Th omas Hampson remembers the exact moment that he fell in love with the music of Mahler. It was back in the late 1970s and the renowned American baritone, then still in his early 20s, was studying at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where one of his teachers was the French-born American baritone and pedagogue Martial Singher.

Thomas Hampson. Photo © Jiyang Cheng

“I think it was the summer of ‘79, and he assigned five of us to sing the Kindertotenlieder. I was assigned the second song. I’d heard of Mahler but didn’t know much about it, so I thought ‘I’d better figure out who this is’. So, I went down to the public library and checked out some cassette tapes, [as you did] back in the day, to listen in the car as I was going to some of my other jobs,” recalls Hampson.

“I thought ‘well, I’ll just start at the beginning’, so [I began with] Mahler One with the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. I found myself on the freeway driving 35 miles an hour, and I thought ‘this isn’t going to work’,...