Songs from Chicago
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- CDR 90000 180
The longer Cedille Selects track excerpts are designed to provide a representative overview of the album
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Thomas Hampson, America’s leading baritone and a champion of the art of classic song — poetry set to music — makes his Cedille Records debut with a program of songs by five composers of the early 20th century associated with the city of Chicago: Ernst Bacon, Florence Price, John Alden Carpenter, Margaret Bonds, and Louis Campbell-Tipton. All of them, Hampson says, “have distinguished themselves in history as great voices of the artistic American narrative.”
Hailed as “an outstanding recitalist” by Grove Music Online, the much-honored international opera star, recording artist, and “ambassador of song” performs compositions based on poems by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet who became the first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Hampson, whose discography includes more than 170 albums, including Grammy and Grand Prix de Disque award winners, is accompanied on Songs from Chicago by collaborative pianist extraordinaire Kuang-Hao Huang, accompanist of choice for Chicago’s top singers and instrumentalists.
The New York Philharmonic’s first Artist-in-Residence, Hampson also has been honored with a Concertgebouw Prize, Library of Congress Living Legends Award, and the Hugo-Wolf-Medal for outstanding achievements in the art of song interpretation, among many other awards.
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About the Program
Notes by Thomas Hampson
I have long been a fan of Cedille Records and its mandate to record the works of Chicago-based composers and performers. It was a casual conversation with the label’s President and producer, James Ginsburg, about when he might make a recording of Chicago-based song composers that led to the birth of this album. Knowing that Ernst Bacon and John Alden Carpenter were local originals, I immediately took up the challenge to explore what other colleagues might be Chicago-based and was surprised at the list of prominent, yet still relatively unknown American composers of song who emanated from or settled in Chicago.
The composers on this recording have distinguished themselves in history as great voices of the artistic American narrative. Their songs and their choices of poets consistently show a dedicated purpose to explore the psyche and circumstances of all Americans. With the inclusion of Margaret Bonds and Florence Price, some may raise their eyebrows at a Caucasian male attempting to sing this very African-American-rooted offering. But my point and answer would be simply: these are, first and foremost, American stories seen through the prism of the African-American narrative. We can learn so much from the various cultures that comprise the very kaleidoscopic culture called “American.”
The tangible connections between Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Rabindranath Tagore — their intense celebrations of personal awareness, independence of mind, and compassion for those around us — will not be lost on the casual listener nor student of American poetry. The musical responses by the composers on this album are at most times revelatory, and at all times passionate. That they find themselves “on the radar” of Chicago makes it all the more interesting.
Ernest Bacon spent most of his song-writing life fascinated by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman; these two poets provide the overwhelming inspiration for most of his songs. John Alden Carpenter truly changed the landscape of American song with his inspired use of impressionistic musical elements, innovative text setting, and predominantly through-composed structure. He was the first composer to base a song cycle on 1913 Nobel Peace Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore and his collection of love and life poems called Gitanjali.
Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, teacher and student, mentor and friend, were devoted to the young Langston Hughes and the genius of his new poetic language celebrating the African-American experience and illuminating the tragic ironies so often apparent in the everyday life of his characters.
Lewis Campbell-Tipton was simply one of those rare private chapters of creativity often found in the buried history of American song. His output, however limited, is of significant and beautiful quality, deserving of continued respect.