Nathan Pacheco, rising star in world of classical crossover
By Katherine Boyle,
Nathan Pacheco was a senior at Oakton High School in Vienna when he first heard the name Andrea Bocelli.
“I was helping my mother with the after-dinner chores, and I remember hearing this incredible song,” Pacheco recalled. “He was singing ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ with Sarah Brightman, doing his first PBS special.”
The song would go on to become one of the most popular crossover classical songs in history, selling more than 12 million copies worldwide. Brightman’s “Time to Say Goodbye” album would conquer the Billboard Classical Crossover chart for 35 weeks in the United States. And Pacheco, 32, the Herndon-raised, Nashville-based tenor whose PBS special “Introducing Nathan Pacheco” aired in September, would go on to become a rising classical crossover star in his own right.
“I remember being so drawn to [Bocelli’s] style of music because I knew he was bringing in classical elements,” Pacheco said. The son of a piano teacher didn’t know then that he wanted to pursue music as a career, but he did recognize how crossover music can be liberating for those who don’t appreciate traditional opera or classical standards. “I liked that he was singing with a raspy and pop-like voice, especially in the verses,” Pacheco said. “I thought that was so cool.”
For decades, classically trained musicians were reluctant to call crossover “cool.” The crossover genre has caused ire, even fear in classical circles, since the term is often misused by casual observers of classical music. Crossover music is distinct from classical, incorporating many styles — show tunes, folk melodies, pop music — into the genre. Adding to the confusion, many opera singers and classically trained musicians dabble in the genre over the course of their careers.
Young singers like Pacheco, though, actively seek to become crossover stars, often forgoing conservatories to pursue success in the generalists’ field. And like pop stars, crossover artists follow tumultuous paths to success, reliant upon big breaks and odd turns, not necessarily technique.
Pacheco’s big break came when he began touring with Yanni, the Greek self-taught pianist and producer who topped the New Age and Crossover charts in the ’90s. He then performed with Welsh crossover star Katherine Jenkins in Britain, gaining experience and exposure on stages overseas.
On Sunday at Strathmore, Pacheco will perform standards such as “Nessun Dorma” alongside his own folk-classical compositions from his self-titled debut album, songs that he says are deeply influenced by his family’s Brazilian heritage. After Strathmore, the tenor kicks off a four-month tour in the United States, punctuated with concerts in Britain and Ireland alongside Jenkins. It’s an impressive turn for a local singer-songwriter, whose childhood diet of the Three Tenors and U2 seems to be paying off.
A well-timed audition
Pacheco had just finished a degree in vocal performance at Brigham Young University and was preparing to study opera at the Manhattan School of Music when he decided to plunge into the industry.
“At the last minute I called them up and said, ‘I’m not coming,’ ” Pacheco said. “I’d had enough of the classroom and I wanted to just go out and make it work.”
Pacheco could have been called a late bloomer in this field of crossover talents, many of whom gain international stardom before they reach college age. Josh Groban was only 18 when he rehearsed “The Prayer” with Celine Dion; Pacheco was still playing Dave Matthews on his guitar in the suburbs.
But after only a few months in Los Angeles, Pacheco landed an audition with Yanni and his team. In the crossover world, it’s the equivalent of becoming one of Oprah’s favorite things — notoriety comes quickly.
“I auditioned for Ric Wake, a producer who was working with Yanni at the time,” Pacheco said of the man who produced Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. “And they were talking about doing a project with singers. I happened to have that audition at the perfect time.”
They invited Pacheco to join the Yanni Voices project, for which he wrote lyrics to Yanni’s instrumental works and performed on stage and on the studio album. The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s New Age chart. Pacheco toured with the ensemble for three years through Latin America and the United States before Walt Disney Records signed him as a solo artist. Pacheco credits his time with Yanni for much of his knowledge of crossover music and the industry.
“He taught me valuable lessons about how essential it is to be focused on the road,” Pacheco said. “And he’s got the philosopher gene in him since he’s from Greece. He would philosophize on how to see in your mind’s eye what you want to accomplish.”
Pacheco seemed set on succeeding in the hypercompetitive world of crossover from the outset. He attributes much of his success to his ability to blend pop, folk and classical elements, much as Yanni has done throughout his career.
“I’ve always been drawn to folk music and pop music, alongside the classical training,” Pacheco said. “And even though there are certain songs in opera that I love, there’s something about this crossover genre that has always moved me. In the end, I try to write and perform songs I connect with.”
Introducing Nathan Pacheco
4 p.m. Sunday. Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. 301-581-5100.