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Baritone Thomas Hampson and Members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Give Washington Premiere of Selections from George Crumb's new Six-Hour American Songbook
By Pan Cogito
Last night, five superb members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center were joined at the Library of Congress by the internationally-renowned American baritone Thomas Hampson for an exquisite and powerful performance of seven of the 49 new twenty-first century American art songs that Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize winning American composer George Crumb has composed over the past decade based upon Appalachian folk songs, African-American spirituals, cowboy songs, and other indigenous American folk material. The composer was joined in the audience by the U.S. Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington, by several members of Congress, and by several board members of the Washington National Opera of the Kennedy Center. In the seminar with artists that preceeded the concert, and in the presence of Dr. Billington, Dr. Susan Vita, the Chief of the Library’s Music Division, announced that Dr. Crumb has recently agreed to donate his lifetime music sketches and working papers to the Library of Congress. Thomas Hampson was joined in the recently recorded songs by four percussionists led by Jeffrey Milarsky, and by the superb contemporary pianism of American and contemporary music champion Gilbert Kalish, the pianist of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 2006. Mr. Kalish also played the shofar in one of the African-American spiritual settings concerning the fall of the biblical walls of Jericho.
The second half of the program found four percussion members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln joined by cellist Andrés Díaz in a well executed performance of Tan Dun’s "Elegy: Snow in June", written in commemoration of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China. After the exceptionally subtle, almost hour-long performance of the Crumb songs, this very often very loud memorial work was somewhat of an anti-climax to the evening.
Tan Dun has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera for his [sic] opera “The First Emperor,” while Professor Dr. George Crumb is awaiting an as-yet-to be announced joint commission by the Metropolitan Opera and the Washington National Opera of the Kennedy Center. George Crumb and American classical song and opera champion, Thomas Hampson, is reported to be advising during the tense negotiations to secure the opera commission for Dr. Crumb. The undisclosed concept for the new American opera is rumored to concern love and warfare in 19th, 20th, or 21st century America; and an international and American cast is rumored to involve Mr. Hampson and several other well-known international and American singer-actors. It is uncertain at this time whether Dr. James Billington would or would not be involved in the libretto (the story book) to the rumored new American opera; and whether the MET or the WNO of the Kennedy Center would have first performance rights to the work.
Pan Cogito is a Washington-based freelance music writer.
Bridge Records, Complete George Crumb Edition, in 15 Volumes
Header credit: Dr. George Crumb and Dr. James Billington. Score by George Crumb similar to the one that accompanied Paul Hume's August 15, 1973 Washington Post review of a new work by Dr. Crumb premiered at the Library of Congress. All images (c) Copyright controlled. All rights reserved.