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UW-Eau Claire pianist to perform two recitals featuring underrepresented composers

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Dr. Nicholas Phillips is playing two virtual recitals in the coming week, both featuring underrepresented composers. One recital is in honor of Black History Month and the other celebrates Women’s History Month.

A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire pianist who often includes pieces written by underrepresented composers is playing two virtual recitals in the coming weeks that celebrate equity, diversity and inclusion.

Nicholas Phillips

Dr. Nicholas Phillips is an accomplished pianist who has performed across the U.S. and around the world.

Dr. Nicholas Phillips, professor of music-piano, is playing a February recital that honors Black History Month and another in March in celebration of Women’s History Month.

“Playing these recitals during months that tie into Black History Month and Women’s History Month is a way that I can contribute to an awareness of the great piano music that exists by women and African American composers,” Phillips says.

In his February recital as a guest artist at the University of Nebraska Omaha, Phillips is featuring works by African American composer Florence Price, including her miniatures, a suite and her Sonata.

Price, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but spent her professional years in Chicago, was the first African American woman to gain national status as a symphonic composer. She became the first Black female composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played the world premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in E minor in 1933.

Price uses a Romantic harmonic language, combined with the rhythms and melodies of African American spirituals.

“Her piano music was neglected for a long time, but is, thankfully, enjoying renewed interest and attention,” Phillips says of Price. “I’m a big fan, and audiences will really enjoy it.”

Phillips’ recital featuring Price’s work will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16. The event, which is free and open to anyone, can be found here.

In March, Phillips will play for the “Piano Stories on Stage” series hosted by the Francis Clark Center, a nonprofit institution dedicated to music education.

In honor of Women’s History Month, Phillips’ recital program will include a prelude and fugue, classical sonata, Romantic set, contemporary work and a big, virtuosic sonata, all by female composers.

“This recital is particularly interesting because it takes what we have come to expect from a traditional piano recital, in terms of types of repertoire, but doesn’t include any works from the male composers who have dominated the canon for centuries,” Phillips says.

During the virtual event, Phillips will perform works by Clara Schumann, Marianne von Mertinez, Fanny Mednelssohn-Hensel, Mary Kouyoumdjian and Florence Price.

The recital will begin at 7 p.m. March 26.

It’s an honor to have two new opportunities to shine a light on the talents of underrepresented composers, Phillips says.

“I think this is one area where, as performers and teachers, we must lead by example if we want to see change,” Phillips says. “Through my training, I had excellent teachers, but I was never assigned a work by a female composer. Why is that? It certainly isn’t from lack of composers or music.

“If we settle on the standard canon and what is already familiar, then we continue to feed the standard canon. If we are curious, and advocate for underrepresented composers, we find a wealth of really great music worth sharing.”

Described by the New York Times as a “talented and entrepreneurial pianist” and an “able and persuasive advocate” of new music, Phillips is active as a soloist and collaborative artist who has performed across the U.S. as well as in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa.

Given COIVD-19, Phillips recorded the two upcoming recitals at Pablo Center at the Confluence in downtown Eau Claire, a venue he says that makes quality virtual performances possible.

Pablo Center’s talented staff and state-of-the-art technologies help create “a recital video of extremely high audio and video quality, with camera angles you don’t get when sitting in the hall,” Phillips says.

While everyone misses live performances, virtual recitals and other events still are wonderful ways for people to enjoy music, Phillips says.

“People are hungry for a return to normalcy, and while it isn’t the same as a live concert in a hall, livestreamed concerts are terrific,” Phillips says. “You can sit on your couch and have an intimate concert in your living room.”