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Showcasing Nicholas Phan’s Gifts as Performer and Musical Curator, “Emerging Voices: Art Song & Social Connection” – Major New Collaboration with Philadelphia Chamber Music Society – Is Highlight of Tenor’s 2019-20 Season
Source: 21C
03/09/2019

Tenor Nicholas Phan is “not only a fine singer but a fine programmer” (Gramophone), and the 2019-20 season showcases his passion for art song, love of collaborative work, and extraordinary gift for musical curation. Phan launches the season in Chicago, where, as Artistic Director and co-founder of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC), he curates and performs at the 8th annual Collaborative Works Festival. Titled “The Living,” this is devoted entirely to songs by contemporary composers, whether local to Chicago, from across the country, or from around the world. Later in the season, Phan joins the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society for a major new project exploring “Emerging Voices: Art Song & Social Connection.” One hundred years after the Treaty of Versailles, this series of concerts, salons and panel discussions – all curated by the tenor and featuring his own performances alongside an outstanding roster of singers and instrumentalists – celebrates Paris and the role of art song as a powerful medium for understanding identity and forging connections during times of great social, political and cultural change. Phan’s other upcoming highlights includemultiple debuts: with the London Symphony Orchestra, singing in Berlioz’s Roméo et Julietteunder the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas; with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, reprising Schubert’s Mass in E-flat with Riccardo Muti; with Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society, under Masaaki Suzuki; and with the New World Symphony, for a program of vocal chamber music. Phan also returns to the New York Philharmonic, to perform Mozart under the leadership of Music Director Jaap van Zweden, and takes part in San Francisco Performances’ 40th Anniversary Concert, giving the world premiere of a new song cycle commissioned for the occasion from Gabriel Kahane, who joins the tenor at the piano. Finally, in January 2020, Phan looks forward to the release of his sixth solo albumClairières, a collection of songs by Lili and Nadia Boulanger.

Eighth annual Collaborative Works Festival

The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC)’s 2019 Collaborative Works Festival, “The Living,” held in venues around Chicago from September 5-8, explores the diverse array of today’s leading composers and their work in the field of song. The festival opens with a focus on Chicago and the internationally renowned female composers who are based there: Augusta Read ThomasStacy GarropShulamit Ran and Lita Grier. The festival then zooms out geographically over the course of the weekend, with a concert featuring the many American composers writing songs today, including Nico MuhlyCaroline ShawSarah Kirkland SniderGabriela Lena FrankJake Heggie, and one of the great scions of American art song, Ned Rorem. The festival closes with a program of songs written by international composers, including Kaija SaariahoJonathan DoveNicolas Bacri and Errollyn Wallen.
 
As CAIC’s Artistic Director and co-founder, Phan notes:
The work of living composers often gets short shrift within the context of the vocal recital, yet there are so many composers of today continuing to build upon the incredible tradition of song that Schubert began. By having this year’s entire festival focus on the songs of living composers, we will see how this form continues to be relevant to audiences today and how these composers can reflect the emotional complexities of the diverse world in which we live.”
As in past seasons, the festival features Phan and a stellar lineup of artists, including soprano Lauren Snouffer, star countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Grammy-winning pianist Lisa Kaplan.
 
The Chicago Tribune observes: “With the Collaborative Works Festivals the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago [is] presenting annually, Chicago is doing its bit to rescue art song performance from the endangered species list.” No wonder Opera News calls the annual festival, now in its eighth season, “one of Windy City’s primary musical treasures."

“Emerging Voices: Art Song & Social Connection”

With the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS) this winter (Jan 13–24), Phan takes on one of his most ambitious projects to date. “Emerging Voices: Art Song & Social Connection” explores the surprising and powerful connections between intimate music-making and monumental events. Dramatic transformations in the world order and major shifts in national and cultural boundaries defined the 20th century. The Expositions Universelles in Paris stimulated a groundswell in cultural exchange, and salons inspired the emergence of new musical voices. Events around World War I prompted questions of nationalism and sovereignty in the face of catastrophic loss, and 1919’s Treaty of Versailles splintered the European map, granting autonomy to new nations. Set against this backdrop, “Emerging Voices” illustrates the role of art song, with its unique intersection of poetry and music, as a powerful vehicle for social exchange.
 
