A Chat With Thomas Hampson

Classic Arts Features   A Chat With Thomas Hampson
 
Thomas Hampson began his New York Philharmonic residency with a Nov. 2 lecture and just presented a series of concerts at Avery Fisher Hall. He chats here about his work with the Phil and other current projects.


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November is a busy month for baritone Thomas Hampson, with a number of concerts and special events that include his first programs as the New York Philharmonic's first Artist-in-Residence, and the continuation of his "Song of America" project. Hampson discusses these, and other events.

Q: What are some of the things that you hope to achieve in your residency with the New York Philharmonic?

Hampson: What I'd like to achieve with the Philharmonic is to establish what they would like, eventually, to see as a permanent relationship between them and an artist. The point is _ we're inventing ourselves. I think it's a valid invention and a very important position for the Philharmonic. We're certainly monitoring it from both sides so we can do the right thing for the next people who come along.

For me personally, I really enjoy the different kinds of repertoire _ I think that's a huge mandate for the artist who is in residence. We have a little bit of this, and a little of that, and it is very exciting. I think, as a singer, what I'd really like to do through the symposiums and variety of repertoire is invite people to have a more fundamental and immediate relationship with the repertoire itself _ where it comes from, the idea that a singer is making audible various worlds of thought and not necessarily choosing repertoire that is the best vehicle for that person. I think that the vocal repertoire should be chosen for a deeper reason than just the curious selection of this or that beautiful, or strange, song that gets programmed with an institution. I hope to make a small impact on people's general appreciation of what is going on when something is sung.

Q: Tell us about Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony, which is on the first program you'll perform with the Philharmonic this season.

TH: What people need to know right from the top is that the Lyric Symphony is a direct descendent of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and has a lot of the same, essential issues of concrete or realizable life on earth, dreaming of some other kind of existence, or a metaphysical statement about where your heart and your mind and your soul go. It is extremely lush music. Zemlinsky is a forgotten master _ he was very respected and loved by his contemporaries _ especially as a conductor but also as a composer. He was dwarfed somewhat by the spectacular stories of Pfitzner and Hindemith, but he's actually the real direct descendent of fin-de-sicle Vienna. It's gorgeous music, a beautiful dialogue between baritone and soprano _ almost a quasi husband-and-wife relationship and confronting larger metaphysical issues of love and loss and longing.

Q: You'll be singing John Adams's The Wound-Dresser in January on Alan Gilbert's first European tour with the New York Philharmonic. What's the idea behind performing such an intense work on tour and does it have a special or different resonance when you perform such a work in Europe?

TH: I think whenever you take serious American repertoire to Europe you're making a statement that needs to be made. We have a much varied and interesting depth of repertoire and thought in America that very often isn't appreciated. Certainly all of our arts and letters here in America are dominated by people's immediate perceptions of geopolitics. It's an important message to communicate _ that we have a deep-thinking, profound relationship with questions of war and suffering and life and love like any other country. John Adams's piece has become an icon of American literature in a short amount of time. It is the best of what Walt Whitman writes. It's about compassion. It's not an anti-war statement. It is a kind of reflection of human need and human misery and aggression, met with living compassion that any political party in any country needs to embrace. I'm very, very proud to be with the New York Philharmonic in taking that to Europe.

Q: Tell us about your history working with Alan Gilbert.

TH: We met for the first time in Hamburg doing Mahler's Kindertotenlieder with the NDR Symphony Orchestra, of which he is Principal Guest Conductor. Our paths have crossed often as colleagues and friends since then, including a couple of concerts with Mahler repertoire. This year's musical engagement will be a turning point in our relationship with one another.

Q: You'll be returning with Susan Graham to co-host the fifth annual Opera News Awards on November 19.

TH: Coming back and co-hosting anything with Susan Graham is a kick. We're old friends and we enjoy doing this, not just because it's kind of a roasting thing, but because we really believe in the mandate of these annual awards _ to celebrate another five people who make a difference in the classical music industry and specifically in the opera world. It's great fun. We're devoted to the people who run this thing and Susan and I have a hoot and a half bringing on spectacular guest artists and guest presenters.

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Hampson recorded "Wondrous Free" for "Song of America"

Q: Does the current "Song of America" tour feel different to you from the first one that you did back in 2005? What have you learned? Has it just grown and become more special to you?

TH: The second round of "Song of America" has done one fundamental thing: that is, to completely reinforce and support and give me great confidence that the dialogue we're having across America is a very substantial, realizable entree _ for people both knowledgeable and less so _ into arts and literature and music in America. We're having this dialogue about American music and American literature in large and small venues and are reaffirming the idea that we see our lives in America and as Americans through the lives of our poets and the ears of our composers. It's been a huge reinforcement of what it is we set out to do. The collaboration with the Library of Congress has taken an even deeper and more focused relationship in terms of my foundation's mandate [i.e., that of The Hampsong Foundation], the Library of Congress as the largest and greatest library on the planet, and the commercial production of this tour, which are all three separate entities.

I think the project has been a very powerful vehicle. The "Song of America" Part Two continues my work, and while I don't mean to sound like we're setting up a bunch of movie sequels _ is it Die Hard 5 now? _ we're certainly looking at "Song of America" Three, Four, Five, Six, and so on: because the "Song of America" project will be a Thomas Hampson project as long as I'm alive. I'm very thrilled about it, and the response has been quite overwhelming and with the new digital world that we live in and the possibilities of building access points for people on the net has been extraordinary and can only get deeper and richer.

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Visit New York Philharmonic

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Thomas Hampson: Selected 2009-10 Engagements

Nov 2
New York, NY
Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse
New York Philharmonic Lecture:
"Listening to Thought: Vienna's Paradigm Shift"

Nov 5, 6, 7, and 10
New York, NY
Avery Fisher Hall
Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony
with Hillevi Martinpelto, soprano
New York Philharmonic / Neeme Jê_rvi

Nov 12
Philadelphia, PA
American Musicological Society Conference
"Song of America" recital
Craig Rutenberg, piano

Nov 17
Princeton, NJ
McCarter Theatre
"Song of America" recital
Craig Rutenberg, piano

Nov 19
New York, NY
Gotham Hall
Fifth Annual Opera News Awards
Co-host (with Susan Graham)

Dec 31
New York, NY
Avery Fisher Hall
Gala New Year's Eve Concert
Copland: Old American Songs
Selections from Broadway musicals
New York Philharmonic / Alan Gilbert

Jan 11, 2010
New York, NY
Walter Reade Theater
"Listening to Thought: Awakening of the American Voice"
Annual Erich Leinsdorf Lecture
New York Philharmonic

Jan 14-16
New York, NY
New York Philharmonic / Alan Gilbert
John Adams: The Wound-Dresser

Jan 22
Barcelona, Spain
New York Philharmonic European tour begins (through Feb 3; cities/dates TBA)
Alan Gilbert, conductor

Feb 19
Atlanta, GA
Emory University
Emerson Concert Hall
"Song of America" recital
Pianist TBA

Feb 24, 26, and 28
Zurich, Switzerland
Puccini: Tosca _ Scarpia

March 29; April 3, 7, 10, 13, 17, 21, and 24
New York, NY
Metropolitan Opera
Verdi: La traviata _ Germont

April 5
New York, NY
Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse
"Listening to Thought: A Guide to German Romanticism"

April 11
New York, NY
Recital at Alice Tully Hall, presented by the New York Philharmonic

April 16 and 17
New York, NY
Contact, The New Music Series
World premiere of new work by Matthias Pintscher
Symphony Space (April 16)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (April 17)
New York Philharmonic

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