Thornton Faculty, Alums Win Grammys

Opera, jazz and pop performers pick up honors on the recording industry’s biggest night of the year.
By Ljiljana Grubisic
Faculty member Pepe Romero of the Romero Guitar Quartet was honored along with his brothers in Grammy's Salute to Classical Music.

It was a fruitful 2007 Grammy Awards ceremony for the USC Thornton School of Music, with four faculty members and four alums receiving awards, and an additional faculty member given a special honor at the ceremony. Another two alums were nominated for the award.

Although USC Thornton faculty and alums regularly are feted with the recording industry’s highest honor, this year’s showing was notable particularly for the diversity of musical expressions – from opera to jazz and pop – that represented the school. It is that diversity of musical languages that, in part, led Rolling Stone magazine recently to name Thornton one of the country’s five best music schools.

Some of the top honors in the classical music categories went to conductor Michael Tilson Thomas BM ’67, MM ’76, music director of the San Francisco Symphony and artistic director of the New World Symphony. Tilson Thomas won two Grammys this year, for best classical album and best orchestral performance, both for his recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 with the San Francisco Symphony.

William Kanengiser, USC Thornton-trained classical guitarist BM ’81, MM ’83 and a faculty member, won best opera recording for his performance on the Deutsche Grammophon recording of Golijov’s Ainadamar: Fountain of Tears.

This is Kanengiser’s second Grammy in two years. He is a member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, popularly known as the LAGQ, which last year received the award for best classical crossover album for its Guitar Heroes. The LAGQ is made up of Thornton faculty (Scott Tennant BM ’86) and alumni (John Dearman BM ’81, MM ’83 and Matthew Greif MM ’92.)

Kanengiser’s work on the Golijov album was a collaboration with other Thornton personnel. Adam Del Monte, a faculty member in studio/jazz guitar, won for his flamenco guitar work on the recording, as did classical guitarist Andrew York MM ’86. Two singers on the project netted awards as well: mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor BM ’02, who sang one of the leading roles of Federico García Lorca, and soprano Jessica Rivera MM ’98, who sang the role of Nuria.

Drummer Peter Erskine, adjunct professor of jazz studies, received the golden phonograph statuette for best large ensemble jazz recording for his work on the Randy Brecker album Some Skunk Funk on the Telarc label.

Again, this was a collaborative work. Erskine worked with Vincent Mendoza, MM ’85, a fellow faculty member in the jazz studies program. Mendoza has been at the forefront of the jazz scene as a composer, arranger and conductor and recording artist for the past 25 years. This is Mendoza’s third Grammy and 15th nomination.

Classical guitarist and faculty member Pepe Romero, a member of the Romero Guitar Quartet, was honored this year, along with his brothers, in Grammy’s Salute to Classical Music. The Romeros comprise the guitar quartet known worldwide as “The Royal Family of the Guitar” mainly for its contribution to the classical guitar genre and music education.

Pianist Taylor Eigsti ’04 was nominated for two Grammys for best jazz instrumental solo and best instrumental composition for two separate tracks from his album Lucky to Be Me.

Nominated for a Grammy in the category of best R&B performance by a duo was Tamar Davis BM ’02, who sang “Beautiful, Loved and Blessed” with Prince on his album 3121.

“We are incredibly proud of the Thornton Grammy award winners because their work spans the breadth of today’s entertainment industry,” said USC Thornton Dean Robert Cutietta. “This is due in part to our signature programs. From a rich classical tradition to a forward-looking jazz studies, to music industry and film scoring programs, USC’s Thornton School of Music stands at the epicenter of the music industry. It’s validating to see these artists recognized by their peers as the best in the business.”