Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sneaking a Peek

Here is a second preview video for Gods & Monsters!  This video is a film of us recording an early complete take of Gustav Mahler’s haunting song, Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  As this is a peek of one of our early complete takes of the piece, it is not a perfect performance! But it gives you a great preview of the kind of album that Gods & Monsters is turning out to be and what the recording process was like up at Skywalker.  

To those of you who have already specifically donated to this project - thank you so much from all of us on the Gods & Monsters team.  It means the world to us to have your support behind this project, making it possible for us to usher it through it’s final stages towards its release this coming January on Avie Records.  If you haven't had a chance to donate yet - there is still time to pre-order your copy of the album, as well as make a tax-deductible contribution to the project.

Hope you enjoy!  Again, many thanks!

Gustav Mahler
Wo die shönen Trompeten blasen from 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn'

Nicholas Phan, tenor
Myra Huang, piano

LIVE full take from 'Gods & Monsters' recording sessions at Skywalker Sound, August 9, 2016 


Wer ist denn draußen und wer klopfet an, 
Der mich so leise, so leise wecken kann?
Das ist der Herzallerliebste dein,
Steh auf und laß mich zu dir ein!

Was soll ich hier nun länger stehn?
Ich seh die Morgenröt aufgehn,
Die Morgenröt, zwei helle Stern,
Bei meinem Schatz, da wär ich gern,
bei meiner Herzallerliebsten.

Das Mädchen stand auf und ließ ihn ein;
Sie heißt ihn auch wilkommen sein.
Willkommen, lieber Knabe mein,
So lang hast du gestanden!

Sie reicht ihm auch die schneeweiße Hand.
Von ferne sang die Nachtigall
Das Mädchen fing zu weinen an.

Ach weine nicht, du Liebste mein,
Aufs Jahr sollst du mein eigen sein.
Mein Eigen sollst du werden gewiß,
Wie's keine sonst auf Erden ist.
O Lieb auf grüner Erden.

Ich zieh in Krieg auf grüner Heid,
Die grüne Heide, die ist so weit.
Allwo dort die schönen Trompeten blasen,
Da ist mein Haus, von grünem Rasen.


Who is then outside, and who is knocking,
Who can so softly, softly waken me?
It is your darling,
Arise and let me come in to you!

Why should I stand here any longer?
I see the dawn arrive,
The dawn, two bright stars,
With my darling would I gladly be,
With my heart's most beloved!

The maiden arose and let him in;
She welcomed him as well:
Welcome, my beloved boy,
You have stood outside so long!

She reached to him her snow-white hand.
From afar a nightingale sang;
The maiden began to weep.

Oh, do not cry, my darling,
Next year you shall be my own!
My own shall you certainly be,
As no one else on earth is.
O Love on the green earth!

I go to war on the green heath,
The green heath that is so broad!
It is there where the beautiful trumpets blow,
There is my house of green grass!

Translation copyright © by Emily Ezust,
from the LiederNet Archive --
Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

Producer / Recording Engineer: Marlan Barry

Clubsoda Productions (

This project is a fiscally sponsored project of FRACTURED ATLAS.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Things our Fathers Loved

One of the other recording projects I'm currently working on is producing art song and vocal chamber music content specifically for YouTube.  The initial material that was recorded for the first stage of this project is from a salon concert I gave as the resident artist for San Francisco Performances earlier this January.  As tonight's final presidential debate looms, the subject matter of the program we recorded feels very timely.  The program was built from CAIC's 2015 Collaborative Works Festival, which explored America's relationship to faith and spirituality through music.

That evening in January, we began the program with some songs by Charles Ives, a visionary composer whose music still sounds so fresh and current today, despite the fact that it was written 100 years ago.  A true patriot whose music is steeped in the history of New England and the United States, one of his signature techniques was his ability to conjure up nostalgia and memory by creating aural snapshots of the past.  He did this by employing a pastiche technique, incorporating quotes from a number of popular tunes and hymns, seamlessly weaving them together, creating something that sounds entirely new and remarkably unique and individual.

