Faculty Profiles

Sanford Sylvan


Sanford Sylvan From Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin and the Passions of J.S. Bach to the operas of John Adams, American baritone Sanford Sylvan displays a remarkable range of vocal expression and communicative power. On the concert stage and in recordings, his radiantly pure, lyric tone, clarity of diction and profound understanding of both words and music speak directly and intimately to his audience.

Deeply committed to the art of the vocal recital, Mr. Sylvan and his long-time collaborator, pianist David Breitman, have performed extensively throughout the United States and Europe, in major venues in London, New York, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Their recitals and recordings have earned exceptional praise from critics and audiences, including five Grammy nominations.

In the realm of opera, Mr. Sylvan is an acclaimed Mozartean. His portrayals of Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte have been seen internationally, including PBS "Great Performances." He has been much acclaimed for the role of Leporello in Don Giovanni, which he sang for his Glyndebourne Festival debut and with New York City Opera, where he was a regular performer in such operas as The Magic Flute, Ariodante, The Rape of Lucretia and Handel’s Semele. Sanford Sylvan is closely associated with the productions of renowned directors: Peter Sellars in works of John Adams, Mozart and Stravinsky; Robert Wilson in Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts, as well as Sir Peter Hall and Andrei Serban. He has developed longstanding relationships with major composers who have written for him: John Adams' Nixon In China (Chou En-Lai), the title role of The Death of Klinghoffer and the song cycle, The Wound Dresser; and numerous works of John Harbison. He was in the US premiere of The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the world premiere of Philip Glass' The Juniper Tree, and sang Sir Michael Tippett's The Ice Break at the BBC Proms. He portrays Klinghoffer in the film of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer; receiving much acclaim and numerous international awards including a Grammy nomination. The year 2008 brought another Adams role for his debut with the Chicago Opera Theater: the Storyteller in John Adams’ The Flowering Tree conducted by the composer. He repeated this role at the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia (those performances won Australia’s 2009 Helpmann Award for Best Symphony Orchestra Performance) and again at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. In 2011, to much acclaim, he sang the title role in Hindemith’s Cardillac with Opera Boston.

Sanford Sylvan has performed with many of the leading orchestras of the world including the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, London Symphony, BBC Symphony, Royal Concertgebouworkest, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestras, the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, Academy of Ancient Music, Melbourne Symphony, Australian Chamber Orchestra and the NHK (Japanese Broadcasting Corporation) Symphony. He has collaborated with such conductors as Sir Simon Rattle, James Levine, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Herbert Blomstedt, Christopher Hogwood, Kent Nagano, Edo De Waart, Leonard Slatkin, Helmuth Rilling, Bruno Weil and Roger Norrington, among many others. The Los Angeles Philharmonic commissioned Steven Stucky’s American Muse for him; the premiere was conducted by Esa Pekka Salonen. Again with Maestro Salonen and the LA Philharmonic, he sang Haydn’s Creation opening the first subscription week of concerts in the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in fall 2004. Highlights of recent seasons include Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron with the Boston Symphony under James Levine, the world premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Requiem with the Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney and Adams’ The Wound Dresser with the Baltimore Symphony, conducted by the composer. 2011 brought two Carnegie Hall appearances: the role of Moses in the US premiere of Paul Dessau’s Haggadah shel Pessach with the American Symphony Orchestra and John Adams’ The Wound Dresser with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Sylvan's many festival appearances have included the Edinburgh, Tanglewood, Vienna, Holland, Schleswig-Holstein, Ojai and the Oregon Bach Festival. His longstanding relationships with the Carmel Bach Festival and the New England Bach Festival brought annual appearances for many years. As a chamber musician he has performed, toured and recorded with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Music from Marlboro, the Sarasa Chamber Music Ensemble, Ensemble Sequentia, Emmanuel Music and the Boston Symphony Chamber Players with whom he recorded John Harbison's Words from Paterson.

Sanford Sylvan's recordings are known throughout the world and appear on the Nonesuch, Decca, Harmonia Mundi, Musicmasters, Bridge, Koch, Virgin Classics, New World and CRI labels. A Grammy and Emmy Award winner for his role in John Adams' Nixon In China, he has received five additional Grammy nominations: for his recordings with David Breitman, L'Horizon Chimérique: Chansons of Gabriel Fauré; Beloved That Pilgrimage, American songs of Barber, Copland and Chanler; John Adams' The Wound Dresser; the film soundtrack for Adams’ The Death of Klinkghoffer; and in 2009 for Charles Fussell’s Wilde with Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Recent recordings include Stucky’s American Muse with BMOP, Marjorie Merryman’s Jonah with The Washington Chorus and his third recording of John Adams’ The Wound Dresser with the Oregon Stmphony under Carlos Kalmar. He can be seen in numerous productions on DVD including John Adams’ Nixon in China and Klinghoffer and Peter Sellars’ productions of Cosi fan tutte and Nozze di Figaro.

In addition to being on the faculty of the Bard Conservatory graduate Vocal Arts Program Mr. Sylvan is on the vocal faculties of The Juilliard School and McGill University in Montreal.