Barbara Hannigan on Mentoring the Next Generation of Classical Music Stars


October 7, 2022, 2:31 PM

Barbara Hannigan, 51, is an internationally renowned soprano and conductor.

Photo: Aliyah

Legendary Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan won “Artist of the Year” at the 2022 Gramophone Awards earlier this week. We had the chance to talk to her about how mentorship has influenced her career as an artist and how she wants to pass on her ingrained sense of “hope” to the next generation of classic stars.

Canadian soprano and conductor, Barbara Hannigan, was in London earlier this week for the 2022 Gramophone Classical Music Awards, where she won the contemporary music prize for the fourth time, and was also honored as a “artist of the year”.

His victory at the ceremony, also known as the “Oscars of Classical Music”, comes as little surprise to those who have followed his unprecedented musical career over the past decades. As a soprano, she has sung in the greatest opera houses in the world and has a particular mastery of contemporary music, which she has widely defended throughout her career.

As a conductor, she has conducted some of the most prestigious orchestras in the world and her current contract as Principal Guest Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra was extended until 2025. Earlier this year, Hannigan was also announced as first associate of the London Symphony Orchestra. Artist, contributing to the choice of the orchestra’s repertoire for the next three years.

Besides his impressive CV, Hannigan has an obvious passion for helping and inspiring the next generation of young classical stars and runs two mentorship programs for up-and-coming artists – Balance Young Artistsand Momentum: our future now.

“I had a lot of mentors,” Hannigan told Classic FM backstage at the awards show. The 51-year-old musician admitted she had a “little knack” for finding mentors earlier in her career and wanted to encourage others to do the same.

Read more: The 30 Greatest Classical Music Artists Performing Today

However, as her career developed, Hannigan realized that she might be in the minority when it came to finding mentors.

“I’ve noticed sometimes that young artists can be too shy to ask,” Hannigan told Classic FM. “And some top performers don’t realize how valuable their mentorship is.

“I think artists like to be generous, but they really don’t realize how many young people would benefit from their ideas and love their mentorship.”

In 2020, Hannigan created “Momentum: Our Future, Now”, a collective of leading solo artists (singers, instrumentalists, conductors) who are committed to act now to support young artists in the first phase substantial part of their career.

Top performers share their main stage performance opportunities with a young professional singer or instrumentalist, and conductors bring in a young conductor as an assistant. Hannigan describes the program as her way of helping build those relationships, “a kind of speed-dating if you will,” she remarked.

Read more: 11 of today’s best female conductors

Notably, “Momentum” was released during the pandemic, and the loss of industry talent due to lockdowns across the world clearly saddened Hannigan.

“[The industry] lost a lot of young artists who moved on, because the uncertainty during the pandemic made them realize that they might not be able to fulfill their dream. And it’s very sad.

“I hope an initiative like Momentum has given hope, and I say a lot of hope, because it’s part of me. I feel like Momentum has started a dialogue about what it’s like to support our young colleagues – in all areas, not just music.

“This type of mentoring can be done in any industry, in any field, from medicine to law, business and technology.”

Hannigan hopes that the public, who come to see these young artists play with the greatest, will leave the concert thinking, “It was great to see a young artist up there. How can I do something similar for a young professional in my industry? How can I help?’.

Barbara Hannigan receives the award

Barbara Hannigan receives the “Artist of the Year” award at the 2022 Gramophone Awards.

Image: Telling Photography

Hannigan’s other program, Equilibrium Young Artists, has been running since 2017 and has produced an impressive number of former musicians, with an emphasis on singers.

In February Hannigan was appointed LSO Associate Artist with the London Symphony Orchestra. As part of her role, she will perform with the main orchestra in March 2023, alongside former Equilibrium student, Greek soprano Aphrodite Patoulidou, whom Hannigan speaks highly of.

A big win for Hannigan has been seeing young artists who have been part of both Momentum and Equilibrium, carry on and uplift other young artists as they progress in their careers. She spoke about it during her acceptance speech for the “Artist of the Year” award, sponsored by Raymond Weil, at the Gramophone Awards.

And as for the advice she has for young people, in all sectors, looking to find mentorship for their careers, Hannigan told Classic FM, “Don’t be afraid to reach out to the person who you think you, could help you.

“Because if you don’t contact them, you never know if they’ll say yes or no. And if you don’t have direct contact with this person, find your degree of separation.

And above all, “don’t be shy!”.


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