Chicago Classical Music – live online chat

On May 24, 2006, Thomas Hampson joined CCM members for an hour-long live chat. This is an edited transcript of that conversation. Participants are identified on first reference by organization, when provided.

Chicago Classical Music

(Chicago Sinfonietta): Welcome Mr. Hampson, and thanks for joining us.

Thomas Hampson: Thanks.

Jim Hirsch: Our guests are invited to ask questions but please allow him to answer.

IRISA (registered user): What recordings would you recommend for a soprano student?

Thomas Hampson: There are many records to recommend. Is there a specific repertoire/song/aria you are thinking of or are you thinking of a singer as a role model?

IRISA: I am thinking of a singer as a role model.

Thomas Hampson: Well, there are so many wonderful singers, past and present, perhaps you could tell me what you’re studying or singing.

IRISA: Norina from Don Pasquale, Shepherd On The Rock, Laudate Dominum Monteverdi, Quel Guardo Cavalliere

Thomas Hampson: Shepherd on the Rock has many wonderful recordings, such as Lucia Popp, Edita Gruberova, Kathleen Battle, or even earlier, say Elisabeth Schumann.

For Don Pasquale there are not so many contemporary recordings. I’m afraid you’ll have to look in Amazon or some search and see what’s available. I think Kathleen Battle recorded the aria, but I’m not sure. Diana Damrau, if she has recorded it, would be wonderful. Be sure and check to see if Anna Netrebko has it on her latest aria album. That would be wonderful.

IRISA: Thanks for Diana Damrau. I’ve not heard of her before.

Jim Hirsch: What can we look forward to hearing when you perform later this month in Chicago?

Thomas Hampson: We are performing the third act of Parsifal and the recital with Daniel Barenboim, while part of the LOC (Library of Congress) American tour will start with the rarely heard manuscript version of the Dichterliebe by Schumann.

Frank Villella (Chicago Symphony Orchestra): Can you tell us more about Schumann’s Lyrisches Intermezzo?

Thomas Hampson: In 1840, Schumann submitted 20 songs, not titled Dichterliebe, to Peters for publication.

This was the third publisher that he approached. Negotiations and refusals lasted until 1844, when the song cycle in quite a different form was then published under the name Dichterliebe.

The main differences are not just the addition of four songs, but in fact the very way in which Robert Schumann sets the German text, both in the context of the German language and in his musical language and understanding of the irony of Heine’s text.

mcmvanbree (registered user): The first opera I ever went to see was Parsifal, which is how I fell in love with classical music. Since you are doing Parsifal this month, what, in your opinion, is the power of this opera?

Thomas Hampson: The power of Parsifal is manifold. What I mean is, many-faceted.

Wagner’s music reaches a kind of summit in this piece. It seems to me his use and understanding of symbols, both real and psychological, to the human dilemma of sin, destiny, fate, and redemption are profound.

Leezers (registered user): You sounded lovely in yesterday’s rehearsal!! I have a generic question — what would you say the greatest joys and challenges are of being a famous operatic singer?

Thomas Hampson: The joy is always in the singing and the music, not to mention the glorious collaboration of genius musicians like Daniel Barenboim.

Leezers: here here

Thomas Hampson: The challenges are the singing, and of course the lifestyle, ie, travel, travel, more travel, some hotels, some more travel, climate change, blah blah blah.

Fletcher DuBois (registered user): I know that you have been particularly engaged at looking at images in song. I wonder what your thoughts and feelings are on that so powerful image of “nur eine Waffe taugt/ Die Wunde schliesst der Speer/ Nur, der sie schlug? The weapon that caused the wound is the one that can heal it.

Thomas Hampson: Perhaps the key is not in the spear as a weapon, but the spear as a symbol of righteousness, rightness, destiny, fate, and one’s responsibility to those symbols.

That the spear is used as a weapon denies its very righteous purpose, therefore the wound.

IRISA: Barenboim is a really great musician and I’m sorry that some of the people in my country (Israel) judge him by his political opinion, not his talent.

Thomas Hampson: Barenboim is an extraordinary human being and deserves respect of the most profound kind whether you agree with him or not.

Frank Villella: What other Wagner roles are on your horizon?

