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This Fall, Tenor Nicholas Phan Explores More Than Four Centuries of Music by Women Composers in Free Streamed Recitals (Oct 9–23)

Nicholas Phan (photo: Henry Dombey for ClubSoda Productions)

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

Despite the current hiatus in live performance, tenor Nicholas Phan is keeping his momentum going with online performances and educational events throughout the fall, as well as with his continuing work as Artistic Director of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC). He also remains active with his blog, Grecchinois, which he has maintained since 2006. “Not only a fine singer but a fine programmer” (Gramophone), Phan wears both hats in the CAIC’s annual Collaborative Works Festival, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution through the songs of women composers. This series of online concerts will be streamed throughout the month of October. Other fall highlights for Phan include online performances with Philharmonia Baroque and the California Symphony, and a virtual residency with the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music. Currently planned performance highlights of 2021 include his debuts with the Seattle Symphony and the Gulbenkian Foundation, as well as returns to the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette led by Michael Tilson Thomas and to Houston Grand Opera for Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves.

2020 Collaborative Works Festival: The Women

Founded in 2010 by Phan along with Chicago-based pianists Shannon McGinnis and Nicholas Hutchinson, CAIC has “established itself as one of the Windy City’s primary musical treasures” (Opera News). In October, Phan curates and performs in the ninth iteration of the Collaborative Works Festival, CAIC’s themed, annual vocal chamber music festival. The 2020 Collaborative Works Festival: The Women commemorates the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. About the festival, Phan says:

“By presenting exclusively the works of women composers, the festival will explore a wide range of music spanning more than four and a half centuries, shedding light on a long history of musical pioneers who have been overlooked because of centuries of sexism. There are misogynist perceptions that there isn’t much music composed by women or that it is of lesser quality – but neither of these things is true! Making choices about which music to feature was a challenge, as there was too much great music to fit into this year’s festival. I’m grateful that women composers have always been part of CAIC’s programming, and the process of assembling this festival has underlined the fact that they must continue to be a priority after this important anniversary year in the history of feminism.”

Because of the continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will be presented online, streamed over four weekends in October. Concerts will be pre-recorded, and available for on-demand streaming for a 48-hour period following their premieres on CAIC’s Facebook Live and YouTube channels, as well as on CAIC’s website. All CAIC’s online fall programming will be available free of charge, with the opportunity for viewers to make tax-deductible donations in support of the organization’s virtual initiatives while coronavirus restrictions continue. Phan says:

“As a young organization committed to presenting this music in an intimate setting, we are excited about this opportunity to take our programming online, as it will allow CAIC to expand its reach far beyond our normal capabilities. This is a thrilling chance for our young organization not only to stay in touch with our loyal Chicago supporters but also to grow our audience well beyond Chicago’s city limits.”

The festival’s opening concert, Women of the Baroque (Oct 9-11) spotlights the works of women composers of the late Renaissance and Baroque periods, including French composers Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre and Julie Pinel, and Italians Antonia Bembo, Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, and Maddalena Casulana, the first woman in history to have an entire book of her music published. The second concert, Les Parisiennes (Oct 16-18), features the works of trailblazing women composers during the years of the Parisian Belle Époque, including Nadia Boulanger, Cécile Chaminade, Germaine Tailleferre, and Pauline Viardot. A highlight of this program is a rare complete performance of Lili Boulanger’s epic song cycle, Clairières dans le ciel, which was featured on Phan’s most recent album for Avie Records, Clairières.  BBC Radio 3’s Record Review recently named the album “one of the top five recordings of women composers,” calling it a “rewarding and rich recital … an enjoyable listen all the way through. … Phan has an absolutely gorgeous floating sound [and] … Huang is so responsive to Boulanger’s harmonic twists and turns.”

The festival’s final concert, Modern Women (Oct 23-25), showcases songs by some of today’s women composers, including Sarah Kirkland Snider, as well as American women composers of the 20th century, including Margaret Bonds, Florence Price, and Ruth Crawford Seeger. This program features Chicago-based composer Stacy Garrop’s song cycle In Eleanor’s Words, based on the writings of Eleanor Roosevelt, and the midwestern premieres of Errollyn Wallen’s Roundel and Iva Bittová’s Nezabudka. The festival also includes a master class focusing on songs by women composers and poets of color, led by Phan’s frequent recital partner, pianist Myra Huang.

In addition to Phan, the 2020 Collaborative Works Festival will feature performances by a diverse line-up of singers and instrumentalists, including sopranos Janai Brugger and Amanda Majeski, mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms, baritone Chris Kenney, bass Anthony Reed, and pianists Myra Huang and CAIC co-founder Shannon McGinnis.

