When I spoke with baritone Thomas Hampson last week, it was the day before his first read-through of “Aristotle,” a setting of a Billy Collins poem for voice and string quartet by the American composer Mark Adamo. Hampson always looks forward to his first full encounter with a piece, the moment at which musicians bring it from the conceptual world into sound.
Adamo has “been extremely exact in his reading of some of the phrases, which I always find a wonderful conversation to have with a living composer,” Hampson said from California, where the world premiere of “Aristotle” was to take place. “It’s the conversation you imagine having with the great composers of the past.” That process, of working through exactly how the text and music of a song interact, “is about finding the mutual understanding about what that part of that poem or libretto means. And that is always my favorite part of learning new pieces and working with composers.”