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Posted by on Apr 15, 2015 in Interviews, new articles | 0 comments

Barbara Hannigan: ‘You must go all the way’

Barbara Hannigan: ‘You must go all the way’

by Melissa Wimbish
Say the name Ligeti to me, and the pupils in my eyes might begin to dilate. But I’ll play it cool …
“Yeah, what about him? I’ve heard of him. Is he here?!”
“No. We’d like to hire you to sing a piece of his. Are you familiar with Mysteries of the Macabre?”
“Is that the one where the crazy amazing bitch conducts the orchestra in a leather trench coat and sings like 90,000 high notes?”
“That’s the one!”
That crazy amazing bitch is Barbara Hannigan and she owns this piece, people. Here she is performing Mysteries of the Macabre by György Ligeti with the Gothenburg Symphony:

Are you obsessed? Join the club. Check out “Barbara Hannigan: ‘You must go all the way’” an interview with Ivan Hewett, to learn more about this phenom singer and her process:
There’s something about old-fashioned barnstorming virtuosity that never loses its appeal. All the biggest stars of classical music have it: think of Lang Lang, Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman. We just love to see the seemingly impossible being carried off with bravura.

There’s a newish arrival on the classical circuit who has that same quality. She’s the Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan. She does the kind of high-wire acrobatics with her voice that very few singers can manage, and she does it with a bravura that stops you dead in your tracks. All this is joined to a startling stage presence and cool blonde beauty that contrasts interestingly with the heat in her voice (think Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s film The Birds).

Hannigan could have had a great conventional career as a coloratura queen. But she’s an unconventional soprano, to say the least, as I discover when I catch her on a rare break at her home in Amsterdam. She’s just been performing one of the great classics of modern music, Pli selon Pli (Fold by Fold), Pierre Boulez’s setting for soprano and huge orchestra of some beautiful but obscure poems by Mallarmé. Next weekend she brings it to London’s Southbank Centre as part of a three-day survey of Boulez’s music aptly entitled “Exquisite Labyrinth”.

“I’d just sung it in Lucerne, and then the next day I had a day off in Zermatt,” she tells me. “I set off for a walk and I had the mountains in front of me, it was a beautiful day and guess what? I found I was whistling tunes from Boulez’s piece!”

Tunes? Come on now. This is modern music we’re talking about, so how can there be tunes? “Oh well, maybe that’s the wrong word. It’s just very beautiful in the way it unfolds. What I love about Boulez is the way the music is very strict in its structure but inside it’s beautifully fluid. It feels like I’m singing liquids of all different colours and viscosities, which are constantly changing.”

Does she need to know what the structure is before she can sing one of these thorny pieces? “Well, I think it’s important to try. I went to a six-hour seminar on the piece by a musicologist. It was fascinating.”

Not many performers attend analytic seminars on music. But one way in which Hannigan is just like every other virtuoso is in her steely determination. She was born in a little village in the depths of rural Nova Scotia, which turned out to be a very good place to develop her talent.

“There wasn’t much to do there and it was before the internet, so there were no distractions. We just got on with doing things for ourselves. Every household had a piano, so I just got into music and singing.”

Read the full interview from The Telegraph here. Then go practice.

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