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Posted by on Jul 2, 2010 in Interviews, News | 0 comments

Thomas Hampson + Mahler = Bliss

Thomas Hampson Begins Season-Long Celebration of Gustav Mahler’s 150th Anniversary with Two Birthday Concerts on July 7 from Composer’s Birthplace in Kaliste, Czech Republic: Recital, Webcast Live on medici.tv, and Televised Evening Concert with Mahler Chamber Orchestra

Live Webcast from Kaliste Begins at 9am EDT on www.medici.tv
Hampson

Long regarded as the premier interpreter of the songs of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Thomas Hampson will dedicate much of his summer and the upcoming 2010-11 season to performances of the Austrian composer’s works.  The celebration begins with Hampson’s recital from Mahler’s birth-house in Kaliste, Czech Republic, on July 7 – the date of Mahler’s birth 150 years ago – that will be webcast live on www.medici.tv and an evening concert from Kaliste with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Manfred Honeck, which the European Broadcasting Union will transmit live across Europe. The webcast will also be available for streaming through www.medici.tv for sixty days following the performance.

Additional Mahler performances will follow throughout the summer – making more than 50 concerts over the course of the 2010-11 season – including Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen at the Zurich Opera with conductor Philippe Jordan; Rückert-Lieder with the Schleswig-Holstein Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach at the Rheingau and Schleswig-Holstein Music Festivals; and Das Lied von der Erde with the NDR Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg and Alan Gilbert on a four-city tour that includes the final concert of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival.

Below, Thomas Hampson briefly discusses the meaning and impact of Mahler’s music on his life and career.

For additional information visit www.thomashampson.com.

A conversation about Mahler with Thomas Hampson

Q:  This is going to be a really huge Mahler season for you.  Obviously the 150th anniversary of Mahler’s birth and, in May 2011, the 100th anniversary of his death, provide significant opportunities to pay tribute to the composer.

TH:  Well, I’m going to be giving more than 50 concerts of Mahler’s music throughout the 2010-11 season, working with some of the best conductors and orchestras in the world – including the Vienna Philharmonic with Mariss Jansons, the New York Philharmonic with Alan Gilbert, the Czech Philharmonic with Eliahu Inbal, and the Royal Opera House Orchestra with Antonio Pappano.  Throughout the season I’ll be doing a full cycle of Mahler’s songs with the NDR-Symphony, Hamburg.  I’ve also recorded a new Mahler album that Deutsche Grammophon will issue in January 2011.  The repertoire for the recording is Des Knaben Wunderhorn with the Wiener Virtuosen, a chamber group comprised of the principal players of the Vienna Philharmonic.  July 7, 2010 is the date of my Mahler recital from Kaliste, from the very spot where Mahler was born, which I’m thrilled to have webcast live around the world.  That evening I’ll perform in a Mahler concert that will be broadcast on European television.  In addition to this, a film crew will be on hand in Kaliste to begin seven months of filming for a documentary about the life and music of Gustav Mahler, exploring his personality through my performances and discussions of his songs.  Naturally I’m very excited about all of this as Mahler is simply one of the very greatest composers who ever lived and one who’s had such an important impact on my life.

Q:  Can you sum up what makes Mahler’s music so important to you?

TH:  There are so many reasons – emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and purely musical.  Mahler’s music is a “sound cosmos” unto itself.  I take seriously his comments that the symphony should embrace all of life.  He believed that art should reflect all of the tragedies and trivia of life, but also its immeasurable beauty and mysteries.  He was very preoccupied with the idea simultaneous events: various and concurrent sounds around us, thoughts of things to do, the bustle of activity around him.  The human brain functions on so many levels of perception, and that’s what he sought to capture in musical elements.  Just think of Mahler on a boat, absorbing the sounds of being rowed across the lake and transforming it into the heart of his Seventh Symphony!  Mahler’s music is a reflection of my own world, something that’s extraordinarily informative to me as human being.

Q:  Is it true that you first discovered Mahler’s music on a car stereo?

