Thomas Hampson sings songs of life and death by Mahler and Dvořák when he reunites with the Wiener Virtuosen for a five-concert tour that includes performances in Merano (Feb 11), Bern (Feb 12), Zurich (Feb 13), Innsbruck (Feb 15) and Vienna (Feb 17).  Mahler is arguably the composer with whom Hampson is most closely associated, and his 2010 recording of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn with the Wiener Virtuosen was widely acclaimed.  BBC Music Magazine called it “A wonderfully fresh imaginative take on the songs…a constantly absorbing recital [with] ‘pungent characterizations.’”  For their current tour, Hampson and the conductorless ensemble turn to Mahler’s harrowing Kindertotenlieder – songs on the death of children – a song cycle featuring five settings of poetry by Rückert that attempt to come to terms with incomprehensible loss.  Dvořák’s “Zigeunermelodien”, op. 55 makes for a fascinating counterbalance.  These passionate “Gypsy Songs” are considered by some to be Dvořák best work in the genre – the fourth in the set, “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” is perhaps his most famous melody – encompassing a wide range of emotions as they bring to life the indomitable spirit of the Gypsy people.

Both of the Mahler and Dvořák songs will be heard in arrangements commissioned by Hampson.  He explains:  “The thrust of the Mahler arrangement, which I also worked on myself, was to reduce the number of players while leaving the original orchestration by Mahler intact. I took Mahler’s comment about the ‘chamber tone’ of his song orchestration very seriously as to not interfere with his original intent in the iconography of instrumentation apparent in the structure of the Kindertotenlieder.”  About the Dvořák songs, Hampson notes:  “I asked my friend, the increasingly celebrated Czech composer Sylvie Bodorova, to arrange the songs for the same orchestration as the Mahler songs.  Her work is a beautiful dedication of an important contemporary Czech composer to her venerated master, Antonín Dvořák.”

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In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.

Thomas Hampson