“When you win the award, the statue they hand you isn’t actually yours. You give your speech, you take your picture, and then they take it away for a while.”
Bass Wei Wu (MM, PC ’13) watches the Grammy Awards on television practically every year. He never dreamed that one day he might win his own golden gramophone. “We were never really expecting it. A nomination is already quite an honor.”
Record producer Erica Brenner (BM ’82) agrees. “My first shock was when we got nominated. Getting to the final five of any category is a big deal in the music world.”
In February, Wu and Brenner both won their first Grammy Awards, Wu and the cast of "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" for Best Opera Recording, and Brenner and baroque ensemble Apollo’s Fire and soloist Karim Sulayman for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. Brenner (left, with Apollo's Fire director Jeannette Sorrell), who has been editing and producing classical music albums for nearly 30 years, says she never anticipated being part of the glitz and glamour of music’s big night.
“I knew that the albums I was creating were good enough to be in contention, but you don’t expect it,” she explains. “Karim’s concept and singing on the album was as soulful as it gets, and Apollo’s Fire is special. The conductor, Jeannette Sorrell, wants to present baroque music in a way that stirs emotions, the way it was presented during Bach and Telemann’s time. And that’s what they do.”
"The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs"—the opera about the Apple founder written by composer Mason Bates and librettist Mark Campbell (a CU Boulder Department of Theatre & Dance alumnus)—beat out five heavy-hitting contenders. Up against works by such opera giants as Verdi and Strauss, Wu says that no one saw the win coming. “It’s rare to even see a world-premiere opera nominated in this category. Then when you consider the music—which itself was like a revolution, using electronics and a DJ in the pit—it was a very unconventional winner.”
Wu played Jobs’ spiritual advisor Kôbun Chino Otogawa in the opera’s world premiere in Santa Fe in 2017. He and most of the original cast will reprise their roles next year in Jobs’ old Silicon Valley stomping grounds, as San Francisco Opera stages the work. Until then, Wu says he’ll reflect on this accomplishment, focusing on gratitude. “I’m glad I can make my parents and everyone at CU—especially [generous College of Music supporters] the Sie family—proud. I’m here because of the people who have supported me generously and unconditionally, and the only way I can repay them is by working hard.”
Brenner, who started off as a performing flutist, agrees. “I feel so grateful that I was able to make a career in music, even if it wasn’t the exact path that I envisioned while I was a student at CU.
“I’m not a different producer today than I was before the Grammy. I still take on every project to craft something unique and beautiful. But I won’t lie… the acknowledgement feels really great.”
Brenner and Wu weren’t the only CU Boulder names to grace the Grammys this year: Alumna Tia Fuller (MM ’00) was nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for her record "Diamond Cut," and College of Music Director of Bands Donald McKinney was nominated as a producer in the Best Classical Compendium category for the album "John Williams at the Movies with Dallas Winds."