Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

18.11.05

Thomas Hampson Not in Kansas Anymore

As mentioned here last week, baritone Thomas Hampson is traveling the United States this fall with a performance project called Song of America. On November 12, he gave the first recital of this tour, in Overland Park, Kansas. Paul Horsley reviewed the concert (Taxpayers to Library of Congress: We are the world, November 14) for the Kansas City Star, with an opening line that reads like a paid product placement:

Tall, charismatic and as square-jawed as the Marlboro man, Thomas Hampson is in many ways an ideal representative of American song.
What is even stranger is, after praising the project's goals and the performance, the main criticism of the selection of songs:
This program seemed at once too ambitious and not far-reaching enough. Hampson is to be applauded for limiting himself to a small handful of traditions here, chiefly those of Anglo-Saxons and African-Americans. As the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, the Library of Congress has perhaps a preponderance of tunes whose authors were steeped enough in “the system” that they somehow managed to copyright their tunes. But what does it say when the library fails to acknowledge a vast array of songs from Hispanic, Italian-American, Cajun, Slavic and heaven knows what other traditions? Such inclusions would have made this fine recital into a mish-mash, it’s true (despite the fact that Hampson sings eloquently in several languages). But a nod toward these traditions might make the project seem slightly more reflective of the America that we in fact live in.
Hampson went next to give the same recital in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 15, which Wayne Lee Gay reviewed (Baritone gives a vocal tour of the American musical landscape, November 16) for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
The next eclectic set began with African-American composer Henry T. Burleigh's dramatic setting of Walt Whitman's tribute to a newly liberated slave woman, Ethiopia Saluting the Colors. The first half closed with three familiar and dramatic James Joyce settings by Samuel Barber. Writer-composer Paul Bowles' Blue Mountain Ballads, setting four poems of Tennessee Williams in a popular style tinged with little rhythmic ironies, definitely belongs on the short list of American musical masterpieces. William Grant Still's Grief, with text by LeRoy Brant, likewise is an overlooked masterpiece, evoking sorrow without sentimentality through a wonderfully economical harmonic and melodic vocabulary.
Hampson received a grade of A in this review, which mostly listed what was on the program. As far as I can tell, he is mostly singing what I heard him do at the Library of Congress last December. If that's true, I am disappointed that neither reviewer mentions the songs of Elinor Remick Warren.

The schedule breaks off for now and does not resume until this winter. Hampson will take his project to such out-of-the-way locales as Philadelphia (January 8), St. Paul, Minnesota (January 17), Carnegie Hall (January 19), Detroit (March 15), West Palm Beach (March 19), Oxford, Mississippi (March 21), Chicago (May 28), Omaha, Nebraska (May 30), and San Jose, California (June 3). None of those venues is exactly the hinterland.

2 comments:

Ariadne said...

What with the major performing arts organizations in such disarray these days, I am starting to seriously wonder if the best music (opera, ballet, whatever) will indeed be found not in the big cities but indeed in the "hinterlands", as you put it recently.

I have started to read some very interesting reviews of wonderful performances in second tier cities or off-beat venues. Perhaps we'd all best start keeping our eyes and ears open for such performances!

Garth Trinkl said...

Charles, you asked me earlier whether I had attended the Hampson all-American song recital a year ago; and I have failed until now to answer you.

In fact, I did attend that recital, and generally enjoyed it. I just now read your superb review of the recital from a year ago, and it now brings back memories from that concert (I stayed the full evening, and did not have a limo waiting to take me to a gliterati dinner afterwards).

I perhaps most agree with your earlier review that the program was a bit too monochromatic -- some more vernacular influenced songs would have been appropriate, I agree. I really don't precisely recall the Ms Warren songs, though I remember them being beautiful. I vaguely recall an earlier Elinor Remick Warren Society event at the Library of Congress(that perhaps Hampson sang at?) that included, I believe, some of her beautiful songs and/or? choral works. I remember going out and finding a CD of the major choral works of hers that was cited that evening.

Thanks for following up on this interesting project.

Did you happen to attend the Ned Rorem cycle "Evidence of Things Not Seen"? I thought that was a beautiful cycle, and, in fact, I believe the LC recital was released on New World Records. (I recall giving a promo copy that I received to my mother for last years Christmas.)