“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.
Richard Danielpour composed Songs of Solitude (2002), on poems by Yeats, in the weeks following the September 11 attacks; War Songs (2008), on poems by Whitman, was inspired by photographs published in the New York Times of soldiers killed in the Iraq War … Both of these cycles were written for Thomas Hampson, who sings them magnificently. At 60, his voice sounds as fresh as ever, and the baritone’s musical intelligence and literary sensitivity make even the less successful of these songs worthy of study. Hampson’s achievement is even more impressive given that the recordings were made in concert.
Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone Magazine
On January 18, 21 & 23, Thomas Hampson reprises the role of Roald Amundsen in Srnka’s South Pole at Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper. Mr. Hampson won tremendous international acclaim for his creation of the role in the world premiere:
“The star is Thomas Hampson, the veteran baritone is vocally and theatrically convincing in the role of Amundsen.” (TZ.de)
Top 10 Performances of 2016 Addition / Mahler of the Year: If the above list were expanded, it would be filled out with all of the excellent orchestral performances of Mahler during the year … the Philharmonic’s magnificent Mahler Ninth under Bernard Haitink and a glowing Das Lied von der Erde, under Alan Gilbert—sung by tenor Stefan Vinke and baritone Thomas Hampson … (New York Classical Review)
Maria Mazzaro, Opera News: Thomas Hampson has a busy Jan. On the fifth, he is in Turkey performing with Luca Pisaroni and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra. Hampson then travels to Germany—first to Munich for Bayerische Staatsoper performances of Srnka’s South Pole, then to Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonic for a concert with The Philharmonics. At the end of the month, he sings Scarpia in Wiener Staatsoper performances of Tosca, conducted by Plácido Domingo.
Normalerweise werden die Lieder von Schubert, Brahms und Wolf am Klavier begleitet. Der Bariton Thomas Hampson hat einige davon nun in einer neuen Fassung mit Kammerorchester aufgenommen – gemeinsam mit den jungen Musikern der Amsterdam Sinfonietta.
Thomas Hampson reunites with his son-in-law, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, for two performances of their acclaimed “No Tenors Allowed” programme in concert. The duo performs with pianist Christian Koch on December 21 at Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Música/Grande Auditório, and then travels to Istanbul for a New Year’s concert with the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, hosted at the İstanbul Lütfi Kırdar on January 5.
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.