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
With “Serenade,” his first album exclusively dedicated to French song, Mr. Hampson brings his passion for works by French opera composers to the Pentatone label. Curated with the French Literature scholar Sylvain Fort and in a first collaboration with the Polish pianist Maciej Pikulski, the track listing includes romantic and introspective as well as humorous selections by Bizet, Chabrier, Chausson, Gounod, Magnard, Massenet, and Saint-Saëns, featuring texts written by some of France’s most revered writers including Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, Rosemonde Gérard, and others.
For more information about this CD, visit Mr. Hampson’s discography.
This recording is available exclusively from Pentatone’s website.
Thomas Hampson continues his summer season in Europe this month, as the featured soloist in two Gala Concerts in Germany. Mr. Hampson travels to Bremen to sing with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and conductor David Marlow at Knoops Park on August 11, part of the annual “Summer in Lesmona” Festival at the park. He follows this engagement with another Gala Festival Concert, this time with the Staatsorchester Hannover at the Staatsoper Hannover Opernhaus. The performance, hosted on August 19, features both Ivan Repušić and Mark Rohde leading from the podium, with a roster of more than 15 soloists from the company. Klaus Angermann hosts the evening, with proceeds benefitting the Staatsoper Hannover Foundation and its education programs. Works featured will preview the company’s upcoming 2017/18 season in arias, ensembles, and solo orchestral selections.
The critically lauded Deutsche Grammophon release of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, starring Thomas Hampson in a “wondrous” and “moving” (Online-Merker) portrayal of Count Almaviva, has been honored as the 2017 ECHO Klassik Award-winner in the “Best Opera Recording” (works up to or through the 17th/18th century) category. The album features a phenomenal roster of talent, including Mr. Hampson’s son-in-law Luca Pisaroni in the title role and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, all conducted by Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin. The ECHO Klassik Awards Gala takes place on October 29 at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg; tickets and more info can be found at ECHOKlassik.de.
Naxos has released a DVD recording of Verdi’s La Traviata, with an all-star cast featuring Marina Rebeka as Violetta Valéry, Francesco Demuro as Alfredo Germont and Thomas Hampson as his father, Giorgio Germont. Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson is at the podium, leading the NDR Radiophilharmonie.
Thomas Hampson returns to the Verbier Festival this month as a Verbier Academy Faculty member, presenting a series of Masterclasses. Focused on specific topics in singing, these Masterclasses will take place on July 21 & 22 (Opera) and July 23 & 24 (Lied/Art Song). The classes are open to the public – visit VerbierFestival.com for detailed programme information.
Thomas Hampson is a featured contributor to the newly launched platform MUSAIC, from the New World Symphony and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. Mr. Hampson and other acclaimed artists, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, are featured in various site content including master classes, interviews, and more. Watch and learn today at musaic.nws.edu!
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.