Thomas Hampson Wins Concertgebouw Award for “Mahler Odyssey”
This month, Thomas Hampson – recently named the recipient of the 2011 Concertgebouw Prize – returns to Europe for an extensive series of concerts and recitals, bringing his season-long “Mahler Odyssey” to a grand conclusion. Following performances of an all-Richard Strauss program with Renée Fleming and the Berlin Philharmonic under Christian Thielemann (May 5-7), Hampson joins the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert on tour for the second consecutive season, this time taking an all-Mahler program to six major Central European music capitals (May 12-23). The program, featuring Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Kindertotenlieder, will be given in Basel, (May 12), Baden-Baden (May 13), Vienna (May 15), Berlin (May 19), Dresden (May 21), and Leipzig (May 23); the Vienna and Berlin dates bookend the centenary, on May 18, of Mahler’s death. The tour will be followed by a string of Mahler recitals with pianist Wolfram Rieger, including appearances in Zurich (May 29), Amsterdam (May 31), Brussels (June 4), Vienna (June 6), and London (June 13).
Hampson will receive his Concertgebouw Award at a gala dinner in the Great Hall of Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw on Wednesday, June 8. The American baritone is only the sixth artist to be awarded the prize, which is given to “a musician or ensemble that, over time, has contributed significantly to the artistic profile of the Concertgebouw.” Previous laureates were mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli (2004), the Beaux Arts Trio (2006), conductor Bernard Haitink (2007), the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (2009), and Maurizio Pollini (2010).
Hampson’s recent engagements in the U.S. featured selections of works from composer George Crumb’s American Songbooks, which the singer presented in concerts with the musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in Washington DC and New York City. Reviewing their Library of Congress appearance, the Washington Post observed: “The songs are familiar ones – ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,’ ‘Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jerico,’ ‘Hallelujah I’m a Bum,’ and several others; Hampson, in splendid voice, found just the right balance between art song and caricature.” Reporting on the following night’s concert at Alice Tully Hall, the New York Times noted, “Sounding smooth and steady throughout his range, Mr. Hampson, who has pursued his own ‘Song of America’ project in recent years, threw himself with gusto into the songs’ incantatory repeated lines and croons.”
Hampson’s European tour with the New York Philharmonic is part of a season-long immersion – more than 50 concerts and recitals – in the works of Mahler, whose music has been central to the baritone’s repertoire for two decades. Hampson began the worldwide celebrations of Mahler’s life and music on the composer’s 150th birthday – July 7, 2010 – in Kaliste, Czech Republic, with a recital from Mahler’s birth house that streamed live on medici.tv, as well as an internationally televised orchestral concert, now available on DVD. In January, Hampson performed Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic soon after performing more Mahler orchestral songs with Mariss Jansons and the Vienna Philharmonic. In April, the baritone sang Das Lied von der Erde and Des Knaben Wunderhorn on an extensive tour with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and conductor Philippe Jordan.
Earlier this year Deutsche Grammophon released Hampson’s recording of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, described by Hampson as “the recording [he] always wanted to make.” Joining him on the album is the Wiener Virtuosen, a conductor-less ensemble comprised of principal players of the Vienna Philharmonic. The Wall Street Journal called the disc “superb,” while BBC Music magazine described it as “a wonderfully fresh imaginative take on the songs…[:] a constantly absorbing recital [with] pungent characterizations.”
Mahler’s music will continue to remain a mainstay of Hampson’s life and career. Among the highlights of his 2011-12 season, for example, will be performances next January of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. For the baritone’s first U.S. appearances in the 2011-12 season, however, he will create the role of Rick Rescorla at San Francisco Opera. Based on the true story of a 9/11 hero, who helped save the lives of 2,700 Morgan Stanley employees but perished himself when the South Tower collapsed, the opera – Heart of a Solider (opening September 10) – is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by James B. Stewart and features music by composer Christopher Theofanidis and a libretto by Donna DiNovelli.