Mar 02, 2019
Baritone Thomas Hampson had heard, and even asked, the questions countless times: Who’s the American Brahms? The American Schubert? What about the American DeBussy?
But Hampson, who hails from the Tri-Cities and went to school in Spokane, realized long ago that those were the wrong questions to be asking.
“What I am so impressed with in the history of American culture is this ability to understand five- and 10-year segments of our history seen through the eyes of our poets and composers,” he said.
America of 1850, for instance, is not the same as America of 1870 or 1920. America of 1930 isn’t the same as 1945 isn’t the same as 1995, so on and so forth.
“Dropping that needle, whenever we do that, I think, is a fantastic experience for the listener,” Hampson said.
In “Song of America: Beyond Liberty,” Hampson does just that, highlighting moments that shaped America as marked by poems, songs and monologues from some of the country’s most notable figures.
He’ll present the show, which features pianist Lara Downes and the Beyond Liberty Players, at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Friday.
This performance marks the West Coast premiere of the show, which first bowed in August at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.
Hampson has always enjoyed classic song or what has been called art song. In other words, poems that inspire musicians set to music.
Poetry, Hampson said, is there to enliven a person’s life and realizations. Therefore, when a composer is inspired by a poem, the work they create as a result expresses that “emotional landscape” in a musical language.
“The phenomenon is literally words that stand as a metaphor for experience inspiring music as a language to capture for three, five minutes a story of who we are as people,” Hampson said. “That story is going to be coming from various cultures and various times.
“Song of America: Beyond Liberty” features the work of composers including Stephen Foster, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives and writers including Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes.
Though in the works long before, Hampson’s “Song of America” project officially launched in 2009 and includes www.songofamerica.net, which features extensive collections of profiles of poets and writers, composers and songs.
If you have a few minutes (or hours) to spare, there is also an incredibly thorough timeline showing important moments from the history of America, beginning in 1750 when “The Beggar’s Opera,” a ballad opera by English poet and dramatist John Gay, was first heard in America and ending, for now, with the death of poet Mary Oliver earlier this year.
“Beyond Liberty” adds a theatrical component to the “Song of America” project. During the show, Hampson will tell stories, sing and give background information on the pieces the audience will hear.
“I draw it up in a package,” he said. “This isn’t a recital. I call it a one-person show in which I’m the connecting material.”
From 3-7 p.m. on Friday, Hampson will welcome area teachers to the free Song of America Teacher Workshop, co-sponsored by the Spokane Symphony and Hampson’s Hampsong Foundation.
Caroline Heaton, associate professor of voice at the University of Michigan; Susan Key, musicologist, former high school teacher, and executive director of the Star Spangled Music Foundation; and Emery Stephens, visiting assistant professor of voice at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and former middle school teacher, will conduct the workshop.
During the workshop, teachers will use hands-on activities, interactive presentations and live music to explore topics including Native American culture, early American history, the Civil War and African American history, especially during the 20th century.
The workshop, held at the Eric A. Johnston Auditorium at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, 2316 W. First Ave., includes two tickets for each participant to “Song of America: Beyond Liberty.”
The educational component has always been a big part of the Hampsong Foundation. After completing a 13-week radio program called “Song of America” for WFMT in Chicago in October 2011, Hampson was invited to participate in a variety of education symposiums.
He quickly realized he preferred to teach teachers, especially non-music teachers, how they could incorporate American song into their lessons.
The “Song of America” website now features a variety of lesson plans, including “Emily Dickinson and Nature: Personifying the Seasons,” “Experiencing the Battle of Bunker Hill through Music” and “Langston Hughes in the Jazz Age: Connecting to the Legacy of the Underground Railroad,” and other resources for educators.
There’s no political message in “Beyond Liberty.” Instead, Hampson said it’s all about knowing who we are.
“I’m very proud that this has been embraced in the studies of American music now in my lifetime to say ‘We must look at our creative experiences in this country, one, uniquely to our country, two, that it is probably going to have significant differences one epoch to the other,’ what I call 10- or 15-year slices of American culture,” he said. “We have many wonderful, iconic things that brand America and are very good but we don’t tell our own story enough.”
Thomas Hampson joins the Bayerisches Staatsorchester and soprano Golda Schultz for Oper für alle on July 20 at the Marstallplatz. Part of the Münchner Opernfestspiele, the free open-air concert will be led by Maestro Kirill Petrenko, and broadcasted live via Staatsoper.tv.
Hampson and Ms. Schultz will perform duets from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and Cole Porter’s Paris. Ms. Schultz will perform “I could have danced all night” from Frederick Loewes’ My Fair Lady, and Hampson will sing “Night and day” from Porter’s 1932 musical Gay Divorce, among other songs. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester will also perform Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and An American in Paris.
On July 11, Thomas Hampson joins Romanian soprano Elena Moșuc and the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Nicolae Moldoveanu, for an evening of opera arias and duets at the Cankarjev dom. The program features works by Rossini, Donizetti, Mozart, Bellini, Massenet and Verdi.
The Ljubljana Festival, rich in tradition, shapes the summer cultural events of the city with world-class art events.
On July 5, Thomas Hampson performs at the Granada Festival for the first time with the Orchestre de Paris led by Pablo Heras-Casado. As Director of the Granada Festival, Heras-Casado has dedicated the concert to the 150th anniversary of the epochal French composer, Hector Berlioz. Regarded as one of the premiere interpreters of Mahler’s songs, Hampson will perform selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Listen to the festival live via RTVE. For more information about the Granada Festival, click here.
On June 28 & 29, Thomas Hampson joins the Gewandhausorchester and soprano Kristine Opolais for two free Klassik airleben concerts in Leipzig. Under the baton of Andris Nelsons, Hampson and Ms. Opolais perform arias, duets and orchestral works from the Italian opera tradition. Following, on June 30, Hampson and Ms. Opolais reprise the program with Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester at the Konzerthaus Dortmund, marking the final concert for Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester this season.
On June 23, Thomas Hampson and pianist Wolfram Rieger travel to Schwarzenberg to present an all-Mahler recital at the Angelika-Kauffmann-Saal. Hot on the heels of their recent Liederabend at the Opernhaus Zürich, together they will perform a program of selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and Kindertotenlieder.
WFMT’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra Radio Broadcast Series will broadcast a live performance featuring Thomas Hampson and the CSO, led by Bramwell Tovey, on June 30 at 8 PM (CT). Hosted by Lisa Simeone, the two-hour Chicago Symphony Orchestra broadcasts include dynamic and innovative commentary, which takes the listener behind the scenes and into the music. The performance features a program of American songs and orchestral music by Ives, Copland, Still, and more. Learn more about the broadcast here.
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.