“I’m sure they told you,” the baritone Thomas Hampson said recently with a smile. “If you ask me a question, I’ll go on.” It’s true. There are some people who speak in sentences. Others speak in paragraphs. Mr. Hampson, 54, speaks–his big blue eyes staring at you–in pages.
He loves to talk about the things he likes: distance-learning technology, Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail, Alex Ross’ advocacy of the composer Charles Ives, the second and third (but not the fifth) acts of Ambroise Thomas’ opera Hamlet, the restaurant-delivery Web site SeamlessWeb. And he loves to talk about the things he doesn’t like: Fresh Direct (wasteful amounts of packaging), watching old clips of himself on YouTube (“they’re coming up with shit that I’d forgotten I’d even done”), the concept of the “Verdi baritone,” singers who arrive late to rehearsals.
If it were not for a rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is singing Germont in La Traviata, Mr. Hampson, fueled by periodic coffee refills, seemed like he would have been delighted to talk all afternoon. We were at his favorite diner, the Olympic Flame at 60th and Amsterdam, around the corner from the apartment he rents and, conveniently, a few blocks from Lincoln Center.
Mr. Hampson will be spending a lot of time in the area this month. In addition to the Traviata, which runs through April 24, he is finishing his season as the first-ever New York Philharmonic Artist-in-Residence with recitals at Alice Tully Hall on April 11, featuring Schumann’sDichterliebe and Barber songs, and Symphony Space on April 16. The latter concert, part of CONTACT!, the orchestra’s new music series, will feature the world premiere of a Philharmonic commission written especially for Mr. Hampson, Matthias Pintscher’s Songs from Solomon’s Garden.
“It is truly the New York Philharmonic and [music director] Alan [Gilbert] rethinking how they work,” Mr. Hampson said of inviting a vocalist to take such a prominent role in the orchestra’s season. “Everybody belongs here. Dance belongs here, movement belongs here, color belongs here, opera belongs here, singers belong here, instrumentalists belong here.”
He’ll also be delivering his third and final “Insights Series” lecture for the orchestra on April 5, on one of his favorite topics, German romantic poetry and its reverberations in the 19th-century song literature. Manhattan School of Music has devised an application that will live-broadcast his master class there to anyone with an iPhone. “Just call me Eric Schmidt,” Mr. Hampson said. “Well, actually, don’t.”
Like Mr. Schmidt and another Hampson idol, Steve Jobs, Mr. Hampson is a Big Thinker. “I don’t mean to be a cultural philosopher here,” he said. “Is it the art forms that need to adapt to technology,” he wondered aloud, “or will in fact the technology manipulate, metamorphosize and, in consequence, adapt or change the art form itself?”
On occasion his thoughtfulness takes him down darker paths. On the Web site for the Hampsong Foundation he has the rather eerie formulation, “In fact, should our civilization, all of our culture, be destroyed and taken from us–it would be singing, this most personal and natural form of musical expression, that would first reappear.” And at the diner, contemplating his beloved distance-learning initiatives, he confessed some doubts. “Are we alienating kids? Are we actually tearing down their ability to communicate one on one?” He sighed. “I tend to think that in the evolution of man every generation asks those questions.”
With his rich voice and trademark sweep of hair. Mr. Hampson has a calming air, like a cool dad. His intellectualism, the foundation and his fascination with the deeper issues of education, technology and the arts would all seem to point Mr. Hampson toward an administrative post. Placido Domingo, for instance, runs not one but two opera companies. “Can I imagine hanging up my spurs, period, and just doing something like running an organization?” he asked aloud. “Sure, I can imagine it. I can’t see it being an opera house; I can see it being a school.”
But not yet. “I can maintain this level of activity and vocal quality,” he said. “I’ve made some adjustments to my schedule. I was singing a little too much. But I say that with a certain irony, because next season is kinda sick. January to June, I think I sing 55 concerts, Mahler’s music with seven different orchestras on three different tours. I’m gonna get a lot of frequent-flyer miles.” But don’t get him started on Mahler. That’s a whole other day’s discussion right there.
Sean Rafferty with a lively mix of music, chat and arts news. His guests include baritone Thomas Hampson and pianist Alice Sara Ott. Plus actress Vanessa Redgrave comes in with composer Laura Rossi to tell us about their Battle of the Somme tribute. Listen to the broadcast via the following link.
“Thomas Hampson was gleefully baleful as the quartet of bad guys, always with a glint in his eye and an implicit wink at the audience …”
Mark Valencia – What’s On Stage
“Thomas Hampson is gleefully sepulchral as all four villains …”
David Gillard – Daily Mail
Following a thrilling debut as The Four Villains at The Metropolitan Opera in 2015, Thomas Hampson returns to the role this season London’s Royal Opera House. His “peerless” and “imposing” (Latin Post) portrayal in New York City was cast alongside tenor Vittorio Grigòlo as Hoffmann. The two reunite in London for these performances, which take place November 7, 11, 15, 18, 21, 24 & 28 and December 3. The production is also part of the ROH Live in Cinema season, and receives a theatrical broadcast on November 15. Find a screening near you via the following link.
Thomas Hampson is the baritone soloist on a new recording, featuring Richard Danielpour’s Songs of Solitude and War Songs, along with the orchestral work Toward the Splendid City. War Songs, a song cycle with texts by Walt Whitman, was commissioned by the Nashville Symphony in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
“… baritone Thomas Hampson — a model of dignity, vocal presence, and deep investment in the texts that Brahms so lovingly chose and set.”
David Weininger – The Boston Globe
Thomas Hampson is the baritone soloist in Brahms’ A German Requiem on October 6, 7 & 8 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus, under the direction of Music Director Andris Nelsons. Soprano Camilla Tilling joins for this concert series, which also features Widmann’s Trauermarsch for piano and orchestra, featuring pianist Yefim Bronfman.
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.