Highlights Include Return to Metropolitan Opera, Recital at Alice Tully Hall, and World-Premiere of New Work by Matthias Pintscher Commissioned by New York Philharmonic
Eminent American baritone Thomas Hampson returns to New York City this month for a remarkable string of performances and special appearances, beginning on March 29 when he encores the role of Germont in Verdi’s La traviata at the Metropolitan Opera (eight performances through April 24). Those Met performances complement a series of events that are part of his yearlong appointment as the first Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic: his recital at Avery Fisher Hall on April 11, co-presented by the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center’s “Art of the Song” series, will feature Schumann’s great song cycle Dichterliebe and songs by Samuel Barber; and on April 16, at Symphony Space, he will give the world-premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s songs from Solomon’s garden, commissioned by the orchestra and written expressly for Hampson (a second performance follows on April 17 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with both performances conducted by Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert). Hampson’s third and final Insights Series event for the Philharmonic this season, “Listening to Thought: A Guide to German Romanticism”, will take place on April 5 at Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse, and will explore the iconography, metaphor, and imagery of this epochal period for European art song. Continuing his commitment to the Manhattan School of Music and its distance learning initiatives, on March 30 at 2pm Hampson will give select small ensembles an MSM Global Conservatory master class on Gustav Mahler’s song cycles, which will be streamed live at dl.msmnyc.edu/live. Despite this jam-packed schedule, Hampson will also take time to pay a tribute in song to Frederica von Stade, who is being honored this year at the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s 75th annual luncheon on April 20 at the Waldorf=Astoria.
Hampson’s passionate advocacy for American song has been widely documented, most notably in his ongoing “Song of America” project with the Library of Congress, so it comes as little surprise that half of his Alice Tully Hall recital on April 11 will focus on the songs of Samuel Barber. This is Barber’s centenary season (he was born on March 9, 1910 and died on January 23, 1981) and he is indisputably one of the country’s foremost vocal composers. Hampson will sing, among others, the Three Songs, Op. 10 and Three Songs, Op. 45, which he recorded to great acclaim as part of a complete set of the Barber songs for Deutsche Grammophon. Hampson recently recorded Letters from Lincoln for baritone and orchestra, an important new song cycle by another American composer, Michael Daugherty; the album was released by Koch in January. Earlier this season Hampson issued Wondrous Free – Song of America II on his own label, THM. This survey of 200 years of American song, named after Francis Hopkinson’s “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free,” the first published art song in American history, was described by Gramophone as “a broad sweep of American art song by one of its great interpreters.” Reviewer Andrew Farach-Colton summarized the album’s appeal this way: “This recital is both entertaining and enlightening, and belongs in any serious collection of American art song.”
Hampson is extremely excited to be performing the new Pintscher work, part of the inaugural season of the Philharmonic’s new-music series CONTACT!, not least because of the language of the text he will be singing: Hebrew. Songs from Solomon’s garden is a setting by Pintscher from the Shir ha-Shirim, the Song of Solomon. As Hampson explains in a video interview at the New York Philharmonic’s website, he sang Bloch’s Sacred Service last summer in Israel and fell in love with the language, calling it “gorgeous and extremely singable.” When Pintscher asked Hampson if he would agree to sing a text set in Hebrew, Hampson was thrilled to oblige. Pintscher, who has known Hampson for a long time, had wanted from the start to write his Philharmonic commission for baritone and chamber orchestra, and considers Hampson “the perfect match.” He calls the Song of Solomon “the most beautiful love poetry ever written – if I may speak in superlatives,” noting, “In the Hebrew language, everything seems so condensed; every individual word is so meaningful and so radiant, and that inspired me to create a sound-world to surround these words.”
As the New York Philharmonic’s first Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence, Hampson is taking part in a variety of activities (16 events in all) that showcase his wide-ranging talents as performer, music enthusiast, and scholar. He recently toured Europe with Alan Gilbert and the orchestra performing John Adams’s setting of Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser. On New Year’s Eve, Hampson sang a program of Copland songs and selections from Broadway musicals in a concert that was televised nationally on Public Television. In November, he was a soloist with the orchestra in Zemlinsky’s opulent Lyric Symphony. Hampson is also the orchestra’s Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence this season.