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IWD: Barbara Hannigan and Aphrodite Patoulidou

A person conducting an orchestra

This International Women’s Day we are shining the spotlight on remarkable female artists in our upcoming programme. 

On Mon 13 March, we present the London Symphony Orchestra at Bath Forum under the baton of LSO Associate Artist Barbara Hannigan. Barbara will conduct the LSO in a spiritually uplifting programme including Messiaen’s L’Ascension and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Mahler’s work explores themes of childhood, innocence and spirituality, and ends with a song for solo soprano and orchestra; a poem presenting a child’s vision of heaven, sung at this concert by the wonderful Aphrodite Patoulidou.

Find below extracts from an original interview Barbara gave with the Bath Magazine, which previews Monday’s concert and mentions the mentoring initiative Barbara created in 2017 to support younger generations of musicians, including Aphrodite Patoulidou.

A singer and a conductor

Canadian soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan has built an international career as an innovative performer, first as a singer and subsequently (and simultaneously) as a conductor. She has performed world premières by an international selection of composers, while her more traditional opera repertoire includes productions of Alban Berg’s Lulu at La Monnaie and the Hamburg Staatsoper, Francis Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine at Paris’ Opera Garnier, and Debussy’s Melisande for both Aix-en-Provence and the Ruhrtriennale Festivals.

Known for the first 20 years of her career as an innovative and highly respected soprano, Hannigan has always been committed to new performances of contemporary music. It wasn’t until she was 41, however, that she turned to conducting. “I didn’t make a career change to become a conductor – I simply prepared for one engagement which led to others. I took one risk, let’s say,” says Hannigan. Her conducting debut was at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, playing works of Ligaty and Stravinsky: “It was organised by a colleague who had suggested that I should try conducting, someone who believed that this was part of me.”


At the forefront of new music

Hannigan has performed an impressive 85 world première performances in her career, the first at the age of 17. “Every year I give a few more world premières and it’s just part of my upbringing to work with living composers,” she says.

“Nobody thinks of me as a traditional musician, but funnily enough I’m following the tradition because in the Romantic period and the pre-Romantic period world premières were commonplace. Composers were expected to produce new material all the time – Haydn wrote 104 symphonies. People didn’t want to hear the same thing again, so performers were constantly giving world premières and singers were clamouring to be in Rossini’s or Verdi’s new opera.”

Barbara Hannigan | Photo: Marco Borggreve
Barbara Hannigan | Photo: Mark Allan

[I] try to get deeply inside the music in the way I believe the composer wanted.

Barbara Hannigan

Mentoring for future generations

Hannigan is committed to supporting younger generations of musicians. She created the mentoring initiative Equilibrium Young Artists in 2017 and in 2020 she created Momentum: our Future Now, which encourages other leading artists and organisations to support and mentor younger professional musicians.

“Both initiatives are for young professionals, young musicians who have more or less finished their training and who are in that particular stage where all of a sudden you are professional but you don’t have a lot of experience, and therefore you don’t necessarily have the tools or the skill set to deal with all the things that are going to come at you.

“There are so many things to deal with – criticism, social media, managers, auditions, difficult colleagues, even basic things like your health and wellbeing – it’s such a lot, and in college you just learn how to sing and how to perform.”

One of the issues that came up with Equilibrium – which included a series of guest speakers, conductors, singers, composers and managers coming in to talk about their own experiences – was loneliness: “Loneliness and isolation came up with every major artist who appeared. I’ve certainly experienced that as an international artist. So it was very moving to see these young people seeing their idols coming in and saying that, telling them to prepare themselves and find a way to handle this.”

Aphrodite Patoulidou

A beneficiary of Barbara Hannigan’s support for artists, Aphrodite Patoulidou was one of the first artists to take part in the Equilibrium Young Artists initiative.

A celerated soprano in her own right, Patoulidou will sing the soprano solo that Mahler includes in the final movement of his Fourth Symphony at the LSO’s concert on Mon 13 March. Born in Thessaloniki, Greece, Patoulidou appears for opera companies including Berlin State Opera, La Monnaie, Brussels, Teatro Real, Madrid and Greek National Opera. She has received international acclaim for her interpretations of several roles including Anne Trulove (Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress) and Elle (Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine) and has collaborated with conductors including Kirill Petrenko, Barbara Hannigan, Christopher Moulds, Tito Ceccherini and Manuel Nawri.

Aphrodite Patoulidou | Photo: Daniel Nartschick

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