Co-curated by Phan and PCMS, this innovative project features six concerts, four world-premiere commissions, two panel discussions, and a masterclass. Among the numerous highlights of “Emerging Voices” are Phan’s performances of Fauré’s song cycle La bonne chanson with the Jasper Quartet (Jan 14); Lili Boulanger’s song cycle Clairières dans le ciel with pianist Myra Huang (Jan 17); and Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared with Huang and mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor (Jan 19). The final concert, “Our Voices: The Rise of the American Voice” (Jan 24), connects the American composers who flocked to Paris after WWI to composers of our own time, whose work acknowledges the interconnectedness of people and cultures in 21st century America. In addition to works by Howard SwansonVirgil ThomsonAaron CoplandCaroline Shaw and Tania León, this concert will feature the world premiere of a PCMS-commissioned song cycle by Nico Muhly, performed by Phan, Huang and string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Click here for a detailed list of discussion topics, programs and participating artists.
 
Phan explains:
“For me, art song highlights the empathic experience music and poetry can provide. It offers opportunities for us to find common ground in each other’s self-expression, creating a path for peace and harmony, as opposed to division and strife.”

New solo recording: music of Lili Boulanger and Nadia Boulanger

For his sixth solo recording project, Phan continues his exploration of the rich French song repertoire, this time through the lens of the trailblazing Parisian Belle Époque composer Lili Boulanger and her sister Nadia Boulanger. The focus of the album is Lili’s seminal song cycle, Clairières dans le ciel, which will be surrounded by other individual settings of poems by Maurice Maeterlinck, Paul Verlaine and Albert Samain by both Lili and Nadia. An important figure in the history of women composers, Lili Boulanger was one of the first to be taken seriously as a professional. Her sister Nadia is an equally important figure, though better known as the teacher of such eminent composers as Carter, Copland, Glass, Harris, Piazzolla and Piston. Despite deciding to stop composing relatively early in her career, Nadia’s profound influence on the music of the last century is due primarily to the excellence of her own compositions.
 
Phan is perplexed by the lack of attention the Boulanger sisters have received. He says:
“Both sisters are unjustifiably overlooked in classical music programming today, despite many public cries for increased representation of women composers. In an industry obsessed with anniversaries, the centenary of Lili’s death passed in 2018 largely unrecognized. As the world organizes women’s marches and the need for gender equality becomes ever more apparent, there is no better time than now to be championing the music of these women and celebrating their place in history.”
For the new album, Phan reunites with his longtime musical partner, pianist Myra Huang, with whom he has performed for the past 17 years. This marks their fifth recording together, their previous release, Gods & Monsters, having been nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award.

Other highlights

Over the course of the season, Phan looks forward to exploring a wide variety of music from the Baroque to the contemporary, with collaborators old and new. In addition to the performances discussed above, he makes his title role debut in Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus with Philharmonia Baroque and Nicholas McGegan. After joining Antoine Plante and his Houston-based orchestra Mercury last season to premiere the conductor’s arrangement of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin, Phan returns for the world premiere of Plante’s full-orchestra arrangement of Winterreise. Returning to his hometown orchestra, Phan sings Stravinsky with the San Francisco Symphonyunder Michael Tilson Thomas. Next spring, he also returns to the Cleveland-based Baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire, performing both the Evangelist and the tenor arias on a tour of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Paying tribute to next year’s worldwide celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary, Phan will perform a number of the composer’s works, including An die ferne Geliebte, in an arrangement by the Jasper Quartet; the Mass in C, with the Kansas City Symphony; and the Ninth Symphony, with both the North Carolina Symphony and Naples Philharmonic. It is with the same monumental masterpiece that Phan gives his final U.S. performance this summer, with Giancarlo Guerrero and the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, before joining conductor Alan Gilbert and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra at Stockholm’s Baltic Festival for Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

Previous season highlights

Among the many highlights of Phan’s 2018-19 season were an exploration of “The Song as Drama” at the seventh Collaborative Works Festival, his role debut as Eumolpe in Stravinsky’s Perséphone with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, his title role debut in Handel’s Jephtha with Boston Baroque and Martin Pearlman, his Czech Republic debut performing Berlioz’s Te Deum with John Nelson at the Prague Spring Festival, and his Israeli debut headlining Bernstein’s Candide with Marin Alsop and the Israel Philharmonic. He also returned to a host of leading U.S. ensembles, including the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Dallas, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Colorado. Finally, as a busy recording artist, Phan was heard on two new albums: Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, with Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, and Handel’s Joseph and His Brethren, with Philharmonia Baroque and Nicholas McGegan. The tenor sang the roles of both Simeon and Judah, prompting Gramophone magazine to write: “The standout for me is Nicholas Phan’s portrayal of Simeon. His tormented ‘Imposter! Ah my foul offence’ is a highlight of the whole performance.”
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