In praise of slowness - Thomas Hampson on his work at the Liedakademie

Singer and Lied ambassador Thomas Hampson has been leading the Heidelberger Frühling Liedakademie since 2011. This has developed from the former focus of the Musikfestival into an independent, year-round support program for young singers and pianists. The programme includes master classes with the artistic director and other renowned lecturers as well as concert performances in Heidelberg and Berlin.

In view of the Liedfestival 2024, where the current year of scholarship holders celebrated their graduation, we spoke to Thomas Hampson - about the selection process for participants, the great ambition of the young generation and the fact that talent isn't everything.

AC: You have been Artistic Director of the Heidelberger Frühling Liedakademie since 2011. How do you recognize what kind of group you are dealing with at the beginning of a year? How do the dynamics of the personalities differ when comparing the cohorts?

TH: Putting together this "class", as I call it, is always a hugely exciting affair. I watched videos of almost 140 applicants last year.
Summer viewed. The selection in the audition is then not just about identifying the most talented. Above all, I have to assess how the artistic
personalities and with whom I can make a really productive contribution. I want to recognize where my young colleagues are and whether and how I can help them. This time we mainly took in women, last year it was mainly men. It just happens that way, but it's a lot of fun! They are wonderful people, really interesting personalities. Compared to the first few years, we now have a much more extensive academy program with three
to four modules and additional lecturers; the Schubert week in January at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin was added as an attractive station.

AC: What changes do you see in the mentality and training of young people?

TH: The question is, of course, whether people have changed or whether my perception is different. I still believe that too little attention is paid to actual technique and knowledge of physical relationships in vocal training. The main change is perhaps that the 24 to 26-year-olds who come to us have more ambition towards a career. When initial successes have already been achieved, they sometimes tend to underestimate the enormous amount of work they still have to do - basically a whole
A singer's life long! - will have to perform consistently. Knowing about our lives, studying, building up the technique, tuning in, looking after our health, growing with our age: all of this amounts to a very, very long career. In this respect, young people today are perhaps a little impatient.

AC: You mean the awareness of the elementary hygiene of singing? The patience to let things develop organically? A bit of the old school of the "knowing singer"?

TH: The path from identifying a talent to performing on stage has become much shorter, perhaps a little too much. The opportunity of our Liedakademie also lies in slowing this down a little and paying even more conscious attention to the basis, so that the content that is actually to be sung about can become clearer. The old school - that was a much more private set-up and took much longer. We no longer live in this world, but knowledge of it is still important. You can't start mastering a discipline early enough. Young singers in particular, who at the age of 25 already have an inkling of their potential, should be encouraged to pay very close attention to ensuring that the elementary things are in order. Talent, training, structure, knowledge - it is the interplay of all these factors that makes a stable singer. Basically, he, she must love studying more than performing - that's just the way it is ...

AC: How do Liedakademie lessons differ from conventional singing lessons?

TH: I see it as a supplement, a continuation. We work where a finer, more conscious alloy of intention, technique and meaning of singing is to be found. In a way, it is a liberation to be able to ask yourself in peace: For what purpose am I singing? What story do I want to tell? Often the technical production of a phrase is so demanding that what is supposed to be communicated is left on the floor, so to speak. My task is to increase the quotient of these requirements as much as possible for each member of the group. Incidentally, it is also enormously exciting for the audience to experience the very different status of the participants and to see the different ways in which the factors of singing interact. I take the task of meeting and building them up on their very specific level very seriously. A singer is educated by his teacher through his ears, as they used to say. I see it the same way. The ears are also always heart and credibility.

AC: What does that mean in concrete terms?

TH: Schubert's "Night and Dreams", for example - that's not a secret science. The song is relatively direct and easy to understand. But you have to be able to sing it. The legato, the resonance range of the voice, the color of the vowels - an audience is not supposed to perceive all these things. It should experience the work of art and the illusion that there are no pauses for breath. This is technology, this is the physical work of awakening transcendence. This is the greatest pleasure a singer can experience. No matter whether three people are listening or three thousand...

The interview was conducted by Anselm Cybinski, general dramaturge at Heidelberger Frühling.