The beginning of 2016 brought Barbara back to North America for the U.S. premiere of Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you with The Cleveland Orchestra and Music Director Franz Welser-Möst, first in Cleveland, and then at Carnegie Hall.
Barbara is also performing the piece this week with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons, who conducted her in the Berlin Philharmonic premiere.
let me tell you has received ovations “of an intensity rarely witnessed for contemporary scores” and has been praised for its “bewitching elegance”, “brilliant sonic depictions” and “a wondrous range of complexly imagined soundscapes.”
“…soprano Barbara Hannigan held a full house in her grasp with the U.S. premiere of a new work by Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen.
Hannigan set the scene magically. With “Let Me Tell You,” a seven-part song cycle re-imagining Shakespeare’s Ophelia, the Canadian soprano on her Cleveland debut brought to life a character of haunting beauty and mystery. She intoned the carefully-selected words by Paul Griffiths with the solemnity of a Greek oracle and unfurled her prismatic, free-flowing music with bewitching elegance.
Though written for large orchestra, “Let Me Tell You” remained an intimate affair. The music, never more than sheer and rendered by the orchestra with crystal clarity, readily evoked shards of glass, shimmering light, and falling snow. The mercury seemed to drop as Hannigan sang of night, owls, and snowflakes; About her voice, supremely agile and robust, there was something immediate, something piercing.
What emerged was a character radically different from the typical portrayal. Far from fragile and delusional, Hannigan’s Ophelia was fiercely strong-willed and secure in herself. Staring down loss, she marched forward and endured. After “Let Me Tell You,” listeners, like Hannigan’s Ophelia, easily could have gone on home, wholly satisfied.”
– The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis, 15 January 2016
In New York City
“The audience responded with one of the longest, warmest ovations for a new work I’ve ever witnessed. Doubtless this reception was due in part to the glowing voice and aura of the soprano Barbara Hannigan, who has sung all performances to date (and has made a recording of the work, for the Winter & Winter label). Ultimately, though, it is Abrahamsen’s score that causes thousands of people to stop breathing for a long moment.”
– The New Yorker, Alex Ross, 22 February 2016
‘Let Me Tell You’ Has Its New York Premiere
“It’s not often that a performance of a challenging new piece receives the kind of ovation typically awarded star virtuosi. But that’s what happened on Sunday night at Carnegie Hall when the conductor Franz Welser-Möst led the Cleveland Orchestra in the New York premiere of the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen’s “let me tell you.” This eerily alluring 30-minute work for soprano and orchestra was written for the remarkable Barbara Hannigan, who performed it stunningly.
Ms. Hannigan, who won many admirers in New York last summer as Agnès in the Mostly Mozart Festival presentation of George Benjamin’s opera “Written on Skin,” performed “let me tell you” with matchless vocal and dramatic command (and from memory).”
– The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, 18 January 2016
Barbara Hannigan and Cleveland Orchestra stop time with Abrahamsen premiere
“Hannigan’s clear, lustrous singing was an essential part of the overall orchestral tone. She has subdued lines with a few upward bursts of ecstatic passion. The music parallels phrases like “You have made me like glass” and “So: I will go on in the snow” with brilliant sonic depictions of glass shattering and snow floating down. Most memorable were Hannigan and a flute doubling each other, or her voice alluringly accompanied by a horn. These were extraordinary sounds, and “let me tell you” is packed with such marvels.”
– New York Classical Review, George Grella, 18 January 2016
“Barbara Hannigan, the avant-garde diva for whom the piece was created, sang with otherworldly élan and dauntless purity.”
* * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
– Financial Times, Martin Bernheimer, 19 January 2016
“Singing from memory, without benefit of props or costumes, Ms. Hannigan showed remarkable agility and pinpoint intonation. Her tone was choir-boy pure or richly colored, as the music required. And the Canadian soprano, who is also conducting these days, handled her part’s changing rhythmic meters, wide vocal leaps, swooping tones and “stuttering” note repetitions with aplomb. Now assertive, now impassioned, agonized or resolute, she simply told us how it was, and this listener believed every minute of it.”
– Wall Street Journal, Barbara Jepson, 19 January 2016
“Thursday’s premiere received an ovation of an intensity rarely witnessed for contemporary scores in Symphony Hall. This was thanks in no small part to the transfixing performance of the soprano Barbara Hannigan. To describe Hannigan as singing bravely and luminously from memory is accurate but also just the beginning. This soprano, who was deeply involved in the genesis of the commission and has now sung it with 11 different orchestras, inhabits this music like a home. In her hands the vocal line’s strange pulsations seem not like stylized artifice but an utterly natural reflection of the music and text’s co-created aura. It is an aura of confession addressed inward more than outward. We are hearing its echoes.”
– The Boston Globe, Jeremy Eichler, 05 February 2016
Soprano Hannigan triumphs with BSO in new Abrahamsen work
“Bracketed on the program by brassy theater music by Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you for soprano and orchestra provided a mesmerizing, and ultimately deeply affecting, look inside the troubled spirit of Hamlet’s Ophelia.
It also showcased the unusual vocal gifts of Barbara Hannigan, who was making her BSO debut. Besides Abrahamsen himself, the Canadian soprano was the “onlie begetter” of this piece, having had the idea for it, persuaded the Berlin Philharmonic to commission it, advised the composer on advanced vocal techniques, and given the world and U.S. premieres in Berlin (led by Nelsons) and Cleveland respectively.
With an extraordinary palette of tone colors and vocal placements, discreet vibrato or flute-like straight tone that blended uncannily with orchestral instruments, pulsing vocal “bebung” on a long note, dizzying vocal leaps and high pianissimo entrances, Hannigan shaped the text by Paul Griffiths (from his novel of the same name) into a probing portrait of a female melancholy Dane.
Sparkling with the icy glint of piccolos, violin harmonics, and percussion tinkles ascending almost into the dogs-only range, Abrahamsen’s setting tore no passion to tatters, and Nelsons’s baton did not “saw the air thus.” A wintry hush blanketed the proceedings for most of the performance’s half-hour-plus length.
Yet for all its discretion, this performance suited the action to the word and the word to the action, to riveting effect. Unfolding its themes of time, memory, and love, the work broadened in its third and final part, with Hannigan’s voice on the line “So: I will go on in the snow” producing the almost-visual effect of the young woman’s spirit merging with the winter landscape.
Having tapered the work’s last pages to silence, singer and conductor held the moment a full thirty seconds before Nelsons gently laid his baton down, and a single shout of “Bravo!” started the ovation.
The audience showed its appreciation of the work, or at least of Hannigan’s breathtaking performance, by standing and applauding long and loud, bringing singer, conductor, composer Abrahamsen (looking a very un-melancholy Dane), and critic-novelist Griffiths repeatedly back to the stage.”
– Boston Classical Review, David Wright, 05 February 2016
photo credit: New York Classical Review, Steve J. Sherman