‘The besotted audience knows: we will still be talking about this concert after fifty years’

This is the third time a review appears in the Volkskrant about the collaboration of Barbara Hannigan and the Ludwig orchestra. And it is also the third time that over this review 5 stars appear.
Who hoped to for once find a nice critical note about phenomenon Hannigan, the Canadian soprano who turned into a singing conductor, must wait for a next time. By now we should be looking for a ‘yes but..’. because the collective Hannigan-adoration is showing signs of a hype.
Only rarely the international press was rejoicing so unanimously as it is doing about her albums. Because of her recording of Hans Abrahamsens ‘Let me tell you’ the shy Danish composer became world famous in an instant. Her recently released cd ‘Crazy Girl Crazy’ (with Ludwig) seems almost everywhere in the classical music world to have become ‘cd of the month’. And most probably the Hannigan Express will continue to cannonball along for another while.
Monday at the Concertgebouw, she reconfirmed what we should never have doubted in the first place: Hannigan is not only the coolest soprano around, she is this too as a conductor. Het conducting technique is flawless, but she dares to take risks too.  To boost things in Alban Berg’sLulu, she used her arms as windmill blades, with which she moved the energy to the first violins. A few bars later her arms changed into swarming snakes.

When the concert starts, the hall is totally dark. Only the exit signs over the emergency exits of the Main Hall still radiate light. Flautist Ingrid Geerlings has positioned herself directly in front of such an exit sign on the south balcony, when she starts playing Claude Debussy’s solo piece Syrinx. Wonderful the way she lets her tones change in colour. When the stage illumination lightens up, the strings appropriately start playing Arnold Schönberg’s Transfigured Night. A smooth transition. Beautiful, the way the strings approach the tone colour of the last note of the flute.

Close-knit ensemble play and warm sound
In the version for string orchestra sometimes some of the expression is lost, but Ludwig gets very close to the agility of the sextet for which Schönberg originally wrote the piece. Such a close-knit ensemble play and warm sound!  Isn’t there a very small ‘yes, but..’? Not all entries are razor sharp and towards the end the ensemble foregoes the intonation somewhat (one cannot tune inbetween, of course). But small mistakes do not originate in sloppyness but in their intense build-up of the tension. The Concertgebouw audience is so quiet that it feels as if 1200 people are sharing this experience at the same time.

Ludwig is a remarkable orchestra. The collective, which in 2014 under the direction of Hannigan made its debut in the Concertgebouw, seemed destined to become an asylum for musicians from the dissolved Radio Chamber Philharmonie, but today one also spots many young musicians from the better chamber music ensembles – many players are not employed by an orchestra. The eagerness is audible.

However, Hannigan’s contribution may not be underestimated. The conductor gives a lot of freedom to the musicians with a solo. In the Lulu-suite, which is also recorded on the cd, she turns around suddenly and starts to sing. And even with her back to the orchestra and continuing to conduct in the direction of the audience, the ensemble reacts perfectly to every movement of her arms. When Hannigan concludes the concert with Gershwin’s suite Girl Crazy, she is singer, conductor andactress all at the same time – her empathy is worthy of praise, as always. ‘Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you!’, she sings. By then the besotted audience has embraced her completely and everybody in the hall knows: about this concert we will still be talking in fifty years.