Hampson, Jupiter String Quartet to premiere new piece by visiting composer

By From page A11 | April 23, 2013

That’s the ticket

Who: Baritone Thomas Hampson and the Jupiter String Quartet

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, with a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m.

Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis

Tickets: $35-$72 general, $17.50-$36 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 530-754-2787

Prominent baritone Thomas Hampson will be joined by the Jupiter String Quartet at the Mondavi Center on Wednesday, April 24, for the premiere of “Aristotle,” a new piece by composer Mark Adamo, who will be on hand for the occasion. The program also will feature selected lieder for voice and string quartet (to be announced), Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Serenade” for string quartet (1887), and Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 10 in E Flat Major (D. 87, composed in 1813, around the time Schubert was 16, and published posthumously).

Hampson performed in Davis in October 2008,  appearing in recital in a program that featured several American songs — and also Hampson singing happy birthday to local resident Barbara Jackson, in recognition of her longtime support of the arts in general and opera in particular.

Hampson has had a busy calendar of late. Last April, he sang the title role in a Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi’s “Macbeth”; in August 2012, he starred in a Santa Fe production of Puccini’s “Tosca”; in November, he was at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”; and in March, he was back at the Met, appearing as Iago in Verdi’s “Otello.” In between, he gave concerts and master classes in various parts of the world.

The Jupiter String Quartet is a comparatively young group, having formed in 2001. The Jupiters have picked up several accolades in recent years — in 2008 they earned an Avery Fisher Career Grant and, in 2007, Chamber Music America awarded them the Cleveland Quartet Award. Before that, the Jupiters won first prize in the Banff International String Quartet Competition, where they also received the Szekely Prize for best performance of a Beethoven quartet, and grand prize in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.

From 2007 to 2010, the quartet was in residence at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Two. The quartet has recorded works by Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Shostakovich and Britten for Marquis records. American works by Barber, Seeger and Gershwin also were recorded for iTunes in conjunction with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Deutsche Grammophon.

After performing “Aristotle” in Davis, Hampson and the Jupiter String Quartet will take the piece to the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on April 26, and then to New York on April 28, as part of the Chamber Music at Lincoln Center series.

Composer Mark Adamo has been working on “Aristotle” for several months. The project was initiated by Hampson; Adamo told The Enterprise that “back around Christmas I got a message from my publisher that Hampson wanted me to write a piece for baritone and string quartet.”

“I all but leapt in the air” at the prospect, Adamo said. He has long admired Hampson’s singing. And Hampson apparently liked what he’d heard of Adamo’s music — including the operas “Little Women” (1998) and “Lysistrata” (2005). After some consideration, Adamo settled on the poem “Aristotle” by Billy Collins, who served as the nation’s poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, as his text.

“If you’re awarded the privilege of making music for a singing actor of the caliber of Thomas Hampson, and for young musicians of the caliber of the Jupiter String Quartet, you want — well, I wanted — to compose a piece that’s both a substantial monologue and a structurally rewarding string quartet at the same time,” Adamo said.

“Billy Collins’ pellucid poem ‘Aristotle’ made that possible. His poem is built in three long but continuous sections, each spinning numerous, surprising variations on some necessary (to the philosopher) element of drama — beginning, middle, end. The range of Collins’ images nudged the string writing into new (for me) colors and registers while demanding each movement retain its own character.

“However,” Adamo continued, “while Collins’ language was minutely expressive of his narrator’s observations, it remained reticent about his emotions. How does the singer experience, rather than merely list, ‘the letter A … the song of betrayal, salted with revenge… the hat on a peg, and, outside the cabin, falling leaves?’ The poem doesn’t tell you, so the vocal line must: which made the baritone’s music needful, urgent, dramatic rather than merely decorative.

” ‘Aristotle’ the poem is about drama. As well as a tribute to the artistry of its performers, I intend ‘Aristotle’ the score as a drama itself.”

Adamo indicated that “Aristotle” should run around 15 minutes in performance.

Adamo also has another big premiere coming up in June with the San Francisco Opera — his new opera “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” with Sasha Cooke, who sang a recital at the Mondavi Center in April 2009, in the title role. Adamo was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera in 2009 to create the opera, and finally finished work on the score late last year.

Adamo will be giving a free talk — discussing both “Aristotle” and “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” — at 4 p.m. Monday in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center.

Then on Wednesday, April 24, at 7 p.m., there will be a pre-concert talk in the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall, with members of the Jupiter String Quartet in conversation professor Caroline Hess, a musicologist on the UCD faculty.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. April 24 concert featuring baritone Thomas Hampson and the Jupiter String Quartet are $35-$72 general, $17.50-$36 students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.

Jeff Hudson

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