Thomas Hampson to sing Mahler with ISO this week

The world-famous operatic baritone Thomas Hampson will sing with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Friday.

The orchestra will perform selections from Gustav Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” for the first time in its 83-year history. The pieces will feature Hampson as soloist.

“Des Knaben Wunderhorn” is a collection of 12 songs set to the anonymous German folk poems of the same name. Zack French, ISO director of artistic planning, said they are similar to Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Hampson has graced the world’s biggest stages for the last several decades. He is regarded as one of the greatest interpreters of German lieder, or art songs.

Hampson’s ability to effectively sing lieder is partially due to his location and training.

Butler assistant voice professor Thomas Studebaker knows this firsthand. He performed with Hampson in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1997 and 1998.

“He’s able to show a lot of dynamic contrast, and that makes a huge difference in something like Mahler,” Studebaker said. “It also doesn’t hurt that he lives in Vienna and speaks German fluently.”

The orchestra is grateful to have secured Hampson to sing.

“Thomas Hampson is kind of in a world of his own,” French said. “It’s an honor for us to have him here singing songs that he is known around the world for singing.”

“Des Knaben Wunderhorn” is rarely programmed at major American orchestras, French said, but the collection’s pieces are some of Mahler’s most famous works.

“It’s an odd phenomenon that these German lieder have never been performed here,” French said, “especially considering our first music director was from Germany and probably knew the pieces very well.”

Hampson selected five songs to sing from the collection that best represent his voice.

“His voice is big, and it blends well,” Studebaker said.

Hampson said on his website he heard Mahler for the first time when he was a college student listening to the radio in his car.

“Mahler’s music is a reflection of my own world, something that’s extraordinarily informative to me as a human being,” Hampson said on his website.

Hampson is an Indiana native, born in Elkhart. This Friday’s performance will be his ISO debut.

Audiences have only one chance to see Hampson sing. The performance will run Friday at 8 p.m.

“You will be hearing one of the great singers of our time,” French said, “singing the music that made him famous.”

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