Presto interview – Thomas Hampson on Tides of Life

Presto Classical

As readers of last week’s newsletter will be aware, Thomas Hampson’s Tides of Life (in which the American baritone joins forces with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta in lieder by Wolf, Schumann, Brahms and Schubert, arranged for voice and string ensemble by David Matthews) has been receiving a significant amount of air-time in the Presto editorial office over the past month; in my review of the disc last Friday, I promised an interview with the man himself, and here it is! We’re very grateful to Mr Hampson for taking time out of rehearsals for La traviata at the Met (which opens tomorrow, with Sonya Yoncheva and Michael Fabiano as Violetta and Alfredo) to talk to us about his long-term friendship with the Amsterdam players, the themes at the heart of the programme and the pleasures of revisiting these songs in their new ‘clothing’!

How did you settle on which songs to have arranged? Did you have a particular theme in mind for the disc, or was it more a case of the piano parts of these particular songs leaping out as being especially suitable for strings?

I’m happy to say that the collaboration with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta on all of our projects is one of mutual fascination, trust, and unencumbered collaboration. At the outset, the Brahms songs, and the Barber string quartet/string ensemble were the givens. As we decided to do a large group of Schubert and Wolf songs, my concentration was particularly on variety of moods, however in a kind of wondering reflective atmosphere, and of course a musical and poetic agogik that I felt particularly enhanced by a string ensemble versus piano. We came up with the title of the album much later, but in retrospect it would seem that our mutual desire for this project was one of embracing life’s myriad moments of reflection, whether profound, euphoric, or simply observational.

Following on from that, was it a deliberate decision to include songs which make references to strings and string-players: Der Rattenfänger and An die Leier?

It was not a conscious decision, but an interesting observation on your part. It certainly didn’t hurt, and probably was not lost on our public.

What was behind the decision to add upper voices to Ständchen (one of our favourite tracks in the Presto office!)?

The inclusion of the girls’ choir for the Schubert extension came from a concert we did at the Concertgebouw for their sponsors and patrons and specifically celebrating youth in music. Simon Reinink, the director of the Concertgebouw, had the idea to invite this marvelous choir, and as I was asked about the piece I was glad to confirm I had sung it with the Vienna boys’ choir at one time and found it a wonderful idea for a young girls’ choir. That we later included them in a couple of our public programs and added them to our CD project just seemed a very natural and wonderful idea. I’m glad you liked it.

Katherine Cooper – Presto Classical