At only 23 years old, bass-baritone vocalist Philippe Sly has a list of achievements behind him that some musicians twice his age can only dream of.
Earlier this year, Philippe, who holds a Bachelor of Music in voice performance from McGill University, was crowned the first prize winner of the prestigious 2012 Concours Musical International de Montreal. Last year, Philippe was awarded the grand prize in the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions singing pieces from the repertoires of Bach, Mozart, Handel and more. The San Francisco Chronicle has praised Philippe’s voice as ‘beautiful, blooming tone’ while commending his ‘magnetic stage presence.’ Shortly after his Debut Atlantic tour of the Maritimes wraps up, Philippe will be heading for San Francisco for a two-year period during which he will be a member of the Adler Fellowship Program at the San Francisco Opera. Philippe will be making his mainstage debut in San Francisco as Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte under the musical direction of Nicola Luisotti.
In his concerts this coming Friday and Saturday night, pianist Michael McMahon, an acclaimed musician in his own right, will accompany Philippe. McMahon is the preferred pianist of many of Canada’s finest vocalists including New Brunswick’s Measha Brueggergosman, Maureen Forrester and Karina Gauvin. McMahon is currently a professor at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal.
It was actually at McGill University that Philippe and Michael became acquainted.
‘One of the big reasons behind me going to McGill was Michael,’ Philippe told The Times & Transcript while travelling from Fredericton to Halifax last week. ‘I first visited McGill when I was 15 or 16 years old; Michael heard me sing and our friendship grew from there. It was an environment that I immediately felt comfortable in. It was my first exposure to university and it left quite an impression upon me. Not only did I understand what was going on musically, it really felt like being a part of a family there.’ Philippe said that his interest in music has been a constant in his life, recalling that he used to routinely put on mock concerts for his family in their living room long before he had ever seen a live show. After seeing an operetta performed by a boys choir, his fate was sealed. His own choir audition would soon follow, as would voice lessons by the time he turned seven years old.
‘It was something that seemed completely natural and completely simple for me. I decided early on that I needed to be on stage and the first way of doing so was through opera.’ Asked why he chose opera over an arguably simpler form of classical music, Philippe said the challenges presented to him by the genre were something that he looked forward to conquering.
‘I had done musical theatre but something about opera kept pulling me in,’ he said. ‘It was, in my perception, more difficult, more challenging and perhaps a little more obscure. That was all very exciting to me.’ While many teens grow up with aspirations of being a rock star, Philippe acknowledges that classical music is often the road less travelled for teens and young adults but it is one he has no regrets about pursuing. ‘Not many people choose to pursue classical music, especially in my generation. I have friends in high school who would kind of secretly ask suggestions on what classical music that they should listen to. They didn’t want it known to others that they were making such inquiries,’ Philippe said, laughing.
‘I think that with the subjectivity that is arising in music in general these days, things are changing quite rapidly. Classical music is quickly growing into the one of the fastest growing genres of music that is being downloaded on the Internet. People initially get drawn to the music because of something that they might have heard in a movie or on a soundtrack and that leads them down other roads. It is not as though there is a sudden influx of people suddenly going to the opera; the way that everybody appreciates music is changing. I don’t feel as though my responsibility is to ask people to come to my concerts if they don’t want to go. I simply want to bring the music to them.’ The fact that he has accomplished so much at a relatively young age is not lost on Philippe. There is an enthusiasm in his voice during conversation that makes it obvious that he is passionate about what he does. The confidence in his abilities combined with his undeniable talent was bound to be a recipe for success for someone that has yet to break the 25-year-old mark.
‘I consider myself to be very lucky,’ he said. ‘It is inspiring to be myself, do what is right for me and follow through on my dreams. I have always believed that you have to try something, put 100 per cent of your effort into it and ‘go all the way’ to determine if it is really what you are meant to do. I live and breathe music to the extent that I believe I only now unconsciously realize the impact of what I do. Music was a hobby and now it’s my life; it is something that I want to keep as special as possible for as long as I can. I never want to lose my the love that I have for it.’
Article published in the October 23, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript