Barbara Hannigan

Barbara Hannigan awarded the Léonie Sonning music prize 2020

On Thursday 13 May, the Canadian opera singer and conductor Barbara Hannigan received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2020 of 1,000,000 Danish kroner at a concert in the DR Concert Hall. Due to the Danish corona restrictions, the prize concert in 2020 was cancelled. 

Barbara Hannigan is the 8th singer and the 16th conductor to be awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize.


Richard Strauss Metamorphosen
Francis Poulenc La Voix Humaine

Barbara Hannigan (soprano and conductor) with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra


Esben Tange, who is chairman of the board of Léonie Sonnings Musikfonds, presented the prize of DKK 1,000,000 and gave a personal speech, which also included the official motivation:“The Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2020 is awarded to the soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan for reinventing the 20th century repertoire and inspiring several current leading composers to create completely new, wondrous music, something she has achieved through her great virtuosity, original stage presence and courage.

By reinventing the concert form and the role of the musician and delivering an uncompromising commitment on an artistic as well as personal level, Barbara Hannigan has pathed new ways into the music for a large, new audience. And by so generously involving younger musicians in her continued challenge of habitual thinking and hierarchies, Barbara Hannigan has become an artistic guiding star for new generations.”

Barbara Hannigan in Denmark

Barbara Hannigan’s relationship with Denmark is closely linked to Hans Abrahamsen and let me tell you for soprano and orchestra, which was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic in 2013 and which has since been performed by a large number of orchestras around the world, including Copenhagen Phil and DR The Symphony Orchestra.

At a concert with the DR Symphony Orchestra in 2016, Barbara Hannigan performed for the first time in Denmark in the double role as both singer and conductor. This has been the beginning of a collaboration with the DR Symphony Orchestra, which in 2019 led to a concert in which young musicians from the Equilibrium project were soloists in Mozart’s Requiem.


Hannigan breaks with the tradition and practice of classical music. Léonie Sonning’s Music Prize 2020 is right where it should be. Singer and conductor Barbara Hannigan gives body to both new and old music, and it is quite clear that she can do what she wants… ..Hannigan conducted with all sorts of physical gestures, with fencing arms, small fingertips, cleats, with her face hidden in his hands.

Let me say that when the love-damaged, abandoned Elle, as the woman in the opera is called, began to conduct with blows to the head in existential despair, there was a hole in this reviewer who was flushed by these tremors that art can rarely evoke. For all time, Hannigan can keep one right there in the ironic distance, where we are both served the full expression, but also with the full control and the small distance from artist to character that exhibits the character so extra heartbreaking. After all, Elle is in all her clinging to her lover who has slipped, a little bit childish, right? Can’t she soon realize that the world is changing, that she has gone into mental dissolution, and that she just needs to let go and move on to the next love metamorphosis? She can not. But Hannigan can. As a singer, Hannigan plays her character in the full form of the body – to execute her in a parallel track as conductor with Poulenc in the music’s big bathtub.

One can only believe that it is both brave, beautiful, strong and violently impressive to stand in front of an orchestra without a score and conduct a 40-minute work, where you yourself sing the constantly talking lead role.

(Camilla Marie Dahlgreen, Dagbladet Information)

Why is she doing this, Barbara Hannigan? Insist on taking the different and otherwise well-defined roles and merging them? The simple answer is: because she can! She can, because nothing goes by the floating delicious and airy creaminess of her voice when she sings heavy notes while leading the orchestra. She can, because she is in physically good shape, allowing her to stretch, twist and turn her body into plastic expressions that let us see the music as it runs through her. And she can, because the time is right. Who else says that a soprano is an interpreter who has to stand nicely next to a man who starts the symphony orchestra and directs things? We saw Hannigan in DR’s concert hall already in 2016. Even then she sang and conducted at the same time. Sibelius was it, and the audience stood up and clapped.

(Thomas Michelsen, Politiken)

Hannigan controlled the antics with sure hands – and legs, one is tempted to say – and she demonstrated that she is physically in top shape. In some situations, there was almost acrobatic balance art on the podium, and it was clear that she had an overview of the events. It became even more impressive in the concert’s second and three-quarter length work – Francis Poulenc’s opera in one act “La voix humaine” (The Human Voice). As the title might suggest, this work has only one role – a woman involved in a phone call. The opera was composed in 1958 over a play by the French poet and multi-artist Jean Cocteau and has become a Hannigan specialty. On the large screen behind the orchestra you could follow her facial expressions during the “conversation”, and on a side screen it was possible to follow the lines in terms of a fairly full translation into Danish. Here, the musical octopus appeared convincingly in all three roles and even played with the possibilities that the video screen gave her – it all seemed timed and organized, and there was even room for a certain (bitter) sweetness. She is truly an extraordinary musician with completely unusual qualities, and she has sought new paths in the communication between orchestra and conductor. It was a Thursday concert that you will not forget right away. It’s healthy to get a little shaken up in the conventions – even if there is something charitable about moving forward along the music’s wide avenue.

(Peter Dürrfeld, Kristeligt Dagblad)




Tuesday 11 May 2021 at 19.15

Cinemateket: Film Night

Music is Music (recording Berio’s Sequenza III, Berg’s Lulu Suite, and Gershwin’s Girl Crazy) by Mathieu Amalric. (2017)

Barbara Hannigan – Taking Risks: Casting and mentoring young professional musicians for The Rakes’s Progress by Maria Stodtmeier (2019)

Introduction and Q and A with Barbara Hannigan.

Moderation: Esben Tange

Thursday 13 May 2021 at 19.30

DR Koncerthuset: Prize Concert

Richard Strauss Metamorphosen
Francis Poulenc La Voix Humaine

Barbara Hannigan (soprano and conductor)

Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Friday 14 May 2021 at 19.30

DR Koncerthuset: Concert

Richard Strauss Metamorphosen
Francis Poulenc La Voix Humaine

Barbara Hannigan (soprano and conductor)

Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Sunday 16 May 2021 at 15.00

The Royal Danish Academy of Music: Concert Hall (Live streaming at RDAM’s YT channel)


Barbara Hannigan and Equilibrium Young Artists, with Michalis Boliakis, piano.

 Diversity, hope and curiosity are the keywords for Equilibrium Young Artists, an international mentoring initiative for young professionals created of soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan in 2017.

As a part of the Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2020 celebration Barbara Hannigan is giving this exclusive recital together with three young professional singers and a pianist from Equilibrium.

Barbara Hannigan (soprano), Aphrodite Patoulidou (soprano), Ziad Nehme (tenor), Antoin Herrera-Lopez Kessel (bass-baritone) & Michalis Boliakis (piano)

Monday 17 May 2021 at 11.00 – 16.00

The Royal Danish Academy of Music: Concert Hall (Live streaming at RDAM’s YT channel)

Masterclass & Artist Talk

Barbara Hannigan and 4 young singers, students of The Opera Academy and the Royal Danish National Academy of Music.

11.00 – 12.30: Artist talk/ Lecture and Q and A (from the singers and the public)

Moderation: Uffe Savary


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