Symphony Concert 10

Mahler Chamber Orchestra | Barbara Hannigan

Debussy | Sibelius | Haydn | Berg | Gershwin

Tue, 16313

KKL Luzern, Concert Hall

Vergangenes Konzert

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Summer Festival

12.08.-11.09. 2016



    Barbara Hannigan  conductor and soprano
    Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
    Syrinx for solo flute
    Jean Sibelius (1865–1957)
    Luonnotar, Op 70. Symphonic Poem for Soprano and Orchestra
    Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
    Symphony in D major, Hob. I:86
    Alban Berg (1885–1935)
    Lulu Suite
    George Gershwin (1898–1937)
    Suite from the musical Girl Crazy

    It was inevitable that singers would one day begin conducting – just think of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or Plácido Domingo. To find them conducting while also singing is something less usual – Peter Schreier is an example. But when the singer who takes on this dual role happens to be a woman on top of that, it’s a genuine rarity. Barbara Hannigan has become a veritable “prima donna” in this realm. She is the first female artist to introduce herself as a singing conductor at a classical music concert. In 2014 the Canadian soprano earned thunderous applause from audiences in Lucerne when she performed Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre. On this program Barbara Hannigan undertakes a threefold mission: she will conduct a Haydn Symphony, she will sing Sibelius’s Luonnotar while conducting, and she will conclude with a Gershwin performance, fittingly based on the musical titled Girl Crazy.

    You will find an interview with Barbara Hannigan in our blog.

    Special Offer: Bring Young Listeners to a Concert for Free
    What could be lovelier than introducing young listeners to the enchanting world of classical music? When you buy a ticket for this concert, you will receive a free ticket allowing you to share the concert with a young guest. This offer is for children and youths up to and including 17 years of age – as long as tickets last. You may order your concert tickets by calling +41(0)41 226 44 80. We are available from Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

    Mahler Chamber Orchestra

    The Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO) was founded in 1997 by former members of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. Today some 45 musicians from 20 nations form the core of this independently financed ensemble, which performs about 180 concerts each year. Over the course of its 21-year history, the MCO has performed on five continents. In addition to co-founder Claudio Abbado, Daniel Harding has had lasting influence on the development of the MCO; after eight years as its leader, he was named Conductor Laureate for Life in 2011. Daniele Gatti has been closely associated with the ensemble as Artistic Advisor since 2016; they have already performed a Beethoven cycle and will also take on the major symphonic repertoire together in the coming years. Collaborating in the role of Artistic Partners are the conductor Teodor Currentzis, the violinist Pekka Kuusisto, and the pianist Mitsuko Uchida, who will perform the Mozart piano concertos with the ensemble over several seasons. Among the highlights of recent years is the award-winning project Beethoven Journey with Leif Ove Andsnes, which presented the complete Beethoven piano concertos and which has also been released as a recording. The MCO is a regular guest at LUCERNE FESTIVAL, where many of its musicians also participate in the LUCERNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA. In 2018 the MCO launched a long-term collaboration with the Heidelberg Spring Festival and had a residency at the Ojai Festival in California. The MCO received the International Opera Award in 2013 for the premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin at the Aix-en-Provence Festival; in 2018 it performed this work at the Holland Festival. The MCO’s discography has garnered such distinctions as the Grammy Award and the Diapason d’or. In 2017 it received the German Design Award for its branding.

    LUCERNE FESTIVAL debut on 8 September 1999 in a program of works by Mozart and Beethoven conducted by Kurt Masur.

    For further information on this ensemble, visit their homepage at:

    July 2018

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    Barbara Hannigan

    Born in Waverley, Nova Scotia, the Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigancompleted her vocal training in 1998 with Mary Morrison at the University of Toronto, earning a master’s degree in music. She went on to pursue additional studies with Meinard Kraak at the Royal Conservatory in The Haag, later taking private lessons with Neil Semer. Hannigan initially became known as an internationally sought-
    after interpreter of contemporary music. To date she has performed more than 80 world premieres, working
    with such composers as  Pierre Boulez, George Benjamin, Gerald Barry, Salvatore Sciarrino, Pascal Dusapin, and Hans Abrahamsen. Along with her vocal skills, she is also celebrated for her dramatic presence on the operatic stage. Highlights of recent years have included Toshio Hosokawa’s Matsukaze and Alban Berg’s Lulu in Brussels, George Benjamin’s Written on Skin in Aix-en-Provence, and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten in Munich. But she is also at home in the traditional repertoire: in 2014 she made her role debut as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, which was followed, in 2016, by her first performance as Debussy’s Mélisande in Aix-en-Provence. In the concert hall she regularly works with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic and also with such conductors as Kent Nagano, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Andris Nelsons, Vladimir Jurowski, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Since 2011 Hannigan has herself performed as a conductor, mostly in connection with her commitments as a singer. She has conducted concerts with the Gothenburg Symphony, the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the WDR Symphony Orchestra, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Munich Philharmonic. In 2013 Barbara Hannigan was chosen as Singer of the Year in the annual survey of the magazine Opernwelt.

