Tenor Nicholas Phan Launches 2017-18 Season in Chicago with Sixth Annual Collaborative Arts Festival

09.20.17
Nicholas Phan

Described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as an artist whose "voice takes complete possession of the music," tenor Nicholas Phan once again launches his new season in Chicago, curating the sixth annual Collaborative Arts Festival, which he co-founded in 2010 and of which he is artistic director. This year's four-day festival (Sep 6-9), "Myths and Legends," explores a theme of storytelling and fantasy and features guest artist Susanna Phillips in a solo recital and master class. Phan also adds two new artistic associations to his portfolio this season, when he becomes the first singer to serve as Guest Artistic director of Laguna Beach Music Festival, and serves as Guest Director of Apollo's Fire, where he will oversee one of the fall subscription weeks with this acclaimed Cleveland-based baroque orchestra.  

In concert, Phan makes his Herbst Theater recital debut with San Francisco Performances, where he has served as the vocal artist-in-residence since 2014. The Herbst program, which explores music of the Belle Époque, includes Fauré's La bonne chanson and Debussy's Ariettes oubliées, both of which will be featured on his next recording for Avie Records, slated for release in April 2018. Throughout the season, Phan will perform with orchestras big and small in the wide range of repertoire that prompted Opera News to call him "both secure and chameleonic in identity." Highlights include debuts with A Far Cry, Minnesota Orchestra, France's Orchestre d'Auvergne, and the Orquestra Sinfônica de São Paulo led by music director Marin Alsop, marking Phan's first performances in South America. He also performs with The Knights, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony under Riccardo Muti, and in the title role of Leonard Bernstein's Candide with the Toronto Symphony, as part of the world-wide celebration of the centenary of the composer's birth. Rounding out Phan's season is a return to the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to perform Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes in New York and on tour in Chicago, as well as a collaborative performance with the Jasper String Quartet, singing arrangements of Schubert Lieder and Britten folksongs.

Artistic Directorships

Phan's work with the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago is the product of his passionate commitment to reinvigorating the song recital. As the Chicago Classical Review has observed, "The vocal recital is less of a locally endangered species thanks to the yeoman efforts of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago." Joining Phan to perform at the festival this year are soprano Sarah Shafer, bass-baritone Douglas Williams, and soprano Susanna Phillips (who headlines the festival's annual solo recital), as well as pianists Myra Huang and festival co-founder Shannon McGinnis. Among the recital programs are Schubert Lieder on texts by the great German Romantic poets Mayrhofer, Schiller and Goethe that retell the myths of ancient Greece, and a program of fantastical legends by composers ranging from Schumann and Duparc to Jake Heggie. Phan recorded some of the repertoire featured in the festival on his own solo album, Gods and Monsters, which garnered a "Critic's Choice" citation in the May 2017 issue of Opera News: "Nicholas Phan and Myra Huang offer musical storytelling at its finest in a new recital of legends, tales and horror stories drawn from the nineteenth-century German Lieder repertoire. In addition to superb narrative skills and dramatic conviction, Phan possesses enough musical imagination and vocal daring to bring each story and character vividly to life, and Huang matches the tenor with a pianistic arsenal of colors and attacks, controlled by her astonishing technique." For further information about the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, visit http://caichicago.org.

As the first singer to serve as Guest Artistic Director of the Laguna Beach Music Festival, Phan joins a lineage of superb artists that has included Joshua Bell, Edgar Meyer, Jennifer Koh, Shai Wosner, Claude Frank, Brooklyn Rider, Lynn Harrell, Johannes Moser, and Jeffrey Kahane. In the first of three concerts (Feb 9-11), Phan explores one of the most fruitful musical relationships of all time - that between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The following night's program features the world premiere of a multimedia event built around Leoš Janácek's powerful Diary of One Who Disappeared, as well as the world premiere of a new song cycle by composer Missy Mazzoli, co-commissioned by both the Laguna Beach Music Festival and CAIC. For the third and final concert Phan is joined by special guests for a musical road-trip through the great American songbook, with songs ranging from Bernstein and Copland to Broadway, Joan Baez, and Patti Griffin

After hugely successful performances with Apollo's Fire as the Evangelist in Bach's St. John Passion, Phan returns to Cleveland this fall to lead the group in another program related to a previous solo recording: "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover: Nicholas Phan and Friends Perform A Painted Tale." Phan acts as both Guest Director and soloist for the performance, a "pastiche song cycle" assembled by the tenor himself. The program tells the story of love gained and then lost, through selections by Dowland, Purcell, and other master composers of the English Renaissance and early Baroque. The Chicago Tribune named Phan's recording of A Painted Tale one of the best classical albums of 2015, and Gramophone named it an "Editor's Choice." 

Previous Season Highlights 

Last season, Phan led the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago's fifth annual Collaborative Works Festival, which focused on the influence of Paul Verlaine's poetry on the realm of French mélodie. He made his Asian debut in September, performing and recording Bach Cantatas with Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan in Kobe and Tokyo, and in February he debuted at London's famed Wigmore Hall with his long-time recital partner, pianist Myra Huang. He also made a debut with the Nashville Symphony, with performances and a live recording of John Harbison's Requiem led by the orchestra's music director Giancarlo Guerrero, and made his title role debut in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and Esa-Pekka Salonen, as part of their residency at Cal Performances. About the latter, the San Francisco Chronicle observed, "Tenor Nicholas Phan threw himself into the title role with a valiant blend of elegance and almost heedless fervor." The tenor returned to the Philadelphia Orchestra, collaborating with its music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and rejoined the Cleveland Orchestra for performances of Bach's St. John Passion led by music director Franz Welser-Möst. Finally, he performed Beethoven folk song arrangements and Vaughan Williams's On Wenlock Edge on tour with Musicians from the Marlboro Festival, where he was in residence during the summers of 2007-2010; the tour included stops at Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Reporting on the tour, the Boston Globe called Phan, "One of the world's most remarkable singers," adding: 

"The reasons for his success were apparent during an incisive performance of ‘On Wenlock Edge,' Vaughan Williams's song cycle for tenor, piano, and string quartet. ... One could admire, in Phan's performance, the variety of shadings in his voice, the naturalness of his phrasing, and the evenness of his vocal range. But that was all secondary to the sheer intensity with which he inflected every word. He was, in an odd way, almost as impressive in a selection of five of Beethoven's settings of Irish folk songs for voice and piano trio. These are not Beethoven's most distinguished creations, and the rather banal texts suffer in comparison to Housman's. But there was no less depth in Phan's artistic investment, and he made the stories these songs told compelling and poignant."

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