UW–Madison music student wins classical Grammy Award

Sarah Brailey — current doctoral candidate at the Mead Witter School of Music — wins award for soprano role in the album Smyth: The Prison
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Sarah Brailey

As if classical musician Sarah Brailey weren’t already accomplished enough, the doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music can now add a Grammy Award to her list.

The award for best classical solo vocal album, presented March 14 at the classical music ceremony that precedes the televised pop-music awards extravaganza, was presented for soprano Brailey’s work with bass-baritone Dashon Burton and conductor James Blachly for Smyth: The Prison. The album on the classical Chandos label is the world premiere recording of the 1930 choral symphony by composer Dame Ethel Smyth, an activist in the British suffrage movement who spent time in jail while fighting for her cause. Brailey sang the role of the character “Soul.”

“Oh my God! Wow! This unreal,” said Brailey during the virtual awards presentation from her home in Madison. “Dashon, James, I so wish you could be here to celebrate with all of us. Thank you most of all to Dame Ethel Smyth for giving us this incredible piece and showing us … what it is to [have] strength and perseverance.”

Brailey, who also plays the cello, grew up on a farm near LaCrosse the daughter of a physician and nurse, both of whom had an abiding love for listening to and performing classical music. She received her undergraduate degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, eventually returning to UW–Madison for her master’s degree. She then spent 11 years as part of New York City’s classical music scene before returning to UW–Madison for her doctoral work.

In addition to her studies, Brailey is very active in the local classical music scene. She is artistic director of the annual Handel Aria Competition for young singers and the director of Grace Presents, a concert series that prior to pandemic restrictions performed monthly at Grace Episcopal Church. She also helped cofound the monthly concert series Just Bach and shares hosting duties for Musica Antiqua, which airs each Sunday morning on WORT 89.9 FM.

The New York Times has praised Brailey’s voice for its “radiant, liquid tone,” while Opera UK noted the soprano’s “sound of remarkable purity.” A Times critic also recognized Brailey’s role as one of four soloists with Trinity Wall Street’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, saying, “I have seldom been so swept away by the ‘Ode to Joy’ chorale finale. At the end, the ovation was tremendous.”

Previous to this year’s honor, Brailey has appeared on several Grammy Award-nominated albums, as well as appearing as soloist on the premiere recording of composer Du Yun’s Angel’s Bone, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in music. She has performed with ensembles from the Bach Society of Minnesota to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to the Lorelei Ensemble to Kanye West and Roomful of Teeth at the Hollywood Bowl.

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