Previous Season Highlights

Phan’s curatorial prowess, “the kind of thoughtful, intelligent programming that should be a model” (Chicago Classical Review), was on display last January with the Emerging Voices project, which he guest-curated for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society just before the pandemic called a halt to live performances. Set against the backdrop of Paris from the years of the Belle Époque through the 20th century, Emerging Voices illuminated themes of social connection and identity through song. Presenting six concerts, four world-premiere commissions, two panel discussions, and a master class, Emerging Voices was a “tour de force by Phan and the PCMS provid[ing] a shot of adrenaline to the Philadelphia chamber music scene, attracting a more diverse audience to discover art songs and the picture they paint of history and social change” (Broad Street Review).

Following Emerging Voices, Phan made a last-minute debut in Geneva, Switzerland with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, stepping in for an ailing colleague to perform Britten’s Les Illuminations and making “a very strong impression, with a plush, incisive voice, comfortable with all the expressive and technical rollercoasters of the score” (Tribune de Genève). Other highlights of Phan’s early 2020 engagements included returns to the New York Philharmonic for Mozart’s Mass in C minor led by Jaap Van Zweden and to Mercury in Houston for a staged, orchestrated performance of Schubert’s Winterreise, and his debut with Miami’s New World Symphony in a program of chamber music with members of the orchestra. His final performance before the pandemic lockdown was as one of WQXR’s “20 for 20” artists, performing songs by Nadia and Lili Boulanger as part of the station’s celebration of International Women’s Day.

Online projects

Since the lockdown, in lieu of nearly 35 pandemic-related cancellations, Phan has kept the music going through many online performances. Joining forces with composer and pianist Jake Heggie, the tenor filmed a recital entitled Time: A Meditation on the Moment for San Francisco Performances’ four-part virtual series, Sanctuary. Exploring humanity’s relationship with time, the performance featured an array of songs by Jake Heggie, Leonard Bernstein, Nadia and Lili Boulanger, Benjamin Britten, Ernest Chausson, John Dowland, Gabriel Fauré, Gerald Finzi, Ned Rorem, Howard Swanson, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Shortly after the lockdown began, Phan joined forces with pianist Myra Huang, tenor Lawrence Brownlee and soprano Susanna Phillips for a virtual song series, Coffee and a Song, assembling videos of art songs from their respective living rooms as an online salonOther online musical projects in which Phan has participated include a virtual performance of the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the Skaneateles Festival, and a performance of Aaron Jay Kernis’s song Feng Shui For Your New Home, with Kernis himself at the piano, as part of Seattle Chamber Music Society’s online summer festival this past July.

Phan also remains active with his blog, Grecchinois, begun in 2006, which focuses on the continued relevance of classical music in today’s world. Recent blog entries include essays discussing his own experiences with anti-Asian racism in opera and classical music, and a nine-essay project on Ralph Vaughan Williams’s song cycle Ten Blake Songs for tenor and oboe, which Phan recently filmed for his YouTube channel with oboist James Austin Smith. Describing his motivation to write about these pieces, the tenor explains:

“After having spent the afternoons protesting the murderous brutality of the police against Black men, I felt that these poems and Vaughan Williams’s accompanying music – which brings them even more vividly to life – are as relevant as ever. … I think there is more to these musical miniatures that has inspired me to finish this project now. There is so much about this time of enforced stillness for musicians which speaks to these poems, and more broadly to the creative process itself.”

2020 Collaborative Works Festival: The Women

Oct 2

Broadcast premiere (available on demand through Oct 4)

Myra Huang, piano

Oct 9
CONCERT I – Women of the Baroque
Broadcast premiere (available on demand through Oct 11)
presented in partnership with The Poetry Foundation

Songs by Antonia Bembo, Francesca Caccini, Maddalena Casulana, Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Julie Pinel, and Barbara Strozzi

Amanda Majeski, soprano | Nicholas Phan, tenor | Anthony Reed, bass | Adriane Post, violin | Brandon Jack Acker, lutes | Anna Steinhoff, cello | Mark Shuldiner, harpsichord

Oct 16
CONCERT II – Les Parisiennes

Broadcast premiere (available on demand through Oct 18)

Songs by Nadia and Lili Boulanger, Cécile Chaminade, Germaine Tailleferre, and Pauline Viardot

Janai Brugger, soprano | Amanda Lynn Bottoms, mezzo-soprano | Nicholas Phan, tenor | Myra Huang, piano

Oct 23
CONCERT III – Modern Women

Broadcast premiere (available on demand through Oct 25)

Songs by Margaret Bonds, Stacy Garrop, Florence Price, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Sarah Kirkland Snider. Midwestern premieres by Iva Bittová and Errollyn Wallen.

Amanda Lynn Bottoms, mezzo-soprano | Nicholas Phan, tenor | Chris Kenney, baritone | Shannon McGinnis, piano

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.

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