Thomas Hampson: I sing regularly Wolfram and Amfortas. I can imagine in 10 or so years having a look at Hans Sachs. You would be surprised at what I get offered sometimes as well. Ha ha.

Roger Dickman (registered user): Besides Barenboim, do you have other favorite accompanists/collaborators when you give solo song recitals?

Thomas Hampson: I work regularly with Wolfram Rieger, Craig Rutenberg, and occasionally some great solo pianists like Eschenbach and Barenboim. Also MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas), a great friend of mine.

Frank Villella: So, what roles have been offered to you that you would never consider?

Thomas Hampson: Well, I don’t mean that I would never consider, but the circumstances for a Wotan, for instance, would have to be terribly specific. Roles like Dutchman or Telramund seem out of the question to me.

Jim Hirsch: We have a few arts administrators on with us. What would you like to see happen to improve the field, get more people involved, etc.?

Thomas Hampson: Well, this seems a terribly good start — the chat box. Certainly video iChat should be considered, to save my typing fingers.

I am not a big chat-going person. I have a hard enough time staying on top of my emails. Haha.

bluedolphin (registered user): Will you be recording the song cycle you premiered in St. Paul? I’m going out of town Fri. and will miss your concert Sunday.

Thomas Hampson: I am sure that the cycle performed in St. Paul by Stephen Paulus and Ted Kooser will be recorded at some time.

Jim Hirsch: Have you done one of these [live chats] before?

Thomas Hampson: No.

Thomas Hampson: Back to the arts administrators … I think that new technology in general affords us wonderful opportunities through podcasts, video podcasts, chat rooms — and just information in general available through pdf download and broadcast remailings and email lists, etc., can help build a new community as well as reinforce the already-interested.

Fletcher DuBois: This is my first [chat] aside from work related things.

M Kasten (Chicago Symphony Orchestra): I am very much looking forward to your performance this Saturday at the Chicago Symphony Center. I am currently at work at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and we are all looking forward to Parsifal.

Thomas Hampson: Thank you, mkasten. I am very happy to be here.

Mollyrosen (Chicago Dance and Music Alliance): What are your thoughts on vocal competitions?

Thomas Hampson: If you win, great. If you lose, no big deal. The important thing is to know that you sang well. And enjoy the stress.

IRISA: I would like to know when you will be in Israel again. This is the only place I can hear you live.

Thomas Hampson: At the moment, I have no immediate plans to return to Israel. I have enjoyed the concerts that I have given there, and I hope to come back sooner than later.

IRISA: By the way, you are great inspiration to me

Thomas Hampson: Thank you.

Jim Hirsch: Who have you heard recently that we might not be aware of that excited you?

Thomas Hampson: Bruce Springsteen?

Jim Hirsch: Do you like the Seeger recording?

Thomas Hampson: The new album We Shall Overcome is dynamite. Have you heard it?

Jim Hirsch: Yes. He’s always been a closet folkie. Nice to see him coming out.

Frank Villella: Speaking of vocal competitions, what do you think (if anything) of the American Idol phenomenon?

Thomas Hampson: I’m not qualified to answer questions really about the entertainment industry, nor have I ever seen American Idol.

As far as new unknown singers, there are so many wonderful new talents coming up, but they don’t necessarily cross my paths on stage. It is, however, wonderful to see the development of singers like Joyce DiDonato or Jonas Kaufman or Luca Pisaroni.

emily79 (Chicago Sinfonietta): Hi, Thomas. I’m an arts administration intern here at the Sinfonietta.

What other plans do you have for using electronic media in order to broaden your audience and help educate the public? I’ve looked at the “Projects” section of your website and find it intriguing. Any more projects coming up?

Thomas Hampson: My life seems to be one nonstop project. The challenge is to keep them compartmentalized. And I’m a little behind in their documentation on my web site, but that will come soon.

Certainly the next major development on my web site will be the inclusion of multimedia, as in podcasts and even web podcasts and, for instance, the interview yesterday I did for WFMT. They are going to give me the unedited copy that I can archive and you can listen to at any time.

I also have some radio material from Europe, especially BBC that I’ll be putting up on the web as well.

I hope with the podcast idea to actually focus on music or specific songs or specific questions for singers and offer a kind of studio environment for those interested.

emily79: Great, I’ll check back from time to time and see what you’ve come up with.