In his short, 105-second song, The Things our Fathers Loved (a setting of one of his own texts), there are countless numbers of popular American tunes and hymns quoted, including Battle Cry of Freedom, Dixie, and Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, just to name a few.  The song weaves all of these tunes together quite elegantly at first, creating a sense of wistfulness for a golden age past.  Gradually, though, the tunes begin to collide with one another, and the voice and piano start to drift in different directions tonally, creating a slight sense of chaos and cacophony.  It is as if the present moment, being the sum of all things past leading up to now, is a bit of a messy jumble, the simplicity of yesteryear a distant memory.  The song ends beautifully, but in a quite unresolved way.  The story is unfinished, the future is both uncertain and unwritten.

Looking ahead to this evening's debate and considering just how acrimonious, sensationalist and low-brow this whole presidential election cycle has been, Ives' song about the continuing clash of the conflicting forces of American history (the song begins with a quote from the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy and then quotes a popular Union tune just 12 measures later!) feels eerily prescient.  It's almost as if he understood the timeline and progress of American history and politics as one of continual conflict, with the hope for growth through some sort of resolution of these opposing forces.  The sense of panic and instability he creates at the song's climax where the piano and voice are in very different tonal worlds, with no seeming relation to each other and both at a dynamically loud peak, feels not unlike the mood right now when thinking about the dirty mud-slinging and ideological conflict that pervades American politics today, in which presidential candidates can't bring themselves to be good enough sports to, at the very least, shake hands at the beginning of a debate.

Charles Ives
The Things Our Fathers Loved

TEXT (Charles Ives)

I think there must be a place in the soul
all made of tunes, of tunes of long ago;
I hear the organ on the Main Street corner,
Aunt Sarah humming Gospels; Summer evenings,
The village cornet band, playing in the square.
The town's Red, White and Blue,
all Red, White and Blue; Now! Hear the words
But they sing in my soul of the things our Fathers loved.


Nicholas Phan, tenor
Robert Mollicone, piano
recorded LIVE at SF Performances Salons at the Rex, January 28, 2016

Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

Producer / Recording Engineer: Lolly Lewis
Recording assistant: Emma Logan
Mastering / Mixing: Piper Payne, Coast Mastering

Cinematography: Catharine Axley, Kristine Stolakis
Editor: Catharine Axley

This project is a fiscally sponsored project of FRACTURED ATLAS.

To find our more information and to make a TAX-DEDUCTIBLE  donation to support the continuation of this project please visit:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


What are songs but stories set to music?  Whether they are confessional stories of the self or telling any variety of narrative, songs are tales spun to music.

Back in February of 2009, I had the privilege of participating in one of the Marilyn Horne Foundation's National Artist Residencies in Oberlin, Ohio.  These residencies consisted of a full recital on the local presenting series (in this instance, the Oberlin Conservatory's Artist Recital Series), preceded by a couple of days of outreach performances, taking art songs into the local schools.  The most challenging and rewarding part of this week in Ohio were these outreach performances.  My pianist colleague and I performed in classrooms filled with children as young as 5 years old - 1st and 2nd graders.  We were limited to only art song - no opera arias, no crossover repertoire.  The task of presenting the songs of Robert Schumann and Benjamin Britten to these young people was a daunting one - how does one hold a child's attention with this music?  It was a transformative experience for me (one which I blogged about at the time), and it revolutionized my approach to performance ever since.

At one point a few years ago, I was seeking programming advice from one of the artistic planning directors at Carnegie Hall, when he told me something that reminded me of that experience with those children back in 2009.  "When it comes to art song, you have to remember, there really is NO standard repertoire," he said.  It was a liberating reminder, making me remember that any song repertoire will be falling on ears as fresh as those young schoolchildren back in Ohio.  The same techniques apply, regardless of one's audience - one has to mine every detail, and pretend that they are telling a tall tale to a group of children around a campfire.  No stone must be left unturned, and every colorful extreme must be brought to life.

As a child, one of the first books I remember falling in love with was a copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. I’ve been fascinated with tales of the legendary and fantastic ever since.  As more and more children have entered our lives, most notably Myra's two daughters and my niece, storytelling has become a greater part of our personal lives, leading us to this fun Gods & Monsters program that is so full of musical imagination. One of the most astounding aspects of these powerful musical miniatures is the incredible amount of color and atmosphere they lend to these stories, so that each song becomes an epic tale of almost cinematic proportions.  

