Described by the Boston Globe as “one of the world’s most remarkable singers,” tenor Nicholas Phan once again launched his new season in Chicago, where he curated the seventh Collaborative Works Festival.
Presented annually by Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC) – the organization Phan co-founded in 2010 and of which he continues to serve as artistic director – this year’s three-day festival, “The Song as Drama,” examined the narrative power of the song cycle and the ability of song to tell epic stories with minimal forces.
Other highlights of Phan’s 2018-19 season include three key firsts: his role debut as Eumolpe in Stravinsky’s Perséphone with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (September 21-23), his title role debut in Handel’s Jephtha with Boston Baroque and Martin Pearlman (March 8 & 10), and his Israeli debut headlining Bernstein’s Candide with Marin Alsop and the Israel Philharmonic (Jan 2 & 4, 2019).
The tenor returns to a host of leading U.S. ensembles, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Dallas, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Colorado. Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin figures prominently in his upcoming programming, starting with the world premiere presentation of a new orchestral arrangement of the cycle by Antoine Plante, founder of Mercury, the Houston-based orchestra with which Phan performs it (Nov 17).
A celebrated recording artist, the tenor will also be heard on two new releases: in Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, recorded with Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony last June, and as both Simeon and Judah in Handel’s Joseph and His Brethren, recorded with Philharmonia Baroque and Nicholas McGegan last December.
Looking ahead to the coming season, Phan comments: “Between my role debuts and my debut in Israel in a part that is so dear to me, the diversity of what I will be singing in the new season reflects the importance I place on exploration and discovery. I try hard to allow my musical curiosity to guide my repertoire choices, from the more familiar to brand-new works, whether I am performing opera, concerts, or song recitals.”
Reflecting on Phan’s trademark range of passions and interests, San Francisco Classical Voice says simply: “It’s a genuinely 21st-century career.”
CAIC’s 2018 Collaborative Works Festival, “The Song as Drama,” will feature performances of Vaughan Williams’s Songs of Travel and Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, as well as three more rarely performed song cycles: Brahms’s Die Schöne Magelone, Schoenberg’s Book of the Hanging Gardens, and Janáček’s Diary of One Who Disappeared. In two firsts for CAIC, the Janáček cycle will be offered as a special multimedia presentation with a video installation, and the Schoenberg cycle will be presented with choreography by Andrew Erickson.
This year’s festival will also showcase CAIC’s first co-commission of a new work: the Midwestern premiere of a new cycle by composer Missy Mazzoli, whose Songs from the Operas is a collection of excerpts from her operas Breaking the Waves and Proving Up. Featured artists for the 2018 festival includes American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, Canadian baritone Tyler Duncan, Canadian pianist Erika Switzer, CAIC co-founders Phan and Shannon McGinnis, among many others.
Phan observes: “This is our seventh Collaborative Works Festival, and it is exciting to see how it has already become part of the fabric of Chicago’s vibrant classical music scene. I’m particularly enthusiastic about this year’s theme because art song is so underestimated, and this year’s theme underlines the form’s hidden narrative and dramatic power. It’s also thrilling that this year’s Festival features CAIC’s first co-commission of a new work; it’s an important step for the organization and I’m hopeful it will be the first of many to come.”
A busy concert artist, Phan performs a wide spectrum of repertoire with a variety of orchestras at home and abroad this season, and is especially looking forward to continuing his long association with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas. He explains: “It is extremely gratifying to develop special relationships with some of America’s greatest orchestras. I’m particularly thrilled to be working with the San Francisco Symphony, my hometown band, three times this season, twice with Michael Tilson Thomas. Michael is so inspiring to work with. His vision for how music is for everybody, without ever diluting the richness and seriousness of the artform, is a model that really informs my approach to everything I do.”
Highlights from the 2017-18 Season
Among the many highlights from this past season, several stand out. The tenor expanded his acclaimed discography with Illuminations, recorded with his long-time partner, pianist Myra Huang, and the Telegraph Quartet. Released in April, the album gathers together compositions by Britten, Debussy and Fauré, all of whom were inspired by the poetry of two 19th-century French literary titans, Paul Verlaine and his protégé and eventual lover, Arthur Rimbaud.
Phan explored the personalities that inspired the project in an event featuring Huang and David Ebershoff, author of the novel The Danish Girl (now an Academy Award-winning film), which was webcast live in June from WQXR’s Greene Space.
In February, the tenor became the first singer to serve as Guest Artistic Director of Laguna Beach Music Festival. There he explored one of the most fruitful musical relationships of all time – that between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
He also made his Herbst Theater recital debut with San Francisco Performances, where he has served as the vocal artist-in-residence since 2014. Phan’s 2017-18 season drew to a close at the Tanglewood Festival, where he joined the Boston Symphony for two programs celebrating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein.