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Pianist shuffles the deck to include more recent and diverse pieces

| Judy Berthiaume

Dr. Nicholas Phillips loves Bach just as much as the next person, but the UW-Eau Claire pianist thinks it’s time artists and audiences embrace a new playlist of favorite musical pieces.

With the old playlist full of often-played famous pieces mostly written by men who’ve long since passed away, Phillips is advocating that musicians shuffle the deck to include more recent and diverse pieces that he thinks are well worth sharing.

“In the music world, premiering a new piece or commissioning a piece for a specific composer is considered a big deal,” says Phillips, an associate professor of music at UW-Eau Claire. “Unfortunately, that’s often where the music stops — the composer’s work is premiered and then it’s put on a shelf and often no one plays it again.”

Phillips, who the New York Times has described as a “persuasive advocate” of new music, is spending his semester-long spring sabbatical touring the United States, performing only music that has been written within the last 10 years by composers few are familiar with.

Phillips’ tour, titled “New Playlist,” features 21st-century pieces written for piano.

All the music is engaging and accessible, and so far audiences are responding with great enthusiasm, Phillips says.

“No one in the audience is familiar with any of the music,” Phillips says. “It’s very exciting because it’s brand new to them from start to finish. They don’t know what to expect.”

In addition to recitals throughout the U.S., Phillips also will perform in Colombia, Peru and South Africa.

His recitals — as well as the CD he plans to record this spring— include only newer pieces he’s discovered, enjoyed and believes deserve to be played and widely shared.

Each piece, he believes, will stand the test of time, and will likely still be played many years into the future. In addition to his recitals, Phillips also leads master classes when he’s performing on college campuses, giving him an opportunity to encourage young musicians to think beyond the traditional repertoire of music.

While his days are filled with studying, practicing and performing, the semester away from his teaching duties is giving him time to explore even more new music and to think differently about his teaching, Phillips says.

“This sabbatical is allowing me to become a student again myself,” Phillips says. “The extensive travel I’m able to do, and the interaction with other musicians, students and audiences, help make me a better-rounded musician in general. All of these things will make me a better teacher when I return. I love to teach, so it’s definitely hard to be away from my students.”

In May, Phillips will record a new CD, his fourth.

“There are lots of CDs out there that feature Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and others so I wouldn’t be serving my field as well if I recorded that as I will by recording new pieces that deserve to be heard by more people,” Phillips says. “I am trying to expand the knowledge about new composers who are writing great music. That’s the wonderful thing about our field. There is so much to learn and so much new music to still be discovered.”

Phillips is looking forward to an April 18 recital at UW-Eau Claire.

Dates of his spring recital tour are online.

Photo caption: Dr. Nicholas Phillips