Barbara Hannigan © Elmer de Haas
For years now, the dazzling soprano Barbara Hannigan has been bringing to life the most demanding and difficult roles in opera and the concert hall, and contemporary roles in particular. In parallel to her global singing career, she is also a committed conductor. The combination of those two roles makes her one of the most fascinating musicians today.
One particularly memorable evening was to mark the 80th birthday of György Ligeti, when his «Mysteries of the Macabre» were performed at the Wien Modern festival, gloriously absurd excerpts from the anti-anti-opera, «Le Grand Macabre», with ludicrous coloratura and instrumental gags. Barbara Hannigan was the stunning soprano who captivated the audience in the Mozart Hallas the head of the Secret Police, earning storms of applause for her stratospheric vocal acrobatics. The composer himself, attending the concert in a wheelchair, must have grinned impishly at such virtuosity and humour.
A native of Nova Scotia in Canada, Hannigan was convinced even at the age of 10 that music would play a central role in her life. Her keen intelligence and unerring sense of rhythm, as well as her vocal flexibility even in the highest registers predestined the young soprano for the extreme demands of contemporary music. But even if she has given the world premieres and revivals of numerous contemporary works, Hannigan has always refused to be pigeonholed. She bowled over critics and audiences alike not only in works by Ligeti, George Benjamin and Toshio Hosokawa, but also in modern classics such as Berg’s «Lulu» or Zimmermanns «Die Soldaten». And she is equally at home in older repertoire.
«You sing like a conductor», was how colleagues occasionally liked to describe Hannigan’s stage personality. In the end, she opted to develop her evident talent in this direction and took p conducting as yet another means for immersing herself completely in the music.
Conducting is still largely a predominantly male domain and her decision raised plenty of eyebrows. But at her debut concert in Paris in 2011, she proved that she not only had very clear ideas about how the works should sound, but also the technical skill to put those ideas into practice. And the resulting interpretations need not fear any comparison with those of other male colleagues. Stravinsky's «Renard» and Ligeti's «Mysteries» are nothing for amateurs, but Hannigan is every inch the professional. A great many orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, recognize this and enjoy working under her inspirational direction. «She is one of the best musicians out there», says Sir Simon Rattle who even shared the podium with her.
In three of what promise to be very memorable evenings at the Wiener Konzerthaus, you can experience three different facets of this very exciting artist, when modern Viennese classics will also be in the spotlight. In a song recital, Barbara Hannigan and Reinert de Leeuw will perform works by Alma Mahler, a concert with the Emerson String Quartet will allow you to breathe «air from another planet» in Schoenberg's Second String Quartet. And she will pull out all the stops for the final concert when she will be both conductor and soloist Berg's «Lulu»-Suite and will also direct music by Schoenberg’s friend, George Gershwin.