    LUCERNE FESTIVAL debut on 24 August 2008 as part of the Pollini Project with works by Luigi Nono.

    August 2016

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    “My Gestures Are Different for Every Piece”
    An Interview with Barbara Hannigan

    In the history of music I cannot recall any woman who was sung and conducted simultaneously. It seems that you are a “prima donna” in the literal sense of the word: of being the first woman to do so. How did you come up with this idea of singing-conducting?
    It wasn’t exactly my idea! It was the idea of Rene Bosc, who used to run the Presences Festival of Radio France. He had been watching my development as a singer for several years, and in 2007 he took me aside and suggested that I consider conducting as well. He saw something in the way I was singing that suggested to him I should explore this kind of music-making as well. It felt to me to be an exciting and risky challenge which I wanted very much to undertake. Rene Bosc arranged my debut at Chatelet in Paris in 2011, to conduct Stravinsky’s Renard. And it was also his idea that I should simultaneously sing and conduct Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre. I was already well known for “just” singing it, but to add conducting to the mix as well made a big impression! Soon after the Chatelet debut, orchestras began to approach me to make special programmes where I would sing and conduct, and I carefully combine both vocal and purely instrumental repertoire which I feel makes a strong programme.

    Regarding your physical position on the stage, singing and conducting are diametrically opposed. As a soprano you sing while looking out towards the audience, while as a conductor you turn your back to them. How is it possible to combine both?
    Physically, yes, there are some issues to be addressed. I rehearse with the orchestra, facing them, giving a lot of cues and direction in the first rehearsals. Then as we become more familiar with how we will present the music, I give less gesture, and the players take more responsibility. It becomes more like chamber music with a VERY large group. In the final rehearsals, I turn my back to them. It is challenging for me and for them at first, and each orchestra responds differently, but we find our way and it can be very rewarding to make music like this.

    Take for example when you conduct a piece by Stravinsky where there is nothing to sing – as you will do in Lucerne – does your conducting technique change?
    When I am leading a Stravinsky symphony, it is in many ways easier for me, because I can concentrate purely on the orchestra, face them, not worry about my own voice. I am breathing only for them and the music. My gestures are different for every piece, for every phrase. When it is required that I am very rhythmic and clear, I do my best to give that clarity to my colleagues. When the music is more free and we are searching for other textures, I try to express that…liquid, air, transparency of sound. The body responds to the imagination – at least this is how it works for me. I do not have a formula, and my gesture is developing all the time.

    As a soprano and especially as a performer of modern music, you belong to the international rank of top stars. Do you think that this reputation helped when you started conducting?
    Absolutely. Many musicians with whom I was working already knew me as a singer and knew and respected my musicianship. I entered the conducting ring as a “player,” as, I feel, one of the team.

    Even today female conductors are an extreme minority. How do you explain that in the conductor’s realm masculine attributes are so much more dominant?
    Hard to explain and not so very interesting, is it? Gender issues will continue to be discussed and fascinating to some. I certainly had not seen a woman conducting an orchestra until I was 27 years old. I have only worked with one female conductor (Susanna Mälkki). There are not so many yet! It is a leadership position and is one of the last positions which remain male-dominated. Yet I do not feel there is a shut-out at this point. I think women are now encouraged to explore careers as conductors. But this has only been in the last years, and it will take time. I am always touched when I notice girls in the audience when I am conducting. I hope they see me and my other female colleagues and see it as something…normal!

    Looking into the future: Where will we find Barbara Hannigan in ten or fifteen years: will you continue singing operas and concerts or are you planning to change completely to the conductor’s podium?
    Of course I am looking ahead. My schedule is planned 4 or 5 years in advance and I am planning what singing I will do, what new opera roles I will take on, and what repertoire I want to explore as conductor. I try to balance things in a busy but effective way, which will probably, in 10 years, mean less singing and more conducting. The voice, like and athlete, gradually loses the ease and finesse it has in one’s 30’s and 40’s, and I need to be accepting of that, and of the limitations I will eventually experience. I am eager to conduct opera, and to work on opera productions in the way that I appreciate most – being present, as conductor, during most of the rehearsal period and helping to guide and understand the total experience of opera (music and theatre) with a dedicated team. I am a firm believer in wisdom and skill gained by the investment of time, and I expect my musicianship will only get stronger, even when my singing voice weakens. Therefore I can give this other voice to my conducting and continue performing in this way, health-willing, long into my golden years.

    Interview by Susanne Stähr

    Broadcast date
    Radio SRF 2 Kultur | Broadcast on Monday, 5 September at 8 pm.