Thomas Hampson

Speak, Memory

If it’s difficult at all to think of what to memorialize this Memorial Day, then start with Walt Whitman – today is the poet’s birthday.  The holiday began as Decoration Day, specifically to honor the Union dead in the American Civil War.  Whitman, who tended to so many wounded and dying soldiers, and created an essential American voice, is the ideal place to start.  And as the scales of DADT may actually be falling away from institutional eyes, it’s worth noting that Whitman was gay and a great patriot, a man on the side of the Republic against treason, a man on the side of American values against the right to forcibly enslave human beings because of the color of their skin.

Whitman also understood the idea of liberty far better than the so-called ‘libertarians’ and ‘conservatives’ who plague us in this country, people whose idea of liberty extends just to the dollar and no farther.  Liberty is this unpublished poem:

To What You Said (Whitman/Bernstein, sung by Thomas Hampson with Craig Rutenberg)

To what you said, passionately clasping my hand, this is my answer:
Though you have strayed hither, for my sake, you can never belong to me,
Nor I to you,
Behold the customary loves and friendships, the cold guards
I am that rough and simple person
I am he who kisses his comrade lightly on the lips at parting,
And I am one who is kissed in return,
I introduce that new American salute
Behold love choked, correct, polite, always suspicious
Behold the received models of the parlors –
What are they to me?
What to these young men that travel with me?

What are they to me?  Indeed, that is the essential question of liberty.  Money, the means to command others, to condemn anything that is different than me, to own other human beings, these things are nothing for anyone who believes in liberty, but those received models of the parlor are all to those who are cramped and choked in morals and values, to those who grasp only at material and secular power (and yes, wielding religion as propaganda in service to political power is as secular a goal there is).

So on this day, to truly honor memory, exercise liberty.  Ask, what are these things to me?  And if you want to listen to this idea of memory, then Charles Ives, another great and patriotic American who cared for his fellow citizens and gave them, those far less able and fortunate them him, the means to enjoy the reward of a lifetime of hard work (or what those opposed to liberty would call a socialist), has prepared a piece of music for you:

CONTACT! Live Blogging; “Songs From Solomon’s Garden”

9:27PM . . .  Schaefer and Gilbert are speaking prior to this last piece, with text in Hebrew from the Megillah . . . the great Thomas Hampson singing for the premier, Pintscher must be ecstatic . . . I would be; man-crush on Hampson is totally acceptable . . . Hampson even taller than Gilbert, okay no more gossip, time for music . . . opens a capella . . . the music is quiet, bracing, astringent, a bit spectral in it’s idiom . . . mysterious, evocative timbres, clouds of sound . . . apologies I can’t follow text and comment on what Pintscher says about the words with his music, too many things to do! . . . langorous feeling has now become agitated and intense as the text sings of the objects of desire; this desire is fervid, aggressive, even angry, perhaps self-consuming . . . chattering oboe brings us back to a point of exhalation, but not relaxation . . . Pintscher has established an underlying tension that is quite powerful, I am quite actively interested in hearing how he resolves it, or even if he bothers to . . . Hampson really committed to the music, it’s new so clearly cannot be totally incorporated, but his concentration on the part is balanced with real ideas about expression and interpretation, such an impressive musician . . . the instruments, especially woodwinds, are now commenting more actively on the singing, the idea seems to be taking place very much in an internal, mental space, this is very much like an extended operatic monologue, with the character searching himself, it’s dramatic and gradually becoming ever more gripping . . . a short, echt-Romantic string line there, and the uncanny sound of a wah-ing trumpet, I’m thinking of Berio now . . . this is music where the ear, and listening, must take some moments to adapt, but now it sounds natural, logical and is developing real power . . . quiet yet intense, Hampson in falsetto, string harmonics and a whispering growl from the contrabassoon, don’t want to breath and miss any moment . . . wow, this part is so good it could go on forever . . . and what a way to end!  An alluring, entrancing work, full of secrets, really needs to be heard again and again.

Quite a concert, different and as impressive as the first one in the series, probably tighter and freer playing with Gilbert conducting, a great range of music and determined focus. You can still hear these pieces in concert, Saturday night at the Metropolitan Museum, and you can tune in next week to Q2 for the rebroadcast.  Now, time for a beer . . .

CONTACT! Live Blogging, 1

Nicely mixed crowd, young and old coming in.  Haven’t spotted any of my fellow cranks . . . er, critics tonight.  There’s more Andriessen at Carnegie tonight, of course.  I had been planning on attending the Andriessen concert at Zankel Saturday night, but then this happened:

But that’s what us live bloggers are for, to fill the gaps.

Maestro Gilbert has now taken the stage to address some remarks to the audience.  The gist: he’s excited about leading a concert of contemporary music as part of the New York Philharmonic.  John Schaefer is offering some opening remarks as well. The program is as follows:

  • Sean Sheperd; These Particular Circumstances (a seven section work)
  • Nico Muhly; Detailed Instructions, for orchestra
  • Matthias Pintscher; Songs from Solomon’s Garden; featuring Thomas Hampson singing

Sean Sheperd is now onstage to talk about his piece, and there’s a bit of flirting with feedback.  Next post will be as the music is playing.

Adventurers Of The Intertubes

The second set of the New York Philharmonic’s CONTACT! series is going on this Friday and Saturday, and so it’s time once again to point out the interesting and imaginative things they are doing to develop new music, new audiences and new media.

As teasers, the Phil has a set of videos of those involved, composers and performers alike (and it’s notable that both Maestro Gilbert and Artist in Residence Thomas Hampson are dedicating their efforts to the concerts), talking about the music and what to listen for:

The Phil Twitter feed is also offering ongoing insights into what’s going on in rehearsal, which is like overhearing just enough to be interested in hearing more.

If you can’t make the concert, tune into this site Friday at around 8:00PM, as the Phil has invited humble writers like myself to live-blog from the concert.  There won’t be any audio, but in lieu of the standard method of mulling over my notes and memory for a few days and writing an analytical review, I’ll be describing the music as it goes along, and responding in the moment – this is brand new work which I’ll be hearing for the first time.  Then follow up with Q2 next week, when they’ll be broadcasting the concert recording.  The internet may be killing the music industry, but music making is alive and well.