Lebanese-American tenor Karim Sulayman has garnered international attention as a sophisticated and versatile artist, consistently praised for his sensitive and intelligent musicianship, riveting stage presence, and beautiful voice. The 2019 Best Classical Solo Vocal GRAMMY® Award winner, he continues to earn acclaim for his programming and recording projects, while regularly performing on the world’s stages in opera, orchestral concerts, recital and chamber music.
In the 2022-23 season Mr. Sulayman takes part in three world premieres: he creates the title characters in Sarah Angliss and Ross Sutherland’s Giant (Aldeburgh Festival), and Wolfgang Mitterer and Sir David Poutney’s Peter Pan: the dark side (Teatro Comunale di Bolzano e Trento/Fondazione Haydn), and performs the protagonist in Matthew Ricketts and Mark Campbell’s theatrical song cycle Unruly Sun (Orchestre Classique de Montréal/21C Festival Toronto). He also debuts at Wigmore Hall in two programs of French chamber music, plays Artaserse in Riccardo Broschi’s Idaspe in a new production in Pittsburgh and returns to Stanford Live Arts Bing Concert Hall in chamber music of Barber, Hakim and Birtwistle.
Recently Mr. Sulayman made his solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall to a sold out audience, followed by the world premiere of his critically acclaimed original production, Unholy Wars, an Italian Baroque pasticcio centered around the Middle East and the Crusades, at Spoleto Festival USA. He then returned to the Aldeburgh Festival for several different programs, including his new program, Broken Branches, with guitarist Sean Shibe. Other recent season highlights include engagements at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, and Ravinia Festival, as well as with Chicago, Pittsburgh and National Symphony Orchestras, and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, and leading roles with Drottningholms Slottsteater, Houston Grand Opera, Florentine Opera, New York City Opera, and Boston Lyric Opera. In future seasons he returns to Wigmore Hall and the Ravinia Festival, debuts at Opera Philadelphia, Schleswig-Holstein Festival and Boston Celebrity Series, and will premiere David T. Little’s What Belongs to You, a monodrama written for Sulayman and Alarm Will Sound based on Garth Greenwell’s acclaimed novel, directed by Mark Morris.
A dedicated chamber musician, Sulayman was a frequent participant at the Marlboro Music Festival in collaboration with co-directors and pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Richard Goode.. He has since been presented by many of the world’s leading chamber music festivals, collaborating frequently with groups like Eighth Blackbird and as a core member of the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective. His concerts and recordings have been broadcast nationally and internationally on NPR, American Public Media, BBC Radio 3 and WDR 3.
Sulayman's thought provoking and innovative programming is highlighted in his growing discography which includes his debut solo album, Songs of Orpheus, which was released to international acclaim on the AVIE label. Named “Critic’s Choice” by Opera News, and praised for his “lucid, velvety tenor and pop-star charisma” by BBC Music Magazine, Karim won the 2019 GRAMMY® Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. His second solo album, Where Only Stars Can Hear Us, an album of Schubert Lieder with fortepianist Yi-heng Yang was released on AVIE in March 2020 and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart and has received widespread critical acclaim, including being named once again as “Critic’s Choice” by Opera News, and included on the New York Times’ “Best Classical Music of 2020.” His third solo album, Broken Branches, will be released by Pentatone in May, 2023.
In November 2016, Karim created a social experiment/performance art piece called I Trust You, designed to build bridges in a divided political climate. A video version of this experiment went “viral” on the internet, and was honored as a prize winner in the My Hero Film Festival. He has been invited to give talks and hold open forums with student and adult groups about inclusion, empathy, healing from racism, and activism through the arts.
In other visual media, he is featured in the ARTE documentary Leonard Bernstein – A Genius Divided, which premiered throughout Europe in the summer of 2018 and was subsequently released on DVD. His performance of Bernstein’s Mass with the CSO was broadcast on PBS Great Performances in the spring of 2020 and in the fall of 2020 Karim appeared on the second season of the acclaimed series Dickinson on Apple TV+.
A native of Chicago, Karim’s musical education began with violin studies at age 3 which he continued through high school. He also spent years as a boy alto the Chicago Children’s Choir and was hand selected by Sir Georg Solti and Leonard Slatkin as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony. He graduated with highest honors from the Eastman School of Music where he worked in the Collegium Musicum under the tutelage of Paul O’Dette, and earned a Masters degree from Rice University. He later moved to Paris, France where he studied with renowned tenor/haute-contre, Howard Crook. He also studied improvisation at the Second City Training Center in Chicago.
Karim is passionate about his place in the Arts industry as someone who challenges audiences to think outside the box in a quest to maintain classical music’s relevance in a modern world, smashing the practice of treating old works as museum pieces. He enjoys educating the next generation of music students, encouraging them to think in this way while helping them cultivate their own unique voices. He hopes to make positive changes through thoughtful performance, arts advocacy and social justice that will impact generations to come.