TH:  Yes.  I was young – probably 19 or 20 – I discovered Mahler while listening to a cassette recording of his First Symphony that I had checked out from the local public library in Spokane, WA.  It was Seiji Ozawa conducting.  I was on the road between Spokane and Idaho, where I was shuttling back and forth to teach at a community college.  I listened to all sorts of things in the car, and was driving my little Toyota Celica down the freeway.  As the symphony pulled me in I was slowing down more and more to pay attention.  I wasn’t inebriated, of course, and there was no bad weather to slow me down, but there I was driving 30 miles an hour on a freeway.  At that point I pulled over at a rest stop to avoid causing an accident, and wound up being an hour late.  From that point on I started talking to other musicians non-stop about Mahler.  I started to listen to his symphonies, and quit listening in the car!

Q:  Do you have a favorite Mahler symphony?

TH:  Whichever one I’m listening to!

Q:  And how did you make contact with Mahler’s songs?

TH:  I was studying at the Music Academy of the West, and the subject of the Lieder class was Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder.  I was assigned the second song, and began learning about his songs for the first time.  I was overwhelmed by the Kindertotenlieder, and a few years later I sang the Wunderhorn songs and loved them too. In 1985, the eminent Mahler scholar Henri-Louis de La Grange asked me to sing songs by Mahler and his contemporaries – Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, and Zemlinsky – at the Toblacher Mahler Fest.  Small world that it is, the Moldenhauer archive was even in Spokane and included some of Mahler’s own hand-written texts!  From then on these songs became part of me.  Early on I gave performances of with the American Youth Symphony, which was founded by Mehli Mehta – Zubin Mehta’s father – and sang the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen for the first time.  Because of Mahler and his settings of Wunderhorn texts I went on to discover other composers who set those texts, and that catapulted me into German Romanticism.  My very first recording for Teldec was a Wunderhorn album that launched my recording career.

Q:  What does Mahler, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, say to listeners in the 21st century?

TH:  I believe Mahler’s creative works and musical genius prepare as well as cajole, and urge the listener to understand the epoch or time we live in regardless of the century.  It’s music is of its time, but the message and roots in the totality of human experience make it universal.  Heine himself said he was the “last of the ancients and first of the moderns,” and the same can be said of Mahler.  He is the culmination of song as basis of symphonic thought and he is the metaphysical beginning of modernity.  Mahler gave us symphonic writing that is not story-bound.  It is more a kaleidoscopic synthesis.

Q:  “The metaphysical beginning of modernity” – that’s quite a moniker!

TH:  One of my favorite Mahler quotes is related to this.  He said, and I paraphrase for emphasis, “Tradition is not worshipping the ashes of greatness gone by, but the protection of the flame of creation that carries us forward.”  Mahler stands as a weathered Prometheus, with one foot in the music of so many centuries before, and the other foot in unknown territory.  He wasn’t sure at times where his music was coming from, but knew that it had to be written.  The music of the Seventh Symphony seems to me a stream of consciousness about the meltdown of civilization as we knew it – somewhat like Ravel’s La valse or Debussy’s Jeux.  Mahler’s was an extraordinary music sensibility.

Q:  Besides the many Mahler concerts you’ll be giving this season you’ll also have a new Mahler recording coming out on DG.  You recorded some of the great Mahler song cycles for that label with Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic.  Why did you decide to do this new recording of the Wunderhorn songs with a chamber group and without a conductor?

TH: It’s important to point out from the start that this is not a special chamber version of Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  We are using Mahler’s own orchestrations of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, but taking seriously his comments about these songs having been written in a “kammer” or “chamber tone.”  I’ve done the recording with the Wiener Virtuosen, the principal players of the Vienna Philharmonic.  There are three desks, maximum, for the violins and single other instrumental soloists, but nothing whatsoever has been changed in the orchestrations.  I am simply performing them with a conductor-less chamber ensemble.  We are doing this to accentuate what Mahler always spoke about with these songs in particular, to capture the intimate chamber-music style dialogue of instruments and voice.  Mahler told Richard Strauss that the Wunderhorn songs were not about orchestral songs, or about orchestral music.  Our goal is to focus the music-making on what Mahler was most looking to express: the specific intent of the words and the subsequent meaning in tone. The album will be distributed by Deutsche Grammophon, but is produced by the Hampsong Foundation.

(Published courtesy of 21C Media Group)

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