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Tenor Nicholas Phan Earns Grammy Nomination and Place on New York Times’s “Best of 2020” List

Nicholas Phan (photo: Henry Dombey for Clubsoda Productions)

“One of the world’s most remarkable singers.” – Boston Globe

As the year draws to a close, tenor Nicholas Phan continues to win accolades for his most recent recording, Clairières, an homage to composers Lili and Nadia Boulanger. As well as being featured on the New York Times’s list of Best Classical Music Tracks of 2020, the album has been nominated for a 2021 Grammy Award in the Best Classical Solo Vocal Album category, for which the final round of voting ends on January 4. This marks the second Grammy nomination for Phan and his regular collaborator, pianist Myra Huang, who were previously nominated in 2017 for their Romantic collection Gods & Monsters. The tenor remains the first and only Asian singer to be nominated in the history of the Best Classical Solo Vocal Album category, which has been awarded since 1959. His recording of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, made with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony, was also a nominee for Best Orchestral Performance in 2010.

Clairières pays homage to sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger, two exceptional 20th-century composers who have often been overlooked in favor of their male counterparts. At the heart of the album is Lili’s 13-part song cycle Clairières dans le ciel (“Clearings in the Sky”). Alongside are a selection of songs set to poetry by their contemporaries Paul Verlaine, Maurice Maeterlinck and Albert Victor Samain. Phan says:

“Our hope for this album was to add musical dimension to the biographies of both these sisters, who so often appear only as supporting and anecdotal figures in music history. It’s thrilling to see the music of these remarkable women recognized in this way.”

Critics have been unanimous in their rapturous response to the release. “Phan has deeply internalised this music,” commented Gramophone magazine, admiring the way the tenor “delivers [an] emotionally comprehensive (and deeply welcome) vision of this worthy music.” The Guardian declared, “It’s hard to imagine these Boulanger songs could have more convincing advocacy.” The New York Times featured the album’s final track, Nadia Boulanger’s haunting song Soir d’hiver, on its list of the 25 Best Classical Music Tracks of 2020.

2020 online performances

In spite of live performances remaining on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Phan has continued to be active with a variety of online performances and educational events throughout 2020, including appearances with Philharmonia Baroque, the California Symphony, Festival Napa Valley and the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival. He also undertook a virtual residency at the University of the Pacific, and continued his work as Artistic Director of Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC), the art song organization he co-founded ten years ago.

As well as producing and moving CAIC’s Lieder Lounge recital series online, the tenor launched a new weekly online round-table discussion series called Heard Over The Piano, and he curated, produced and performed in a virtual version of the organization’s annual Collaborative Works Festival. This year it celebrated the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution with three concert broadcasts spanning nearly five centuries of song by women composers. In its review of the festival’s opening Baroque concert, Opera News wrote:

“The tenor’s voice has beefed up … and has served him well in Romantic song literature, but there was something ineffably satisfying in hearing Phan return to an earlier repertory. Phan’s intrinsically plangent timbre was beautifully showcased in this music, as was his singular gift in straightforward expressivity. …Those who doubt the power of music as a panacea in challenging times would have been convinced here; Women of the Baroque easily demonstrated why CAIC has emerged as one of the classiest vocal performance options in the city.

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.

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© 21C Media Group, December 2020


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