The Baritone… and The Other World Leaders

World-renowned baritone Thomas Hampson received the 2009 Distinguished Artistic Leadership Award at last night’s (Wednesday 29) annual awards dinner of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. He shared the spotlight with four other distinguished award-winners: former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President George H.W. Bush (41st president, and father of the recently-departed chief executive), for their role in German reunification, General David Petraeus, and IBM’s Sam Palmisano.

Picture (courtesy of Classical TV): President George H.W. Bush, General Petraeus, Thomas Hampson, and former senator Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Atlantic Council

The event was a black-tie affair in the Grand Ballroom of Washington’s Ritz Carlton. In attendance were a swag of Senators and Congressmen, several members of the Obama administration, and one Supreme Court Justice. Also attending was Classical TV, which is why we can bring you this exclusive video clip of Hampson serenading George and Barbara Bush and the other distinguished guests.

Hampson, who received his award from Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to President Obama for the arts and culture, is among the world’s most celebrated singers performing on the stage today. During the last twenty-five years, he has performed 70 roles in a dozen languages, including title roles in nearly every major opera house in the world. In addition to having a busy recital calendar (he has performed at the White House), he is a Grammy winner, a member of the European Academy of Arts and Sciences, Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), and also a noted music scholar. He is the Library of Congress’s Special Advisor to the Study and Performance of Music in America, where he collaborates with the Library on a joint initiative, the “Song of America” project, which highlights the importance of poetry and song in present-day American culture.

Hampson performed a selection of much-loved traditional songs: the iconic “Oh, Shenendoah”, Aaron Copland’s arrangement of the nineteenth-century minstrel song “The Boatmen’s Dance”, and Schubert’s “Der Lindenbaum”.

And at the request of George Bush Senior, he sang “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables: the incredibly poignant song in which an older man prays for the idealistic student he regards as a son to return home safely from battle.

There was no-one in the politically-savvy D.C. audience who mistook the intent of this choice. Up until now Bush Senior has been notably restrained in his lack of comment on his son’s eight years in office, and what better way to show his feelings than to have them expressed in song. George H.W. ended his own speech by saying: “One more thing – I’m thrilled to have my son home and proud of the job he did.”

For Thomas Hampson, we are delighted to add our congratulations to those of such a distinguished gathering. And we commend the Atlantic Council for including an artist among those they honor as true world leaders.

— Stephen Greco, Executive Editor, Classical TV

Watch Hampson singing at the awards ceremony in this YouTube clip.

Thomas Hampson sings a selection fro Les Miserables