Contemporary / musique contemporaine

“In the Half-Light” – Barbara Hannigan with Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

by Varun Swarup

Under the guidance of Rafael Payare, Barbara Hannigan, accompanied by the OSM, delivered an enthralling rendition of Zahra Di Castro’s composition, “In the Half-Light.” As title itself suggests, this work is an exploration of the liminal spaces of dusk and dawn, weaving a fragile narrative that gracefully shifts between moments of tension and resolution, between the light and the dark. The composition, a song-cycle featuring text by Malaysian writer Tash Aw, transcends mere musicality to delve into themes of human displacement, reflecting the aspirations and dreams of migrants, refugees, and those in search of a metaphorical light elsewhere.

The work, appropriately charged with tension, incorporates cinematic and impressionist textures reminiscent of Ravel and Lili Boulanger. Hannigan, renowned for her virtuosity and adept command of contemporary repertoire, skillfully brought to life the inherent drama embedded in Di Castro’s composition. Her vocal prowess, marked by a rich vibrato that effortlessly filled the Maison Symphonique, revealed not only technical mastery but also a profound emotional depth. Each note carried a sense of authenticity, resonating with the integrity with which Hannigan approached the performance.

While the overall impact of the piece was undeniably powerful, any potential criticism could be directed more towards the nature of the work itself than Hannigan’s execution. As is common in many contemporary compositions, “In the Half-Light” ventures beyond traditional tonal structures, embracing dissonance to convey broader thematic nuances. While this may not always align with conventional musical preferences, it serves a narrative purpose, underscoring the broader themes of the composition. Despite moments of dissonance, these choices only served to amplify the impact of the luminous moments, where the intricacies of Di Castro’s orchestration seamlessly merged with Payare’s direction and Hannigan’s delicate execution, creating moments that approached the sublime.

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