Handsome baritone will join Honolulu Symphony’s love affair with Mahler
It must be nice to be Thomas Hampson. He's been blessed with movie-star good looks. His rich baritone has kept him at the top of the singing world for 25 years. This week, he gets to come to Honolulu to perform a few favorite songs and arias from his repertoire. He'll be singing with the Honolulu Symphony.
As it turns out, he has something in common with most of us musicians in the symphony: a love affair with the music of Gustav Mahler. So there should be plenty of smiles onstage when he sings his first and main selection, Mahler's Wayfarer Songs.
The Wayfarer Songs are four poems, with orchestra, in which the protagonist chronicles the loss of his beloved to another man. The music is as simple as German folk song. The sentiment is as deep as German philosophy. There is pain here, along with a love of nature, which can sometimes ease that pain. Finally, there is an embrace of death, symbolized by a linden tree.
Hampson himself suggests listeners spend some time with Mahler's music before the concert: "It may be a lot of work at the end of the day, but I promise you that your soul will be fed." Mr. Hampson clearly is a serious thinker. He's also known for the conviction of his characterizations. That conviction will be put to the test in the second half of his program.
FIRST, IN A scene from Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," he'll have to execute a 180 from Mahler's self-pity and pain. Eugene, the hero, has received a long love letter from Tatiana, the heroine. With some reluctance, he rejects her. (It will be a relief to know that later in the opera Eugene falls in love with Tatiana. At that point, she has the pleasure of reluctantly rejecting him.)
Next, in an aria from Verdi's "Macbeth," Shakespeare's embattled Scot manages to reject, and be rejected by, everybody.
Thankfully, by the time we get to Aaron Copland's "Old American Songs," we can say goodbye to rejection altogether. Here we have a simple lullaby, a boating song and a minstrel song about what awaits us in paradise: "You don't need to fear, if you have no money, you don't need none there, to buy you milk and honey."
A far cry from Mahler's linden tree.
Speaking of whom: Mahler's penchant for songs of lost love was shared by another composer -- Franz Schubert. Like Mahler, Schubert also wrote a symphony he never finished. Fittingly, we'll be preceding Mahler's songs with Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony No. 8.
Similarly, we'll pair the Tchaikovsky aria with a charming polonaise (Polish dance) from "Eugene Onegin," and the Copland "Songs" with Leonard Bernstein's witty and acerbic "Candide Overture."
And that describes the printed program of Hampson's concert. I can report, however, that our music folders this week bulge with several beloved encores. To find out what they are, you'll just need to come to the concert and clap very hard for our guest. This will, I think, come pretty naturally.
Sasha Margolis is a Honolulu Symphony violinist.