Barbara Hannigan Takes Her First Chief Conductor Job


Barbara Hannigan conducts the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Leifur Wilberg)

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra (ISO) has announced the appointment of Barbara Hannigan as their Chief Conductor and Artistic Director. She’ll take up the baton in Reykjavík officially starting in August 2026, with an initial appointment of three seasons.

The arrangement will see Hannigan work with the ISO for a minimum of six subscription weeks each season, along with touring and recording. She will have a hand in programming the concerts for each season.

“Always curious, courageous and creative, the players of the ISO are dedicated to working at the highest level. Their technical excellence co-exists alongside their wonderful imagination. In working with the ISO, I have felt the desire and possibility, for the first time, to consider a position as Chief Conductor. It is a matter of creative chemistry and collective timing that drives us to embark on this new path, together,” Barbara Hannigan comments in a statement.

Barbara Hannigan conducts the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Leifur Wilberg)
Barbara Hannigan conducts the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Leifur Wilberg)

Barbara Hannigan

Barbara first conducted the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in 2022, returning in 2023, and recently in 2024 to perform Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine in a production where she sings, conducts, and interacts with live video.

The native of Nova Scotia has carved out a unique identity in the classical music world as soprano and conductor — sometimes, both at the same time. She is a champion of new music, and innovative concepts, having premiered 85 new works, and collaborated with noted composers György Ligeti, Henri Dutilleux, Gerald Barry, Pierre Boulez, John Zorn, George Benjamin and Hans Abrahamsen.

Lára Sóley Jóhannsdóttir, Managing Director ISO, comments, “Barbara Hannigan is one of a kind, and we can’t wait to work more with such an outstanding artist, perform the innovative programmes she is renowned for and be a part of her unique expression. The first time she walked on stage to conduct our orchestra, we all felt something exceptional and unique in the air. Experiencing the trust between her and the musicians and how they create and go on an adventure together is extremely inspiring. We are grateful and honored to be the first orchestra to appoint Barbara Hannigan as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director. We know that she will significantly influence the orchestra, our audiences and the Icelandic cultural life in the years to come.”

Barbara Hannigan conducts the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Leifur Wilberg)
Barbara Hannigan conducts the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Leifur Wilberg)

She will continue her relationships with a number of other organizations,

  • Principal Guest Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra since 2019;
  • Associate Artist with the London Symphony Orchestra;
  • Première Artiste Invitée with l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France;
  • Begins in the role of Principal Guest Conductor with Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne in 2024/25;
  • Named the Reinbert de Leeuw Professor of Music at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Barbara is also a frequent collaborator with a number of orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Barbara Hannigan and pianist Bertrand Chamayou are releasing a recording of Olivier Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi, Chants de terre et de ciel and La Mort du nombre on Alpha Classics that drops May 24.

Along with her international engagements, she returns to Nova Scotia this summer for a week of workshops and a concert as part of her Equilibrium Young Artists mentoring program.

Toronto audiences will be able to catch Barbara and Bertrand on tour later this year performing works of Messiaen, Scriabin and Zorn, with a stop in the city on November 28, following a concert in Montreal on November 26.

Barbara Hannigan and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra will give their next concert together in June 2025 in the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Congratulations to Barbara and the ISO.

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