America is often cast as the land of freedom and opportunity, a place where the prevailing spirit is one of hope. But for almost a decade now, the emotion closest to the heart of the American people and culture has been fear. With its seeds in ignorance, and wilfully manipulated by the former political Establishment, this fear has eaten away at our sense of who we are.
Following President Obama’s speech in Cairo, we can at last begin to see a spirit of hopefulness returning to political dialogue. But the slow process of reopening the American mind cannot be conducted by politicians alone; it is a process that artists and performers such as myself have a responsibility to promote and engage in.
I began the Song of America project with the Library of Congress back in 2005 as a way of widening access to this central but neglected coalescence of our history, poetry and music. I felt this would be the best way to restore some of the lost intellectual and sensuous fabric of our society. Any history of song reads like a diary of society’s inner life, and from Francis Hopkinson – a friend of George Washington and signer of the Declaration of Independence – to Leonard Bernstein and John Adams, American song is no exception.
But the issue is more fundamental than one of spreading musical experience, for the past decade has taken a heavy toll on our sense of the meaning of culture more widely. The arts and humanities are in crisis not simply because of dwindling support and the havoc wrought on our cultural institutions by the recession. The value of the arts in America has been attacked at a much deeper level, by being mistaken for entertainment, for passive relaxation and an opportunity to forget worldly troubles.
Music and art do bring a kind of relaxation. But this is much more powerful if we understand it as an active harmonisation of ourselves in our environment. We can read the facts and figures of our history and make statistical sense of the civil and foreign wars, the waves of immigration that built our country, but song can play a uniquely powerful role in giving us access to the sensible realities of this past.
More importantly, it is by remembering who we were that we can regain the confidence once again to be ourselves. America has certainly committed wrongs in the past. Now is not a time to forget but to take responsibility for those wrongs. If righting them means holding those responsible to account, then so be it. We made it through Watergate; we can make it through this.
The heart of American identity has always been its diversity. Through active engagement in our culture, and a renewal of liberal arts education in our schools, we can once again restore to our foundational motto its former dignity: E pluribus unum.
Interview by Guy Dammann
Thomas Hampson appears as Germont (above) in “La Traviata” at the Royal Opera House, London WC2, from 18 June. In 2009-2010, to mark the 250th anniversary of the first song written in America and in association with the Library of Congress, the Song of America project will explore America’s song heritage through educational activities, exhibitions, recordings, broadcasts, cybercasts and interactive online resources. More details: http://hampsong.org
„Gentleman”, diese Bezeichnung trifft es auch wieder nicht ganz. Zwar ist Thomas Hampson der wichtigste amerikanische Lied-Bariton bislang aller Zeiten. Sein nobles Timbre, ein leichter Womanizer-Touch, dazu die Super-Seriösität seines Auftretens, all das qualifiziert ihn zu einem Sänger von allergrößter Besonderheit. Und zu einer chevaleresken Alternative innerhalb des Liedgesangs. Und doch ist da noch mehr. Da gibt es offenbar ein Paar kleine Falltüren hinter der vertrauenerweckenden, geputzten Fassade. Ein Quäntchen Rabiatheit? Auf jeden Fall Unberechenbarkeit.
“400 years ago, William Shakespeare died: A good reason for Thomas Hampson and Wolfram Rieger to devote half of their Lieder recital to rare Shakespeare settings of the 20th century … Already composed in 1905, Quilter’s “Three Shakespeare Songs” sounded amazing … Overall, the Finzi cycle with its pliant-original style and highly varied songs and moods was perhaps summed up by at most one, not at all the least by the resilient syncopal of “Who Is Sylvia?”: A solid festival worthy gift.”
In our second annual Classical Classroom Summer Music Festival Series, we hit the (sound)waves at the Music Academy of the West in sunny Santa Barbara, California! Library of Congress “Living Legend” and Grammy Award-winning baritone Thomas Hampson has reached a point in his life and career at which one might use the term “venerable” to describe him.
Thomas Hampson, along with soprano Diana Damrau and tenor Vittorio Grigolo, are the featured soloists in an Open-Air Gala Concert on August 20, held at the Burgkirche Ingelheim. Francesco Ciampa leads the Nordwestdeutschen Philharmonie for this performance, which features arias, duets, and trios from operas by Bellini, Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, and more. On August 31 Mr. Hampson sings works by Barber, Copland, Daugherty, and Bernstein in concert with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Kristjan Järvi leads from the podium for this performance, part of the Musikfest Bremen at Die Glocke.
FALSTAFF: Herr Hampson, Sie sind einer der gefragtesten Baritone unserer Zeit, reisen viel und singen über hundert Vorstellungen im Jahr. Dennoch wirken Sie verblüffend relaxed. Wie finden Sie Ihre innere Mitte?
Thomas Hampson: Ich habe das Privileg, meinen Beruf zu lieben und damit genau das machen zu können, was mir Spaß macht. Da muss man die innere Mitte nicht finden, man hat sie nie verloren. Und privat ist eine wunderbare Familie mein Fundament.
Thomas Hampson presents a master class for the Salzburg Festival Young Singers Project on August 11 at 3pm. The class is free and open to the public (tickets are available at the Salzburg Festival shop) and features several artists from the Young Singers Project. Mr. Hampson can also be seen in a lied recital at the Salzburg Festival on August 15, with pianist Wolfram Rieger. The duo presents a programme commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, which includes Shakespeare settings by Quilter, Finzi, Korngold, and Mahler. Please note seating availability is limited for this event.
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.