like fresh-fallen leaves along the walk is the text by former American poet-laureate Ted Kooser, which adds another strata of artful substance that reflects back to the music and beyond it.
Yeah, Schneider’s gone and done it again, but this on a bigger palette than ever. And then “I saw a dust devil this morning” is like getting a gust of icy wind rushing into your mouth and down into your lungs – It’s a thrill but a private shock in the same instant.
Perhaps nothing is more austerely beautiful than “My wife and I walk the cold road,” because it compresses — in four minutes — the autumnal weight of great memory, longing and supplication for hope and life to carry on.
Exquisite string writing here shows that Schneider is more than just a jazz orchestra writer and arranger. I’ll let you discover more of it for yourself but she never lowers the bar for herself even as she lowers the boughs for us to more easily see the wonders of winter morning walk as she does with her expansive musical vision , which looks down into the moisture the ground with a sharp eye for mystery and mischief as much as she gazes into the heavens.
Having making made all these somewhat presumptuous pronouncements I will immediately admit that I did not hear her competition. But it seems to me, if she won his awards I can understand how she set a strong standard.