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Tenor Nicholas Phan Releases World Premiere Recordings of Three Works by Nico Muhly on Stranger, Available July 1 from Avie

May 19, 2022 | By 21C Media Group

(May 2022)— Nicholas Phan’s eighth Avie Records album – Stranger: Works for Tenor by Nico Muhly – drops on July 1. Due for both physical and digital release, the new title comprises world premiere recordings of three of the composer’s major works: Impossible Things for tenor, solo violin and orchestra; Lorne Ys My Likinge for countertenor, tenor and piano; and Stranger for tenor and string quartet. A song cycle exploring the American immigrant experience, the title work was expressly written for Phan, who gave its acclaimed world premiere performance two years ago with Brooklyn Rider. The string quartet rejoins him on the new recording, together with countertenor Reginald Mobley, pianist Lisa Kaplan, violinist Colin Jacobsen, conductor Eric Jacobsen and orchestral collective The Knights. Two of the tenor’s most recent solo recordings for Avie – Gods and Monsters (2017) and Clairières (2020) – both received Grammy nominations for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album, making Phan the first singer of Asian descent to be so nominated in the category’s 62-year history. Joined by pianist Myra Huang, he revisits the theme of immigration and migration in a special program at New York’s The Greene Space on May 26, as part of WQXR’s live celebration of AAPI Heritage Month; learn more here.

Phan reprises Stranger in recital at the Aspen Music Festival (Aug 9), concluding a full summer season. This also takes him to the San Francisco Symphony for accounts of Britten’s Canticle III – Still Falls the Rain (May 29), the Nashville Symphony for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with music director Giancarlo Guerrero (June 2–5), New York’s Museo del Barrio for a Baroque recital inspired by the salon of Marie Antoinette (June 8), and LA’s Disney Hall for performances of Bach’s Mass in B minor with the Los Angeles Master Chorale (June 25 & 26). In addition to his Aspen recital, Phan makes summer festival appearances at Detroit’s Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival (June 12–19), Music@Menlo (July 16), Colorado’s Bravo! Vail Music Festival (July 18 & 19) and Idaho’s Sun Valley Music Festival (July 29 & 30).

Stranger: Works for Tenor by Nico Muhly

Nico Muhly composed the album’s title work, Stranger, for Phan, juxtaposing settings of accounts of immigration through Ellis Island with those of texts protesting the United States’ Chinese Exclusion policies of the late-19th century. The composer explains:

“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.”

Phan premiered the cycle with Brooklyn Rider in January 2020 as part of his “Emerging Voices” project at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. In an illuminating liner note, he describes his encounters with Muhly’s music as being both “artistically and personally transformative,” and recalls the Stranger’s premiere as the first time he felt his identity had been respectfully represented in a work classical music. He writes:

“Until that evening, I had never related so directly to a piece of music. Not only was I telling stories of ancestors who had come to America as my own did, but … I was able to see why, despite being born in America, it has been so difficult and painful to claim my American identity. I don’t know that Nico intended to give me these gifts of insight and validation when he created Stranger, but I will be forever grateful.”

Phan’s world premiere performance of the work made a comparably deep impression on the Philadelphia Inquirer, which marveled: “Muhly is usually impressive, but this is a piece you can take to your heart, especially in the well-studied, beautifully polished performance by Brooklyn Rider and Phan at his articulate best.” Following its first performance, in fall 2021, Phan and the quartet toured the piece to New York, Boston, San Francisco and Scottsdale, AZ.

In Impossible Things, Muhly took his text from the work of Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, in a translation by Daniel Mendelsohn. Phan gave its U.S. premiere with Colin and Eric Jacobsen and The Knights at the 2016 NY Philharmonic Biennial. Reviewing their performance for the New Yorker, Alex Ross described the work as “a rapt setting” of the verse, and continued:

“The piece inevitably recalls Britten’s magisterial cycles, most of all the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. But Muhly has found his own musical language, a lyricism underpinned by subtle tension, and it achieves uncanny alignment with the lights and shadows of Cavafy’s poetry. Nicholas Phan sang with extraordinary warmth of tone and clarity of diction.”

Again drawing inspiration from Britten, this time from the English composer’s Canticle II: “Abraham and Isaac,” Muhly’s Lorne Ys My Likinge is a setting of a Chester Mystery play, a cycle of 15th-century biblical dramas. This relates the story of the three Marys – Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobi and Mary Salome – who arrive at the tomb of Christ, only to be greeted by two angels who tell them of Jesus’s resurrection. With Lisa Kaplan, a founding member of Grammy-winning sextet Eighth Blackbird, Phan gave the piece its Midwest premiere at Chicago’s Collaborative Works Festival in 2019. Finding that “all the drama was embedded in the music,” the Chicago Classical Review pronounced their performance “the ultimate high point of the evening.”

High-resolution photos can be downloaded here.

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Stranger: Works for tenor by Nico Muhly

Nicholas Phan, tenor

With Brooklyn Rider, Reginald Mobley, Lisa Kaplan, Colin Jacobsen, Eric Jacobsen & The Knights
Label: Avie
Catalogue number: AV2517
Format: CD and digital download
Release date: July 1, 2022

Nicholas Phan: summer engagements

May 22
San Francisco, CA
Noe Music
Ruckus Early Music
works by BACH and BUXTEHUDE
(With Owen Dalby & Katie Hyun, violins)

May 26
New York, NY (online & in-person)
WQXR, The Greene Space
WQXR Celebrates AAPI Heritage Month
(With Myra Huang, piano)

May 29
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Symphony
BRITTEN: Canticle III – Still Falls the Rain

June 2-5
Nashville, TN
Nashville Symphony / Giancarlo Guerrero
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9

June 8
New York, NY
Museo del Barrio
Opera Lafayette
“The Musical Salon of Marie Antoinette”
works by GLÜCK, HINNER and others

June 12
Detroit, MI
Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
SCHUBERT: Winterreise
(With Paul Watkins, piano)

June 15
Bloomfield Hills, MI
Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Along the Field
(with Tai Murray, violin)

June 17
Ann Arbor, MI
Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
BRITTEN: Winter Words
(With Paul Watkins, piano)

June 19
Gross Pointe, MI
Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
Works by N. & L. BOULANGER, R. CLARKE, HANDEL, PERRY and Caroline SHAW
(with Scott Hanoian, organ; Pelia String Quartet)

June 25 & 26
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles Master Chorale / Grant Gershon
BACH: Mass in B minor

July 16
Atherton, CA
Music@Menlo
BACH: Coffee Cantata, BWV 211

July 18 & 19
Vail, CO
Bravo! Vail Music Festival
“Immersive Experiences: A Love Story in Song”
Songs by C. SCHUMANN, R. SCHUMANN and BRAHMS
(With Susanna Phillips, soprano; Myra Huang & Anne-Marie McDermott, piano)

July 29
Sun Valley, ID
Sun Valley Music Festival / Alasdair Neale
BRITTEN: Serenade for tenor, horn & strings

July 30
Sun Valley, ID
Sun Valley Music Festival / Alasdair Neale
ORFF: Carmina Burana

Aug 9
Aspen, CO
Aspen Music Festival
Nico MUHLY: Stranger
Songs by R. CLARKE, COPLAND, CRAWFORD SEEGER, Missy MAZZOLI, PRICE, Robert OWENS, SCHUBERT, Errollyn WALLEN, and WEILL
(With Myra Huang, piano / Aspen Contemporary Music Ensemble)

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© 21C Media Group, May 2022

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