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Nicholas Phan Celebrates Art Song with “Emerging Voices” at Philadelphia CMS (Jan 13–24) and Release of Clairières – New Boulanger Sisters Album – by Avie Records (Jan 17)

Nicholas Phan is “not only a fine singer but a fine programmer” (Gramophone), and his January engagements showcase his passion for art song, his love of collaborative work, and his extraordinary gift for musical curation. On January 13–24, with the support of an outstanding roster of fellow singers and instrumentalists, the tenor co-curates and headlines “Emerging Voices: Art Song & Social Connection” at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Comprising concerts, salons and panel discussions, the series 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 account of Clairières dans le ciel, Lili Boulanger’s seminal song cycle, is the centerpiece of the concert on January 17, which coincides with the release of his sixth solo album for Avie Records: a collection of songs by the French composer and her sister Nadia Boulanger, titled Clairières.

“Emerging Voices: Art Song & Social Connection”

One of Phan’s 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. Click here to see the “Emerging Voices” preview video.

Phan explains:

“Song offers unique opportunities for us to find common ground in each other’s self-expression. With its combination of music and text, its magical mixture of the universal language with the languages of many nations, song allows us to step into another’s shoes for a time. It allows us to access compassion and empathy – the only real tools that are going to help us bridge the divides that separate our fractured society.”

He explains his inspiration for the project in his illuminating essay Singing of Myself.

Co-curated by Phan and PCMS, this innovative project offers six concerts, two panel discussions, a masterclass and the world premieres of four new commissions from composers Nicolas Bacri, Iva Bittová, Nico Muhly and Errollyn Wallen. Among the series’ numerous highlights 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 Jennifer Johnson Cano (Jan 19). The final concert, “Our Voices: The Rise of the American Voice” (Jan 24), draws parallels between the American composers who flocked to Paris after World War I and composers of our own time, whose work acknowledges the interconnectedness of people and cultures in 21st-century America. In addition to works by Aaron Copland, Tania León, Caroline Shaw, Howard Swanson and Virgil Thomson, this concert features the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s new song cycle Stranger, performed by Phan and the Brooklyn Rider string quartet.

Composer Muhly says:

“For my piece Stranger, I’ve chosen four texts: an academic introduction to a project about the history of Chinese railroad workers; an interview with Rosa Breci, a Sicilian woman who arrived at Ellis Island in 1911; an extraordinary letter from a Chinese-American about the racism he experienced and how it was legally codified and reinforced; and finally, a letter from a woman to her husband, serving in the U.S. Army in 1945. These texts are not meant to address some generic sense of the American immigrant experience, but rather serve an attempt to navigate different kinds of shared American stories, from the confrontational (forced assimilation) to the practical (eye exams at the border) and make the connection between oppressive 19th-century immigration policies and those being advocated in the U.S. even now.”

Click here for more information about the “Emerging Voices” project, including preview videos; essays from Phan and the other participating scholars and composers; and a detailed list of discussion topics, programs and participating artists.

New solo recording: Clairières, songs of Lili Boulanger and Nadia Boulanger

Due for release on January 17, Phan’s seventh recording for Avie Records marks his sixth solo project for the label. Titled Clairières, the new album 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, both of whose music will be heard throughout “Emerging Voices.” The recording groups Lili’s song cycle, Clairières dans le ciel, with the sisters’ settings of individual poems by Maurice Maeterlinck, Albert Samain and Paul Verlaine.

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 has been comparably influential, though better known as the teacher of such eminent composers as Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Roy Harris, Astor Piazzolla and Walter Piston. Despite deciding to stop composing relatively early in her career, Nadia’s profound impact 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.

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.


Nicholas Phan: upcoming engagements

Jan 13-24
Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Chamber Music Society
Emerging Voices: Art Song & Social Connection
   Jan 13: College of Physicians | Panel Discussion I
Jan 14: Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center | Concert I: New Voices – Belle Époque
   Jan 15: Stotesbury Mansion | Salon Concert I
Jan 17: Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center | Concert II: Lost Voices – The War to End All Wars
   Jan 19: Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center | Concert III: Found Voices – The New European Map
   Jan 20: College of Physicians | Panel Discussion II
Jan 22: Stotesbury Mansion | Salon Concert II
Jan 24: Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center | Concert IV: Our Voices – The Rise of the American Voice

Jan 17
Avie Records release
Clairières: Songs by Lili & Nadia Boulanger
Recorded with Myra Huang, piano

Feb 5, 6, 8 & 11
New York, NY
Geffen Hall
New York Philharmonic | Jaap van Zweden
Mozart: Mass in C minor, “Great”

Feb 15
Houston, TX
Cullen Theater
Mercury Chamber Orchestra | Antoine Plante
Schubert: Winterreise (arr. Plante)

Feb 23
Miami, FL
New World Center
Musicians from the New World Symphony
Heggie: Friendly Persuasions: Homage to Poulenc
Poulenc: Cocardes
Saint-Saëns: Violons dans le soir
Schubert: Auf dem Strom

Feb 28, 29 & March 1
Kansas City, MO
Helzberg Hall
Kansas City Symphony | Matthew Halls
Beethoven: Mass in C

April 1-5
Apollo’s Fire | Jeannette Sorrell
Bach: St. Matthew Passion (Evangelist & tenor arias)
April 1: St. Christopher Parish, Rocky River, OH
April 2: Mees Hall, Columbus, OH
April 3: Severance Hall, Cleveland, OH
April 4: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Akron, OH
April 5: University Musical Society, Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI

April 26
San Francisco, CA
Herbst Theater
San Francisco Performances
Gabriel Kahane, piano
Kahane: World Premiere Commission
Schubert: selected songs

April 30–May 3
North Carolina Symphony | Grant Llewellyn
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
April 30: Wilson Center, Wilmington, NC
May 1 & 2: Meymandi Hall, Raleigh, NC
May 3: Temple Church, New Bern, NC

May 7-9
Naples, FL
Hayes Hall
Naples Philharmonic | Andrey Boreyko
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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© 21C Media Group, December 2019

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