Ronsart (registered user): Mr. Hampson, have you ever heard of a musical play called “The Stephen Foster Story?” It’s performed all summer long in Bardstown, Kentucky. The actors are all kind of “no name,” but you could go there and play Foster for one night. As a benefit or something like that. Terrific!

Thomas Hampson: Ronsart, I do know this play and understand it is very, very popular. I have not seen it. I’m too tall to play Stephen Foster, but maybe I could do a concert sometime down there.

For the PBS special I recorded 8 yrs ago, I Hear America Singing, we did film on location at Federal City, which is right next door.

Jim Hirsch: Are you selling a good number of recordings via downloads at this point? Is the technology opening up your materials for new users?

Thomas Hampson: Yes, the download revolution I think is the best news we’ve had in a long time for piano-vocal recording and the awareness to and protection of the vocal repertoire in general.

I have in fact founded my own digital rights/label, as it were, and these products will be available very soon on iTunes and some other providers as well.

In fact, a lot of live radio broadcasts of my performances over the last years will be available soon on my web site in a listening library as well as some of them being available as downloadable, purchased, “live.”

Jim Hirsch: It’s the way to go. If you really want to sell product synch it up to the new Nike/I-Pod work-out software!

Thomas Hampson: Yes I saw that. Must have.

emily79: How difficult was the approval process for getting your work on iTunes?

Thomas Hampson: Emily, the rights negotiation for anything today is complicated. I can encourage you, as an artist, to be very aware to protect your personal copyright so these negotiations end in your benefit.

Roger Dickman: This question is a little “Glenn Gould” -ish: Do you think the easy availability of downloads, podcasts, iTunes, etc will hurt box office sales at the concert hall?

Thomas Hampson: No. Emphatically.

I believe all of these new technology availabilities will in fact benefit box office. It has always been my belief that, as exciting as multimedia is and can be, that the only real purpose of any product is to support one’s enthusiasm and even need for the live music, concert, human sharing experience.

Fletcher DuBois: Any new aspects to your Library of Congress work you would like to share?

Thomas Hampson: Fletcher, LOC is more focused now on a major expansion of the web presence of this project. We are as well deep in planning the next tour phase over the next 3-5 yrs.

We have received requests for this tour from various European presenters and even as far east as Russia. It’s all very exciting.

Jim Hirsch: Mr. Hampson, I need to leave for a meeting, but as the moderator of today’s discussion I want to thank you for your time and the stimulating discussion. And you are right about new media helping box office! Good-bye.

Thomas Hampson: Mr. Hirsch, goodbye. Great to see you again. Thank you for the moderation.

bluedolphin: With the inclusion of new media types on your site, would you indicate software requirements for those of us who can’t update every few months, please?

Thomas Hampson: Software updates are really a question of your computer and operating system and not by any means a special requirement for my web site. Any more before I go to lunch?

bluedolphin: Thanks for the software information. When (after this weekend) will you be back in the Midwest?

Thomas Hampson: I will be at Ravinia July 2007 and at the Chicago Lyric January 2008.

jworonkowicz (Arts and Business Council of Chicago): Can you speak about the benefits/detriments of an opera singer having to maintain a career domestically and internationally?

Thomas Hampson: The challenges to maintain a career are not so much national or international as public vs. personal. One’s private life, ie, family, and one’s ability to stay balanced between the demands on your time for study, your desire to have a stable family life, and at the same time remain responsive to the changing challenges in the industry are really the question.

Fletcher DuBois: It is good for me to think of you there in the windy city, my second home though I am here in Heidelberg now. All the best for the coming days.

Ronsart: Danke sehr, Herr Hampson! Till we read again!

Roger Dickman: Looking forward to hearing you tomorrow night! Enjoy lunch!

bluedolphin: Many thanks for letting us know about this chat and then holding it!

jworonkowicz: Thank you. And enjoy your time in Chicago.

Thomas Hampson: This has been fun, and I’m sure in the future I will do more of these. You all have been great. Thanks for your patience.

Thanks to the Chicago Symphony for making this chat possible. I hope to see you all sometime in some concert hall somewhere in the world. Be safe, be well, God bless, and goodbye.