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Tenor Nicholas Phan looks forward to adventurous 2014-15 season



Fresh from a triumphant performance as Candide at the Tanglewood Festival, tenor Nicholas Phan launches his 2014-15 season in Chicago as Artistic Director of the Collaborative Works Festival, exploring the music of three great Romantics in “Love Songs: Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.” Repertoire both earlier and more recent than the Romantic era rounds out a wide-ranging new season for the fast-rising Phan – “an artist who must be heard” (NPR) – highlighted by his return to the Cleveland Orchestra, as soloist in Bach’s monumental B-minor Mass with Franz Welser-Möst; his debut with the Dallas Symphony performing Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; a program of Bach Cantatas at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra and Helmuth Rilling; and a return to Houston Grand Opera for Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. In March Phan returns to Carnegie Hall for his second solo recital, performing a pastiche song cycle of early English songs entitled A Painted Tale, which the tenor himself assembled and looks forward to recording for release in early 2015 on the Avie label.

As a founder and artistic director of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, Phan and colleagues established the Collaborative Works Festival in 2012 as an annual series of concerts and masterclasses exploring the art song and vocal chamber music repertoire. This year’s festival will explore the close and complicated relationships between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, with guest artists including singers Susanna Phillips, Kelley O’Connor, Joshua Hopkins, and multiple Grammy Award-winner Michelle DeYoung, who will give the Festival’s annual solo recital. Besides serving once again as Artistic Director, Phan will give two performances himself, singing programs of Lieder by Schumann and Brahms on September 11 & 14.

In his second performances with the legendary Cleveland Orchestra, Phan returns to a work that he has sung frequently, most notably on a European tour with the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart under Bach authority Helmuth Rilling, the Saint Louis Symphony under David Robertson, and the San Francisco Symphony. Phan observes: “The B-minor Mass is one of the greatest pieces ever written and I’m looking forward to performing it with one of the world’s greatest orchestras in one of the world’s greatest halls.” After the tenor made his debut with the orchestra in 2013, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer praised Phan’s “sweet agile instrument” in “setting a new standard” for the “Swan Song” from Orff’s Carmina Burana. Phan also performs the music of Bach at the Kennedy Center, joining Rilling and the National Symphony Orchestra for Cantatas 110 and 63, and sings the composer’s St. John Passion with Boston Baroque at Jordan Hall and the Chicago Bach Project under John Nelson at the Harris Theater.

For his Dallas Symphony debut, Phan returns to a composer and work he has performed frequently in recent seasons: Benjamin Britten’s haunting Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. He sings the same work with the North Carolina Symphony on tour, and further Britten performances include the War Requiem with the Vancouver Symphony, a choreographed production of Les Illuminations and Sechs Hölderlin Fragmente with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble and Richard Alston Dance Company, and Britten’s works for guitar and voice in recital with Eliot Fisk in Houston.  Hailed as “a major new Britten interpreter” by the New York Times, Phan performed and recorded many of the composer’s works throughout the Britten centennial season. His two solo recordings of Britten works were widely acclaimed and made several best of the year lists including the Boston Globe, the New Yorker and the New York Times

For his third solo recording, Phan turns to a group of early English composers who greatly influenced Benjamin Britten. The program, A Painted Tale, features songs for lute and viola da gamba by Blow, Dowland, Lanier, Morley and Purcell. Phan performs the program, which tells a story of love gained and then lost, in his second solo recital at Carnegie Hall. As he describes the project:

“What has drawn me so powerfully to song is its timelessness. Reading the poetry in these songs I am I am fascinated by how little the human experience has changed over the centuries. By assembling these various songs into what I’m calling ‘a pastiche song cycle,’ I am hoping that creating a dramatic context for these pieces will highlight how relevant this material still is today.”

As an alumnus of the famed Houston Grand Opera studio, Phan looks forward to returning for the company’s spring production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, featuring Nathan Gunn in the title role and Susan Bullock as Mrs. Lovett. Says Phan, “Having made the transition from violinist to classical singer via musical theater, it’s always a pleasure to return to those roots – the place where I really discovered my voice.”

Previous season highlights

Last season, Phan sang programs of works by Britten and Schubert in recitals in New York, Chicago, Boston, Istanbul, Atlanta, Rochester and Kalamazoo to enthusiastic acclaim.  Following his debut in Boston’s Celebrity Series, the Boston Globe found his Schubert “passionate and scrupulously paced, the final two stanzas almost unbearably intense,” while his account of Britten’s song cycle Winter Words was “astonishingly powerful. … His diction was precise and his phrasing unerringly right. But what he conveyed so completely in this music is its mixture of knowingness and wonder.”

In three performances of a signature role in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Phan received rave reviews. The Chicago Tribune reported, “Much of the credit for helping to infuse the proceedings with such dramatic immediacy was Nicholas Phan, in the key role of the Evangelist. Sweet and clear of voice, unfailingly musical in manner, the tenor drove the narrative forward with the urgency of a broadcast reporter covering the biggest breaking news story in history. His narrator was by turns angry, appalled, grief-stricken, altogether compelling.”  Following his first Evangelist performance at Carnegie Hall, the New York Times wrote, “The standout among the vocal soloists was the tenor Nicholas Phan, who brought his youthful, tender yet penetrating voice, as well as flawless German diction and affecting immediacy, to the long, challenging part of the Evangelist, the narrator. He has impressive control of his vibrato, sometimes singing high-lying, plaintive phrases with focused sound and choirboy purity. He was so invested in the narrative, you would have thought he was telling us the passion story for the first time.”

