Tucson’s True Concord Voices & Orchestra on Monday snagged two Grammy nominations for its months-old CD “Far in the Heavens: Choral Music of Stephen Paulus.”
In the process, the 11-year-old professional ensemble made Tucson history: It is the first time a classical music ensemble from the Old Pueblo has been nominated for a Grammy.
“My head is still spinning at the news that we have two nominations. I’m practically speechless,” True Concord founder and Conductor Eric Holtan said Monday morning, hours after hearing that the album had been nominated for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Choral Performance. “This is stunning to me that this has happened. I couldn’t be more proud.”
The Grammys will be handed out in Los Angeles on Feb. 15.
True Concord recorded “Far in the Heavens” in May 2013 with Stephen Paulus, a Minneapolis composer with deep Tucson ties. The project was produced by Grammy-winning conductor, producer and composer Peter Rutenberg.
The album is anchored by “Prayers and Remembrances,” a piece True Concord and its patron Dorothy Dyer Vanek commissioned from Paulus in 2011 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The group performed the world premiere at Centennial Hall with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra on the anniversary.
The album also features “The Incomprehensible,” the first piece that True Concord commissioned in 2009 from Paulus, and other previously unrecorded Paulus works including “Nunc dimittis,” which he rewrote during the recording process for unaccompanied voices. Paulus had composed it originally for organ and voice, but there was no organ in the recording space at Catalina Foothills High School.
That rewrite was one of the last composing projects for Paulus, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra composer in residence in 1998-99. He returned home to Minneapolis and two months later, in July 2013, suffered a major stroke. He never recovered and died on Oct. 19, 2014; he was 65.
“All of this is really possible because of Stephen’s incredible art and beautiful music,” Holtan said. “That’s where it all began.”
“I feel that he knew that this was kind of the best of the best. It seemed like he could not have written that piece when he was younger,” said Paulus’ widow, Patty. “For this to be a piece that gets nominated, it is just such a thrill. I feel that it represents all that he knew about choral writing. It was a perfect thing.”
Holtan also credited Vanek, who has championed True Concord and its Paulus projects over the years. She sponsored both of the commissions, the recording project and the orchestra’s trip to New York last fall for its Sept. 11 debut at Lincoln Center. The album was released that same day and debuted No. 1 on iTunes classical downloads. It climbed as high as No. 5 on Billboard’s classical charts, as well.
“There was a lot of attention brought to it and the attention was really generated by an intense interest in Stephen Paulus given his recent death,” Holtan said. “To have an album completely dedicated to his music, the world was hungry for it. The classical music (community) was mourning the death of one of its luminaries.”
“I have to tell you, I’m not surprised (about the nominations) mostly because everything about that project was so well done,” added True Concord violinist Benjamin Nisbet, who was concertmaster for the recording. “Everything fell into line. It was just a matter of getting it out there.”
Paulus also has been nominated in the classical album category for his recording with the Nashville Symphony of his “Three Places Of Enlightenment: Veil Of Tears & Grand Concerto,” which was released the same week that Paulus died last October.
The Phoenix Chorale also is up for the Best Choral Performance Grammy for its recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All Night Vigil” with the Kansas City Chorale.