Born in New York City, the American baritone Sanford Sylvan is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music. He also studied at the preparatory division of the Juilliard School, and at the Tanglewood Music Center.
In the summer of 1994, Sylvan made his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in England, performing the role of Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He has been acclaimed in the United States and Europe for his portrayals of Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro and Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte. These Peter Sellars/Craig Smith productions of the Mozart operas have been featured on PBS’s Great Performances series. Sylvan has participated in the American premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse, the world premiere of Philip Glass’ The Juniper Tree, and a performance at the Proms in London of Michael Tippett’s The Ice Break.
In 1995, Sylvan performed in the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, the Ojai Festival, and the Carmel Bach Festival. He also appears annually with the New England Bach Festival under the direction of Blanche Moyse. As a chamber musician, he has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, on several Music From Marlboro tours, and with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, with whom he has recorded John Harbison’s Words from Paterson. Sylvan has performed with orchestras throughout the world, including the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony, London Sinfonietta, St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, NHK Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Sylvan’s debut recital album on Nonesuch, Beloved That Pilgrimage, an all American program of music by Barber, Copland and Chanler, was nominated for a Grammy as Best Classical Vocal Performance in 1991. An earlier recording of John Adams’ The Wound Dresser, composed especially for him, was also a Grammy nominee. Sylvan originated roles in two other Adams operas which were recorded by Nonesuch—Chou-En Lai in Nixon in China and Leon Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer.
In recent years, Sylvan and his longtime collaborator, pianist David Breitman, have performed Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin across the United States and Canada. Their recording of the Schubert work was released on Nonesuch in December, 1992. The duo have also collaborated with the Lydian String Quartet in performances of Gabriel Fauré’s La bonne chanson, a song cycle written around nine poems by Paul Verlaine.
This piece is the cornerstone of Sylvan’s latest Nonesuch release, L’horizon chimérique, featuring the works of Fauré and exploring a wide range of human emotion. Performing with Breitman on piano and the Lydian String Quartet, Sylvan offers a refined yet passionate treatment of the album’s 22 selections. The title work refers to a volume of writing by poet Jean de la Ville de Mirmont, who died at the age of 24. Also featured on the album are Mandoline, Le secret, and two Nocturnes for piano solo.
The New York Times has written, “Sylvan grasps a style that the French themselves have been hard pressed to pass on to their own young singers. This lovely, upward-straining, yet relaxed delivery serves the music with subdued grace and tenderness.” From Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin to the operas of John Adams, 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.