In his first performances of Britten’s War Requiem with the Baltimore Symphony, “Phan sang with a poignant, plangent tone as he communicated the haunted and haunting imagery,” affecting the Baltimore Sun with his “mesmerizing tenderness.” After he stepped in at the eleventh hour to sing Britten’s orchestral song cycle Les Illuminations with David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch concluded:

“Phan has a gorgeous instrument, intelligently and effectively used. Singing from memory, he conveyed dramatic meaning, in what was effectively an operatic scene for one.”

With the Boston Symphony at the Tanglewood Festival, Phan headlined Bernstein’s Candide, prompting the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns to write:

Phan sang the title role as art song, intelligently mining the words to achieve great depth of feeling while never robbing the music of its sparkle. A seasoned Candide-ologist, I’ve never heard such a comprehensive characterization. It’s important, since no other characters show the scars inflicted by their adventures. Phan gave the show an anchor and a soul.

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A list of Nicholas Phan’s 2014-2015 engagements follows. Additional information about the tenor, including a complete biography, is available at his website:


Nicholas Phan: upcoming engagements


Sep 11–14

Chicago, IL

Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago

2014 Collaborative Works Festival (Artistic Director)

Love Songs: Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann & Johannes Brahms


Sep 11

Chicago, IL

The Poetry Foundation

Collaborative Works Festival

R. Schumann: Minnespiel, op. 101

R. Schumann: selected lieder


Sep 14

Chicago, IL

Logan Center Performance Penthouse

Collaborative Works Festival

R. Schumann: Spanische Liebeslieder, op. 138

Brahms: Liebeslieder Walzer, op. 52


Oct 9 & 10

Madrid, Spain

Teatro Monumental

RTVE Symphony Orchestra / Carlos Kalmar

Orff: Carmina Burana


Oct 16 & 18

Cleveland, OH

Severance Hall

Cleveland Orchestra / Franz Welser-Möst

Bach: Mass in B minor 


Oct 30 & 31; Nov 1 & 2

Montclair, NJ

Alexander Kasser Theater

ACME / Richard Alston Dance Company

Britten: Les Illuminations

Britten: Sechs Hölderlin Fragmente 


Nov 8 & 10

Vancouver, Canada

Orpheum Theatre

Vancouver Symphony / Bramwell Tovey

Britten: War Requiem


Nov 14–18

Tour with North Carolina Symphony / Grant Llewellyn

Britten: Serenade for tenor, horn & strings

Nov 14: Raleigh, NC (Meymandi Concert Hall)

Nov 15: Southern Pines, NC (Lee Auditorium)

Nov 16: Wilmington, NC (Kenan Auditorium)

Nov 18: Chapel Hill, NC (Memorial Hall)


Nov 25

Istanbul, Turkey

CRR Concert Hall

Recital with Myra Huang, piano

Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48

Rorem: selected songs

Heggie: Friendly Persuasions

Bowles: Blue Mountain Ballads


Dec 4–6 

Washington, DC

Kennedy Center

National Symphony Orchestra / Helmuth Rilling

Bach: Cantata 110, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens”

Bach: Cantata 63, “Christen, ätzet diesen Tag”


Dec 9 & 11

New York, NY

St. Thomas Cathedral / John Scott

Handel: Messiah


Dec 18–20

San Francisco, CA

Davies Concert Hall

San Francisco Symphony / Jane Glover

Handel: Messiah


Jan 15, 17 & 18

Cincinnati, OH

Music Hall

Cincinnati Symphony / Louis Langrée

Orff: Carmina Burana


Jan 22–25

Dallas, TX

Meyerson Symphony Center

Dallas Symphony / Nicholas McGegan

Britten: Serenade for tenor, horn & strings


Jan 27

Houston, TX

Da Camera of Houston

Recital with Eliot Fisk, guitar

Britten: selected Folk Songs

Seiber: Four French Folk Songs

Walton: Anon in Love

Dowland: selected songs


Feb 14

Ann Arbor, MI

Hill Auditorium

University Musical Society / Jerry Blackstone

Mendelssohn: Elijah


Feb 19

Los Angeles, CA

Ambassador Auditorium

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra / Jeffrey Kahane

Mozart: Requiem


Feb 27 & 28

Boston, MA

Jordan Hall

Boston Baroque / Martin Pearlman

Bach: St. John Passion (arias)


March 12

Bethesda, MD

Strathmore Hall

Baltimore Symphony / Masaaki Suzuki

Mozart: Mass in C minor


March 13 & 14

Baltimore, MD

Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

Baltimore Symphony / Masaaki Suzuki

Mozart: Mass in C minor


March 18

New York, NY

Weill Recital Hall

Carnegie Hall Presents

Recital with Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba; Michael Leopold, lute & theorbo

A Painted Tale: Selected songs by Blow, Dowland, Lanier, Morley and Purcell 


March 22

Chicago IL

Harris Theater

Chicago Bach Project / John Nelson

Bach: St. John Passion (Evangelist)


April 24, 26 & 29; May 2, 8 & 9 

Houston, TX

Houston Grand Opera / James Lowe

Sondheim: Sweeney Todd (Tobias Ragg)


June 4, 5 & 6 

Pittsburgh, PA

Heinz Hall

Pittsburgh Symphony / Manfred Honeck

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9


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© 21C Media Group, August 2014




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