Barbara Hannigan, Daring Singer and Maestro, to Lead Iceland Symphony

Barbara Hannigan, a daring singer and maestro who has built a reputation for innovative programming, will become the chief conductor and artistic director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in 2026, the ensemble announced on Wednesday.

It will be the first full-time conducting post for Hannigan, 53, a rare artist who began her career as a soprano but in recent years has made a name as a conductor.

Hannigan said in an interview that she was drawn to the inventiveness of the Iceland Symphony, which she first conducted in 2022 in a program of Ives, Schoenberg, Berg and Gershwin.

“These people are working in a kind of shimmering creative realm that resonates very much with my own,” she said. “I realized I could do things with them and ask things of them that they took so naturally.”

Lara Soley Johannsdottir, the Iceland Symphony’s managing director, called Hannigan a “one-of-a-kind” artist. In a statement, Johannsdottir said, “Experiencing the trust between her and the musicians and how they create and go on an adventure together is extremely inspiring.”

Hannigan will lead the ensemble for an initial three-year term, succeeding Eva Ollikainen, a Finnish conductor whose tenure began in 2020. The Iceland Symphony announced last month that Ollikainen had decided to leave her post when her contract expires at the end of the 2025-26 season.

Hannigan, who was born in Canada, emerged on the cultural scene as a soprano. But in 2011, when she was 40, she began a career as a conductor, appearing with top ensembles like the London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Cleveland Orchestra. Since 2019, she has served as principal guest conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden.

She has become known for virtuosic performances in which she both sings and conducts from the podium. In April, for example, she led the Iceland Symphony in a performance of Poulenc’s one-act opera for soprano and orchestra “La Voix Humaine,” singing the soprano part.

Hannigan said she was eager to record and tour with the Iceland Symphony and that she would work to champion Icelandic composers. She said the orchestra would also commission works that would allow her to sing and conduct on occasion.

“The orchestra is very adventurous,” she said, “and so is the audience.”

Hannigan, who is currently at work on a recital program featuring Scriabin, Messiaen and Zorn, said that she would continue to perform widely as a soprano. She said that she never envisioned taking a full-time conducting post but felt a special connection to the Iceland Symphony, calling it “one of the most creative orchestras out there.”

“I know they are going to enrich my life a lot,” she said, “and I hope that I am enriching the artistic life in Iceland.”

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