A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Sep 23, 2013
01:33 PM
Classically Speaking

UW Music Brings Homecoming a Little Early

UW Music Brings Homecoming a Little Early

PHOTO COURTESY UW-MADISON MUSIC DEPARTMENT

Nathaniel Stampley

Sometimes a concert is less about “performing” and more about simply sharing one’s gifts in an atmosphere of gratitude and joy. That is exactly what a very full Mills Hall audience received Sunday evening from baritone Nathaniel Stampley and accompanist Jamie Schmidt.

In a program titled “The Contemporary American Songbook* (*mostly),” the longtime friends and collaborators poured out an inviting mixture of Broadway, Gershwin and Cole Porter, with a Mozart aria thrown in for good measure. Along the way they were full of amusing anecdotes, with both speaking and playing/singing tinged with an “aren’t we lucky to be here” flavor.

Stampley could be the quintessential late bloomer: Now thirty-nine, he only finished up his BM at UW–Madison under Mimmi Fuller in 2008. But he never lost faith in his genuine gift of a baritone voice that combines silkiness, with an unruffled delivery. His persistence has certainly paid off—along with a number of substantial Broadway credits on his resume, he is about to take the title role in the national touring company of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

Jamie Schmidt is also a product of UW, completing two degrees here and working with a veritable “who’s who” list of Broadway stars over the last decade or so. His musical partnership with Stampley bears all the evidence of two artists who share not only congruent interpretive approaches, but a basic impulse to share their music in a most unpretentious and warm fashion.

After a suave “On Broadway” opening, Stampley delivered an “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” in a gentle, pastoral approach. Stampley also offered the kind of debonair smoothness one associates with the stage and film musicals of the 1930s in “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Bidin’ My Time” (from Gershwin’s 1930 Girl Crazy) and “Little Gray House” from Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars.

Schmidt, well known for his talent as an arranger, gave us a couple of samples in the “They Can’t Take Away from Me” and “Beautiful Mornin’” and credited Andrew Gerle for a fabulously understated version of “The Impossible Dream.” Schmidt also gave us the long opening solo of Ragtime, interspersed with his own all-too-memorable recollection of the 2009 opening night of the show at the Kennedy Center.

Aside from Broadway and its musical cousins, Stampley closed the first half with one of the Count’s arias from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro—leaving one wanting to see him in that role at this stage of his vocal and acting maturity. Another highlight was the a cappella spiritual “Up Above My Head.”

But it wouldn’t have been complete without something from Porgy and Bess, so Stampley saved the best for last, bringing another friend onstage, soprano Melissa Hinz, for a sweet, and all too short “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” The closest stop of his national tour is the Twin Cities…and a road trip is highly recommended.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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