I found myself standing in front of an audience full of fresh ears yet again last Friday in Washington, DC.  Myra and I took our Gods & Monsters program out for its maiden voyage in public, as part of a benefit concert for a fantastic volunteer organization called YSOP.  Standing in front of an audience of YSOP's many supporters who there to support their efforts, and experience a new musical experience; some of the young people that YSOP engages in community service projects, and some homeless people who are the beneficiaries of YSOP's programs, I felt not unlike I did standing in that Oberlin 1st & 2nd grade classroom seven years ago.  It was a thrill to be able to pretend that we were all sitting around a campfire, with Myra and I telling them tales of kings, knights, witches, gods and monsters in as much vivid detail as possible, seeing everyone's eyes brighten as their imaginations fired up just as much as ours were.

Myra and I at the YSOP benefit recital last Friday in Washington, DC.

There's still a couple of weeks to pre-order your copy of Gods & Monsters, as well as make a tax-deductible contribution towards underwriting the final stages of the project before its January 2017 release.  Pre-order your copy and make a donation HERE!

Nicholas Phan Recording Projects is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non­profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Nicholas Phan Recording Projects must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only. Any contribution above the value of the goods and services received by the donor is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.   

Sunday, October 16, 2016

#ThisIs2016 - Asian-Americans Respond

Sometime in early January of 2001, as I was beginning to consider my post-college options, I went out to Los Angeles to visit a Chinese-American soprano friend and meet her voice teacher, whom she had been raving about since moving out to SoCal.  She felt that she had revolutionized her vocal technique, opening up new horizons for her.  This voice teacher was a visiting voice teacher for the apprentices out at the Santa Fe Opera every summer and was equally impressively connected elsewhere throughout the United States, maintaining a studio filled with young, successful and (most importantly) working singers.  During my visit, I arranged to have a lesson with this esteemed pedagogue, as I knew the next chapter in my studies was approaching, and it was an important time to consider every option before me.

During the course of an hour-long lesson at this teacher's home studio, she told me that she admired my voice and my singing, and then offered a few technical tips, which I found quite helpful and interesting.  My friend sat on her couch as we worked, attentively observing the session.  Towards the end of our hour, the teacher asked me: "Your mother is Greek, right?  What is her maiden name?" I replied to her seemingly strange question, and she repeated my first name combined with my mother's maiden name a few times.  "That sounds great!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. She then shared with me her final piece of advice for our hour together: "You should definitely change your name to that, so when you start doing all of these important competitions, people won't think you're just another dumb, Asian singer."

While I have lived a privileged life in music and opera since then, and I try to focus on the many opportunities that I have been granted and positive experiences that have filled my life, I have felt a tiny bit of discomfort as the dialogue about race relations has intensified over the past couple of years, with subjects as wide-ranging as the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the lack of diversity amongst the Saturday Night Live cast members and staff writers, to the debate over the Metropolitan Opera's decision to not put dark makeup on the Russian tenor performing the title role in their production of Verdi's Otello last season.  Let me be clear that I believe wholeheartedly that it is fantastic that we are having these discussions about racial inequality and bigotry so openly now - black lives matter. They matter a great deal. My level of discomfort only stems from the temptation to frame these discussions in simple black and white, when in reality, we live in a world of technicolor.

One of the most striking anecdotes in the NY Times video above is the story Dorothy Hom relates about her white husband not realizing that she is not white.  Once, discussing the lack of racial diversity in the opera world and the struggle of the African American opera singer, I was told by a colleague in a moment of heated debate that I cannot understand their struggle, because I can pass for white.  Yet, I don't pass for white.  As a bi-racial person, the most common question I hear upon meeting someone is "what are your origins?".  I obviously take pride in my ethnic origins (as evidenced from the title of this blog), but that stems from my ownership of being "other" when it comes to the "Race or Ethnic Group" section of a voter registration form.  Yet despite the fact that the "other" box is the best option I can choose when encountering the race/ethnicity choices on a form, there is this sense that people don't view Asians as people of color, who grapple with issues of prejudice and bigotry, and a history of struggle and oppression within the United States.

