Jan 22, 2020
Thomas Hampson’s resume reads like opera’s greatest hits:
He’s sung more than 80 operatic roles in major theaters from New York’s Met to the UK’s Covent Garden, recorded more than 170 albums that have garnered four Grammy nominations and a Grammy win and has performed in the world premieres of several new operas including Rufus Wainwright’s “Hadrian” in Canada and Tarik O’Regan’s “The Phoenix” with the Houston Grand Opera, both in the 2018-19 season.
But if you ask him, he will tell you one of his biggest professional thrills is singing American songs, works that borrow texts from great American poets including Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln.
“It’s my songs. It’s my poetry. Every song I sing makes me buzz and tingle,” said Hampson, who brings his “Song of America: Beyond Liberty” show to Centennial Hall Tuesday, Jan. 28, as part of the eighth annual Tucson Desert Song Festival. “The tough thing about this show is what not to sing. I know more American songs and of more American songs than I can possibly sing before I die. And I am passionate that people, whether they are musicians or not, celebrate our culture through the arts and through the stories and through the poetry and through the music.”
Hampson is arguably the ambassador of American song. He has been doing recitals under the umbrella “American Song” since the mid-1990s and has collaborated for almost 25 years with the Library of Congress, which has thousands of songs by American composers in its collection.
“There is something quite unique to American culture in that we are unbelievably creative, and maybe people know that, and in every genre we have but also in the classical music genre and the classic song genre, we have been unbelievably prolific,” said the 64-year-old, who grew up in Spokane, Washington, and now calls Berlin home.
But America’s song history has gotten somewhat overshadowed in the pursuit to identify America’s Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert or Claude Debussy.
“I just decided 25 some years ago that that’s the wrong question. I think the way to look at American culture is through 10- and 15-year slices of this incredibly myriad culture that is always mutating to this next generation,” Hampson said last week from Berlin.
“Song of America: Beyond Liberty” is the second iteration of “Song of America,” a program of American songs that Hampson has been performing since the mid-1990s. This version includes telling stories about the composers, music and the times in which they lived.
Hampson will be accompanied by pianist Lara Downes and his Beyond Liberty Players that include a percussionist, cellist and violinist.
Despite its title, Hampson cautions about reading anything political into the show.
“It’s not in the least” bit political, said Hampson, who studied politics and government in addition to voice as an undergrad at home in Washington State. “It is an evening of stories. I believe if we know our stories and our songs that we know ourselves better as Americans and that’s the only thing behind it all. It’s a wonderful celebration of American culture.”
In this Beethoven-year, Thomas Hampson joins the Amsterdam Sinfonietta on tour to Moscow, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Together they bring a loving musical program, featuring Beethoven’s pining song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, and new arrangements of songs by Richard Strauss. In the past, Mr. Hampson has joined Amsterdam Sinfonietta on tour in Europe, including appearances in the major concert halls of Dublin, Madrid, Vienna, and Lisbon. He also recently teamed up with the ensemble to create the acclaimed ‘Tides of Life’ CD, released by Channel Classics in 2017.
Thomas Hampson heads to the University of Michigan School of Music for his residency beginning on Sunday, February 2, with the “Song As Citizenship” Symposium in McIntosh Theatre. The free event will be led by Associate Dean Mark Clague, with panelists including Mr. Hampson, Lousie Toppin, Caroline Helton, Chrisie Finn, George Shirley, among others. The event explores the importance of music and song. Three SMTD vocalists will sing solo songs.
Thomas Hampson brings his “Song of America: Beyond Liberty” project to the Tucson Desert Song Festival and the Seattle Symphony this month, celebrating and exploring the influential people, poetry, and events that helped create and define “the land of the free.” Hampson will be accompanied by pianist Lara Downes and a diverse ensemble of exceptional musicians, the Beyond Liberty Players.
Thomas Hampson performs in a series of chamber music concerts, featuring pianist Yuja Wang and clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer, at the Bürgenstock Winter Festival in Switzerland this month. Marking the 8th Bürgenstock Winter Festival, this edition focuses on traditions, legacies, and anniversaries. Following the festival’s new tradition, they also depart from the purely classical and explore tunes from the American songbook with Mr. Hampson.
Continuing a new tradition, Thomas Hampson’s annual Schubert Week returns to the Pierre Boulez Saal this month. Hampson will open his curated week-long festival with a performance on January 13 of Winterreise, Schubert’s most celebrated song cycle, for which his longtime piano partner Wolfram Rieger joins him. Over six days, established as well as rising artists will take the stage, and Hampson will lead public workshops with students from the Lied Academy of the Heidelberger Frühling Festival.
Thomas Hampson returns to Teatro alla Scala for his greatly anticipated role debut as Altair in Strauss’ ravishing Die ägyptische Helena. Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s re-imagination of the Helen of Troy myth will feature a new production by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, with set design by Julian Crouch and costume design by Mark Bouman. This production marks the first time Die ägyptische Helena will be staged at La Scala.
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.