Praised as a "mature artist with a voluminous sound," baritone and composer Joel Balzun is thrilled to be celebrating his tenth production with Pacific Opera Project, following his scarf-wielding Dandini (La Cenerentola) in his third appearance at the Ford Amphitheatre. Following this appearance, Mr. Balzun went on to become the Winner of the 2021 Fulham Opera Robert Presley Memorial Verdi Prize, and prize-winner in Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition (Los Angeles District and Western Region), Pasadena Vocal Competition and NATS Artist Awards, in addition to being a finalist in Orchestre symphonique de Montréal Concours and Premiere Opera Foundation International Vocal Competition. Other highlights of his 2021-2022 season include his role and house debut as Giorgio Germont (La traviata) with Opera Santa Barbara, works of Ralph Vaughan Williams with San Luis Obispo Master Chorale and numerous recitals featuring a new work written for Mr. Balzun by Tom Cipullo throughout Southern California.
From Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center, Mr. Balzun has appeared successfully on both the operatic and concert stages. As a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, Mr. Balzun sang alongside Stephanie Blythe in a concert of American song, and Dawn Upshaw and Sanford Sylvan in Shostakovich's brooding Symphony No. 14. Other past appearances include the title roles in Don Giovanni and Gianni Schicchi, Marcello (La bohème) the Four Villains in Les contes d'Hoffmann, Prince Yeletskiy and Count Tomskiy (Pikovaya Dama), Albert (Werther), Belcore (L'elisir d'amore), Dr. Malatesta (Don Pasquale), Valentin (Faust), Sid (Albert Herring), and John Brooke (Adamo’s Little Women), among others. On the concert stage, Mr. Balzun has been a featured soloist in Copland's Old American Songs, Dvořák’s Te Deum, Fauré's Requiem, Haydn's The Creation, Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and numerous cantatas of Bach. His acclaimed performance of Bach's Johannes-Passion with the Rochester Bach Festival was recently broadcast multiple times across the United States.
An avid proponent of the music of living and contemporary composers, Mr. Balzun won critical acclaim for his portrayal of the titular Joseph de Rocher in the South Florida premiere of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking with Miami Music Festival. He worked with the composer on this work, as well as the role of Charlie in excerpts from Three Decembers. On the concert stage, he has championed rarely-performed works such as George Rochberg's String Quartet No. 7, as well as Peter Maxwell Davies's virtuosic Eight Songs for a Mad King, and numerous performances of Robert Denham's Sutter Creek, among others. In 2014, Mr. Balzun was a featured soloist at the CFAMC National Conference in 2014, where he gave the world premiere performances of works by Christopher Ashbaugh, David Fuentes, Jan Mittelstaedt and Benjamin Williams. He was looking forward to presenting the New York premiere of Lembit Beecher’s Sky on Swings with Opera Saratoga in 2020 but the production was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His professional debut in 2011 was in the world premiere of Peter Michael von der Nahmer's award winning opera, El canguro with California International Theatre Festival.
In May 2021, Mr. Balzun launched Black Dog Commission, a new commissioning series for art song repertoire which openly discusses life with mental illness. Inspired by Mr. Balzun’s own journey with depression, he looks forward to premiering a new work written for him by Tom Cipullo with poetry by Les Murray in spring 2022, with more projects to come in the future.
Also an accomplished composer, Mr. Balzun's “haunting and beautiful” music has received international recognition. He was a multiple prize-winner in the 2017 SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers. In 2014, he was named a finalist for the prestigious ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Awards. Other accolades include winning the Dallas Winds’ 9th annual “Call for Fanfares”, as well as winning first prize in the Classical Marimba League International Composition Competition. In 2010, Mr. Balzun was also a prize-winner in the National Broadcast Orchestra’s Galaxie Rising Star Composers’ Competition, winning both the Young Composers Prize and the Grand Prize. In 2012, he was the youngest composer invited to participate in the Art Song Lab through the Vancouver International Song Institute. He was a guest presenter and composer at the CBDNA 2013 National Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina, as well as the 2014 CFAMC National Conference, where he was also a featured soloist.
Praised as “a composer to watch” by the Calgary Herald, Mr. Balzun has been the recipient of numerous commissions. His music has been performed across four continents by ensembles such as Alberta Winds, Calgary Civic Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, CCM Wind Orchestra, Dallas Winds, the National Broadcast Orchestra of Canada, La Orquestra Vientos de Costa Rica, and Windago. Additional performances include those by Cadillac Moon Ensemble, Standing Wave Ensemble, and such luminary soloists as Corey Hamm. His music has been broadcast on CBC Radio 2 and Espace Musique. A selection of Mr. Balzun’s music is currently published by C. Alan Publications and Lovebird Music. He is an active member of ASCAP, CFAMC and SOCAN.
Mr. Balzun studied Music Composition and Vocal Performance at University of Calgary, Biola University and the Eastman School of Music, where he earned his Master's degree under the tutelage of Jan Opalach and Benton Hess. He has augmented his studies as a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Centre, where he was primarily mentored by Sanford Sylvan, Pittsburgh Festival Opera as a Featured Artist in the Young Professional Artists program, where he was also in Jane Eaglen's inaugural class of the Mastersingers Project for Young Dramatic Voices and the young artist program of Opera Saratoga.