In the very first joke of the cold open of the October 9 episode Saturday Night Live (a show which endured harsh criticism a couple of years ago for its lack of diversity), new cast member Melissa Villaseñor says, "I am the new Hispanic cast member, and tonight I'll be playing Asian moderator, Elaine Quijano, steps".  Baby steps, indeed.  I am so happy to see this piece being done by the New York Times, bringing us into the dialogue.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Oedipus & Rock Climbing

Sunday afternoon's performance of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex at Cal Performances was a thrill, in every sense of the word.  Stravinsky's score is daunting in every respect.  It is demanding both musically and vocally, requiring a huge dynamic range, an expansive sense of line and phrasing,  rhythmic precision, and a willingness to tread the extraordinary path Oedipus navigates as he discovers the shocking truth of his origins.  Performing it for the first time with colleagues who were so experienced with the piece was an honor and luxury - I hope I have the honor of getting to perform the piece many more times in the future.

Rather than just collapse in exhaustion after surviving my first foray with Oedipus, I spent the Monday touring San Francisco's more majestic and epic spots for the photo shoot of the Gods & Monsters album cover.  Instead of taking a chance to netflix and chill all day, I found myself climbing rocks on the beach, desperately trying to not fall into the Pacific as my dear friend Henry snapped conceptual shots of me. We had a great time touring around many of San Fransisco's most beautiful spots - we should have some good album cover options from the hundreds of snaps Henry took yesterday.

Photo shoot day. #GodsAndMonsters #HomeLife #Beach#Moody #KarlTheFog #👙

Speaking of Gods & Monsters, all of us on the G & M team have been overwhelmed with the many generous contributions that have streamed in steadily over the past week - it's an honor and joy to feel so supported in these artistic adventures, and we are all incredibly grateful for everyone's generosity so far.  If you haven't had a chance to check out the project's IndieGoGo page, you can by clicking HERE. There are chances to pre-order your copy of the album (even signed copies) while also making a tax-deductible contribution towards underwriting the album's final stages of post-production before it's release next January.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

National Coming Out Day

A very happy National Coming Out Day to one and all.  

I've always believed that it is of the utmost importance to be out, subscribing to the belief that is a public responsibility to be out in order to show the world, most especially those younger than us, who have yet to embark upon the journey of coming out, what happy, beautiful and fulfilling lives it is possible to lead as LGBT people.  I discussed this back in 2010 in an interview for the Huffington Post.  While the world has changed greatly in the past 6 years, the need for us to be out and proud beacons of hope remains just a necessary as it ever has.  It's wonderful the giant strides we have made  towards achieving our civil rights around the world, but coming out still means braving the terrors and real dangers of bigotry, hate and homphobia.

I applaud and celebrate all of my LGBT sisters and brothers, thank you for being such brave and bight lights, illuminating and enlightening this world in which we live. 

Previous National Coming Out Day posts are here, here and here.

Friday, October 07, 2016


One week from today, on October 14, Myra and I will be giving our Gods & Monsters program its maiden voyage in public, as a benefit recital in Washington, DC for an amazing organization, Youth Services Opportunity Project. From their website, YSOP's mission is to engage youth, college students and adults in meaningful service experiences through an innovative program that combines an orientation to the issues, hands-on volunteer work and reflection. Using orientation and reflection to frame their service experiences, YSOP inspires participants to broaden their perspectives and become engaged citizens.

A formative experience I had as a young person was being required to engage in my own community in Michigan as a volunteer throughout middle school and high school. The school I attended from grades 6 through 12 had an annual community service requirement of its entire student body – every student was required to volunteer for a certain number of hours each semester. As I began my path towards following my dream of becoming a professional musician, those volunteering experiences helped me understand that, ultimately, being a musician is a career of service – our work is to serve the music on the page to the best of our ability and to bring communities together – whether it be to aid in healing during a in a time of mourning or to help a community celebrate all sorts of joyous occasions. 
I can think of no better organization to support through music than YSOP, who clearly aim to help young people to become conscious citizens of the world as they enter adulthood.  If you live in the Washington, DC area, want to hear some beautiful German Lieder, as well as support a worthy organization that is doing amazing work to make the world a better place, tickets and more information can be found HERE.